“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

“Elements of Interaction Design”

Dan Saffer, gives us a teaser into his upcoming book, Designing for Interaction in this UXMatters piece exploring a possible breakdown of the core elements of IxD. On his preorder site about the book, Dan has also been divulging more teasers on his blog, with great interviews with some key people in the IxD world.

In this excerpted chapter, Dan looks at some core elements of IxD:

  • Motion
  • Space
  • Time
  • Appearance
  • Texture
  • Sound

These make up a great list of components for us to look at, though I do find it a bit incomplete. But before we add to it, let’s just acknowledge the importance of some of these. The 3 that pop out to me are Appearance and Texture. These show how much there is overlap between IxD and other disciplines. But this is not a bad thing because the reasons why we are interested in them as elements of IxD is b/c of how we look at them in designing an interactive experience. Yes, they exist in Industrial Design, Graphic Design, shoot! even interior and fashion design, but in each one of these, the way we look at them is very different from the way we will explore them here within IxD. Often we will need to use these on two different levels.

But what is missing here? And I’m sorry to say that I do think there are some things missing here.

The above elements are all about the object itself. But interaction design is about dialog with the environment in which it is used. Now you can say that this environment cannot be manipulated in most product design scenarios, and I would agree, but the object I’m designing will be substantially different dependent on the context in which the product will be used. It is an element that we cannot ignore, and has many sub-attributes we can explore more deeply as elements that when played with, effect the final solution of the object itself. Maybe this is a reference element, while the ones listed about are tangible, or objectified elements.

Designing context or for context most likely will speak to reflective emotional responses citing D. Normans Emotional Design).

Some of the sub-elements here are:

  • physical environment of use
  • personas of stake holders
  • culture of use

Linguistic and Semiotic
Whether audible or cartographic, explicit language like appearance are important parts of the communication layer. Icons, words (text & speech) can all play a part in communicating capabilities and expected reactions to user interaction.

Well, this might seem odd following linguistics, but while individual or micro words in text and icons play a part, they need to be used as a new coherent and comprehensible semantics and syntax to be used to create a dialog between user and object. How this narrative as a whole comes together will effect the final use, through eliciting tone and evoking emotion at a more behavioral level (citing D. Normans Emotional Design) than the visceral responses that often come through appearance, texture and sound (sensory input as opposed to linguistic).

To me the Dialog, Linguistics and Context along w/ the visceral queues of Appearance, Texture and Sound are what together make up the aesthetics of an interactive piece.

The last thing missing from Dan’s elements is negative space. There are very few design forms and art forms that do not try to account for negative space. I have tried to look at negative space or white space in some of my past articles on this blog. Basically, inactivity on the part of the user &/or the system on purpose or systemically are probably in some way the “negative” space of IxD.

All in all, I think that Dan’s chapter is a great start for important work that will be very relevant to a studio education in IxD. I hope schools look at this type of break down and start developing curricula around it.

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