Six Interaction Design Tips

Have you heard the phrase “Form follows function” by Louis Henry Sullivan? Well, interaction design is the “function” and visual design is the “form.” Interaction design defines how a user interface works—how the application is organized, which user interface controls are on each page, what a user clicks on, and what happens after the user performs an action.

The interaction design is what allows software users to get their tasks done. Interaction design is the key to making an application easy to use, but it is hard to do well.

Here are six tips for doing good interaction design:

1. Use interaction design experts. Interaction design is an art and a science, but it is more of an art. Education, training, mentoring and experience can make someone a better interaction designer. To get a better interaction design, have better people do the user interface analysis and design work.

2. Start broad and work narrow. Think of the design tasks as being part of an inverted triangle— the broadest interaction design tasks are at the beginning (top of the triangle) and the narrowest tasks are at the end (bottom of the triangle). Work down to progressively more narrow, more refined design tasks. Define the broad purpose of the application, interview users and stakeholders to define personas and requirements, prioritize the requirements, organize info and functions into sections of the application, design a navigation scheme, iteratively create wireframes that show how the user interface design works, create visual design comps that show how the user interface design looks, write a visual design style guide, and write very detailed user interaction design specs. So, work from broad to narrow.

3. Focus on the needs of users. Give users what they need to get their work done. Organize information and functions in a way that is familiar to users. Use their language and their task steps. Make it easy to perform the most frequent and important tasks. Resist the temptation to show off the cool stuff you can do with technology. Instead, focus on the strengths the technology provides to meet the users’ needs.

4. Keep it simple. The paradox of interaction design is that easy is hard. It is very difficult to design a simple interactive user interface. But a simple interaction design has many benefits. A simple design is easy to learn, easy to use, easy to demo, easy to write Help for and easy to code. A simple design reduces training and support costs. A simple design builds user confidence, enhances the company’s brand, and is more likely to make your application a success. To help design a simple interaction design, assume users know the domain but will not take any training and will not use the online Help.

5. Perform iterative design. No one gets it right the first time, not even experienced interaction designers. So, create a simple interaction design, get feedback from representative users, and improve the design. Then repeat until users find the interaction design simple and easy to use.

6. Use a tool that allows quick and easy interaction design changes. As you learn what to change in the interaction design, be able to make the improvements quickly, easily and cheaply. The ideal interaction design tool allows designers to directly make the changes themselves rather than going through a developer. It is better to use a simple, fast, static page drawing tool like Visio than a complicated, slower, dynamic programming tool.

Interaction design is challenging. These tips can help you create a simple, successful interaction design.

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