[This is a response to the question on Quora, “What are the characteristics of good interaction design?”]
THAT is a great question and I don’t think anyone has truly answered it from all the intricate points of view that go into the making of a a fantastic interaction.
The area that I think we understand the best are within digital interactions and how human beings psychologically understand the cues in a system for acting, the feedback in the system letting them know they have acted, and the presentation of passively or actively requested results. The topic of HCI and usability engineering in my mind cover that aspect of experience.
Then there is the question of “how to”. Books by Jef Raskin, Alan Cooper, and other luminaries have discussed what should go into a solid user interface.
But what I haven’t really heard, seen, read, etc. is what is a “good” interaction design?
I see these areas that need to be thought of as separate, but definitely have overlap as interactions are moments of contextual gestalt and one element has direct impact on the others.
1) Understanding: Do I know what to do, how to do it, and is the system response clear.
2) Meaning: Are the functions of the system meaningful to me, my life and to my cultural context.
3) Value: While this feels close to meaning, value implies an economy that meaning doesn’t require. Even if time & effort are the only currency of the system, there needs to be a perception of value for an interaction design to be good.
4) Engagement: This has many components to it, but in the end the system has to be one brings me in on both a cognitive and an emotional level. But for me it is best described in having an element that pulls your attention, and can even increase your motivation for participation.
5) Fit: While Meaning is very contextual, things that are meaningful don’t always fit against the other behaviors in our lives. It is important to fit on many levels, or if you are to disrupt, the disruption needs to use novelty in order to create a new “fit”. If you think to yourself, I can’t imagine ever not having done things this way before, it’s a good fit.
6) Emotion: How you feel is going to make all the difference.
7) Impact: Does the design meet not just the outcome goals, but the strategic impact goals that were set forth. Robert Fabricant (doesn’t seem to be on Quora) in his keynote at Interaction 09 available here: http://ixda.org/resources
8) Responsiveness: Interactions need to be responsive. Yes, this is about performance, but it is also about appropriateness of the response. Not all responses can or have to be “fastest”. I can also imagine contexts where “delay” in response might be appropriate.
But there is another way of looking at the qualities of IxD that is a little more intellectual, and that is by my articulation of the Foundations of Interaction Design (also a talk given at Interaction 09) here: http://ixda.org/resources
In that talk I speak about the following properties that make up interactions:
Time, Abstraction, Metaphor and Motion (each w/ their positive and negative) and we manipulate them based on the context to appropriately create interactions.
But in your question is this notion that there are always a set of interaction qualities that are always better than others. I don’t believe there are. We work in highly contextualized problem spaces and because of that we cannot, especially at the young age of our practice, have definitive answers in these regards. We do have strong understanding of the mind around perception & cognition, but we do not have the same levels of assumption that leave us to absolute certainty of quality in how to always lead everyone through paths of experiences that when put together equal a “good interaction design”.
Someone else posted this answer:
Let’s say the perfect interaction design is invisible and requires no effort at all. Then it’s a sliding scale backwards. Each piece of friction reduces the quality of the interaction design. Each time someone needs to think, it diminishes the interaction design. The goal is automatic, safe, clear and productive.
To which, I posted this response:
Is invisibility and zero effort the pinacle of Interaction? I’m a long way off from thinking so.
a) some interfaces you want interference, delays, and other obstacles.
b) some interactions you want to leave an emotional fingerprint on the people interacting to engender trust, create brand impact, and to well, delight.
c) novelty especially in introductory and disruptive technologies requires opaqueness so that people can qualify to others why they use it. The story then creates a value statement.
I’ll add that the notion of safe, I’d like to agree with, but not automatic. Clear I’d definitely agree with. But clear is not the same as invisible or automatic. I also don’t know if interaction design always has to be productive.
I often fall back to the following statement:
Some of the best interaction design I see are gambling and porn.
Yes, I realize what some might infer from that. So be it, if they must.