Before the Internet existed, there was interaction design. Now, with digital capabilities, the interaction design landscape has been elevated. So, what exactly is interactive design and how does it benefit us?

Interaction Design is…

Designing goods, products, and services with the user in mind is at the heart of user and interactive design. Interaction design (IxD) means creating something and not only taking into consideration what it will do but how a user will engage with it. The goal is to focus on the user’s needs. Plus, the context the user plans on using the product or service. Literally, how they will interact with it.

Interaction design thinking doesn’t require digitalization. Many designers use IxD for non-digital products. The process is a sort of Tango between designer and user. It includes both anticipating and empathizing with users. John Kolko, Author of Thoughts on Interaction Design, defines interaction design as, “Interaction Design is the creation of a dialogue between a person and a product, system, or service. This dialogue is both physical and emotional and is manifested in the interplay between form, function, and technology as experienced over time.”

Dimensions of Interaction Design

So, what all is involved with interactive design? There are four dimensions of the design process (words, visual representations, physical objects/space, and time). Gillian Crampton Smith, an interaction design academic, developed these dimensions. They were later expanded by Kevin Silver who added a fifth dimension (behavior). Here’s a brief overview of the dimensions:

Dimension 1: In interaction design, words matter. Words should communicate information to users without overwhelming them with too many details.

Dimension 2: Visual representations are critical in interaction design. Visual representations include typography, icons, and other graphics with which users interact.

Dimension 3: In interaction design, users interact with the product or service utilizing physical objects.

Dimension 4: Time helps users within interaction design. Time helps to understand visual changes and to track user progress.

Dimension 5:  Behavior in interaction design is understanding the user’s motivation. It is the mechanism of an interaction with a product or service.

There is some overlap, as evident by the five dimensions of interaction design, between interaction design and user design. However, interaction design and user experience aren’t synonymous.

Interaction Design vs. User Design

Dan Saffer explains in his textbook, Designing for Interaction: Creating Innovative Applications and Devices that interaction design is a subset of user design. Babich (2019) elaborates that the two differ:

Interaction designers focus on the moment when a user interacts with a product and strives to improve the interactive experience.

User experience designers focus on all user-facing aspects of a product or system, which can include interaction.

Dan Willis, a UX designer, demonstrates the reliance of interaction design on user experience but not vice versa through the visualization of an umbrella in this blog post and below.

Who Works with Interaction Design?

Interactive design is collaborative. It includes graphic designers, user-interaction designers, front end programmers, back end programmers, analysts, web developers, and information architects.

Dan Saffer also found the true definition of interaction design can be controversial, challenging, or ambiguous. Discussion revolves around the evolution of the discipline. Also, the many ways interaction design is perceived. But, Saffer provides a few major approaches to interaction design that most professionals agree on. These include:

  • User-centered design
  • Activity-centered design
  • Systems design
  • Genius Design

Interactive designers facilitate connections between consumers and goods or services. Their day to day can vary widely but generally includes forming a design strategy, wireframing key interactions, and prototyping interactions.

Interaction designer jobs fall under several different titles and descriptions. The Interaction Design Association (IxDA), hosts a job board that includes almost every type of interaction design position.

The Methods of an Interaction Designer

While designers vary in their approach, there are some consistent common methods across the board. These include:

  • Goal-Driven Design
  • Usability
  • The Five Dimensions (previously mentioned)
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Human Interface Guidelines

The key is, these designers, communicate information by making an intuitive interface. But, it also needs to be as unobtrusive as possible. They must take into consideration the goals they would like the user to accomplish. And, the product environment as well as the mentality of the individual using it.

Interaction design best practices, according to, are:

  • Define How Users Can Interact with the Interface
  • Give Users Clues about Behavior before Actions are Taken
  • Anticipate and Mitigate Errors
  • Consider System Feedback and Response Time
  • Strategically Think about Each Element
  • Simplify for Learnability

These best practices help designers put themselves into the shoes of the consumer. This helps improve the interaction design capabilities. So, in what ways is interaction design used?

Interaction Design Uses

Interaction design is about ease of use. But, it’s also visible in almost every facet of daily life. Moving a product, to get different views, is an example of interaction design. Animated weather or stock updates that pop up on your device are also examples. And, urban planning, distance education, and health monitoring are too. These are all just a few of the uses of interactive design. As more and more devices become “smart” including homes, interaction displays will play a more important role in our safety and wellbeing. Fire alarm systems, carbon monoxide detectors, and visual doorbells depend on accurate and efficient interaction design.

Interaction design offers cost savings too. Companies measure the return on investment (ROI) to better quantify their value. Support Costs Per User (SCPU) is a cost reduction measure. It uses design without cutting out the user experience. The Interaction Design Foundation explains the metric as the total support costs (both direct and indirect) divided by the total number of users. That’s like Total Support Costs/Total Users = SCPU. In the design world, it can be difficult to present metrics for measuring ROI. But, being able to make the case for why interaction design is critical to a a company’s bottom line is necessary to gain executive buy-in. Ultimately, positive performance and satisfaction scores are closely tied to interaction design. Thus, the perceived success of a product or service.

Interaction Design Examples: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Sometimes design can be subjective. But most designers agree that ease of use is the measure of success. The Interaction Awards recognize and celebrate excellence in Interaction Design. It’s a good place to start when looking for examples of quality interactive design. Other online blogs and design publications, such as InVision, lists examples of effective interaction design.

However, it is also helpful to review some of the interaction designs that missed the mark. Designs that are a sort of “what not to do.” CareerFoundry recently highlighted prime examples and explained why they were problematic. The Interaction Design Foundation also highlights problematic designs in general. While humorous, they could be costly or even dangerous. For example, that first step is a doozy! Or, here’s hoping you grab the correct can of spray!


By Dana Hackley
PHD in Communications Media and Instructional Technology.
She is a Public Relations Specialist for Jackson Kelley PLLC where she creates, manages, and executes the firm’s communications strategy across multiple office locations. In addition, she works as an online Academic Coach through Instructional Connections LLC assisting with Communications undergraduate and graduate courses.



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