Lecture 2: Interaction – Interactivity

What is interaction and interactive design?

In interactive design, there are 5 key design areas that contribute to the design of interactive products. These are:

  • Interactivity
  • Information Architecture
  • Time and motion
  • Narrative
  • Interface

You can’t interact with anything unless there’s an interface and you can’t design an interface unless you’ve sorted out the underlying information design first.

What does an interactive designer do?

Bill Verplank’s definition of what interactive designers do:

‘An interaction designer needs to answer three key questions, about how people act, how they feel and how they understand.’

“A person we’re designing for does something and we provide affordances. As designers we design the way that the machine gives feedback and finally there’s the question of what kind of knowledge do we expect of our users. Can we design good maps for them to hold in their heads? Can we design the emergency procedures step by step on how to do things? Thats the first step of what we interaction designers do.”

Something interaction designers have to pay attention to is cognition, how humans process information, how they perceive the world, what their internal mental model is of the outside world, especially when they’re designing for something on screen. It’s very different to a physical object in a way that someone perceives what they can do with the thing. Though this concept of affordances can actually be translated to screen interaction.

Sharp, Rogers and Preece define interactive design as:

“..designing interactive products to support people in their everyday and working lives.”


When we think of the adjective interactive, we think of a specific meaning;

  • of or relating to a program that responds to user activity (computer science)
  • working together so the total effect is greater than the sum (2 or more)
  • capable of acting on or influencing each other

What is interaction?

A few common interactions that you might have during the day include ones with mobile phones, vending machines, books, online shopping websites and even conversations.

In an interaction, your needs, wants and desires have an effect or response that you can both understand and recognise and you can do this through your eyes, ears, touch, taste and smell.

Continuums of Interactivity:

One way to consider the meanings of interactivity, is to envision all experiences and products as inhabiting a continuum of interactivity.

Interactivity can include the amount of control the users or audience has over the tools, pace or content, the amount of choice this control offers and the ability to use the tool or content to be productive or to create. Therefore all products and experiences can be placed along this continuum. It’s important to note that there’s no good or bad side of this continuum, the only judgement should be is if the level of activity or place along the continuum is appropriate to the goals of the experience or messages to be communicated.

Gillian Crampton Smith says:

“…one of the things we need as interactive designers is a clear mental model of what it is that we’re interacting with. We need to know where we are in the system, we need to know what we can do next, where we can go and what’s going to happen when we’ve gone there.”

“When we design a computer based system or a machine, we’re designing not just what it looks like but how it behaves and we’re designing the quality of the way we interact with it and this is really what interaction design is, it’s designing this quality. For instance, if you’re playing a game, the kind of interaction and the kind of attention you’re prepared to give to it is very different from if you’re programming your central heating.”

“Interaction design needs a fusion. It’s not just vision, it’s not just sound. It’s a mixture of things that happen over time, visual things, sonic things, moving images and we need to draw on existing disciplines to make a new type of design which is interactive design.”