What Is Interaction Design?

Posted on February 16, 2022 | Updated on August 31, 2023

In business, you have every opportunity to improve the way users interact with your product or service. More importantly, you can design interactions that make the user experience seamless.

What makes interaction design significant, and how can you improve it to increase your bottom line? This article will explain interaction design and best practices to help you get started.

What Is Interaction Design?

Interaction design is a fundamental part of the user experience that focuses on the interactive design of digital products. These products are typically websites or mobile apps. 

When using a mobile app, you can swipe features, click on a link or press a button. Simple actions like these are interaction design. Every moment a user interacts with your product, designers have the user in mind to create a positive experience.

Interaction design is intended for creating products that help users achieve their goals to their best ability. In other words, it involves analyzing and defining interactions between the interface and the user. The aim is to incorporate thoughtfulness between the user and the products or services provided.

The primary goal of interaction design is to create a smooth and enjoyable experience. With a well-designed interface, you get something that functions properly and aligns with the user’s expectations and behaviors.

Moreover, interaction design looks at how the elements of a website, app or service communicate with the user and how it influences their behavior.

This part of the design places a strategic focus on users’ reactions throughout their experience. So, whenever you think of improving a product, interaction design will enhance usability, brand identity, structure and interactivity—by incorporating the appropriate visual, motion and sound elements.

When done correctly, interaction design effectively meets the user’s objective through user research, creating personas, and testing.

What Interaction Designers Do

Interaction designers focus on creating engaging and meaningful relationships with people through the products and services they use. Essentially, they help businesses create user-centered designs—focusing on the consumer’s needs in every aspect.

Furthermore, they carefully plan by developing design ideas, software prototypes and gaining feedback from stakeholders. Their goal is to understand user behaviors, improve experiences and update designs through the latest interaction models.

Interaction design sounds similar to UX design. However, the difference is that UX shapes the user’s experience, involving some part of the interaction. On the other hand, interaction design plays a direct role in researching users. Designers ask questions, including:

  • Why would someone use this product?
  • Who is the user in the first place?
  • What circumstances cause them to use the product?

Then, they would perform user and usability testing to see how the product plays out and what improvements you’d need to make. In general, interaction design is a subset of UX design that involves designers understanding how the user uses and feels when interacting with the product.

Why Interaction Design Is Important in UX

Interaction design became of great importance in UX because it works to understand users and whether the product meets their needs. Have you ever left an app because you were unable to figure out how to use it? 

With interaction design, you can understand what part of the app is causing users to drop off. Interaction designers make a product feel intuitive, and enabling users to achieve their tasks effortlessly leads to a satisfying experience.

Intuitive design is also essential for streamlining the user’s actions. For instance, users can speed up their checkout process if they’re shopping on a website that remembers their payment details. This saves them time and reduces their cart abandonment. In turn, interaction design increases conversions and, eventually, the bottom line.

Additionally, interaction design minimizes user mistakes. Consider a form that highlights incorrect fields in red — this notion guides users to correct their errors and prevents potential frustrations.

Lastly, good interaction design elevates a brand’s image. Users will likely have a favorable opinion of brands whose products are easy and enjoyable.

Five Dimensions of Interaction Design

The five dimensions of interaction design were first introduced by Gillian Crampton—creating the concept of four dimensions of an interaction design language. The fifth dimension was added later by Kevin Silver, making it a useful model for understanding the involvement of interaction design.

The five dimensions include the following:

  • Words (1D): Words that provide information to users
  • Visual representations (2D): Graphic representations, like images, typography and iconography
  • Physical objects or space (3D): The physical devices or tools that users interact with
  • Time (4D): Media that changes with time, such as videos and animations
  • Behavior (5D): The users’ behavior needed to understand how the mechanism should work

Interaction designers should consider all five dimensions to understand how users interact and create a holistic experience.

The Best Practices of Interaction Design

When implementing interaction design, one thing to consider is knowing the types of users you’re designing for first. You can achieve this by researching your market surrounding user goals, behavior and personas. After completing the research, start thinking about a design strategy to help you achieve your goals. 

Consider asking yourself the given questions that Usability.gov provides for designers. Some of the most important questions help designers better understand the best practices of interaction design.

Furthermore, it’s best to decide which approaches you’d like to take with the right interactions. You can review certain principles of interaction design. This approach will help you create a framework to help you achieve your business goals.

The Principles of Interaction Design

Interaction design has multiple design principles with a goal, purpose and intuitive UI (user interface) in mind. Below, we’ll cover a few principles of interaction design. 

Discoverability

The designer should simplify the product or services, so users can find what they need to take action. For example, icons with labels create a path without user interruption. Without the proper communication, your interface is essentially unusable.

Signifiers

Signifiers correlate to discoverability. This factor is where the action of an object is made possible with a clear indicator in the UI. They provide signals which indicate the interaction is available. For instance, a button flashes in a specific color, showcasing that the user can tap on it. 

If an element lacks a signifier, the interaction gesture is invisible since it doesn’t reveal itself—unless the user takes an unintentional action.

Feedback

User feedback is an important component of communication. It explains the impact of an action and also ensures that:

  • Users are informed about what’s happening
  • The information is continuous about the results of users’ activities in the system
  • The interface is transparent in certain changes, like searching, loading, uploading, etc.
  • The action is easy to determine

Constraints

In interaction design, constraints determine how to keep the user interaction from occurring. This principle creates more efficient interactions to guide users in the right direction. They ensure only specific actions are enabled or visible to take certain steps. 

Specifications, such as size, proportion, scale etc., are considered to make correct placements and reduce user error. Essentially, it is hierarchy that influences the user’s interaction.

Patterns and Learnability

This principle relates to how a user learns to interact with a new interface. Once the user understands how to use the interface, the patterns are consistent—making it easy to use. It’s similar to learning how you ride a bike. The same principle applies to UI elements that you use each day. 

The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t invent new patterns. The objective is to make the patterns as efficient as possible in a more effective way.

Error Prevention

User errors occur when a user performs a certain task and makes a mistake in the process. Essentially, they user encounters an error message in the system when it is unintentional.

Interaction design will offer suggestions to prevent a user from producing errors. Careful design uses a form of mistake-proofing—known as Poka-Yoke—to create failsafe mechanisms.

Examples of Interaction Design

Consider the following examples to give you further insight into what interaction design looks like. 

Pull-to-refresh

Pull-to-refresh is a classic example of interaction design since you can find it as a usable feature on almost any mobile app. This interaction lets users update their feed or content by dragging the screen downwards. Upon release, the system understands this gesture as a command to reload the content. 

This action is similar to unfolding a letter — you pull the screen or “paper” down to see something new. Furthermore, users can ensure they’ve taken the right action by witnessing the spinning icon. This lets them know the system has recognized their request and it’s processing it. 

Pinching to Zoom

Another intuitive interaction design example is the “pinching-to-zoom” gesture. You’ll find this gesture featured on touchscreen devices. When users place two fingers on a screen and move them apart or bring them together, they can zoom in or out of images, maps and other visual content. This gesture replicates the physical action of stretching or compressing something to change its size.

Pinching-to-zoom is impactful because it feels natural and instinctive. Plus, the immediacy of the response with the image zooming in real-time provides users with direct feedback. This action ensures users remain in control, focusing on a user-centric approach. 

How to Get Started with Interaction Design

If you are interested in interaction design, you can use a simple program to help you discover new opportunities. Interaction design is essential for businesses that want to gain a competitive advantage. Below are a few things to look for when choosing a system:

  • Check for survey capabilities that link you to your target market. Gathering insights on the perspectives of user experiences can help you move forward with the next steps.
  • Which systems update you on the latest opportunities? An intuitive program that gives feedback within a reasonable time offers designers a way to improve customer experiences efficiently.
  • Does the program help you predict user errors? Will it inform you and provide suggestions to help prevent the issue? Monitoring exit rates and gathering feedback are excellent ways to engage customers and resolve issues.

Make The Experience Count

Interaction design involves a ton of material. Regardless, it provides you with every opportunity to improve the aspects of your offer. To reach the next level of the digital experience, continue to understand user behavior further. It’s important to learn how users interact with your product or service. That way, you can create better experiences in the future.

Related Posts

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at www.eleanorhecks.com.

Leave a Comment