Blessed are The Toymakers

Posted in 2010s, Articles, Inspirational

Tom Armitage, Blessed are the Toymakers, 2011

The best toys have hidden depths. The best toys are all super-simple on the surface; super-obvious. They let you know exactly what you ought to try doing with them. But as you explore them, you discover they have hidden depths. And: hidden affordances. Spaces for imagination to rush in. Toys allow you to play games, inventing rules that make the toy more fun, not less. Toys allow you to tell the stories you imagine, not that are baked into them.

Gardens and Zoos

Posted in 2010s, Articles, Robotics, Ubicomp and Internet of Things, Visionary

Matt Jones, Gardens and Zoos, 2012

This is near-future where the things around us start to display behaviour – acquiring motive and agency as they act and react to the context around them according to the software they have inside them, and increasingly the information they get from (and publish back to) the network.

In this near-future, it’s very hard to identify the ‘U’ in UI’ – that is, the User in User-Interface. It’s not so clear anymore what these things are. Tools… or something more.

Mission Transition

Posted in 2010s, Articles, Interface Design

Mark Cossey, Mission Transition, 2012

A transition that has been designed to be slow can feel awful. When designing an application, an interface or any type of structured content, we must ensure that users understand where they have come from as they arrive at the new page or state. The transition from one screen or group of content to another should feel natural and should be tested on devices of varying power and speed to get a wider view of how the transition feels. Too fast, and it may appear broken or jumpy; too slow, and it will be frustrating to use.

Redefining Hick’s Law

Posted in 2010s, Articles, Cogniton

Jason Gross, Redefining Hicks’s Law, 2012

The human mind has trouble choosing between several options unless one clearly stands out as the best. When you water down a design with widgets and secondary content, you reduce the value of the primary content and force a harder decision on the user. The process of eliminating distracting options has to start here and should be carried on throughout the design process. The more choices we eliminate, the more enjoyable the experience will be.

Designed for Use

Posted in 2010s, Basics, Non-Fiction Books

Lukas Mathis, Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web, 2011

“Weaving together hands-on techniques and fundamental concepts, you’ll learn how to make usability the cornerstone of your design process. Each technique chapter explains a specific approach you can use during the design process to make your product more user friendly, such as storyboarding, usability tests, and paper prototyping. Idea chapters are concept-based: how to write usable text, how realistic your designs should look, when to use animations.”

Requirements-Driven Software Development Must Die

Posted in 2010s, Articles, Process, Project Management

Fred Beecher, Requirements-Driven Software Development Must Die, 2011

The process by which most enterprise software is developed is fatally flawed. There are flaws in any software development process, but in the past 13 years I’ve seen one approach produce more bad software and blow more budgets than any other: requirements-driven software development. Thankfully, I’ve also had the opportunity to see the success of an alternative type of process, a process in which user experience design drives what gets developed. This type of process helps teams deliver good software on time and within their budgets.

Requirements-driven software development fails mainly due to communication issues. Huge spreadsheets of detailed requirements, by themselves, are simply not an effective way to convey what an interactive system needs to do and how users need it to work. What does work, however, is validating those requirements with an interactive prototype.

Procedural Literacy: Educating the New Media Practitioner

Posted in 2000s, Articles, Process, Programming

Michael Mateas, “Procedural Literacy: Educating the New Media Practitioner” (2007)

Procedural literacy, of which programming is a part, is critically important for new media scholars and practitioners, that its opposite, procedurally illiteracy, leaves one fundamentally unable to grapple with the essence of computational media. In fact, one can argue that procedural literacy is a fundamental competence for everyone, required full participation in contemporary society, that believing only programmers (people who make a living at it) should be procedurally literate is like believing only published authors need to learn how to read and write; here I will restrict myself to the case of new media scholars and practitioners.

By procedural literacy I mean the ability to read and write processes, to engage procedural representation and aesthetics, to understand the interplay between the culturally-embedded practices of human meaning-making and technically-mediated processes. With appropriate programming, a computer can embody any conceivable process; code is the most versatile, general process language ever created. Hence, the craft skill of programming is a fundamental component of procedural literacy, though it is not the details of any particular programming language that matters, but rather the more general tropes and structures that cut across all languages.

Why Angry Birds is So Successful and Popular

Posted in 2010s, Articles, Cogniton, Game Mechanics

Charles L. Mauro, “Why Angry Birds is so successful and popular: a cognitive teardown of the user experience” (2011)

What makes a user interface engaging is adding more detail to the user’s mental model at just the right time. Angry Birds’ simple interaction model is easy to learn because it allows the user to quickly develop a mental model of the game’s interaction methodology, core strategy and scoring processes. It is engaging, in fact addictive, due to the carefully scripted expansion of the user’s mental model of the strategy component and incremental increases in problem/solution methodology. These little birds are packed with clever behaviors that expand the user’s mental model at just the point when game-level complexity is increased. The process of creating simple, engaging interaction models turns out to be exceedingly complex. Most groups developing software today think expansion of the user’s mental model is for the birds. Not necessarily so.

Doing With Images Makes Symbols

Posted in 1980s, History, Interface Design, Videos

Alan Kay lecture at Apple, 1987.

Designing for Usability: Key Principles and What Designers Think

Posted in 1980s, Process, Usability

John D. Gould and Clayton Lewis, “Designing for Usability: Key Principles and What Designers Think” (pdf) (1985)

We recommend three principles of design.

Early Focus on Users and Tasks
First, designers must understand who the users will be. This understanding is arrived at in part by directly studying their cognitive, behavioral, anthropometric, and attitudinal characteristics, and in part by studying the nature of the work expected to be accomplished.

Empirical Measurement
Second, early in the development process, intended users should actually use simulations and prototypes to carry out real work, and their performance and reactions should be observed, recorded, and analyzed.

Iterative Design
Third, when problems are found in user testing, as they will be, they must be fixed. This means design must be iterative: There must be a cycle of design, test and measure, and redesign, repeated as often as necessary.

Our Misguided Focus on Brand and User Experience

Posted in 2000s, Inspirational, Theory

Jon Kolko, “Our Misguided Focus on Brand and User Experience” (2009)

Interaction design is the design of behavior, positioned as dialogue between a person and an artifact. A person commonly doesn’t talk to an object; they use it, touch it, manipulate it, and control it. Usage, touching, manipulation and control are all dialogical acts, unspoken but conversational. Conversation is only a metaphor for interaction, but it’s a useful one. Many of the same ways we “read” an actual, spoken conversation have parallels in describing and discussing interactions between people and things. Consider:

  • Both conversations and interactions have flow, and often have a beginning, middle, and end;
  • Both conversations and interactions act as intertwining of multiple viewpoints. In a conversation, the viewpoints come from people; in an interaction, viewpoints are embedded in an artifact by a designer;
  • Both conversations and interactions act as both methods of communication and methods of comprehension; participants both contribute to, and take from, the activity;
  • Ultimately, both conversations and interactions serve to affect behavioral change in participants.

This is powerful, as it describes an implicit way of extending a designers reach – and personal point of view, or message – into the masses. It is this mass distribution of dialogue that describes culture; we build culture through our objects, services and systems, as we define behavior through interactions. This is of equal prominence to the claim of “designing experiences”, yet leaves open the potential—the need—for the people (pardon, the consumers) to actually participate and contribute in a meaningful way. The things we do in the design studio have grand significance in the world. Our design decisions – even small, detailed, nuanced design decisions – resonate for years, and usually in a phenomenally large scale.

The Perils of Persuasion

Posted in 2010s, Articles, Ethics

Cennydd Bowles, “The Perils of Persuasion” (2010)

Persuasion design doesn’t share UCD’s ethical neutrality. Instead, it makes an implicit but undeniable judgment that certain behaviours are preferable to others. We need only look at the vocabulary of persuasion design to see this. Jon Kolko’s infamous Johnny Holland article talks of design’s contribution “to the behaviour of the masses, [helping to] define the culture of our society.”

While I respect Jon’s intellect, I find this to be dangerous rhetoric from which we can draw uncomfortable parody: Fear not, huddled masses – the design elite will lead you to the promised land. Persuasion design’s assured ethical superiority is unfortunate. Although some of the cases put forward are compelling – guiding people toward better macroscopic decisions about environment, health etc – we must recognise that, for all the good deeds behaviour change can encourage, it is prone to murkier applications.

What privileges the designer to dictate desired behaviour? And since we’re for hire, does that mean we’re ethical relativists, bending people toward whatever agenda lines our pockets?

Whomever the paymaster, the common pattern I observe in digital persuasion design is that its values are uniformly technocratic. Science is better than faith. Action is better than reflection. Progress is better than the status quo. These values strike me as practically Futurist and, at the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, I’m concerned that radical persuasion design is vulnerable to similar autocratic pitfalls.

An Archive for Interaction Design

Posted in 2010s, Articles, History

Khoi Vinh, “An Archive for Interaction Design” (2010)

Designers are terrible at saving what we do. Most of us know that we should take the time to document what we’ve done for our own portfolios, if not for posterity. Yet few of us take the trouble. We usually wait until we leave our jobs and a portfolio becomes an imperative, or when a potential client spurs us to write a case study of a finished project.

It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating that digital media is a conversation. To design for digital media is to design systems within which wildly varying kinds of interactions can happen, virtual systems that are conducive to great conversations. Conversations, however, are notoriously difficult to fully capture.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

Posted in 2000s, Articles, Hardware, History

Paul Atkinson, “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men: The Computer Mouse in the History of Computing” (pdf) (2007)

The history of the mouse raises a number of interesting questions: Why did it take so long to become a mass-produced item? How did people react to the introduction of the mouse? What did the mouse represent, and what does it represent today? How and why did it become the single most accepted interface technology?

There is no denying that the computer mouse is a phenomenally successful product in its own right – a success which can be measured by how ‘natural’ a product it has become as an everyday object. So familiar, that it disappears from our observational and analytical ‘radars’ to become an object people do not stop to consider. Yet, despite this success, few people are aware of its full history, of the way in which it was first conceived and then appropriated by the computer industry, or of the ways in which it has been used, intentionally and unintentionally, to shape our social and technological worlds.

The A-B-C of Behaviour

Posted in 2010s, Articles

Jodie Moule, “The A-B-C of Behaviour” (2011)

We all seem to be talking about changing behaviour through good design…but changing behaviour is actually really hard. Working as a psychologist in a detox unit at the start of my career has admittedly shaped my view of what it takes to change someone’s behaviour; and whilst I learnt it certainly isn’t impossible, it often takes time. Combine this with the fact that most human behaviour is not considered to be overly planned, with ‘conscious thought’ playing, at best, a small role in shaping our choices…things start to become a little tricky for us as designers. So how do we start to make sense of what influences someone to change their behaviour, given we are often charged with creating designs that are ultimately intended to encourage, if not drive, some form of behaviour change?


Posted in 2010s, Articles, Ubicomp and Internet of Things

Ben Bashford, Emoticomp (2011)

Interaction designers are used to using personas (research based user archetypes) to describe the types of people that will use the thing they’re designing – their background, their needs and the like but I’m not sure if we’ve ever really explored the use of personas or character documentation to describe the product themselves. What does the object want? How does it feel about it? If it can sense its location and conditions how could that affect its behaviour? This kind of thing could be incredibly powerful and would allow us to develop principles for creating the finer details of the object’s behaviour.

I think you could develop a persona for every touchpoint of the connected object’s service. Maybe it could be the same persona if the thing is to feel strong and omnipresent but maybe you could use different personas for each touchpoint if you’re trying to bring out the connectedness of everything at a slightly more human level.

The Elements of Friendly Software Design

Posted in 1990s, Basics, Non-Fiction Books

Paul Heckel, The Elements of Friendly Software Design (1991)

The Uncanny Valley

Posted in 1970s, Articles, Robotics

Masahiro Mori, “The Uncanny Valley” (1970)

Apparent Usability vs. Inherent Usability: Experimental analysis on the determinants of the apparent usability

Posted in 1990s, Articles, Interface Design

Masaaki Kurosu and Kaori Kashimura, “Apparent Usability vs. Inherent Usability: Experimental analysis on the determinants of the apparent usability” (1995)

Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework

Posted in 1960s, Articles, Visionary

Doug Engelbart, “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework” (1962)