IxD: A perspective on origin

Interaction Design a process that several people from different spheres — technology, psychology, engineering, etc — seem have stumbled upon. These people have started out solving a problem using a certain set of predefined tools, but somewhere along the way, realized that what they’re doing can no longer be strictly defined as what they originally set out to do. They had gone beyond their original scope, and added to it with knowledge and practices from a variety of different disciplines. This interdisciplinary intersection is where Interaction Design has emerged from. This almost serendipitous discovery of Interaction Design resonates with me, personally.

When I first started designing publications, my mentor told me that I need to stop looking at book as a collection of pages or spreads, and start thinking about the book as a whole. He asked me to carefully consider what the user’s experience of going through the book would be like. Could the design aid the way the user interacts with the content?

These questions were interesting to me. Interactivity within the static medium of a printed publication seemed like a strange idea at the time, but looking back on it now, it makes perfect sense. Why shouldn’t these factors be a consideration when designing anything, even a printed product?

To understand this from a slightly different perspective, consider this example from the field of Industrial Design. In 1958 Charles and Ray Eames visited India to explore the problems of design and make recommendations for a training program. The Eameses traveled through India, studying and documenting the local design practice, and published what is called the India Report. In this document, they describe the Lota as the singe greatest, most beautiful object they discovered. (1)

They listed out the factors that would be considered when designing such a product, some of which were:

- The size and strength and gender of the hands (if hands) that would manipulate it.

- The size of the opening and inner contour in terms of cleaning.

- Its sculpture as it fits the palm of the hand, the curve of the hip.

A lot of the factors they listed were directly related to the way people would interact this product, whether it would be easy to use, how efficient it is at fulfilling its purpose, whether it would be pleasing for the senses. These considerations are directly aligned with what I see the goal of Interaction design.

A third discipline I want to draw a parallel with is Information Design, through these two quotes:

“The defining, planning and shaping of the contents of a message and the environments it is presented in with the intention of achieving particular objectives in relation to the needs of users” (2)

“information design must actively encourage and participate in research that increases our understanding of information and the effect that it has: how and why people respond to information, how the human brain processes information and builds knowledge, as well as how humans organize knowledge and convert it into improved behavior and operation. Better understanding of these factors will enable us to create the best possible information, interfaces and communications.” (3)

These ideas, again, fall directly in line with the perspective I’m beginning to form about interaction design. It is clear to me that interaction design is inherent to any discipline of design, not separate from it.

The “TL;DR” version of my interaction design “origin story” is this:

IxD = Communication Design x Industrial Design x Information Design.


(1) Charles and Ray Eames, “The India Report”, 1958
(2) Dirk Knemeyer, “Information Design; The understanding discipline”, 2003
(3) Rune Pettersson, “Information Design: An introduction”, 2002