Terms for Interaction Design

To work effectively with other people we need terms that define abstract things so we don't get stuck on them, such as Grok and User Interface. Let's define two more: Object and Model.

Any interaction consists of a one or more systems of thought. In cognitive psychology such systems (or representational models of the real world) are called cognitive models.

When we interact with something we use a lot of these models. But the term isn't fleshed out enough for daily use in interaction design.

An Interaction Object is the entire interaction process with a thing or a process. Using a pair of scissors (holding them correctly, using them to cut and understanding in what way they cut) consists of many cognitive models but only one Interaction Object. But every process or new function is a new object. A Swiss army knife has as many objects as it has tools.

A Interaction Model is one set of possible interaction methods. Much like the cognitive model a Interaction Model consists of only a single thought process about something. A pair of scissors can be held by the handles, one model. A pair of scissors has cutting surfaces that are sharp, another model. Etc etc.

Using these terms we can discuss interaction design for abstract products such as games and web apps with much greater efficiency.

Example 1: A menu on a web page is an Interaction Object. And if it has more than one or two Interaction Models you're making it to complicated.

Example 2: A game avatar has several Interaction Objects. To be able to understand them they must have very few Interaction Models.

Example 3: Facebook has a lot of Interaction Objects, but most Objects only has a single Interaction Model. Does this make Facebook easy to use or harder to Grok?

Can you use these terms or are they still to complicated or undefined? Let me know what you think.

What is a user interface?

A lot of people I talk to are confused about design. Not least when they hear about abstract design such as web design, UX design, game design etc. I can't blame them. As designers we really tag ourselves with the word most appropriate for the task at hand. Even though our main work is always to solve problems by design. But let's make things easier For most designers working with abstract design the term user interface is crucial. But exactly what is a UI? Sure, it's the thing the user interacts with. But where does it start and where does it end?

User Interface Interface is a proxy layer between a human being and a function.

But what does that mean? For a pair of scissors, the scissors themselves are the user interface between a human hand and the function of cutting.

A computer has two layers of user interfaces between the human and most functions. The keyboard/mouse or physical UI, and the graphical or text based abstract UI.

But what if the user interface is a part of the function? The iPhone for instance doesn't really have a physical UI. There is nothing physical to interact with (excepting the home button, volume and mute controls but lets not digress from the example). But it does have a graphical abstract UI.

Why is this definition important? Because now we can all say user interface and know what we're referring to. No more wordplay to guess what the other person is talking about.

UI is important, learn to know what good or bad

UI is the second most important part of any application or service.The service or function is more important, but it's not important at all if users can't use it.

How to know whats good or bad? Thankfully, our old friend Cognitive Psychology provides us with the key. Just record a user using your UI (or use it yourself and make notes).

  • Every time they try to do something that requires testing or a moments thought counts as negative.
  • Every time they do something that doesn't require thought and was intended counts as a positive.

Every negative counts twice, that's how humans perceive negative impact.

The higher the score, the better it is.

Of course, this is only generally true, performing 200 actions to change a song on your MP3 player is not a good UI. Even if every step was intuitive.

Lifestreaming with the iPad vs Courier

Amazed by the interface of Apples new iPad? Or are you holding out in hopes of the seemingly amazing Microsoft Courier? Both these designs are actually derivative from Eric Freeman and David Gelernter at Yale University mid-1990s research on lifestreaming. Life streaming is a process in which you aggregate all the digital tasks, documents and events into a timeline, or stream, of events. This chronological stream is easier for humans to understand than the spread out systems of files and events hidden in separate programs. And because of that life streams might be more productive as a tool than the common user interfaces of computers today. (The concepts really are amazing and I recommend for all designers to research life streaming in depth.)

The reason why life streaming is easier for our minds to understand is that it represents information and tasks more like physical objects than data. Because it's so much more understandable we can focus more time and energy on the goal of the project or task than on organizing the files and folders needed for it.

The possibilities of tech not ever getting in the way is mind boggling. But I can't help to think I'd rather see really smart start ups make open interfaces that can be shared across devices than Apple or MS hogging the space to lock us down.

Competition, however, is always a good thing in the end. Only time will tell.

Mac developers as secretive as Apple

Regardless of what OS you like it really is the applications that make up most of your experience on a computer. Some applications become iconic to the platform they are built for becoming inseparable from the experience. And when they disappear, the platform trembles. My recent move from Windows to Os X has made me realize that Apple's insistence on aesthetic applications from developers really does make an impact for the end user.

Which is why it saddens me when my two favorite developers Atebits and Cultured Code, makers of Tweetie and Things respectively, both have disappeared from they're online homes.

They are still there, small updates trickle out. But from the devs themselves there is not a sound to be heard. The last post on the Atebits blog was in November, Cultured Code hasn't let out a peep since September.

They seem to have learned the same secretive style that Apple is so famous for. But for small application developers this can be a fatal tactic.

Delivering perfect polished updates to any product is every developers dream. But we all know from the large hulking creations of larger development companies that this strategy is flawed. Without releasing updates consistently to the end user you might be heading in the wrong direction without ever knowing it.

If the web in the last few years has taught us anything, it is that focus and communication is key to any feature. Twitter is more focused than Buzz, Google Apps  have a constant stream of features being tested compared to the take it or leave it strategy of MS Outlook.

So please Apple developers, don't hide behind a wall like Apple does. Come out and talk to us, what are you  working on? How is it progressing?

When you're releasing updates to each physical product every 18 months you might need to work in secret silence. But when you're creating a better Twitter app, you can at least let your waiting fans know how it's going.

The iPad - short and simple

The most over hyped machine ever has been unveiled and a torrent of fanboyism and hatred has echoed over the blogosphere. So now should be a good time to talk about what the iPad really is.

It's just a larger iPod touch!

Yes. Yes that's exactly what it is. Well ok not exactly, it's a lot faster. But basically just a large iPhone without the phone. Not sure why people are complaining about this though since I've heard tens or possibly hundreds say they wanted a larger iPhone when it was first launched.

Why isn't it wide screen? Because it's a doubled iPod touch screen, this way apps will work with very little fuss and developers don't have put too much effort into designing specific apps for the iPad and iPhone.

So, will it be awesome? Probably yes, your iPhone is pretty awesome right? Imagine not having to squint at the screen to surf and you're there already. Also we know Apple will release a software update for the device before launch. It probably won't mean too much but we're likely to see at least one more feature that we'll like. Just because Apple likes to push positive.

So it will sell a billions units? Apples track record says yes. But they have failed before. and all tablets so far have died a gruesome death. Mind you, smart phones weren't exactly a super hot market before the iPhone launched. They certainly didn't cause the amount of hype and development that Apple created in the marketplace.

That's it. The iPad. We haven't seen all it can do, but this is what it is. A larger iPhone, just like millions of users have been clamoring for.

Just because it doesn't cure cancer and live up to the pre unveiling hype doesn't mean it won't be awesome. It's to early to tell if the iPad will be a hit or a miss. But regardless it will push general computing further towards touch UI. Which is really the innovation Apple is bringing to the table. Not a new UI. But a new use for their most successful one.

User Experience Design terms - Resistance

All fields of technology and design needs terms to define complex meaning regarding their subject. This is my attempt to create a few such terms for user experience design. Please help out through the comments or DM me on twitter! Resistance refers to the resistance of experiencing the design. This can encompass the macro experience of, for example, music:

  • Find a song you like (resistance)
  • Purchase the song (resistance)
  • Listen to the song

But resistance can also mean the micro experience of the music:

  • BPM might not match the listeners mood (resistance)
  • Singers voice might hit strange notes (ever listened to death metal or opera and hated it despite a catchy tune? resistance)

So resistance can build both from the users cognitive or psychological experience of the product as well as the practical obstacles the user has in order to experience the intended design.

Since all negative values are experienced as twice as important compared to a positive value, resistance is important to reduce.

Reducing resistance as much as possible is in fact the process of making something accessible but the term is a lot more exact. Defining what we're really intending to do.

Reduce resistance of user experience, make the user experience flow in using your experience!

Law of Design - redefined for today

The most basic law of design, for the 20th century at least, has been form follows function. The idea that objects should be created based on the action they are used for. With the digital world today, the law is a bit broken. But I claim that the law still works, with just a slight tweak. I just saw Objectified, the fantastic documentary about industrial design. One of the designers calims that the original law of design form follows function doesn't apply anymore because design today has become more and more digital, more abstract. With objects like the iPhone, with all its functions, form cannot represent what it does. It is too complex.

But the law is still sound. If we abstract the purpose of the law a bit, it means that any product should really become its function, a pair of scissors is really nothing but the function for cutting. For two reasons this is a good thing: An object that objectifies its function is effective. An object that objectifies its function is simple to understand for the user. Scissors are rarely used inefficiently or misunderstood but it's users.

When we go digital, we remove the analogue function of the object. It can no longer have a shape based on that function because the function does not exist in the real world. Now, a certain element of the object will always be part of the real world, the interaction with the object.

And this is where the law comes into play again. If we think about the function of and object, not as a physical movement or action, but as an interface for a human being to perform a function, the interaction itself becomes the function of the object.

Some may argue that the abstract function of the object, e.g. gaming or texting on an iPhone, is the main function of an object. But that function also has an abstract layer of interface, the GUI, for that action. This is form and function for an abstract object or function.

So deconstructed, the law of design transformed for today world would read: Form follows interaction.

The Aggregated web

What is the next step for web? Where will we be in 3 to 5 years time? What will the new web look like? Let me share a theory with you. The semantic web is often talked about as the next big shift online. Information marked in smarter ways so things will be infinitely easier to search for. Will the next step for web be the semantic web? Probably not since there is no real technical platform for this. Nothing that has been widely accepted by developers at least. And in web that is really what matters.

No instead we're already seeing the next step in web but only through the corner of our eye.

The next step in web will be the Aggregated web. Yes, that simple. While we are seeing more and more sites that aggregate feeds about the site or news about the common topic on the site these are really only precursors for the aggregated web. As mobile devices improve and more and more services offer APIs we'll see a shift from surfing the web to using services and information in real-time in the real world. A huge leap in integration between the real world and the web. In fact, we're already seeing this trend with the iPhone and stream of Android phones on the market.

Information is simple to find through search today. As more and more services offer open APIs to support different interfaces and devices we'll see a trend for information to become less tied to design also. Eventually most services and information on the web will be data streams with replaceable layers of interfaces.

So finding information about a topic on your cellphone, tv or laptop will be equally simple and fast. But the visual display of that information will probably differ, both in complexity and according to the users taste.

This will eventually spawn the trend for interesting interfaces aggregating the information you're looking for, real-time or otherwise, wherever you are. This is why I think the next step for web is the Aggregated web. Services are already popping up in a wide variety of styles and devices, just look at Twitter. When enough interesting services, and enough interesting information, has migrated to this sort of technology the interfaces on the web today will just not matter.

To finish with a situated example; your pen might feed information regarding grammar as you write while your fridge might aggregate special offers from stores near you. Sound like a poor 1950's vision of the future? Wait, I just got an offer from my local store via Twitter on my iPhone. All these devices really need is upgrade to Android and these examples can be used today.

Welcome to the aggregated web, you heard it here first. ;)

Tools are not your trade

We all showcase skills we have by listing the tools we're proficient using. Usually on our CV or talking with friends and business contacts we say things like "I use X to do Y" or similar. I just realized that this is somewhat strange, for any task a tool might be more or less important. In some extreme cases the tool is the task and knowing how to use it is essential for the job. But for knowledge workers, when is Photoshop really a critical skill? Graphic design is the real skill, with the addition of experience using software designed specifically for the task. Would a switch to painter really make all that skill obsolete?

This is most striking for programmers. If you know how to code a web app using an object based language, which language tends to be irrelevant. Sure, knowing the language a company uses beforehand is an advantage. But certainly not crucial, anyone new to a workplace has to learn the specifics of that job anyway.

Strange news about Happiness

What is happiness to you? To me I've always defined it as reaching my goals, whatever they may be. Turns out I'm wrong. Dead wrong apparently.  As Dan Gilbert explains in the video below happiness is comprised of a lot of synthetic happiness. And as Luis C.K. displays in the next video our many many choices leave us stranded in a place of chasing happiness that is really all around us. What we need to do is really enforce more restrictions on our own lives.

For games and products, this translates into restricting what they can do. Think about how strange that is, restricting what players / users can do will actually make the product more fun and usable. Not because it is, but because the choices will make that happiness more available.

[ted id=97]


The Prestige Problem

Prestige is usually a problem in organizations and development alike. People with too much prestige become complacent some of the time and obstacles for the organization, most often this happens not on purpose but because of the real prestige the individual has earned over years of work.

Because of this problem many companies and developers strive for prestigeless workspaces. They ask for prestigeless applicants and so forth. But this attitude lacks a basic understanding of prestige.

Prestige is a cultural gauge which we use to measure ourselves with. If you as an individual do good things and make good things happen you usually acquire prestige from your surrounding social circle (whether privately or professionally). But if you perform poorly or bring about negative effects you usually lose prestige.

While this system is far from perfect (a single mistake might wipe you out) and for form fair (seeming to deliver gives as much prestige as actually delivering, presuming you can keep the facade up) it is still a social system all organizations should be aware of. No one can be completely free from prestige. And they should not either.

Prestige is usually the most direct form of reward individuals can see as a result of their work.

But we also need to be really wary of prestige, it can lead to horrible evils in any organization. Perhaps it might help if we start thinking about prestige as something less durable. What do you think?

Why change is hard for companies

Change is of course always hard, but I'm not talking about personal change here but about change in organization and how companies and industries work. We have a lot of current examples with now with the entire Music and Mobile phone industry plunging off the revenue cliff like lemmings. New ideas tend to come from people who have a lot of time on their hands. You see, there is something about our minds that just makes us crave new things. This might sound strange as we've all had grand mothers and friends who just put up a fight against everything new. But we are slightly skewed as witnesses towards these events, they're not against new things you see. They are just a bit frightened that what people are pushing for might make what they were doing sound wrong or stupid. Basically, we're all afraid to be laughed at.

But we still love to learn new things, most of us travel or read or watch movies. And while we often do pick out favorites just to be safe we always got those favorites or find new ones because we learn as we go. Fast or slow, we all learn and move on. But the process takes time.

This is why youth always seem to be full of fresh ideas. Sure, many of them have been tried, not all youngsters check before they start to wave red flags, but certainly not all of them. This is because young people have more free time to indulge and learn new things. Name any period in your life when you learned more than as a student? Can you honestly say that most of what you learned happened in classrooms?!

And this, alarmingly, is the problem. As companies get larger and the people working for them are more senior they get busier and busier. Which leaves less time for learning. While people are promoted because they do excellent work, they usually struggle to keep doing excellent work and thus have even less time to indulge.

Because of this we end up with a pyramid of ideas and power that is completely polarized and slightly ageist. The broad bottom is made up of mostly young people with most of the ideas while the upper parts are made up of mostly older people with less modern ideas. It's not the fault of any of them. It certainly isn't intentional. But it's bad for the company and it leaves the company less open to change. Not because the people in charge don't believe in change, but because they haven't had time to live the change that has already happened.

An old saying is that winners work hard and play hard. I would argue that because they work hard and find the time to play they are still agile and current enough to be winners. They have all the experience and still have had time to learn the modern ways of doing things before Google took over the market.

Ah, you'll now think, or did earlier, what about companies such as Google? How can huge organizations like them stay current?

Well. They don't. Not completely. But they are fighting this trend by letting their employees use 20% of their time to work on their own projects. A few other companies use similar strategies but Google is the most famous promoter which is why I chose to make an example out of them.

No one can stop change. We have to move with it or be left behind. This includes the Music industry, Mobile phone producers and web start ups equally. Maybe using a bit more time  for playful learning can give us a competitive advantage?

Oh, and "free work time" is also the only way to motivate people working creatively apparently:

[ted id=618]

LOVE pre-play impressions

Sitting here watching the love tech alpha on my 37" LCD screen. It's just a flythrough of the world that loops over and over again, showing of scenes form the game and the engines dynamic day and night cycle.

It's really different from other games. It's astonishing that it's made by one person. Really impressive, check it out if you're on a PC.

LOVE mmo is complete

At least according to developer Eskil Steenberg's blog. LOVE is a hugely interesting MMO since it's mostly procedurally generated with the world being constantly constructed and destroyed by players. Also noted for being developed solely by Eskil (except for the music) it looks to be quite an achievement. So far though the game is only feature complete, which since it's procedurally generated also means content complete, it does not mean it's ready for release though. Eskil is probably going to test the shit bejesus out of the product before launch or open beta. I for one will be glued to the site looking for a download button.

Apple conference, iPhone OS 3.0, iTablet?

WWDC is today. In approximately 7h. What do you think will happen? I sincerely hope for an Apple Tablet, basically a larger, more powerful, iPod Touch with a huge battery. But I don't really think it will happen. Apple is working on it and when they can get price, performance and form factors together to really blast the market with tablets they will. I just think it's to expensive today.

iPhone OS 3.0 will launch today however. Which brings a huge amount of updates to the iPhone and the App Store. Let's see those landscape SMS' and ad hoc multiplayer games flourish!

Why hardcore's love peggle

A wired article on why hardcore gamers love peggle finds a strikingly simple way to categorize gamers as casual or hardcore. It's a short and good read, check it out.

In summary the article proposes, based on Popcap games data and theories, that gamers either put effort into understanding complex casuality or they don't. Hardcore and Casual. Which would explain the difference in appetites as well as time invested and similar data available from this kind of categorization.

Defending limitations

Doing things differently, doing things in a new way is hard.  The hardest part is that you have to change how you think about whatever it is you are going to do. This is usually called thinking outside the box. Thinking without prerequisites about the project at hand. This is why limitations are so good. Because they force a new set of rules on the product, however small or large that difference may be, that change the direction in which you take the product.

Are you stuck with some design or problem? Try giving yourself a strange rule to follow. Or find the rules and limitations of your work before you try to create it. Working without limitation just leads you in circles.