Participatory v. Interactive

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In a recent podcast about User Experience in museums Nina Simon talked to Gerry Gaffney about participation and interaction.

Simon described interaction like a button that can be pressed and then offers feedback.  For example, if you toggle the light switch the light goes on or off.

This is an interaction.  The user, in this case, is interacting with the lighting system.

The opposite idea is participation.  While interaction deals only between a user and an interface, participation deals with multiple users in collaboration with each other and possibly with an interface as well.

In the UX field, I hear the term “Interaction Designer” thrown around quite a bit, but I have never heard anyone describe themselves or their work as “Participation Designer”.

It seems to me that “Participation Designer” could be an incredibly important field today considering how important social networks have become in the world of e-commerce.

Creating an participation designs could be critical in helping stores with sales, for example, since shopping is primarily a group task, while online stores are single-user-centered.

Consider the difference between shopping on Amazon for books and shopping at a book store.  Online there is no one to ask for help(only a forum perhaps or reviews to read), no one to go with, no one to give recommendations, etc.  The interaction between the user and the shopping interface could be stellar, but without a design for participation, the user could feel isolated and lose interest.

Perhaps it is important to consider interaction as part of UI, and participation as part of UX.

I’m not sure.

What I am sure of, however, is that the issue of Participation Design must be probed deeper in order to merge the social-focus of today’s internet with the singular-focus of today’s e-commerce.

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