Interaction design has become an umbrella term encompassing many facets of user experience design:
- Overall application user experience (what it feels like to use an application in its entirety)
- Individual screen design (how things are laid out and function within individual screens)
- Task-oriented workflow(s) (how multi-step processes work)
- Microinteractions (how individual components function)
- Information architecture (how things are structured)
In my 20 years spent designing both Web applications and marketing/content sites, I’ve touched every aspect of interaction design. I’ve worked across a variety of industries (e.g., Technology, Automotive, Manufacturing, Financial Services, Media Platforms), and the nature of the work has been broad (e.g., from straight content marketing sites to complex, data-driven geospatial applications). At the end of the day, the one thread in common to all of my work is problem solving – how design and strategy are used to solve challenging and interesting problems.
When I think about an overall user experience, I’m breaking things down and thinking about navigation systems, structure, information hierarchy, workflows, components, content, and the way these elements interact with one another. Once the big picture has been established, I move on to designing the modular aspects of the experience, individual content chunks and components, and then how it all fits together.
At the screen level, the most important thing to establish is the purpose of any individual screen. With that in mind, the interaction designer is mostly faced with what I consider to be an information design challenge: what’s the content, features and functionality that goes on the page, what kind of information hierarchy makes sense, how should things be laid out to be effective. In my work on an oil & gas pipeline management application, there was a lot of data and content present on screens; there were interactions between elements and lots of things to consider in terms of scalability and performance. It was a terrific interaction design challenge.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that wind up mattering a lot; God (or the devil) is in the details, and it’s important to get those details right. For the same oil & gas application, I spent a huge amount of time designing all of the behaviors associated with the map: filtering behaviors, visual and information design for numerous map layers (including point, line, and regional data), and complicated zoom behaviors. Every aspect of the map had to be considered, because it was a primary visualization tool that could be used to drive other aspects of the individual screen (e.g., data table behaviors).
In the operations extranet tool I designed and built, one of the primary tasks for users was timesheet entry. While not a very complex workflow, it still contained all of the core problems you would face with other workflows: default behaviors, error handling, data submission and confirmation, statefulness, and page-to-page interactions.
For content and marketing web sites, information architecture (i.e., the way content is structured within the site), is one of the primary considerations. The task of the interaction designer here is to understand content types and the requirements around them, structure and group content logically across the site, develop navigational systems that support the content, and think about how structure supports the desired user experience.