Chapter 1 Homework: What is interaction design?

This assignment was taken from the first chapter of the book Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interactions, written by Helen Sharp, Jenny Preece, and Helen Sharp.

Assignment Overview: Find an everyday handheld device and examine how it has been designed, paying particular attention to how the user is meant to interact with it. Device selected: iPhone (not very original, I know. I’m sure thousands of students from around the world are making this same pick right now).

(a) from your first impression, write down what first comes to mind as to what is good and bad about the way the device works:

The good list:

  • easy to learn and use most functionality
  • fast access to most important device features
  • leverages natural gestures for smooth and fluid interactions
  • touch screen interactions are responsive and accurate
  • easy to organize and add content and applications
  • seamless synch with computer via iLife suite
  • flawless great integration of music player and phone
  • aesthetically pleasing software transitions (and in general)
  • form factor fits well and feels good in-hand
  • device is reliable

The bad list:

  • inability to run multiple applications at once
  • missing cut & paste functionality
  • lack of ability to switch battery
  • missing tactile feedback from physical device
  • limited support of file types
  • purchase and activation process
  • limited availability and bad customer service (only on AT&T)

(b) Give a description of the user experience resulting from interacting with it:

The best word to sum up the experience of using the iPhone is delightful. Before you even turn on the device you can notice that it is beautiful in both look and feel. From a tactile perspective, the plastic casing of the phone provides a pleasant feel that is soft and warm. Its curved casing helps the device fit ergonomically in one’s palm. All this and I haven’t even turned on the device yet. To describe the user experience associated to interacting with the device here is one user scenario and one description:

Scenario 1: Let’s meet up spontaneously
On a chilly Saturday afternoon as Julio wraps up his visit to BAM he calls two good friends who live nearby. He is unable to reach them but leaves them both messages. He then proceeds to turns on the ringer of his iPhone, using the physical switch on the top left corner of the device, to make sure that he doesn’t miss the return calls.

Next, Julio puts on his headphones, takes out his iPod, double clicks on the home button, and then touches the play button that appears on the screen – the iPhone starts playing music where he had left off earlier. After 10 minutes waiting Julio decides to head back to Manhattan. He strolls down to the subway stop shaking his head and enjoying the Presets latest release at his usual ear-busting volume. As he takes his first step down the stairs the music is suddenly interrupted by an incoming call. He checks the caller ID and picks up the phone, once he confirms who is calling.

After a quick exchange of friendly insults and taunts, Abe invites Julio to join him at a nearby bar to get sloshed. Since Julio doesn’t have the slightest clue about how to get to this bar, he takes out his iPhone and opens up the Google Map application. There he inputs the destination and requests directions from his current location. He is also able to determine that the subway is the best way to head over, so after blocking a bunch of impatient fellow New Yorkers for 5 minutes Julio continues heading the down the steps to the subway.

User description: experience using the device
The first thing you notice when you power up the device is the size, vividness and crispness of the screen – images look great. Then you start interacting with the device via the smooth and responsive touch screen display.

The experience of using the touch screen is impressive. Apple has done an amazing job at designing interactions that feel natural. From sliding your finger across the screen to unlock the device, to pinching content to reduce it, or best of all flicking your finger to quickly browse through your phone list or long page of content. Across all of these interactions the device is extremely responsive in a way that makes it feel very natural.

The functionality on the device is also well prioritized. Phone and music player functions are definitely the two most prominent features of the device, unique shortcuts provide quick access to these apps. This helps make the device a pleasure to use. Though I don’t like to admit it, a pleasurable part of the experience of using an iPhone is the coolness factor. It is a device that exudes coolness and from a social perspective one feel’s cool using this product.

(c) Compile a set of usability and user experience goals that you think are relevant in evaluating the device. Decide which are the most important and explain why:

Usability goals:

  • Efficient to use: device supports use of frequent tasks efficiently. Provides fast access to most important applications and functionality. Delivers high level of responsiveness and reliability.
  • Good utility: device to product provide an appropriate set of functionality? Supports most common voice and text message protocol, and multimedia content formats. Enables media player functionality where phones not allowed and functionality enhancements/upgrades via software.
  • Easy to learn: device is easy for first-time users to learn. Provides an intuitive interface.
  • Safe to use: device protects users against common errors? Protects users against calling people in error, entering mis-spelled text into messages, and loosing data when they quit applications.

The most important usability goals for this product are efficiency and utility, here’s my rationale: now-a-days users are very picky about cell phone and portable media players since most have already owned several portable devices. Multi-function mobile phones need to deliver the appropriate set of functionality to succeed (this is the most basic price of entry into the market). Considering the frequency and variety of uses to which people put their mobile devices, it is crucial that these devices supports frequent use in an efficient manner. No one wants a multi-function portable phone that does not allow you to quickly and easily switch between making calls, listening to music, or checking your email.

Experience goals:

  • natural feeling gestures
  • cool, fun & enjoyable
  • enhancement of sociability
  • pleasurable & delightful
  • aesthetically pleasing

The most important experience goals are natural-feeling gestures, enhancement of sociability and pleasurable interaction, here’s my rationale: Hard to use interfaces have kept people from adopting advanced functionality long offered their devices. That is why multi-function mobile phones need to offer interfaces that are based on gestures that feel natural. Enhancement of sociability is an important goal for this device considering that main function of mobile phones is to help connect people via voice and text messaging capabilities, and that people tend to use these devices in social or public environments. Lastly, since this device is used so often – you spend more time with your phone than with your significant other – it is crucial for users to feel pleasure when interacting with the device.

(d) Translate your set of usability and user experience goals into two or three specific questions. Then use them to assess how your device fares.

Usability goals-related questions:

  • Is the product able to provide users with fast access to the most important and commonly used functionality?
  • Does the product support the most common communication and entertainment uses (e.g. does it support voice and text message protocols, common media file types, and usage contexts?)
  • Can users learn how to use the product without needing to refer to the manual or other types of support?
  • Does the product help users avoid, and easily recover from, common errors associated to use of mobile communication and entertainment devices?

The iPhone stacks up well against all of these criteria. First, it provides fast access to all of the most commonly used functionality. This is done via the design of the software application launcher (a.k.a. “home”), and shortcuts using the few hard buttons available on the device. Next, the device does a great job at supporting a wide variety of file formats and messaging protocols. However, this is a area where the device could be improved by adding support for MMS messages and additional music and video file types. From an ease-of-learning perspective the iPhone is unrivaled. You can pick it up and learn how to use the basic features with little help (assuming you have familiarity working with computers, which holds true for most people in developed nations). The iPhone does have some nice features that help users avoid common errors.

Experience goals-related questions

  • What is the user’s response to the aesthetics of the device? How does the user feel about the gestures required to operate the device (fluid, natural, awkward, silly)?
  • What is the user’s response to his/her interaction with the device (delight, excitement, annoyance, frustration)? How does the initial reaction differ from subsequent ones?
  • How does the user’s relationship with, and response to the device evolve over repeated interactions? What types of emotional bonds does the user create with the device (trust, affection, pride, love, hate, admiration)?
  • How does the user feel about using his device in different contexts such as social, personal, professional, and public environments?

From an experience perspective, the iPhone delivers the goods once again. The device has the nicest aesthetic of any device in its category (and I mean the entire cell phone category). The gestures required to operate the phone feel natural and are extremely easy to learn as you go (you stumble into learning). From the first time I played with an iPhone I felt a bit of delight – it often brings a smile to my face. That is not to say that I don’t ever experience frustration but, overall, no portable digital device has ever provided me with more delight. I definitely have an emotional bond with my iPod – my wife may even call it an iPhone fetish. I can understand why, considering I am always playing games, surfing the web, using a messaging application or messing around with one of my many applications. The device is cool but not snobby. So you can use pretty much anywhere. I know I sound like a bloody Apple ad.

(e) Compile a set of design principles that you think are relevant in evaluating the device. Decide which are the most important and explain why. Translate your set of usability and user experience goals into two or three specific questions. Then use them to assess how your device fares.

Design Principles:
Though the following five design principles played an important role in the design of this device – visibility, feedback, constraints, consistency, and affordance – affordances and visibility are the most important principles for this design. The importance of visibility is obvious considering that this device packs an unbelievable amount of features in a pocket-sized package. In light of the device’s size, it is extremely challenging to find a solution for making affordances associated with different “modes” accessible to, and understandable by, the user.

Design principle-related questions

  • are the most important possible actions clearly visible? Is the prioritization appropriate?
  • does the device make affordances visible, easy to recognize, and use?
  • does the device provide sufficient feedback to the user throughout the interaction?

The iPhone scores well against the design-principle assessment. The design of the iPhone interface makes the most important possible action clearly visible and accessible. Users are even able to customize menus to ensure buttons and information is organized according to personal preferences and priorities. To make affordances visible to users, applications leverage large buttons on the touchscreen display and provide directions on the screen regarding other potential actions. Feedback is provided through intelligent visual and audio cues that help the user easily interact with the device to carry out a diverse range of activities such as inputting text, playing games, creating music, dialing a phone number or using navigation capabilities.

[questions taken from textbook Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction, link to website here]

One Response to “Chapter 1 Homework: What is interaction design?”

  1. Francis says:

    I’ve done this exercise too (for a Pulse smart pen), at http://inpraiseofdreams.blogspot.com/2009/03/m364-block-1-unit-2-activity-2.html – would you like to swap critiques?

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