Archive for January, 2008

User Reflections and Expectations

During my first semester, one of my instructors was constantly telling us that to be good designers (or usability practitioners, as is my goal), then we need to be constantly reflecting on what we’re doing and learning in school. We had a class blog, and he encouraged us to keep our own blogs for that purpose. And, one of the books we read for class was Thoughtful Interaction Design, which also encouraged being reflective. Another instructor from this semester said the same thing. Hence, that is why I started this blog and named it “HCI Reflections”.

Well, I’ve been thinking that maybe us designers and usability practitioners shouldn’t be the only ones who are reflective and thoughtful. It would benefit users to do the same!

I am getting married in 5 weeks. My fiance and I are trying to finalize our honeymoon plans. I had made flight reservations through Orbitz , and I needed to call their customer service line last night.

At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to the experience (there’s that word again!) I had while I was talking to their CSR. I remember being a little annoyed when she placed me on hold for several minutes, but after she answered my question and we hung up, I continued the vacation planning with my fiance and didn’t give it much more thought.

I later checked my email and had received a message from Orbitz asking me to take a survey about my experience calling their CS line. So, I did. And, as I was doing so, I began to reflect on my experience, and I realized it was a pretty darn good one, and it was exactly as I had expected it to be. Their IVR system was very easy to understand and use and I was immediately routed to a live person who could answer my question. The person was knowledgeable, helpful, courteous, and professional. And, I was satisfied with the answer I had to my question. When the survey asked if I would recommend Orbitz to friends and family, my first thought was, ‘Yeah!’. But, then I realized that if I had never taken the time to fill out the survey, I may not have reflected on and remembered the good experience I had. And, therefore, I may not have ever recommended Orbitz.

So, I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but that survey seemed to have two purposes–it helped them conduct their user research, but it also caused me, the user, to be reflective. And, because I was reflective, I will be a repeat customer.

This also brings out the fact that people tend to remember and focus more on the bad experiences they have. Had I been put on hold for more than a few minutes, or if the IVR system had routed me around and around, or if the CSR couldn’t answer my question, I probably would have lamented over that experience for several minutes or hours after I hung up.

But, because I got what I wanted in the way that I wanted, I almost just brushed that experience aside. Does this mean that as designers or usability practitioners, we have to strive to create and experience that doesn’t just meet the users’ expectations but exceeds them?

I think it does!

Smash Lab (a designer’s perspective)

My fiance and I are huge fans of the Mythbusters TV show on the Discovery Channel.  If you’re not familiar with it, the premise is a team of special effects experts put myths and urban legends to the test to see if they could be real.  But, basically, it’s an excuse for them to just blow a bunch of stuff up on TV.  Good, clean fun!  🙂

For about a month or so, during Mythbusters, Discovery has been advertising a new show called Smash Lab that will air immediately after Mythbusters.  Smash Lab is supposed to be about “a team of maverick engineers as they take on everyday technology and apply it in revolutionary new ways.”  Of course, since it promised crashes and explosions, we decided to check out the premiere this week.

As I was watching it, I was struck by one thought:  This is just another design challenge show!  It ended up being two teams that each competed with each other to design something while under some sort of constraint. Last semester, in my HCI Design I class, we watched an episode of Project Runway, where individual fashion designers were given constraints and had compete to design the best dress.  While Smash Lab didn’t have near the drama that Project Runway did (Thank God!!), the premise was strikingly similar.

This week’s show started off with them talking about aerated concrete (concrete mixed with air), which is used at the end of runways at airports to help slow and stop planes that may overshoot the runway. Then, they presented the challenge/constraints to the 4 members of the “team of maverick engineers” (One of the team members is a designer, btw): Use the aerated concrete to prevent a car or bus from crossing a median and smashing into oncoming traffic.

The first thing they did was set up a test crash so they could measure the forces involved and see how cars react to the crashes (and of course show some gratuitous smashing up on camera).  I equated this with the Research phase of the design process.  If we follow the PRInCiPleS framework set forth by Drs Blevis and Siegel, I would go so far to say that this research helped them develop their Insights, though they never really talked about Predispositions.  Afterwards, they developed two Concepts.  Two team members ended up following one idea and the other two followed another, so it ended up as sort of a competition as they developed and tested their Prototypes.

The Srategies were never discussed, but I kept telling my fiance that their cconcepts had serious problems with sustainability and weren’t very practical, so I doubt they could come up with a strategy.

Maybe the most interesting thing about the whole show is that both concepts failed!  It was slightly refreshing to me to see these people put all their hard work into creating and testing concepts only to have them fail in the end.  It happens even to people who are on TV! LOL

I think I’ll watch this show again.  It was actually pretty fun to analyze it from the designer’s perspective.  But, there was one thing that really annoyed both me and my fiance about the show.  They did not admit that one of the concepts had failed.  They played it up as if it had worked a little bit.  The aerated concrete did not stop or slow the bus down.  The bus only slowed when the brakes were applied! They seemed to gloss over that fact.

Anyway, the last thing I want to say about it is evaluating the show from a designer’s perspective was not my intention at all when I sat down to watch it last night!  I just wanted to be wowed by crashes and smashes and explosions.  But, I guess you can’t really control your designerly ways of thinking when you’re fully engrossed in learning the subject matter!

Hence, that is why we blog about!  😉

Designing the Gambling Experience

Last month, my fiance, sister, father and I spent a day at an Off Track Betting site in my old hometown about 2 hours away.  For those of you who are not familiar with OTBs, they are places where you can go to watch–and, more importantly, bet on–whatever horse racing tracks are running around the world.  I’ve been to a couple of race tracks (Churchill Downs in Louisville and Arlington Park in Chicago) where you bet only on the races running at that track and enjoyed them tremendously, but I’d never been to an OTB before.

It was an experience, because according to Dilthy and Bruner, was “distinguishable, isolable sequence of external events and internal responses to them”. While for the most part it was quite enjoyable (though I’m sure it could have been even more enjoyable had I left there a big winner ;) , there were some things that we felt could have been improved upon.  As my fiance and I were driving home that evening, the only thing we talked about was how we would improve various things, in essence, design our own personal gambling experience.  We didn’t talk about how much fun we had or how great it was to see my dad and my sister.  Even now, when I think back on the experience, the memory isn’t all that positive.  I first think about how some of the TVs were in need of repair, or how I couldn’t hear the callings of the races, or how I became easily confused because many races were running simultaneously.

In his Having An Experience essay, Dewey wrote “Experience is limited by all the causes which interfere with perception and the relations between undergoing and doing.” Reflecting on my OTB experience has helped me to understand what he means.

I had fun at the OTB, but I kept thinking things like, “I wish I could hear them call this race and not that race” or “I can’t see that race very well because the TV is too small or the contrast is too dark”.  And, the reason I had those thoughts was my only previous experience with the horse races had been at an actual track where the TVs are all in pristine condition and the calling of the race is piped throughout the facility.

So, I was comparing the experience I was having (the OTB) with one I had previously had (the actual track). I wasn’t experiencing the moment at the OTB.  I had predispositions, if you will, of what the OTB experience would be like.  I was limiting my own experience with my perception that an OTB would be the same at an actual track.  As Dewey said, there was “interference because  of excess on the side of … receptivity”.  This “unbalance blurred my perception” and “left the experience partial and distorted”.

Now, if only I could understand what the other 21 pages of Dewey’s article meant! LOL

IU HCI Blogs

So, while I’m not new to blooging, this is the first “official” blog I’ve created specifically for school. Blogging has been highly recommended by several professors and students in the HCI grad program. Several of my IU HCI collegues have blogs as well. I was going to try to collect them all and create links to them, but I found out that someone else has already done that. (Thanks, Kevin!)

So, if you’re interested in reading the musings of other people from IU on the world of HCI, here is a list: