Today, we are living in a world of touch devices and infinite scrolling websites. It, therefore, makes sense for designers to have a clear understanding of interaction design before they set out to create fluid and life-like user experiences as most websites and applications are interactive these days. But before moving forward, let’s get a better understanding about the discipline of interaction design.
What is Interaction Design?
The term interaction design was coined just a few decades back with the introduction of the first interactive systems. The new interfaces presented a new set of challenges to the traditional graphic designers and a new discipline of web design was born.
According to the Interaction Design Association, interaction designers focus on user-centered design, based on the understanding of real users including their experiences, goals, needs, wants and tasks. This discipline approaches design from users’ perspective, but at the same time it strives to balance the users’ needs with business’ technological capabilities and goals. And by doing so, interaction design provides the apt answer for complex design challenges.
Interaction design vs. User Experience Design
Just like UX design, interaction design evolved to enable smooth interactions between users and their environment. However, there are certain subtle differences between the two. For example, user experience design is accountable for every user-facing aspect of a system or software. But interaction design focus only on the interaction between users and their computers/device.
Besides, UX design delves into the question whether or not people will use the system or product. The design reflects customer insights, journey maps, and personas and so on. This perhaps leads the way to interaction design.
Interaction designers often use these insights to deliver mock-ups, blueprints and prototypes. In fact interaction designers need to master multiple UX disciplines in order to make a system/product friendly, learnable, and useful.
What Makes a “Good” Interaction Design?
Several luminaries such as Jef Raskin and Alan Cooper have discussed in their books what needs to be included in a solid user interface. Based on those insights and the industry standards, let’s explore the “good” characteristics of interaction design.
1. Design must be Goal-Driven
One of the major practices of interaction design is that it is goal-driven design. Interaction designers therefore need to know how to build the customer insights into their design, regardless of whether or not they are personally conducting user research.
The following UX processes are good starting points to empathize with users in order to elicit the best design response:
- User Personas: Based on the psychologies and behaviors of the target audience you need to create user personas and refer them at the time of making crucial design decisions.
- User Scenarios: This helps to explain how a user persona will act when using the product. Designers need to explore the context where the user interacts with the product.
- User Experience Maps: Also known as journey maps, user experience maps record all the conditions of a single interaction. It also includes external circumstances and emotion.
This approach helps interaction designers to first acknowledge their constraints before devising a solution. You are considering the goals users have in mind when using your product and design it accordingly.
2. It must be Easy to Use
This is the bare minimum for any product. If your product lacks usability, it is obvious that no one will desire it. It is the ease with which someone uses your product to achieve their desired goal. Just like UX design, interaction design needs to consider the inherent usability of the interfaces to make the underlying system to comprehend and use.
For example, if you are designing an online movie and events ticketing app with a high level of detail where users can determine rows, seat numbers etc. The app typically needs to consolidate a multi-step and multi-program process and transform the whole experience into a single linear path.
The usability needs to be effortless if you want people to use it extensively. In case they need to invest a lot of time just to understand the system, chances are they are going to abandon your app. The best practice would be something like:
Open the app → Select a show/event → Select date & place → Select row & seat → Payment and checkout
3. The Interface must be Easily Learned
You need to design intuition and familiarity into every interface as users don’t really remember all functions after using a product. In order to boil down complexity, you need to create consistency and predictability. A simple example is that when a designer uses a lightbox for some images and have others opening in a new tab. This breaks both consistency and predictability and would only confuse users, if not annoying them.
You need to maintain consistency throughout the design to create predictability, which in turn improves learnability.
Using UI patterns like breadcrumbs or WYSIWYG is one of the best ways to improve learnability. Users too are familiar with these patters since various websites and applications are using them already. Besides, they offer enough room for customization and creativity.
4. Keep an Eye on Signifiers & Affordances
It is important to focus on signifiers as well. Your website menu should look like a menu, otherwise it will leave your users confused. Follow the norm. Without it, users will find it difficult to perceive the affordance.
Signifiers basically work as metaphors, telling people why they should interact with a particular item by communicating the purpose. Affordances, on the other hand, define the relation between the user and their environment. What is the underlying functionality of your product? This is what affordance explains. Designers need to utilize signifiers and affordances consistently throughout the design.
5. What’s the Feedback & Response Time?
Finally, we have feedback and response time as one of the “good” characteristics of interaction design. Feedback is key to interaction design. Your product must communicate with your users (provide feedback) if the desired task was accomplished and what they need to do next.
Let’s take example from Hootsuite’s owl, which goes to sleep if you remain inactive for a long time. It is a funny and intelligent feedback and many other websites and apps are following their example. The response time in feedback is also a key factor. It must be in real time and immediate response, anything between 0.1 second and 10 seconds.
Now that you know the fundamentals, it’s time to start scripting the interaction. But keep it as narrative and restructuring as possible to avoid making your interactions robotic and inhumane. Understand that it is a highly contextualized problem space where changes are occurring every day.
You need to constantly explore for new interactions and leverage new technologies to push your products forward. A strong understanding of your users will definitely help you here, although you can hardly be absolutely certain about how a user will interact with your product. That said, remaining true to the characteristics mentioned here usually leads to good interaction design.