Harmonious interfaces, martial arts and flow states

Screenshot of the game flOw

There’s been a few posts from the UX com­mu­ni­ty in the recent past on flow states (most notably at 37signals’s Sig­nal vs. Noise). This got me think­ing about my own expe­ri­ences of flow and what this tells me about how flow states could be induced with interfaces.

A com­mon exam­ple of flow states is when play­ing a game (the play­er for­gets she is push­ing but­tons on a game pad and is only mind­ful of the action at hand). I’ve expe­ri­enced flow while paint­ing but also when doing work on a PC (even when cre­at­ing wire­frames in Visio!) How­ev­er, the most inter­est­ing flow expe­ri­ences were while prac­tis­ing mar­tial arts.

The inter­est­ing bit is that the flow hap­pens when per­form­ing tech­niques in part­ner exer­cis­es or even fight­ing match­es. These are all sit­u­a­tions where the ‘sys­tem’ con­sists of two peo­ple, not one per­son and a medi­um medi­at­ed by an inter­face (if you’re will­ing to call a paint brush an inter­face that is).

To reach a state of flow in mar­tial arts you need to stop think­ing about per­form­ing the tech­nique while per­form­ing it, but in stead be mind­ful of the effect on your part­ner and try to visu­al­ize your own move­ments accord­ing­ly. When flow hap­pens, I’m actu­al­ly able to ‘see’ a tech­nique as one sin­gle image before start­ing it and while per­form­ing it I’m only aware of the whole sys­tem, not just myself.

Now here’s the beef. When you try to trans­late this to inter­face design, it’s clear that there’s no easy way to induce flow. The obvi­ous approach, to cre­ate a ‘dis­ap­pear­ing’ inter­face that is unob­tru­sive, min­i­mal, etc. is not enough (it could even be harm­ful). In stead I’d like to sug­gest you need to make your game, soft­ware or site behave more like a mar­tial arts fight­er. It needs to push or give way accord­ing to the actions of it’s part­ner. You real­ly need to approach the whole thing as an inter­con­nect­ed sys­tem where forces flow back and forth. Flow will hap­pen in the user when he or she can work in a har­mo­nious way. Usu­al­ly this requires a huge amount of men­tal mod­el adap­ta­tion on the user’s part… When will we cre­ate appli­ances that can infer the inten­tions of the user and change their stance accord­ing­ly? I’m not talk­ing about AI here, but what I would like to see is stuff more along the lines of flOw.


iPhone playing The Office

There have been so many posts on the iPhone late­ly that I’ll try not to add to the noise with things that have already been said. Web design­er Jere­my Kei­th and inter­ac­tion design­er Dan Saf­fer have both tried to gath­er all the worth­while posts on the top­ic, from dif­fer­ing per­spec­tives. I’m sure they’ll make for plen­ty of (more or less inter­est­ing) reading. 

My own view is that Apple have proven once again that they’re great at inte­grat­ing tech that was already out there in a pack­age that offers a pleas­ing user expe­ri­ence. I’m curi­ous about the mul­ti-touch screen and the appar­ent ges­tur­al and tan­gi­ble inter­ac­tion it offers. I’m under­whelmed by their choice to have the device work only with Cin­gu­lar (which appar­ent­ly is kind of crap) and am curi­ous if they’ll do the same when it’s intro­duced on this side of the ocean. 

In short: I’ll have to actu­al­ly use the thing to decide whether it’s as good as it seems; it’ll come down to not just the UI, but also the per­for­mance of the GSM, WiFi, cam­era, and on and on. For now, I’m hav­ing fun watch­ing the online demos (at least that’s one thing Apple is very good at).

Accessibility (a Euro IA theme)

It’s been a while, but here’s my final post on the Euro IA Sum­mit. Usabil­i­ty has been a design val­ue long cham­pi­oned by HCI pro­fes­sion­als from which IA has part­ly devel­oped. Nat­u­ral­ly, they’ve often been respon­si­ble for ensur­ing usabil­i­ty in projects. There have been devel­op­ments that force IAs to take a broad­er view and see usabil­i­ty as one of many val­ues that go into a suc­cess­ful user expe­ri­ence on the web. Morville realised this quite a while ago and remind­ed us in his keynote of his user expe­ri­ence hon­ey­comb.

Acces­si­bil­i­ty is one of those oth­er val­ues, and quite a few talks dis­cussed it in some way.

For instance Fredy Oré’s talk on the project he did for Dig­i­tal UK (the inde­pen­dent, non-prof­it organ­i­sa­tion lead­ing the UK’s move to dig­i­tal tele­vi­sion) con­tained quite a few exam­ples of how he as an IA was faced with acces­si­bil­i­ty prob­lems. From fig­ur­ing out how to cre­ate a site struc­ture that would sup­port both Eng­lish as well as Welsh to work­ing around the lim­i­ta­tions of a lega­cy CMS, there were many acces­si­bil­i­ty-relat­ed deci­sions to make.

Bogo Vatovec sum­ma­rized the results from a test he did with sev­er­al con­tent adap­ta­tion solu­tions (mobile web brows­ing appli­ca­tions). The state of affairs in this area appeared to be quite sor­did. Opera’s mobile web brows­er came out as the best option cur­rent­ly avail­able. How­ev­er, smart soft­ware will nev­er be the sil­ver bul­let to solve all mobile web-brows­ing woes. We’ll need to build sites to be acces­si­ble for a broad range of devices. I feel we need to go even one step fur­ther and cre­ate alter­na­tive archi­tec­tures specif­i­cal­ly tai­lored for the mobile context.

Final­ly Steven Pem­ber­ton flexed his W3C mus­cles and over­whelmed the poor non-techy IAs with a del­uge of infor­ma­tion on new web stan­dards such as XHTML 2 and XForms. The key take­aways for me were that the W3C is still push­ing for a true Seman­tic Web (yes, upper­case). Exam­ple: Pem­ber­ton said XHTML 2 is “micro­for­mats done right”. Also, XForms promise to be a real alter­na­tive for oth­er RIA tech­nol­o­gy, with the main ben­e­fit that it won’t need third par­ty tech­nol­o­gy to be installed on the client.

So again, I expect IAs to be involved in more and more acces­si­bil­i­ty-relat­ed dis­cus­sions. Acces­si­bil­i­ty is one of many design val­ues that go in a user expe­ri­ence. These val­ues should be pri­ori­tised for each project. Some might even put acces­si­bil­i­ty above usabil­i­ty. IAs could do worse than edu­cate them­selves on some acces­si­bil­i­ty basics.

This is the fifth and final post on themes spot­ted dur­ing the Euro IA Sum­mit 2006. The first post was on strat­e­gy, the sec­ond on social search, the third on process & deliv­er­ables and the fourth on involv­ing the client. My first post-sum­mit post can be found here.

European IAs are three years behind on their US counterparts*

War­ren Hutchin­son thinks this year’s Euro IA Sum­mit was way behind on the US big broth­er con­fer­ence in both con­tent and form. I can’t con­firm or deny this (as I’ve nev­er been to the US sum­mit) but I’d say any sum­mit is bet­ter than none, and it’s clear we’re still build­ing a practice.

He also bemoans the preva­lence of con­ser­v­a­tive, ‘lit­tle IA’ think­ing and a pas­sive con­sumerist atti­tude with the major­i­ty of con­fer­ence goers. True as this may be, putting your­self on a pedestal look­ing down on those that have been less for­tu­nate than you in their devel­op­ment and expo­sure to big IA (or EA) thought is hard­ly the most pro­duc­tive path to take IMHO. Also, Hutchin­son implies he has a tighter bond to the US sum­mit and in some ways seems to deny a rela­tion­ship with the EU design com­mu­ni­ty, which I feel is a bit sus­pect and in some ways per­haps symp­to­matic of UK design thought.

I’d rather see Hutchin­son take up the chal­lenge of being an exam­ple for Euro­pean IAs, design­ers and what­not, as he did with his great pre­sen­ta­tion on work­shops (or is that work­shop on work­shops?) and not slap his eager stu­dents in the face because they haven’t yet got­ten the point entirely.

Just to be on the safe side: please take some of this crit­i­cism with a grain of salt. Lets have a healthy con­struc­tive discussion.

* As you can tell I don’t agree (com­plete­ly) with this post’s title, which is inspired by one of the com­ments on Hutchin­son’s post by Jonathan Mul­vi­hill.

Restaurant usability

'U kunt hier ook zitten'

I ran into this curi­ous sign while out for lunch today. A small restau­rant spe­cial­is­ing in pie (vlaai) had these huge let­ters in the win­dow, say­ing: “you can sit here as well”. Obvi­ous­ly, if they made it obvi­ous to poten­tial clients that they had seat­ing, they wouldn’t need the sign – or is it a case of peo­ple not want­i­ng to sit down and have a piece of pie? 

To me, the sign was quite sim­i­lar to those texts in web pages read­ing “click here to …” – always a clear sign of bad usabil­i­ty. Per­haps the pie shop is in need of some user expe­ri­ence consulting?

Yahoo! opens up some more

Some great new resources are now avail­able, cour­tesy of every­one’s favorite web 2.0 com­pa­ny: Yahoo!

The Design Pat­tern Library con­tains a whole bunch of pat­ters for user inter­face design­ers to use and abuse. Mar­ti­jn van Welie final­ly has some competition.

Of more inter­est to devel­op­ers is the UI Library, con­tain­ing “a set of util­i­ties and con­trols, writ­ten in JavaScript, for build­ing rich­ly inter­ac­tive web appli­ca­tions”. These code exam­ples are fre­quent­ly linked to from the pat­tern library.

I must say, these look like some excel­lent addi­tions to the cur­rent body of knowl­edge avail­able to design­ers and devel­op­ers. Thanks a bunch Yahoo!

How­ev­er, my para­noid mind can’t help but think: what’s the catch?

Via Jere­my Zawod­ny.

De user experience van Bol.com

Ik schreef onlangs een licht gekscherend stuk over een dri­etal raar gefor­muleerde opties in een adres­for­muli­er van Bol.com. Van­daag, nog geen week nadat ik de klantenser­vice van Bol.com op het artikelt­je had gewezen, kri­jg ik een e‑mail terug. Bol.com belooft er mee aan de slag te gaan, ze bedanken me voor de oplet­tend­heid en bieden me cadeaubon van maar­lief­st 5 euro als beloning! Blijk­baar neemt Bol.com de gebruik­erser­var­ing van hun site serieus. Mijn complimenten!

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Hoe geen opties aan te bieden

Iets waar je tij­dens het online kopen van een boek op zondagocht­end niet op voor­bereid bent: brein­brek­ende keuzes aange­bo­den door een bestelformulier.

Mijn betere helft wilde graag een boek voor een vriendin bestellen (het geweldige ‘Zorg’ van Miguel Bulnes) en deze als cadeau lat­en bezorgen.

Bol.com had het boek op voor­raad, dus werd besloten van hun dien­sten gebruik te mak­en. Van de knop “in winkel­wa­gen­t­je” was met “Ga verder met bestellen” de sprong naar het adres­for­muli­er snel gemaakt:

Bol.com's adresformulier

Vul hier uw woon- of ves­tig­ingsadres in,” adviseerde Bol.com. Zo gezegd zo gedaan. De zon­nige winkel­er­var­ing kwam echter tot een abrupte stil­stand onder­aan het for­muli­er, waar een dri­etal check­box­en prijkten.

De opties die wer­den aange­bo­den ston­den alledrie aan. Bij het lezen van de eerste optie ontstond grootte ver­war­ring en frustratie: 

Wilt u dat uw fac­tu­ur op een ander adres wordt bezorgd, klik dan in het vak­je zodat het vinkje verdwijnt.” 
Bij het sim­pel­weg lezen van de optie komen we er niet uit. De zin wordt ontleed. Nee we willen de fac­tu­ur niet op een ander adres dan het reeds inge­vulde. Willen we dat wel, dan moeten we de check­box uitzetten. Dus: de check­box moet aan bli­jven. Toch?

De tweede optie leverde min­stens zoveel men­tale chaos op: 

Wilt u dat uw bestelling op een ander adres bezorgd wordt, klik dan in het vak­je zodat het vinkje verdwijnt.” 
Hier vind een vergelijk­baar pro­ces plaats: ja we willen graag het boek ergens anders lat­en bezor­gen. Dit beves­ti­gen we echter door in het “vak­je” te klikken zodat het “vinkje” verd­wi­jnt. Een negatieve actie om een posi­tief antwo­ord te beves­ti­gen. Wauw.

De derde optie blijkt gelukkig een ordi­naire poging om een excu­us te ver­w­er­ven ons te spammen: 

Ja, ik wil graag prof­iteren van voorde­len en acties via de bol.com Nieuws­brief. Het abon­nement kan ik op ieder gewenst moment opzeggen.” 
Zon­der enige aarzel­ing gaat de check­box uit. Overi­gens, Bol.com: weten jul­lie dat het wel zo net­jes is om een dergelijke keuze stan­daard uit te zetten, in plaats van aan? De EMMA-NL heeft hier goede richtli­j­nen voor.

Het ver­haal loopt gelukkig goed af. Held­haftig slaan we ons door het ver­war­rende for­muli­er heen. Het boek is besteld. De winkel­er­var­ing is echter verre van heugelijk.

Dit is een prachtig voor­beeld van wat Matt Webbfix­ing bro­ken win­dows” noemt; door deze drie check­box­en (kleine din­gen, vergelijk­baar met een gebro­ken ruit) iets aan te passen zou het bestel­pro­ces van Bol.com (groot ding, vergelijk­baar met een huis of een buurt) stukken ver­be­terd worden.

Mijn voorzet voor drie nieuwe checkboxen: 

  • Verzend mijn fac­tu­ur naar een ander adres dan het boven­staande. (Stan­daard uit.)
  • Bezorg mijn bestelling op een ander adres dan het boven­staande. (Stan­daard uit.)
  • Ik abon­neer mij op de Bol.com e‑mailnieuwsbrief. (Stan­daard uit, verdorie!)
Zie daar: een gratis usabil­i­ty consult.

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