Authors: Preece, Rogers & Sharp
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Understanding and Conceptualizing Interaction


Chapter Introduction | Web Resources | Assignment Comments | Teaching Materials


Imagine you have been asked to design an application to let people organize, store, and retrieve their email in a fast, efficient and enjoyable way. What would you do? How would you start? Would you begin by sketching out how the interface might look, work out how the system architecture will be structured, or even just start coding? Alternatively, would you start by asking users about their current experiences of saving email, look at existing email tools and, based on this, begin thinking about why, what, and how you were going to design the application?

Interaction designers would begin by doing the latter. It is important to realize that having a clear understanding of what, why, and how you are going to design something, before writing any code, can save enormous amounts of time and effort later on in the design process. Ill thought out ideas, incompatible and unusable designs can be ironed out while it is relatively easy and painless to do. Once ideas are committed to code (which typically takes considerable effort, time, and money), they become much harder to throw away -and much more painful. Such preliminary thinking through of ideas about user needs (User needs here are the range of possible requirements, including user wants and experiences) and what kinds of designs might be appropriate is, however, a skill that needs to be learned. It is not something that can be done overnight through following a checklist, but requires practice in learning to identify, understand, and examine the issues—just like learning to write an essay or to program. In this chapter we describe what is involved. In particular, we focus on what it takes to understand and conceptualize interaction. The main aims of this chapter are to:

  • Explain what is meant by the problem space.
  • Explain how to conceptualize interaction.
  • Describe what a conceptual model is and explain the different kinds.
  • Discuss the pros and cons of using interface metaphors as conceptual models.
  • Debate the pros and cons of using realism versus abstraction at the interface.
  • Outline the relationship between conceptual design and physical design.