Interaction design web design

19 Apr 2004 - 8:40am
603 reads
Robert Reimann

Hi Ash,

I (and my colleague Jodi Forlizzi at CMU) like to describe
interaction design in this way:

Interaction Design is a design discipline dedicated to:

Defining the *behavior* of artifacts, environments, and systems;
and therefore also concerned with:

- Defining the form of these things as it relates to their
behavior and use
- Anticipating how the use of these things will mediate human
relationships and affect human understanding
- Exploring the dialogue between products, people, and contexts
(physical, cultural, historical)

Interaction design is also a perspective that approaches the design
of products, etc. in several different ways:

- From an understanding of how and why people desire to use them
- As an advocate for the users and their goals
- As gestalts, not simply as sets of features and attributes
- By imagining things as they might be, not necessarily as they
currently are

As you can see, many of the subpoints above could also describe
HCI/Human Factors, and many of them could describe Industrial
Design. However, the specific, central focus on the *design of the
behavior* of complex systems is, I think, the unique aspect of IxD.

"What happens inside the computer" is in a way less important than what
it means to the humans using it. "Behavior" is the most sensible way to
describe this at a human level of abstraction, and it should be the focal
point, and not a second thought, in the design of software-enabled systems,
or really any user-facing, technology-mediated system (a call center for
example) complex enough to exhibit non-trivial behaviors that humans
must interpret and respond to.

It's also my belief that specific methods, narrative in nature, address
the needs of designing behavior (which is also narrative in nature) in
a way that more traditional, form-oriented methods do not. Naturally,
IxD can't happen in a vacuum; it's just one of many disciplines (like ID
and HF) that must be brought to bear to define the "complete" user

I hope this helps,



Robert Reimann
Manager, User Interface Design
Bose Design Center

Bose Corporation
The Mountain
Framingham, MA 01701

-----Original Message-----
From: id at [mailto:id at]
Sent: Monday, April 19, 2004 9:03 AM
To: molly wright steenson
Cc: at
Subject: Re: [ID Discuss] Interaction design == web design

Quoting molly wright steenson <molly at>:
> It seems like you specifically are talking about human factors and
> HCI.
> That's something that also touches interaction design but is not
> specifically or necessarily interaction design. (Though maybe the folks
> who are going to CHI next week in Vienna might feel differently, and
> I'd love a report!)

This fascinates me. If Human Factors isn't interaction design, then what
exactly *is* interaction design?

I've mentioned all this before on this list, but for those of you that
aren't aware, Human Factors is the study (both qualitative and quantitative)
of humans interacting with systems (where a system may be a piece of
technology, other humans, an environment, or a combination of these), and
the application of this knowledge to the subsequent design or re-design of
said systems to ensure that they are safe, effective, efficient and
satisfying to use. It draws upon the disciplines of computer science,
engineering, anthropology, cognitive psychology, applied physiology,
sociology, anthropometry, statistics, industrial design, and environmental

Chapanis (1985) defined Human Factors as follows:
"Human factors discovers and applies information about human behavior,
abilities, limitations, and other characteristics to the design of tools,
machines, systems, tasks, jobs, and environments for productive, safe,
comfortable, and effective human use."

Granted, traditionally Human Factors has been used to design critical
systems such as those found in aviation, medicine, energy, mining, transport
systems, etc; but more recently (the last 20 years or so) the discipline has
been employed to design consumer systems such as OXO's "Sure Grips" range of
kitchen appliances, Nokia's "Human Technology" software and hardware, Apple
Computer's Software and Hardware, Palm's PDA, Johnson & Johnson's "Reach"
toothbrushes, and many more.

I've been under the impression that Interaction Design (like so many of the
other fields that seem to have popped up in the last 10 years) was either a
simplified subset of, or just another (more apt) name for the discipline of
Human Factors. Any light you can shed on what Interaction Design covers
that departs from Human Factors, and how it does so would be much

Best regards,

Ash Donaldson
"It depends."
User Experience Designer

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