Friday, January 05, 2007

You sir, Friendly.

I once participated in a paid (100 smackers) car forum at the L.A. Civic Center. I'm not sure how I got on the list but it was an interesting day spent with a few hundred other people getting in and out of all kinds of vehicles, inspecting them for flair, comfort and functionality and filling out surveys that asked for our responses. I needed alot more blank space for comments than they provided. I knew what I didn't like, what didn't work well for my aesthetic, my size, my needs. I don't think they took my comments too seriously because the next car I bought, though pleasing in most ways, still had the air conditioning vent that blew primarily on the driver's hand.

Design is usually decided by committee and that might be the best system we've got but the "too many cooks" syndrome can cause the group to miss the most obvious flaws. Design is a fascination of mine and this is an interesting interview in Newsweek with a guy I knew nothing about named Bill Moggridge. In his new book "Designing Interactions" he interviews other people who design our tech. In the Newsweek piece he quotes a venture capitalist, David Liddle who describes the "three phases of the adoption of technology", the first being enthusiasts, the second, the professional and the third the consumer.

If your range of responses to new tech design go from "How did they do that?" to "What on earth were they thinking?!" this should all be of interest. By the time something gets into the mainstream, to a customer/"consumer" with no special technological expertise (me), it is often still bloated with the complexities and sometimes the flaws of the first two levels of user. I would much rather be dubbed an "enthusiast" or a "professional", wouldn't you? Consumer sounds so leech or locust-like. Regardless of definition of terminology, if some of the hard and software were a bit more transparent and less flabby not only would I be enthusiastic, but I might even appear to be professional. Yeah, that’s what a consumer (read: novice) wants, isn’t it, the appearance of professionalism? Another thing Moggridge mentions in the interview is something Will Wright (SIMS creator) calls "loops of engagement" which include an easy to operate device that draws you in and further provides you with something to do that you can accomplish quickly and yet another slightly more complex phase and on and on. I love this phrase even if only because it sounds a lot deeper and more sinister than just providing levels of entertainment and difficulty. Remember the book of photos of advertising that supposedly had subliminal messages in the pix i.e.; the Howard Johnson’s plate of fried clams that supposedly looked like naked people writhing in delight? Remember when psychologists were saying all this internet technology was isolating?

The simple human requirements for the future in regard to design of the equipment we use are much the same as the past; communication leading to engagement, community, understanding and interactivity--except more of it and in an ever increasing range of ways. I'd hope and bet that most designers are really aiming to make every device as pleasing and simple and satisfying as an iPod or email.

It's now almost impossible to live unconscious of design in our daily lives. I'm one consumer who would like to be a more interactive part of the design process. When it comes to the product I need and/or want, I'm sure I'm an enthusiast if not a professional. Show me the Beta. I know I'll be reading Moggridge's book.

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