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Interaction design and the user experience

From small apps to large business systems, from smart phones to smart environments, from wearables to ambient installations, from virtual reality to augmented reality – interactive computing technologies have become part of the fabric of everyday life. This module will help you on your way to becoming an effective interaction designer. You’ll learn what interaction design is about and how to design interactive products that offer good user experiences. You’ll learn about the multitude of factors that influence user experience; the theories that underlie good interaction design; and the methods and techniques designers use to create effective interactive products.

What you will study

Why are some interactive products so popular? How do you create products that everybody wants? One of the fundamental things you will learn in this module is the importance of user-centred design.

You will learn the value of moving away from your desk and ‘stepping out into the world’ to involve potential users in your early design ideas for interactive products. It is all too easy to assume that other people think, feel and behave in the same way as we, the designer or developer, do. It is essential to take into account the diversity among users and their different perspectives and getting their feedback will help you to avoid any errors and misunderstandings that you may not have thought of. Involving users in the process is vital to creating great products and makes good business sense: after all, who wants to buy a bad product?

Through hands-on activities you will work through the design process on a project of your own choosing (with our guidance) as part of the tutor-marked assignments (TMAs). Each TMA addresses one stage in the design life-cycle. By the end of the module you will have practical experience of the full life-cycle through your own project. You will develop skills that will be important to you in a variety of employment settings – whether working as a developer as part of a large software development team, as a partner in a small start-up, or in some other role involved in the managing of, or decision making around interactive products that will be used by people. You will acquire practical skills that will equip you with the tools you need to analyse, design and evaluate interactive products.

The module is organised in four blocks and uses the international best-selling book Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction as a reference text:

Block 1 – Introduction and overview

What is interaction design? This block gets across the fundamental idea of what we mean by interaction design and the importance of it being user centred. You will begin to reflect on what makes some designs usable and satisfying – and others not – and get hands-on experience of the process of designing. An important principle of our approach to interaction design is that there is diversity among users – not only in terms of their physical characteristics and capabilities, but also of their cognitive and sensory characteristics.

Block 2 – Requirements

Who are the users and what do they want? As part of the process of defining the requirements for an interactive product we need to know the user’s characteristics but also need to be aware of the user’s context – both in terms of their physical environment and in terms of the activity they are engaged in. This block studies a range of requirement gathering approaches including talking to users, observational methods including the use of technology probes, and more. You will also learn to use tools and techniques such as developing personas and scenarios, which will help you share information with the stakeholders (the team, the users, the customer) and communicate effectively about the requirements for an interactive product.

Block 3 – Design

Designing is about balancing the requirements. It involves thinking through the underlying idea for the interactive product and also the more concrete, physical aspects. This block tackles all these things. You will learn to use reflective tools to help you work out and communicate the main idea for a design, including what people will be able to do with it, and how they experience it. We discuss a range of interface types, from more traditional screen-based forms of interaction to mobile, wearable, haptic and other interface types and you will learn and use a range of prototyping methods and tools.

Block 4 – Evaluation

Block 4 presents the techniques and knowledge necessary to evaluate an interactive product. This includes the ethical considerations when evaluating with users; techniques and tips for observing users; asking experts and users; and considering when to carry out field studies and when to use lab studies. You will learn how to present your findings and to reflect on the need for iteration of parts of the design life cycle.

The assessment for this module is structured so that you can work on a problem chosen by you, and work through the various processes and iterate through the design life cycle studied in the block as you progress in the module.

If you are considering progressing to The computing and IT project (TM470), this is one of the OU level 3 modules on which you could base your project topic. Normally, you should have completed one of these OU level 3 modules (or be currently studying one) before registering for the project module.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies courses at levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject.

To study this module you will ideally be a competent user of computer technology with an interest in people and good design.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

To get a more detailed idea of the module’s topics, have a look at the OpenLearn course Introduction to Interaction Design.

What's included

Preece, J., Sharp, J. and Rogers, Y. (2015) Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction (584 pages) and Block booklets 1–4. Module website and online study materials.

You will need

You will need some materials such as wood blocks, cardboard, fabrics and vegetables, and possibly some ordinary household items (coats, gloves and kitchen utensils for example).

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module.  Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with either:

  • Windows 7 or higher
  • macOS 10.7 or higher

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students. 

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the course material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying TM356 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Interaction design and the user experience (TM356) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2018. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2022.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

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