Reviewer biography

Current Reviews

Review Articles

Book Reviews Archive

Designing Interactions

by Bill Moggridge; foreword by Gillian Crampton-Smith
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2006
800 pp., illus. 700 b/w, col., includes DVD and website. Trade, $39.95
ISBN: 0-262-13474-8.

Reviewed by Dene Grigar
Washington State University Vancouver


At 800 pages, a DVD, and a companion website, Bill Moggridge’s Designing Interactions is not a book about interactions we design for computers; rather, it has the feel of a bible about the whole "emerging discipline of interaction design" (Compton-Smith ix), from its definitions to its principles, core skills, questions, architecture, standards, approaches, models, and research methods. In short, for anyone engaged in teaching, researching, designing––or even marketing products for––interactions, this is the book not only to possess but faithfully read.

First, the book models the kind of approach it advocates: It offers a "clear mental model," "reassuring feedback," "navigability," and "consistency" (xvi). The mental model it presents is a series of interviews with 40 of the world’s top designers working in various areas of interaction design with whom Moggridge has spoken with over the years. These interviews are well-edited and contextualized with Moggridge’s metanarrative serving to provide insights about the interviewee that the person her or himself neglects to mention and put into perspective the contributions that the designer has made to the field. Thus, the book avoids the sometimes tedious word-for-word interviews we often encounter.

In each of the 10 chapters three to five designers speak to the author about some aspect of information design. This triangulation allows for multiple viewpoints by the designers themselves and results in an interaction between interviewer and interviewee, and among interviewees, that compels readers to immerse themselves in and even interact with the conversation. The marginalia, for example, that this reviewer produced on the book’s many pages speaks to the way the book invited feedback from the reader. Divided into categories by type or focus of interaction, the book makes it easy for readers to find information despite its massive size. Because each chapter begins with a quote by one of the book’s designers, followed by an introduction to the chapter as well as the interviewee by Moggridge, before moving into the interview with Moggridge’s metanarrative for each of interviewees, readers know what lies ahead, how the information is structured, and how they should proceed for the journey.

Second, the stories the interviewees and Moggridge tell are highly engaging. A case in point is the interview with Bill Verplank, the designer who helped to establish the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea and someone with whom Moggridge has long collaborated. Verplank tells the story about "the history and future of interaction design" (125) in nine pages of insights made manifest in images. Thirteen images illustrate the points the speaker makes about his notion of design, all of which are fascinating insights into his mind and approach. The story of Google also commands attention, particularly in light of last year’s news about its agreement to censor itself in China (See BBC News, January 25, 2006). But this story of the company’s humble beginnings in a friend’s garage to the heady glory days of the "dot.com madness" (479) to its lucrative IPO at $165 a share makes for a fun contemporary rags-to-riches story that has the potential to fuel the myth of the American Dream and tempt the youth of America to embrace nerddom. Nevermind Larry Page and Sergey Brin have just broken their own rules of ethics (see "Google Truths" 481) with the China deal; the idealistic pre-2006 story is a kick.

With 700 images, most of which are in color, the book lives up to expectations of what a book about design should look like. Besides images of the interviewees, Moggridge gives us their doodles, sketches, and art, icons, historical photographs, documentation, demonstrations and the like. At $40 for a hardback this size, chock full of color images, the book is a steal. Adding to its richness are the DVD and the companion website. The former contains the interviewees speaking in the order that the book itself presents; the latter makes available abstracts of each chapter, a brief videoclip of each interview, information about the DVD, reviews of the book, a place to make comments, information about the author, as well as a download site and place to order the book. The two additions complement each other with its presentation and media––such as graphics and music––and the book with their layout and content. Also at the website, MIT Press offers a special "Chapter of the Week" program where readers can download a particular chapter highlighted that week. The day this reviewer visited the site, MIT Press was giving away a pdf of Chapter six, "Services," along with videoclips of the interviewees.

One area missing among the numerous categories highlighted in the book is designing interactions in art. With chapters focusing on "The Mouse and the Desktop," "My PC," "From Desk to the Palm," "Adopting Technology," "Play," "Services," "The Internet," "Multisensory and Multimedia," "Futures and Alternative Nows, and "People and Prototypes," one would think works of Char Davies, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, and others would be mentioned somewhere in its pages–– "Multisensory and Multimedia," perhaps? With a focus on information design, the book remains fixed on hardware, software, tools, people, and commerce.

Nevertheless, Designing Interactions is an important book. So useful it is that anyone working in new media must read; so engaging it is that anyone who even uses digital technology can enjoy.



Updated 1st March 2007

Contact LDR: ldr@leonardo.org

Contact Leonardo: isast@sfsu.edu

copyright © 2007 ISAST