Shallow Interaction – what it is and when to use it

30th March 2016

While you might not be familiar with the term “Deep Interaction” – you will be familiar with the concept.

Deep Interaction is a design pattern (for lack of a better term) which encourages users to spend time with an app or website. Services which use deep interaction will more than likely be content heavy, online only, and where the end goal is a distraction from the real world. Conversely, Shallow Interaction is a pattern which encourages the user to interact, not with a device or application, but with people. The application/device is purely there to add to the experience.

Take, for example, a trip to the doctors. Not just any old GP checkup mind, one where you have to take in a lot of information. For the sake of this article, I’m going to use being informed that you have superpowers. Now the doctor is talking to you about possible treatment plans, living with your condition, what this means for future children, how to enrol in the Xmen, etc. It’s a lot to take in and you’re going to have questions. It’s OK though because the doctor has a tablet with a little app specifically for this occasion. The app contains overviews of your condition, graphs on lifespan, tips on how to keep out of the flight path of planes, all the basic stuff. This is exactly when shallow interaction should be used. The purpose of the app is just to give you more information. It’s an aid to an interaction between you and your doctor. It’s possible for both you and the doctor to view at the same time, discuss items, then move on. You don’t even have to look at it at all to get all the information you need.

Now you’re home and god damnit you have superpowers. You want to research, find out how gene mutations happen, check and see if anyone else in your family has had this. Where do you turn?! Thankfully Wikipedia has a portal just for this. It’s content heavy, encourages you to spend time using it, has many levels of menus allowing you to delve deeper into just what makes some mutants have wings and others have super awesome (yet super irritating) laser eyes. This is deep interaction.

The app you used in the doctor’s office was designed to have you pop in and out of areas easily. Now you’re home, the mutant Wiki portal is designed to let you delve deeper into the information.

Another place you’re going to see a lot of shallow interactions in practice is on wearables. No one wants to spend lots of time swiping and tapping on a watch so designers have to be smart about how to get people to use their wearable app and what a user is able to do on it.

Swarm/Foursquare for example. From my AndroidWear device, I get a notification. From said notification, it’s a swipe and a tap for me to check into my location. That’s as shallow as shallow can get. However, I can have a mid-depth interaction if I choose to. I could open the Swarm app on my watch, choose a different location, add a sticker to my location, add a shout out (to this day I don’t know what that is) and then check-in. Doesn’t take much longer than the ultra-shallow notification version but it does allow me to do more. For an even deeper interaction, I have to use my phone where I can add people to my check-in and then share my check-in to Facebook and Twitter.

This is something Swarm/Foursquare have got oh so right. Checking in at a location is something I do. The notification prompt is enough to make me do it but I don’t have to stop what I’m doing all together to do it. Swipe and tap and I’m done. If I really cared (or had slightly more time) I could add stickers, etc. And if I super duper cared, my phone has the deepest interaction possible.

Fitbit also shows this. Interact with the Fitbit Flex and all you get is lights. Open the app and suddenly there’s stats, nutritional information (assuming you’ve entered it), graphs, and more.

We’re going to be seeing more of this. Wearables look like they’re here to stay and are becoming a part of our lives. Internet of things is also coming for us. Get shallow interaction right and your app/device/service can slot into a users life with ease!

Also, I’ve been playing with Piktochart so have an infographic.

And for some more information on shallow interaction: