‘The Art of Interactivity’ by Chris Crawford

“I choose to define [interactivity] in terms of a conversation: a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak.”

Interactivity as Conversation

I think Crawford’s definition of interactivity is swell. I also agree with his assessment that two (or more) actors are key for the process to work. However, I think there’s a more important factor tucked into that definition: “a cyclic process.”

Here’s where it really comes together for me. With a cycle we go from the more binary Action → Reaction (Speak → Listen; Listen → Think; Think → Speak, etc) to a more complex network of cause and effects. Especially if the actors adjust their rhythm of listen, think, speak in accordance with outside factors.

The best conversations never follow a prescribed structure. It’s never listen, think, speak. The thinking is going on constantly. And speaking frequently slides into something closer to yelling. There’s an element of unpredictability to it. You might spiral off into a tangent, go off topic, only to find a new perspective on what you had just been discussing.

Interactivity should be fluid. And dynamic. It should feel natural. And it should allow and encourage discovery. Just like a great conversation.

An Aside About the “Interactivizing Step”

It’s painful when Crawford mentions the interactivizing step in the design process. Coming from an advertising background, it’s all too familiar to here “how do we make this interactive?” As if it’s only a matter of sprinkling new, delicious and nutritious Interactivity Flakes® on whatever the idea is. When, in reality, all that’s actually being said is “how do we get people to click faster/stay longer/post on social media harder?”

If I hear “interacting with our brand” one more time, I’m going to throw a box of Interactivity Flakes® at a wall. According to Crawford, and, you know, common sense, it’s impossible to interact with a brand. A brand is the made-up face of an otherwise faceless company. A ghost putting on a sheet to answer the door.

There’s no conversation. No listen, think, speak. Only sell, sell, sell. (He’s eerily close to the future when he posits that laundry detergent boxes will soon proclaim “NEW! IMPROVED! INTERACTIVE!” Think what they/we did/let happen to organic.)