Authors: Preece, Rogers & Sharp
Case Studies
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What is Interaction Design?


Chapter Introduction | Web Resources | Assignment Comments | Teaching Materials


How many interactive products are there in everyday use? Think for a minute about what you use in a typical day: cell phone, computer, personal organizer, re­ mote control, soft drink machine, coffee machine, ATM, ticket machine, library in­ formation system, the web, photocopier, watch, printer, stereo, calculator, video game... the list is endless. Now think for a minute about how usable they are. How many are actually easy, effortless, and enjoyable to use? All of them, several, or just one or two? This list is probably considerably shorter. Why is this so?

Think about when some device caused you considerable grief-how much time did you waste trying to get it to work? Two well known interactive devices that cause numerous people immense grief are the photocopier that doesn't copy the way they want and the VCR that records a different program from the one they thought they had set or none at all. Why do you think these things happen time and time again? Moreover, can anything be done about it?

Many products that require users to interact with them to carry out their tasks (e.g., buying a ticket online from the web, photocopying an article, pre­recording a TV program) have not necessarily been designed with the users in mind. Typically, they have been engineered as systems to perform set functions. While they may work effectively from an engineering perspective, it is often at the expense of how the system will be used by real people. The aim of interaction design is to redress this concern by bringing usability into the design process. In essence, it is about developing interactive products 1 that are easy, effective, and enjoyable to use---from the users' perspective.

In this chapter we begin by examining what interaction design is. We look at the difference between good and poor design, highlighting how products can differ radically in their usability. We then describe what and who is involved in interaction design. In the last part of the chapter we outline core aspects of usability and how these are used to assess interactive products. An assignment is presented at the end of the chapter in which you have the opportunity to put into practice what you have read, by evaluating an interactive product using various usability criteria. The main aims of the chapter are to:

  • Explain the difference between good and poor interaction design.
  • Describe what interaction design is and how it relates to human­computer interaction and other fields.
  • Explain what usability is.
  • Describe what 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 principles of interaction design.