A philosophy of interaction design - conceptual framework behind Interaction|12

12 Feb 2012 - 12:41am
4 years ago
6 replies
3444 reads
Steve Baty

When planning the programme for Interaction|12 we started by setting forth a philosophy or conceptual framework for interaction design, as a way of helping to structure the content and ensure an overall coherent 'story'. I thought it might be of interest to the community. 

 A philosophy of Interaction Design

Behaviour: is the intent of interaction design
Context, Purpose/Strategy, Dialogue, Ecosystems: are the "essential elements" of interaction design.
Process: describes the way in which we approach the creation of each 'element'

Theory: underpins our process, and provides our connection between the activities we undertake and the results we expect to ensue.

Behaviour as a label represents an aggregate outcome for the activities of interaction design, but each 'element' similarly has an outcome:
    •    Context: an understanding of the physical, mental and emotional triggers, conditions and motivations for the participants of/in the object of our design
    •    Strategy: the purpose towards which we're conducting our design - the economic value exchange that we anticipate taking place
    •    Dialogue: the specific low-level "interactions" - request/response 'transactions' that take place across an imaginary or tangible plane of interaction. [From Dave:] Aesthetics of the interaction design would be talked about in the context of this element.
    •    Ecosystems: the large-scale interplay between services, physical spaces and objects and people, resulting in large-scale behavioural changes either within a 'market', economy or various levels/scales of society/community


Process is the layer at which we see similarity with other design disciplines. There is a clear design heritage showing in the human-centredness, empathy, compassion; on the use of sketching, prototyping, critique, deconstruction, multiplicity.

Underpinning this process is a twin heritage in theory drawing on a tradition of design on the one hand, and a tradition of HCI on the other. It is through HCI that Cognitive and Behavioural psychology comes to Interaction design. It is also from HCI that we receive much of our understanding of the mechanics of the dialogue that occurs through a plane of interaction made physically manifest through digital interfaces.

Conference Programming

A session - presentation or workshop - might plot a course vertically through one of the 'elements', covering theory, process, outcome. Or the presenter might explore a single element in the context of theory or process or outcome.

As a whole, the program plots an arc through the entire territory. For an individual the program offers opportunities to trace a path within a very narrow frame of reference; or one that touches lightly across each segment.

Workshops: focus on techniques, process or the bridge into design
e.g. sketching = process
prototyping = process

analysis = bridge from research to context

Keynote presentations

Theory: e.g. the integration of design & HCI traditions in modern ixd practice.

Context: e.g. what does "understanding" context look like? What do we mean by context? Different types of context - cultural, physical, emotional.

Strategy: e.g. how do we plot a path from where we are to where we want to be? The role of vision. Futuristic concepts - envisaging the future. Competition on the basis of interaction.

Dialogue: e.g. focused in on the immediate environs of the plane of interaction. New interaction paradigms (touch, gesture) or interfaces (Wii, Kinect, tablets, neural). Exploring the boundary/impacts of context on the design of specific interactions.

Ecosystems: e.g. the integrated, interdependent system of objects, services, spaces and people within which our desired, designed behaviour takes place

Behaviour: an exploration of, or examples of large-scale behavioural change and the role of interaction design on that behaviour.

Keynote presentations hit the big topics at a level of the entire layer or individual 'element'. They are intended to ask big questions or propose bold ideas, or pour cold water over a hyped-up idea or fad.

Presentation sessions: With less time at their disposal presentation slots will tend to focus more narrowly than the keynote sessions. Presentations - whether invited or not - will fit into the overall story arc, providing threading and context. For the Interaction conference sessions of a purely theoretical nature are acceptable. Theory is one layer of the philosophy and so can be covered on its own.



14 Feb 2012 - 10:31am
Phillip Hunter

Thanks for sharing this! I'm surprised that it's attracted no other comments.

I'll throw a question out there. In the elements of "Context, Purpose/Strategy, Dialogue, Ecosystems", where does human desire and willingness to engage or act fit in? Yes, behavior is the intention, but we affect behavior in most cases after a decision at some level has been made. Prior to that, there is attraction or discovery or something similar that feels like an element.

Or is that all accounted for in one of the four elements? If so, which?

14 Feb 2012 - 11:05am

I think Doc described that as part of "Context" - "an understanding of the physical, mental and emotional triggers, conditions and motivations for the participants of/in the object of our design."


14 Feb 2012 - 1:49pm
Phillip Hunter

Sorry, meant to call that out and explain why I was excluding it. Certainly mental and emotional triggers would be part of the context once an interaction begins. But there is still something prior. Something that is not in the same context as the designed thing but that leads to interaction with it.

An overly simplistic example is interacting with an airport kiosk to check-in. Given alternatives, what is it that makes the person choose the kiosk? It's probably not something that's explicitly designed into the interaction model of the kiosk. Perhaps into the encompassing service, but not the kiosk software. Do we need to account for this? Call the approach trigger or something like that. It might be fleeting, but crucial.

This seems to be outside of what is considered context in the model, though perhaps I'm thinking too narrowly about the intended meaning.

14 Feb 2012 - 10:56am
Matt Nish-Lapidus

I've been waiting to comment until I had time to fully digest the model :) Since Philip is leading the charge, I'll jump in. 

This is an interesting model, I'd like to understand better how/why the elements are in layers. Each layer is a familiar construct, but I'm not sure the layer metaphor works for me. I tend to think of these things as more of a web, as each has different relationships with the other elements. For instance, Ecosystems (which I've often refered to as Networks) and Behaviour actually have a multifaceted relationship. One isn't necessarily built on the other, rather they constantly interact with eachother with one acting to create and modify the other. 

In that regard, maybe Behaviour isn't really the intent of interaction design, but one of the possible outcomes from, or inputs to, a System/Network/Ecosystem. 

This general model aslo fits really well with the concept expressed by Dick Buchanan at Interaction|11, that interaction design is the primary framework/worldview of design in the 21st century. It is an all encompassing model for design given the context of the new networked world. 

One aspect to add, and I'm not sure exactly how it fits right now, is the idea of a personal philosophy that guides our design intent. Design is a way of building the future you want to see, so as designers we should have a view of what that future should be. That can be individual, based on movements (or creating movements), or loosely grouped, but I really think it's important to think about what type of future we are making with the new objects that we put in it. Looking at it now, this is where ethics come in to a certain extent. If we create a future by making things today we also have to try to understand the impacts of those new things... We will likely be wrong, but it's important to keep this in mind.


14 Feb 2012 - 1:52pm
Phillip Hunter

Last paragraph. The long view of our short-sighted influence. Yes, very important.

14 Feb 2012 - 8:53pm
Steve Baty

Phillip, Thanks for the comments. 

That Context element is meant to be broad, and cover off the type of factors you're considering. That may make it *too* broad, but I was also trying to keep the overall framework relatively simple in structure. I could paraphrase it by saying "All of the factors external to the designed 'thing' that affect the way the individual interacts with that 'thing'." - although that could send us all down a very long rabbit hole :) I mean it to include cultural influences, physical environment, past experiences (and expectations) etc etc. Does that make more sense?
Around the question of intention to act, or decision to act, let me speak from personal project experience: I've found the factors that determine action are equally at play when it comes to inaction. Barriers that inhibit or block a behaviour form part of the design 'challenge' - either designing them out of the system, or providing an incentive to act which is greater than the inhibitor. I don't see the two as separate, but a collective, and these need to be balanced (and outweighed).
So for me, Behaviour looks both at the things we *do*, and those we consciously choose *not* to do.
Matt: good point about our ultimate aim and the architecture of the framework. The choice of a layered framework perhaps worked better at those lower few levels than it does for the top two. Would love to see a sketch of what a 'web' version might look like.
I'll also throw in one of the pieces of feedback I received from the conference committee (Dave Malouf): where does "Aesthetics" fit? My answer was that it fits within the areas of Dialogue and Ecosystems. I'd be interested in hearing others' thoughts on that.

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