Sunday, February 25, 2007

Notes: Interaction Design, Visual IDs, Oekaki

This weekend, I stumbled across three deeply intriguing ideas that I'm still digesting.
  • Cooper-esque Interaction Design
  • Visual IDs
  • Oekaki


Cooper-esque Interaction Design
Alan Cooper founded the discipline of interaction design in the 90s. His basic argument is one that you've heard here in the past. Programs designed by programmers tend to be for programmers and other highly technical folks. He calls them Homo Logicus and notes they tend to want very different things than your typical user. Where a normal user might want one simple knob that lets them slide through options, Homo Logicus desire the power of a dozens of knobs. Power and control ends up being more important than daily use.

Interaction design promotes the use of personas, where you create a fictional person that represents your target user. For example instead of designing a game for 'the player', you would design for "Debra, a middle age mother of two who borrows her husband's DS for a quick fix when the kids are at soccer practice." This tool that I've used in the past and find quite helpful. You can no longer suppose the 'user' is really just another way of asking what 'I' would want. Instead, you always ask "What would Debra need?"

Interaction design also promotes goal directed design. Instead of listing features, you measure your success by how well you achieve user goals. In this model it doesn't matter if you add a dozen features if you end up breaking of the cardinal user goals like "I don't want to feel stupid using this product."

Bringing the concerns of the user into the design is always a good idea. These tool help balance our natural geeky urge to focus purely on the production and technical issues with the critical need to build a product that someone actually desires.

Personas
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personas

Goals Directed Design
http://www.cooper.com/articles/art_goal_directed_design.htm

The Inmates are Running the Asylum
http://www.amazon.com/Inmates-Are-Running-Asylum-Products/dp/0672316498

Interaction Design vs. Extreme Programming
One of the questionable aspects of Cooper-esque Interaction design is the insistence that all design happens up front and that designs hand off finished blue prints to the programmers. How this meshes with agile techniques is worth discussing.
http://www.ftponline.com/interviews/beck_cooper/


Visual IDs
A group of researchers have been playing with using unique procedurally generated icons to help users identify their files. Even when the icons are completely free of recognizable symbols, users were able to find their files more quickly than if they just used similar icons or text labels. Humans are damned good at seeing a visual pattern and reusing it in the future. We master and store visual cues on the fly even if we've never seen them before.

The paper presents the idea of 'visual scenery' and how we use it to navigate complex environments. Visual scenery is merely "...the distinctive appearance of visual objects in place" The existence of unique visual scenery allows our merry monkey brains to rapidly understand a massive slew of data about where we are, what we are looking, our past relationship with the object and more. The match between the effective visual scenery and procedurally generated unique content is a strong one.

Visual ID homepage
http://scribblethink.org/Work/VisualIDs/visualids.html

Visual IDs: Automatic Distinctive Icons for Desktop Interfaces
http://scribblethink.org/Work/VisualIDs/visualids.pdf


Oekaki
We are starting to see all sorts of interesting hybrids of traditional desktop applications and the web. The resulting applications are rarely clones of the past. Gmail has made me squirm when I am forced to use Outlook. DeviantArt's print service makes me wonder why I bothered to purchase my amazing inkjet printer. As an artist and a developer of art tools, I'm completely delighted to discover Oekaki, which is a class of collaborative drawing tool whose genes have been irrevocably munged with that of a forum or chat room.

These are the embryonic lead users of the next generation of art tools. No 'documents', built in collaboration and annotation(it is on by default!), built in sharing, built in version control and brainless usability. Did I mention the complete lack of installation and minimal start up time? Good stuff.

Oekaki Description
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oekaki

iScribble
http://www.iscribble.net/draw.html

Lead user analysis
http://web.mit.edu/evhippel/www/papers/Lead%20Users%20Paper%20-1986.pdf

Apologies for the link dump. I generally attempt to avoid bothering folks with a regurgitation of my somewhat esoteric browsing habits. :-)
Danc.