Sunday, February 22, 2009

New year, new goals - OU M364 Block 1, Unit 1, Activity 1

So it's a new year, and I spent several months of last year mumbling to myself about finding a new direction at work. So I identified the direction I want to go as Interaction Design and signed up for an Open University course in Fundamentals of interaction design, and now I need to get my head down and get on with the studying.

So, without further ado, here's Block 1 (of 4), Unit 1 (of 4), Activity 1: 

Identify two contrasting interactive products on your person, in your home, or in your workplace. In your opinion, do either of these prodcuts have good ID? If you anser positively, try to identify what, for you, characterises good ID.

Do you have difficulty using either of these products? If so, think about what the problems are and try to identify what, for you, characterises bad ID.

Our coffee machine has excellent interaction design. Every message is succinct, self-explanatory and relevant to purpose - for example (from memory) "Dregs drawer full", "Out of beans", "Out of water" or even "Please descale". User input is pleasingly obvious - you push a button to ask for a coffee, and if you have to empty the dregs drawer, add beans, fill the water tank or descale the machine, the machine automatically senses that the task has been done and responds accordingly.

My (rather basic) Nokia mobile phone has, on the whole, good ID. It is generally compatible with all the previous Nokias that I have owned, and when I've used new features for the first time - for example, the alarm clock function - it has taken patience rather than genius to navigate the limited set of menus and set the alarm to go off every weekday morning. On the other hand, the choice of the green "call" button to switch off the alarm is counter-intuitive (both of us pushed the red "hang-up" button at first) and the unnecessary object / subject ambiguity of "Send business card" as an option on a contact (am I being invited to send this contact as a card to someone, or to send this contact someone else's card?) make me feel this could have done with some more usability testing.

I would characterise good ID as being that part of a product's design which minimises the gap (that space filled with effort, friction and frustration) between what I want to do and what the product can do, or can be made to do. Bad ID makes me make mistakes - sending the alarm into snooze rather than switching it off, send my friend's phone number to a builder rather than vice-versa; or it makes me look elsewhere for functionality that should be part of the product's value, as when I briefly considered buying an otherwise redundant alarm clock. 

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