Chris McLay.

Designer. Pragmatic perfectionist. Really useful to have around…

Level one heading

Put simply, everything made by humans has been designed. Every time something new is created, someone has made decisions about its function, content and medium of expression. Decisions to include, exclude, modify or to seek out new ideas are what make the something that has been created. These decisions – conscious or unconscious – are at the heart of the design process.

Design is often described in terms of problem solving – here is a problem, design a solution. This is a useful way of trying to understand the design process, especially as it takes the focus off the visual and aesthetic outcomes of design. However, it needs to be acknowledged that design problems can not ever be fully understood and that there is no single solution to a design problem. Design takes place within a complex context which the designer is continually exploring and seeking to further understand – a context which is always liable to change, if it is not already in continual flux. As designers work to create and refine solutions, their understanding of the problem and context is increased, allowing them to further refine their solutions, and so on. Under these circumstances it is not possible to establish if a solution is right or wrong – if it is a solution in the logical sense (Löwgren & Stolterman).

Level two heading

Additionally, designers must communicate their design solutions to others – to other designers so they can share, discuss and collaborate; and to their clients, users and the general population, in order to increase their understanding and evaluate the effectiveness of their solutions. Without effective communication the act of design becomes very difficult and can very quickly lose its value.

Level three heading

Design is an activity to be undertaken deliberately, knowingly and with eyes wide open. With the previous points in mind, we can say that to design is:

  • to seek to understand a problem and its context;
  • to seek and create solutions to the problem, or at least parts of the problem;
  • to evaluate and decide on the effectiveness and appropriateness of the solutions; and,
  • to communicate these design solutions to others.

These points are not linear nor definitive. They are repeated many times over, in many different orders. In this way, they make up the activity of designers: the act of design.

Level four heading

Design is an activity to be undertaken deliberately, knowingly and with eyes wide open. With the previous points in mind, we can say that to design is:

  1. to seek to understand a problem and its context;
  2. to seek and create solutions to the problem, or at least parts of the problem;
  3. to evaluate and decide on the effectiveness and appropriateness of the solutions; and,
  4. to communicate these design solutions to others.

These points are not linear nor definitive. They are repeated many times over, in many different orders. In this way, they make up the activity of designers: the act of design.
Design is an activity to be undertaken deliberately, knowingly and with eyes wide open. With the previous points in mind, we can say that to design is:

  • To seek to understand a problem and its context, and to seek and create solutions to the problem, or at least parts of the problem;
  • To evaluate and decide on the effectiveness and appropriateness of the solutions; and, to communicate these design solutions to others.
  • To seek to understand a problem and its context, and to seek and create solutions to the problem, or at least parts of the problem;
  • To evaluate and decide on the effectiveness and appropriateness of the solutions; and, to communicate these design solutions to others.

I have included an illustration from Jonas Löwgren & Erik Stolterman (Figure 1) that beautifully illustrates the reality and lack of linearity in the design process. The diagram shows the designer moving through various levels of abstraction over time, from the initial vision to final specification. The dark diagonal line shows the general, or averaged progress, but as we can see from the lighter line the actual design process is in no way linear or straight forward.

Level five heading

Interaction itself is a very broad term. Interaction takes place when any two things have a reciprocal effect on each other, these could be subatomic particles, weather systems or people. We can’t predictably influence all of these types of interactions, so we need to better define what types of interaction we are interested in.

Level six heading

Dan Saffer’s definition, quoted above, tries to draw a line between interaction design, human-computer interaction and industrial design. He limits interaction design to interactions between people through the use of artefacts. Someone programming a video cassette recorder to record a television show is outside this definition, as there is no connection between people involved. Someone using a digital video recorder with an electronic program guide is inside the definition, because they got the programme guide as a result of some sort of connection with the people who made the programme guide. As will be discussed later, it can be argued that someone using a video recorder is connecting with the designers of that video recorder and is therefore inside the definition after all. Although helping people make connections and communicate with each other is an important and integral part of interaction design, it does not help to define the discipline well.

Jonas Löwgren & Erik Stolterman’s definition of interaction design, quoted above, focuses on interactions with digital artefacts that can be used. This is a much more straightforward way of separating the interactions we are interested in. As there are many non-digital artefacts which have and could benefit from the application of good interaction design I would remove the digital part of their definition and look at interactions with artefacts that can be used.

The definition from the Interaction Design Association, above, is very similar to Löwgren & Stolterman’s definition, but perhaps not as concise and clear. It does use some slightly simpler and more accessible language though, which can be an advantage. To bring all of this together I would suggest the following definition: Interaction design is a process focused on improving the interaction between people and the artefacts they use. This process creates, shapes and decides the functional, behavioural, structural, aesthetic and ethical qualities of these artefacts.

In response to the difficulty many people have using interactive artefacts, a number of approaches to producing better products have evolved over recent decades. These include usability, humans' cognitive and ergonomic abilities, and human-centred design.

Usability is the study of how usable an artefact is – the more usable the artefact the better it is to use. Nielsen & Loranger suggest that ‘Usability is a quality attribute relating to how easy something is to use. More specifically, it refers to how quickly people can learn to use something, how efficient they are while using it, how memorable it is, how error-prone it is, and how much users like using it. If people can’t or won’t use a feature, it might as well not exist’ (xvi). Usability metrics come from extensive qualitative studies of products, usually conducted in usability labs. They are useful for finding specific issues with a product, or for comparing the usability of different solutions. Over time general design guidelines have evolved from usability studies, but these need to be used carefully and with considerable attention to the contexts of the studies, and the components of the designs, that lead to these guidelines.

Level one heading
with two lines of text

Put simply, everything made by humans has been designed. Every time something new is created, someone has made decisions about its function, content and medium of expression. Decisions to include, exclude, modify or to seek out new ideas are what make the something that has been created. These decisions – conscious or unconscious – are at the heart of the design process.

Level two heading
with two lines of text

Additionally, designers must communicate their design solutions to others – to other designers so they can share, discuss and collaborate; and to their clients, users and the general population, in order to increase their understanding and evaluate the effectiveness of their solutions. Without effective communication the act of design becomes very difficult and can very quickly lose its value.

Level three heading
with two lines of text

Design is an activity to be undertaken deliberately, knowingly and with eyes wide open. With the previous points in mind, we can say that to design is: These points are not linear nor definitive. They are repeated many times over, in many different orders. In this way, they make up the activity of designers: the act of design.

Level four heading
with two lines of text

Design is an activity to be undertaken deliberately, knowingly and with eyes wide open. With the previous points in mind, we can say that to design is: These points are not linear nor definitive. They are repeated many times over, in many different orders. In this way, they make up the activity of designers: the act of design.

I have included an illustration from Jonas Löwgren & Erik Stolterman (Figure 1) that beautifully illustrates the reality and lack of linearity in the design process. The diagram shows the designer moving through various levels of abstraction over time, from the initial vision to final specification. The dark diagonal line shows the general, or averaged progress, but as we can see from the lighter line the actual design process is in no way linear or straight forward.

Level five heading
with two lines of text

Interaction itself is a very broad term. Interaction takes place when any two things have a reciprocal effect on each other, these could be subatomic particles, weather systems or people. We can’t predictably influence all of these types of interactions, so we need to better define what types of interaction we are interested in.

Level six heading
with two lines of text

Dan Saffer’s definition, quoted above, tries to draw a line between interaction design, human-computer interaction and industrial design. He limits interaction design to interactions between people through the use of artefacts. Someone programming a video cassette recorder to record a television show is outside this definition, as there is no connection between people involved. Someone using a digital video recorder with an electronic program guide is inside the definition, because they got the programme guide as a result of some sort of connection with the people who made the programme guide. As will be discussed later, it can be argued that someone using a video recorder is connecting with the designers of that video recorder and is therefore inside the definition after all. Although helping people make connections and communicate with each other is an important and integral part of interaction design, it does not help to define the discipline well.

Level one heading

Followed by a level two heading

Followed by a level three heading

Followed by a level four heading

Followed by a level five heading
Followed by a level six heading

Dan Saffer’s definition, quoted above, tries to draw a line between interaction design, human-computer interaction and industrial design. He limits interaction design to interactions between people through the use of artefacts. Someone programming a video cassette recorder to record a television show is outside this definition, as there is no connection between people involved. Someone using a digital video recorder with an electronic program guide is inside the definition, because they got the programme guide as a result of some sort of connection with the people who made the programme guide. As will be discussed later, it can be argued that someone using a video recorder is connecting with the designers of that video recorder and is therefore inside the definition after all. Although helping people make connections and communicate with each other is an important and integral part of interaction design, it does not help to define the discipline well.