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.

1 comment:

  1. I guessed the poster was you by the first paragraph. You're giving my most effective description for "good" UI, i.e. design the software like you'd design your human executive assistant - with skills AND politesse.


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