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October 03 2013

13:30

Digital Literacy, Part 1: Cadence

What does it mean to be literate in a digital age? While our conventional definition implies reading and writing, that definition also pays no mind to new media’s inherent malleability. It’s only by scrutinizing the ends to which our digital creations are used that we’ll come to better understand our ability to effect change via those creations.

It’s has been called a publishing platform and a conversation medium, but it’s also been used as a collaborative encyclopedia, a code playground and a canvas for art. Is there anything the web can’t do? (and should there be?)

After all, analog media was relatively simple by comparison. Everything we needed to know in order to think critically about the written word came down to reading and writing. But the web is different. Not only does it allow us to create new ideas along existing channels – we can post on Facebook and/or Twitter, for example – it also allows us to create new channels altogether, such as Tumblr and Medium. So what does this mean for our conventional definition of literacy?

Media theorist Clay Shirky offers a clue. In his foreword to the the book Mediactive, Shirky provides a media-agnostic definition, suggesting that “Literacy, in any medium, means not just knowing how to read that medium, but also how to create in it, and to understand the difference between good and bad uses.” And this definition, in particular, resonated with me (indeed, I might go so far as to say it should resonate with all user-centered designers who seek to understand what it means to create a “good,” useful web), inspiring an investigation to something I’ve currently termed digital- or “web design literacy.”

In the following three-part series I’d like to share digital litearcy as I’ve come to understand it. In the first part (the one you’re currently reading) I’ll recount a story highlighting some of the web’s more esoteric aspects, the elements that make it similar to – but altogether different from – print. In the second, I’ll briefly discuss the prominent double-diamond model of design thinking and explore how “design posture” might affect our ability to navigate that model. In the third, I’ll point to nascent trends in our profession, ways in which both investigative journalism and teaching might pertain to work that we do.

A design villain

In May of 2009, an interaction designer named Dustin Curtis published an open letter on his personal website entitled “Dear American Airlines” suggesting that the company take a look at his vision of what their future home page might look like:

The difference was profound. Instead of providing users with a cramped, uninspiring sea of text, Dustin placed the booking process – arguably the most important interaction on the page – front-and-center. He even included a photo of island getaway. Few people could argue that he isn’t onto something, so that’s precisely when Dustin decided to turn up the heat, asking American Airlines to “fire [their] entire design team,” who, he added, “is obviously incapable of building a good experience.” He concluded by suggesting that American Airlines “get outside help.”

As those watching the saga unfold later learned – in a response from a designer working at American Airlines named “Mr. X ” – what prohibited American from redesigning its website wasn’t a lack of desire or its in-house talent. No, it was their corporate culture. As Mr. X explained it, the public probably wouldn’t see the fruits of his group’s labor for at least another year simply due to the degree to which teams at American depended upon one another (i.e. bureaucracy). This meant that the company actually had two problems: not only did it have a poorly designed homepage, it also had a poorly designed organization that made it difficult to affect change.

In his most recent book, The Connected Company, management consultant Dave Gray tackles this
problem head on, suggesting that organizations of the future adopt a “podular” structure (not pictured above) to allow for more dynamic problem solving. Illustration copyright © Dave Gray. Used with permission.

In many ways the state of affairs at American Airlines probably came as no surprise to Dustin – or anyone else for that matter. Of course they had a poorly designed organizational structure; why else would their homepage have fallen into such disarray? That’s a fair question and, in fact, it’s probably what led Dustin to publish his open letter. A more prudent question, however (one that apparently nobody thought to ask), is: what should American Airlines have done? Clearly they couldn’t just fire their entire design team, as Dustin suggested. How should they have gone from where they were to where they need to be?

The answer is complex. Readers likely have an idea as to where we might start (stakeholder interviews, anyone?), but none of us could possibly devise “a set of steps to take the company from bad to good” without knowing the way in which American Airlines operates on a day-to-day basis. To begin, we’d ask a whole bunch of questions.

It’s the question that drives us

To better understand how a designer might begin to solve the organizational problems plaguing American Airlines, it’s worth taking a step back and more thoroughly considering the role that Dustin played with regards to American Airlines vis-à-vis the publication of his open letter. There are many ways in which Dustin could have expressed his opinion, after all: he could have called customer support; he could have sent an angry letter (you know, in the mail); he even could have written a Yelp review (customers occasionally comment on websites as part of their business reviews). But Dustin didn’t do any of these things. Instead, he published an open letter, subjecting his inquiry to the web’s seldom-discussed-but-nonetheless-profound political affordances.

A “political affordance” is simply an amalgamation of concepts originating from the fields of social science (politics) and psychology (affordances). Whereas a perceived affordance allows an actor – a person, say – to determine the potential utility of his/her implements by way of what he or she perceives (e.g. the shape of a hammer’s head affords hitting, its handle affords holding, etc.), a political affordance describes someone’s ability to assemble and direct a public – to “call an audience into being” – by way of his/her media.

Political affordances have a profound impact on the way in which we create and consume information. By contradistinction, consider a web designer who places a redesigned version of American Airlines in their online portfolio in hopes that the finesse it demonstrates will garner them future employment. This happens all the time. But while both our hypothetical designer and our actual designer, Dustin, have each presented “alternate realities,” the web’s political affordances greatly magnify the ramifications of the ways in which these designers have chosen to express their respective sentiments. Our hypothetical designer’s message is likely considered “friendly” regardless of its reach. Dustin’s open letter, on the other hand, is almost certainly seen as adversarial precisely because of its reach. Not only does Dustin’s letter call an organization into question, it does so in a way that incites others to feel the same.

Distinguishing between these two modes of presentation might seem superfluous – and, indeed, it would be of less consequence – if it weren’t for the sheer fact that questions lie at the heart of what we do: designers ask questions in order to better understand the boundary between form and function; designers ask questions in order to understand what users want; and designers ask (rhetorical) questions when they present wireframes, prototypes, etc. to their team. (None of these actions is explicitly “at odds” with a system, though. Quite the opposite, in fact; designers generally question things in order to attain a shared understanding.)

In his 2009 TED Talk – incidentally given the same year as Dustin published his
open letter – psychologist and author Barry Schwartz “makes a passionate call for “practical wisdom’ as an antidote to a society gone mad with bureaucracy.” This is a challenge that creative consultants frequently face.

The difference today is that the internet forces us to more thoroughly consider the timbre of conversations we facilitate. When criticism happens in private, organizations and individuals are more likely to be open-minded and develop a sense of wisdom. When criticism happens in public, however, organizations run the risk of appearing non-empathic. Many remain silent.

Ultimately, the preceding line of inquiry raises two, related lines questions pertaining to our design process:

  • What makes a question, itself, “appropriate” or “innocent?”
  • What makes a question, itself, “inappropriate” or “threatening?”

In the interest of expediency, the difference – as far as I can tell – is tact. Tact differentiates our ability to get what we want – be that potential work in the case of a student, or a redesigned organization in the case of Dustin Curtis – and our ability to squander an opportunity. Developing an intuition with regards to tact allows us to prudently plan for change over time. In this way, there’s a certain design to Design: Asking deliberate questions in a deliberate order yields a deliberate result.

Grammatically incorrect

Finally we come to the issue of cadence, or the ebb and flow of ideas.

As with political affordances, cadence behaves drastically different across the digital and analog worlds. Online, the web affords both linear and non-linear narratives. In other words, a designer can either architect a system such that a user sees a predetermined set, or “script,” of screens – a checkout path, for example – or she can make it such that a user can navigate those screens in any order that user chooses. The choice is up to the designer. Offline, things are different. Because “real life” requires that we experience events in a linear order – reading an article (as you’re doing right now) or pitching, selling, and actually producing a design project – Design requires a certain kind of sensitivity to the way in which information is paced.

And, as it turns out, this is precisely the function of grammar. What’s more interesting than the Design-grammar analogy, though, is observing the shift that grammar has made as it’s left the the world of traditional media and entered the realm of interactive media. Consider:

  • One of the most fundamental books in the history of grammar is William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White’s pocket guide to writing called The Elements of Style. Named as one of the “100 most influential books written in English since 1923” by Time magazine, it condenses nearly everything an American-English author needs to know to pace their ideas (outside of words themselves) to a mere 100 pages.
  • Following suit, typographer and poet Robert Bringhurt’s “The Elements of Typographic Style” serves as kind of typographer’s book of grammar. It, too, provides everything a typographer needs to know in order to effectively use type, basic grids, etc. in service of an aesthetic.
  • Finally, comic-book theorist Scott McCloud’s comic book about comics – called “Understanding Comics” – discusses various methods of visual communication. It comprises a kind-of-sort-of “comic-book grammar.”

Star Wars director George Lucas suggests that all forms of art share the same goal: communication. He believes that contemporary educational system should reflect this notion.

By now the pattern is clear: grammar allows (graphic) designers to better determine the way information is paced in traditional media. Now for the shift. Digital grammars appear much less didactic and much more philosophical. Consider:

  • In 2007 computer scientist Bill Buxton authored “Sketching User Experiences,” in which he described the various ways in which designers might affect change over time. Buxton’s allusion to sketching suggests that the product design (UX design) process might more closely resemble a game of pictionary than a traditional publishing process.
  • In 2008, new-media theorist Clay Shirky released his book “Here Comes Everybody” explaining the potential ramifications of a post-Internet society. While extremely well received, the book also raised a number of important, difficult questions surrounding the internet and collective action (many of them dealing with political affordances).

Again I believe the pattern is clear: whereas the grammars defining traditional media (punctuation, typographic convention, grids, and visual language) helped creators better define the cadence of ideas, the grammar defining digital media is potentially much more complex. Designer Paul Boag’s recent post about the nature of the web sums this up well.

Increasingly you are not having to visit a website in order to find certain types of information. For example, if I want to know local cinema times I can simply ask Siri and she will return just the listings required without ever visiting a website. Equally, if I want to know who the CEO of Yahoo is, Google will tell me this in its search results without the need to visit a specific website.

What does a lack of digital grammar mean for designers, those of us who want to provide the best content for our end users?

The journey thus far

This article’s covered a lot of ground. We began with a question relating the analog concept of literacy to its digital equivalent, asking what does it mean to create and consume the web, to understand its good and bad uses? In search for an answer, we first heard the story of Dustin Curtis’s open letter to American Airlines. In light of that, we discussed the internet’s political affordances and the way those affordances galvanized Dustin’s role in relation to American Airlines. This led us to consider the design of the Design process itself. Finally, we discussed cadence, the way in which grammar affords our ability to control the flow of ideas.

In part two of this series we’ll take an even further step back, using the double-diamond model of design thinking to contextualize our work and the concept of design posture to explain how we navigate that model. Stay tuned!


The post Digital Literacy, Part 1: Cadence appeared first on UX Booth.

July 02 2013

08:00

Emotional Design with A.C.T. – Part 2

Back in Part 1, we looked at how the emotions expressed by people and products communicate personality traits over time. We also learned that customers are attracted to things that have an aesthetic personality that’s similar to their own,1 but they prefer products that take on a complementary role during interaction.2

In Part 2, we’ll look at how relationships are formed when people interact with products over time, and we’ll explore how people experience the emotion of “love.” Then, we’ll examine how basic product goals like desirability, usability, and usefulness relate to the different types of love. Finally, we’ll explore the A.C.T. model, a user-friendly take on using existing frameworks for designing emotional experiences.

Designing relationships

People attribute personalities to products and interfaces and expect those products to interact according to human social rules.3 Our emotional responses to the marketing, purchase, and use of products combine over time to create emotional experiences, which further combine to create emotional relationships.4 The quality of these accumulated interactions can mark the beginning (or end) of a “relationship” between the person and the product.

Throughout our lives, we’ve all been exposed to different types of relationships, both personally and through media. We have acquaintances, coworkers, companions, friends, lovers, wives, husbands, and every combination in between. While all these relationships are important, the people we love tend to have a special place in our hearts and minds.

But even amongst those we “love,” there are a number of different relationships. Some relationships are short, passionate flings based solely on attraction or lust. Others, though lacking in physical attraction, are deep, intimate friendships formed through ongoing interaction and conversation. Others are simple marriages of convenience with a firm commitment, but little passion or intimacy.

Although these relationships might seem to be very different, the people involved might still call the emotion they share “love.” This suggests that we’re using a single term to describe what may be several different emotions. Because of this, it can be difficult to come to a mutual understanding of what the word love really means.

Some people, for example, will emphatically say how much they love certain products. But when they say they “love” products, what do they really mean? What exactly is required to feel love for a product? Is it different from the love two people might feel for one another? Is love an appropriate emotion for relationships with products?

We can gain new insights into the formation of human-product relationships by understanding how humans form relationships with one another. Let’s take a look at the different ways people experience the emotion of love to get a better understanding of what it means to “love” a product.

How do I love thee?

Sternberg5 has described human relationships in terms of three forms of love.

Forms of Love

  • Passion (Infatuated Love)
  • Intimacy (Friendship)
  • Commitment (Empty Love)

 Passion, Intimacy, Commitment
Forms of love
(Sternberg, 1988), diagram: (van Gorp, 2009)

Passion

Passion is based on aesthetics. We’re passionately attracted to certain people because of how they look, sound, smell, feel and taste. These aesthetic cues communicate information about health, reproductive fitness, fertility, and social status to potential partners 7 8. We generally evaluate these cues automatically without conscious consideration.

If a relationship had Passion but lacked Intimacy and Commitment, it would be called Infatuated Love, or lust5. This form of love would describe the quick fling or one-night stand. According to Sternberg5, relationships based solely on Passion tend to burn out quickly. We tend to be attracted to people who are about as attractive, wealthy, and educated as ourselves (i.e. those who are similar to us).

Intimacy

Sternberg5 defines Intimacy as Friendship, rather than sexual intimacy. Achieving Intimacy usually requires repeated conversation and interaction over time. You don’t really get to know someone well without spending time together in a variety of situations.

When we engage in conversation with another person, we make both unconscious and conscious evaluations of them. We judge whether our styles of interaction are complementary and comfortable, or similar and conflicting. Does the other person constantly interrupt when you’re talking? Are you always butting heads over who’s in charge? Does he or she give you the amount of respect you feel you deserve?

If all you had with another person was Intimacy, you’d probably be very close friends. However, you’d likely not feel much Passion or sexual attraction. If someone has ever told you that they love you, but aren’t “in love” with you, it’s likely that they were talking about feeling Intimacy without Passion.

Commitment

Commitment is a mutually agreed upon agreement. In marriage, an individual consciously enters into a public contract with another person. Even in long-term relationships outside of marriage, the majority of couples in the western world still commit to an exclusive partnership. And yet, without Passion or Intimacy, Commitment is merely an empty agreement. If the only thing you had with someone was a Commitment, without any Passion or Intimacy, you’d have what Sternberg5 calls “Empty Love.”

Depending on the context, one or more of the three forms of love can occur at different times in a relationship. In the western world, Commitment usually comes after we’ve had a chance to evaluate our levels of Passion and Intimacy. At that point, we’ve hopefully decided whether the other person’s personality is a good fit for our own. In other parts of the world this may not be the case. Arranged marriages are one example of a relationship that begins with Commitment, with the expectation of Passion and Intimacy developing later.

Design goals, types of reactions & triune brain

At this point, you may be wondering how all of this relates to designing emotional experiences that encourage relationships. To start with, we could draw some parallels between the three forms of love and the three categories of product requirements I mentioned in Part 1. Here’s a quick recap:

  • Desirable
  • Usable
  • Useful

(Sanders, 1992)

Useful, Usable, Desirable

Design Goals
adapted from: (Sanders, 1992), image: (van Gorp, 2012)

Discussions of emotional design often focus almost exclusively on the aesthetics or Desirability of a product. However, much like a three-legged stool, the qualities of Usability and Usefulness still need to be there for the product to stand on its own. For software and web applications, all three legs of the stool need to be there to support repeat usage and interaction.

The most primitive part of our brain (i.e. the reptilian brain), is automatic and generates unconscious emotional responses. The part of our brain that we share with mammals and a few other vertebrates (i.e. the mammalian brain), is also largely unconscious and creates our emotional experiences. The most highly evolved part of our brains (i.e. the neomammalian brain), is conscious and is where we form complex emotional relationships. These different levels of brain function can help us understand how relationships develop through small, repeated interactions.

Emotional: Responses, Experiences, Relationships

(Demir, 2008), diagram: (van Gorp & Adams, 2012)

Over time, simple emotional responses from the reptilian brain combine with the processing of social cues from the mammalian brain to form experiences, which combine with our thoughts and emotions from the neomammalian brain to create relationships.

Design goals, types of reactions, and forms of love

Let’s quickly examine how the different types of love relate to designing for emotion. The user is attracted to the product’s aesthetics, triggering the Desire or passion to approach. If the user finds the product Usable and easy to interact with, he or she may begin to feel greater connection or intimacy with the product. If the product then displays its Usefulness by reliably and consistently fulfilling its purpose, trust and commitment can result.

Design Goals, Forms of Love, Product Elements, Types of Reactions

Comparing Models

(Sanders, 1992)(Sternberg, 1988)(Demir, 2008)(McLean, 1990), diagram: (van Gorp & Adams, 2012)

Desirability is connected to product aesthetics. Usability is connected to the quality of interaction, and usefulness is connected to how well the product functions. For complex products, this process repeats itself with each use, continuing over time to form deeper relationships.

The types of love

Just as there are different types of relationships between people, there are different types of relationships between people and products. For products where the context of use is a short relationship (as with a disposable product), focusing on a single type of love (or a single leg of the stool) may be fine. Various combinations of the three forms of love describes many of the common relationships we see in our lives.

Types of love

  • Passion + Intimacy = Romantic Love
  • Passion + Commitment = Fatuous or Illusory Love
  • Intimacy + Commitment = Companionate Love
  • Passion + Intimacy + Commitment = Consummate Love

(Sternberg, 1988)

Ideal Human Relationship model

Types of Love
(Sternberg, 1988), diagram: (van Gorp, 2009)

Passion (Desirable) + Intimacy (Usable) = Romantic Love

When you combine the attraction of passion with the interaction and conversation of intimacy, you get Romantic Love. In human relationships Romantic Love describes physical attraction, along with a sense of deep intimate connection, without any formal commitment.

In relationships with products, we can envision attractive, usable products and services that don’t require long-term investments. Virgin Mobile, for example, offers attractive usable phones with no contractual commitment. The target audience is young and drawn to the idea of not committing to a phone plan. Even the marketing of the page–Why “Go” Beyond Talk?–could be taken as a metaphor for moving to another stage in a relationship.

Virgin Mobile

http://www.virginmobileusa.com/cell-phone-service

Passion (Desirable) + Commitment (Useful) = Illusory love

Combining passion and commitment without any intimacy generally makes a poor foundation for a long-term relationship. This may be why Sternberg5 calls this combination “Fatuous” or Illusory Love. One example of this type of relationship would be a “sugar daddy” style relationship, where one partner is involved purely for passion, and the other is involved purely for commitment and the financial rewards that come with it.

In the world of design, attractive but unusable products are one source of this type of Illusory Love. We may purchase a product, attracted purely by its slick marketing or pleasing visual design, only to find that although it looks good on the surface and functions acceptably, it’s difficult to operate and frustrating to use.

Intimacy (Usable) + Commitment (Useful) = Companionate Love

When we combine Intimacy and Commitment, we get a good companion, hence the label Companionate Love5. This type of human relationship would describe a couple who are not physically attracted to each other, but are friendly and committed.

When we think of Companionate Love in terms of product relationships, we can imagine more utilitarian products. They’re easy to use, reliable, and perform the task for which they were designed. However, they don’t create that spark of attraction and desire, so there’s little passion involved. An example of this type of love would be your favorite hairbrush. This brush might be the one that does such a great job of styling your hair, you don’t need any other brushes. You probably don’t think much about your hairbrush when you’re not around it. But like the loss of an old friend, you may only really appreciate it once it’s gone.

Hairbrush

Passion + Intimacy + Commitment = Consummate Love

Occasionally, human relationships seem to encompass all three forms of love. These relationships have achieved what Sternberg5 calls “all consuming” or Consummate Love. The people involved are passionately attracted to one another, have a deep intimate friendship, and a strong abiding commitment.

In human-product relationships, if a product has achieved trust by communicating a clear and consistent personality over repeated interactions, the user may be willing to consciously Commit and engage in transactions with the product. Transactions that lead to the formation of relationships leave us practically and emotionally satisfied in the long term. For interactive products that are used repeatedly, Consummate Love is what we are seeking to elicit from our users.

Designing relationships with A.C.T.

The A.C.T. model embodies the different forms of love, and can help you envision product development as a process of building relationships with users. The terms in the acronym A.C.T. were chosen to help designers understand the requirements they need to fulfill at each stage: Attract, Converse, Transact.

A.C.T. explores the relationship between Sternberg’s levels of love (passion, intimacy, and commitment) and product requirements to produce a model that is both more prescriptive for designers and more communicative for business stakeholders.

Ideal Product Relationship
A.C.T. Model

(van Gorp, 2009)

Let’s quickly summarize the perspectives embodied in the A.C.T.

Attract

  • Desirability (do users find the aesthetics appealing?)
  • Aesthetic properties of the product (i.e. look, sound, smell, touch, and taste)
  • Passion
  • Unconscious, automatic responses
  • Reptilian brain

Converse

  • Usability (i.e. ease of use)
  • How the product interacts with the user
  • Intimacy
  • Unconscious and conscious experiences
  • Mammalian brain

Transact

  • Usefulness
  • Whether the product fulfills its function
  • Commitment
  • Conscious relationships
  • Neomammalian (human) brain

A.C.T. Model

A.C.T. Model Comparison

adapted from: (Sanders, 1992)(Sternberg, 1988)(Demir, 2008)(McLean, 1990), diagram: (van Gorp & Adams, 2012)

Conclusions

We judge products by the personalities we sense through their aesthetics and style of interaction. It takes the skill and sensitivity of designers, marketers and user experience professionals to properly identify the personality that appeals to their target audience, and then consistently design, market, advertise and package that product with the appropriate personality in mind. The A.C.T. Model can help practitioners to more fully and systematically address the requirements that lead to successful products.

To explore this idea in depth, Edie Adams and I have written a book on creating better relationships between people and products. If you’re interested in learning more about emotional design, designing personality and the A.C.T. Model, pick up a copy of Design for Emotion. The book includes over 130 images and examples, interviews with industry experts, and case studies to help you do a better job of designing for emotion, personality and relationship. You can also get a free copy of Chapter 1 of Design for Emotion here.

- Portions of this post are excerpts from Design for Emotion, by Trevor van Gorp and Edie Adams -

References

Govers, P. C. M., & Schoormans, J. P. L. (2005). “Product personality and its influence on consumer preference”. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 22(4), 189–197.

Markey, P. M., & Markey, C. N. (2007). “Romantic ideals, romantic obtainment, and relationship experiences: The complementarity of interpersonal traits among romantic partners”. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24(4), 517–533.

Reeves, B., & Nass, C. (1998). The media equation: How people treat computers, television and new media like real people and places. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Demîr, E. (2008). “The Field of Design and Emotion: Concepts, Arguments, Tools and Current Issues”. METU JFA, 1(1), 135.

Sternberg, R. J. (1988). The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment. New York: Basic Books.

van Gorp, Trevor. (2009). Emotional Design with A.C.T. Poster: 2010 IA Summit. Phoenix, AZ.

7Buss, David. (2003). The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating. New York: Basic Books.

Etcoff, N. (2000). Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty. Anchor Books.

Sanders, E. B. N. (1992, Fall). “Converging perspectives: Product development research for the 1990s”. Design Management Journal, 3(4), 49–54.

10 van Gorp, Trevor, & Adams, E. (2012). Design for Emotion. Boston: Morgan Kaufmann/Elsevier.

11 McLean, P. D. (1990). The triune brain in evolution: Role in paleocerebral functions. New York: Plenum Press.

December 06 2010

16:10

Creating Meaningful Web Design

“By establishing a website’s aesthetic and creating a meaningful visual language, a design is no longer just a random collection of pretty gradients that have been plucked out of thin air. There can be a logic behind the design decisions we make.” — Mike Kus

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