In Philosophy of Interaction – and the Interactive User Experience the author Dag Svanaes goes through four perspectives on interactivity: interaction as information processing (Cognitive Science), interaction as tool use (Heidegger), interaction as perception (Merleau-Ponty), and interaction from a media and art perspective (Arnheim/Itten).

Over the last two decades, interaction design has emerged as a design discipline alongside traditional design disciplines such as graphics design and furniture design. While it is almost tautological that furniture designers design furniture, it is less obvious what the end product of interaction design is. Löwgren’s answer is “interactive products and services” (Löwgren 2008). This narrows it down, but leaves open the question of what it means for something to be interactive.

“What makes a product or service interactive? One of the simplest interactive products imaginable is a touch-sensitive light switch like the one in Figure 11.1A. You touch it once to turn the light on, and again to turn the light off. At the other end of the complexity scale you find interactive products like the cockpit of a modern aeroplane..”

“If you solder a light bulb to a battery and leave it on your desk until the battery is drained, this digital product can hardly be called interactive. You can of course turn it off by cutting one of its wires, but that would not be an intended interactivity of the product. The light bulb could be substituted with something far more complex, like a digital photo frame that was programmed to generate random fractals on a screen. With no buttons, handles or other means for interacting, despite its complex behaviour, neither that product would be interactive. It would be like the 1957 Sputnik 1 satellite (Figure 11.2C), which contained a “transmit only” radio beacon that transmitted beeps from space for 20 days until its batteries ran out. From the above examples it becomes clear that what makes a product or service interactive is not its complexity, nor the fact that it is digital, but whether it is designed to respond to actions by a user.”

Read Philosophy of Interaction – and the Interactive User Experience

Jeroen van Geel

Jeroen van Geel is founder/chief kahuna of Johnny Holland and the interaction director at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction], a Dutch multidisciplinary design agency. You can follow him on Twitter via @jeroenvangeel.

2 comments on this article

  1. Pingback: Johnny Holland Mag: Philosophy of Interaction: In Philosophy of Interaction – and the Interactive U… #UX #IA #IxD |

  2. Mads Soegaard on

    Thanks very much for the kind words! That means a lot to us!

    All the best from the team behind !