machinespace = the networked information space of ever-increasing complexity that humans have to interact with.

August 17, 2004

defining interaction

periodically, I go back to the basics and think about the definitions of terms that I have become used to, and have been using in a matter-of-fact way. I like to reflect on my understanding of terms that are bandied about in the field of information architecture and UI design.

what do we mean when we talk about "interaction" in the context of UI design?

limiting myself to interactions beween a human user and an information system represented and enabled by the internet/world wide web, to me, interaction is the manipulation of controls provided by an application or appliance user interface to add, modify, process or delete information to achieve a stated or unstated personal or business related goal.

yeah, yeah.. for any sticklers out there who need more clarification, by information applications, I mean web sites, search engines, forms, transactional applications and I include 'hard' physical device controls such as device butons, scroll wheels, and touch screens along with 'soft' widget controls represented within applications.

now let's take a quick look and look at how the term interaction is understood by the world at large...
The process of control and feedback between the user and hypermedia system.
hmm. a good basic definition. does not imply engagement and involvement. surely a systems engineer was behind this one :)

Exchange of information, ideas, opinions between and among learners and teachers, usually occurring through technology with the aim of facilitating learning.
ok. at least it defines the context. a learning environment.

A situation in which the effect of one factor depends upon the level of another factor. Interactions are included in statistical models whenever the factors do not act in a purely additive manner.
a statistical definition. dry as ground chalk. ugh.

Two independent variables interact when changes in the value of one change the effect on the dependent variable of the other.
another one of those. double ugh.

In the context of teleconferencing, the give and take between participants in different locations. Though not widely recognized, it is the meeting element that turns lectures into learning situations, and is often an essential ingredient in the success of a program. (paraphrasing Novak)
hmmm. again, since it at least states the context. Give and take implies active interchange of data/information. Important to understand that all interactive situations do not turn into learning opportunities.

An interaction occurs when the effects of two or more variables in a regression analysis or two or more factors (in an analysis of variance) are not independent of each other. For example, you may find that the effect of a treatment is not the same different sexes.
argh. another statistical definition. too many of these round. there's a zillion more physics related ones.

Mutual or reciprocal influence between two or more similar organisms or individuals of different species. Major interactions are: competition, mutualism, predation, parasitism, amensalism, and commensialism.
that's interesting. we have a taxonomy. now what kind of interaction should we as designers be shooting for?

A behavioral specification that comprises a set of message exchanges among a set of objects within a particular context to accomplish a specific purpose. An interaction may be illustrated by one or more scenarios.
ah ha. definitely interaction, but not necessarily human. could be a pure machinespace transaction. we need to humanize this one some more.

Interaction is a measure of the estimated number of trips that will be generated between origins and destinations for a particular activity. Interactions depend upon the properties of the origin to generate a trip, the property of the destination to attract a trip and the cost of traveling between them.
ok, ok.. this one is even more diffcult. but it raises an interesting issue - ascribes a "cost" to the interaction. so, if the cost of an interaction exceeds the value generated by the exchange of information, the activity should cease to occur. so, low-cost interactions = good, high cost = bad. I have to think on this more... is low cost interaction the same as "ease of use"?

Ok. enough of this lame-brained exercise. I've had my fill of definitions for today.

my point? there are are many definitions of interaction out there as there are specializations in scientific endeavour. Just because we understand it in one way, does not mean that it means the same to everyone else. You might start off by finding out what your clients mean when THEY talk interaction. extend the courtesy to all those who are around you... you might be surprised.

when you talk interaction, make sure you are very careful to specify the context.. it'll make your life so much easier. Our first task is to be usable to our user groups. if they don't understand you, you can't be very effective.

yeah, it's kinda like having a team member who is extremely skilled and willing to do anything you ask them to, except that they only speak and write in a language that no one else can understand. sign language will suffice for simple messages, but you really can't have a conversation.

we all need to talk in the same language. don't always expect them to learn yours, you might be better off learning to express your ideas in their language. go git em, tiger.

next time: defining usability

copyright 2004 ajoy muralidhar. all names or brands referenced are the copyright of their respective owners.


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