towards a truly compelling language of interaction

As Gillian Smith points out, Interaction Design has drawn heavily on the ‘existing expressive languages’ of non-digital mediums. She breaks these traditional languages down into 4 ‘dimensions’: 1 – words and literature, 2 – painting, graphic design, iconography, 3 – product design, 4 – film and TV.

I agree that much of interactive design to this point, even the really good stuff, has been interesting mash-ups of these various traditions. True, many new activities and applications for both work and play have been afforded by computers. But if you think about the really compelling elements of your favorite digital products, I find that they mostly come the 2nd or 4th D traditions: either really nice visual communication, or immersive cinematic experiences.

I agree with Smith that we need ‘an independent language of interaction with smart systems and devices, a language true to the medium of computation, networks, and telecommunications’. Of course lots of innovation has occurred to take advantage of the unique opportunities afforded by digital technology, and it continues to rapidly. The internet is one space in which we are seeing some promising activity (and a lot of hype as well) in this direction. The whole ‘web 2.0’ and ‘wikinomics’ phenomenon can be seen as web developers trying to craft a language ‘true to the medium’ of networks, and to utilize the power of vast numbers of people networked together.

While I’m excited by these new innovations in web applications, I agree with Smith that we have more than a little way to go to achieve compelling interactions on par with “the breathtaking innovativeness, the subtlety and intuitive “rightness” of Eisenstein’s language of montage” …(more to follow)


  1. thismarty

    Maybe there isn’t a single definitive language of interactive media.

    Maybe, there is no definitve set of elements and principals to interactive deisgn lurking somewhere out in the mist waiting to be discovered.

    Maybe interactive experience is a broad and unqiely synthetic medium that bahaves and affords differently, based on context and deployment space.

    After all, most modern broadcast mediums (ie. radio, television, film) at least started to walk on trheir own legs within a couple of decades of their emergence. And yet, despite that people have arguably been desiging interactive, networked, technologically-mediated experiences for decades now, there is little by way of a universal, formlized lianguage of interactivity. Rollovers, notwithstanding, of course.


  2. Dave Roedl

    I suspect you are right. However I think it stands that interaction design is immature as compared to film. While there might not ever be a ‘universal formalized language’, I think interaction experiences have the potential to be as communicative and as meaningful as film, but that potential has yet to be realized. And it seems like cultural theory might be able to help. Maybe.

  3. houssian

    Interaction design will be as communicative and meaningful as film when we use it a way that facilitates those kinds of things, but I’m guessing that my online banking will never be as moving as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (well maybe if I had more zeros behind the initial numbers it would, who know?) So yes in some ways interaction design could become amazing and powerful, but in some ways it will most likely remain plebian and banal, even when it’s done well.


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