Twenty years ago computers were expensive tools for professionals or games machines for enthusiasts. Today they appear in all aspects of our daily life, from mobile phones to microwave ovens, from exercise bikes to sewing machines. (There are already twelve computer chips for every man, woman and child on the planet.)
When machines were mechanical there was a direct, physical way to interact with them. You wound up your watch and turned a wheel to set its time; clicked a dial to make a kitchen mixer go slower or faster; flipped a switch to sew in reverse, and could see the mechanism which allowed this. But a machine controlled by a computer chip is different. It may require us to master menus and modes, and it responds to us, and often to stimuli independent of us, in more complex, less transparent and sometimes downright mysterious ways. We rely increasingly on such devices, yet our interaction with them is too often awkward, baffling and lacking in grace and pleasure.
While traditional industrial design concentrates on the product's functionality and its appearance as an object, interaction design requires a different emphasis because a computer-based device must not only work and look well in itself: it must also be designed so that our interaction with it, the way we exchange information with it and tell it our wishes, is clear and efficient. Only then can it be an experience that improves the quality of our everyday life.
The discipline of interaction design borrows from the theory and the techniques of traditional design, which it merges with theoretical and practical approaches from other disciplines. The result is a gestalt-like synthesis of unique procedures and methods, and of a project-based approach to develop objects, environments and systems. Interaction design seeks to establish a dialogue between products, people and physical, cultural and historical contexts; to anticipate how the use of products will affect comprehension; and to determine a form that is appropriate to its behaviour and use.
Interaction design concerns not only physical devices but services. Our lives are increasingly connected through telecommunications networks and filled with immaterial things: music, films, TV and other information sources. These services, provided by companies and public institutions, are as important as the machines through which we access them: the phone, pager, PDA or set-top box. Our experience of them depends on both the architecture of the service itself and how we interact with the device. So interaction design involves the design of immaterial as well as material things: services and software as well as hardware.
Interactive technologies need a new kind of design, a fusion of sound, graphic and product design, and time-based narrative. Developing this new kind of design will lead to a new aesthetic: one of use and experience as well as of form. Function and information (and perhaps entertainment) converge.
In the combination of communication and interaction design the real needs and possibilities to improve human existence are given centre place.
1. Understand the users' experience...
2. Imagine new opportunities
3. 'Just-enough' prototyping:
4. Design solutions:
5. Craft the interactive experience...
6. Present and test the outcome
The real skills and abilities of the interaction designer, and the most appropriate definition of interaction design, emerge more fully in the words of Interaction-Ivrea students and teachers.
"Interaction design is the impossible mission to distinguish what SHOULD HAPPEN (between myself and the world) from what HAS HAPPENED - and then adapt to it."
"Interaction design is part of a new evolution in our artificial environment - macro and micro."
"Interaction design has to do with people and with the possibility of minimising those frustrating moments which occur when you have to deal with a system or a piece of equipment that is new or over-complicated."
"It's like cooking with your fingers bandaged together with insulating tape, trying to prepare a new recipe, with your dinner-guests already ringing the doorbell..."
"Interaction design coming into the world today will tomorrow be the heart, mind, body and motive force in the production of technological artefacts, systems and services that are a feature of everyday life in industrialised countries (and, inevitably, in developing countries too), just as industrial design has been up to now."
"Interaction design = confusion, potentiality and dynamism."