Interaction Design in Ireland: Part 3

Séamus Byrne

Director of User Experience

This is part 3 of a interview series on Interaction design, we will be sharing the series of posts via our blog from Darren Mealiff, a student from IT Carlow’s Product Design & Innovation Department, an Interview on Interaction Design with our Director of User Experience, Séamus Byrne. If you missed Part 2 check it out now here.


Darren – 

How long have you been involved in Interaction Design and how did you become interested in it?

Séamus – 

My journey with interaction design started with website design and development in 1997. I remember teaching myself HTML on a computer in the library and I began working in this field in the early 00’s. I was mainly doing multimedia and flash animation work, so I was an  *interactive* designer.

I became aware of role and function of interaction designers from working on websites and eLearning applications. Interaction designers would provide us with wireframes and / or storyboards which would tell us what content and choices were made available to the user. Then, I would build the design happen using html, flash, lingo, and a whole slew of other production technologies. There were many times on various projects I conducted activities and tasks that where part of an interaction designer’s toolkit, but I didn’t identify them as such – they were just things i did as part of my multimedia design process.

I didn’t transition into Interaction Design proper until 2006 when I ended up getting a job as Staff at a reputable University in their Interaction Design Department, on the User Interface team.  My focus there was more so on the aesthetics or visual design than the Interaction Design: how can we make the affordances better? how can we make the interface more consistent and simple? how can we tell a better story and use visual hierarchies and cues to increase user delight? I was working with a super smart team of Interaction Designers. Soon their methods and practices started rubbing off on me, and I was turned from an Interactive to an Interaction Designer. They sound like very similar fields but they are not as Interactive Design does not generally deal with software development. Or at least it didn’t then. These days the lines are more blurred as websites , apps and traditional applications continue to converge.

So there is a significant rite of passage to Interaction Design from folks with design agency or multimedia production backgrounds. Others have arrived at the Interaction Design discipline through academic fields such as Human Computer Interaction (HCI); which is connected to psychology, computer science and software development.

All the things I learned in Interactive Design from reading books by Brenda LaurelChris Crawford and many others, helped me grasp and apply Interaction Design. I guess Interactive Design and Interaction Design, both deal with humans, content and technology.

Darren – 

Interaction Design seems to be a very multidisciplinary subject and not very focused on one single area.

Séamus – 

I would have to disagree with you on that. Interaction Design is very focused on the design of behaviour. The nature of the behaviour changes depending on the type and amount of entities that are interacting with one another.  Interaction Design can impact the behaviour between a user and a product, a user and a service, a user and a system, or between users, and many other interactions between different entities.

Industrial Design focuses on form, texture and other attributes of a product, similarly Interaction Design focuses on the behaviour of that product as a user interacts with it. This dialogue between humans and other entities such as systems, services and products can be distilled down to a set of actions and reactions (or behaviours), which can be observed, analysed, and improved upon by refactoring based on principles of design, design patterns and user feedback.

So I would say Interaction design is very focused on behaviour, it’s just the source of whats behaving can change.

Darren – 

So, would you say it’s a reactive based discipline, in that it works on how the user reacts to the products action and vice versa?

Séamus – 

When it comes to designing products Visual Communications folks think of style and composition, Industrial Designers think of form factor and how much space it will occupy, there are many other design disciplines thinking about many other attributes too.

However , I would question how much time or time thought goes into how people (users) interact with products and what this means for the design. When we get into Interaction Design territory we start talking about usefulness, meaningfulness, utility and usability. So a big part of this is accomplished by done observing people, through looking at their behaviour with the actual product or service, so in that way Interaction Design focuses on the actions and reactions. I like to think of them as moments or steps, and at each step there can be “pain-points” that need addressing.

Interactions are based in time as well as space. If you zoom out and look at a user’s journey as they interact and experience a product or system your introduced to different steps. For example if you take a flight, you go to the airport, you check in at the desk, you then go to security and get on the plane. Each of those steps can be identified as different phases within a larger lifecycle.  Within this model we can “drill down” and map out the different moments, and technically we can improve these moments for the users.  My point is that each of those moments require interactions between people, systems and products and within all that framework you can improve each moment.  The basic units of Interaction Design are actions/reactions occurring at different moments.

What I find most unique about the Interaction Designer’s toolbox is that it should always involve research and most importantly, user research.  We are all about context and we seek to see how people use technology how and where they interact with it, and what’s the behaviour between the two, is it good, bad or indifferent.  This is a very important part where we do ethnographic research with field studies and interviews.  Ideally, insight and findings from the research should feature and be incorporated into the design.

So, two things to remember:

  • Ensure your research is always based on real people and not just what your own opinion is.
  • Push to incorporate insight from user research into the design of actual product.

Why not check out part four of this series – Interaction Design in Ireland: Part Four

Missed Part Two? Check it out here – Interaction Design in Ireland: Part Two