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Maybe to NoUI

Overview

Timo Arnall’s “No to NoUI” (http://www.elasticspace.com/2013/03/no-to-no-ui) has caused quite a stir within the design community. While I enjoyed reading this article, I do take issue with some of the authors arguments. Specifically Timo Arnall doesn’t try to suss out a definition of Invisible Design, and he issues blanket statements about the inherent “dishonesty” of so-called Invisible Design. While I don’t disagree with what I believe to be the overarching message within Arnall’s essay, that design should be “legible, readable, understandable, and foreground culture over technology”, I do take point with particular arguments he presents to get towards that goal.

Invisible doesn’t mean non-existent

First, it seems that when a lot of people talk about “invisible” interfaces, they are talking about interfaces that are not exactly invisible, but are more wholly integrated with our “natural” environment. Siri for instance is often talked about being “invisible”, but the technology is far from it. Users must push a button to activate Siri, and then the technology speaks back to the user. While spoken interface is “invisible” in that it doesn’t utilize the visible spectrum, it’s hardly an “invisible” interface when the technology is speaking back directly to the person who queried it. Further, technologies like Siri often employ a highly visible UI to encourage choice and help users inform the technology about their intentions.

Invisible vs Background-ed

From: http://www.theverge.com/2013/3/10/4086392/samsung-golden-krishna-the-best-interface-is-no-interface
“You don’t have to use the interface anymore — it becomes part of the background,” – Golden Krishna

The author (Arnall) talks about interfaces becoming invisible and argues that “Without highly legible systems for managing and understanding all of this ‘smartness’ we are going to get very lost and highly frustrated”. He uses the example of the Nest thermostat that learns users preferred temperature patterns over time. The author states that it’s very important that Nest has a UI so that users can understand what it’s doing and understand the complexity behind the system. However, I would argue that people don’t want to fully understand the complexity of Nest. People want things that just work for them, and once Nest learns their habits and conforms to them, people forget about the complexity and UI all together, essentially making the Nest invisible. The same is true for common thermostats in that they are just part of the background and invisible until they are needed. This is the kind of invisibility that designers are clamoring for today, and something people (read: users) desire as well; technology that works and ways to understand when it doesn’t.

Invisible design ignores interface culture

Arnall says “Interfaces are the dominant cultural form of our time. So much of contemporary culture takes place through interfaces and inside UI. Interfaces are part of cultural expression and participation, skeuomorphism is evidence that interfaces are more than chrome around content, and more than tools to solve problems.” This is completely on point and a very good argument. The author talks about how interface is a form of culture making, much like typography or photography in earlier years (and still today). As our world moves towards more and more digital technology, interfaces become an important understanding of who we are as a people. However, the author fails to discuss how “invisible” (see how I keep putting that in quotes?) design can influence culture as well. Looking back at Siri, culture steams from “her” stylized and highly personable voice. Further, Siri can has been labeled by some as “snarky” or “apologetic”. Her voice carries culture from past “assistants” in television and movies and brings with it a culture in and of itself. Just because an interface isn’t physically visible, doesn’t make the interface invisible and certainly doesn’t mean the interface lacks or doesn’t create culture.

Evident interaction

The author states that a designer’s goal should be to “place as much control as possible in the hands of the end-user by making interfaces evident”. I disagree. I don’t believe that many people in the world want complete control of all interfaces. I believe that people want control when it’s appropriate, and they only want appropriate control. I don’t need the interface of an automatic sink to be controllable, I just want it to work through the magic of sensing; except when it fails. This is nuanced and full of details for each and every interaction that takes place for an interface, and should be carefully considered by all who design.

Further, the author states that “We must abandon invisibility as a goal for interfaces; it’s misleading, unhelpful and ultimately dishonest”. This is a large blanket statement that fails to take into account situations in which invisibility might be exactly what’s needed for a situation. The real goal of designers should be to carefully consider when invisibility is useful and not blindly follow the newest shouting from the design masses.

Towards a better definition of Invisible Design

Designers don’t fully intend for everything to disappear and be fully automatic and autonomous. Instead they intend for designs to be background-ed to content, experience, and intentions. People don’t need to understand every decision a system might make for them at all times, but they do need a way to get to that information easily and without frustration. Designer’s intentions are not to foreground design itself, but to enhance the lives of people through thoughtful crafting of things. Good design should therefore be invisible when it’s not needed, and become more and more visible when called upon. Therein we have a fuller understanding and definition of invisible design as design that lives in the background of human experiences and comes to the foreground with thoughtful craft and understanding of people’s needs, desires, and intentions.

Design should always remain subservient to people’s needs and desires, Invisible Design helps to direct and maintain the proper hierarchy of the relationship between people and things while making our lives better and freeing our precious minds from a thousand more decisions we don’t need to make.

Open Discussion

As designers, it’s important that we continue to talk about over-arching concepts and design theory, my opinion isn’t the only one, might not be coherent, and could certainly be wrong. Let’s discuss like adults.

Feature image by Zizaza: http://darkstalkerr.deviantart.com/art/Free-PSD-UI-Kit-420378687

Nike+ Experience

I’ve been a runner and Nike+ user for a littler over a year. I’ve always been a fan of the simple interface, and great accuracy. I also always seem to listen to music while I run, which made carrying my iPhone a no-brainer for me. All I had to do was slap my phone on my arm, plug in my headphones, start the app, and go. Nike took things from there. Great!

I recently had the opportunity to try out the Nike+ Sportswatch. I’m very intrigued by wearable technology, and wondered how the experience might be different from carrying my iPhone around. I can probably sum it up in one word. Freedom.

The Nike+ Sportswatch allowed me to focus on my run. I didn’t have my phone bolted onto my arm. I didn’t worry about music. I just ran. And when I wanted some metrics about my run, like my current pace or distance, it was a simple glance down at my wrist. Easy. Awesome. Free. It felt really light. Like running for the first time. There was no real burden of gear, nothing to weigh me down, nothing for me to worry about. It was really a great experience.

image from Nike+

All except for setting it up, waiting for the damn thing to get a GPS signal, not being sure if it was accurately tracking my distance (it really did seem off), syncing back up to Nike+.com, and then seeing two different tweets with two different metrics posted about my run (one of which I authorized).

I’m not going to talk about the out-of-box experience, because I didn’t really try this right out of the box. But I did have to download software, plug in the watch to my computer (great industrial design for the usb connector though!), reset the watch to factory settings (I’m just borrowing it), connect it to my Nike+ account, and finally unplug it from my computer and go. I’m not going to talk about that experience.

And I’m not going to talk about how long it took for the watch to get a GPS signal. With me standing on the street looking like an idiot. With people gawking at my wondering what the hell I’m doing standing around for instead of running. I’m not going to talk about that hell, and I’m not going to talk about the distance being off, or having to plug the watch into my computer to sync it all back up.

The Details Matter!

What I would like to quickly say (although it’s not really quick now, sorry). Is that the entire experience changed for me (please, please listen up Nike), when I saw two different tweets sent out about my run.

The first, I didn’t authorize. Not in any way that I can remember anyway.

A little bit later I opened the Nike+ app on my phone to sync the data I just uploaded to the Nike+ site back down to my phone, where I mostly interact with Nike+ (and I’m not the only one Nike). This one I did authorize, because I sent the information off to Path as well.

First off, why did Nike send the first tweet? I never authorized that to be shared. I also never authorized Nike to send my GPS data. Not that I’m really worried about people seeing where I ran and other metrics, but I never authorized that private data to be sent.

Second, why did the first tweet mention the sportswatch and the second did not? I can see why Nike would default to adding that information as it’s great product placement and advertising for free, but why not include it in the second? I’m confused here.

Third, why do the two tweets seem to have different metrics and information? That’s really confusing. I doubled checked the links (you can as well), and the metrics seem to be the same. I really don’t know what is happening here. Let me know if you do. Also, why does the second tweet have “/mi” included while the first does not? What is the messaging here?

So, one small interaction, one tiny detail changed my entire Nike+ experience. Please take note, the details matter. They matter a lot!

Living with Wearable Tech

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of presenting (once again) at the amazing Midwest UX conference in Columbus, OH. I must say that the event was very well put together, and very well attended. I had an absolute blast speaking, meeting up with old friends, meeting great new people, and learning a ton.

I presented on Living with Wearable Tech as a 5 minute ignite style talk as the closing keynote on the first day. My presentation talked about some personal stories, gave insights and reflections, and honed in on the future of wearable technology.

Description

Wearable computing has come a long way. Devices of yester-year were clunky, hard to use, and fashion backward. As computers continue to miniaturize, the world will see more and more wearable devices. Manufacturers and product makers will continue to try and figure out how to put technology into wearable products and into our lives. As devices make leaps and bounds towards usefullness, utility, and connectedness we will see more and more technology integrated into our lives. How that technology fits into our lives, depends on designers advocating for the best possible experience. Wearable computing takes on a broad range of topics, but most important is the relationship between the person and the technology. Because wearable technology is with us, and on us, throughout most of the day, it’s important to remember how the technology fits into the lives of individual people and the context in which they interact with the technology. This quick presentation describes my relationship with wearable technology and puts forth insights gained from living with the technology through a user experience viewpoint.

Slides

Feedback

If you happened to catch my talk, please send me some feedback as comments, twitter replies or dm’s, or on SpeakerRate. Thanks!

Conference Coverage

http://lanyrd.com/2012/midwestux/coverage/

Design Critique: Jawbone UP

What is the Jawbone UP

Jawbone UP is a wearable technology powered by an mobile application which tracks your steps, distance, calories burned, inactive and active workouts, as well as tracking your sleep patterns. The system consists of a sleek wristband device, and an iPhone application. The wristband itself is small with one button and an audio port. The iPhone application shows total number of steps and sleep, team information, a feed of your friend’s activity, challenges, and basic profile information. Plugging the wristband device into the headphone port of your iPhone allows you to sync your logged activity and view it in a couple of ways. It could be argued that the overall goal of Jawbone UP is to help make people more aware of their daily activities, concerning physical activity as well as sleep, so that habits might be exposed and changed over time.

Why Did I Buy One?

I am very interested in wearable and fitness technology. Jawbone UP is the first device that is fashion forward enough to wear every single day, which constantly tracks my movement and sleep patterns. I purchased the device in order to track my daily habits and see where improvements could be made. Tracking my sleep patterns and visualizing the information was also very appealing as I have always been curious about how I sleep (as I’m a very “deep” sleeper).

Summary

Overall, the UP is quite delightful and good at it’s stated goals. Switching from wearing no forms of jewelry (rarely even a watch) to consistently wearing the device every single day was easy. The device is fashionable without bringing too much attention to itself, and it easily fits in to my overall style and aesthetics. The iPhone application however has many problems. Over the course of 10 days I’ve encountered a number of design and software flaws with the application.

Interaction Design

Jawbone UP Home Screen

The overall design of the iPhone application could be said to be simple and fairly easy to use. First time use or Out Of Box experience was pleasant and gave me a clear sense of what to do within the application. While I’m usually a fan of design which does not require tutorials, designs which sync hardware and software are still a bit new, so some basic tutorials could be useful to a myriad of users. I also find syncing the device to work quite well, thought the tappable buttons seem to be too small and I find myself missing them on the first try. Syncing can also be an issue if the device isn’t fully plugged in and pushed completely into the audio port. To be fair the Square Card Reader has some similar problems.

While most of the application is straightforward and easy to use, I’ve come across a number of problems with the design. While some of these issues are easily fixed usability issues, others are frustrating to use on a daily basis.

Jawbone UP Sleep Activity

  • No understanding that you need to rotate the phone back into portrait view
  • No way to dive deeper into details of the timeline
  • Feed isn’t intuitive and doesn’t mean much to anyone
  • Why would anyone add to their feed manually when this device is all about the automatic?
  • Why is my profile and feed only showing my sleeping activity? Why not all activity?
  • Poor quality scrolling
  • Tapping on Sleep doesn’t bring up the sleep timeline, but rather takes me to the last synced timeline.
  • A 24 hour day in the timeline does not fit with my understandings of a day, if you know when I sleep and wake, you know when my ‘day’ starts and ends.
  • Activity Indicator and vibration alert can not seem to tell when I’m standing and working but not moving beyond shifting weight a bit.

Industrial Design

Jawbone UP with lost cap

The UP device looks fantastic, and I’ve actually been complemented on the fashion of the device. It fits into my overall wardrobe and style seamlessly. Wearing the device is comfortable and I’ve gotten to a point where it feels natural. While the material of the device feels nice, it often get’s caught in cuffs of jackets and shirts. Further, the audio port cap comes off too easily resulting in a lost cap after just 8 days of use.

Missed Opportunities

While the Jawbone UP device is very new to the market, and the overall market of wearable computing is in it’s infancy, I think Jawbone missed several compelling opportunities with the UP device.

  • Telling me how to actually improve my sleep.
  • Vibrating the bracelet until I actually get up and move around (or at least more than once)
  • Automatic snooze of sleep timer.
  • No social graph to recommend people to be in my team.
  • Nap mode, especially given that it knows my sleeping patterns.
  • Not able to add notes about particular sleep or activity patterns to help me see the bigger overall picture of my health. This could work much like the meals option and notes.
  • Should the device be smart enough to go into Sleep mode by itself?

 

Overall Thoughts

In summary, I love my Jawbone UP. It provides great data on my overall activity, especially sleep patterns. The UP is comfortable and fashionable enough to wear everyday. The only time I take mine off is to shower, but with the device being water and sweat resistance, that isn’t even necessary. I find myself syncing the device 3-4 times per day to see how I’m doing. While the device has some issues, it’s missed two nights of sleep data, and the application has quite a few design problems, I think Jawbone has put forth a great piece of useful and fashionable wearable technology.

Announcing Give-A-Crit

Give-A-Crit allows photographers to upload images and get serious critique from professional photographers. Through video recordings and on-the-fly editing tools, photographers can engage in honest feedback and critique with each other.

Sign up to be notified when it launches in 2012.

Problem

Artists and creatives need critique to thrive and produce their best work. As digital photography has exploded in the last decade, hundreds of thousands of people have taken up photography. These new photographers turned to flickr and other sites for feedback and critique. However, text based comments don’t provide for a serious and honest critique. They lack context, technical information, and natural conversation.

Solution

Give-A-Crit seeks to address this problem through 4 major design principles; Show and Tell, Respond, Choose, and Quality.

Show and Tell
Video critiques coupled with on-the- fly edits enable professionals to give quality, honest critiques.

Respond
Photographers can watch any critique and can respond to critiques of their own photographs.

Choose
Photographers can request specific critics for each photograph they submit for critique.

Quality
Critics are of the highest quality to ensure professional, honest, and serious critique

 

Thesis Poster

Below you will find my thesis (or capstone) poster from my master’s program. You can find more information about the project via my blog.

Give-A-Crit poster