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What is Interaction Design?

Chapter Introduction


The main goals of this chapter are to accomplish the following:

  • Explain the difference between good and poor interaction design.

  • Consider the pros and cons of transforming activities to become digital.

  • 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.

  • Introduce what is meant by accessibility and inclusiveness in relation to human-computer interaction.

  • 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: a smartphone, tablet, smartwatch, laptop, remote control, coffee machine, printer, smoothie maker, e-reader, smart TV, alarm clock, electric toothbrush, radio, bathroom scales, fitness tracker, game console. Then think of which apps and social media you use… 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 a tablet, are a joy to use, where tapping an app and flicking through photos is simple, smooth, and enjoyable. Others, like buying a train ticket from a ticket machine that does not recognize your credit card after completing a number of steps and then makes you start again from scratch, can be very frustrating. Why is there a difference?

Many products that require users to interact with them, such as smartphones and fitness trackers, have been designed primarily with their needs in mind. They are generally easy and enjoyable to use. Others have not necessarily been designed with the person in mind; rather, they have been engineered primarily as software systems to perform set functions. An example is setting the time of day on a stove, when setting it up or after a power failure, that requires a combination of button presses that are not obvious as to which ones to press together or separately. While they may work effectively, it can be at the expense of how easily they will be learned and remembered, and therefore used in a real-world context.

Alan Cooper (2018), a well-known user experience guru, bemoans the fact that much of today's software suffers from the same interaction errors that were around 25 years ago. Why is this still the case, given that interaction design has been in existence for more than 30 years and that there are far more designers now in industry than ever before? He points out how many interfaces of new products do not adhere to the interaction design principles validated in the 1990s. For example, he notes that many apps do not follow even the most basic of user experience design principles, such as offering an “undo” option. He exclaims that it is “inexplicable and unforgivable that these violations continue to resurface in new products today.”

How can we rectify this situation so that the norm is that all new products are designed to provide good user experiences? To achieve this, we need to be able to understand how to reduce the negative aspects (such as frustration and annoyance) while enhancing the positive ones (for example, enjoyment and efficacy). This entails developing interactive products that are easy to learn, effective, and pleasurable to use from the user’s perspective.

In this chapter, we begin by examining the basics of interaction design. We look at the difference between good and poor design, highlighting how products can differ radically in how usable and enjoyable they are. We consider what is gained and lost from transforming activities to be digital when previously they were done through using physical artifacts. 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 this in terms of usability goals, user experience goals, and design principles.

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