What You Need to Know About Interaction Design

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What You Need to Know About Interaction Design

This article describes everything you want to know about interaction design

Design is a broad field under which several concepts come together. Today, as design is getting much demand and focus, every subfield is growing in importance. As a result, things we must have grouped under the same role earlier are now emerging as separate new roles. For example, interaction design and UX design have mostly been lined up under the same title before. But are they really the same? With this article, we intend to discuss the topic in detail, so let’s dive in!

What is Interaction Design

The Interaction Design Foundation defines interaction design as “the design of the interaction between users and products”. A pretty broad definition, we know. But that is the simplest way to understand interaction design.

So, what are the products here? It is often applied in the software product design realm while building products like apps or websites. And what could be the interaction between users and products? Motion, sound, space, aesthetics- the list goes on! So you see now why the definition is so broad- because interactions are so diverse and dynamic, and each of them may even include more specialized fields.

The goal of interaction design is to create a flow to help a user check their requirement quickly and efficiently. Its ultimate aim is to uphold usability.

Now you must be thinking, isn’t that what UX design is about as well? Well, you are not wrong. Let’s see how the two are connected!

Interaction Design and UX Design

It is quite understandable if you were confused about interaction design and UX design being the same. Not only is there a huge overlap between the two, but they are also often interchangeably used. However, it is important to discern that the two aren’t exactly the same, but they do share some common characteristics.

To simply figure out the difference, the key thing you need to know is that UX design is an overall concept that encompasses various design disciplines and aspects, and interaction is one of the design disciplines that fall under UX design. In addition, there are several other aspects to UX design like visual design, communication design, information architecture, and application design. Interaction design is just a part of the whole.

The goal of UX design is to improve the overall experience when a user interacts with a product. But how it differs from interaction design is in the intention. For interaction designers, the focus is on the moment when a user interacts with a product, and their aim is to enhance this interactive experience. But for UX designers, the momentary interaction between the user and the product is just a part of their goal and not the entire goal. It is just one of those things that users go through when they correspond with a product.

UX covers all user-facing aspects of a system, whereas interaction design focuses solely on the interaction- its quality, accuracy, and effectiveness.

Understanding Interaction Cost

To get some more understanding of interaction design, let’s look at a foundational concept behind it termed as the interaction cost. Neilson Normal defines interaction cost as “the sum of efforts — mental and physical — that the users must deploy in interacting with a site in order to reach their goals.”

Interaction cost measures the usability of a product, and ideally, we should keep it low. But practically, that could be quite difficult, especially for products that have many use cases. As the number of use cases increases, the complexity of the system increases, and as a result, a user’s journey towards achieving the goal can get lengthier.

Here, the convention that designers follow is to reduce the interaction cost for the primary use cases. To analyze interaction cost, we take a look at its two parts- the mental interaction costs (MIC) and the physical interaction costs (PIC). PIC is associated with user inputs, required actions, ease of taking actions, etc., while MIC is associated with attention, memory, etc.

Some commonly seen aspects that increase the interaction costs are:

  • Page load and waiting time
  • Dense instructions making it difficult to find relevant information
  • Unconventional interaction patterns
  • Distractions causing attention switches
  • Excessive scrolling

For a product designer, understanding the interaction costs, delving deeper into the factors that influence it, and designing with an aim to minimize it as much as possible, is a key skill that has to be mastered, especially in today’s product design domain.

The Five Dimensions of Interaction Design

Gillian Crampton Smith and Kevin Silver, two prominent names in the interaction design field, have put together a useful model to portray what interaction design involves. The model has five dimensions, which are:

1D: Words

Words play a crucial role in interaction design. They should be simple, meaningful, and convey information precisely without elaborating. For example, words used on button labels and menu structures.

2D: Visual representations

The second dimension includes visuals that augment the words, like images, icons, typography. The aim is to make user interaction more simple.

3D: Physical objects or space

This refers to the physical medium through which the users interact with the product. Like, whether they would be interacting through a laptop keypad or mouse or a smartphone with their fingers. This plays a big role in the interaction.

4D: Time

Here, the transition of media (like animation, videos, sounds, etc.) with time is focused on to assist the user in understanding visual changes. It can also be helpful if users want to track their progress or stop/resume interaction to view later.

5D: Behaviour

The mechanism of the product, as well as the reaction of the users, are identified in the fifth dimension. It reflects the overall outcome of how the previous dimensions defined the interaction design.

When the interaction designers consider all these five dimensions, they can design the interactions in a wholesome manner.

A product design is basically a conversation between the users and the products. Like human conversations, these conversations also require quality interactions to communicate effectively. Interaction design is emerging as a mainstream aspect of the UX design process. Every UX design agency is focusing more on it today to improve the services they offer to users.