Friday, June 27, 2008

Off-the-desktop musings about future interactions: User experience, user-driven design, Universal Usability, Airports, and the "Internet of Things"

My vision for technology supported human-world interaction is much different than what I see cropping up in public spaces, despite emerging technological concepts such as the Internet of Things and Locative Media

If you are familiar with my blogs, you know that I maintain an on-going quest for off-the-desktop examples for my "Usability Hall of Fame". While I'm out and about, I often meet with disappointment, especially when I come across large displays or interactive touch screens.

The video clip below, taken on June 26th at the Detroit Metro Airport, is an example of what I mean. I was excited to encounter a touch screen information kiosk. I was not impressed with the clunky look and feel of the application. It was more like a point and click web-page than an innovative interactive information portal.

If you look closely, you'll see that the weather posted on the screen did not accurately represent the near 90-degree heat that I encountered that day. The weather information must not have been updated!

This kiosk was located in a new terminal. Although there were many information displays dotted around, during the two hours that I was at the airport, I never once saw anyone use them.

It is sort of difficult to use a touch screen when there is a garbage can obstructing the interaction.

It is not possible to interact with an interactive touch screen that is not working.

I did see people take a look at the more traditional, non-interactive displays that were located in the center walkways:

Last week, when I went to find my baggage at the Detroit Metro Airport, I noticed three kiosks on my way to pick up my luggage. At the time, I didn't know where I needed to go to retrieve my bags, and I wasn't sure where I needed to go to take the shuttle to the rental car lot. I was a bit puzzled to find these kiosks in this spot, since they did not provide the kind of information that most people coming through this section of the airport would need.

The above information kiosks were situated in a row of three, one representing each of the counties that make up the Detroit metropolitan area. Since the kiosks were located at the foot of the escalators leading to the baggage claim section of the airport, people stopping to interact with the kiosks would most likely cause a minor traffic jam. Although the kiosks were in plain view, it was not difficult to see why they were not used, or even noticed.
  • Most people who are on their way to the baggage claim area are focused on getting their luggage and heading out. They may not be in the mood to learn all that they can about the finer points of Macomb, Wayne, or Oakland counties from talking head infomercials.
  • Although the kiosks provided a reasonable amount of screen "real estate", the design of the applications allowed for no innovative touch-screen interaction. The applications were displayed on touch-screen surfaces, with the upper section dedicated to video and the lower section activated for touch. This design provided only one type of touch interaction, a small area to touch in order to activate the video.
  • The displays with information about baggage carousels were located in a spot out of view from this location.
After I figured out where I should go to find my luggage, I noticed that there were many lighted displays lining the walls behind the baggage carousels. People were gathered around the carousel, eyes searching for bags. No one was looking at the signs.

Since I'm obsessed with displays, as soon as I found my bag, I walked up closer to see what was so important about this huge sign. Not until I got right up to the surface did I notice that it offered some interactivity:

If you happen to have your cell phone handy, you can get free sync ringtones from the display area while you wait for your bags, if you happened to notice this at first glance. Since I was carrying my purse and pulling a suitcase and smaller carry-on bag, I was in no position to fumble around for my phone to get a new ringtone. It wasn't a convenient location. Where could I set down my purse? What if I had kids in tow?

Obviously, the designers of this set-up thought that it would be a good idea to offer people the chance to download ringtones as they waited for their luggage. What did the designers forget? Perhaps they did not look at the bigger picture long enough to think through a workable, useful user experience.

It would make better sense to provide ringtones at a more convenient location in the airport, such as the waiting areas or around the food courts. A thoughtful re-design of this display would encourage this interaction in a way to let people know intuitively that a ringtone service was available.

After I left the baggage area, I headed to an information display that consisted of a small touch screen, an array of small lighted displays, and phones to find out how to get to the shuttle to the rental car lot. Again, I was not impressed. The applications were a bit more visually appealing than the displays in the terminal, but the touch screen interaction was clunky.


To get a better understanding of my message and the importance of looking at bigger picture issues such as user-experience, user driven design, and emerging off-the-desktop technologies, take some time to look over the work and writings of people like Julian Bleeker, Chris O'Shea, and others who are thinking along similar paths. Also check the resource links on the sidebar of this blog.

Below are a couple of interesting quotes from Julian Bleeker:
(Julian Bleeker is from the Near Future Laboratory, a design, development and research consultancy.)

"Forget about the Internet of Things as Web 2.0, refrigerators connected to grocery stores, and networked Barcaloungers. I want to know how to make the Internet of Things into a platform for World 2.0.
How can the Internet of Things become a framework for creating more habitable worlds, rather than a technical framework for a television talking to an reading lamp? Now that we've shown that the Internet can become a place where social formations can accrete and where worldly change has at least a hint of possibility, what can we do to move that possibility out into the worlds in which we all have to live? "
- Julian Bleeker, Ph.D: Why Things Matter: A Manifesto for Networked Objects: Cohabiting with Pigeons, Arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things (pdf)

"At its core, locative media is about creating a kind of geospatial experience whose aesthetics can be said to rely on a range of characteristics ..from the quotidian to the weighty semantics of lived experience, all latent within the ground upon which we traverse". -Julian Bleeker; Jeff Knowlton Locative Media: A Brief Bibliography and Taxonomy of GPS-Enabled Locative Media Leonardo On-line Electronic Almanac

Julian Bleeker spends time contemplating interactions while he's in airports: Time Spent, Well

Chris O'Shea's blog, Pixelsumo, "is a blog about play, exploring the boundaries of interaction design, videogames, toys, and playgrounds. Chris is a resident of somth;ng labs, a shared studio space full of creatives who incorporate technology into their work.

  • SURFACES: Chris O'Shea's posts and links pertaining to interactive surfaces, displays, touch-screens, and multi-touch.
  • PLAYGROUNDS: Posts and links about technology-supported playgrounds
Update 7/11/08

Airport Technology for the Usability Hall of Fame!

Embedded Information: Airport Seoul

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