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Imagine you’re planning a friend’s birthday party. Before the event, you order four dozen cupcakes using a food delivery app. The process may start like this:

  • You type “bakery” into the search bar and tap the “go” button. → The app displays a list of bakeries.
  • You scroll down the list and tap on a link for “Carlo’s Cupcake Creations.” → The app opens the page for Carlo’s Cupcake Creations.

After a few more steps, you successfully order the celebratory cupcakes. The process of placing this order consists of a series of interactions between you and the app. The designers behind the food delivery app (and designers in general) carefully plan these interactions so that you can complete your goals.

What is Interaction Design?

Interaction design, or IxD, focuses on designing products that users can successfully interact with.

In this lesson, we’ll focus on interaction design in the context of digital products. However, we should note that interaction design has origins in industrial design. Design is integral to any product we can interact with, whether that is a physical alarm clock or an alarm clock app.

When we use digital products, there is a back-and-forth pattern that mirrors a conversation — we take an action, and the interface responds. We can think of interaction design as planning a conversation between the user and the interface.

IxD vs. UXD

If you’ve studied UX Design, the definition of interaction design may feel familiar. UX Design encompasses all aspects of a user-centered design process, from conducting user research to creating prototypes to facilitating usability tests.

Interaction design is a subsection of UX Design. IxD focuses on the interactions between the user and the product, such as typing, scrolling, swiping, tapping, pinching, double-clicking, hovering, and more. Interaction designers plan and prototype the interactions that allow the user to achieve their goals.

The roles of UX Designer and Interaction Designer can overlap on a design team. UX Designers may be responsible for interaction design and other aspects of the design process. However, in some contexts, specialized Interaction Designer roles focus solely on planning and creating interactions.

Why is IxD important?

Think back to a conversation that did not go as planned. Maybe you struggled to understand someone’s ideas or had your statements ignored or misinterpreted. You may have left that situation feeling disappointed, confused, or frustrated. We don’t want users to walk away from our products feeling this way!

Interaction design seeks to improve communication between the interface and the user. Completing one task, such as ordering cupcakes, may involve dozens of interactions. We want to ensure that each interaction contributes to a smooth user experience.

In this lesson, we will:

  • Discuss the building blocks of interaction design
  • Explore principles for designing successful interactions
  • Analyze examples of strong and weak interaction design

Instructions

After reading the information, answer these questions to check your understanding.

For digital products, what is the main focus of interaction design?

Interaction design seeks to create smooth communication between the user and the interface. Designing effective interactions ensures that the user can complete their goals.
What is the difference between IxD and UXD?

UX Design includes the entire user-centered design process (research, ideation, prototyping, testing, etc.). Interaction Design is a subsection of UX Design that specifically focuses on how the user interacts with the product.

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