Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction

 

Behind the Interface
by Fernando Berzal

 

Interdisciplinary skills are becoming increasingly important for a wide range of software engineering activities. Authors Sharp, Rogers, and Preece acknowledge this phenomenon in interaction design by giving psychological and social aspects the attention they deserve in interactive product design. Their textbook focuses not on the technological details supporting user interfaces but on the bigger picture: the complete UI design process.


User-centric rather than technology-centric


The book has 15 chapters that can fit a 15-week semester course. It highlights the user's experience as the key concern of interaction design, and this experience involves more than just usability goals. It also addresses social factors, which are especially important for collaborative systems, and even affective aspects, which address how users respond emotionally to interactive design—from frustration to satisfaction.


The opening chapters emphasize the well-known software development mantra: understand before you try to build anything. They also discuss the importance of conceptual models, such as carefully selected metaphors and analogies, and go on to describe different kinds of interaction styles, such as instructing, conversing, manipulating, and exploring.


Once the stage is set, the authors delve into the cognitive, social, and affective aspects that interaction designers should address. Cognitive aspects deal with what humans are good and bad at; they help explain and predict user behavior. The authors briefly describe several well-known cognitive frameworks as useful design tools. Social factors are also important. The authors discuss the social mechanisms of conversation, cooperation, and awareness in the interaction-design context. Finally, for affective aspects, the authors focus on three models: Donald Norman's emotional design, Patrick Jordan's pleasure model, and John McCarthy and Peter Wright's technology-as-experience framework. These chapters constitute an excellent primer for those interested in learning the psychological rationale behind well-designed interfaces.


Interaction design process


After a 70-page survey of kinds of interfaces, from command-line-based to virtual reality and from the Web to wearable computing, more than half the book delves into the details of the interaction-design process. It introduces alternative life-cycle models, including typical software engineering models (waterfall, spiral, Rapid Application Development, and agile methods) and three less-known models from the human-computer-interaction field (Star, usability engineering, and ISO 13407).


In this part of the book, you'll find clear explanations of many relevant topics, such as data gathering (using interviews, questionnaires, and observation), data analysis (with some tips on both quantitative and qualitative data analysis), requirements (scenarios, use cases, and hierarchical task analysis), and prototyping (for example, how to develop storyboards from scenarios or card-based prototypes from use cases).


The final four chapters focus on the evaluation of interactive-product designs. The authors introduce the DECIDE (Determine the goals/Explore the questions/Choose the evaluation approach and methods/Identify the practical issues/Decide how to deal with the ethical issues/Evaluate, analyze, interpret, and present the data)framework for planning evaluation studies, which offers a useful checklist of issues to consider. They also describe how to properly test user performance through usability testing in the lab and field studies. Finally, they discuss analytical evaluation, which includes both heuristic evaluation (such as inspections and walkthroughs) and predictive modeling (such as mathematically modeling user performance in a controlled environment).


Didactic Style


This textbook is clearly written, printed in full color, and profusely illustrated (even with humorous cartoons). It makes extensive use of examples and case studies that facilitate learning. Each chapter ends with practical assignments and activities to help students reinforce what they've learned and annotated references for those interested in further reading. Some chapters also feature interviews with well-known field professionals. Many of the interviews offer outstanding insights, and they're certainly inspiring for prospective designers.


As is the case with too many textbooks, Interaction Design can be somewhat boring at times, thus failing as a textbook in some of the user experience goals it professes. However, what some deem to be unnecessary padding, repetition, and wordiness can seem to clarify content and make it more accessible to others; what is plain common sense for some might not seem so to others. Hence, the book might provoke contradictory emotional reactions depending on your background.


In any case, the book is always informative, brilliantly passing most textbook usability goals. Newcomers to the field should become at least acquainted with the broad range of issues this book surveys. This book is an excellent resource for those interested in learning the theoretical and practical foundations of interaction design—beyond human-computer interaction.


Fernando Berzal is an associate professor in the University of Granada's Department of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence and a member of its Intelligent Databases and Information Systems research group. Contact him at berzal@acm.org.

 

 

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