Definition of Interaction

The readings by Chris Crawford, Bret Victor, Alan Cooper, and Dan Hill were very clarifying! But where is the diversity in gender and race?

Meanwhile, it’s hard to think of a definition of interaction that isn’t heavily influenced by Crawford’s book “The Art of Interactive Design”. I found his to be very helpful.


For now, my working definition of interaction has two parts:

The conditions for interaction:

Good ol’ analog interaction needs five things to be in place: A person, a second person (or more if you like), and a shared medium, time and place. (For me, medium is defined as “a means of effecting or conveying something”. Thank you Merriam Webster.) For example, two people can’t interact if one person is playing Scrabble at 12pm in Detroit, and the other is playing checkers at 5am in Havana. The mediums, time and place are all different. You need all three to be the same for old fashioned interaction to take place.

The interaction itself:

If these conditions are met, good interaction requires two or more people taking turns. Each person incorporates their best understanding of the last person’s action in order to respond. Both people get close enough to what they need or want.

Special ITP consideration:

Digital interaction can sometimes disregard time or place, or even both! For example, an online word game can allow two people to play from different locations, and take turns at different times (Words With Friends, anyone?).  However, both people still need to play the same game — in other words, use the same medium.

Further consideration:

A bad analog interaction is when one person talks in pig latin or is rude (either can change the medium entirely or just plain ruin it). Or one person can ghost the other by walks away (changing the location). Or finally, show up for a meeting 2 hours late (changing the time).

A bad digital interaction is when one person didn’t plan ahead for what another person would want or need, software is stuck repeating itself / the form hinders the functionality, and the other person yells, throws up their arms, and walks away!

Here are a couple examples of “digital technology” that are not interactive.

  • This radio I bought off Kickstarter. When it arrives in the mail, I won’t be able to change the radio station (which is the point!). This limitation makes it not possible to really interact with it, beyond turning it on/off and changing the volume. However, I would consider it digital technology because the radio does use firmware.
  • My flip phone is a digital technology that isn’t THAT interactive. According to Chris Crawford’s degrees of interactivity, I would say it’s moderately interactive compared to my highly interactive iPhone (that I still use, but without data).