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Last week, we wrote about the basic set of skills a junior UI/UX designer needs for their first role. Now, we’ll delve a bit further into a core part of that skillset: Interaction Design (also referred to as IXD). This blog post isn’t intended to be a thorough dive into the topic; rather, it’s an introduction to what IXD is, why it matters, and how you can pick up these skills through our latest course on Designlab. Without further ado…

Interaction Design? What’s that?

Let’s start by taking a broad look at the field of User Experience (UX) design and work our way down from there.
From the diagram below, you can see that User Experience is a broad, encompassing field, that fundamentally is concerned with everything a user experiences (surprising, we know).

As UX designer Per Axbom puts it:

UX looks at what attracts a person to the service, what helps them understand it and use it, how it integrates into the context of their lives, how they are encouraged to keep using it and how they communicate with others around the product/service.

To create the user experience, designers are responsible for how a product, system or service will lookfeel and behave for a user. Interaction design, specifically, is focused on designing the behavior of a product – how it works.

Some of the questions an interaction designer thinks about: Is the product behavior predictable, expected, and usable? Can our user accomplish her goals without many steps or much conscious effort?Of course, many UX designers these days are responsible for handling the interaction design of the products they work on.


Sounds fun! What skills does IXD consist of?

So, what are some things you’d need to learn in order to add IXD to your skillset? Since you’re responsible for everything related to the behavior of the product, you’re best served by understanding a wide range of topics that overlap with the fields of usability and information architecture.

Here’s just a sampling of the core skills worth mastering:

  • Core design principles of usability. Interaction designers have to constantly evaluate whether their product meets the following goals:
    • easy to use (effectiveness)
    • efficient to use (efficiency)
    • safe to use (safety)
    • has good utility (utility)
    • easy to learn (learnability)
    • easy to remember how to use (memorability)
  • User-centered design and goal-centered design — you’ll learn to think about how your user moves through your app to accomplish specific goals
  • Information Architecture (ontology, taxonomy) — you’ll think about how to organize your app/website in a way that is logical and consistent with the way the user views the world, in order to make the app/website easy to navigate
  • Sketching & Wireframing — How can you quickly and efficiently communicate the structure and elements of user interfaces?
  • Design patterns — common frameworks/design idioms that people use to solve specific problems (e.g. what are best practices around designing forms, designing search interfaces, etc.)

Based on the above list, you can see how IXD is a fun, diverse job that requires constant problem-solving, while balancing business constraints and maintaining empathy with your end users.

As UX leader Christina Wodtke puts it:

The heart of interaction design is designing interaction. But what does that mean? It means deciding what functionality exists in the product, and how it behaves when a human uses it, as well as how it is presented to the human so s/he can understand it. While IA, usability, psychology and graphic/interface design all inform those choices, it is the interaction designer who creates scenarios of use, user stories and/or use cases and flows that represent those choices for the engineer to program. So the key skill is being able to design the behavior of the software when a human interacts with it. All else is useful data.


Why is this important?

Cooper, a popular design firm, put it well in saying:

The practice of “interaction design” grew from the need to present software experiences to users in a way that makes sense, meets their needs, is consistent and coherent and “usable” and ultimately desirable.

Have you ever been frustrated by a TV remote that didn’t make sense, or a doorknob that was terrible to use? How about downloading an app and having no idea how to get started? Those are the conundrums caused by a poor understanding of interaction design, and we can avoid that by becoming experts – grounding ourselves with a strong background in usability, information architecture, user-centered design, and knowledge of effective design patterns.


Who should learn about interaction design?

  • Aspiring UI and UX designers — A core part of your UX skillset will be interaction design — taking research that tells you all about the wants and needs of your users, and turning that into a well-organized, usable product that delights customers. Whether you’re starting with a background in print/graphic design, or diving into web and mobile design from scratch, it’s important to know the fundamentals of interaction design.
  • Product Managers — Think about what a PM does on a day-to-day basis — she serves as the crux of a product organization, helping coordinate between different teams like engineering, marketing, design, and management. As the product owner, the PM has to be intimately familiar with user flows, the site maps and information architecture of a website/app, and the infinitesimal usability details that go into making an app (or website) great.
  • Entrepreneurs / CEOs — In many early-stage companies, the CEO is the product manager by default. It’s helpful to know every aspect of your business well — especially one as crucial to customer satisfaction as the design (look, feel, usability, and behavior) of your products.


Interaction Design on Designlab

We’re excited to launch our first Interaction Design course on Designlab, starting March 20!

The course stays true to our core principles: you’ll learn a good amount of design theory, but most importantly, you’ll improve your skills by practicing with a series of hands-on projects. You’ll work on designing your own version of a mobile app, while continuously getting feedback through our platform and having regular, 1-on-1 Skype sessions with an expert designer. By the end of the 4-week online course, you’ll have hours of practice, a strong foundation in theory, and (hopefully) a new mentor/friend :), not to mention valuable pieces to add to your UX portfolio! Take a look, and email us if you have any

Hopefully that was a helpful introduction to the topic of interaction design. It’s a core skill for budding UI/UX designers and anyone else involved in making products. Whether or not you learn these skills on Designlab, we hope to see you make amazing products by more carefully considering the role strong IXD can play in your design process.

Related reading:

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