Search

What are the fundamental principles of Interaction in Product Design?


Meghna Singh, Malika Vaidya, Vishwa Balani, Product Design, Industrial Design, Interface Design, User Experience Design, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Product, Interface, Industrial, Design, User, Experience, Zeyka, Zeyka India

One good thing to come out of our quarantine life is lounging in our pyjamas all day and watching Netflix. It is the new normal. This state of being has brought us closer to something. We are not talking about inner peace or anything, but your remote control. This simple rectangular device brings us immense joy. All it takes to switch on the TV is that one click from across the room.


The remote control, put simply, is a device that controls another device remotely. It is a product that facilitates our interaction with another product. It is a simple and everyday example of interaction design in our life. Before we go further, let us define what Interaction Design means. Interaction Design (IxD) is a field that explores the relationship between people and technology by focusing on the product’s understandability and usability. It aims to enhance the user’s knowledge of the possible uses of technology. This is achieved by studying the use of new technology to create a positive experience for the user.

Meghna Singh, Malika Vaidya, Vishwa Balani, Product Design, Industrial Design, Interface Design, User Experience Design, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Product, Interface, Industrial, Design, User, Experience, Zeyka, Zeyka India

The interaction between us and a product follows a fundamental pathway. A remote’s function is quite obvious for us to perform an action through it. Thus, our first interaction with it is positive. This positive experience is a direct result of easily ‘understanding’ the remote in order to use it. The design of the buttons, the symbols on them, make ‘discoverability’ effortless, adding to this positive experience. So, the form of the remote enables our ‘understanding,’ and the subsequent design choices enable ‘discoverability.’


An effective product is designed by using the six principles of Interactive Design:


  1. Affordances: To ‘afford’ here means to ‘give a clue.’ For years now, we know what the power sign looks like - it is the easiest clue for everyone to switch something on or off. It is therefore, the ability of an object that allows people to know how to use it.

  2. Signifiers: They provide strong clues like signals or signposts that a designer uses to indicate the potential and intended affordances of an object. A remote without labelled buttons can still be used but will require more effort from our side to discover it. The addition of labelled buttons signifies the function of each very clearly. The labelled buttons here become the signifier of the remote control’s affordance. Both, affordances and signifiers, are tied to the discoverability of an object -- the effective use of signifiers ensures that affordances are clearly indicated and used.

  3. Feedback: It is the principle that makes it clear to us what action has been taken and what has been accomplished. The volume button indicates that the volume can be controlled by moving it up and down. The feedback here is that while you use the button, it shows the increase or decrease in volume through numbers or percentages. We can clearly see the volume increasing or decreasing, so there is no confusion in our minds regarding the state of the product. Once the action is executed, it is easy for us to determine its new state.

  4. Mapping: It is the relationship between controls and the effect they have on the world. Feedback is closely related to mapping as the two principles work together to create a seamless experience. The volume button has a strong mapping. It follows a universal standard which clearly indicates that moving it up/right will increase the value, whereas moving it to down/left will decrease the value. Since all products need some kind of mapping between controls and effects, the mapping should feel as natural as possible.

  5. Constraints: As the name suggests, it refers to limiting the range of interaction to simplify the interface and guide us to the appropriate next action. The greying out of options that are not performable at the moment is the simplest way of using these constraints. These constraints help efficient interaction by providing a guiding hand for all the interactions that can occur. The opposite of constraints is when every option is offered to us. This very principle of ‘choice’ overwhelms us and makes it difficult to choose any one option.

  6. Conceptual Model: It puts the first five principles into a holistic framework to achieve optimum ‘understandability’ of the product. The conceptual model is designed by the designer with the intention to show how the device or product is supposed to work. We then interact with the conceptual model and create our own mental model of using it. Designers can only tell us how they intended to use the product via user interface. The interface has to be made easy to understand and use, otherwise it runs the risk of creating the wrong mental model for us. Thus, great interaction design increases the understanding and control over a product by presenting us with all the information required to create a good conceptual model.


Meghna Singh, Malika Vaidya, Vishwa Balani, Product Design, Industrial Design, Interface Design, User Experience Design, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Product, Interface, Industrial, Design, User, Experience, Zeyka, Zeyka India

The TV remote has been around for 50 years now with a good amount of work gone into perfecting it. But with advancement in design and technology, this simple device is becoming increasingly complex. The addition of many functions and features to make it ‘smart’ has reduced our understanding of it. The Apple TV remote, for instance, is an attempt into the smart TV market. The remote is sleek in design with minimal buttons and has its own trackpad. What’s not to love about it then? The answer is pretty much everything.


The remote’s size prevents it from ergonomically fitting in the contours of one’s hand. The size is meant for a racoon’s hand rather than a human one! The minimalistic and symmetrical design looks appealing but makes it impossible to distinguish the buttons based solely on feel. This is one of the main failures of the device as a typical remote purposefully uses differently shaped buttons that perform various functions and uses colour for critical purposes (on/off). Only the power button is distinguishable as it is placed in the top right corner of the remote. The remote comes with a touchpad enclosed within a click wheel similar to an iPod and can be used to navigate the TV screen. This gives it limited understandability assuming the audience to be people who have followed the brand’s products and understood the evolution of its design.

Meghna Singh, Malika Vaidya, Vishwa Balani, Product Design, Industrial Design, Interface Design, User Experience Design, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Product, Interface, Industrial, Design, User, Experience, Zeyka, Zeyka India

The Apple TV remote doubles as a gaming remote for games available through the Apple TV app store. It is equipped with motion sensors that are used for gaming. The buttons used for TV control act as buttons for gameplay control when switched to gaming mode. The thought behind a TV remote doubling up as a gaming remote is entrancing, but could lead to a design fault. The Apple TV remote is a long rectangle, meaning its length is significantly longer than its width. Hence, the entire design of the remote and its buttons (signifiers) are oriented along the long axis. The gaming mode requires one to use the remote along the edge of the longer side, meaning the TV remote is rotated at a 90° angle. Now to go from using something vertically and then to use the same device horizontally requires quite a lot of effort from the user. Hence, the Apple TV remote does not have good haptics as the signifiers are rotated by 90° while the body proportions add to reducing its usability. This then calls for a question, if a product becomes increasingly complex, does it deviate from these fundamental principles? And is innovation for the sake of innovation really necessary?


“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” -Albert Einstein


Good Interaction Design can allow control, trust, and ease to explore for the user. If we feel in control of the process, we are more comfortable using the product. Instead of being intimidated by technology, we will feel welcomed to explore it. It minimises our ‘effort to think’ to complete a task. This is achieved by drawing on previous designs and basic human instincts. Thus, good Interactive Design is intuitive, simple to use, and fits naturally in the environment it is built for.



* * *



About the Writer

Malika Vaidya is an architect and writer. She is the Co-Founder of Architecture Pulse, a blog that explores the intersection of architecture and society. She is a graduate of the Rachna Sansad’s Academy of Architecture (AoA), Mumbai. She has interned at One Habitat Studio and The Origin.


About the Editor

Vishwa Balani is an English Literature graduate from St. Xavier's College, Ahmedabad and MS University, Baroda. She has been associated with CEPT University for two and a half years now where she has taught writing to students across various courses. Her tryst with language began very early in life and it has continued no matter which field she chooses to work in. She likes experimental writing but also believes in grammar, and the Oxford comma.


About the Illustrator

Meghna Singh is an architect, urban sketcher and design enthusiast. She is a graduate of the School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal. She has won numerous national and international architecture design competitions, namely, NASA Mohammad Shaheer Landscape Trophy 2018, Heal+ Regenerative Housing for Kerala 2019, and the World Architecture Festival Student Charrette, Amsterdam 2019. She has experience working at Archohm Consultants Pvt. Ltd.

36 views0 comments