Ebb and flow of interaction: “What’s in orbit?”

Jo Hopkins
4 min readApr 9, 2018

Essentially, this play does what it says on the tin, think about what’s in orbit for people who use your product or service — this can be in terms of physical devices or general touch points for your solution. This is a way to track and communicate the convenience of your target behaviours for your customer segment.

If you’re looking at trying to increase footfall into your store, adoption of your wearable tech or traffic to your website you can use this as a way to illustrate the patterns of life surrounding how people engage with — or actively disengage with — the way in which you present engagement opportunities or ‘answers’ to them.

It also allows you to compare the differences between home, work and social life of the people you want to engage and explore how the relationship between convenience and proximity alter within these circumstances.

What if people always choose to engage with the most convenient devices? And what if they chose not to? What would that mean for how we design the placement and nature of our triggers?

It’s important that you understand how your target audience define and experience ‘convenience’ is it always the same? You can use your research to help determine this and use the orbit diagrams to help illustrate the gap between the reality and your initial assumptions.

Is there a correlation between specificity of question and convenience of device?

As designers, we can sometimes assume that the most convenient tech is the way in which our target audience engages with the triggers or interactions we design for them and sometimes that experience with technology (tech-savvy or no) is an indication of how they choose to interact.

An example of an orbit with actions plotted on a rough-scale of preference

A quick example:

If your people are early adopters of wearable tech and considered tech-savvy, the assumption may be that a watch-centric / wearable-focused design is the approach to take — which may be absolutely right. But what if this assumption is dependant on the environment or culture they are immersed in?

At work, notifications on a piece of wearable tech may become more of a distraction than a convenience. But at home, it’s a delight to have the answers and notifications at your fingertips; not having to reach for a phone, tablet or laptop.

Why not explore how we could respond to these cultural and environmental shifts in everyday life? Using “What’s in orbit?” can help to illustrate whether these shifts are minor or significant for your target audience.

The question this shines a light on is whether people present different mental models in different environments or as part of different social cultures, and when / if they do, how do we work with this to best meet their needs?

So where does this come from?

I discovered this as a way of analysing scripts when preparing to direct a new theatre show or explore alternative approaches to existing work.

I found drawing a web of the relationships of all the characters a helpful way to get started with regards to understanding the connections and interactions needed to achieve each of their desired outcomes. Very quickly I found this wasn’t substantial enough to capture the reality of these interactions; as scenes develop and external actions or circumstances change these relationships inevitably alter — radically for some — from start to finish.

This is what I wanted to understand, capture and communicate to my cast; the ebb and flow of these relationships throughout the piece — both at a micro level, within each moment / interaction between characters, and across the whole arch of the story. I wanted a clear, concise way to tell each character’s story and to understand why they were drawn to certain interactions with specific people at different times.

Bringing it back to design

Consider yourself in the shoes of your target audience for a minute. When you need to take action (create, review, update, delete, socialise etc.), respond to a request or notification — is the question of what’s-to-hand synonymous with what’s convenient?

If not… Does that change what you do next?

What does it mean for your design if the most convenient interaction is with the device in the furthest orbit and how does this impact your design decisions? For example; is it a question of real-estate or familiarity, trust or ease-of-use which draws people to this decision?

So why not give it a go?

Try using “what’s in orbit?” to plot the evidence or insights you’ve gained from your research on how your target audience engage with the devices or service touch points available to them. It’s also a great way to compare what your assumptions were to what the reality is. See how it can help shape the way you chose to engage, inform or support your people in these different environments or cultures.



Jo Hopkins

Product designer, UX/CX consultant and Visual thinking practitioner