Chapter 3: Conceptualizing Interaction

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

  • Explain how to conceptualize interaction.
  • Describe what a conceptual model is and how to begin to formulate one.
  • Discuss the use of interface metaphors as part of a conceptual model.
  • Outline the core interaction types for informing the development of a conceptual model.
  • Introduce paradigms, visions, theories, models, and frameworks informing interaction design.


When coming up with new ideas as part of a design project, it is important to conceptualize them in terms of what the proposed product will do. Sometimes, this is referred to as creating a proof of concept. In relation to the double diamond framework, it can be viewed as an initial pass to help define the area and also when exploring solutions. One reason for needing to do this is as a reality check where fuzzy ideas and assumptions about the benefits of the proposed product are scrutinized in terms of their feasibility: How realistic is it to develop what they have suggested, and how desirable and useful will it actually be? Another reason is to enable designers to begin articulating what the basic building blocks will be when developing the product. From a user experience (UX) perspective, it can lead to better clarity, forcing designers to explain how users will understand, learn about, and interact with the product.

For example, consider the bright idea that a designer has of creating a voice-assisted mobile robot that can help waiters in a restaurant take orders and deliver meals to customers (see Figure 3.1). The first question to ask is: why? What problem would this address? The designer might say that the robot could help take orders and entertain customers by having a conversation with them at the table. They could also make recommendations that can be customized to different customers, such as restless children or fussy eaters. However, none of these addresses an actual problem. Rather, they are couched in terms of the putative benefits of the new solution. In contrast, an actual problem identified might be the following: “It is difficult to recruit good wait staff who provide the level of customer service to which we have become accustomed.”

Having worked through a problem space, it is important to generate a set of research questions that need to be addressed, when considering how to design a robot voice interface to wait on customers. These might include the following: How intelligent does it have to be? How would it need to move to appear to be talking? What would the customers think of it? Would they think it is too gimmicky and get easily tired of it? Or, would it always be a pleasure for them to engage with the robot, not knowing what it would say on each new visit to the restaurant? Could it be designed to be a grumpy extrovert or a funny waiter? What might be the limitations of this voice-assisted approach?

Many unknowns need to be considered in the initial stages of a design project, especially if it is a new product that is being proposed. As part of this process, it can be useful to show where your novel ideas came from. What sources of inspiration were used? Is there any theory or research that can be used to inform and support the nascent ideas?

Asking questions, reconsidering one’s assumptions, and articulating one’s concerns and standpoints are central aspects of the early ideation process. Expressing ideas as a set of concepts greatly helps to transform blue-sky and wishful thinking into more concrete models of how a product will work, what design features to include, and the amount of functionality that is needed. In this chapter, we describe how to achieve this through considering the different ways of conceptualizing interaction.