Chapter 1: What is Interaction Design?

Chapter Introduction | Web Resources | In-Depth Activity Comments | Teaching Materials


The main goals of this chapter are to accomplish the following:

  • Explain the difference between good and poor interaction design.
  • Describe what interaction design is and how it relates to human-computer interaction and other fields.
  • Explain the relationship between the user experience and usability.
  • Introduce what is meant by accessibility and inclusiveness in relation to humancomputer interaction.
  • Describe what and who is involved in the process of interaction design.
  • Outline the different forms of guidance used in interaction design.
  • Enable you to evaluate an interactive product and explain what is good and bad about it in terms of the goals and core principles of interaction design.


How many interactive products are there in everyday use? Think for a minute about what you use in a typical day: a smartphone, tablet, computer, laptop, remote control, coffee machine, ticket machine, printer, GPS, smoothie maker, e-reader, smart TV, alarm clock, electric toothbrush, watch, radio, bathroom scales, fitness tracker, game console . . . the list is endless. Now think for a minute about how usable they are. How many are actually easy, effortless, and enjoyable to use? Some, like the iPad, are a joy to use, where tapping an app and flicking through photos is simple, smooth, and enjoyable. Others, like working out how to buy the cheapest train ticket from a ticket machine that does not recognize your credit card after completing a number of steps and then makes you start again from scratch, can be very frustrating. Why is there a difference?

Many products that require users to interact with them, such as smartphones and fitness trackers, have been designed primarily with the user in mind. They are generally easy and enjoyable to use. Others have not necessarily been designed with the users in mind; rather, they have been engineered primarily as software systems to perform set functions. An example is setting the time on a stove that requires a combination of button presses that are not obvious as to which ones to press together or separately. While they may work effectively, it can be at the expense of how easily they will be learned and therefore used in a real-world context.

Alan Cooper (2018), a well-known user experience (UX) guru, bemoans the fact that much of today’s software suffers from the same interaction errors that were around 20 years ago. Why is this still the case, given that interaction design has been in existence for more than 25 years and that there are far more UX designers now in industry than ever before? He points out how many interfaces of new products do not adhere to the interaction design principles validated in the 1990s. For example, he notes that many apps do not follow even the most basic of UX principles, such as offering an “undo” option. He exclaims that it is “inexplicable and unforgivable that these violations continue to resurface in new products today.”

How can we rectify this situation so that the norm is that all new products are designed to provide good user experiences? To achieve this, we need to be able to understand how to reduce the negative aspects (such as frustration and annoyance) of the user experience while enhancing the positive ones (for example, enjoyment and efficacy). This entails developing interactive products that are easy, effective, and pleasurable to use from the users’ perspective.

In this chapter, we begin by examining the basics of interaction design. We look at the difference between good and poor design, highlighting how products can differ radically in how usable and enjoyable they are. We then describe what and who is involved in the process of interaction design. The user experience, which is a central concern of interaction design, is then introduced. Finally, we outline how to characterize the user experience in terms of usability goals, user experience goals, and design principles. An in-depth activity is presented at the end of the chapter in which you have the opportunity to put into practice what you have read by evaluating the design of an interactive product.