Designing with action layers - A bottom-up approach to explore product interaction for intuitive use

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingPaper in conference proceeding


This paper presents a design teaching approach that aims to support students to shift their approach when exploring, prototyping and testing user interactions with physical products. This is conducted in a bottom-up, iterative manner to change the perspective from focusing on the opportunities of user-involvement during the form-giving process, rather than prematurely stressing the design outcome. Instead of emphasising on aesthetics and appearance, the design approach emphasises how users perceive, interact with and experience products. Through a series of workshops, a pedagogical approach was developed for exploring and designing user actions with physical products, based on the notion of ‘action layers’. Action layers offer a mindset of designing, which facilitates understanding of, and design for, intuitive and tangible interaction. The approach builds on product semantics and emphasises cognitive and action-based paradigms to create intuitive and embodied information-for-use. Action layers present product interaction as a sequence of four steps; invite, engage, enable, and confirm. In the workshops, students iteratively explored form, prototyped and tested interaction with users through sketching with physical models, starting with minimal surface and edge treatments, eventually ending up with functional cues and meaningful form for a certain product type and environment. Through testing and evaluation, students learn to understand user behaviour, relate to their own expectations and intent to the design situation, and iteratively improve the design. The outcomes suggest that students advance their insights on how users interpret, respond to and interact with products, which consequently extends their ability to design products better suited for use.


External organisations
  • Luleå University of Technology
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Design
  • Interaction Technologies


  • Design Elements, Design thinking, Product design, Product semantics, Product semiotics
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 20th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, E and PDE 2018
EditorsStephen Green, Lyndon Buck, Aran Dasan, Erik Bohemia, Ahmed Kovacevic, Peter Childs, Ashley Hall
PublisherInstitution of Engineering Designers, The Design Society
ISBN (Electronic)9781912254026
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Publication categoryResearch
Event20th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, E and PDE 2018 - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 2018 Sep 62018 Sep 7


Conference20th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, E and PDE 2018
CountryUnited Kingdom