Sunday, November 13, 2011

Encoding Emotion

This post is in response to Brave and Nass's question "How does emotion play out in computer-mediated communication (CMC)?" in Chapter 4 of The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook...

Emotion certainly plays a significant role in how we communicate with one another by providing a "social context" that seems to define the ways we communicate with one another. A smile on your face indicates to me you are feeling positive and are therefore likely more approachable and receptive to conversation than an individual with a grimace. It seems strange that computers have remained rather removed from needing to understand and convey their user's emotional experience. In many ways, computers have mostly been viewed as a cognitive tool but since computers are now being more and more used as mediums for creativity, connectivity, and interaction among people, we need to consider ways emotion can be encoded into the experience.

Emoticons became necessary because the types of interaction made possible via the Internet could not alone provide the context necessary for the communication. There are still, however, many emotions that cannot or effectively be conveyed through emoticons alone (e.g. sarcasm). Avatars in 3D games have employed emoticon type gestures that allow their character to exhibit behaviors that demonstrate one's mood (e.g. World of Warcraft characters can cheer or dance to celebrate a significant event) but these too often fall short. Emoticons of this type are low-bandwidth emotion conveyers. What's missing is the continuous and high-bandwidth emotional expression one can perceive from direct interaction with one another. Video communication (e.g. Skype) is highly effective, but video communication cannot as easily be shared, transmitted, or processed as text.

An important realization I've had is that emotions are experienced; they are not static. Emoticons are attempting to use another mode or dimension of textual interaction to efficiently "package" emotion into the textual experience--that is difficult to do and which is why they still fall short. Perhaps another mode that could be adopted for conveying emotion textually could be to standardize colors to sentences that indicate tonality, pitch, or cadence (i.e. much like music notes written on a sheet of music). While not ideal aesthetically, this capture would allow emotion to be captured in the communication.

I will soon start a new job at a small company. One important requirement levied by the hiring company was for attaining highly effective communication skills across many mediums and modes given the fact the team is spread around the world. Ideally I should be sure to spend time with these individuals in person to help define a "social context" that will help me "understand them". This provides me the means to know how to communicate with them effectively. We will also set up a "portal" that is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week television screen with a webcam linked directly to other portals around the world. The idea is that the portal will provide for higher-bandwidth communication than email can currently provide. The portal will allow the us as users to feel connected to the other working spaces rather than disconnected and reunited for minutes at a time with video chat like Skype.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

InVision: Creating Fully Interactive Wireframes & Prototypes Easily and Beautifully

InVision looks to be extremely cool for the talented dual visual/UX designers who want to get slick looking prototypes out quick.

I recently used Axure RP for prototyping a lo fi interactive prototype for a craigslist redesign but ultimately I was really disappointed in the level of interactivity and the overall look of how the final prototype appeared. Later I used Flex to develop a higher fidelity protoype for a new interactive online shopping application but also found that styling the Flex app proved to be lacking in true artist customization.

Now, the only functionality I can tell that you can add is linking to other mock up which isn't exactly as capable as something like Axure pre-coding (which may be its weak point), but I think my favorite feature is simply being able to directly port a rather slick looking Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. mockup and make it function quickly as a lo-fi prototype. Often times it seems a client will be more interested in how it looks then how it operates (however unfortunate that may be...). InVision will allow the taltend visual/UX designer to create the look and functionality simultaneously into prototypes. Cool idea though in reality you could probably just create slices and quickly code some HTML to do the same. For the price tag, not sure I'd get it, but nevertheless a cool idea.



Friday, September 16, 2011 9 Essential Resources for UI Designers

Mashable put out an article today that I think provide a few good resource for UI inspiration, best practices, and guidance:

Thought I would share. Always nice to see what others are up to.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Manners and HCI Design

It's fairly frequent to hear discussions about our (humans) manners and dealing with new devices. As we adopt new technologies it takes a while to figure out how to incorporate the changes in lifestyle in a way that promotes civility between one another. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the manners that the devices and applications we create have.

In my day job I frequently deal with creating alerts for users. In my users' field of work it is important that they are alerted sometimes--even if we have to be a bit obnoxious about it--lives are at stake. But as I microwave a burrito for breakfast and then go attend to a few things while it cools down, it's not really important that I be alerted every 60 seconds that the burrito is done. In fact I rarely forget that I put food in the microwave but I frequently want to let it sit there for a few minutes to cool down. But the designers of my cool looking microwave didn't realize that. As I try to reverse engineer the personas they were expecting to buy said shiny appliance, I can see two possible audiences my microwave is designed for:
1) A user who is old and senile and typically forgets within 3 minutes that they have put food in the microwave and needs to be reminded.
2) A mega-stoner who has the munchies but forgot that they were already cooking those Hot Pockets.

Unfortunately for GE I am neither one of these people and I now have an active dislike for GE and their no-user-scenario-using, beep-making product designers. It's not like an oven where the house could catch fire if you go on vacation with it on. No, microwaves turn off when the little timer goes off. Worst case scenario is cold soup.

Another example that I see more and more online is the pop-up survey within seconds of a page loading. "Would you like to take this survey?" it asks. No, users are not invested in content at this point nor has the site made a good impression on the user. As a researcher and occasional surveyor I get the usefulness of surveys. They are easy, inexpensive and don't take much time. But we have to look at their other qualities--annoying, interrupting and boring--especially when we are asking people to volunteer to give their time and attention to the site's cause without compensation. It's not that surveys are wrong but we must employ them in a manner that models our polite standards of interactions. When we talk about user centered design vs task centered or goal centered, I think the use of manners is a possible discriminator for user centered design. If we are always designing for a person then we are less likely to neglect those sociological and communicative details that affect the experience for the end user. And this user sure would appreciate that.

This stuff really matters...

....but it only matters insofar as most software is devoid of decent error messaging. It doesn't have to go to quite such a cutre extreme as this example from Apple, but consider that often the most direct communication you make to your users comes in the form of error messages.

At work, people have learned to not glibly state in front of me: "Just post a big red error message when that happens. Maybe throw in an exclamation mark, a big red X, or heck, why not a skull and cross-bones?" But that is the common approach:  use this moment of one-to-one messaging to bolster a class/power division between you and your users:  in effect, slap them down and show them who's boss.