I’ve been trying to regularly post some thoughts on the topic of playful IA here. Previously I blogged about how games could be a useful frame for thinking about complex algorithmic architectures. Last week I posted some thoughts on the application of game mechanics in web apps. There, Rahul was kind enough to point me to the fascinating blog of
‘Danc’ , titled Lost Garden, where there is one post in particular that resonates with my own pre-occupations lately.
In ‘Short thoughts on games and interaction design’ (which honestly isn’t that short)
Danc looks at some of the ways game design techniques can be applied to the interaction design of web apps. In summary, according to Danc game design techniques allow you to:
- Create an engaging experience that goes beyond simply completing a task efficiently.
- Support free and deep exploration and introduce and teach new interactions that violate conventions.
Some things you shouldn’t borrow from games without giving it a lot of thought are:
- Spatial metaphors
- Visual themes
These are some of the things most people think of first as characteristic of games but really, they are only surface, superficial, not determinant of the actual interactivity of the system.
I think one of the greatest arguments for a deeper understanding of games by interaction designers, information architects and other user experience specialists is that they are the medium that is all about the aesthetics of interactivity. It is true that they have no utilitarian character, they aim to create a pleasurable experience through systems of risks and rewards, restraints and freedoms, nested feedback loops and on and on. As a UX practitioner, it can never hurt to have a deep appreciation of the aesthetics of the medium you work in daily (beyond simply supporting user goals, or selling product, or whatever).
2 thoughts on “UX and the aesthetics of interactivity”
Good point on the spatial metaphors. Last year I was involved with a project at work (the conceptual phase) and asked to offer some inspiration in how the user interface could be worked out. The goal of the project was to develop a UI that could be used by people unfamiliar with UI conventions and other paradigms (such as windows, forms, search, etc). As part of the examples I showed, which included amongst others Flickr (as an example of the intuition involved in being able to directly edit a field of text by clicking it), I demonstrated World of Warcraft with the hope that someone would pick up on the elements of user discovery present in the game that have been engineered in such a way as to be extremely intuitive even to people who previously haven’t played games or been involved with Windows UI conventions. Unfortunately, the interaction designer on the project along with our own teams ended up developing a very progressive “traditional” UI that involved a lot of very cool draggable windows, forms, and other widgets that IMHO didn’t come close to solving the user need, which was understandability. Instead, they created a kick-ass user interface that, while simple if you understand common UI conventions, didn’t necessarily approximate the audience.
Anyway, that anecdote means to describe the difficult task of drawing upon something like the “intrinsic motivation” and mastery-driven interaction concepts talked about by Danc at Lost Garden and how it’s easy to be distracted by the pitfall of what is common — in this case superficial — and easily identifiable or conventional.
Hope that made sense!
That makes a lot of sense Rahul, and thanks for the anecdote! It’s a great illustration of how when you mention games as examples to ‘laymen’ they usually focus on their surface, not the underlying structure and behaviour. Perhaps better examples to use would be games (not necessarily digital games) that have very little in the way of visual splendour but are very abstract. Tic-tac-toe for example, or Breakout (Arkanoid) or Tetris. That way, people are forced to think of them in terms of rules-based systems.
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