Now you have everything you need to design user interfaces that place human behaviour at the centre of interaction.
Now you have everything you need to design user interfaces that place human behaviour at the centre of interaction.
This guide explains how to use Interaction Archetypes to design user interfaces, to evaluate and synthesise requirements, and to articulate design proposals with confidence. What information and functions are really important? Where and when do you apply them? How do you give them the design expression they need to be effective? And what objective should they serve? Questions like these are part of the everyday work of everyone who develops digital products — not just designers. They all need decision-making criteria, according to which they evaluate requirements and user interfaces.
Only when users feel that they are making progress with the product will they continue to interact with it. And only then can the product achieve its business goals.
You can use the interaction archetypes as the basis for any user interface. They describe how content must be structured, in order to address the intention of use in the best possible way. This equips you with a model to help you develop user interfaces efficiently and effectively.
When it comes to interface design, two different goals are always inexorably at odds — the company's goals on one hand, and the users' goals on the other. All too rarely do the two coincide. And in the intersection lies the product. In our case, a digital service or digital product. Its interface forms the bridge through which both parties can achieve their goals in an almost magical way. For this purpose, the company provides user-interactive content.
The term »content« refers to all the information or features that a digital good or service makes available to customers so they can carry out a task.
Therefore, interaction means that users interact with this content in a particular way, at a particular time, in a particular setting, and with a particular goal. They finish a task and move forward.
Content, user goals, interaction, and business goals are all interconnected dimensions. The user interface brings these four dimensions together to create user experiences.
The company addresses users, by displaying communication content through information and functions. If the offering is relevant to them, users respond to it. In this instance, they take action and apply the information to finish a task and advance toward their desired goal. The result of this interaction is a transaction that creates business value and advances the organization's own objectives.
Therefore, the job of a product team is to communicate content in such a way that users can interact with it effectively and efficiently. Effectiveness is when users are supported in achieving their goals. And efficiency is when it goes down like butter.
Our Archetype Canvas helps to bridge the gap between business and user goals, and to model the appropriate interactions in terms of content.
We have developed the Interaction Archetypes framework; our guide here shows you how to incorporate it into your design workflow using the Archetype Canvas.
We make use of the Archetype Canvas as an Interaction Blueprint, to develop the interaction strategy and content hierarchy in tandem. This enables you to structure content effectively and efficiently. The method excels particularly when a process has many specific requirements, and complex user tasks must be dissected into simple and pleasant interactions. It creates strategic clarity about the purpose and goals of an interaction, and gives focus to your design activities. By gaining structure, you can design in a more deliberate manner.
The Archetype Canvas allows you to take a problem-solving approach when examining the content structure from various angles. You give yourself room to maneuver and investigate various design options. This makes your product more likely to be successfully differentiated, and reach its full potential.
The Archetype Canvas serves as a basis for prioritising content and evaluating design ideas. You thereby formulate goals for the content. These provide a shared descision-making criteria, enabling all participants to work constructively on a solution.
The Archetype Canvas can also be used as a framework for communication within the team, or with stakeholders. One of the biggest advantages is that you can articulate your work clearly — even to non-designers. It uses a vocabulary that allows all parties to arrive at a common understanding, and aids the whole team in discussions and joint decisions.
The lynchpin is the Canvas itself, which helps to structure your thoughts and to situate pieces of interaction content in relation to each other. On the Archetype Canvas, you describe the moment of interaction, set up an interaction strategy, and derive a content hierarchy.
The moment of interaction describes the purpose of the interaction — user's task and the goals behind it. It illustrates how the success of the interaction can be measured, and what purpose your user interface serves.
The interaction strategy describes how the user is guided through the interaction. It pinpoints the fundamental goal of all your efforts. From this plan, you derive how the interaction must be designed so that users make progress as quickly as possible. The better the plan, the more effective the interaction.
The content hierarchy describes how you intend to achieve your strategic goals. It is primarily about which information and functions you implement, and how they interact with one another.
The fundamental mechanics of how we approach the interface are critical. First we get an overview and identify the moment of interaction. Then we establish the strategic goals that we hope to achieve through the interaction. Then we derive the corresponding content that will result in an intuitive user experience. This is how we ensure that our design activities have the greatest possible impact.
With the moment of interaction, we draw the boundaries of the solution space. An interaction is always related to previous and subsequent interactions. Before we define goals, we must first define the purpose being served. This way, we not only identify individual interactions along the customer journey, but we also establish benchmarks against which success can be measured.
The task explains what the interaction is for. In other words, the function of the user interface. It specifies the setting in which the content is used. Here it is important to note that the task can span multiple aspects of the interface. If the task of the user interface is »authentication for use«, it can be solved in one or more steps, and across more than one interaction. The key is that the interaction is in the context of the same task. This allows you to position different interactions in relation to one another and gain clarity about your users' mental models.
The intention of use describes the driving force from which users solve the task. There can be no action without intention — regardless of whether the acting person is aware of it. Intention arises from the motivation to achieve a goal. We can address different intentions of use with our Interaction Archetypes. Crucially, there are three categories that determine the purpose of the interaction: Act, Understand and Explore. In our authentication example, users follow the Act intention. They are pursuing a clear goal and tackling a concrete task. The intention of use shapes the way your content is used moving forward.
Every completed task produces a sense of accomplishment. However, partial successes can be achieved even in the process of doing a task. The more milestones you set, the deeper you can zoom in. The fewer milestones, the further you can zoom out. In a way, you control the altitude of the interaction. Authentication can be done in one step, two steps, or even x steps. The appropriate zoom level of an interaction is determined by whether the added value for your users outweighs the friction it creates. The user's next nearest success thus becomes a success indicator for your interaction.
The goal expresses the user's desire for progress. With each interaction, we aim to bring the user closer to their goal. The goal keeps us on track and prevents us from losing sight of the big picture. When it comes to logging in, we must keep in mind that the login itself is not usually the goal for our users, but just the means to an end: reaching the desired state. Nonetheless, the interaction advances both parties. Check!
The interaction strategy defines the goals you want to achieve with the contents of an interaction. It describes what we want to accomplish with the Core, the Extend and the Jump. The areas are interrelated and complement each other. However, they are not to be interpreted as a layout or sequence. The idea is to define them and link them together.
The core defines the goal of the interaction. You make a promise to the user: »This interaction will enable you to complete your task and make progress towards your goal.« Remember that when users use your product, they have a specific goal in mind — whether they are aware of it or not. And your offering should bring them closer to it. The faster and more clearly the Core communicates what task can be accomplished with the interaction, the more supported the user feels.
Conversely, this means that users who do not feel addressed will not — and should not — interact. It may sound strange, but it's only logical.
The Extend has a supportive effect. It gives users confidence that they can complete the task. To this end, it is important to impart knowledge and remove hurdles. All information and functions serve the goal defined by the Core. With the Core, an expectation for the user was created, which must be delivered upon to avoid disappointing them. In the Extend, you provide them with additional tools to complete the task beyond the Core, i.e. beyond the bare minimum.
The Extend also takes into account the varying experience and knowledge levels of users. Is the task commonplace, or does it require specialist knowledge? Define how the Extend will enable users to complete their task. The content from the Extend enables active engagement with the task.
The Jump offers different solutions than the Core. However, it counts towards the same overarching user goal. You activate users and keep them browsing. You save them from running into dead ends caused by unhelpful interactions being offered. You want them to keep making progress — preferably with your product.
With this component, you deviate from the original aim of the interaction and open up alternative solution spaces to make progress. Users land on your site with a purpose. But your offer is only one of many. They haven't yet decided for or against your offer. The Jump appears to change the direction of the interaction, but in fact continues to address the user's goal.
Behind every action lies an intention, conscious or unconscious. Scientific models of behavioural psychology see intention as the driving force behind people's actions. This also applies to digital interactions.
With the framework, you can actively address the intention of use. It forms the basis for balancing the Core, Extend and Jump. This way, you can significantly optimise the user experience and serve different behavioural intentions.
Getting a sense of alignment is the first step. Only then do you think about the exact content and its design. When people decide on a digital offer, there could be countless intentions behind it. However, various studies conclude that the intentions of use can largely be categorised, and they even come to similar results. Each of these intention types is associated with a specific type of behaviour. From the studies, we derive three major categories for our framework.
Users pursue a clear goal and tackle a concrete task. The solution is already clear to them. Thus they can usually state the expected outcome clearly. Typically, they proceed in a focused and structured manner. They want to reach their goal as quickly and directly as possible, within the scope of their knowledge and skills. Users anticipate a clear outcome. All that stands in their way are the necessary steps.
Focus on the Core: If the majority of users follow the Act intention, emphasise the Core. By placing it at the centre of the design, you create maximum focus on the task that underlies the interaction. The less the user is distracted by informative or inspiring elements, the better they can focus. This characteristic can be seen, for example, in interactions that seek to close a sale.
Users have an overarching goal, but the solution is not yet decided. They need more information to determine the right solution path. Their behaviour is characterised by a thorough approach that may take some time. They want to gain insights, answer questions, compare information and thus alleviate their uncertainty.
Focus on the Extend: When the intention of use corresponds to the schema Understand, focusing on the Extend helps to support the user. They can acquire relevant information and deepen their understanding. The Extend gradually removes roadblocks, and manifests in interactions that serve to convince and compare. You might use this, for example, to introduce a company or a product.
Users have no specific task or solution in mind. They are fulfilling a need such as entertainment, discovery or diversion — they crave an experience. A characteristic feature is the consumption of wide-ranging content within a short timespan.
Focus on the Jump: The Jump serves the behavioral intention Explore. You encourage users to browse by providing them with a variety of content. Decisions fade into the background, while inspiration comes to the fore. This emphasis is reflected in experience-oriented interactions such as those found on YouTube or Pinterest.
The content hierarchy describes the concrete steps you will take to fulfill your interaction strategy, and places them in relation to one another. Now you can decide which content to deploy, according to the criteria that you already created with the interaction strategy.
The Core represents the promise of interaction. To play it out, you need to find the function or information that allows users to immediately complete their task. No compromises, no detours. It all comes down to the one move that will deliver on your promise.
Not all users have the same knowledge, experience, or environment. In the Extend, you remove the hurdles. The key here is to consider the context. You design the offering in such a way that users feel a sense of security. All of the content in Extend assists them to complete the task and make progress.
Here, it's about keeping users on track. Take a step back and think: what goal might users be pursuing, if Core and Extend were not able to help them with it? It is important to find other offers that enable progress. And for that, we require suitable alternatives that take into account the context of use.
Interactions with digital products or services do not take place under laboratory conditions. Not every influence can be predicted. However, there are a handful of common factors that can be said to influence every interaction. Following behavioral psychology, we refer to them as the context of use. The context of use influences the way the interaction takes place, with significant potential to impede or enable the interaction. This knowledge informs you how to design the interaction so that it is enjoyable, and leaves little to chance.
People draw on a variety of knowledge and experience. Some are already acquainted with the interaction, while for others it is new. Some are familiar with the topic, others not. As a result, the amount of information and confidence required to complete the task varies.
The content hierarchy strikes a balance between the Core and the Extend. Users with a knowledge advantage have access to the direct and fast path through the Core. And in the Extend, you provide targeted assistance to everyone else. Check24, for example, supplements every input field with additional information. Users who are unfamiliar with the technical terms of, say, a car insurance policy will still be able to complete the application on their own. This allows them to tackle the task at their own pace.
Certain actions are more likely to be performed in passing than others. Perhaps due to repetition. Or perhaps distracting surroundings. Attention is a scarce resource. That is why it must be directed in the appropriate places.
Essentially, our framework Interaction Archetypes always generates focus. There is only one task at a time in the center of an interaction. The framework only allows for additional content if it is required to bolster the sense of security. The more difficult and critical the task, the more concentrated attention is required. In that sense, you can do without the Extend and Jump.
As an illustration, consider the process of sending money through PayPal. In order to prevent input errors, any content that is not absolutely necessary is omitted. This way, you avoid erroneous commas, or having one or two zeros too many.
The range of devices on which we consume content is expanding all the time. Devices are often connected by an ecosystem, and decentralised content is played out on various screen sizes. The form and control of our content must adapt fluidly.
Interaction Archetypes helps you identify the critical key components even before you begin designing the content hierarchy. It champions radical reduction, which not only affords you more creativity in your design, but also allows you to accommodate various screen sizes control mechanisms.
People's experience grows in proportion to how frequently they use a medium or visit a specific page. They learn patterns that govern how information and functions are communicated. Routines emerge as a result, which can have both positive and negative effects on usage.
Use common patterns to create expectations as you develop your content hierarchy. In the Core and Extend, patterns that are easily recognized provide guidance and orientation. Users go into autopilot mode, and quick thinking is fostered. Two input fields and a button, for example, suggest a log-in mask. It's a mental shortcut, without the need for active examination of information and function. On the other hand, an obvious disruption of learned habits is a wake-up call that stimulates the conscious examination of the content — slow thinking.
Offers that compete for the attention of users play a unique role. These could be different offerings from the same company. Or even provided by a third party. They all promise your users different ways to progress toward their goal. These compete with one another, shaping the perception of your offer and subsequent interactions with your product or service.
For each interaction, clarify which offers align with the user's goal and which not. Using this criterion, you can identify the optimal points along the customer journey to pursue certain business objectives. You can place them in a different time or context, without jeopardizing the effectiveness and efficiency of the individual interaction.
For example, registering for an airline's frequent flyer program has a high business priority. However, incorporating it into a flight booking is a risky endeavor. There, it gets in the way of completing the flight booking. The goal is to arrive on time for a business meeting in a distant city. At that moment, what's relevant is the completion of the booking. Not the possibility of getting a lower price the next time around. Once the flight has been booked, users are more receptive to new offers that pay off on a different destination.
During the design review, the rules of thumb help you optimize the interaction between users and offerings. They correspond to patterns in how people use digital offerings, and help you use the framework in a targeted manner. Our rules are not meant to be taken dogmatically. They're general guidelines that help you create focus.
Each interaction has only one Core. If you have more than one Core, then you need more than one interaction.
Anything you put near the Core must be closely related to it in terms of content. The further away the content strays from the Core, the more general or inspiring it becomes.
Reduce the content in the Extend section to the essentials — the less, the better. This is also true for the Jump, which should only cover one topic. Limit the Jump to content that is actually relevant. This creates clarity.
Keep users browsing. They should not come to a halt, but rather make steady progress. When you provide users with an alternative way to interact with your product, you help them get closer to their goal.
Every interaction must include the Core. Extend and Jump are both optional because they are auxiliary to the purpose of each interaction. Reevaluate whether Extend and Jump add value for users for each interaction.
Do not mix topics. This will help users in navigate and process the content.
The use of interactive media is evolving. That is why it is critical to constantly compare each method and framework against reality: Are the prerequisites still correct? The same is true for beliefs about behavior patterns that are common in UX design, but turn out to be myths. We'd like to highlight three important interaction patterns, about which many people believe the opposite is true. Interaction Archetypes create a structure to accommodate these behavioral patterns. Conversely, you can also exploit these patterns. They open up possibilities where others see limitations.
Digital products and services that are developed based on the Interaction Archetypes perform better. We can see this from the measurement of various KPIs. They boast a higher conversion rate, faster interactions, and higher user satisfaction.
Feedback from project teams demonstrates that Interaction Archetypes also have a positive impact on the workflow. It enables conceptual questions to be answered independently of design discussions. And it facilitates the integration of non-specialist stakeholders into the decision-making process, making communication easier.
We have developed the Interaction Archetypes framework based on hands-on experience. It has helped us design a wide range of digital products and services for companies such as Deutsche Telekom, AXA, EnBW and Yello. The outcomes are assessed through qualitative interviews, quantitative surveys, and multivariate tests. New insights are incorporated into the framework on a regular basis.
In 2020, our framework was scientifically examined as part of a master's thesis (available only in German). Lena Pietsch was able to demonstrate that our framework corresponds to findings from human behavioral psychology. The Interaction Archetypes framework is particularly well-suited to handle the needs of people interacting with digital media.