The Interaction Design Process

Your constantly-updated definition of the Interaction Design Process and collection of videos and articles

What is the Interaction Design Process?

The interaction design (IxD) process is the methodological approach that designers use to create solutions centered on users’ needs, aims and behavior when they interact with products. The IxD process has 5 stages: discovering user needs, analyzing them, designing a potential solution, prototyping it and then implementing and deploying it.

In this video, HCI Expert and Author, Alan Dix describea the key stages of the interaction design process:

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What are the Key Stages of the Interaction Design Process

The designer does not begin with some preconceived idea. Rather, the idea is the result of careful study and observation, and the design a product of that idea.

-Paul Rand, Renowned Graphic Designer and Art Director

With the IxD process, designers can build highly intuitive, recognizable interfaces that provide seamless experiences for users that prove a brand thoroughly understands them, their contexts and the goals they seek to achieve.

Here are the five stages that the IxD process typically involves:

  1. Understand user needs and wants: This initial phase involves researching and understanding users' needs, goals, and contexts of use. Designers gather insights through user research, which can include interviews, surveys, observations, and personas. It’s essential for designers to understand the problem space in order to design solutions that meet real user needs.

    Two useful research exercises include: 

    • Contextual inquiry: This approach allows designers to immerse themselves in the user's environment. For instance, if designing a healthcare app, designers could observe how patients and doctors interact with existing systems.

    • User interviews and surveys: These exercises help designers gather direct insights from their target audience. For a retail app, a designer might explore shopping habits and pain points.

    2. Analyze user research findings: Designers define the interaction problem they aim to solve based on the insights they’ve gathered. This phase involves setting clear objectives, specifying user requirements, and establishing design principles that will guide the project. Creating user stories and scenarios and conducting task analyses can help clarify how proposed solutions fit into the users' lives. 

    Here are two ways designers can analyze and organize their findings:

    • Personas: These are created based on research and should be as detailed as possible. For a project like a new educational platform, personas might include students, teachers, and administrators with distinct needs and goals.

    • Journey mapping: Developing journey maps helps designers visualize a user’s interactions with a product. This can highlight friction points in current systems, like booking a service or completing a purchase.

    3. Design a potential solution: In this phase, designers brainstorm, sketch and design potential solutions. This step often involves creating low-fidelity wireframes, flow diagrams and sketches that explore different design options and how users will interact with the system. Designers also think about the look and feel of the product, as well as the logic and structure of the interaction. All of this is done according to the design guidelines and fundamental design principles established in the previous steps or within an organization's or individual's preferences.

    Here are two approaches to designing at this point in the design process:

    • Sketching: Rapid, freehand drawing helps designers quickly visualize ideas, layout arrangements, and user interfaces. This technique is excellent for initial brainstorming sessions and can be shared easily for immediate feedback.

    • Storyboarding: This involves creating a series of drawings to depict the user journey or specific interactions with a product. Storyboards help in visualizing the context of use, user emotions, and potential pain points without detailed prototypes.

    4. Create prototypes from designs: Prototyping is an extension of the design phase, where ideas are transformed into tangible artifacts that can be tested and evaluated. Prototypes range from low-fidelity sketches to high-fidelity, interactive simulations that closely mimic the final product. This stage allows designers and stakeholders to explore the viability of design concepts before full-scale development.

    Here are the two main types of prototypes:

    • Low-fidelity prototyping: Paper prototypes or basic digital mockups can demonstrate ideas and design quickly and easily. This approach is cost-effective and allows for rapid iteration based on initial feedback.

    • High-fidelity prototyping: For a deeper test of interactions, designers can create high-fidelity prototypes using tools like Sketch or Figma. For example, an e-commerce site design would benefit from detailed prototypes that simulate the shopping experience.

    5. Implement and deploy the final design: Once the design has been refined through multiple iterations of testing and feedback, it moves into implementation, where developers build the interaction design into the product. Designers work closely with developers to ensure the design's fidelity and to adjust the interaction design as needed based on technical constraints or new insights. 

    Carry out these two activities at this stage of the design process: 

    • Collaboration with developers: Work closely with developers during the implementation phase to ensure the design translates well into the final product. This step is crucial for complex applications like a financial tracking tool, where functionality and user interface (UI) must align perfectly.

    • Post-launch evaluation: After launch, designers should collect and analyze user feedback. Tools like Google Analytics or user feedback platforms can provide insights into how well the product meets user needs and where further refinements are necessary.

    It’s crucial for designers to have a thorough understanding of the interaction design process. This process is among several similar design methodologies, with the iterative design process of design thinking as the most popular and well-known example. In design thinking, designers work to gain and leverage essential insights that allow them to fine-tune features optimally. Only when designers know and empathize with users can they truly appreciate their real-world needs, desires, and pain points. This empathetic approach is the cornerstone of creating solutions that are not only technologically sound but also resonate with the user base and ensure that the end product effectively addresses the challenges users face in their daily lives.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

How to Apply the IxD Process in Real-World Contexts

Applying the Interaction Design (IxD) process in real-world contexts requires navigating through its five stages, ideally without compromise. However, real-world projects often face time and financial constraints, which necessitates strategic trade-offs. Despite these challenges, it's crucial not to skimp on essential aspects like user research and testing. For instance, employing cost-effective methods such as paper prototyping can offer early insights into potential solutions, which helps to steer the design in the right direction. When designers aim for a minimum viable product (MVP)—a functional, marketable version of an app, for example—it allows for quicker iteration based on user feedback, rather than waiting for a "perfect" product.

Real-world examples demonstrate the importance of this approach. For example, the development of a running watch app. Designers focused on creating an interface that not only motivates runners but also ensures their safety by minimizing distractions. This means avoiding overly detailed text or complex navigation that could be hazardous during physical activity. Similarly, heuristic evaluations by design teams can quickly pinpoint and prioritize the correction of glaring usability flaws to enhance the user experience without significant delays.

The moment of use is critical; designers must scrutinize details like notification text length to prevent user frustration. Additionally, understanding how interactive elements collectively impact the user experience is vital. For example, Spotify's interface design caters to users' need for quick, effortless access to music and podcasts, without complicated navigation, recognizing the diverse contexts in which the app is used.

Learn More about the Interaction Design Process

Learn more about the interaction design process in our course, User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide.

Discover the design thinking process, which is very similar to the interaction design process in this article The 5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process and in our course, Design Thinking: The Ultimate Guide

Learn more about what interaction design is in the article, What is Interaction Design?

Questions related to Interaction Design Process

How does user research fit into the interaction design process?

User research fits into the interaction design process as a foundational element, guiding the development of user-centered designs from the very beginning. It involves gathering insights about the users' needs, behaviors, motivations, and contexts of use before any design decisions are made. This research informs the creation of personas, user scenarios, and user journeys, which serve as reference points throughout the design process.

During the ideation and prototyping stages, user research helps validate assumptions, refine concepts, and iterate on designs based on real user feedback. Designers can ensure that the interactions they create meet the actual needs and preferences of their users by continuously incorporating user feedback through usability testing.

Moreover, user research aids in identifying potential usability issues early in the process, allowing for adjustments before the final implementation. This ensures the development of more intuitive, accessible, and satisfying user experiences. Overall, user research is integral to the interaction design process, ensuring that designs are not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional, usable, and aligned with user expectations.

Learn more about the interaction design process in our course, User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide.

What are some well-regarded books on the interaction design process?

Cooper, A., Reimann, R., Cronin, D., & Noessel, C. (2014). About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design (4th ed.). Wiley.

Norman, D. (2013). The Design of Everyday Things (Illustrated ed.). Basic Books.

What are some highly-cited research papers on the interaction design process?

Zimmerman, J., Forlizzi, J., & Evenson, S. (2007). Research through design as a method for interaction design research in HCI. 493-502.

Löwgren, J. (2007). Interaction design, research practices and design research on the digital materials.

What techniques are used to map out user flows in the interaction design process?

In the interaction design process, several techniques are used to map out user flows effectively:

User stories: Short, simple descriptions of a feature from the perspective of the user, helping to outline what users want to achieve through their interactions.

Storyboards: Visual representations that depict how users might interact with a product in different scenarios, providing a narrative context to the user's journey.

Flowcharts: Diagrams that show the path users take through a product, from entry points through various interactions up to the final outcome, highlighting decision points and key actions.

Wireframes: Low-fidelity designs that outline the basic structure of a page or screen, focusing on what users will do and see at each step without getting into detailed design elements.

Journey maps: Detailed visualizations of the user's experience with the product over time, capturing the sequence of actions, thoughts, and emotions the user goes through.

Prototypes: Interactive models of the product that allow for the simulation and testing of user flows in a more tangible way, facilitating user feedback on the flow's intuitiveness and efficiency.

These techniques, often used in combination, enable designers to visualize and test user flows, ensuring that the product architecture supports a smooth, logical, and enjoyable user experience.

To learn more about user flows and related techniques, take our courses User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide and Journey Mapping.

How do interaction designers create and use personas during the design process?

Interaction designers create and use personas by gathering user data through research, identifying behavioral patterns, and developing detailed profiles representing user types. These personas include demographic details, goals, and pain points. Throughout the design process, designers reference personas to ensure decisions align with user needs, helping prioritize features and design flows. Personas are shared with the project team to foster empathy and guide development. As feedback is collected, personas are iterated to remain accurate and useful, making them central to designing relevant and user-centered experiences.

Learn more about personas in the article What are Personas? and in our Master Class with Professor Dan Rosenberg, How To Create Actionable Personas.

In what ways do sketching and wireframing contribute to the interaction design process?

Sketching and wireframing are crucial early stages in the interaction design process. Sketching enables rapid exploration of ideas and layouts, fostering creativity and early identification of usability issues. Wireframing provides a clear visualization of the user interface, focusing on functionality and user flow without aesthetic distractions. Both tools facilitate communication within the design team and with stakeholders, serve as blueprints for development, and allow for early usability testing. Together, they lay the foundation for a user-centered design approach to ensure a structured and iterative development of the product's user experience.

Learn more about sketching in our Master Class, How to Elevate Your Portfolio: Sketching Your Design Process.

How is feedback from usability testing integrated into the interaction design process?

Feedback from usability testing is integrated into the interaction design process through an iterative cycle: test, analyze, and refine. Designers collect user feedback to identify usability issues and areas for improvement. Insights from this analysis inform design iterations, focusing on enhancing the user experience. Revised designs undergo further testing to ensure modifications address user needs effectively. This process ensures the final product is intuitive, functional, and aligned with user expectations which leads to higher user satisfaction.

Learn more about the interaction design process in our course, User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide.

What are the considerations for ensuring accessibility within the interaction design process?

Ensuring accessibility within the interaction design process involves several key considerations:

Universal design principles: Apply principles that make products usable by as many people as possible, regardless of age or ability.

Contrast and color: Use sufficient contrast levels and avoid relying solely on color to convey information, supporting those with visual impairments.

Text size and readability: Ensure text is resizable and fonts are readable to accommodate users with varying vision abilities.

Keyboard navigation: Design for keyboard-only users, allowing all interactive elements to be accessible without a mouse.

Screen reader compatibility: Ensure content is structured logically and semantically for screen readers, using appropriate HTML tags and ARIA labels.

Alternative text: Provide alt text for images and non-text content, offering equivalents for those who cannot see them.

Testing with diverse users: Include users with disabilities in usability testing to gather real-world feedback on accessibility.

Compliance with standards: Follow guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to meet legal and ethical standards.

By incorporating these considerations, designers can create more inclusive and accessible digital products, enhancing usability for users with diverse needs and abilities.
Learn more about accessibility in our courses, User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide and Accessibility: How to Design for All.

How do interaction designers collaborate with UI/UX designers and developers during the design process?

Interaction designers collaborate with UI/UX designers and developers throughout the design process to create cohesive and functional digital products. They work closely with UI/UX designers to ensure that the visual design supports the intended user interactions and enhances the overall user experience. This collaboration involves sharing insights on user behavior, preferences, and usability findings to inform design decisions and create intuitive interfaces.

With developers, interaction designers communicate the functionality and behavior of interactive elements, ensuring that the technical implementation aligns with the design vision. They provide detailed specifications and work together to solve technical challenges that arise during development, often using prototypes and wireframes as communication tools.

Learn more about the interaction design process in our course, User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide.

What strategies are employed to keep the interaction design process agile and adaptable to changes?

To keep the interaction design process agile and adaptable, key strategies include adopting an iterative design approach, maintaining a user-centered focus, fostering collaboration across teams, utilizing flexible documentation and modular design systems, conducting regular testing with feedback loops, and organizing work into sprints for incremental improvements. These practices ensure the design process is responsive to user needs and changes, allowing for quick adjustments and updates

Learn more about the interaction design process in our course, User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide. Discover more about agile in the Agile Methods for UX Design.

Literature on the Interaction Design Process

Here’s the entire UX literature on the Interaction Design Process by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about the Interaction Design Process

Take a deep dive into Interaction Design Process with our course User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide .

If you’ve heard the term user experience design and been overwhelmed by all the jargon, then you’re not alone. In fact, most practicing UX designers struggle to explain what they do!

“[User experience] is used by people to say, ‘I’m a user experience designer, I design websites,’ or ‘I design apps.’ […] and they think the experience is that simple device, the website, or the app, or who knows what. No! It’s everything — it’s the way you experience the world, it’s the way you experience your life, it’s the way you experience the service. Or, yeah, an app or a computer system. But it’s a system that’s everything.”

— Don Norman, pioneer and inventor of the term “user experience,” in an interview with NNGroup

As indicated by Don Norman, User Experience is an umbrella term that covers several areas. When you work with user experience, it’s crucial to understand what those areas are so that you know how best to apply the tools available to you.

In this course, you will gain an introduction to the breadth of UX design and understand why it matters. You’ll also learn the roles and responsibilities of a UX designer, how to confidently talk about UX and practical methods that you can apply to your work immediately.

You will learn to identify the overlaps and differences between different fields and adapt your existing skills to UX design. Once you understand the lay of the land, you’ll be able to chart your journey into a career in UX design. You’ll hear from practicing UX designers from within the IxDF community — people who come from diverse backgrounds, have taught themselves design, learned on the job, and are enjoying successful careers.

If you are new to the Interaction Design Foundation, this course is a great place to start because it brings together materials from many of our other courses. This provides you with both an excellent introduction to user experience and a preview of the courses we have to offer to help you develop your future career. After each lesson, we will introduce you to the courses you can take if a specific topic has caught your attention. That way, you’ll find it easy to continue your learning journey.

In the first lesson, you’ll learn what user experience design is and what a UX designer does. You’ll also learn about the importance of portfolios and what hiring managers look for in them.

In the second lesson, you’ll learn how to think like a UX designer. This lesson also introduces you to the very first exercise for you to dip your toes into the cool waters of user experience. 

In the third and the fourth lessons, you’ll learn about the most common UX design tools and methods. You’ll also practice each of the methods through tailor-made exercises that walk you through the different stages of the design process.

In the final lesson, you’ll step outside the classroom and into the real world. You’ll understand the role of a UX designer within an organization and what it takes to overcome common challenges at the workplace. You’ll also learn how to leverage your existing skills to successfully transition to and thrive in a new career in UX.   

You’ll be taught by some of the world’s leading experts. The experts we’ve handpicked for you are:

  • Alan Dix, Director of the Computational Foundry at Swansea University, author of Statistics for HCI: Making Sense of Quantitative Data

  • Ann Blandford, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at University College London

  • Frank Spillers, Service Designer, Founder and CEO of Experience Dynamics

  • Laura Klein, Product Management Expert, Principal at Users Know, Author of Build Better Products and UX for Lean Startups

  • Michal Malewicz, Designer and Creative Director / CEO of Hype4 Mobile

  • Mike Rohde, Experience and Interface Designer, Author of The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking

  • Szymon Adamiak, Software Engineer and Co-founder of Hype4 Mobile

  • William Hudson, User Experience Strategist and Founder of Syntagm

Throughout the course, we’ll supply you with lots of templates and step-by-step guides so you can start applying what you learn in your everyday practice.

You’ll find a series of exercises that will help you get hands-on experience with the methods you learn. Whether you’re a newcomer to design considering a career switch, an experienced practitioner looking to brush up on the basics, or work closely with designers and are curious to know what your colleagues are up to, you will benefit from the learning materials and practical exercises in this course.

You can also learn with your fellow course-takers and use the discussion forums to get feedback and inspire other people who are learning alongside you. You and your fellow course-takers have a huge knowledge and experience base between you, so we think you should take advantage of it whenever possible.

You earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you’ve completed the course. You can highlight it on your resume, LinkedIn profile or website.

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