Interaction Design Best Practices

Interaction design is something that you really don’t want to go wrong. The fact of the matter is that, no matter how capable your software is under the hood, how effective and efficient it is, this isn’t what the user sees. Your interface, the interaction methodologies present, and the overall tangible aspects are what the user sees. To the user, this is the program, not the abstract mechanisms happening behind the scenes.

This means that if your interaction design goes wrong, it’s a disaster. Once upon a time, in a bygone, eldritch era, computers weren’t a wide consumer product, and only trained individuals interacted with them. At this time, software was difficult, complex and very intricate to operate, which reinforced the rift between users and non-users of computers.

With the advent of easier to use GUI design, and increasing power in computers to make them capable of a wider range of tasks, thus making their saturation of the private sector possible, the design philosophy for interacting with software had to change rapidly. This is still an evolving, ever-changing science, as new technologies, new platforms, new software types and user culture shift and progress.

But, the past and the future are not of consequence here. We’re going to briefly touch on three best practices when it comes to interaction principles right now.

#1 – Design for Learnability

Penetration of a market is one of the hurdles when it comes to how your interaction works. Software that is easy and logical to use once learned, isn’t worth much if learning it is a trial worthy of Hercules or Perseus. A lot of very powerful, well-designed software has not succeeded to the level it could because learning the software starting out required so many tutorials, research and practice to become natural.

Adobe’s software has a reputation for being somewhat hard to learn, as once did Microsoft’s Office software. You will notice that recent revisions of how the interactions, presentation and layout of their software have changed so that it’s easy to learn by experience.

#2 – Design for Familiarity

I’ve said this in previous similar pieces, but this is something I have to reinforce every opportunity I get. By this point, certain types of controls, forms and layout patterns have become familiar to users. Scrollbars, textboxes, buttons, combo boxes, other similar controls – users instantly recognize their purpose, and will deduce that different combinations of these probably serve specific purposes.

This lends to the learnability I mentioned above, and it also makes efficient interaction by instinct much more achievable, if you use standard components that users recognize, and don’t overdo custom controls or obscure designs just to look pretty and unique.

#3 – Be Gentle with Navigation

Ok, this one’s kind of hard to put into words, but I’m going to do my best. Whenever your design calls for a procedural set of steps to complete an overall task, it’s a common mistake to make each step too insular, causing a long series of passing through forms and dialogs to get a task completed, taking the user on a long journey through a lot of input and output.

This is not only exhausting and tiresome to a user, it’s easy to get very lost and lose one’s place, fail to mention the inefficiency of this. It’s much better to centralize and consolidate the components of a task with less navigation. But, remember, there’s a balance there, to avoid crowding the UI.

Interaction design is important. Spend a lot of time testing, retesting and studying your demographics, so that your interface and usability help put the power of your software in the hands of users, rather than creating a rift.


Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.