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Interaction Design and User Experience


Interaction design can be defined as the discipline that is concerned with identifying systems’ behaviour and products with which the user can freely interact. Interaction design is a unique field that aims to establish better systems that trigger from targeted users. This can be achieved through either creating more comfort, security feeling, or even enjoying product experience. Most of the attention in interactive design is concerned with complex systems and technologies such as mobile phones and other related electronic devices. It is a usual phenomenon for interaction design to define the behaviour of a product or a device in relation to how users respond to that particular product. Social interactive design has come into this discipline due to the impact of phenomenon such as networking which has called for integration in order to enhance communication capabilities within systems. Affective interaction designs tend to impact users by triggering certain emotions in the target population. The ability of various design features to trigger the positive emotions is very much critical for the success of the products (Reynolds and Picard, 2001).

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Affective aspects do influence user’s perception of the product’s usability. From a theoretical point of view, it can be argued that in social interaction designs, knowledge so as to identify what the user or group would what do with products or services is essential. Knowledge is typically required to clearly find out how different users may wish to perform certain tasks and access their user-interaction history. There are existing possibilities of users employing multiple modalities in order to communicate with the product, e.g. a user may adopt the practice of using both speech and gestures to communicate with the product. Prior to the proliferation of computers and globalization, interactive design had not occurred due to the lack of materials and the medium of interaction. During this time design work was not interactive and can be looked at as a one-way communication. Products and systems were designed but the issue of user interaction was not yet introduced. The interface that could allow user interaction could not be found in most systems. Therefore designers in the past could not undertake affective and social interaction projects as compared to what is happening nowadays with the foundation of the internet and websites (Ciolfi, 2004).

Historically, interactive design is an idea that came into existence in the 1980s was specifically in most of the developed countries with the impact of globalization. It is the advancement in technology that resulted in the introduction of interactive designs. This was mainly due to the impact of human interactions and networking in computer technology. The use of digital technology, products and services gained prominence in the 1990s and changed the society, particularly with the proliferation of the internet, mobile connectivity and other aspects of technology. From a cultural context, it should be mentioned that with the progressive developments in technology, various aspects of community interactions and culture are greatly affected.

Most of the social and affective interactive designs do not give a thought to the cultural dimensions. Technology and the associated innovations including the internet and mobile phone technology play a very important role in most people’s lives as they have been applied in different situations. As a consequence social values, activities and other aspects of the culture have been inevitably affected. This has been particularly evident in Asian countries where cultural activities have been observed to be declining or becoming extinct with time. The complexity of the technologies that are used in interaction design is an issue that needs to be dealt with a lot of care, because as much as we would advocate for simplicity in their approach there is also the problem of compromised quality of products and services that would arise (Ciolfi 2004).

From a theoretical point of view, there has not been much done in the field of affective and social interaction as “By acknowledging the strong impact users and participants have on the technological systems that we incorporate in our lives, the studies that are based in the theoretical framework of social construction of technology do, however, run the risk of placing some aspects of the design of these systems in a blind spot.” (Jacobsson 2006, p.84).

This can be attributed to the fact that it is an emerging area that has not been fully exploited. Modest amount of data exists concerning affective and social interaction design and very few people have been able to come up with commentary concerning the implications of these design aspects in the world. In terms of theory, it is vital to point out that interaction design relies on other fields such as psychology and sociology to provide support for the designed systems as an attempt to provide validation of some of the introduced arguments.

Theoretically, interaction design requires design research which brings a number of issues. The first issue mostly involves identifying a variety of methods that would enable designers to understand different user’s environments regarding set-up and other requirements. The aforementioned is intended for the development of products and applications that are suitable in those identified environments. This is not an easy task to achieve because unless the designer is a genius, he would not be able to spend the time appreciating different environments considering the typical people found in these environments only for the sake of product development. The only dependable way is the reliance on the perceptions and the knowledge of the user. Common research methods have been drawn from different fields including marketing, sociology and sciences.

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The methodologies have been noted to involve three components. First of all, the researcher should be able to be where the user is, a requirement that is somewhat difficult to achieve, where without observing this component the natural environment setting would be missing. Theoretically, some of the affective interactive designs are extremely difficult endeavours for designers who would want to get involve, for instance designing an artefact that targets to embody emotional experiences of the user. This cannot be achieved without the interaction with the user. In other words, one can conclude that theory and abstract thinking have proved to be not sufficient enough to shed more light on how designed artefacts would be understood and used while in practice (Davidson, Scherer, and Goldsmith, 2003).

In the context of culture, there are emerging ethical issues especially with the use of some of the affective interaction systems. The concept of sensors to get positive and negative feedback is not a new phenomenon. Still, on this issue of feedback it is important to point out, that learning systems such as robots have begun to be used because they have the ability to do passive sensing of emotions’ display affect with the idea that “communication is important for enabling the robot to learn continuously while interacting with a human.” (Reynolds, and Picard, 2001). Cultural differences play a big role, as far as decision making is concerned, especially with commercial products, software and other online materials. Cultural differences and preferences have been born of contention in the technological development debate. This is mainly because of the twist that starts from the issues of usability of products, to aspects such as fulfilling the user’s social or even cultural needs. Culturally, most of the product designs whether they are social interaction or affective interaction cannot adequately address the issues concerning cultural preferences, especially with the globalization taking place, this goal will remain as a challenge to most of the designers.

In terms of environment, it is important to point out, that interactive products or systems cannot be usable per se. Therefore, they require an adequate conducive environment so as to enhance their workability. Various designers involved in interactive systems do not pay the required attention to the environment that their systems are suitable to work in. This fact accordingly, leaves so many questions unanswered concerning the compatibility of interactive design systems and products. The requirements for future usability of interactive design systems pose a challenge towards the development of interactive designs. The question is whether those who are concerned with social and affective interactive designs analyze and understand what the future users would require in the ever changing environment of globalization, science and technology. There seems to be a problem on coming up with decisions on how to understand the requirements of future users of interactive designs (Ciolfi, 2004).

In order to develop interactive systems that suit the user in their adaptability, it is important to get familiar with the characteristics of the users, the tasks which the systems are meant for and the context of the environment in which these systems are targeted to work. Over time there has been development of interactive systems with insufficient or complete absence of knowledge and understanding of the users and the way they perceive their various businesses. Why is it important to understand the environment in which systems are supposed to operate? How people can come up with a design in which he/she does not understand the user and the accompanying related environment, where it is known that the new design systems have the capacity to change everyday life. No designer can come up with a competitive design that is supposed to bring improvements in the users if he/she does not understand the current environment of the user. It can be explained as the environment of the user forms the basis on which new designs are supposed to bring about improvements while capitalizing on the weaknesses in the current user-related situations. Affective designs have attempted to create systems which try to gather information from the users using both passive and active methods. The main issue here concerns the validity of whatever is gathered and the motive behind gathering such information (Jakobsson, 46 2006).

The scope of the specifications is a fundamental issue in social and affective interactive systems. For systems to meet their standards they have to be well defined, understood, evaluated and eventually approved by the stakeholders who are determinants why the products should be produced. The reason behind Information Technology designs not working as expected is that most of their specifications are either incomplete or vague which have far more reaching implications in their usability and adaptability to the users’ situation. “The importance of communicating affective information is often ignored in interaction design” (Reynolds, and Picard, 2001).

Affective designs, for instance, when they lack appropriate specifications they are likely to elicit negative emotions in the user and there is a possibility that these users may never approve such systems even if improvements were initiated. In fact, this fact would have made most users of new designs surprised in the future after investing without a slight idea of what they would obtain. Some social interactive designs are implemented without specifications especially concerning the environment they can operate in. It can be imagined starting to construct a building without a proper foundation or even no foundation at all, not knowing where the walls, windows or doors are supposed to appear. This is an example of how some social interaction designs have taken off and this can lead to dire consequences especially to unsuspecting users.

Social interaction designs have been characterized with the creation of things such as the talk media or talk systems because of the kind of user interaction they have embodied in their strategies. First of all, they are goal oriented and not discreet in their approach. They are open ended user interactions that appear to be more of situations than tasks. Most of the talk media are redefined and retooled for the sake of network communication on the web. They serve the same purpose as real life engagements and interactions. Various users have been noted to engage in blogging, web radio and internet chats as an alternative or a supplement to the real life interactions. Users tend to use these talk systems to sustain relationships at home, workplace or even amongst friends. The users do not look at the media in terms of technology but rather in terms of networks and communication. As it can be observed, the various social media attributes, and the technologies involved are hybrids in nature and need a multi-faceted approach in order to understand them in addition to the emerging social practices (Jakobsson, 56 2006).

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It is clear that with all these talk systems and social media interactions in mind, a social interaction designer has a difficult task based on the fact that there are number of elements of social architecture needed to keep in consideration. While in the course of evaluating the systems that come up because of both affective and social interaction design, it is vital to underscore that the earth is populated with a minority of the rich and a vast populations of the poor and underprivileged, and on this note it becomes absurd to talk about improvements in quality of life in the kind of society we live in today. That is why before embracing the social and affective interaction designs, it is important to evaluate them in terms of the opportunities for the quality of life improvements they can provide and sustain.

The improvements in the modern society should not just be mere emancipation of people from tasks and duty but they should be rather long term leading to the paradigmatic realism of simplicity. Another key thing that needs to be investigated concerning the social and affective interactive designs is their ability to leverage on affects and intimacy to end up with communication even in our non – deterministic ways. Good affective systems should be geared towards improving human knowledge on whether there is a relationship between emotional states and bodily experiences. Most of the systems developed by affective interactive designers do not help creating a better understanding of this relationship. If they could commit themselves to this goal they could even help to save the people from the current psychiatric conditions that threaten their own existence.

Digital technology can be considered as the materials that are responsible for social interactive design. Some theorists have referred to digital technology as materials without qualities. These theorists agree with the fact that digital artefacts possess properties that have been associated with these materials, for instance their ability to have different forms of communication. It is important to note that most of the qualities undergo transformations through emerging technological breakthroughs and innovations. With this kind of scenario, designers of socio-technical systems and products which are based on digital technology would refer to the process as very difficult. This particularly concerns the role they are supposed to play in bringing harmony in the whole situation by incorporating all the available potentials. The design space is very much open which has an effect of putting much of the responsibility in the hands of the designer. This should not be the case, as for the best approach, all the stakeholders must be involved in the design process rather than leaving much of the responsibility on the designer.

As most of the theorist believe that technology is the material for both affective and social interactive designs, it is essential to come up with a perspective that puts the role of the participants in focus. Keeping in mind that the structures of social interaction are the fundamental design building materials, it implies that the designer needs to be equipped with an adequate understanding of the characteristics of the interactions in question. This would lead to the development of better designs that would address the needs and the expectations of the products.

The use of social media has created what can be described as the users’ sense of competence. For instance, in networks such MySpace the user is able to customize web pages, thus helping to draw attention to them. The implication of the aforementioned is that on the part of the social interaction designer the success of the system he/she comes up with is dependent not on t software’s performance but rather on the users sense of competence in his/her interpersonal interaction and performance. This follows that the designer can generate software that is of top performance but as long as the user does not have the competence the success of that particular system would be in question.

In addition there are also the issues of risk in social interaction designs. Interactive media and social media by itself create a risk. In modern society, based on the argument of the sociologist Anthony Giddens, risk does not emanate only from the principle of doubt upon which the truth based on science is founded. Truth comes about through the process of observation, intervention and results which may even go contrary to previously established truths. Consequently, the truth we know today concerning social interaction software’s or designs may prove to be otherwise tomorrow. This is ironic because risk can be said to be the byproduct of every mean people employ to reduce it (Reynolds, and Picard, 2001).

Risk is something that affects the users of social media directly or indirectly, a fact that can alter our understanding of the world as well as revising our place in it. Social media designers are involved in the creation of the world we observe and the users play a role of providing the content to be used in these designs. The user is left with the burden of coming up with appropriate techniques to reduce the associated risk. In social interaction design two systems emerge. The first group comprises of the expert systems in which the user can invest confidence and people in whom the users are able to trust. A dating site is a good example of an expert system which tries to market people who are in need of relations, therefore helping to address the problem of dating in the modern society. When direct communication occurs between members, confidence and trust are built which could be viewed as increasing the risk of involvement in such affairs.

Social networking was a nice example of social interaction design. A website like Friendster came up with a method of selecting friends, then using friends’ friends to create a social network. All of this was aimed towards reducing the risk of contacting completely unknown people. It was a good design that really focused on addressing the issue of risk that the user faces while in the course of using social design systems. Taking the assumption that once trust has been developed between two people, it can be transferred, is not inaccurate but to some extent helps to serve the purpose. Still on Friendster, the fact that I trust you does not mean that I trust all of your friends even though it can make me feel more comfortable welcoming them. This site was designed socially on a dating kind of platform where the concept was not played out well as it is supposed to be (Reynolds, and Picard, 2001).

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In conclusion it is important to emphasize the point that both social interaction and affective aspects of design have brought so many positive changes in the modern society coupled by globalization effects and technology. The most important issues are centered on the user of the products and systems that arise from the social and affective design aspects. More research should be conducted on how well the design aspects can be used to protect the user of the end products. This should be undertaken using the appropriate methodologies and techniques so as to ensure the harmony between the designers and the users of affective and social interactive designs. If some of these issues are not addressed then users of affective and social interaction design systems will continue to suffer the risk of such systems as they continue to enjoy and embrace the revolution that has been brought about by technology and especially the internet and its associated products and systems (Ciolfi, 2004).


  1. Ciolfi, L. (2004): Situating ‘Place’ in Interaction Design: Enhancing the User Experience in Interactive Environments. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Limerick
  2. Davidson, R. J., Scherer, K. R., and Goldsmith, H. H., Handbook of Affective Sciences, Oxford, USA, 2003.
  3. Donald Norman, The Design Of Everyday Things
  4. Jakobsson, M.: Virtual Worlds and Social Interaction Design. Report RR 2006
  5. Lucy Bullivant,4dsocial Interactive Design Environments
  6. Reynolds, C. and Picard, R. (2001) Designing for Affective Interactions. In Proceedings of 9th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, 2001, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

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