Kingston BA Graphic Design 3rd year lecture notes: Interaction and Experience Strand

Friday 3 March: In effect, this was the third part of my introduction (and indoctrination) to the broad areas of ‘interaction and experience’. Part of my short project strand, the idea is to champion an area of design that the students might not have had chance to focus on yet.

In a slightly meta sense, I’m finding that the sessions provide a nice time to reflect on the interaction and experience of lecturing itself (from planning, to presenting, to engaging with the students and creating actions and references for after).

In this last session for example, it dawned on me that I’m missing a trick by not writing up my own notes after each lecture, and not just in uploading a presentation PDF or slideshow, though in part one of my introduction I already did away with the click through format: When did that become the only way to ‘present’ on screen references, considering the near 100% immediate failure rate of smoothly setting up the projector, computer and clicker, resulting in that awkward flash of your messy desktop and quick reveal of your presentation thumbnails?

I digress. Here are my notes and references.

I always keep an eye out for nice little bits of experience design. The sort of thing that goes easily unnoticed. Similar too, but not quite like littlebigdetails.com which tend to be single digital tweaks. I prefer the more real world or extended user journey details, like this ripeness rating avocado sticker which uses the common and practically ignored fruit sticker to solve one of the avocado users biggest user experience gripes: Knowing if it’s ready to eat!

A similar familiar format, being employed to solve a classic user issues is this hotel packing checklist card that encourages you to steal the toiletries. Genuinely helpful when packing (I always leave something on this list and would be dammed if I’d ever use an app or digital reminder to solve the problem), but that little jokey acknowledgement, that you’re likely to steal the toiletries, is so endearing that I wish I knew who the hotel was so I could stay there.

A different format but a similar behaviour nudge, this 20mph speed limit detector smilie sign is nice, and effective it seems. I spot it on my walk to Kingston and it nearly always catches and slows someone zooming up the road at 40+ mph.

Another nice old ‘interface’ that I remembered while preparing my talk was the in-table beer tap and service light, at the long gone Soho Yo! Below Bar (seen bottom right in the picture). I loved this idea at the time, and remember thinking how it was surely the future of bar and restaurant design. The tap allowed you to push one button to fill your beer glass with another £1 beer, and another button to turn on the ‘service please’ light which brought someone to your table for another drink, food order or bill request. The single interface prevented annoying interruptions from staff when you didn’t want anything, and the need to spend ages getting their attention when you wanted it, or waving your imaginary pen in the air when you wanted your bill.

With this focus on how interfaces offer such different types of experience, I pointed out the variation of video player controls. Between Vimeo, YouTube, and Netflix. Specifically the way that Vimeo embeds allow you to remove the video player timeline, which creates a hideous viewing experience where you don’t know how long the video is and cannot view it like you do all other online videos, and serves only as an option for a creators that want to cut their nose off to spite their face. By contrast, with With YouTube the recommendation was to discover the relatively new hidden iPhone app functionality which allows you to skip back / forward 10 seconds. Double tap on either the left or right of a video while it plays. Netflix has this function on iPhone as well, but only to skip back 10 seconds. Both companies recognising that people don’t actually pay total attention when watching video online, and so you give them more control, not take it away.

Further to giving more control and improving the experiences of established interfaces, I shared the classic Rethink the airline boarding pass project by Pete Smart. Partly as an example of something that’s a nice idea, and one that lots of people loved when it was presented a few years back. But also because of my own slight bugbear with the idea not being very realistic at this point in time, meaning that surely it’s better to move to a smartphone and paperless solution in the future, than spending many millions no doubt, in changing the printer and network systems of every airport in the world, just so they can print a different piece of paper. One student added a further ‘slight gripe’ angle to this concept in the personal realisation that she likes the existing boarding pass design because it’s so big and unhelpful looking that you take it seriously and tend not to lose it. Yes, it’s awkward, but better that than losable.

After all this focus on ‘nice’ ideas to help people do positive things, I switched focus to the effective other side of interaction and experience design, in the form of Unpleasant Design & Hostile Urban Architecture, where benches are designed with more thought and effort toward preventative measures than welcoming or comforting ones. The Camden Bench here is perhaps the best example of this, with the Pay & Sit Private Bench, a little further down the page, proving how actually obtuse this sort of experience design is.

Finally, I ran through a few more references for further reading and consideration (from a users and user needs first perspective). The ever helpful GDS Design Principles which should be remembered alongside any design project, the use of user stories in behaviour driven development and the ever awesome UserTesting functionality (being part of the other critical part of experience design, in that you have to test and review your ideas, not just deliver then and think you’re done and dusted).

Following these examples, I suggested a super basic 4 step ’user first’ approach:

  1. Find friction
  2. Confirm it (ask or observe others)
  3. Design it away
  4. Test and confirm (ask or observe)

And, how you could reverse engineer a whole host of now established interfaces and experiences, and consider how they challenged and changed frictions in interfaces and experiences that came before then (Google, Google maps, TomTom, Mobile phone and text, Smart phone, One click buying, eBay ratings, Twitter, Vending machines, Oyster card, Contactless, single Post Office queues).

By extension, I explained how I now use Citymapper and Foursquare when planning to meet someone in town, and that while both are easier than my old Mini London A-Z and issue of Timeout, I now have the friction between switching apps, deciding which Tube to meet at depending on which place is best to meet. I’d like Citymapper therefore to display cafe and bar recommendations around my destination.

Interestingly and humbly here, when I mentioned Foursquare, not a single student (aged around 20 years old) had heard of it!

Google Maps conversation followed, with almost everyone having a view on their own navigational issues and experiences. One that I shared was how digital maps – with their spinning and zoomable nature – feel as though they’re lessening my own spatial awareness and map memory of London. Here I introduced what I believe is the growing ethical dilemma for designers: If we are always reducing friction, designing it away, and helping people not to think or develop internal methods, then were are we going as a society and what is our responsibilities as a designer within it? This always takes me back to Idiocracy which I now wish I’d shared at the time!

Moving away from the heavy nature of my perceived ethical issues, I set two very light briefs:

  1. Reconsider the interaction and experience of Your end of year show / Your portfolio / Your contact with agencies / Your application entry for jobs.

  2. Nudge yourself: What could help you change one of your bad, friction filled behaviours?

Looking forward to seeing ideas and reactions next week.