Interaction Design (IxD)

Your constantly-updated definition of Interaction Design (IxD) and collection of videos and articles
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What is Interaction Design (IxD)?

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 usability.gov’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.

Questions related to Interaction Design

How does interaction design compare to more traditional design disciplines?

Interaction design, a pivotal component of user experience design, emphasizes creating engaging products that facilitate user objectives, involving multifaceted elements like aesthetics, motion, sound, and space. It stands out from traditional design disciplines by focusing on user interaction and overall product experience beyond just visual aesthetics. To explore interaction design’s intricate principles, models, and critical role in developing user-centric designs, watch our detailed video and read this comprehensive book chapter.

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What does an interaction designer do?

An interaction designer crafts the experiences users have with products, focusing on optimizing user interaction and functionality. They utilize various elements like aesthetics, motion, sound, and space, ensuring that products are user-friendly and meet user needs effectively. They consider the Five Dimensions of Interaction Design: words, visual representations, physical objects, time, and behavior, to create meaningful interactions. 

The interaction designer also works with design strategies, wireframes, prototyping and sometimes conducts user research to understand user goals better. For more insights on what interaction designers do, watch our video, which comprehensively explains the role and components of interaction design in detail.

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What is UX vs UI vs interaction design?

UX, UI, and Interaction Design shape distinct aspects of user interactions. UX, User Experience, is holistic, focusing on users' overall satisfaction and interaction with the company and its products, as explained by Don Norman, the inventor of the term "user experience." More recently, UX has come to refer specifically to the user experience with a solution and customer experience (CX) to the whole relationship with the company.

UID, User Interface Design, deals with the visual components users interact with, such as buttons, icons, and layouts, aiming for aesthetic and functional harmony. Interaction Design orchestrates the user's engagement with these components, ensuring effective, enjoyable interactions. Discover more about the differences and interconnections between user experience and user interface in this video.

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Stephen Gay, Design Lead at Google, delves deeper into these design roles in this video, helping you to understand UX Roles and choose which one you should go for.

Video copyright info

© The Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA-NC 3.0.

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What are the five dimensions of interaction design?

Our enlightening video on the interaction design process delves into the meticulous steps and considerations inherent to creating user-centric interactions and interventions. While the video primarily focuses on the overarching process, interaction design is often conceptualized through 5 dimensions: 

  • 1D - text

  • 2D - visual representation

  • 3D - physical object/space

  • 4D - time (animation)

  • 5D - behavior (reaction)

These dimensions are pivotal in creating clear, user-friendly, and effective interactions. For a more comprehensive exploration of interaction design processes, watch our video, which provides valuable insights and exemplifications, ensuring a profound understanding of the creation and refinement of interactive systems.

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What is the difference between interaction design and visual design?

Interaction design and visual design are essential, complementary disciplines in user experience. Interaction design optimizes user interactions with a system, applying usability principles to forge seamless, effective user experiences. Conversely, visual design emphasizes a product's aesthetics, including color, imagery, and typography. Interaction-design.org offers extensive courses in both areas – explore Interaction Design for Usability for a deeper understanding of creating intuitive user experiences. Check out Visual Design: The Ultimate Guide to refine your skills in producing visually striking interfaces. Integrating knowledge from both domains enables the development of cohesive, user-friendly designs.

What is the difference between product design and interaction design?

Product design encompasses creating usable products, including ideation, development, and validation, focusing on the user experience. Interaction design is a subset of product design, specializing in optimizing user interactions with a product prioritizing functionality and usability. To master interaction design, follow our Interaction Designer Learning Path, and explore our Product Manager Learning Path for a comprehensive understanding of constructing user-centric products. By integrating insights from both paths, you can innovate products that are functional and user-friendly and meet market demands.

What is mapping in interaction design?

Mapping in interaction design is a technique for creating visual representations to condense complex processes and user experiences, fostering a unified understanding. 

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For example, our video explains how mapping can translate intricate details of locations and systems, like the New York Subway, into simplified, understandable visuals. Similarly, a customer journey map outlines users' interactions, lessons, and projects in an IxDF Design Bootcamp, demonstrating the efficiency of mapping in identifying patterns and enhancing navigation. To delve deeper into the concept, refer to our detailed article on the power of mapping.

What is the Interaction Design Foundation?

The Interaction Design Foundation (IxDF) is an educational organization advancing design knowledge and capabilities. We offer over 30 comprehensive courses on user experience (UX) and interaction design, suitable for both novices and experienced designers. Our online, self-paced courses, created by renowned professionals and scholars like Don Norman and Clayton Christensen, provide an Ivy League-level education in design, emphasizing user-centric approaches and design thinking. Learn and evolve with our diverse courses and enhance your design proficiency, earning industry-recognized certifications. 

Watch our founders, Mads Soegaard and Rikke Friis Dam's video, to discover more about our mission to make premium design education affordable, offering unlimited access for a flat rate fee.

Where to learn interaction design?

To learn interaction design, explore the Interaction Design Foundation’s interaction designer learning path, offering a curated selection of courses like User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide, Interaction Design for Usability, and HCI: Foundations of UX Design. These courses, designed by experts, provide comprehensive insights and knowledge, helping you master the core principles and techniques of interaction design to create user-friendly, engaging interfaces.

Literature on Interaction Design (IxD)

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

Learn more about Interaction Design (IxD)

Take a deep dive into Interaction Design (IxD) with our course Interaction Design for Usability .

This course will teach you fundamental usability concepts and methods and will tie them together with interaction and visual design. By completing the course, you will become equipped with the tools required to create products with outstanding user experience and usability. Your newly acquired knowledge will also enable you to reduce the costs, risk, and time required to design and implement such products.

You’ll learn to adopt a user-centered approach to UX design and usability so you can create user-friendly products that people love to use—for example, by allowing for user errors and providing timely feedback messages. More importantly, it is crucial that your entire team—developers, project managers, and product owners alike—adopt this holistic, user-centered mindset. This course therefore aims to provide any team member with just that: it will not only equip you with fundamental usability and design concepts, but also introduce you to lean and agile processes that will allow your whole team to become design-centric.

You should take this course if you belong to a team whose goal is to create a great product—whatever role you play in that. The fact of the matter is that usability experts and UX designers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the people who influence the design of a product. A sound understanding of user-centered design processes is thus greatly beneficial whether you’re a UX designer, developer, or a newcomer to design who wants to be part of a product team one day.

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