Everyday we interact with digitally-enabled machines and services to work, play, learn, create, connect and communicate.
When our experience is positive, there is little to notice. Our needs were met and the machine performed as an extension of ourselves, or as a polite and helpful stranger.
When our goals are met and our machines offer us unexpected and gratifying responses, we are seduced and delighted.
When we can’t complete our goals, we become lost or rudely told we made an error, we feel very differently.
The quality of the interactions we have with digital systems - the successes and failures, expectations and surprises determine the overall experience we perceive upon engagement and reflection.
This is the world of interaction design (IXD) and the responsibility of the interaction designer. Interaction Design attempts to humanize technology and shape machines’ logic into polite, articulate conversations that users can engage in. The Interaction Designer must understand the intentions of the audience and the audience must understand the intentions of the designer. At its core, Interaction Design must be a human-centered activity, augmented or constrained by technology, but not subservient to it. IXD is a balance of form, function, technology, action and response designed to support human cognition, influence perception and arouse emotion.
The Interaction Design Association (IxDA
) defines interaction design as:
- The structure and behavior of interactive systems.
- Interaction Designers strive to create meaningful relationships between people and the products and services that they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances and beyond.
They continue to add:
- Good interaction design effectively communicates a system’s interactivity and functionality, defines behaviors that communicate a system’s responses to user interactions, reveals both simple and complex workflows, informs users about state changes and prevents user error.
- Interaction design is grounded in an understanding of real users (goals, tasks, experiences, needs and wants) and balances these needs with business goals and technological capabilities.
Interaction Design, as a discipline, is still being shaped and honed in definition and craft. Even though we focus on designing in the digital age, the design processes and methodologies can and have been used for solving non-digital design problems.
From Use to Engagement
Somewhere when the 80s rolled into the 90s, IDEO designers Bill Moggridge and Bill Verplank
coined the term “interaction design” to more accurately define their work as they applied “soft-faces” or “UIs” to hardware products. This design requirement was quickly growing and as Dan Saffer pointed out in “Designing for Interactions
” “suddenly the problem of how to set the clock in our VCRs spread to all aspects of life.” Interaction designers had to bridge the gaps between industrial design and software design. A new discipline with a new set of skills, problem framing and process needed to emerge.
The explosion of the internet and Marc Andreessen’s Mosaic browser introduced new problems and challenged designers to come up with new paradigms for interactions. At the time, digital design was highly experimental, rife with failure and bad decisions, driven largely by engineers and profiteers looking to make a fast IPO. Eventually, some interaction and technology standards emerged and the Web became a solvent platform for useful and usable design.
Over the following decade, the Web grew from an information, entertainment broadcast and consuming platform, to a true communication and productivity platform. Traditional endeavors, such as banking, shopping and socializing have moved online. In addition, new ways of doing things are now accomplished from mobile phones, consoles, kiosks and of course touch-screen interfaces. New models of interaction are constantly emerging.
With the speed and depth of technological advances, the future of interaction design is more important and exciting than ever. Interfaces that may have seemed like science fiction only years ago are already appearing in conceptual form - flexible surfaces, spatial motion interfaces, augmented reality, retina, eyewear and neural interaction. It will be our job to build systems, components and forms of control that optimize the behavior of the digital products and services to come and humanizes the dialog, respect and connection between man and machine.