Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Design of Future Things

In the follow-up of Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things comes his second book, The Design of Future Things. This book, bounces from point to point on the future of design. The high points of the book include his exploration of the definition of dialogue, automation, and augmentation. He also ties together a good deal from his other books: The Design of Everyday Things and Emotional Design.

I think the most important point that Norman makes in the entire book happens in the first chapter. He relates Socrates' argument that two monologues do not create a dialogue. The two voices, Norman insists in amplifying fashion, must be in interaction. This relates to a whole host of examples in all of social interaction, whether it be human-to-human, computer-to-computer, human-to-computer, or otherwise. In every case, the designer must remember that it cannot just be a force-feeding of information or commands to the user. Latitude must be given in any series of computer interactions.

That said, also the role between automation and augmentation— which Norman brings up in chapter five. I do agree with Norman's interpretation here of automation versus augmentation. Automation should only be used in cases to speed up a process that would normally be labor-intensive if done by a human or one that would be unsightly for a human to do. In all other cases, the computer-related designs should only augment what a human rightfully should do. In this case, the augmentation can be ignored by the human user and thus not cause (or at least limit) the level of annoyance any design might create.

All in all the book was another insightful and beneficial read—save the last wacky chapter which wasn't a requirement to read (though the rules given there were good).

Posted: Brian Salato, Adam Griffin, and Brad Twitty.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pen Rolling Paper Review

I chose for our UIST 2008 reading assignment to read the paper An Exploration of Pen Rolling for Pen-based Interaction by Bi, et al.

The paper was about a series of experiments done around the rarely implemented pen input along the longitudinal axis, specially studies "first on the parameters separating intentional and incidental pen rolling and secondly on "the parameter range within which accurate and timely intentional pen rolling interactions can be observed." The authors were interested in expanding the use of pens to encompass the whole range of uses of mice and keyboards, including scroll wheels, in what they call "pure pen computing."

Some questions that I had after reading this paper included how intuitive was it for the pen to be used as a scroll wheel? And could the incidental pen strokes cause for improper recognition by the system? I feel that these questions raise too large of hurdles for potential full-scale application of these pens, but if something could be created to mitigate the incidental (not too much unlike the Apple Newton case in Don Norman's The Design of Future Things), then there would be great promise in such devices.

Posted on: Lei Gui, George Lucchese, and Brad Twitty.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pay to Play: An Ethnographic Study

I did my ethnography on the new Lot 51 Visitor Pay-by-Space parking area with accompanying parking station kiosks. My observations consisted of plenty of counting and a whole lot more of waiting as it were. The waiting was a necessary setback since parking observations are incomplete unless one stakes out a parking lot for whole day periods, which I did not have the manpower to fully complete. The few observations I completed were from an hour long to a half hour. Even one time, it consisted of a mere surveillance of the lot during the overnight hours to see if anything was out of the "ordinary."

I did learn a great deal and found out some interesting trends in the new visitor parking—and more reasons to not appreciate Transportation Services. Something very interesting I learned was the lengths that some will take to park closer to campus, even for an extra $6 in cost. This was evident in Lot 50 permitted cars parking a lot over conceivably because the walk from the rear of Lot 50 would have taken longer than simply zipping into the visitor spot and paying. An interesting correlation was that these same permitted vehicles had EZ Tag toll tags, indicating a few indicators of possible expendable income or greater ease at paying a little extra for some added benefit (like a closer parking spot to class).

What I also observed was that women had more of tendancy to talk to the machine, that the biggest delay was figuring out their pre-determined time in the parking spot, the biggest overall confusion was whether or not to keep the ticket or put it in the vehicle, and largest flaw of the actual parking station kiosk system was that the ticket dispenser was out-of-view of the user. In fact, on a couple occassions the common user verbalization was "Where's my ticket?"

Some of the biggest difficulties I ran into over the course of the week was just what kind of and how much data we should have been collecting. I understood the concept of an ethnography well enough, but this clarification and deeper understanding would have been helpful from the onset when the initial ethnography assignment was assigned.

Posted: George, Josh Myers, and Lei Gui.

"Never in Anger": A Review

Jean L. Brigg's book Never in Anger was an interesting look in a small group of Eskimos in northern Canada. The book took a thorough—albeit emotion-filled—look into the societal structure of an Eskimo community on the Back River near Chantrey Inlet, spanning her seventeen months there. She didn't complete her original goal of learning and observing pre-missionary religious Eskimo practices, since they had already adapted to the Christian (Anglican and Catholic) missionaries. However, she did effective turn the setback into something positive by continuing her study and focusing on their social interaction instead. As she ended the book, she noted:
I had letters from Back River twice before I left Gjoa Haven in March. Allaq said: "Saraak asks where you are and mistakenly tinks you will come soon." She and Inuttiaq both said: "I didn't think I'd care (huqu, naklik) when you left, but I did (naklik)." - Page 307

Jean's experience in the Far North was a noteworthy one, but sometimes the narrative got in the way of the actual "findings" of sorts. The study was social interaction and emotions after all (there's even an appendix on "Emotional Concepts"), but the ultimate question even in a sociology-based enthnography is how far involved with the subjects should one get. There might have been a tad too much emotional investment by Jean in this regard. All these concerns nonwithstanding, I think the overall experience she had could be summed up with the following words of Jean from page 295: "In spite of all these tensions I was still treated with the most impeccable semblance of solicitude." In the end, they did bear with her, even if she had trouble integrating into their society.

Posted comments: Patrick Clay, Eric Scott, and Jared.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Few Thoughts on the Equation

"Nass and Reeves have spent the last decade working in the area of social responses to technology. We brought them into our team, and they have shown us some amazing things." - Bill Gates, Chairman and CEO, Microsoft Corp.

In the words of Nass & Reeves' Media and Social Roles section of the book, there are a few things left to be uncovered. This book did uncover a great deal of interesting information, but buried beneath a bunch of superfluous text is not a way to crisply deliver something that's supposedly the best thing since sliced bread. It's unfortunate that the study results would be tarnished by a senselessly lengthy read.

The Media Equation, by Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass, was a book explaining the connection between media and people, specifically how little different people treat computers versus other people. There is a lengthy discussion of the aspects of this reality and their exuberant findings (as we are so forcibly reminded without end in the text). These include manners, personality, emotion, social roles, and form. In short, Reeves and Nass explain that there are numerous ways to influence design through tweaks of the expectation of the user and the computer interface. We, as they suggest, have several instincts that influence our actions that only after some rational thinking won't switch over, even things such mundane as stereotypical assumptions based on voices (old or young, woman or man, etc.).

I found the book itself to be completely too long, either it would have been better for the authors to include diagrams or other visual aids to complete the visualization required to process their information (they might've taken their own advice here, in this case) or to have organized the information into more digestible (and memorable) passages than one like the following:
We found no differences, however. The same voice produced the same evaluation, regardless of which machine played it. Moving a voice from one machine to another did not change the identification of the actor making the comments. - Page 176

Passages like the one above, make it read worse than either a good book or a good paper; it confuses between the two. The text itself sleepwalks through the procedures and while there is inevitably provides interesting results, the task to find them makes it incredibly tedious and nearly not worth it.

My favorite portion was actually the chapter on specialists (Chapter 12). The study there was easy to understand, curiously true when brought to real-life cases. Even the line used in the chapter's first paragraph bears credence (or lack thereof, depending on whom you ask) to their theories as to whom to listen to:
All reviews, however, even if positive, are not created equal. A sophomore in one of our classes said that we had told him amazing things about media. But we left his name off the book jacket in favor of a prominent person who had said exactly the same thing. What's the difference between a sophomore and a CEO? And what do the people quoted on the jacket have, even if you don't recognize their names, that others don't? - Page 143

In the end, the CEO quoted above was just as wrong as the student mentioned in the book. Everything about this book wasn't rosy. Like the company's CEO, things exclaimed as great one minute can very well be not so wonderful the next. It depends on how relevant or irrelevant the feature or discussion becomes.

I commented on the blogs of Adam Griffin, Lei Gu, and Brad Twitty.