February 10, 2009

One free (playful) interaction

Snapback pages

Great collection of “free interactions” and insightful commentary from Chris Noessel on the Cooper blog. Basically these are little interactive extras, sometimes by-products of a design, sometimes seemingly deliberate (like the iPhone example above). Things that you like to just play with and that have no obvious, functional ‘use’, hence the term “free interaction”.

I don’t think we should be surprised that things like these make a difference – play and playfulness is critical to an interaction whether it is physical or virtual. Whether it is the weight of a nice piece of cutlery in your hand or an elastic interface element on-screen, they all make the everyday object and usage more engaging. It’s often an unconscious affect going on too, but designers who understand this do very well indeed.

It is also a different mindset. It’s interesting for me that Noessel calls it a “free interaction” because that comes from a position that ’normally’ interactions should always have a tool- or purpose-like function. That mindset seems to be oblivious to the idea that creating pleasurable affect is an important and useful function.

I think it is great, although strangely newbie (he is no newbie), that he ends with a Call To Action for interaction designers:

Since we want our designs to be humane and, presuming they fulfill their utilitarian purposes well, emotionally satisfying, I suggest that designers begin to include one free interaction in their designs to enable the channeling of energy and simple expression. Design this interaction such that:

  • It’s “free,” i.e. having no significance to the task or content
  • It’s discoverable in ordinary use of the product
  • It’s quick and repeatable (Less than half a second.)
  • It’s pleasant

Almost everything I’ve been involved with in interaction design has been about trying to foreground this playful aspect.