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Social Interaction Design

Elements of Social Interaction Design

The designer's palette is what he or she works with. It includes not only tools but all the designer's skills and knowledge. Many of us design intuitively, working from a combination of best practices already tried and tested in the world of web 2.0, and personal tastes and methods. We have house styles, a look and feel, or craftsmanship with the mix of coding and web front end design languages such as css, ajax, dhtml and so on.

But all of this still needs to be informed by what users will do with it. And more: what all users will do with one another through it. That's where I hope that principles of SxD might come in.

Much of this is covered in greater detail in white papers posted here. So here's just an outline of the social interaction designer's palette.

SxD:The palette

  • Design of the UI for social interface
  • Design of the application for social interaction
  • Design of communication for user generated content
  • Design of navigation for social and cultural tastes
  • Design of content modules for social navigation
  • Design of interaction elements for social practices
  • Design of media types for new forms of communication
  • Design of interaction tools for new kinds of social practices

Contrary to conventional software design, social media can excel through excess, repetition, and dysfunction

Functional dysfunction

Design can work for people even when it's dysfunctional from a software perspective. Social media have meanings and present user attitudes, interests, dispositions. Design need be no more rational than communication is rational, and in fact online markets, economies, and cultures can flourish even when they are riddled with redundancies and ambiguities.

  • What functions is sometimes dysfunctional from a conventional software perspective
  • Communication and interaction are more than efficiency, effectiveness, and success
  • What is ambiguous compels
  • What is withheld piques curiosity
  • What is deferred sustains interest
  • What is substituted feeds the imagination
  • What is unclear solicits communication and help

The site's theme is its social practice and it should be recognizably so

Token gestures

  • Gestural icons and tokens are a means of expressing interest without having to put it into words
  • Are often easily returned and reciprocated, and so they beg for reciprocation and promote interaction
  • Indicate interest in other users without stating what for, how much, or what to do
  • Their effectiveness in engaging users can benefit from a certain ambiguity of intent: what did the user mean by his or her gesture, and what's the right response?
  • common examples include favoriting, emoticons, crushes, winks, compliments of various kinds

Related blog posts


  • Triangulation is the mediation of relationships among three people whereby interaction between a pair affects the third person also
  • The most privileged relationship in communication is of course the dyad, or pair. The triad, however, is the basis of social organization
  • It is only through concern for, involvement of, or reference to a third party that we can do something for somebody without it being accomplished directly with them
  • This capacity for indirect action and concern is the most basic social glue there is
  • Triangulation has long been the mode of action or communication in all great human dramas, from Shakespeare through Freud to present-day popular entertainment
  • Mediation of triangulating action and communication is immensely rich for its ability to engage participants in the risks, uncertainties, ambiguities, and meanings of triangulation. Just try to imagine social media built around direct communication between conversation pairs!
  • Triangulation is the dramatic engine behind several of my favorite films. Links to the posts are below

Blog posts on triangulation in film

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