What Makes a Great Interactive Experience?


The subject of what makes something engagingly interactive popped in my head last night as I was watching TV – well, our Apple TV, and how we go about looking for anything that my wife and I both like and haven’t completely binge watched to the end.

We have a 3rd gen Apple TV (because she didn’t want to spend the extra $40 on the 4th gen with Siri integration), so we’re still kind of stuck with that little Apple handheld remote that seems to always find it’s way somewhere in the couch.

As sleek as it is, all with it’s 3 buttons, it’s not a good interactive experience when searching for things beyond what Hulu or Netflix suggests. Searching is akin to the old days of arcade machines, where you had to select letters with a joystick and hit the FIRE button to get your 3 initials in for your high score.

I don’t miss that at all. This is not 1980-something and technology has gotten far better, so you’d think by now, because IT’S THE FUTURE we were all waiting for (computers that converse with us, robots that do more than randomly vacuum, like Pick up Our Messes; and flying DeLoreans). If we can fit the power of a Cray Supercomputer into a handheld mobile device we take everywhere with us, the rest shouldn’t be so difficult to achieve one would think.

So I thought I’d come up with some tenants of good interaction design. Or at least, what I think makes good interaction design. This can apply to apps, websites, games, robotics, smart/connected homes (and IoT), and autonomous cars.

1: Make it Easy.

Okay, this is a gimme. People  in general- the users, aren’t software developers (well, the majority aren’t) or engineers.

They’re the children, moms, dads, grandparents, teachers, call-center employee, government worker, average Joe. They deserve to have experiences that are simple to use. It doesn’t matter if it’s looking up someone’s property record or playing a game on their phone. It should be easy to use, easy to figure out with very little to no instruction – and if there is instruction, put it in as they’re doing whatever they’re doing so they can remember those WHILE doing it.

Engineers and software developers are great at making things work – taking a set of requirements and turning it into something. That’s their job. They spend hours making systems, or coding, and as long as their finished product does what the requirements say, it’s a good day.

As UX people (under the whole UX umbrella), our job is to make something that can be inherently difficult and boring to use both simple. Our users, humans, deserve that.

Which leads to the next thing..

2. Make it Nicely Engaging.

This should be a no brainer. Engaging means make it so that people want to come back and use your product, website, app, game. It has to be so freaking engaging that it almost becomes addictive.

It should make their lives or jobs easier to do, or take them away from their problems of the day or the moment and allow them to get away.

There are two types of engaging, maybe even more.  The two I can think of off the top of my head are fun and easy, or hard and confusing.

The fun and easy to use things make you want to use it, they make as I mentioned things like your job a bit easier to do for instance. Computers were made to essentially make our lives easier, but somehow that got lost in translation.

The hard and confusing apps, websites, software programs and products do engage us, but cause frustration, stress, pulling out of hair, sleepless nights, and so forth.  We can avoid making these types of interactive experiences – and in fact, no matter how complex any of those are, there are ways to make them simple and nicely engaging.

So, try always to make things nicely engaging. I’m sure you hate using something that is a pain in the butt to use, but you have to anyway (Dashboard editors anyone??).

Stop making it so hard for everyone else.

3. Make it Interactive

Hello, it’s now the 21st Century. We have the technology to make technology interactive, and nicely engaging, and simple for the user.

About 40 years ago, there was this software program for the Apple II, and I think the TRS-80, called Eliza. It was SO cool because it engaged the user. It could actually respond to your questions that you asked it, and it was pretty accurate. It was in a sense the first example of what AI could be. Think of Siri or Cortana or Alexis now, take away their voices, and put their response on-screen only. And that was basically what Eliza did. 40 YEARS AGO (*actually more like 38 years but you get the point).

We should be able to naturally interact with things by voice (with complete accuracy), by hand gestures, and the systems should learn how we do things so they just do it either on it’s own (turn on the lights at home when I’m a mile away for instance) or by asking first.

Unencumbered interaction.

For games, apps, etc. it should be something that makes us want to master it. Don’t make them too difficult to master but for games not too easy . There has to be some kind of reward.

For an app, the reward is in that it gets to know the user, and becomes a real digital assistant. And at that point, the interactivity increases between user and machine, to where the fact it’s an app becomes transparent to the user.

Yes, it’s not a high score with power-ups, but it is rewarding to the user when something just works.


Those are the 3 most important things I can think of when it comes to making a great interactive experience. I know that most of you know these things, and some have been discussed over and over, starting basically with Dieter Rams 10 Principles for Good Design 

Simple, Engaging, Interactive.

You’d be surprised how many people still don’t get that.

If you have any comments or think I’m off my rocker, or missed something, please feel free to reply below.


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