"Larissa, what do you actually study?" - "I study Interaction Design." There, it happens again; a long pause and a puzzled look on my questioner’s face.
Well, there are many ways I could extricate myself from this dilemma. For example, I could simply say: "I do web design, so to speak", except that this doesn't come close to describing interaction design. So it's worthwhile to take a bit of a step back here and turn the big question mark into an "aha" moment.
Interaction design is the link between the user interface and the user experience.
Design is a common tool. However, we have arrived in a digital age where nice colours, fonts and a clean layout are no longer enough. To create a tool that is properly used, you need to set clear goals and ask the right questions: What is the problem (concept)? How do you solve the problem (design)?
In interaction design, a problem is approached from the ground up. From analysis and solution finding, through to the first scribbles and mock-ups to the functional prototype. These interaction tools enable complex digital products, applications and services to be easily accessed by anyone.
So an interaction designer is responsible for a positive user experience from start to finish - and the ultimate success of a digital product or service.
It’s no secret that digital devices, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and touchscreens, are part of our everyday lives - be it in our leisure time, at work or while shopping. Interaction design ensures that people can use devices, applications or websites seamlessly. This ranges from operating the coffee machine to online shopping on a mobile phone. In a nutshell: where there are digital functions, people interact.
It all sounds quite logical, but presents challenges. After all, how do we make sure that people who are not entirely comfortable interacting online or who suffer from a colour vision disorder, can handle the digital functions? How do we make sure that they know that they have to press the little square in the right-hand corner or move it, and with what results? These questions arise again and again in interaction design. We try to incorporate familiar patterns and contexts from everyday life into the design - for example, the switching on and off of a light switch, which is reflected in the on/off button on the website. Such familiar behavioural patterns make a digital product much easier to use and increases the chances that users will understand the interface straight away. Martin LeBlanc, a multimedia designer and founder of Iconfinder, sums it as follows, "A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it's not that good”.
But to come back to the initial question, “how do I simply explain Interaction Design?” Well, I usually try to do it in these words: "I try to create a communication interface between people and technology. My overriding design aim is to ensure digital products function intuitively and provide the user with a positive feeling so that s/he enjoys using them. Because there is nothing better than a digital product that works and shows me the information I want to see”.