Dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of devices, apps or interfaces – that’s what the average person interacts with every day. Each device, app or interface was designed by a different team, each team with different approaches to programming and design. The possibility for confusion is infinite.
Without some common denominator within these designs, each person would be in the position of having to learn, essentially, a different language for each interaction they experience every day. That’s why Interaction Design for websites is crucial to cut through the potential chaos.
What Is Interaction Design?
As the Interaction Design Association defines it: “Interaction Design (IxD) defines the structure and behavior of interactive systems. Interaction Designers strive to create meaningful relationships between people and the products and services that they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances and beyond.”
IxD, then, focuses on the common goal of each device, app or interface: to communicate with a human being. IxD is a subpart of the overall User Experience (UX). While UX focuses on users’ overall experience in achieving the goals they seek to accomplish, IxD focuses on the ease of achieving that goal through whatever interface they use.
The distinction between the two can be drawn with a brick-and-mortar analogy. UX is like making sure that the customer has a pleasant overall experience going to a store and buying the pair of socks that customer wants. IxD is like making sure that the customer finds a helpful and pleasant salesperson who helps the customer navigate directly to that exact pair of socks and makes the purchase process easy.
At its most basic, IxD focuses on how:
- Users can interact with an interface
- The interface can guide them to take actions that will bring users closer to their goal
- User errors can be anticipated and avoided
- The interface responds to user actions in a way that assures users that they are making progress toward their goal
- The interface is organized so that it gives users a sense of familiarity and is easy to learn
Ultimately, IxD is about ensuring that interfaces satisfy users’ needs and give them confidence that the interfaces will successfully enable them to achieve the goals they turned to the interfaces to accomplish.
How easily can new users learn and successfully navigate the interface? How does it help users avoid or recover from errors? Does the interface ultimately please users with its results? These are the basic questions that IxD addresses.
The Psychology of IxD
Because of its focus on the human element, IxD focuses heavily on psychology. One way this plays out is by bringing elements from the physical world with which people are familiar, into their interactions on devices.
One simple example of this is the ubiquitous pushbutton. People are familiar with pushbuttons from the physical world. Push a physical one and something happens. So, when people see something that looks like a button on an interface, they expect that, by pushing it (or, in the case of digital interfaces, clicking or tapping it), whatever they are told will happen when they push it will, indeed, happen.
But this psychological connection must be taken further than the simple click or tap. In the physical world, people are used to a physical pushbutton providing a response.
It might be the tactile sensation of feeling the button move. It might be an audible click. But the human mind, working from the familiar analogy of a physical pushbutton, will not feel satisfied that clicking or tapping that pushbutton-like image on an interface has accomplished anything unless the person senses a pushbutton-like response.
So the designer must provide that person with an audible click or a visible change in the look of the button that is totally irrelevant to the proper functioning of the interface, solely to reassure the person that the action has worked. This is only one example of how psychology plays into IxD.
A Collaborative Team Effort
Ultimately, IxD is not a solitary discipline. It requires effective teamwork to truly put people ahead of programming.
It requires a design team, initially working independently of the programmers, to determine the functionalities needed and to bring together ideas on how to deliver those functionalities. It needs programmers working from those design ideas to make those ideas reality. And it needs testers to validate that the functionalities are delivering what users will actually expect.
Sources for Learning More about IxD
You can always find a nearby college or university that offers training on IxD. You don’t have to limit yourself to campus learning, though.
There are plenty of books you can use to learn more. You can also find online courses on Coursera and Lynda.
Then, of course, you can always explore this top 10 online learning platform list, a great place to start looking for any subject you want to learn. All of these options give you the ability to learn at your own pace.
Without IxD, use of the myriad devices that we use every day would be impossible. Programming must take into account the human element that is common to all device usage.
And as new methods of interfacing with users proliferate, interaction design for websites only becomes more complicated, as designers must keep up with the expectations of more tech-driven users while still maintaining a safety net of familiarity for less tech-savvy users who nonetheless access the latest interfaces. Challenges in IxD grow, and IxD designers must grow with them.