Interaction design

Interaction design is about designing the interface layer for a whole application so it is usable, functional and elegant. It is more than just screen design, and will usually involve the design of process and workflow as well – as these are core to how an application will work.

Interaction design is about understanding what people need to do, how they do it, what they know and how they work; and using this information to ensure interactive systems are designed to allow them to achieve their goals easily. It is about understanding human abilities and limitations and ensuring systems are designed to use our strengths and support our limitations.

Interaction design skills are needed for all projects that have interfaces that users will interact with, such as e-commerce systems, business applications, complex forms, handheld devices and much more.

Interaction design is a combination of interface design, process design and sometimes industrial design. It requires both big picture, strategic design skills, and the ability to design the very detailed interactions in interface. As such, good interaction designers are in very short demand.

Interaction design in a project

Interaction design activities are done toward the beginning of a project. Most projects will usually involve the following steps:

  • Elicit or articulate the business goals and context in which the project occurs
  • Analyse processes and workflows
  • Undertake user research activities
  • Analyse the findings from the first three steps
  • Develop a new workflow or process
  • Design an approach to the interface
  • Design detailed interfaces and interactions

Deliverables

The most common deliverables for the interaction design portion of a project are a set of screen designs, clearly describing how every action on a screen should work.

Prototype creation is a key part of interaction design projects. I create hand-drawn paper prototypes, computer-drawn prototypes and interactive prototypes, depending on the stage of the project and what the prototype will be used for (discussion, usability testing, demonstrating interaction). I use tools such as pen-and-paper, Omnigraffle, HTML and Expression Blend to create prototypes.

A project may also deliver an interaction or style guide so a team can make modifications in a consistent manner.

When to get me involved

My specialist interaction design skills are most useful for applications that:

  • have complex workflows or interfaces
  • have complex content
  • will be used by people with a wide range of skills and for a range of tasks
  • are attempting something new and unproven

Why choose me

I am a good interaction designer – I do have the necessary ability to think about the big picture workflows and the detailed interactions at the same time. I have designed:

  • an investigation analysis system to help investigators record what might have happened and provide transparency for the decision process
  • an interface framework for a huge internal government system. We described it as interface lego – designers could combine interface patterns that would allow them to design consistent interfaces; developers could build the interfaces efficiently by using chunks of code
  • a contact centre application that would allow staff to access a wide range of resources efficiently from a single screen
  • the administrative system for OptimalSort (an online card sorting tool)
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