Twenty years ago computers were expensive tools for professionals or games machines for enthusiasts. Today they appear in all aspects of our daily life, from mobile phones to microwave ovens, from exercise bikes to sewing machines. (There are already twelve computer chips for every man, woman and child on the planet.)

When machines were mechanical there was a direct, physical way to interact with them. You wound up your watch and turned a wheel to set its time; clicked a dial to make a kitchen mixer go slower or faster; flipped a switch to sew in reverse, and could see the mechanism which allowed this. But a machine controlled by a computer chip is different. It may require us to master menus and modes, and it responds to us, and often to stimuli independent of us, in more complex, less transparent and sometimes downright mysterious ways. We rely increasingly on such devices, yet our interaction with them is too often awkward, baffling and lacking in grace and pleasure.

While traditional industrial design concentrates on the product's functionality and its appearance as an object, interaction design requires a different emphasis because a computer-based device must not only work and look well in itself: it must also be designed so that our interaction with it, the way we exchange information with it and tell it our wishes, is clear and efficient. Only then can it be an experience that improves the quality of our everyday life.

The discipline of interaction design borrows from the theory and the techniques of traditional design, which it merges with theoretical and practical approaches from other disciplines. The result is a gestalt-like synthesis of unique procedures and methods, and of a project-based approach to develop objects, environments and systems. Interaction design seeks to establish a dialogue between products, people and physical, cultural and historical contexts; to anticipate how the use of products will affect comprehension; and to determine a form that is appropriate to its behaviour and use.

Interaction design concerns not only physical devices but services. Our lives are increasingly connected through telecommunications networks and filled with immaterial things: music, films, TV and other information sources. These services, provided by companies and public institutions, are as important as the machines through which we access them: the phone, pager, PDA or set-top box. Our experience of them depends on both the architecture of the service itself and how we interact with the device. So interaction design involves the design of immaterial as well as material things: services and software as well as hardware.

Interactive technologies need a new kind of design, a fusion of sound, graphic and product design, and time-based narrative. Developing this new kind of design will lead to a new aesthetic: one of use and experience as well as of form. Function and information (and perhaps entertainment) converge.

In the combination of communication and interaction design the real needs and possibilities to improve human existence are given centre place.


What Is Interaction Design

Interaction design (IxD) is the branch of user experience design that illuminates the relationship between people and the interactive products they use. While interaction design has a firm foundation in the theory, practice, and methodology of traditional user interface design, its focus is on defining the complex dialogues that occur between people and interactive devices of many types—from computers to mobile communications devices to appliances.

Interaction designers strive to create useful and usable products and services. Following the fundamental tenets of user-centered design, the practice of interaction design is grounded in an understanding of real users—their goals, tasks, experiences, needs, and wants. Approaching design from a user-centered perspective, while endeavoring to balance users' needs with business goals and technological capabilities, interaction designers provide solutions to complex design challenges, and define new and evolving interactive products and services.

The success of products in the marketplace depends on the design of high-quality, engaging interactive experiences. 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 system state changes
  • prevents user error

While interaction designers often work closely with specialists in visual design, information architecture, industrial design, user research, or usability, and may even provide some of these services themselves, their primary focus is on defining interactivity.

The discipline of interaction design produces products and services that satisfy specific user needs, business goals, and technical constraints. Interaction designers advance their discipline by exploring innovative design paradigms and technological opportunities. As the capabilities of interactive devices evolve and their complexity increases, practitioners of the discipline of interaction design will play an increasingly important role in ensuring that technology serves people's needs.

In summary, interaction design defines

  • the structure and behaviors of interactive products and services
  • user interactions with those products and services