On Interaction Design
Kicker Studio's Jennifer Bove on how to design enjoyment.By: Jennifer Bove, Published: May 14, 2009
Interaction designers have an opportunity to make products, systems and services more useful, easier and enjoyable to use. There are a number of methods available to designers for getting to the useful and usable, and many books have been written on best practices for designing interactions that are easy to understand. Designing for enjoyment, however, is a bit of an art. What makes using one product more enjoyable than another? Donald Norman, in his book "Emotional Design," talks about the impact of emotions on our experiences of everyday objects and contends that designing for emotion makes for an overall better experience. But how might we design emotion into our interactions with technology? One way of doing this is by making the interactions less about the technology that enables them and more reflective of the behavior of the people who we're designing for. Enjoyment is an intrinsically human emotion, after all.
With each decision an interaction designer makes, whether it's the features we design into a product or service (what it does), or the points of interaction within it (how it works), we make our experiences more about people and less about technology. We enable communication, elicit emotion, and make our interactions more enjoyable by making our technology feel more human. Making technology feel more human is not an easy task – human isn't something that systems and software understand. We use logic, metaphors, and language to make machine interactions feel less like machines and more like us.
Another way in which Dopplr has made the software feel more human is by crafting the way the service communicates, replacing the system language of computers with instructions and responses that feel more natural, as if it were delivered by a person instead of a machine. When it's not sure which city you've typed, or it doesn't find an exact match, it doesn't say "incorrect input," it asks for help:
Often the simplest touches, like the way a product responds to user error, can make the difference in making an interaction feel human.
Another way that interaction designers can make digital products and services feel more human is by giving physical characteristics associated with "humanness" to software. The iPhone is a prime example. If you don't have one, you probably know someone who does, and you've probably seen the little dance the application icons will perform if you press and hold one of them for a few seconds. Press and hold is the gesture used to enter the "edit" mode for arranging the icons on the screen. Apple could have used a label and instructional text to explain what was going on, such as "edit mode: move the icons around the screen to change position." But that's not as much fun. Instead they use animation to indicate an editable state. The icons start to wiggle as a way of saying "okay we're ready to be moved around now"--they look excited to be moving, almost like they have emotions! And they also look less fixed in their positions, and more amenable to being dragged around the screen with a finger. This kind of anthropomorphism (giving human characteristics to non-human things) is another effective way of creating personality and emotive behavior in a product. And when done well, it can also serve as a cue to the user that the state of the interface has changed, and new interactions are possible.
We looked at the attributes of face-to-face meetings and thought about how to incorporate them back into the meetings we mediate through conference phones. Our goals for the project were to create a product that enabled an emotional connection between participants, made call activity more transparent, and made the device itself less obtrusive and more human.
Through our research with frequent conference call attendees and observations of calls in session, we found trouble spots where technology got in the way. Knowing who's actually talking on the other line, for example; or being able to send a subtle signal to someone over the phone in the same way you might kick them if they're sat across the table.
By bringing the advantages of in-person meetings into technology-enabled calls, and designing them in a way that makes them useful and usable, we can make the conference call experience more about the conversation (the human element) than the phone itself (the technology).
These are just a few examples of how products and services can be designed to be more about the humans who use them and less about the technology that enables them. Behaviors that are defined from the point of view of humans, and designed to elicit emotion, make products and services more enjoyable and easier to use. This, to me is what interaction designers do, and why I'm excited to be among them, and share the work we do in this blog with you.
Jennifer Bove is a founder and principal at Kicker Studio in San Francisco and on the faculty of the School of Visual Art's Interaction Design MFA department in New York. She travels, a lot.