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Interaction design and the user experience

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From small apps to large business systems, smartphones to intelligent environments, wearables to ambient installations, and 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 about interaction design and how to design interactive products that offer good user experiences. You’ll learn about the many 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 others 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?

With our guidance, through hands-on activities you’ll work through the design process on a project of your choice. This will include hands-on activities and form 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 acquire practical skills that will equip you with the tools you need to analyse, design and evaluate interactive products. 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 others.

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

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 we also need to be aware of the user’s context – both in terms of their physical environment and in terms of the activities 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 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 users will be able to do with it, and how they will 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
Evaluating an interactive product is essential to ensure that it meets the requirements or to identify ways in which it can be improved so that it does meet the requirements. This block presents the knowledge and techniques necessary to evaluate, including ethical considerations when evaluating with users; techniques and tips for observing users, and asking experts and users; and how to decide 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. Level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous study 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 good design.

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

What's included

Sharp, H., Rogers, Y., Preece, J. (2019) Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction (636 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 (for example, coats, gloves and kitchen utensils).

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


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

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 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2026.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)

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