A number of sources of guidance are available to the interaction designer.  I describe some of these grouped under the following headings:

Craft Wisdom

There are many books and articles on interaction and interface design that contain case studies and valuable ‘war stories’ by experienced designers working on high profile ‘glory days’ projects.  They are a valuable source of insight into the issues confronting designers together with inspiration as to how creative insight can be applied to resolve them.


These draw on theories developed in biology, psychology, linguistics, information science, sociology, anthropology and other scientific disciplines.   Theory here is meant in the sense used in Karl Popper’s philosophy of science, i.e. predictive causal explanations of phenomena that are capable of falsification (they can be tested). [Popper]  In some ideal world perhaps all design should be carried out utilizing principles derived from such theories;  in this world that is not really achievable.  However there are a number of theories that have obvious and useful application.


This includes both established convention (e.g., the QWERTY keyboard layout, menu bar at the top of a window, etc.) and a more refined notion of a pattern, due to the architect Christopher Alexander as a fundamental solution to a problem in a context.  Actually that trite definition only give a broad indication of the Alexandrian notion of a pattern.  This is explored more fully below.


Also known as ‘rules of thumb’, i.e. assumptions and principles used by practitioners that are usually correct, but are not guaranteed to be so.  In all domains, most expert performance  is down to having an extensive and refined set of heuristics, thus obviating the need to work detail out from first principles.

Craft Wisdom

Some examples are:

Bill Buxton

Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design, 2007, ISBN: 0-12-374037-1

Brief article on the status of sketching:  What Sketches (and Prototypes) Are and Are Not (downloads a pdf).

Alan Cooper

About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design, 1995, ISBN 1-56884-322-4

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity, 1998, ISBN 0-672-31649-8

Bruce Tognazzini

Tog on Interface, 1992, ISBN 0-201-60842-1

Tog on Software Design, 1995, ISBN 0-201-48917-1


Norman’s Gulfs of Interaction


Zipf’s Principle of Least Effort


Fitts’ Law of Target Acquisition

Of scientific theories used in interaction design this one has the distinction of being expressible in mathematical form to enable precise calculation.  Fitts’ law [Fitts] predicts the time taken for a human to control the movement of a cursor (which may be a mouse, touch-pad or joystick controlled screen artefact, the tip of a finger or other body part, physical pointer, etc.) in two dimensions, from a starting point to a target area.  Distance to the target ‘D’ and size of the target ‘W’ are variables.  Constants are the time taken to start and stop the movement ‘a’ and the speed of movement of the cursor ‘b’.  This formula gives the average time ‘T’:

T = a + b log2 ( 1 + D / W )

The key point is that closer and bigger targets are acquired faster, which may come as no great surprise.  However for exotic applications where speed of operation is crucial, the formula can assist in trading-off speed and accuracy between differing design solutions.

Information Foraging Theory





Shniderman’s Eight Golden Rules

Article published by the Interaction Design Foundation:

Euphemia Wong, 2016, Shneiderman’s Eight Golden Rules Will Help You Design Better Interfaces, Interaction Design Foundation website,

Nielsen’s Discount Usability Evaluation Ten Heuristics



Fitts, Paul M.  (1954). The information capacity of the human motor system in controlling the amplitude of movement. Journal of Experimental Psychology, volume 47, number 6, June 1954, pp. 381–391.

Popper, Karl (1959).  The Logic of Scientific Discovery.  Routledge, London & New York (available in Google Books at: )


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