What Is Interaction Design (IxD) And How Important Is It For Mobile App Design?

18 October 2022

Interaction design (abbreviated to IxD) is a subset of user experience design. While the genre of UX Design encompasses IxD, it is the specific moment and point when a user interacts with a product (usually digital), that is the focus of an Interaction Designer. Is the interaction functional? Will the user achieve the aim of the design? Is it a pleasant experience for the user? Does the interaction cater for people with physical or visual impairments etc? An Interaction Designer answers and resolves these questions. Interaction design should be able to tell the user what taking a specific action will lead to. A bad design leads to the user being unable to complete their tasks. Interaction design is at the heart of user experience, and ensuring users have a positive experience is central to any product or service you are trying to market.

UX Design vs Interaction Design

To clarify, UX design is the inclusion of the entire experience a user has when interacting with a product. This might include the touch and feel of the product, customer service and other end-to-end experiences. Meanwhile, interaction design will purely focus on the goal of the user, and the interactions they will have with the product to help achieve that goal. These are called ‘at-the-moment’ interactions.

An example: You have hired a digital agency to design an e-commerce web app for online shopping. It is the role of an interaction designer to ensure users can optimally interact with the app to achieve the goal of purchasing products. The app may have an ‘add to cart’ visual option, but the interaction designer will work out the most effective way to create an interaction with that element. Is it via a button format (to tap, hold, or slide), voice command or drag? Which option would be the most optimal way for the user to achieve the desired interaction with the product? Meanwhile, a UX designer’s role may be to ensure that when the button is clicked that the product lands in the cart, or that the user when trying to visit the cart is directed to the appropriate screen.

“Interaction Design is the creation of a dialogue between a person and a product, system, or service. This dialogue is both physical and emotional in nature and is manifested in the interplay between form, function, and technology as experienced over time.”

– John Kolko, Author of Thoughts on Interaction Design (2011)

Interaction Design & Mobile Applications

It is essential for interaction design to be considered for mobile applications as the handheld touchscreen format feels far more personal and interactive to a user than many other alternatives. Every touch of the user’s fingers will lead to an action of some kind. There is a more direct connection between the user and what they are trying to achieve as all their decisions are in the palm of their hand. The touchscreen format must be considered when organising the scope and design of an application. There’s a reason why FPS-style games are far more popular and easier to play on formats like computers or consoles, meanwhile a game like ‘Fruit Ninja’ or ‘Candy Crush’, which requires finger-swiping interactions is more popular on a mobile format. Another consideration is the smaller screen size, compared to computers. Less information can appear on the screen if displayed at the same size as a laptop. Therefore, an interactive hierarchy must be considered. Everything must be sized appropriately so that interactions can occur fluidly and functionally. This is where the help of a creative digital agency with an interaction designer will be helpful, as an interaction designer should be fluid across a variety of formats.

wireframe sketches for mobile

The Five Dimensions of Interaction Design

Gillian Crampton Smith (London’s Royal College of Art) and Kevin Silver (Senior interaction designer, IDEXX Laboratories) defined five dimensions or aspects of consideration for Interaction Design. Each dimension gets more involved than the previous one. They are as follows:

Words (1D), Visual Representation (2D), Physical Objects / Space (3D), Time (4D), Behaviour (5D).

Words (1D)

Text is a way of conveying the correct amount of information, alongside accurate information. When trying to get a user to complete an action, the text should be used in a concise format to convey information in a straightforward manner. Too much text can be disengaging or overwhelming to users. If you are creating an ‘add to cart’ button you don’t want that to be 50 words of text. The button will then be either too large or the text too small to read. It is likely that the user will have a poor interaction in either one of those formats, and potentially scan over or not fully read this important button.

Visual Representations (2D)

Any graphic element that aids visual interaction between the user and product counts as a visual representation. This could include imagery, graphic elements, iconography, or typography that helps convey the information to the user. In our ‘add to cart’ example, this could include creating a rectangular outline around the text and introducing a shopping cart icon next to the typography, so the user has a better understanding of what interacting with that element achieves.

Physical Objects / Space (3D)

What objects is the user interacting with to achieve their desired outcome? A laptop with a keyboard, and a touch screen? A handheld device? Will they be interacting with the product whilst going for a run or sitting at a desk? The situation and environment will greatly impact how the product is used and subsequently the design of the interactions.

Time (4D)

This refers to any motion aspects or media that are modified as time passes, this could include animated elements or widgets, video, audio etc. Time can be an essential component of a product that a user returns to. It may include a progress bar or loading animation.

Behaviour (5D)

The most recently included dimension. Behaviour describes the action/ reaction of the user and product. How do users perform actions on the app, and how do they operate it? The combination of the previous 4 elements will create behaviour in the user that will get them to engage with the product in some capacity. Reactions could include an emotional response, joy, anger, sadness etc. at the interaction between the user and the product.

Internet shopping illustration

Engaging a creative digital agency with experience in Interaction Design

When searching for a creative digital agency to develop your web or mobile application, ensure they prioritise user experience and interaction design. At AWD Digital, we do just that. The holistic approach we take to design allows us to grasp the user experience across a variety of formats, including mobile and web applications, websites, and more. Our application optimisation and user experience solutions will make your application stand out from the crowd.

Let’s grow together! Give us a call on 03 9001 6255, or fill out the form to book your free 30-minute workshop.