10 Steps to Interaction Design (IxD)

1/3 — Guide and resources for first time interaction designers 

Are you transitioning from visual design, psychology or computer science or any other field (chemical engineering in my case) into IxD, UX or HCI? Then this post is for you. If your title is UX designer and you are still working on UI designs, this is for you too. I will touch base on various aspects which are close to IxD field. Having knowledge about each of these will surely help you in one way or the other. We will go into the details of some of these points in the next two blogs of this series. So let’s get started.

1. What is Interaction Design, UX, Design thinking etc. 

Interaction Design (IxD) defines the structure and behavior of interactive systems. Interaction Designers strive to create meaningful relationships between people and the products and services that they use, from computers to mobile devices to appliances and beyond. Our practices are evolve with the world” — IXDA

By interactive system, it means with every input added, there is an action or feedback associated with it. Hence this is the core difference between Interaction and Communication design that comm design doesn’t respond back when you interact (touch, wave, pinch, see, smell etc.) with it.

Interaction Design is a part of Experience Design

User Experience is a bigger term that involves many other things as mentioned by Dan Saffer in the diagram below. But word “user” is associated with only digital world, hence I will only be using ‘Experience Design’ that refers to digital or physical. And for this blog post, we will only talk about Interaction Design  aspect of Experience design. 

If you are into books, I would highly recommend Dan Saffer’s Designing for Interaction. It lays out all the basics very clearly. And if like me are not books fan, you can keep reading this blog. 

The following small free Udacity course is a great point to start. Learn about basic terminologies and underlying base of IxD. 

2. Start noticing affordances, signifiers, feedbacks around you

This world where you live is a gift from fine innovative craftsmen who worked for generations to make our lives easier. So do not just look but notice around you, you will find so many examples of affordances, feedbacks, signifiers, feedforward and system image (explained in Don Norman’s course above) which we ignore in our day to day lives. Take pictures, as many as possible. This will make you a “curious” being which is one of the most essential part of being an interaction designer. These could act as inspirations for your next design work.

a) Good example of signifiers: Google Classroom’s buttons inviting us to click on them b) This door handle is a bad e.g. of signifier c) Good e.g. of feedback: A visual and haptic feedback when you enter wrong passcode
A) Good e.g. of Fitt’s law: Majorly all google products follow Fitt’s law quite nicely. Easily click on folder/file with mouse (on web) or finger (on phone) quite comfortably. On right click, user can quickly reach out to all the associated actions B) In Bank of America app, the buttons are too thin to even press properly. Most of the times, I miss and I have to click again to do the activity. Hence taking more time.

3. Collaboration is the key 

From my experience i have learned that talent can only take you to a certain level. But with good collaboration and communication skills, sky’s the only limit. I personally used to ignore this part. Due to this reason, my success was skyrocketing in the solo projects but in group projects (which in real every project is), my performance was pretty low. I would explain myself by blaming the limited knowledge or attitude of the co-worker.

Pay attention to what teammates are saying, give importance to their opinions even if you feel they doesn’t make sense. Sometimes you need to sacrifice your good ideas for the greater good. Time is the key, you cannot do everything on your own, at least not as fast as a collaborative team would. 1+1=11

So, if you are a designer, you need to design not your product but your methods of communication with others.

4. Every design starts with the research — 

When i say research, I mean understand the system thoroughly.

Secondary research: What is available on the internet about it, who is doing what or where is the market going.

Observation: Are you trying to improve the coffee shop experience? Then visit that cafe. Are you trying to improve buying vegetables experience, then go to Walmart, Target etc. where people actually do that. Understand the existing experiences. Take notes. Types of observation methods include Fly on the wall, Shadowing, contextual inquiry, undercover agent. Find more about them in Dan Saffer’s book mentioned in the beginning.

Interviews: Talk to people. You will gather insights which you have never expected before. The ‘aha’ moments. Keep the questions open ended. And try to keep the interview location where the interviewee is most comfortable at — where they work, live, eat etc. Keep it concise, at max 30min.

Interview methods include Directed storytelling, Unfocus group, Role playing, Extreme user interviews, Desk/purse/briefcase tour.

Read more about all these research methods along with self reporting and generative research methods in Dan Saffer’s book.

5. Analyze and Synthesize the research

This is the process of organizing and evaluating research data to see what important things it can tell you. Immediately after the interview, review your notes. Color code them based on Rose (positive insights)- Bud (potential)- Thorn (negative) or AEIOU methods . By now there would be 20–50 or more sticky notes depending on your research. Now it is time to create some meaning out of this data. Start by finding relation between two insights. For e.g. In coffee shop research, two insights might say, “I like the ambience”, “i come here work everyday because it is quiet and has a slow music. Don’t feel like leaving”. Look for similar insights that direct you towards the ambience of the coffee shop. This is how you find patterns.

Affinity cluster these insights into a form of a sentence. Convert these sentences into the form of a question statement — “How might we…”. Watch this video to help craft the How Might We questions effectively.

Find all the methods mentioned in Dan Saffer’s book.

6. Rapid prototyping — Secret of Innovation

Get your hands dirty. Start with prototyping as early as possible. Some designers even start with prototyping along with the research. Now these prototypes could just be sticky notes on top of a blank sheet which you can call a website prototype. Your first draft will always be wrong. But it will be quick and inexpensive which will give you authentic reactions. It’s the cheapest and most efficient way to test the ideas.

Watch these paper prototype and power of prototyping lecture videos by Scott Klemmer from the free course on Prototyping. I would recommend to take it.

7. Usertest — Stop talking, just show the thing

In the design world, obvious is not always obvious. We tend to get biased towards our designs and start to say things like “…because it’s obvious!”. But it may not be. I have seen even the good designers to make mistake of testing the prototype once it is “ready”, and by “ready” they mean ‘clickable’ (such as made in Invision). But this is too late to test.

Once it is on the paper, it is ready! And testing should happen throughout the design process. Create a flow — show it to the people, draw some sketches — show it to the people, create wireframes — show it to the people… At every step, take their authentic feedback. You will be learning a lot from them.

Have a look at this years old video of Jakob Nielsen, where he talks about how to conduct a simple user test.

8. Think from others perspective

Always think from the perspective of the customer/user/audience (or whosoever your design is for). Make this a habit. It will be helpful at every step of the process. If you are interviewing a patient, try to be in their shoes and feel their pain. Empathize with them. This is a great way to overcome our own life biases and build something FOR THEM. Apply this superpower in every aspect of your life.

Are you building your portfolio? Think what if you were a recruiter What would you need from a portfolio? How much time would you have per portfolio? What would you be feeling? etc.

If you had an argument with fellow designer/developer, think what were they feeling in that scenario? What were you feeling (self-empathy)? What could have been their intention, your intention? What does that situation reflect about your self-image, their self-image? Next time, how could you have prevented it?

Watch this video to learn more on empathy

9. Tell a great story

Watch this Ted Talk by Filmmaker Andrew Stanton of ‘Toy Story’.

Whether we talk about doing research, creating the visuals, designing a prototype, making a video, or a client presentation or your own portfolio, we always…always need to tell a good story — a story that the audience can relate to, that can create a contradiction in their minds, can make them wonder and eventually change their perspectives. I will talk more about storytelling in the next two blogs of this series.

Now watch this clip from the movie ‘Whiplash’ and tell me how you feel.

10. Think in systems

While paying attention to details, do remember to look at the bigger picture as well. Sometimes when we digging deeper into the details, we overlook how it affects other elements of our system. Whenever an action takes place, one way is to look back to the system structure and analyze what has changed in the system and which elements get affected by that. Have a look at this video that explains how World Health Organisation (WHO) created even bigger problem while solving relatively smaller problem.

Now, design your own life…

I understand that it is difficult to digest all this information in one go. No worries at all, take your time and go through all the references step by step. Things will slowly start to make sense. And practice is the only thing that would make you better. So, always challenge yourself with new problems and implements these new tricks and tips to get a better hold at Interaction Design.

I hope you learned something new today. Talk to you in the next blog of this series.

Be humble, be curious!

Sohaj is studying Interaction Design from California College of the Arts, San Francisco. Previously, he worked as an Interaction Designer at Monotype

Find him on LinkedIn and his website