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.

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