Thoughts / Learning (interaction) from Las Vegas / January 16, 2007

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.