Thought / Learning (interaction) from Las Vegas

I ran into a friend’s post that showed a project on wine bottle finding through RFIDs.

It made me wonder about something else, an ancillary quality of interaction: that of playability: ‘able to be used or played’ (not playfulness: ‘the quality of being light-hearted or full of fun‘).

There has been enough critic about the Mac OS X Dock for so many time, yet everybody acknowledges its strongly marketing-oriented side: that of entertaining and engaging the user (towards securing a sell?). And it succeeds mostly, in my opinion, because it shows that an OS GUI can be ‘fun’ (something every other OS seem to have tried to discredit with all efforts possible). Though it might be a very poor example (the Dock fails in so many other regards), it shows that side effect interaction design has as a possibility.

If you’re a fan of video games, you might not be too surprised. Video games were for a while one of the principal arenas for interface evolution on computer design. Why? Because gamers were avid and picky and relentless when it came to deciding on the ultimate interactive experience. Also because games depended on engagement, and better experiences would create deeper engagement. Response times, accuracy and realness were, and are, defining factors when it comes to choose a video game. If the Celica GT in “Colin McRae Rally” does not steer as it does in the hands of the real Colin McRae, then they’ll probably buy something else.

On the other side, you might have noticed the sudden rise of interactive art. I say it is because of the high entertaining factor these exhibitions have. Sometimes it is like going to the county fair arcade with all those haunted-houses-like attractions and led-light-driven stomach-revolting devices. Even if you don’t care about what’s on the artist mind and what he’s trying to express, you might enjoy the piece: touch the screen and it all lights up, step on the squares and you can create music, move around and the screen will dance with color lines. I’m describing fun-inducing gadgets, you can see the line between interactive art and interactive toys is rather thin. Let alone the one between toys and interaction design research.

Even Google, the epitome of sober web interfaces, puts a humorous logo now and then.

So why not exploiting it? Isn’t that part of the user experience? Isn’t that the user experience as well? We might want our interfaces to work well, be predictable and have a high level of precision, to allow users to accomplish their tasks, to make people’s lives easier and more meaningful. I think it won’t hurt if the user has a great time while using them.

Sometimes I get the impression that being boring is part of being useful, even in computer interfaces where there’s an infinite spectrum of possibilities.

Coming from an architectural background, it is a given for me: spaces have to work, but they ought to be pleasing and accommodating. If not, you might not sell it to the client, since they know they’ll spend a quite large amount of time in it.

There was a wonderful european magazine in the ’90s called PLAY. It surely is a very suggesting title for a magazine that dealt with interaction design. After all, when interaction design is really good, it feels like just playing.

Thought / web 1.0? what? when? where?

The things free browsing brings to the shore just when you less expect them to.

So we’re into this web 2.0 yadda-yadda, and since we never heard of web 1.0 we suppose it is what we had before. Well, want to know the truth? The web was born as 1.0. Tim Berners-Lee decided so when he wrote the first www programme (on a NeXTcube which was the first web server).

I guess people already ‘saying’ web 6.0 might not be that far-fetched, so it seems.

Thought / Software is just the means, not the end

People don’t want to spend hours browsing pages. People don’t want to spend hours uploading files, filling in long forms, or even browsing millions of images. People don’t want to code their way into an application. People don’t want to spend time on their computers.

People want to find information. People want to have their photos on their last vacation trip shared with family and friends. People want their address book to be everywhere they are. People want to know more about the issues they care about. People want to use the application because they want some work done to get their wages and spend their holidays taking pictures of themselves in gorgeous places and then share them with family and friends.

People don’t want to spend time on their computers. People want to do things. Software is just the means, not the end.

Thought / Cache the text area, web browser

Hey you, web browser! Yes, you! Why don’t you cache the content of any text area every time I get some focus on it and start typing in?

Please. You know how to recognise them (does sounds familiar to you?) You know I’ll be typing that kick-ass, witty reply to one of those jackass know-it-all bloggers. You know I’ll be spilling my guts on my lousy-but-cherished blog. You know (and if you don’t, you should) I might be adding that project description on my most recent state-of-the-art ajax-enabled online killer-app subscription project management service I just paid the buck for.

So yes, you might say I’m an ass. And I might decide to not discuss that point. But I’m human and I err. What is your excuse? You have the means and the knowledge, so please, smart up! Is that too much to ask from you?

(note: I know half of browsers already do that. I’m talking to the other dumbass half).

Thought / In the reign of the digital ‘A’

I’ve been using computers since I can remember (and perhaps most of you have too). I’ve had an iPod for more than three years and I’ve used many cellphones throughout the last 7 years or so.

And I have come to realise it pays for your name to start with an ‘A’. Very much. Too much.

In the digital world, if you’re an ‘A’, you’re top of the crowd. You stand out. You made it to the top, boy! You’re among the elite that has always the first screen real estate in any list. Why? Because digital still arranges everything alphabetically by default for the most.

I think even the music groups I don’t blindly succumb to that don’t start with an ‘A’ (or even an ‘F’ for that matter) have less chance to be listened repeatedly by me when I start looking for something new in my alphabetically-organised iPod artists list, just because those are the first I see every single time I browse my iPod. If you’re not an ‘A’ band, then you might have an ‘A’ album, and you bet I’ve seen you a thousand times.

Digital is not that young anymore. It’s a 30-something already. Perhaps it is time for digital to start looking for other ways to organise information. I like Spotlight search (and all search) since it cares for ‘M’ as much as for ‘B’. I like organising pictures by date, so I don’t always get ‘Aunt Sally’ the first. I like putting brackets, dots, underscores and asterisks at the beginning of my perferred playlist name in iTunes, so I can feel I own my music realm and its ordering.

Perhaps digital ordering is where digital democracy should start.