Week 149

I’m writ­ing these notes on a train to Malmö for a change. I was there this wednes­day and am back again to have a chat at Illu­sion Labs. I was put in touch with them by Ham­pus of The Aston­ish­ing Tribe, whom I vis­it­ed on wednes­day. TAT’s an inter­est­ing group, spe­cial­ized in the design of inno­v­a­tive mobile UIs. Their Rec­og­nizr con­cept video made quite a splash in AR cir­cles ear­li­er this year. I once gave a lec­ture on play­ful UIs at their office and even though noth­ing con­crete is in the works it would be inter­est­ing to col­lab­o­rate some more on that top­ic some time.

On wednes­day I also met up with my friends at InUse, whom I did some work with when I was last in Copen­hagen. That project dealt with appli­ca­tions of mul­ti­touch in a real-estate project. Over a Lebanese buf­fet lunch Mijo and I most­ly mused on what’s changed in UX con­sult­ing land the past few years and how that might devel­op into the future. We talked about ‘peak com­plex­i­ty’, the inter­net of things and strate­gies for design­ing deeply net­worked things. Good stuff.

To wrap up that day, I had a sur­prise meet-up with Karin of Ozma, (again thanks to the awe­some con­nect­ing pow­ers of Ham­pus). Ozma is a game design stu­dio work­ing very much in the same spir­it as Hub­bub, with a focus on “gam­ing beyond the screen”. It was very encour­ag­ing to dis­cov­er a com­pa­ny that’s been suc­cess­ful­ly work­ing in this space for the past four years. (And they’re not the only one, in Swe­den alone there’s also Fabel, The Sto­ry Lab and Grul…) One of the things we talked about is a cool plat­form they’re devel­op­ing for urban games that is not GPS-based, but runs entire­ly on SMS and is there­fore very use­ful for work­ing with tar­get audi­ences who do not have access to high-end phones (i.e. teens and tweens).

That wednes­day I head­ed back to Copen­hagen, my mind suit­ably blown, as you can prob­a­bly imag­ine.

Oth­er than that I have been enjoy­ing Social­square’s hos­pi­tal­i­ty on the Vester­bro­gade. Mar­tin, Mag­nus and I spent some time hash­ing out the details of the work­shop we’ll be doing and we man­aged to nar­row down the ques­tions we’d like to answer to a man­age­able set. I’m keen on hav­ing part of this project’s out­put be share­able with the world; in what shape or form we have yet to deter­mine.

My active involve­ment with Layar has gone on hold for the time being, but at the same time the first bits of my work for Layar are find­ing its way into the world. They’ve launched a new ver­sion of their app, which now sup­ports paid con­tent. (Android is out, iPhone should fol­low soon.) This was one of the first things I worked on for them, before mov­ing on to stuff that’ll hope­ful­ly see the light of day some­where over sum­mer. Design­ing the paid con­tent stuff involved deal­ing with a ton of depen­den­cies on process­es behind the scenes. It was an inter­est­ing chal­lenge to make it as fric­tion­less as pos­si­ble. Plus, the mobile pay­ment ecosys­tem is itself an inter­est­ing beast to deal with for a while. I also found myself design­ing for sev­er­al mobile plat­forms at the same time, which can real­ly mess with your head; both Android and iPhone have their own ‘gram­mar’ of inter­ac­tion (or more pre­cise­ly, one of them has some­thing resem­bling a prop­er gram­mar, the other’s is more accu­rate­ly described as a pid­gin). So design­ing in par­al­lel for both is a bit like speak­ing two lan­guages at the same time. Con­fus­ing, even to a Dutch­man.

All this, plus some more Skype calls with my HKU stu­dents (remind me to share some details on their work next time), anoth­er Skype ses­sion with the U-Turm group and the very final prepa­ra­tions for This hap­pened – Utrecht #6 took up week 149.

Storyboarding multi-touch interactions

I think it was around half a year ago that I wrote “UX design­ers should get into every­ware”. Back then I did not expect to be part of a ubi­comp project any­time soon. But here I am now, writ­ing about work I did in the area of mul­ti-touch inter­faces.

Background

The peo­ple at InUse (Sweden’s pre­mier inter­ac­tion design con­sul­tan­cy firm) asked me to assist them with visu­al­is­ing poten­tial uses of mul­ti-touch tech­nol­o­gy in the con­text of a gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty. That’s right—an actu­al real-world phys­i­cal real-estate devel­op­ment project. How cool is that?

InUse storyboard 1

This res­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ty is aimed at well-to-do seniors. As with most gat­ed com­mu­ni­ties, it offers them con­ve­nience, secu­ri­ty and pres­tige. You might shud­der at the thought of liv­ing in one of these places (I know I have my reser­va­tions) but there’s not much use in judg­ing peo­ple want­i­ng to do so. Planned ameni­ties include sports facil­i­ties, fine din­ing, onsite med­ical care, a cin­e­ma and on and on…

Social capital

One of the known issues with these ‘com­mu­ni­ties’ is that there’s not much evi­dence of social cap­i­tal being high­er there than in any reg­u­lar neigh­bour­hood. In fact some have argued that the glob­al trend of gat­ed com­mu­ni­ties is detri­men­tal to the build-up of social cap­i­tal in their sur­round­ings. They throw up phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers that pre­vent free inter­ac­tion of peo­ple. These are some of the things I tried to address: To see if we could sup­port the emer­gence of com­mu­ni­ty inside the res­i­den­cy using social tools while at the same coun­ter­act­ing phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers to the out­side world with “vir­tu­al inroads” that allow for free inter­ac­tion between res­i­dents and peo­ple in the periph­ery.

Being in the world

Anoth­er con­cern I tried to address is the dif­fer­ent ways mul­ti-touch inter­faces can play a role in the lives of peo­ple. Recent­ly Matt Jones addressed this in a post on the iPhone and Nokia’s upcom­ing mul­ti-touch phones. In a com­mu­ni­ty like the one I was design­ing for, the worst thing I could do is make every instance of mul­ti-touch tech­nol­o­gy an atten­tion-grab­bing pres­ence demand­ing full immer­sion from its user. In many cas­es ‘my’ users would be bet­ter served with them behav­ing in an unob­tru­sive way, allow­ing almost uncon­scious use. In oth­er words: I tried to bal­ance being in the world with being in the screen—apply­ing each par­a­digm based on how appro­pri­ate it was giv­en the user’s con­text. (After all, some­times peo­ple want or even need to be immersed.)

Process

InUse had already pre­pared sev­er­al per­sonas rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the future res­i­dents of the com­mu­ni­ty. We went through those togeth­er and exam­ined each for sce­nar­ios that would make good can­di­dates for sto­ry­board­ing. We want­ed to come up with a range of sce­nar­ios that not only showed how these per­sonas could be sup­port­ed with mul­ti-touch inter­faces, but also illus­trate the dif­fer­ent spaces the inter­ac­tions could take place in (pri­vate, semi­pri­vate and pub­lic) and the scales at which the tech­nol­o­gy can oper­ate (from small key-like tokens to full wall-screens).

InUse storyboard 2

I draft­ed each sce­nario as a tex­tu­al out­line and sketched the poten­tial sto­ry­boards on thumb­nail size. We went over those in a sec­ond work­shop and refined them—making adjust­ments to bet­ter cov­er the con­cerns out­lined above as well as improv­ing clar­i­ty. We want­ed to end up with a set of sto­ry­boards that could be used in a pre­sen­ta­tion for the client (the real-estate devel­op­ment firm) so we need­ed to bal­ance user goals with busi­ness objec­tives. To that end we thought about and includ­ed exam­ples of API-like inte­gra­tion of the plat­form with ser­vice providers in the periph­ery of the com­mu­ni­ty. We also tried to cre­ate self-ser­vice expe­ri­ences that would feel like being wait­ed on by a per­son­al but­ler.

Outcome

I end­ed up draw­ing three sce­nar­ios of around 9 pan­els each, digi­tis­ing and clean­ing them up on my Mac. Each sce­nario intro­duces a per­sona, the phys­i­cal con­text of the inter­ac­tion and the persona’s moti­va­tion that dri­ves him to engage with the tech­nol­o­gy. The inter­ac­tions visu­alised are a mix of ges­tures and engage­ments with mul­ti-touch screens of dif­fer­ent sizes. Usu­al­ly the per­sona is sup­port­ed in some way by a social dimension—fostering serendip­i­ty and emer­gence of real rela­tions.

InUse storyboard 3

All in all I have to say I am pret­ty pleased with the result of this short but sweet engage­ment. Col­lab­o­ra­tion with the peo­ple of InUse was smooth (as was expect­ed, since we are very much the same kind of ani­mal) and there will be fol­low-up work­shops with the client. It remains to be seen how much of this mul­ti-touch stuff will find its way into the final gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty. That as always will depend on what makes busi­ness sense.

In any case it was a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for me to immerse myself ful­ly in the inter­re­lat­ed top­ics of mul­ti-touch, ges­ture, urban­ism and social­i­ty. And final­ly, it gave me the per­fect excuse to sit down and do lots and lots of draw­ings.