What does the History & evolution of interaction design tell us about designing for digital? | Part 1

Too many digital products are hard to use. In a world with a pandemic, where most of our interactions and engagements with others are going to be digital, what does it take to make these digital interactions seamless, meaningful, and engaging? We get into a sneak-peak into the history of interaction design and how it stands to evolve and shape the future of our experiences.

Hari Nallan & Mohita Jaiswal

Part 1/3

The meaning of “Interaction”

The word interaction means reciprocal action or influence, where there is an ongoing interaction between two parties. As we talk back and forth with each other, a relationship is formed over time due to a reciprocal influence through behavior.

If an interaction can lead us to form a relationship with individuals, how can we build this with animals/ machines/ objects? We need to understand how to foster an ongoing interaction to ensure that we form a sort of comfortable relationship as we interact.

How can products behave like people so that we can talk to them easily ?

a) Make interactions feel natural

According to a research in 1996, The media equation* – humans have instincts to tell themselves how to behave around other sentient beings, and as soon as an object exhibits sufficient levels of interactivity these instincts are activated. Hence usability of interface elements becomes important, to simulate how a considerate and thoughtful human might interact, bringing in a similar tone of helpfulness.

Research – The media equation: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1996-98923-000

b) Digital products need not be interfering and rude – but stimulating positive emotions

According to Patrick W. Jordan (author of Designing Pleasurable Products, 2000), the product should evoke an emotion when the user is interacting with the product. Products which are fun and pleasurable, appeal to the user as they facilitate developing an emotional connection with them. Products can similarly enable socio-pleasure facilitating social interactions, psycho-pleasure (pleasure gained from achieving a task efficiently), ideo-pleasure (interacting with a product which has aesthetic value), and appeal to the senses due to its tactile and olfactory properties, etc. The affective state the product creates within a user, guides their interactions with it.

1. A coffee-maker enabling a host to provide their guests with fresh coffee


2. A product made of biodegradable material, for example, can be seen as holding value in the environment which, in turn, may appeal to someone who wishes to be environmentally responsible.

c) Not requiring you to think like computers, but are adaptable/flexible 

A common drop in usability of products happens when products mandate to change their behavior for the system to understand them rather than the system being built to understand human perception. Cognitive psychology is the study of how the mind works, and what mental processes take place there. Various elements of cognitive psychology inform the field of interaction design. For example, mental models are the images in a user’s mind that inform their expectation of a certain interaction or system.

By learning the user’s mental model, interaction designers can create systems that feel intuitive.

  1. Interface Metaphor: The trash icon on most computers resembles a physical trash can, in order to alert a user to the expected action.
  2. Affordances: A button that looks like a physical object you can push, for example, is an affordance designed so that someone unfamiliar with the button will still understand how to interact with it. These hold some aspects of human perception, which could be used to design better interactions.
  3. Provision of UI guides or Intro Screens in the Apps for hand holding on softwares, reducing cognitive load to learn something new.
With an advent of products which are increasingly conversing with people, to help them meet their expectations and fulfill motivations, we need to design for intelligent conversations that the product can have with users.
Hari Nallan

Hari Nallan

Founder and CEO of Think Design, a Design leader, Speaker and Educator. With a master's from NID and in the capacity of a founder, Hari has influenced, led and delivered several experience driven transformations across industries. As the CEO of Think Design, Hari is the architect of Think Design's approach and design centered practices and the company's strategic initiatives.

Mohita Jaiswal

Mohita Jaiswal

Research, Strategy and Content consultant. With a master's from IIT Delhi, Mohita has diverse experience across domains of technical research, big data, leadership development and arts in education. Having a keen interest in the science of human behavior, she looks at enabling holistic learning experiences, working at the intersection of technology, design, and human psychology.


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