UX and the aesthetics of interactivity

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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’ Daniel Cook, 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 Cook looks at some of the ways game design tech­niques can be applied to the inter­ac­tion design of web apps. In sum­ma­ry, accord­ing to Danc Cook game design tech­niques allow you to:

  1. Cre­ate an engag­ing expe­ri­ence that goes beyond sim­ply com­plet­ing a task efficiently.
  2. 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:

  1. Spa­tial metaphors
  2. 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).

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Kars Alfrink

Kars is a designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.

2 thoughts on “UX and the aesthetics of interactivity”

  1. 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!

  2. 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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