A conversation-based approach to Interaction Design

In this articile, Hugh Dubberly and Paul Pangaro discuss the potential of a new approach to interaction design based on a conversation model. Starting from Claude Shannon’ Model of Communication, they shed the light on

“a fundamental limit of nearly all human-to-computer interaction: Our input gestures can only activate an existing interface command (select a message) from the preprogrammed set. While we can automate sequences of existing commands, we can’t ask for something novel. If our software application does anything novel, we file a bug report!”

The abstract –  Interaction describes a range of processes. A previous “On Modeling” article presented models of interaction based on the internal capacity of the systems doing the interacting [1]. At one extreme, there are simple reactive systems, such as a door that opens when you step on a mat or a search engine that returns results when you submit a query At the other extreme is conversation. Conversation is a progression of exchanges among participants. Each participant is a “learning system,” that is, a system that changes internally as a consequence of experience. This highly complex type of interaction is also quite powerful, for conversation is the means by which existing knowledge is conveyed and new knowledge is generated.

We talk all the time, but we’re usually not aware of when conversation works, when it doesn’t, and how to improve it. Few of us have robust models of conversation. This article addresses the questions: What is conversation? How can conversation be improved? And, if conversation is important, why don’t we consider conversation explicitly when we design for interaction? This article hopes to move practice in that direction. If, as this forum has often argued, models can improve design, we further ask, what models of conversation are useful for interaction design?

We begin by contrasting “conversation” with “communication” in a specific sense. We then offer a pragmatic but not exhaustive model of the process of conversing and explore how it is useful for design.

Read the full article.