Never let them see it coming.
Interaction Design, known in the field as “IXD”, describes a specialized school of design. As you read this, you benefit or fall victim to the interaction design of this page. How you access it, perceive it, navigate it—scroll, select, page up and down—these are among the many rudiments of interaction design.
Modern IXD came of age for consumers with the advent of personal computing. The same principles held true in ancient Sumer, Babylon and China. Consider the design elements as you unroll a physical scroll, flip through the pages of a book (a more interactive scroll), or scroll through a website or app (a more interactive book).
IXD split from the broader scope of industrial design. Industrial Design serves all the senses and the forces (force, mass, momentum, friction, etc) that allow us to interact with our world. The weight and heft of a hammer, the serrated edge of a knife, the satisfying thunk of your car door. These are the province of industrial design.
IXD, by contrast, today tries to bridge the narrower interface between hand and screen, between eye and image.
Please enjoy the simple boxing metaphor in this first of a three-part series illustrating the principles of effective interaction design.
Consider Seven IXD Principles.
1. Interaction = Connection
In our most rudimentary definition, “interaction” can be thought of as the moment of connection. Great interaction designs for big impact. Your goal is to connect hard. Recognize that’s not easy. There are impediments and defenses to defeat. But it starts with leaning in for a wallop.
2. Design for the Psyche
Champion heavyweight boxer Muhammed Ali famously—and accurately—bragged that he practiced a particular form of interaction design to
“Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”
Ask George Foreman. Ali knew the path to connect hard, and personalized his IXD. Ali designed each fight in advance, an intellectual chess game to exploit the weaknesses and counter the strengths of his opponent.
Ali didn’t just target physical weakness. He relied on mental distress to give him his edge. He worked harder than any predecessor to wind up the press and monopolize the camera with screeds against his opponent and outrageous claims of his own higher prowess. His strategy invariably worked and served as a model ever since. Disrupt by enraging. Ali quite literally added insult to injury.
3. Action for Reaction
How does the interaction design of an elegantly executed dance, a tango for instance, differ?
The tango plots out an exact and repeatable and unwavering series of steps, plotted and rehearsed. The original dance was designed, to be sure. But ever after, no matter how masterful their interpretation, new tango partners engage in a static design.
Boxing, like interacting with a screen, must be spontaneous and improvised in the moment. The best way to improvise is to prepare.
Great fighters design for destiny. Exploit the opening, whenever it appears and however it arrives.
4. Use What You’ve Got
Foreman represented the most frightening combination of strengths an opponent might face. He hit with greater power than any fighter of his day. And he could take a hit like a brick wall. How would Ali combat an immovable object who also brought irresistable force?
Ali played to strength. He exploited his world-class hand-eye reflex. He really did float like a butterfly, and was just as hard to catch. He dodged, ducked and left Foreman swinging at shadows. Worse, he demoralized the man. “Just stand still and fight!” Ali knew better.
5. Conserve Energy
Ali also knew that the harder you hit, the faster you flag. So he broke the rules. He DID stand still. But on his terms.
Ali introduced a seemingly suicidal defense against Foreman. Dubbed the “rope-a-dope”, Ali would dance his way against the ropes, raise his elbows to protect his rib cage and his gloves to cover his head. By simply leaning into Foreman’s blows, Ali could block the worst of his tirade and absorb Foreman’s immense energy while enduring little damage.
Ali effectively protected himself in a shark cage against Foreman’s onslaught. As the fight wore on, Ali remained fresh and bouncing on his toes. Foreman could barely hold his huge arms up to defend against the inevitable sting.
The worst part was he knew it, and could do nothing about it.
6. Study Extremes
Design learns more from extremes than from averages. You learn more from an alienated customer than a satisfied one. If you want to understand how to make an impact, study the outliers.
A contemporary example entered the boxing ring when Conor McGregor, the celebrated Mixed Martial Arts UFC lightweight champion, challenged Floyd Mayweather Jr to “The Money Fight”. McGregor won world championships in two divisions with lightning punches, effective dodges, and an effective grappling game to end fights on the floor.
Mayweather by contrast fought one fight. The rules, published in 1865 by London’s Marquess of Queensberry, set narrow parameters on the fighters. Within those boundaries, Mayweather remained the undefeated eleven-time five-division boxing world champion. On his canvas, on his terms, Mayweather was deemed unstoppable. There was some reasonable concern for McGregor’s life, and certainly his health.
By fight night in Vegas, bets put high odds on McGregor going down in the first round. But he was underestimated. His legendary tenacity, renowned in the UFC world, survived Mayweather’s greater precision. It took all of ten rounds for Mayweather to finally notch his 50th win by technical knockout (TKO), with McGregor still standing, still taunting, but clearly beaten.
His survival was a feat of endurance and grit, with surprising agility on his feet. Mayweather achieved both his goals, ensured of a $100MM purse, he also surpassed ring legend Rocky Marciano with a 50th win and undefeated professional record. McGregor won the accolades he sought and $30MM guarantee. (Although undisclosed, based on the second highest ever pay per view net, both fighters are assumed to have collected three times their guaranteed winnings. Talk about extremes!)
Lessons are often clearer when we study at the extremes on a spectrum of need.
- Interaction = Connection
- Design for the Psyche
- Action for Reaction
- Use What You’ve Got
- Conserve Energy
- Study Extremes
Those are some of the challenges of conventional Interaction Design.
Next we will push beyond the dance floor and the boxing ring and look at a more extreme challenge.
Design an elegant dance, new every time, unique to each each partner.