Interaction Design – weakest at the joins

On By Design this morning on Radio National, they were talking about the role corners have in urban design. The guest, Stephen Collier, noted that 'joins' create interesting challenges across design fields. He mentioned urban design, architecture and furniture design as examples.

The same applies to interaction design. As I've always said, just like buildings, user interfaces are most likely to break at the 'joins'.

While we have to be careful to make sure to get the interaction design right for any one screen or page, it is usually most difficult to get the design right where the user is moving between screens or pages, or where different functions intersect. Challenges include:

  • Making sure people understand where they are going and where they have been (especially on the web)

  • Making sure any information needed is carried across or readily available as people move through the product

  • Understanding where people are likely to want to go next, and presenting those options clearly.

You guessed it, it's a compromise

When considering the joins in your design you are faced with a compromise: is it better to bring more information and features onto one page/screen so there are fewer joins, or is it better to spread the information and features across more joins, so each step is simpler, but there are more steps?

More complex steps, or more complex process?

Consider how many different paths there are through the features, and how much information and functionality needs to be shared between different tasks as you consider designing the joins in your application.

Comments (1)

  1. Dave Malouf says:

    Shane, what a great post! thanx!

    I think another way to think about it is that (depending on many factors) that you want to reduce the sharpness of the corners as much as possible. Rt. Angle corners create blind spots in the interaction aesthetics that throw users. This is why richness is sooooo important. It allows you to add transitions, overlays, contextual bleeding if you will that smooth these hard turns allowing users to find a more comfortable and often clear (high visibility) backwards and forwards through the system.

    I love this idea of thinking of "joints" and "corners" as truly the important pieces for IxD to think about.

    Jonas Lowgren speaks about "pliability" and I think the way he thinks about it, directly impacts smoothing the corners.

    Compare Google Maps to Mapquest. Navigating in the map in Mapquest has harsh corners. When you click West you really don’t know how far it is going to move you in that direction. Compare that to the drag & drop model that Google Maps does where you have complete high fidelity control over the movement and you can even move in more than 7 directions fluidly.


    — dave

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