What is Interaction?
Are There Different Types?
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When we discuss computer-human interaction and
design for interaction, do we agree on the meaning of the term “interaction”? Has the subject been
fully explored? Is the definition settled?
A Design-Theory View
Meredith Davis has argued that interaction is not
the special province of computers alone. She points
out that printed books invite interaction and that
designers consider how readers will interact with
books. She cites Massimo Vignelli’s work on the
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American
Birds as an example of particularly thoughtful
design for interaction [ 1].
Richard Buchanan shares Davis’s broad
view of interaction. Buchanan contrasts earlier design frames (a focus on form and, more
recently, a focus on meaning and context)
with a relatively new design frame (a focus on
interaction) [ 2]. Interaction is a way of framing
the relationship between people and objects
designed for them—and thus a way of framing
the activity of design. All man-made objects
offer the possibility for interaction, and all
design activities can be viewed as design for
interaction. The same is true not only of objects
but also of spaces, messages, and systems.
Interaction is a key aspect of function, and
function is a key aspect of design.
Davis and Buchanan expand the way we look at
design and suggest that artifact-human interaction be a criterion for evaluating the results of all
design work. Their point of view raises the question: Is interaction with a static object different
from interaction with a dynamic system?
An HCI View
Canonical models of computer-human interaction are based on an archetypal structure—the
feedback loop. Information flows from a system
(perhaps a computer or a car) through a person
and back through the system again. The person
has a goal; she acts to achieve it in an environment
(provides input to the system); she measures the
effect of her action on the environment (interprets
output from the system; feedback) and then compares result with goal. The comparison (yielding
difference or congruence) directs her next action,
beginning the cycle again. This is a simple self-correcting system—more technically, a first-order
[ 1] Davis, M. “Toto, I’ve
Got a Feeling We’re Not
in Kansas Anymore….”
interactions 15, no. 5
[ 2] Buchanan, R.
Design in contemporary
culture.” Design Issues
14, no. 1 (1998).
[ 3] Maldonado, T. and
G. Bonsiepe. “Science
and Design,” Journal
of the Ulm School for
Design 10/11. HfG Ulm,
January + February 2009