Interaction design

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The gurus in their own words

It might help to understand some the gurus of interaction design and their varying perspectives by watching videos of them explaining their ideas in their own words:

Modeling and quantifying interaction

Hot vs. cool media

A la Marshall McLuhan.

  • "hot" media
    • e.g. classical music, photography
    • load the senses with detailed stimuli
    • leave little up to the imagination
    • thus require little participation on the user's end
  • "cool" media
    • e.g. jazz, comics
    • supply minimal stimuli
    • leave a lot to be filled in by the user's imagination or actions
    • thus they are highly participatory by nature

Interaction as conversation

A la Crawford and many others. Conversation consists of:

  1. the initial handshake (e.g. Hey, how are you? -> Good, thanks)
    • both parties acknowledge a common baseline reference for the conversation
    • imparts no meaning except to say both parties are operating as usual
    • one side initiates, the other responds in agreement
    • often the first step in meaningful conversation
    • some conversations never extend beyond this
  2. the engagement (i.e. the meat of the conversation)
    • can be rewarding except when it's not
    • can make each party better off except when it doesn't
    • can involve learning and conveying meaningful information. but not always
    • the cost of engaging must be balanced with the reward the conversation offers, or else one party will end the conversation prematurely
    • the type and content of the engagement depends upon many factors, including:
      • the type of parties at either end of the conversation (e.g. human, computer, or group of people)
      • the abilities and tendencies of each party (e.g. child, adult, elderly, handicapped or dog, cat, snake)
      • the level of noise in the communication and the ability of each party to filter that noise
  3. the conclusion
    • can be a mutual sense of a finished process
    • can be enforced by one side
    • can happen due to circumstance rather than intentionally

Doing, feeling, knowing

Bill Verplank, who coined the term "interaction design", claims that interactive media designers must answer three questions:

  • How do you do?
  • How do you feel?
  • How do you know?

For example, you flip a light switch (do), see the light brighten (feel), and understand the causation between the switch and the brightness (know).

  • how to flip a switch is obvious, since only one direction of movement is possible and the movement is binary, but other controller mechanisms may not be so clear.
  • seeing a light flip from off to fully on is immediately noticeable, but other changes in sensation may not be so easily discerned.
  • understanding the causation between the flip of the switch and the brightness increase is obvious only if the switch is near the light, and the light reacts immediately. Other relationships may not be so obvious.

Read Bill Verplank's Interaction Design Sketchbook for his full view on interaction design.

Cardinality of interaction

One fundamental measure by which one can quantify Interactive design, is by the topology of interaction:

  1. 1-to-1 (i.e. unicast)
  2. 1-to-many (i.e. broadcast)
  3. many-to-many (i.e. multicast)

An interaction device has different possibilities depending upon its interactive cardinality.


Is the communication going only one way (asymmetrical) or two way (symmetrical)?

  • Reading, watching broadcast television, and listening to radio are all asymmetrical media.
  • Choose-your-own-adventure books, interactive television, and social radio are all attempts at creating symmetrical media based on traditionally asymmetrical media.

Beauty vs. ugliness

Donald Norman says beautiful things work better because...

  • beautiful things make people feel good
  • people who feel good think more creatively (breadth-first processing vs. depth-first)
  • people who think more creatively more easily solve problems
  • things with easily-solved problems seem to work better
  • hence, beautiful things [seem to] work better

Conversely, people who are stressed:

  • think more linearly (depth-first)
  • are therefore less likely to find workarounds to problems

Lean forward vs. lean back experiences

In industry, you may hear people referring to interactive experiences as either "lean forward" or "lean back".

  • lean back experiences, such as reading a book or watching broadcast television, often see users laying on easy chairs.
  • lean forward experiences, such as video games or the social web, often see users sitting on the edge of their seats.
  • lean back 2.0: lean back, only better (i.e. portable-technology assisted leaning back)


  • helps you plan interactive projects
  • helps you generalize to see the common elements among interactive systems
  • helps you identify who your users are and how well they can use your system
  • involves diagramming, creating flow charts, and being a bit formal about things

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