Introduction to Interactive Digital Media: What is Interactive Design?

Interactive Design is a wide and complex field that creates experiences rather than an element. These experiences are based off of many areas of research, to create a meaningful relationship between the user and the design. The main research areas focused on are:

  • Cognitive ergonomics and engineering
  • Human cognition, emotion and behaviour
  • Questioning how people do, feel and know
  • Design elements such as layout, colour and typography

Winograd (1997) describes interactive design as “The design of spaces for human communication and interaction.” When you reflect on that quote, try to think of interactive concepts and designs that already exist. The idea is to not always refer to technology as being an interactive platform, and instead think about things we do in our everyday lives.

To go a little bit deeper into what Interactive Design is, let’s start with the definition of interactivity. Interactivity is defined as 1 of 3 things:

  1. A program or related system that responds to user activity (computer science)
  2. Work together so that the total effect will be greater than the sum (2 or more)
  3. Ability to act on or influence each other.

Let’s take a look at some examples.


Mathletics is an interactive online network which helps young students to learn and develop their mathematical skills. Mathletics provides interactive tutorials, games and quizzes which students complete to earn rewards and compete against other ‘mathletes’ and schools across the globe.
Key interactive features include avatars and interacting with buttons and games to solve math equations. The site is designed to be easily navigated through and utilises negative space to avoid clutter – optimising access and use for children.

Click here to learn more about Mathletics.


A prime example of social media networking is Instagram. Instagram is an online social network which allows users to share images with each other, which can be liked, shared and commented on. Instagram’s interactive platform is a great example for elegance and human behaviour. The simple and clean design of Instagram is based off of human behavioural research; evident through the ease of navigation and the double-tap feature which likes or unlikes an image.
The double-tap feature was designed to allow the user to scroll, like and navigate using only one hand – specifically, just your thumb. Don’t believe it? Watch how others use Instagram on their mobile phones, note how the phone is held the actions of the thumb; scroll, scroll, tap-tap, scroll.


McDonald’s self-serve

Something I’m sure that many of you are familiar with, the McDonald’s self-serve! This is an example of an interactive design that provides customers with the ability to order and build their own meals, by scrolling and tapping on a screen to locate and select items from the menu.
Something so simple – and beautiful – still requires much consideration and research. This product would have required the designer(s) to think about colour, layout, imagery, context, response and behaviour. For instance, how will the customer identify the food or beverage? Do they know what it looks like? Do they know what it’s called?



Interaction is something as simple as having a conversation, playing a game or driving your car. These interactions can be evaluated as a continuum of interactivity by calculating the amount of control, choice and ability to use the experiences. To utilise every aspect of interactive design, you must conduct research and consider these 5 key areas of interaction design:

  1. Interactivity
  2. Information architecture
  3. Time & motion
  4. Narration
  5. Interface

For more information on What is Interactive Design, click here to see a short video featuring Chantelle Henry.


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