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I was recently asked about the apparent confusion in the digital design community about who does what. I mainly talk about usability and user experience as I believe these best encapsulate what matters to users – the total experience with a product, system or service.

However,  other agencies see interaction design as the core service, which only bothers me because I think it runs the risk of confusing clients. In my view, it’s really quite straightforward.

The international standard ISO 9241-11 defines usability as:

The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.

So, good usability is part of an excellent user experience which is what we aim to achieve when we design products, systems or services.  Interaction design is part of the process by which we do it.

The newly published Human Centred Design standard ISO 9241-210:2010 says interaction design is where we “design the tasks and the interaction between the system and the user”.  It is central to the ‘produce design solutions (to meet user requirements)’ step in the human-centred design sequence shown here:

human centred design process

  • The standard identifies seven interaction design activities (although only some of them are explicitly called interaction design):
  • Making high level decisions (for example, initial design concept, essential outcomes).
  • Identifying tasks and sub-tasks.
  • Allocating tasks and sub-tasks to user and other parts of the system.
  • Identifying the interaction objects required for the completion of the tasks.
  • Identifying and selecting appropriate dialogue techniques [see ISO 9241 parts 12 to 17].
  • Designing the sequence and timing (dynamics) of the interaction.
  • Designing the information architecture of the user interface of an interactive system to allow efficient access to interaction objects.

Of course, such activities should never be done in isolation and I guess when lots of different people are involved, it’s difficult to be absolutely clear about the boundaries between the roles.  Interaction design skills are valuable throughout the iterative human centred design process in helping to create visual designs which can be readily understood and evaluated by users.

For example, in a recent project, our interaction designer was involved at the beginning of the project creating quick-mock ups of design options for a CMS which were used to help specify the system and gain buy-in from business stakeholders. 

Whereas, at insurance provider LV=, interactive storyboards and annotated lo-fidelity wire frames were produced to visually summarise results and to act as design templates at the end of the review and testing process.

Frankly, I do not really care what we call it, as long as we help our clients develop or procure effective and efficient systems which work well for their users, but I think it might help all of us explain what we do and why it is important if we could work towards using a common description for our services.

Tom Stewart

Published 10 May, 2010 by Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart is Executive Chairman at System Concepts, and a guest blogger at Econsultancy. System Concepts can be followed on Twitter here, and Tom is also on Google+.

35 more posts from this author

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Rob Jackson

Hi Tom

I'd be keen to get your opinion on where Multivariate and A/B testing lie within all this? I'm speaking to more clients now who are looking to centralise a testing strategy with any new feature deployments to minimise the risk of adverse change.

Also do you use any of the 'real world usage' data from the existing data to feed into the design phase of the human centered activities?

Thanks

Rob

Conversion Thursday

over 6 years ago

Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart, Founder at System Concepts

Rob

Thanks for your question.  One of the key things we wanted to achieve with the original standard (and to preserve in the revision) was that you could follow the standard without throwing away existing techniques and methods which you found useful.  Usability testing data fits into the human centred design process in three main areas – most obviously in evaluation, but that tends to be focussed on a specific new design.  However, it is also a valuable input to the context of use – understanding the users, their tasks, environment and their experiences and expectations.  And it is a key part of ‘tracking real world usage and continuously improving (see bottom right of figure) – which I think answers the second part of your comment.  One of the points which we aimed to clarify in the new version is that iteration applies at all stages of the cycle and that new data can be fed in continuously.

Hope that helps

Tom

over 6 years ago

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Yann Lossouarn

Funny, I just posted a question on the IxDA forum : as a so-called-in-french "ergonome", I'm sometimes a bit confused by the different terms that are used in english speaking countries. Your views on this would be greatly appreciated... :) http://www.ixda.org/node/25398

over 6 years ago

Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart, Founder at System Concepts

Having worked with French colleagues for many years in my International Standards Committee on the ergonomics of human-system interaction (ISO TC159 SC4), I know that there can be differences in terminology - but that applies in the UK as well. I have just finished my term as President of the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (previously known as the Ergonomics Society) and I believe that what ergonomists do in this area can be called usability or user experience as well as software ergonomics. However, although ergonomists can be well placed to do interaction design, I believe it is important to stress that design skills are not always part of the ergonomist's repertoire. In System Concepts, many of our usability consultants have Master's degrees in Ergonomics and also have excellent design skills which enable them to create an effective user experience - a bit of a bonus for our clients. I doubt we will ever reach absolute agreement on terms, even in the English speaking countries, but thanks for your comments.

about 6 years ago

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Zeshan A Jaffari

Hi Tom,

I'm new to this field and am cofused between the following, i think this is just a normal difference of terms being used for one thing but i would like your advise on the same :)

What is the difference between interaction design and Human Work interaction Design

about 6 years ago

Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart, Founder at System Concepts

Hi Zeshan.  I'm not familiar with the term Human Work Interaction Design.  I suspect it is similar but purely in the context of work and work systems. Historically, usability or HCI people tended to focus on people using computers at work and designing the whole 'work system' included considering the user as one component of the system. With technology moving into personal and leisure use, the concept of work system is less obvious. Many people use technology to perform tasks for which they do not get paid but they still involve mental 'work'. The point about interaction design is that it is important to attempt to design the entire user experience in order to create effective, efficient and satisfying products. Hope that helps.

about 6 years ago

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geonwoo

Hi Tom,

I am very interested in the Human-Centred Design and branding.

Could you explain that the relations between HCD and brand value?

Thanks

Geonwoo.

almost 6 years ago

Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart, Founder at System Concepts

As I understand it, Brand Value is the financial contribution that the brand makes to its underlying business.  It is calculated in different ways but reflects such issues as how much of a premium people will pay for a particular brand as opposed to its competitors or products with no branding.  One of the major factors influencing Brand Value is the customer experience, not just of using the product itself but also of the entire process of purchase, use, support and disposal.  As I mentioned in the main article, one of the main objectives of following the human centred design (HCD) approach is to enhance the user experience (which I think is often just another name for the customer experience).  So I would argue that following an HCD approach improves brand value.  I hope that helps Geonwoo.

almost 6 years ago

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geonwoo

Hi Tom,

Thank you for sharing your opinion.

I am studying Human-Centred Design strategy mobile phones for older adults as brand value strategy. To enhance user experience for older adults, what is needed? and What is Human-Centred Design criteria? 

Thank you

Geonwoo.

almost 6 years ago

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