interaction general

1       Abstract

This section will explore the relationship between principles for interaction and creating ideal experiences through the design of an interface.  Ideas traditionally associated with the notion of ‘usability’ i.e. the practical qualities associated with effective and efficient use, have been considered to occasionally neglect the more emotional and motivational issues that are can be important (Jordan 1998) However, the studies which have informed usability come from established sciences: Cognitive Psychology (particularly perception) and HCI and they have generated some useful design principles.

2       Aims:

  • Review current thinking about goals and guidelines for interaction design.
  • Identify links between usability issues and emotional factors
  • Create a sequence of design principles that relate to our experiences, with clues from perception studies as to how to generate ideas.

3     Introduction

Despite the ubiquitous nature of  our encounters with technology, often they are fraught with upsets or tedious moments.  Our minimum requirements are usually that the interface will be helpful in some way, and reasonably efficient.  Lately we have been more demanding, requiring  products that make our lives enjoyable as we use them and studies have placed an emphasis on how pleasurable our encounters are.

Interaction design has had a variety of definitions:  Winograd (1997) once defined it practically as  ‘The design of spaces for human communication and interaction’. Cooper (2003) as “the definition and design of the behaviour of artefacts, environments and systems, as well as the formal elements that communicate that behaviour”. Preece, Rogers and Sharp (2002) suggest that it is’ Designing interactive products to support people in their every day lives. ‘ going on to say that it is about ‘creating user experiences that enhance, and extend the way people work, communicate and interact.’

The final statement more fully reflects the emphasis on emotional appreciation of an interface.  Cooper (2003)  explains that he believes Interaction Design to encompass the enhancement of the users experience of an interface. However he further suggests that this is a complex process within an environmental context, modulated by internal, psychological personal environments shaped by motivations, past experiences, temperament, and cognitive factors. The suggestion appears to be that that such issues are beyond control of the designer. He goes on to say that achieving the users goals as the basis of the design process will leave the user  satisfied and happy.  This may in part reflect the emphasis of the book towards the design of complex, work based systems like programme software.  Where participants have a choice of beginning an activity and whether to continue,  a range of more emotional, behavioural and motivational factors need to be included.  The studies are likely to be more visual than for work based data systems and more oriented to commercial design practices.

4       A starting point for ‘Interaction Design’

4.1     Design for user’s experience

Attempts to gain a better perspective on designing for people have occasionally been defined as trying to ‘Understand the User’s Experience’. (Hummels,C 1999; Alben, L, 1996)

The term ‘Experience’ is a useful one because it describes both physical and emotional memories for a situation.  Where designers have attempted to include these approaches in designing they have often included methods which are adapted from ones introduced in Social Sciences.  In particular techniques described within Anthropology and Ethnography have led to spending time with people and observing their lifestyle to gain their view before making design decisions.  (Tso,J ; 1999). These are valid approaches and put any potential design project in its appropriate context, an important starting point for the process, most interaction designers would probably agree.  Preece, Rogers and Sharp (2002) have devoted several chapters of their book to understanding the user and context, as has Cooper (2003) two of the significant books in the field.

4.2     The importance of Context

The fact that ‘design for experience’ approaches, have emerged demonstrates the need for understanding the context of any situation including users as individuals before a design is created.  Designing a package that creates music for children, for example, may focus more on fun and entertainment than efficiency, though it must be simplistic in the way it introduces interaction through its interface.  A data-base system for a car rental firm, to log customer details, however, is to be used regularly and must by necessity be highly efficient with few possibilities for mistakes.   As technology advances it is actually increasingly difficult to define what an interface is.  Now that we can project images directly onto our retina and embed technology into our skin, definitions of an interface are less rigid. Our understanding of communication with technology and how we can use it for work or fun changes; it becomes increasingly important to seek out information about how interaction will be used, what its purpose is and what kind of identity it should have.

Though it is relevant to learn about the theoretical ideas to be introduced, it will be important to choose which are particularly relevant for a given context. Theories can be chosen from Cognitive Psychology but also includes ideas on Semiotics and Narrative studies, identified later which are relevant to the generation of emotional signals and our involvement in a process.

As another example, if the aim was to create an interface which is intriguing and enticing, perhaps it may be a puzzle for a game, or how a person is to move around a scene it might not be appropriate to make it absolutely explicit in its form and meaning.  Some of the principles of making the interaction very simple and efficient may not be appropriate, since the user is intended to work some of it out.  Thus though we might understand how to make it very clear what sequence through our knowledge of perception, it may not be prudent to do so.  For a game, we may also want the user to be mystified in an intriguing way, but not an irritating one about what the next step might be.

Some types of interaction are repeated regularly by a particular group of people, who use the interface for a specific purpose and there may be more inclination for them to learn what to do.  Thus we can create an interface which is more complex in order to add functionality and allow people to choose. Other products, such as a fire extinguisher, are designed for one off, emergency situations and must be instantly simple and clear, the very first time they are used, no room for feedback or added features.  The approach that should be taken in each case is quite different, these factors point clearly to the importance of good user research to identify the context in each case.

Having performed User Research and attempted to identify the context it is also important to include an understanding of how attitudes and lifestyles influence the users interpretation of the content being communicated (see separate section on this).  It is then vitally important to consider how it is possible to generate design ideas which meet the requirements identified.  To begin this process it is pertinent to add a reminder that the basic nature of an interface can vary considerably and this fact also effects the choice of theories that are appropriate.



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