Make Waves – the third in a series on IXD

Interaction x Inference

Interaction design, the domain of industrial design known as “IXD”, reveals itself as your fingertip presses this screen. Like the echo of a tree falling in the forest, the simplest and most natural actions and reactions reveal timeless principles of IXD.

Imagine each design decision as precisely dropping a pebble through an undisturbed surface of water. Where does the outer wave first meet a hard surface?

Try to create a particular pattern. See if you can match it a second time.

Your actions ripple through each successive action. These “rings of inference” translate design strategy into tiered design decisions. They tie your overall strategy to interaction design.


Consider the design process from the bottom up (when you’re already at the stage of interaction design), or top-down—posing a cascading series of design questions:

  • What is the social or commercial objective?
  • Who are the beneficiaries beyond the end user?
  • What is each audience’s unmet need?
  • What action string fulfills that need?
  • How can that string be made better, faster, cheaper, more intuitive?
  • And ultimately, what form of interaction best serves that function?

Craft a design strategy that coherently serves the interaction objectives.

Concentric Rings of Interaction

Design both the initial action and the ripples. Waves appear to interact but pass through each other. When they hit hard edges, they bounce back.


Apply the four stage IXD model to your next design challenge.

Your concentric rings drive a thoughtful inquiry into the purpose of the interaction, the context of the user, and the intended action and desired reaction. Design each action with intention.

Human responses to stimuli are so damn tricky. Plan and test, trial and error, yet they still elude our ability to predict. (Watch someone over 30 try to use Snapchat for the first time.) We forget how timeless these challenges are, until you find yourself pushing on a door that wants you to pull, or flailing for high tech light switches in a blacked out hotel room. How do I turn on the lights!?!

Try this model at the level of design strategy (ie – what ultimate outcome will we achieve?) all the way down to tactical application (e.g. should that be a button or a swipe?) In all cases we seek to simplify the experience. Make it intuitive, like an infant with a rattle, or an iPad. Simple, easy, engaging.

Apply these lessons to every aspect of your business—as much to a service as to a product, to a meeting, to a conversation as to a physical interaction.

One caution: don’t be clever. See where people naturally swipe in the dark to turn on the lights. Put the switch there.

Make Better

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