A simple question like that would sound easy to answer right? But the interesting thing is, a lot of people get it wrong.
The word “interactive” became quite popular a few decades ago and since then it has been commonly used as a marketing tool to sell products (even if they are not interactive at all). Saying things are interactive just make them sound more interesting. And the reason manufactures can get away with this is because people don’t truly know what interaction means, or have never took a minute to think about it.
After reading a little about the subject (for those who might be interested, the book The Art of Interactive Design” by Chris Crawford is a great place to start), I would say that interaction is any form of communication between 2 beings in which both react to each other stimuli. And by reacting, I mean that they should listen, think and respond.
And believe me, the 3 things are really important, without one of them the thing just doesn’t work well.
For creators and designers like myself interaction is a very important concept to be understood and incorporated in our work. Chris Crawford says in his book that “interaction is superior to all other forms of human expression in one way: it engages the human mind more powerfully than any other form of expression. When we interact with someone or something, we are truly engaged.”. That became very clear to me when he started talking about one of the things that I love the most in the entire world: MOVIES. Movies are just great and I could spend hours just talking about why I love them so much. But the thing is, I have fallen asleep for many many times while watching movies. Because when I was facing the screen, I was just reacting to it. And it doesn’t matter how much I loved the main character and how hard I’d try to interact with him, he would keep doing his thing (it is sad, but it is true).
This reminds me of a Woody Allen’s movie “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, where, in the story, the main character from a film starts interacting with a girl from the audience and comes out of the screen to be with her. Pure fantasy, but it makes us think about the kind of relation that we have with movies. But anyways, let’s not loose the focus (great movie! If you haven’t got the chance to watch it, do it soon. Also you have the excuse that it is a great reflection related to interactivity).
The thing about interaction is, it has always been there, and living beings have always depended on it to survive. But it evolved soooo much in the past decades. The invention of the computer was a game changer for the world. And that also evolved. Probably the thing you interact the most during your day is your phone. It is just amazing the amount of things it can do right? And when the battery dies, oh boy…
But the cellphones are just one little fish in an entire ocean. And my point is, the more technology evolves, the more space to be creative and to build interesting, fun and useful interactive experiences we have. We live in a great age to be creators. We have the needs and the tools to built great things.
Here are just a few examples of creative installations people have been doing these days that I believe make great use of physical interaction:
“Hakanai”, by Adrien M and Claire B:
“PomPom Mirror”, by Daniel Rozin:
“Cloud”, By Caitlind R.C. Brown and Waine Garrett: