How Interaction Design Changes Our World, One Interaction at a Time

September 26, 2023
team of young professional presenting collaboratively

I walk into the kitchen for coffee, and my Google Home says, “Good morning!” My schedule for the day pops up on the screen. The assistant tells me how long it will take to get to work now that I have started driving my son to school. In the car, the map and arrival estimates automatically adjust so I can get my son to school on time, and I can get to work on time, too.

I swipe, click, tap, and voice command my way through the day—communicating, learning, and working along with the rest of the world. This adoption of software tools into our daily lives, and in so many aspects of our lives, is the crux of why interaction design is important.

In simple terms, the product designs I create impact how humans on the other side of the screen think and behave. Pausing to let that marinate…

It’s a big responsibility. And since I don’t know the user, I need to learn what they need and who they are, why they need this product, what it should improve, and it must be designed responsibly—for accessibility, inclusion, culture, language…even wellness and behavioral health. I don’t take this assignment lightly. I feel deeply responsible for making impactful decisions for humanity with my design choices. It’s really, really big stuff, right?

World Interaction Design Day this year explores the themes of Ethics, Equity, +Responsibility, and interaction design’s ability to improve the human condition.

Let’s talk about it.

Demystifying Interaction Design

So, what exactly is Interaction Design? I like to think of it as getting inside someone’s head, figuring out what they need to accomplish, and then designing an experience to help them accomplish their goal. Now, imagine that it’s easy to use, each action has a purpose, and they feel enjoyment while they’re using it.

This type of scenario is why interaction design is such a crucial part of the software industry. When we apply these principles and practices, it leads to increased productivity, satisfaction, learning, and product adoption.

Designing Ethical, Equitable, and Responsible User Experiences

As a product designer, I am regularly part of discussions about how to solve complex user and business problems. The designs we create reflect the needs of the user’s goals and appropriately flex and adjust to meet the needs of the user’s environment and ecosystem… or you could say, they guide and influence user behavior in very real ways. So I don’t approach these responsibilities lightly.

So what happens when designers don’t make ethical, responsible decisions? Well, that definitely happens, and it’s despicable. It results in unethical design practices that destroy brand reputations and, more importantly, negatively impact real people. There are many ways of abusing the user; some might look like…

  • Collecting user data without consent: violates users’ privacy and leads to identity theft, fraud, and other crimes
  • Using user data for unauthorized purposes: also violates users’ privacy and leads to harm
  • Designing interfaces that are biased: discriminates against certain groups of people and leads to social injustice
  • Designing interfaces that are inaccessible: excludes people with disabilities from participating in society

Breaking Users’ Trust with Unethical Interaction Design

You have probably used a tool that felt like it was designed to frustrate you. You’re unable to use the software on your mobile device. Choices get made for you by the software that you cannot modify. The X wouldn’t close the window. The text was too small or too light to read. The account options didn’t let you cancel your membership. The list goes on. The examples get less noticeable and even worse.

Ultimately, interaction design in the wild is powerful. In the best cases, it improves the lives of people around the world. But unethical design practices are real, and have real consequences.

Okay, so while this is heavy, hard stuff… I don’t shy away from action. I cannot control businesses’ decisions, but I can coach, teach, guide, every business owner and maker I interact with to do the right thing from the start. Sometimes a business decision is the worst decision for the user, and sometimes a user’s need doesn’t help take the business in the right growth trajectory. Interaction Design finds the partnership between user needs and business objectives. And the Interaction Designers who solve these problems do their best to act as a mediator for both needs.

Let’s Make a Commitment Here Forward

This is only a small glimpse into the impact Interaction Design has on software design, businesses, and users of their software.

This year as we celebrate World Interaction Design Day with a lens on Ethics, Equity, +Responsibility, let’s remember to be intentional with our choices and the power we wield as designers. Let’s remember we are affecting humanity with product design. And let’s also remember, even with the best intentions, sometimes our software designs can be used in nefarious ways. Only considering the common use cases is no longer best practice.

So, for all those fighting the invisible, good fight… Cheers to you! You are making impactful, responsible choices for humanity. Thank you for all you do!

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