Reviewed by
Betty Horner
Northern Illinois University
November 1997

Kristof, R. & Satran, A. (1995). Interactivity by Design. Mountain View, CA.: Adobe Press. Reviewed by: Betty Hornor.


Interactivity by Design is a manual for planning and implementing interactive multimedia projects. It focuses on the process of interface design, rather than on specific tools or techniques. Its message is applicable across a number of development platforms, including web page design, authoring programs and presentation software.

The authors, Ray Kristof and Amy Satran divide the development process into three phases: Information Design, Interaction Design, and Presentation Design. In the first phase, Information Design, the authors explain why it is important to define goals for the project, analyze audience and environment and establish a basic information flow before thumbing through ClipArtTM galleries. The purpose of the second phase, Interaction Design is to flesh out the information flow by determining the level of interaction and the types of navigation and access most appropriate for the project. Interaction Design focuses on the experiential aspects of interface design, but not actual images. The final phase, Presentation Design is the one concerned with selecting and editing visual and auditory artifacts. It addresses the question, "How should the product look?" This phase establishes guidelines for selecting a visual theme, backgrounds and controls, and it demonstrates the evolution from prototype to finished product.

There is a natural tendency among multimedia designers, whether new to the field or seasoned veterans, to jump right in and do the fun stuff first. Selecting backgrounds and buttons is much more tantalizing than defining objectives and goals. Interactivity by Design provides practical advice on how to wade through the initial boring steps in the design process, and explains why a little planning up front will save a lot of grief later.

Multimedia designers are a mixed lot. They may have a background in computer science, graphic design, instructional design, technical writing or desktop publishing. Their approach to interface design is heavily influenced by what they know best. Kristof and Satran have taken the approach that interface design is both an art and a science. By systematically applying basic concepts from analysis, project planning and graphic design, they have created a workable model for the development of user interfaces that is acceptable to all designers, no matter what their frame of reference might be.

Often, designers include features in a product not because they should, but because they can. "Pushing the envelope" has intrinsic rewards for the designer, but can lead to disaster in a multimedia project. Kristof and Satran emphasize practicality and usability in the design of an interface. They caution the overzealous to design only what they can accomplish with available time, money and resources. They also stress that the designer rarely controls the type of equipment that the user operates. What looks good on a 200 Mhz machine may look stilted, or worse, lock up a 66 Mhz. machine. Defining the lowest common denominator at the beginning of a project will save time and embarrassment later on.

The look of the book is itself a testament to the author's design guidelines. Printed text is a basic form of user interface, and Kristof and Satran have done an admirable job organizing content and engaging users. They designed a page layout, using highlighted and dimmed tabs that act as a content map. Open the book to any page and, at a glance, you know exactly where you are. Objectives are clearly presented in a graphical format at the beginning of every chapter, and the purpose and meaning of all icons is clear and consistent. Kristof and Satran present much of the material in tables and charts. Not only does this technique make a first reading of the book easier, it also provides a handy reference point when the book is consulted at a later date. Unlike many text books on interface design, Kristof and Satran illustrate their points with real-world examples. The use of sample screens in a variety of styles demonstrate more clearly than any paragraph could that the concepts they are presenting can be applied to a variety of projects. Their use of negative examples (Do's and Don'ts) are especially helpful.

In the second phase of the development process, Interactive Design, the authors tend to equate interaction with navigation. Although the authors discuss access, control, feedback, and organization, most of their examples feature menu layouts. Novice designers using this book as a guide may get the impression that interface design starts and stops with menu design, and overlook the other aspects of a good user interface.

Overall, I was pleased with the concept and content of Interactivity by Design. On its back cover, Molly Tyson of Apple Computers is quoted, "It (Interactivity by Design) will help creative people be more practical and practical people be more creative." I could not agree more. There is something new in this book for every designer to discover. It would be a good choice as a textbook for a multimedia design course, and a welcome addition to any designer's reference collection.