Book Review: Thoughtful Interaction Design

Book | Authors | Review

By , SAP AG – December 21, 2005

This review takes a personal look at Jonas Löwgren's and Erik Stolterman's book Thoughtful Interaction Design: A Design Perspective on Information Technology.



Cover of Thoughtful Interaction Design     

Jonas Löwgren & Erik Stolterman (2004)
Thoughtful Interaction Design: A Design Perspective on Information Technology
The MIT Press
ISBN: 0262122715

Usability: UI design



Jonas Löwgren

Jonas Löwgren is Professor of Interaction Design at Malmö University, Sweden.

Homepage Jonas Löwgren:


Erik Stolterman

Erik Stolterman is Professor of Informatics at Umeå University, Sweden.

Homepage Erik Stolterman: (English version)



This book, Thoughtful Interaction Design by Jonas Löwgren and Erik Stolterman, looks at the design process when building digital artifacts. The book's target readers are educators. However, the authors hope that the book could benefit practicing user interface designers.

A central theme of this book is that there are no simple recipes for creating good user interfaces, or as the authors would say, building good digital artifacts. The book summarizes core design knowledge required to build digital artifacts but also highlights the limitations of relying on such knowledge and suggests that an additional approach is required. They call this approach "thoughtful design," an approach strongly influenced by the work of design educator Donald Schön.

The book is divided into seven chapters. In the opening chapter, the authors examine and define the unique qualities of digital artifacts. Then they investigate the design process and make a good job of describing a process which is inherently difficult to describe. For most of us, the design process is best summed by the famous Sidney Harris cartoon of two scientists looking at a board filled with mathematical equations. In the middle of the board are the words "then the miracle occurs." In the caption, one scientist says to the other: "I Think You Need to Be More Explicit Here in Step Two."

The third chapter examines the characteristics that good interaction designers need. While this approach is commendable one comes away will a depressingly long shopping list. The fourth chapter focuses on several techniques and methods grouped around the four phases of design: inquiry, exploration, composition, and assessment. This is the only how-to part of the book, and it covers many interesting techniques, most I knew, but never had the time to apply in my own design projects.

The following chapter examines the use qualities of digital artifacts. The authors try to get the reader to think outside the typical characteristics used when building user interfaces. Using history of design as a framework to scrutinize the current practice of building digital artifacts is the theme of the sixth chapter. The authors discuss possible future directions of the industry. The final chapter describes the conditions required for successful interaction design. However, a key message from this chapter is that the designer alone is responsible for their design education.

I viewed Thoughtful Interaction Design as a kind of XML of interaction design. As the authors state:

"When we write about the 'how' of interaction design, we do not address how to do interaction design but rather 'how to think about interaction design.'"

This approach means if you come to this book wanting to know about the latest UI gizmos, it will sorely disappointed you. However, if you come to think about design and how you could improve your design skills then you have come to the right book. I have to say I really liked this book. Even though style is academic and the text could be sometimes difficult to read, it rewards the reader with new concepts, ideas, and it has helped me form a better understanding of my role and responsibility of building digital artifacts.


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