The 6 Principles of Interaction Design & How They Apply to Digital Products

3 min read • Adam Lamin

Interaction Design

Have you ever found a website difficult to navigate or an app frustrating to use? In the context of UX, interaction design focuses on the way that users interact with digital products.

In order to create enjoyable and effective experiences, users must understand the actions that are available to them, when those actions are being accomplished, and when they are completed.

Don Norman introduces this topic in his book, The Design of Everyday Things, where he proposes 6 principles to optimize functionality and interactivity.

1. Visibility

The principle of visibility suggests that users will have a more enjoyable experience if they know exactly what it is they can and can’t do. Consider the menu at the bottom of the app store:

With both symbols and text added to label the global navigation, users know exactly how to access each section with no guesswork required. If an element is more visible, it is more likely to be used and used correctly.

2. Feedback

The feedback principle, meanwhile, focuses on making sure users know what is happening and what has happened. Take this loading bar for example:

With this visual, users know that they have loaded their application and understand how much still needs to load. By not having to guess the action they have taken and the consequences of doing so, users have an easier experience.

3. Constraints

Next, constraints are aspects of a design that restricts users in a helpful way, limiting their interaction. Consider this menu with specific text faded:

By having certain text inaccessible, users understand that they don’t need to interact with it and are guided to an appropriate next action.

4. Mapping

Another important principle is mapping. Making it clear how the controls of a product impact or modify the objects they control communicates important information to users and leads to a smoother experience. Take this volume slider, for example:

Similar to pressing the buttons on the side of their iPhones to adjust audio, users know that moving the slider up or down will decrease or increase volume.

5. Consistency

Next, the consistency principle proposes that objects with similar behavior should look alike while objects with different behavior should look different.  Consider Target’s website as an example:

6. Affordance

Finally, affordances are attributes of an object that clearly suggest how it might be used. Take this clickable button for example:

Did you try interacting with the button? Notice the elements used to differentiate it and indicate its functionality. Attributes like color, shape, texture, animation and text can all help to make an object’s function easier for users to understand.

Wrap Up

Look for these principles in your next interactions. Are there ways you can apply these principles to your own products?


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