Interaction design is a type of software development in which designers focus on the user interfaces of websites and apps. Interaction designers apply their knowledge to understand what the end user wants to do with an online interface and how they expect to use it, designing systems that are as 'usable' as possible while also meeting the functional requirements.
Interaction design differs from other user interface (UI) design fields in that it focuses mostly on software-based internet applications. Those interested in hardware interface design would do well to look at the field of user interface (UI) design instead.
At present there are still relatively few interaction design degree programs in the United States, and most of them are offline-only. This degree type is more commonly seen at schools outside of the United States. There are some closely related degree types that are offered online within the country, however. The following are some examples.
Bachelor of Applied Science in Internet & Web Development
An online undergraduate degree in web development will usually focus on usability and user experience design among other elements. This type of program is appropriate for students who want to move on to work in web design or development, graphic design or the creation of mobile apps.
Students will usually need at least an associate's degree in some form of applied science from an accredited institution. There are also other general admission requirements that all students must meet. Generally speaking, it is easier to get in as a transfer or readmission student than as a freshman. Freshmen may need to meet special requirements such as having a 3.0 GPA, being in the top 25% of their graduating class, or meeting certain minimum ACT or SAT reasoning scores.
Coursework includes image editing, information design and usability, multimedia production and graphic industry business practices. Expect these programs to consist of about 120 total credit hours.
Bachelor or Master of Fine Arts in Web Design and New Media
Web design and new media programs focus on the creation of interactive architecture to meet the needs of target end users. Some schools offer a Master of Fine Arts program that is more advanced than its Master of Arts counterpart, and requires almost twice the total amount of units and adding a directed study component and mandatory electives. Students learn about usability, interface design and web design among other digital production topics.
Some basic requirements for admission to expect include proof of GED or high school transcript. Graduate students may be asked to submit a personal essay, resume and portfolio or demo reel.
Bachelor of Science in Information Science and Technology
Information science and technology programs are available that focus more broadly on how digital information architecture is used to store and retrieve data, but offer web design and application development courses as part of the core curriculum. This type of program is a good choice for those who are interested in both data science and user interfaces as it does not strictly focus on interaction design.
Some examples of program coursework include organization of knowledge, web design, human factors in information seeking, systems analysis, web application development and database information retrieval systems.
Admissions offices will likely consider a combination of various elements such as GPA, prior college coursework, academic goals and any relevant work experience. Students may also be required to have some prior work experience in an information technology (IT) field.
Interaction design is a young academic discipline that has yet to become established at most universities. The programs listed here teach web and application design skills that are relevant to the field, however. Online program options are thin at present, but may well increase in the future as the internet continues to be integrated into more and more aspects of daily life.