How Interaction Design Teaches Us To Be Better People
As designers, we are often advocating for the user’s perception of our products and systems. We research and question every choice we make about the conversations between the business, the interface, and the person on the other side of the screen.
This practice teaches us to be thoughtful about our choices, and to empathize with the effect those choices have on others. These small spurts of emotional intelligence and insight have the power to affect change beyond our workplace, beyond the experiences we build for users.
Below is a designer’s manifesto about interaction principles, and how these principles hold the dynamic ability to inform the rest of our lives: how we interact with and design the experiences all around us.
While it is true that people should be allowed to surprise us, some surprises are more damaging than we might realize.
When we build relationships (working or otherwise) with others, we can use the principle of consistency to strengthen mutual trust.
For example: When met with a setback, if I can commit to consistently evaluating the cause and outcome of the setback without personally identifying with failure, my team can feel safe and inspired to do the same.
This consistency creates a culture of accountability and emotionally maturity, which allows everyone to stay focused on their tasks and goals.
Conversely, if I react to every roadblock with emotional grandeur, I create a culture of uncertainty. Always taking things personally creates erratic behavior, and erratic behavior erodes reliability and relationship harmony.
I once had a co-worker who was so unreadable, I was swamped with anxiety every time we were scheduled on the same site. He was a brick wall, uninterested in communicating his lesson plans, his well-being, or his goals for the day. Trying to discover the best way to work with him was a game of trial-and-error. He would give me the reigns, then snap them back if I didn’t meet his unclear agenda.
This lack of ability to perceive my co-worker’s needs and goals led me to confusion, desperation, and a personal sense of embarrassment that I didn’t understand. This is the exact opposite of a good “User Experience.”
When we are honest with others about how we work and connect, they can easily make informed choices about how to interact with us. This builds on the concept of Operant Conditioning: When X tells me what his goals are for the workshop, I can lead the workshop responsibly and effectively.
This principle is an easy one — in order to have better relationships, we must make ourselves learnable. We are given opportunities in every connection to teach others about our boundaries, needs, and expectations. If we can do this honestly and without reservation, we become trustworthy in our behaviors and communication.
For example, the first time I am working with a team, I always make a point to communicate that I am often slow to finish my sentences. Because of this, I feel most at ease when my team allows space in conversation for me conclude my thoughts without interruption.
This sets up proper expectations, and ideally eradicates the possibility of later personal affront.
Good interaction design sets accurate expectations about what will happen before the interaction has occurred. This is also a principle of good relationships.
Put most simply: If you ignore my bids for connection, I will, without exception, ask you why. I am predictable in this way, for my personal values and history.
If a teammate tells me that she requires at least 30 minutes to prepare for a last minute meeting, I can easily predict that if I ask for a meeting in 15 minutes, she will either not show up, or she will show up in a mentally-unprepared state.
Feedback is one of the most useful design principles when applied to our relationships.
If we can effectively and meaningfully respond to others’ needs, goals, and interactions with us, we enrich our conversations and connections.
Giving direct and compassionate feedback to others reduces the chances of uncertainty in project goals, as well as increases the likelihood of shared visions being the same in everyone’s mind.
I often equate feedback to personal accountability: I hold myself responsible for responding to every input, ideally without blame. In the words of Brené Brown,
“My life is easier when I choose to believe that everyone is doing the best they can.”
A Note on Design and The Self…
As one of my teachers told me,
“Interaction Design is all about conversations….don’t make them awkward.”
If we think of ourselves as products of our own lives, dynamic beings that design ourselves in specific ways to attract what we want in life — we realize that we have the power to make it less awkward.
We have the power to design meaningful and clear interactions with those all around us.