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CN21: Looking Below the Surface: Understanding and Analyzing Interaction Design

Quick Facts

Time: Thursday, 15 April 2010, 9:00 to 10:30
Units: 1
Organizers: Karen Holtzblatt, David B. Rondeau


At the core of all computer systems is a design — the one being used by your customer. The blueprint or foundation of that design is found in the interaction design. While many people are involved in designing systems, products, and services, many don’t have formal design training. Human factors specialists, user researchers, usability professionals, user experience designers, developers, and others often struggle when it comes to interaction design. Even with good design instincts, it can be hard to participate in interaction design conversations and evaluations when you don’t know the principles and underlying structure. Even those with formal design training (especially other design disciplines) can have difficulty articulating and communicating interaction design decisions — especially when working with those who have no formal design training.

When creating or evaluating designs, people often get caught up in the surface (or UI) of the design, or they try to use the latest design trends without looking at the more important structure that underlies an interaction design. Focusing on the essential core concepts, this course provides a foundation to better understand interaction design and the importance of underlying structure. The basic materials and building blocks, key design principles, and structure of interaction design are illustrated by using familiar, real-world examples. The course also provides strategies for making “good” design decisions and introduces interaction design patterns as a method for identifying structure. By learning how to use patterns to analyze structure and reveal new information, participants also learn how to evaluate designs in a more substantive and valuable way.


No specific background is required. It is appropriate for all roles.


This course is based on material previously presented at the 2009 UPA Boston Conference.


Attendees in the course will learn:
  • The basic building blocks and key principles that guide interaction design
  • Strategies to help make “good” design decisions
  • Interaction design patterns and why they are useful
  • The basic underlying structure of interaction design
  • How to evaluate a design by analyzing its structure


  • Karen Holtzblatt is the co-developer of the customer-centered process Contextual Design. She co-authored Contextual Design: Defining Customer-Centered Systems and Rapid Contextual Design: A How-to Guide to Key Techniques for User-Centered Design. Karen is the CEO of InContext Enterprises, an industry-leading design firm and a 2006 CHI Academy honoree.
  • David Rondeau is the Design Chair at InContext. He has 17 years of design experience that spans graphic, visual, interaction, and user experience design in a variety of media. David oversees all design work at InContext, creates new design processes to integrate with the Contextual Design process, and provides coaching and design expertise to project teams. David has presented at several Boston area conferences and is the author of an article published in Communications of the ACM entitled “For Mobile Applications, Branding is Experience”.