Interaction Design

Your constantly-updated definition of Interaction Design and collection of topical content and literature

What is Interaction Design?

Interaction Design (IxD) is the design of interactive products and services in which a designer’s focus goes beyond the item in development to include the way users will interact with it. Thus, close scrutiny of users’ needs, limitations and contexts, etc. empowers designers to customize output to suit precise demands.

What Designers Do – with the 5 Dimensions of IxD

For UX designers, “Interaction Design” is the axis on which our work revolves (i.e., the design of human interaction with digital products); however, the term also applies to understanding how people interact with non-digital products.

“Interaction Design is the creation of a dialogue between a person and a product, system, or service. This dialogue is both physical and emotional in nature and is manifested in the interplay between form, function, and technology as experienced over time.”

- John Kolko, Author of Thoughts on Interaction Design (2011)

Designers’ work in IxD involves five dimensions: words (1D), visual representations (2D), physical objects/space (3D), time (4D), and behavior (5D).

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Learn more about the 5 factors of interaction design and the kind of work IxD involves.

IxD’s five dimensions were first defined by a professor at London’s Royal College of Art, Gillian Crampton Smith, and a senior interaction designer, Kevin Silver. The dimensions represent the aspects an interaction designer considers when designing interactions:

  • Words (1D) encompass text, such as button labels, which help give users the right amount of information.
  • Visual representations (2D) are graphical elements such as images, typography and icons that aid in user interaction.
  • Physical objects/space (3D) refers to the medium through which users interact with the product or service—for instance, a laptop via a mouse, or a mobile phone via fingers.
  • Time (4D) relates to media that changes with time, such as animations, videos and sounds.
  • Behavior (5D) is concerned with how the previous four dimensions define the interactions a product affords—for instance, how users can perform actions on a website, or how users can operate a car. Behavior also refers to how the product reacts to the users’ inputs and provides feedback.

Interaction designers utilize all five dimensions to consider the interactions between a user and a product or service in a holistic way. Specifically, we use them to help envision the real-world demands of a usership in relation to a design not yet introduced. For example, designers of an app that must process data at high speed in order to find results inside a mass-transit system (a subway/metro) will face accommodating the constraints of underground commuters – cramped spaces, fast journeys, dead zones, etc.

Interaction Design is a Part of User Experience Design

The term “interaction design” is sometimes used interchangeably with “user experience design”. That’s understandable, considering interaction design is an essential part of UX design. Indeed, UX design entails shaping the experience of using a product, and a big part of that experience involves the needed interaction between the user and the product. However, UX design goes far beyond that. UX designers’ working world is concerned with the entire user journey, including aspects of branding, design, usability and function. Conversely, the central role of “interaction designers” targets the moment of use and how to improve the interactive experience. Thus, interaction design, or IxD, is pivotal in the realm of the user experience, since the moment of use is the acid test of a design, where the designer’s manipulation of the five dimensions must offer users a satisfactory—if not better—experience. If users find themselves hindered by impractical features, such as text-heavy notifications or overlong animations, are put off by the aesthetics, or the responsiveness of the design fails to match their needs in the context, the design will fail, regardless of the brand behind it. The IxD of a product reflects its absolute value.

Learn More about Interaction Design

Read’s questions to consider when designing for interaction here:

UX Matters has a great article by Kevin Silver on the 5 dimensions of interaction design – here:

You can learn much more about what interaction design is and how to design interactions in the Interaction Design Foundation’s online courses. Read more about the courses we offer – here:

Literature on Interaction Design

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

Learn more about Interaction Design

Take a deep dive into Interaction Design with our course Psychology of Interaction Design: The Ultimate Guide .

A deep understanding of human psychology is essential for all designers when creating a user-centered product with great user experience. While many individual differences will never cease to exist between users, we are united by our shared psychology; the constraints and abilities of the human mind are much the same for all of us. Developing an understanding of these cognitive limitations and capabilities is the key to interaction design and a great user experience. Without an awareness of how we interact with things in the real and virtual worlds, you’ll find that your designs will fall short of their potential.

This course will equip you with the knowledge to relate to your users psychologically, thus allowing you to create stand-out products. Through learning about different aspects of human cognition—and how they relate to interaction design—you will find yourself much better equipped to put yourself in your users’ shoes, shifting their thoughts to the forefront and keeping a firm hold of them there when designing your next creation.

All Literature

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