Friday, April 16, 2010

Interaction Design according to Alan Cooper

I've recently finished the book The Inmates Are Running The Asylum by Alan Cooper, a well known proponent for interaction design. To be honest, I never really saw the purpose of interaction design in our projects. But after reading this book, I now know I didn't really understand what it was about and why it is so important.

One of my colleagues, Stefan Bookholt, has mentioned the need for some good interaction design many times, but his persistence was often met by laughter. This post is not really a review of the book, but rather my public apologies to him for not listening earlier.

First of all, this book is really worth its money and very easy to read. It's so full of real life cases and anecdotes, it really helps you to gain a solid understanding of why interaction design is so important.

Some highlights you should remember the next time you have a discussion about the functional design of your application.

  1. Less is more. It's better to have just a few well-designed features that get the job done, than hundreds of options that confuse the end-user.
  2. Your product should be goal-oriented. That sounds obvious, but it is quite difficult to understand the actual goals an end-user is trying to accomplish. Tasks are not goals, just the steps to reach it. Without knowing the goal, it is very difficult to build a system that helps the user to reach that point.
  3. Users don't like to feel stupid because your product is too complex for them to use (but they'll never admit that).
  4. Users are only beginners for a short time. The biggest share of the market consists of intermediate users (who might or might end up as experts)
  5. User forums don't work either because users are bad in making decisions about functionality. They don't know what is and what is not possible and usually miss the big picture or the vision your system is supposed to reach.
  6. Developers should not do interaction design. Why? Because they have their own way of looking at things and are known for confusing the needs of end-user with their own.
  7. Interaction design should not happen concurrently with programming because it can have a radical impact on the design of your application.
  8. Industrial Design is not interaction design because it deals with the look-and-feel of a product, not its usability.
  9. User Interface design is not interaction design. Like Industrial Design, UI design focuses on the look-and-feel and positions of buttons. Interaction design looks at the way an application should fulfill a goal.
  10. UI style guides are not necessarily a good thing, because they restrict creativity. It is okay to have a common standard for coloring, icons and font styles. But an interaction designer should be able have the freedom to create an application that solves the goals of its end user, even if that means that the guide is violated.