Wednesday, July 21, 2004
A Definition of Interaction Design
Last month, I started a discussion on the interaction designers list that continued on and on and on. Until it became another discussion about the definition of interaction design. I thought since it was forbidden to discuss it there, I would put down my thoughts here in a coherent manner and offer up my definition of interaction design.
Interaction design is the art of facilitating or instigating interactions between humans (or their agents), mediated by products. By interactions, I mostly mean communication, either one-on-one (a telephone call), one-to-many (blogs), or many-to-many (the stock market). The products an interaction designer creates can be digital or analog, physical or incorporeal or some combination thereof.
Interaction design is concerned with the behavior of products, with how products work. A lot of an interaction designer's time will be spent defining these behaviors, but the designer should never forget that the goal is to facilitate interactions between humans. To me, it's not about interaction with a product (that's industrial design) or interaction with a computer (that's human-computer interaction). It's about making connections between people.
Since behaviors and mediums are always changing, the discipline of IxD shouldn't align itself to any of these in particular. The rise of digital devices and the internet created a greater need for the discipline and many, many new opportunities for interaction designers. But it isn't the only place for our talents; analog situations can use our talents too, to create things like work flows and systems of use. As the internet and digital devices become more and more ubiquitous, interaction design will be involved in nearly every aspect of our lives.
Focusing on the behavior of products as our reason for being, is, to me, missing the forest for the trees. Perhaps I'm an idealist, but I certainly hope interaction design is more than just optimizing machine behaviors. To me, it's about a lot more than that. It's making things pleasurable to use, affecting emotions. It's about asking not only how should this work, but why : Should this be done at all? Will it affect people's lives in a positive way?
When we get right down to it, and past the nearly-automatic response of "meeting user goals," the larger, big-picture goal of interaction design should be to create things that make people's lives better, that make us all more connected to each other.
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