What is interaction? I mean, what is designing interactions?

February 7, 2011 at 2:25 pm Leave a comment

PIC: Robert Fabricant [Frog Design]
Discussion always arises when we talk about contested terminologies across disciplines. One of these is the term “interaction”. In a period when everybody is talking about designing interactions, we should ask ourselves from which disciplinary background is that person talking from.

In their essay “Multimedia” Geoffrey Rockwell and Andrew Mactavish, from the Digital Humanities, refer to the idea that multimedia is inherently interactive because it ‘Weaves the multiplicity into a whole’. According to them, computer programming in multimedial structures configure how the viewer will experience the relationship with a computer. Having multiple layers of experience grouped into one holistic interaction is one of the things that characterize multimedia.

Robert Fabricant – Behavior is our Medium from Interaction Design Association on Vimeo.

But in the design field: what do we mean with interaction? Nowadays, we could argue that interactions are not just happening in computers [Davis, 2008]. They have transcended. The new context definition for design, which makes it turn from technical to strategic, and the redirection of the role in design seeking to address systems instead of artifacts; gives us grounding to indicate that today designers are addressing social interactions.

In a broader sense, interactions are said to frame the relationship between people and a variety of artifacts like products & systems, which convey the aspect of function, which has always been part of design [Dubberly, Pangaro & Haque, 2009]. Interactions entail classic feedback loops that allow one system to modify the other and vice versa.

Usman Haque has indicated that the confusion of “reaction” and “interaction” is something common to see. Yet, is important not to confuse them. In the Internet, we are surrounded by announcements indicating fabulous inter­active websites or applications. But are they really interactive? According to Haque, the percep­tion that, by pressing some links on a website entails interaction, is completely inaccurate. In one hand, reaction has to do with systems that respond to input, where the relation between input and the output are fixed. On the other hand, interaction has to do with systems that where the transfer is dynamic. Input affects output and the other way around, where this particular relation may also be subjected to change.

In the Design field, interactions may occur between individuals and static objects, but also about between individuals and other systems. The latter, relates to the interaction between dynamic systems, which are more complex than the static. Dynamic systems of interaction are frequently embodied in social interactions, which are not necessarily mediated by objects. An example of social interaction might be the definition of a service. It may have abstract rules, yet these could be designed.

A system-based interaction [between individuals or systemic inter-relations] might be considered a more complex set of interaction. As design moves from objects to strategies or experiences, is more likely that it starts to work under this more complicated interaction modality.


Entry filed under: Data, Digital Humanities, Interaction.

Digital Humanities: The dialogue between the Geeks and the Poets Is Google making us stupid? How the Internet is changing us….

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contact + citing (CC license)

Constanza Miranda PhD(c) design.anthro
* Currently @ DILAB
* Ex.VR @ Stanford's Center for Design Research [DesignXLab]
* Ex.Instructor @ PUC Chile [Design+Engineering]
Use citations ¡Citar es ético!
Creative Commons License
Design for Social Innovation initiative by Constanza Miranda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.innovacionsocial.cl.

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