Interaction Design is defined by the Interaction Design Association as the structure and behavior of interactive systems, with those that design it striving to create meaningful relationships between people and the products and services that they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances and beyond.
Interaction design kicked off the day the first screen was designed to hold more than just static copy. Everything from a button to a hyperlink and a scroll bar to a form field is part of Interaction Design, and over the last few decades, it has evolved to facilitate interactions between people and their environment.
Not to be confused with user experience design, which accounts for all user-facing aspects of a system web and graphic design, Interaction Design might have been around for a long time, but it’s only in the last few years that it’s grown into a realm of its own, thanks to recent developments in technology.
Think about it: Interaction Design is now responsible for creating every element on a device’s screen, be it a tablet, smartphone or wearable device, which a user might swipe, click, tap, or type: in short; the interactions of an experience. And since everything we do these days usually includes a device of some sort, it’s not surprising the discipline has become central to creating a meaningful relationship between people and product.
The 5 Dimensions of Interaction Design
In Bill Moggridge’s Designing Interactions book, design academic Gillian Crampton Smith introduces the concept of four dimensions of an “interaction design language”.
These original four dimensions (words, visual representations, physical objects or space, and time) made up the interactions themselves; the communication between a user and the screen. However, more recently, Kevin Silver, senior interaction designer at IDEXX Laboratories, added a fifth dimension: behavior. That is, the emotions and reactions that the user has when interacting with the system.
The 5 D’s of Interaction Design, as they are now known, have evolved, adhering to the five following rules:
- 1D: words should be simple to understand, and written in such a way that they communicate information easily to the end user.
- 2D: visual representations are all graphics or images, essentially everything that is not text. They should be used in moderation, so as to not overwhelm.
- 3D: physical objects or space refers to the physical hardware, whether it’s a mouse and keyboard, or a mobile device a user interacts with.
- 4D: time is the length that the user spends interacting with the first three dimensions. It includes the ways in which the user might measure progress, as well as sound and animation.
- 5D: Added by Kevin Silver in his article, What Puts the Design in Interaction Design, the fifth dimension relates to the emotions and reactions the user has when interacting with a device.
Using these five dimensions, an interaction designer can pay attention to the experience the user has when communicating and connecting with a system and then target and link the product to the user.
A growing need for Interaction Design
But how are these dimensions applied to designs in real life products?
Augmented Reality is more places than you probably realize at the moment. It also relies heavily on Interaction Design and many brands are using this as a novel way to connect with their audiences. Take retail companies for instance. Big high street names such as Topshop and Selfridges have installed cutting edge mirrors in their fitting rooms that use augmented reality so shoppers can see clothes on without having to go and physically change, before they buy them. These are operated by touch screen interfaces, and in some cases via motion detection with fancy modern outfit selection menu. This experience can also live on users’ smartphones via apps. Take for instance WayFair’s augmented reality app that lets you take snap of your living room and virtually place furniture around it to get a taste of the aesthetics before you order it.
The boom in virtual reality headset experiences also lays new foundations for the growing need of Interaction Design. Samsung’s Gear VR headset, for instance, requires uses swipe and tap on the sides of the device while in use in order to control the content presented to them via the visual 3D environment they are in.
Here, in augmented and virtual reality technology, it’s pretty obvious the five D’s have plaid a crucial role in bringing these features to a mass audience.
But one of the biggest changes to shape interaction design in the last few years is mobile. Thanks to responsive web design, mobile is now full of fresh patterns that redefine the relationship between users and technology. Take for instance the tap on mobile devices compared to the click of websites. It wasn’t so long ago that users struggled to navigate websites on mobile devices because many of the sites they visited still required click-style action or use of website tools such as scroll bars due to them being design specifically for the desktop. Now, however, actions such as tapping, swiping and zooming to get greater access to information on a smaller screen is very common, and all thanks to interaction design.
The rise of this responsive and adaptive design has meant that websites must work perfectly on desktop resolutions while offering an app-like experience on smaller devices. Each of these devices requires a different set of interactions that impact how and if users visit a website.
Because users access websites through multiple device entry points, if they are to be presented with a bad user experience, it can turn them away permanently, making Interaction Design the key in ensuring a consistent device-agnostic experience.
Making unfamiliar devices more familiar
Changes in technology continue to expand the capabilities of Interaction Design, especially since much of what designers are aiming for is to make new unfamiliar devices feel instantly familiar.
Whether that’s in a smart watch, a connected ring, running shoes or socks, it’s suffice to say that wearables are certainly changing the horizon for Interaction Design. These new connected devices will see the importance of interactions between humans and devices that touch the skin grow in importance, from how they work to how they feel on the skin.
As a result, personalisation will continue to be a goal in Interaction Design. While geo-location tools already help to create better contextual experiences, other apps and websites are helping to allow users to input specific information to create unique sharable experiences. Take for instance Apple’s new Memories tab in its Photo app on the newest version of its operating system, iOS 10, which creates a movie based on the unique content created and chosen by the user, enabling a more meaningful relationship between people and product.
By Lee Bell,
With over five years’ experience in the technology industry covering the latest innovations in gadgets, computer chips, internet security, telecoms, and start-ups, Lee Bell works as a freelance journalist in London’s buzzing tech scene. He writes news, features and reviews for a host of consumer titles including The Daily Mirror, The Metro, Wired UK, Computer Shopper, IT Pro and Gizmodo.
Lee’s main interests lay in the innovations space, focusing on the latest advances in consumer tech, social media, apps, virtual reality, the internet of Things (IoT), and more recently, space and science.
You can catch Lee tweeting as @llebeel