Designing For Interaction

Dan Saffer’s first foray in to print publishing, Designing for Interaction: Creating Smart Applications and Clever Devices, is a tight little knit of a book. It starts from the beginning… well, the beginning of interaction design, and tours us through its evolution to the present. Here, for better or worse (jury is out), it begins to bleed out from the digital to analog world. Though Dan gives us many clear examples of how the principals of design for digital products, and services, can have much in common with those of traditional, physical ones.

Though Dan’s experience is firmly rooted in web / interactive media, notice the title doesn’t associate itself with the web at all. This fits the direction Adaptive Path, Dan’s current employer, is taking; beginning to prefer product design to “interaction design,” which is traditionally a digital domain. And Designing for Interaction does better than other books I’ve read at spanning the divide between digital and, say, analog design practices. Far better.

One of the many strengths of his book (aside from Dan’s depth of insight and breadth of experience) is that he ties together so many varied perspectives on interaction design, to include those of others (a good example for all designers) directly, through interviews. These serve as fitting diversions; quick, germane interviews with interaction design founders and luminaries, such as Marc Rettig, Hugh Dubberly, Larry Tesler, Robert Reinmann, Shelly Evenson and others.

Occasionally you can feel the the pressure on Dan’s time as he wrote, as some passages, which could have tackled the beefier topics, only tag them, instead. User-Centered Design is a sub-topic to Four Approaches to Interaction Design, of about 400 words (nine paragraphs). A little too brisk, in my opinion.

Also, while I respect enormously Dan’s great intellect, and even grander imagination (which no interaction designer can become grand without), he does seem to stretch some ideas out, if not to snapping point. In Interaction Design Basics he lists The Elements of Interaction Design as

  • Motion
  • Space
  • Time
  • Appearance
  • Texture
  • Sound

Okay, I’m down… except texture. Here we really do have to divide digital from analog design, which Dan conveniently avoids. But his points are generally valid, and yes, elemental.

Chapter 7, Smart Appliances and Clever Devices, is classic Saffer. Having deftly covered the origins and essentials of interaction design, here he shows us the not-too-distant future of it. This chapter, alone, is worth the ticket price.

Having had the privilege of a full day of Dan’s smart and solid insights, up close and personal at UX Intestive SF ’08, this past February, I think print does Dan too little justice. His charisma and passion for design are infectious, and the validity of his ideas seems self-apparent. While the page count makes it a good weekend read, it can seem a lite treatment, at times. Still, what it may lack in depth, Dan more than compensates for with a great variety of ideas, images, interviews, and examples of ways we can, and should, design for interaction in smart and clever ways.

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About Michael Cummings 31 Articles
Michael Cummings has been planning, designing, and producing interactive systems since 1995.
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1 Comment on Designing For Interaction

  1. Having given it a good deal of (unplanned) thought now I have come around and support the idea of texture as an element of digital interaction design. It is of course faux texture, but as we know, symbols are real things (representing others). I’d say that for digital artifacts (UI widgets, etc.), texture is most commonly useful for affordances. But in any case, after due consideration I concede and give Dan his due in identifying texture as an interaction design element, be it digital or of a more tangible creation. Thanks, Dan, for keeping me on my toes!

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