What We’re Looking For In Great Interaction Designs

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What We’re Looking For In Great Interaction Designs

When Bill Moggridge and Bill Verplank coined the term “interaction design” some 25 years ago, it was a wonky term, suited to a wonky discipline just in its infancy. In fact, the discipline was so wonky that the term itself was forgotten for 10 years, until it finally came back into use as computers started flooding the mainstream. And today? I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that interaction design is the most far-reaching and dynamic of the all the design disciplines.


The way we’re defining it, interaction design consists of the virtual worlds that we explore using phones, computers, tablets, and touch screens, where the users lead the experience. As we all know, these gadgets have capabilities that would shame a computer just 10 years ago, and with all those features packed into screens as small as your palm. Which presents a uniquely difficult challenge: How do you make it intuitive to do so much, with so little real estate?

The answer, more often than not, lies in the everyday world of objects and people, rather than the abstract one of pixels and screens. Your computer’s desktop, for example, is a rough analogue of a real desktop, filled with files and folders. But those analogues have their limits. The interactions we have with computers truly are unprecedented, so the key is always using real-world experience as a bridge for new interactions. Sifteo, the interactive toy block system, is a good example of that at work:

Of course, interaction designs shouldn’t be merely useful. They should be fun. And part of that fun lies in finding systems that are both recognizable and challenging–that stretch our imaginations and lift us off the pixel plane. A good example of that comes via the Planetary iPad app by Bloom Studio, which allows you to browse your music collection as a system of planets and stars:

These two examples alone obviously don’t cover the scope of how wondrous interaction design can be, done right. But my hope is that they’ll give you, the potential entrant, an idea about how we’re thinking. Along those lines, I’d love to hear your thoughts and examples of great interaction design. We’ll be reading! And we’ll take that inspiration to heart as we judge the entries we receive.

Some Examples Of Interactive Design:

  • Apps
  • Websites
  • Interactive graphics
  • Bespoke digital interfaces


Tony Fadell

Tony is the founder and CEO of Nest, the company that developed and markets the breakthrough Nest thermostat. Previously, he led the team that created the first 18 generations of the iPod and the first three generations of the iPhone. Before Apple, Tony built the Mobile Computing Group at Philips Electronics. Tony has authored more than 100 patents. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelors in Computer Engineering.

John Maeda

John is President of the Rhode Island School of Design. He is a world-renowned artist, graphic designer, computer scientist and educator whose career reflects his philosophy of humanizing technology. For more than a decade, he has worked to integrate technology, education and the arts into a 21st- century synthesis of creativity and innovation. At RISD, Maeda is leading the “STEAM movement” to add “Art” to turn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education and research into steam.



Jane McGonigal, PhD is the author of the New York Times best-selling Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, as well as a world-renowned designer of games designed to improve real lives and solve real problems. She is the Chief Creative Officer of SuperBetter Labs, a social venture based in San Francisco. She holds a PhD in performance studies from the University of California, Berkeley and is highly sought after as a keynote speaker for events with global reach, including TED, the Game Developers Conference, SXSW, Google Zeitgeist and the 2012 World Economic Forum at Davos.