Chapter 1: What is Interaction Design?

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The main aims of this chapter are to:

  • Explain the difference between good and poor interaction design.
  • Describe what interaction design is and how it relates to human-computer interaction and other fields.
  • Explain the relationship between the user experience and usability.
  • Describe what and who is involved in the process of interaction design.
  • Outline the different forms of guidance used in interaction design.
  • Enable you to evaluate an interactive product and explain what is good and bad about it in terms of the goals and core principles of interaction design.


How many interactive products are there in everyday use? Think for a minute about what you use in a typical day: cell (mobile) phone, computer, remote control, coffee machine, ATM, ticket machine, printer, iPod, calculator, GPS, DVD, computer game . . . the list is endless. Now think for a minute about how usable they are. How many are actually easy, effortless, and enjoyable to use? Some like the iPod are a joy to use. Others, like the data projector that does not see a person's laptop when connecting it, can be very frustrating. Why is there a difference?

Many products that require users to interact with them, such as smartphones and social networking sites, have been designed primarily with the user in mind. They are generally easy and enjoyable to use. Others, such as switching from viewing a DVD to watching TV, or setting the alarm on a digital clock, have not necessarily been designed with the users in mind, but have been engineered primarily as systems to perform set functions. While they may work effectively, it can be at the expense of how the system will be used by real people.

One main aim of interaction design is to reduce the negative aspects (e.g. frustration, annoyance) of the user experience while enhancing the positive ones (e.g. enjoyment, engagement). In essence, it is about developing interactive products1 that are easy, effective, and pleasurable to use - from the users' perspective. In this chapter we begin by examining what interaction design is. We look at the difference between good and poor design, highlighting how products can differ radically in how usable and enjoyable they are. We then describe what and who is involved in the process of interaction design. The user experience, which is a central concern of interaction design, is then introduced. Finally, we outline how to characterize the user experience in terms of usability, user experience goals, and design principles. An assignment is presented at the end of the chapter in which you have the opportunity to put into practice what you have read by evaluating the design of an interactive product.