P Comp

What Is Interaction?

Chris Crawford defines interaction as “a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak” [1]. Bret Victor’s rant on the future of interaction design focuses on how humans might interact with tools by using our hands to interact them physically. I agree with Crawford's idea about physical interaction being cyclical. Humans take the flow of information using our senses (listening), we process it in our brains (thinking), and then we react in some way (speaking). On the other hand a device would be doing the same process except by taking inputs from sensors, following programmed instructions, and then creating an output. This back and forth does make up the physical interaction between the two actors that Crawford talks about.

While both Crawford and Victor are trying to get to the same point on how a physical interaction is this cycle of capturing info, processing it, and responding to it, they differ on experiences should be considered interaction. Interestingly, they differ on how they view books as being a physical interaction. Crawford says you can't interact with a book, while Victor says the way we handle and manipulate pages in a book is interactive. Maybe Crawford is more so referring to the content of the book than the book itself, but I do agree with Victor that could have a physical interactive experience with an object that is not necessarily electronic or digital. For instance, turning a door knob or using a key.

Digital technology that I would not consider interactive or a lower degree of interactive are items that you would place somewhere and forget about. For example, Tile trackers used to find lost items just kind of sit there after you stick it on something. You might use a smartphone to control it, but you're still only really interacting with your phone rather than the object itself. I think there are also quite a few home devices that are gaining popularity that are similarly less interactive since it is all starting to be controlled exclusively through your phone.

A good physical interaction is focused on the user(s). A designer should have the users in mind when creating a physical interaction, otherwise it might not work as well as intended for the users or there could be unexpected outcomes. A lot of designers use a human-centered design approach, which I think works really well for product design since it requires designers to be empathetic towards the users. I think the best part of this process is the testing and iterating where designers can really start to see which interactions are more or less effective.


1. Crawford, C. (2003). The Art of interactive design: a euphonious and illuminating guide to building successful software. San Francisco: No Starch Press. Retrieved September 13, 2017.