The Art of Interactivity Design

I wrote this book 2001 when there was no interest in my work in interactive storytelling. I decided to write a few books to earn some income, and the book I had always wanted to write was a general study of interactivity design. I spent nearly a year writing the book, and then started casting around for publishers. But nobody was interested in it. It had no obvious market. Although I claim that it should be read by everybody working in software design, publishers didn’t perceive it that way. They felt that software designers were interested only in books on specific programming languages. After six months of getting nowhere, I decided to self-publish the thing. I did so, publishing it with the title Understanding Interactivity and peddled it on my website. I sold several hundred that way and actually made a bit of money from it. But the next year the publisher of a small press, No Starch Press, proposed to publish it. I agreed and wrote a second draft of the book, which was delivered six months later and published in 2003.

This is definitely one of my better books. It’s an important book: it lays out fundamental concepts of interactivity that, after all these years, are STILL not understood by the bulk of software designers. I wish I could beat every software designer over the head with the book, screaming, "It’s the verbs, stupid!" The great bulk of software I see is still poorly designed; most designers simply extrapolate from old ideas with no sense of design clarity. The result is a design mess. I can’t believe that people still accept the crap that most software publishers peddle. With the notable exception of Apple, the design standards of most software are miserable.

So, what does this great and glorious book of mine teach? It starts off in Part I with a useful definition of interactivity. Lots of people have their own definitions of interactivity, but most of those definitions are academically satisfying and useless for illuminating design problems. My definition helps clarify a great many issues -- and I spend several chapters explaining those implications.

Part II presents advice and guidelines for good design of interactive applications. After laying out general guidelines, I take a chapter to present design bloopers in some common software, then discuss the mundane problem of designing the user interface for setting clocks -- a simple task that nobody seems to be able to do well. Next I explain the sequence of steps necessary for good interactive design. Lastly comes advice for specific fields of interactivity design.

Part III tackles theoretical issues underlying interactivity design. If you’re a programmer looking for quick tips, you should skip this part. It addresses such issues as the nature of play, linguistics, process intensity, abstraction, indirection, metaphor, and anticipation. If you like to think more deeply about the underlying concepts, this is good stuff.

Part IV addresses social and cultural issues associated with interactivity design. Why, for example, do the artists and programmers fail to understand each other? How will interactivity change the way we think? What’s interactive storytelling? And what is the future of interactivity design?

There you have it. This is not a handbook to keep next to your computer as you design. It’s a book to be read and thought about.