Interaction design (IxD) is a relatively new field in the category of computer science that defines the ways in which a person can interact with a computer system, be it a mobile device or a mainframe server. Since computers have been in widespread use, the focus of designers has been on the functionality of hardware and software. As graphic displays became more powerful, video and audio design became the focus of many software designers. Today, computers are so powerful and the technology has advanced to such a level that nearly unlimited options exist in how a person can operate, control and communicate with a computer and how the computer can communicate with the user.
Interaction design is now a specialty in the field of technology that can act as a connecting entity between hardware and software production, as well other interdisciplinary teams. It is the job of the interaction designer to build a system of positive relationships between people and the technological devices they use, whether they are mobile phones, personal computers or even household appliances. A good interaction designer seeks to implement technology into conventional human social systems. The goal is to create a system whereby people and technological devices can communicate with each other just as naturally as or even more efficiently than people communicate with each other.
The definition of interaction design has now expanded from its original definition of human/computer communications to be used for both human-to-human and computer-to-computer communications. Some interaction designers now specialize in person-to-person interactions between individuals, between organizations and individuals and between organizations. This has been done for decades, or even centuries, but it has now taken on the new terminology.
Challenges of Interaction Design
Interaction designers must deal with five basic challenges inherent to the form. These challenges are faced by all interaction designers no matter what type of technology or devices they are designing.
When interaction designers have done their job well, the final product will balance the challenges faced with both the ability of human users and the limitations of the technology. The designer must be able to mesh both human and computer languages into a design that is as seamless and responsive as possible. To overcome the challenges of interaction design, the designer must not only balance the respective limitations of user and computer, but must also balance comfort and efficiency.
The five challenges of interaction design are as follows:
- Communication – The fundamental goal of interaction design is two-way communication between the user and the computer. In this respect, the designers can be thought of as translators, converting the respective languages and modes so they are understandable to both parties. This can often mean more than simple translation in that even the subtleties of communication, such as colloquialisms, must be taken into account.
- Action and Reaction – Every instance of communicating involves action and reaction. The action and reaction aspect of interaction design is thought of as the heart of the process. A good designer must anticipate the possible and probable reactions to each action for both sides.
- Condition – For communication to be effective, the designer must allow for each party to understand the current condition or state of the other party. When people communicate to each other, part of the communication is assessing the condition of the other, such as emotional state, alertness and readiness to respond. In human-computer relations, the user must understand the condition or state of the device in order to understand if the communication is occurring. In turn, the device must be aware of the condition of the user so it can predict how to reaction to each action or instance of inaction.
- Flow – The flow of the communication is mostly centred on the computer side of the interaction. The flow allows the computer to efficiently follow steps and multi-task various operations to make the user experience efficient and easy-to-follow. As a user browses, selects options or activates features, the computer must process the commands and display results while preparing to predict the next possible actions. In most cases, the flow of the computer operation is designed around the flow of human operation.
- Errors – All forms of communication inherently involve the risk of miscommunication. The hallmark of effective communication is reducing the risk of miscommunication and efficiently resolving miscommunication that occurs. An interaction designer must predict all forms of miscommunication, mistakes and errors that can occur so they can be effectively handled with minimal disruption in the communication as they occur.