Digital Web Magazine

The web professional's online magazine of choice.

What is Interaction Design?

Nick Finck

July 22, 2004 at 6:51 PM

Dan Saffer has posted a pretty good Definition of Interaction Design. For the first time he calls out the critical issues that surround the Interaction Design practice. Namely, interaction design is "not about the interaction with a product (that's industrial design) or interaction with a computer (that's human-computer interaction)" ...or HCI/CHI as I call it. "It's about making connections between people" ...but isn't that Experience Design? Interaction Design is facing some similar problems that Information Architecture used to face (and perhaps still does to some degree): a clear definition and isolated or unified field of study.


Dan Saffer

July 23, 2004 at 7:06 AM

Experience Design, to me at least, is the umbrella under which Interaction Design sits. Experience design is what used to be called creative direction: making sure that the visual design, copy, information architecture, sound design, interaction design, etc. are all aligned, giving one coherent message/form to users. Experience design is more holistic than interaction design, more focused on things like branding. At least, that's how I draw the distinction.

Nick Finck

July 23, 2004 at 8:34 AM

Dan, one could argue that Experience Design would also encompass Information Architecture... but I would tend to disagree with that... creative direction does not dictate the architecture of a site... but it does collaborate with it. Since I am a visual learner I would like to describe how I see it all mapped out on a graph. Thinking on the concept of a 4 quadrant graph, on one axis you have the Creative to Technical spectrum. On another axis you have the Holistic to Detailed spectrum. ID, IA, and ED all fit on that graph as a pin point. ID probably, at least as far as I can tell, fits in the middle between holistic and detailed ...maybe a bit on the detailed side, but also more on the creative side vs. technical. IA (little IA to be specific) fits on the technical side and in the more detailed quadrant. IA (big IA) probably fits on the technical side in the more holistic quadrant. ED, as best as I can tell fits in the holistic creative quadrant. Would you say you'd agree with that notion?

Dan Saffer

July 23, 2004 at 12:21 PM

I would argue that experience design does encapsulate information architecture. Content and its organization doesn't live outside the experience of using a product. Oft times, it is a major component of it. Brand, which is part of experience design to my mind, can influence IA. (I wrote a whole article on this, in fact: Building Brand into Structure). A visual designer needs to know how much content is on a page, for example, and that IA decision can be influenced by brand.I'd probably agree with your diagram except that IxD can be pretty technical from both a technology/medium standpoint and from a cognition standpoint.For fun once I made a diagram of the relationship of IxD to IA: The Relationship of ID to IA as Told Through Products (PDF). Maybe we should do one for UX, IA, and IxD?

Nick Finck

July 24, 2004 at 9:32 AM

I like the diagram in that PDF, but I think the axes are mislabeled. I think you are taking more about "interaction" and "structure" than IxD and IA here. I guess my earlier point was about the notion that the Creative Director controls the experience of the design, which is true, but they certainly do not control the information

Nick Finck

August 2, 2004 at 1:15 PM

Let me clearify the first point I made in my last post. Information Architecture is not synoymous with the organization of content (copy), it is more closly related to the structure of the end product as a whole. For example, when I wireframe a site, I am not simply thinking about where a paragraph of text should go, I am also thinking about where a drop-down form element should go, what happens when a user selects something and what happens when a user clicks the submit button. Interaction is part of what IAs define. Content (copy) is only one aspect of what would be on a page that the IA helps structure. Dan, your diagram is graphing the content or copy of sites vs. the interaction level of those same sites. The structure, relationship and behavior of these two things is often something the IA is tasked with.

Pabini Gabriel-Petit

August 3, 2004 at 6:20 AM

I'm beginning to think there are as many definitions of interaction design, as there are practitioners of interaction design--not all of whom are "interaction designers". From what Nick says, some of them seem to be IAs. It's still interaction design not information architecture though. I disagree with some aspects of Dan's definition of interaction design and agree with others. Sorry to dwell on the negatives here, but Dan's already expressed the positives perfectly well. Dan said, "Interaction design is the art of facilitating or instigating interactions between humans. ...the designer should never forget that the goal is to facilitate interactions between humans. To me, it's not about interaction with a product (that's industrial design) or interaction with a computer (that's human-computer interaction). It's about making connections between people." While this might be true of interaction design for communications or collaboration products, it's too limiting a definition--as his stock market example illustrates. Often the interaction is between a user and a tool that supports his or her tasks. I also disagree that interaction with a product is industrial design. According to my understanding, in industrial design the focus is on hardware, which may include the design of physical controls, but not their functionality. Generally, the focus of human-computer interaction is on research rather than the design of interactive products. For idealists, I don't think interaction design is just about "focusing on the behavior of products", it's about helping people to accomplish their tasks, regardless of whether the tasks involve communication with other people. It's about making life easier for people. I disagree that interaction design is part of "experience design," which seems to me to be about communication and branding and emotional appeal--the work of creatives. In my view, "user experience design" is a broader term that does encompass both interaction design and IA, as well as visual design--only that last element is the work of creatives. I've often used the word "holistic" to describe user experience design. Both interaction design and information architecture focus on users tasks and goals. Interaction design is very detailed and technical, even more so than IA. (I do both.) Often I specify functionality and behaviors that are not even visible to users. Interaction design has always been the discipline that defines the structure and functionality of products, including desktop and Web applications. IA defines the structure of information. Even navigation design is a form of interaction design. I realize IAs are designing many of these things, too, though.

Media Temple

via Ad Packs