What's the correct terminology when the user is observing an interface and only acquiring data visually. And in opposite, when the user actively interacts with the interface?

I thought it would be called passive / active interface usage but I can't seem to find any reference to such term.

For example, when the user only reads automatically changing newsflash in opposition to actively scrolling through a news site.

  • 1
    Both are indeed active in different ways. We gather much information through our five senses all the time. Actually, the case is one of interactive vs. non-interactive.
    – Kris
    Nov 1, 2012 at 6:01
  • Thank you Kris, I think your terminology fits my topic the most.
    – Kraken
    Nov 2, 2012 at 2:24
  • Nice to be of help. Maybe you would even 'accept' it if that were an answer than a comment!
    – Kris
    Nov 2, 2012 at 3:59

3 Answers 3


To my knowledge, there is no such distinction between observing an interface and interacting with an interface as terms officially used by UX professionals. The reason for that can be debated, but the real use for distinction between observation and interaction could be that there are no such test done where you let a user just observe an interface and not let her interact with it.

Still, the process of observing and interacting with an interface is called functional prototyping. This means that the tester is “observing people as they use a very simple website or application prototype that has copy in place”. This would do on a live real web site as well – and the tester writes down (or does a video recording) of the users experience during a task.

The observations is often the input to “wire frames, user flows, the use case / requirements document, the UI design and the content”.

Reference: A List Apart “Can You Say That in English? Explaining UX Research to Clients”


There isn't a distinction from a user point of view. But sometimes in projects you need to distinguish visualization use cases from functional use cases.


If the interface is truly only observed (like a film, video, television or stage), there is a robust industry established around screen testing and a vocabulary that goes with it. In some communication, it may be appropriate to borrow from that vocabulary.

However, you seem to be asking about "interfaces" in regards to being a mix of "passive" visual elements and "active," interactive controls on a screen. I think you may be looking for a vocabulary to distinguish between visual-only elements and interactive elements in a design. I don't think there is any formal language to distinguish these elements other than terms like "label" as distinct from "textfield" which differentiate between display text elements and input text elements.

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