The interactions Design Awards

Lauralee Alben (Alben+Faris), Harry Saddler (Apple), Terry Winograd (Stanford)

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University May 31, 1996


In the Spring of 1995, a new design competition was announced by interactions magazine. The call for entries stated:

The practice of interaction design has moved quickly to the foreground in the software field. And, as more and more things in the world become interactive, interaction design is becoming an important aspect in many other fields. Despite all this growth, we are all just beginning to learn how to do this. Designing interactive experiences is so danged hard that all of us in the field have a need to learn from the successes of others.

To help this learning process along, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), through interactions, its quarterly magazine on design, is developing an annual recognition program for people who design interactive products. This peer-recognition program will set a high standard for the industry, not only recognizing achievement but encouraging designers and companies to reach for quality. The criteria for judging, the credentials of the jurors, and the nature of the award process will combine to make the interactions award a prestigious program.

The interactions award is modeled on programs sponsored by publishers in other design-oriented fields, such as Communication Arts' Design Annuals and the IDEA awards for industrial design....

This isn't an award for good looks or clever innovations. We aren't going to recognize the fanciest new widget. We aren't looking for the best-selling, the most adrenaline-inducing, or the best use of video. Not that these things are bad--we like an adrenaline-inducing multimedia best-seller with clever widgets as much as the next techno-sapien. But when it comes to awards, we care about quality of interaction. We want to recognize products, services, and environments that enhance people's lives. We're looking for designs that effectively help people work, learn, live, play or communicate.

The results of the competion were presented in the May+June, 1996 issue of interactions. They were the product of a review process that was deeply concerned with figuring out what criteria should be applied to interaction design, as well as judging the individual entrants. The primary issue was Quality of experience Taken together, the criteria raise one key question: How does effective interaction design provide people with a successful and satisfying experience?

The detailed criteria that evolved were:

These are described more fully in the magazine (excerpted on-line here).

We will show a video that was made about the review process, then have comments and discussion by three of the people who participated. The focus will be on our struggle to define what is meant by "quality" in interaction design, and on examples from the competition that illustrate the best features of interactive hardware and software.


Lauralee Alben is a principal of Alben+Faris Inc., a firm specializing in graphic and interaction design for multimedia, software applications, the world-wide web and emerging technologies. Their clients include Apple Computer, Netscape, Berkeley Systems, GAP and IBM. Alben+Faris has contributed design to a wide range of interactive products, including interfaces for operating systems and authoring tools, specialized devices, software applications, CD-ROM multimedia titles and web sites. A familiar brand identity that Alben+Faris designed is Apple Computer's Mac OS. Alben has recently created a strategic design plan for the creation of new appearances for the Mac OS, a part of Apple's upcoming Copland release. A teacher as well as a practicing designer and writer, Alben has lectured internationally at many professional conferences, schools and universities. Her design work has been shown at SIGGRAPH and CHI and in design and computer publications including interactions, Communication Arts, International Design and HOW.

Harry Saddler has been creating software for users since 1977, when he attempted to create an inventory control program for an Apple 1 computer with 8k of memory. His appreciation for simplicity and economy thus assured, his perspective on users and software usability was honed by writing and testing data-entry programs in the same room as the data-entry operators. Since the release of the Macintosh in 1984, Harry has designed such diverse Macintosh products as small-business accounting software, educational administration packages, an emergency-room chart-writing system, an image cataloging system, interactive tutorials, self-paced training, an electronic newspaper, an electronic game show, multimedia information systems, interactive technical documents and many others. Harry is currently a designer and strategist in Apple's User Experience Architect's office, where his roles include mangement of the Apple Design Project, working with interdisciplinary student design teams.

Terry Winograd is Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, where he directs the Project on People, Computers, and Design , and the teaching and research program on Human-Computer Interaction Design . He is one of the principal investigators in the Stanford Digital Libraries Initative, and has written a number of books on artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction (including Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design (Addison-Wesley, 1987, co-authored with Fernando Flores), and (co-edited with Paul Adler), Usability: Turning Technologies into Tools (Oxford, 1992). His most recent book, Bringing Design to Software (Addison-Wesley, 1996) brings together the perspectives of a number of leading proponents of software design.


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