It’s a tricky term this, one that doesn’t often get debated, being generally described as “designing the interactiveness of things”. Well, that’s simply not good enough. Everything interacts. Chemists creating explosives aren’t doing “interaction design”, but that doesn’t mean their things aren’t interacting. Quite the contrary. At CIID we’re always trying to get a more firm understanding of what we as interaction designers should be doing and what we in fact are doing. So this little essay (very short) is just an attempt to make a short definition of interaction design. It’s probably a hopeless task, but it’s an interesting thought experiment.
Interaction design is the idea of designing a system, and particularly (often exclusively) the user-facing parts of a system, that helps a user perform a task. The system can be screen-based, tangible, control-interface based, or any combination of the three and can be used for specific tasks or general ones. Generally the artifacts of that service or action have aesthetics and decisions that dictate elements of the communication between the user and the system.
It could be boiled down into something really simple:
What is it? What does it do? What does it relate to? How do you tell someone these three things?
Defining the practice of Interaction Design is a mess because Interaction is a mess, as a concept. No one will ever come up with a meaningful definition for it because it encompasses such a vast array of activities and modes of human and electromechanical behavior alike. However, one can imagine that interaction design as it is practiced might look something like the following:
But that’s only a weak attempt at capturing all the nuances of what it means to think about what something does and how someone uses it to do that thing.