16 December 2013

Feedbacks: UX Design (Part 1)

This post, in two parts, is aimed primarily at developers and UX designers wishing to work in the design of large public interactive displays. The project owners responsible for the deployment of such devices could also find some interest in this article.
No ready to use "recipe" but some pragmatic advices and lessons learned during the last years. If you understand the principles you will find the recipes without difficulty. The web is full of useful resources.

At the interface of physical and digital worlds
An interactive device materializes the junction of two separate "universes" governed by their own constraints: The physical and the digital. Software industry (developers, designers, marketing, ...) has long prioritized the digital dimension. Reintegrating the 3 core components (user, device, environment) and their interactions into the design process is essential.

The user
User is obviously the most complex part to deal with since many factors are implied (biomechanics, physiology, cognitive psychology ...). A developer or designer is not intended to turn into a fine psychologist but a broadened vision greatly helps to enrich our practice . The good news is that there is a rich academic literature on these subjects (Fitts's law, the bimanual interaction model by Y. Guiard , Don Norman's works...), it is often available online for free and it is not always boring to read (even for beginners).

The pair "Client / User"
Take into account the human dimension also means understand the pair formed by the client and the user. The client is the initiator of the device. This is your client. It rewards your work. The user uses the device. In the case of a public interactive system, it is sometimes the client of your client. Your goal is to satisfy your client and it is unlikely to happen if the user is not satisfied. To complicate things, your client has specific goals (increased sales, customer loyalty ...) which are not always those of the user (looking for the best price ...). Identify the expectations and goals of each is required. Finding the right balance will sometimes perilous.

30 seconds of attention
You have invested a lot of time and energy into the design of your system. Your legitimate wish is that users will appreciate your work and will be "catched" by your system. Lose all hope.

Nobody goes to a public place in order to interact with a digital device 
                                                                                                      (even if you're the designer)

A public digital device is used if you can integrate it into the process that led the person to come to a place. A successful system is cleverly integrated into its environment, makes the expected service and sends a positive brand image in the short time devoted by the user. Therein lies your true success. From experience, I would say that your timespan to convey a message is on average 30-40 seconds [1]. Do not miss it.

The positive side
- 30 seconds seems to be a reasonable empirical estimate of the attention you can expect from a person in an upright position in a public place. This is an average value and behaviors may vary depending on many factors: type of application proposed, user profile, time of day ...
- Your client rarely wishes that a user spends a lot of time on a device. That could even be against its main objectives.
- Some "compulsive" users seem not want to leave a device before they have toured all offered possibilities. Good people !

The trio "Software, Hardware, Environment"
Get to know and master the hardware and the environment of your system. The success of your project depends on the adequacy of these three components. Any defect in one of these components or in their integration will result in a failure of the overall system.

Consider the strengths and weaknesses of the hardware
A few facts:
- The screen of an ATM is not the screen of an iPad
- An iPad is not a screen 60"
- A screen with optical technology is not a projected capacitive screen
- A no-touch device is not better than a touch screen because it is newer
If all this seems obvious but if you continue to test your work on a laptop screen when the final device is a screen 60", there is a problem.

The criteria for hardware are not only objective
The subjective feelings do matter. Get into the habit of associating words to the use of a hardware: light, fluid, heavy, inert ...

Master the environment
You have the best hardware, the application is perfect and the visuals are gorgeous. And yet you will fail. You will fail because your device was placed where nobody goes. You will fail because the sun rays caress the screen and make the interface unreadable. You will fail because the sound is essential for the use of your system but the environment is noisy. If you haven't mastered (if you don't know) the environment of your device, you don't control the success of your project.

Always up
- If your device is connected, in case of connection loss it should be as autonomous as possible (data synchronization).
- If interaction fails, make ​​it fail gracefully
- Make your system resilient (application crashes => auto restart)
- Monitor your devices
- A defective device is associated to a defective brand
- A black screen is a taboo
- A golden rule: Your system is interactive. It doesn't have the right not to answer.

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