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Beautiful Hardware, Pretty Useless Software A User Experience Review of Misfit’s Shine

Disclaimer: This is my personal review of a device. I represent only my own views. I am not endorsed by or connected to Misfit in any way. While I do have some expertise in the world of Experience Design, this is just one person’s opinion so please read it as such.

Misfit Wearables’ Shine is another in a long-ish list of wearable technology that allow for tracking of personal activity. The Shine promised to be more thoughtful about the hardware design, to track more activities better than any other technology on the market, and to “help you lead an active life”. And there was promise there, great promise in something people would actually want to wear all the time. Promise in something that was fashionable, but was incredibly useful, but Misfit broke those promises. First it was launch dates. Then it was the second launch date. Then dropping support for Android. Then using bluetooth instead of some new technology to which they alluded. Then accessories starting missing launch dates (and haven’t made it to market yet). And then we got the thing in our hands and we were the most disappointed yet.

It’s the software. It’s just plain useless.

The Hardware

But let’s start off on a good note. The hardware, it’s beautiful. Really. Everyone that has seen it talks about how damn pretty it is, and they are right. On it’s own the Shine is small and sleek. It’s made of a high grade metal and feels good in the hand. It’s smooth and has wonderfully strong magnets, too strong actually, but we’ll get to that. The Shine feels and looks expensive. Like your first iPhone, it quickly becomes precious and you check on it constantly, partly to make sure that you didn’t loose it and partly just to feel it. Sure, that new gadget smell goes away and the device starts to blend into your everyday life, but even after several weeks, and scratches, it still looks and feels awesome.

Shine's iPhone Application as of August 2013

Shine’s iPhone Application as of August 2013

At first glance the software looks great. It’s simple and easy to visually parse. There is a great use of circles and lightness to the app that feels like part of the Shine “family”. Animations and small interactions within the app are great, playful even. Syncing works well, and seems very stable after an App update. There is a nice graph and the entire App is useable and friendly. But, that’s it. That is where everything stops and starts to fall apart, not entirely, but enough to notice, enough to change the entire experience of the Shine.

The Experience

Let’s be honest, I was an early supporter of the Shine jumping on theIndiegogo campaign as soon as I heard about. There was just so much promise in being able to track multiple activities, being able to wear the device in a myriad of ways, and being fashion forward. All of these things are places where every other wearable tracker has failed. Every other tracker is flawed in some large way, but the Shine promised to change all of that. I was excited. I was hooked.

Misfit's Shine with magnetic clasp

Misfit’s Shine with magnetic clasp

Unfortunately real life and real usage turned out a bit different. First, it really is beautiful and the strong magnets allow it to clip well to my clothing in various places (jean pockets, vests, waistband of the gym shorts, etc). However, several times the Shine’s magnets have been too strong, flying off my person and attaching itself to some metal gate, a door handle, a chair, and other objects. The Shine also has a set of LED lights that are placed around the outer edge, which create a ring of lights. These lights are the primary feedback mechanism for the Shine, and they work very well. The Shine has a really great animation for completing goals, and the progress meter makes plenty of sense as well. These LEDs also allow the Shine to display the current time in a fairly understandable fashion, something most other wearable trackers have missed (but maybe don’t need, I’m not sure yet). However, in trying to switch my activity I find it hard to understand the current mode of my Shine. Tapping the Shine at least three times displays another fun animation of the lights, which informs me that it’s doing something, but there is no real indication of what mode you just switched into. Did I set this to track my sleep? My running? Or did I get it mixed up and when I wanted to track my sleep I instead took it out of sleep mode and into it’s basic tracking mode? It’s really confusing. Further, while the Shine promised to be able to track multiple activities, it can only be switched between two modes. So, if I want to track a run and my sleep I have to sync the Shine with my phone and manually change the activity to track. Another promise unfulfilled. Another disappointment.

The real crux of the entire experience however hinges upon the ability to help me change my habits over time and become a bit healthier. And that my friend is where everything fails. While the Shine seems to track everything well, the app fails at giving me any insight into my life. Sure it tells me when I was active, fairly active, and really active, but it doesn’t help me to change anything. Yes it gives me points and I have a point goal, but that isn’t enough. Should I try to be more “fairly” active, or do I really need to kick it up and go for a run? Was my walk to work this morning something that helped me feel better, or did it make me tired and not walk the rest of the day? If the Shine can track my activity and my sleep, it should tell me some correlation between the two. Jawbone UP got this right through their “insights”, but most of those were not entirely useful. I understand this might be a hard problem to solve, but at least take a stab at it. And that’s my biggest problem with the Shine, it doesn’t take any meaningful action on my behalf to help me improve my life. It’s really just a dumb tracker, a really beautiful and dumb tracker.

It’s not all over yet for Misfit though. Given some time and hard work I think they could take the Shine to somewhere awesome. The have the hardware mostly right (though multicolored LEDs and a vibration motor would be welcome), now they just need to spend some quality time with the rest of the experience. I know this is hard, and building a physical object at scale isn’t easy, and I’m sure Misfit has some incredibly smart people working with them, but we all have to face the fact that the first version of the Shine is a bit of a failure. I’m sorry, and I certainly hoped for more, but it’s true.

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

Monster #10

Here are some in progress sketches, and the final, of Monster #10. This guy has been in my head for quite a while, and it’s taken me a long time to get him to look “right”. I’m pretty happy with the results, and with the overall results of just sketching more. As a designer, I find it’s good to sketch frequently. I created this guy, as with all my monster sketches, with the Paper app for iPad, using a Maglus stylus.

monster number 10, early

monster number 10 with shading

monster number 10 with some detail

final sketch of monster number 10

Questions About Photography

Recently I was contacted by a photography student asking about my Body Emotions series. The student was interested in the background of the series and what got me into photography in general. She asked:

“I would like to know what got you into photography and why you chose to do a shoot about body emotions?

What influenced you into doing such an interesting project and what kind of meanings or emotions were you trying to portray?”

Here is my response, in case you (dear reader) were also wondering.

Why I Got Into Photography

Man holding a video game controller angrily holding his first in the air

from a series for IU Creative Services

I got into photography really because I love light. I like looking around me and noticing things. I like details about the world. I like the small worlds that inhabit our much larger world. And I love people and emotions.

For me, photography became a way to express what I saw in the world. It was an outlet, and sometimes the only way I felt I could speak. Most of the time I didn’t fully understand what I wanted to say until I started shooting, then it just all came out. At times, I didn’t even think I had anything to say at all, but once I got behind the lens, I couldn’t help but speak.

The camera also enabled me to dis-engage with the world physically while highly engaging with it both emotionally and mentally. The physical was always there, moving around a subject or manipulating light, but the mental exercise of seeing something before I created the photograph was powerful. It enabled me to be reflective about what I saw, and what I thought.

a black and white image depicting a gritty lock and chain

details in fine art photography

I also love how looking through a view-finder always changes my perspective. It forces me to think. It forces me to understand, and to notice. But that process never stopped within the camera. It evolved constantly as I edited photos in the darkroom, or manipulated images digitally. I always tried to force myself to understand what I was trying to say, and if that message was coming across. I also love imaging what people will think about a photograph as well. How can I get my message across to the viewer? What will speak loudly to them? (which ties in well to my career in experience design.)

About Body Emotions

I specifically began shooting body emotions after a weird night of playing around with my camera. I often shoot self portraits, and one night I decided to put a box on my head. I was working at my computer and seeing all these boxes everywhere. A box for my computer, a box for the screen, a box around the keyboard, 20 different boxes on the screen. It seems like we are always working with boxes and within boxes. So boom, it hit me. Why not put a box on my head? What would I look like if my head were a box?

Body Emotion - Fear

FEAR – from Body Emotion

It was after that first night that I began seeing and thinking more specifically how I might be able to convey emotions without facial expressions. So much of our lives is focused on faces. What can we say without faces? I’ve also always been a big believer in the power of body language.

So, I merged the two ideas and out came Body Emotions. I wanted to create a series of photographs depicting several base emotions of human life. All without the use of a face. It was a difficult project for me, and I shoot and re-shoot many many times. I shoot in both film and digital, often in the same night. I had to imagine lighting, body positions, clothing, and set. And, I had to do it all within the confines of my bedroom. It was a constraint that I gave myself. It also let me be more free with my body and more expressive without feeling awkward in some public situation, though I’ve often thought about extending the work to public places.

So I kept shooting and shooting until I had this nice large body of work and many different emotions. I then edited everything down to a base set. I worked both in the lab with prints and in Lightroom and Photoshop with digital images. Overall, it was a blast, and probably one of my most successful series.

Check out some more of my photography, and if you have questions yourself, let me know! I would love to hear from others about their own experiences.