After 8 months of research and interviews, writing more than 20 drafts and receiving tons support from my wife and my family, I presented my point-of-view on one of the toughest challenges that experience designers face today.
The experience and the dialogs that I started with the audience made all the hard work worth while.
Scoping, designing and coding an iPad app right in a retail store.
This wireless, mind-read headset only costs a few hundred dollars. The training task in the demo feels very much like speech recognition in its early days. Motion control intantly looks antiquated.
(Update: Found this photo that I took in an article of the Telegraph!)
I remember the day when I got my first watch. It was the diver’s watch that my father handed down to me when I was 6. It was a symbol of independence and an instant grant of bragging rights to my friends. Fast forward 16 years, I saved money that I earned from an internship to buy a semi-expensive dress watch. I loved that watch and wore it every day through my university years.
Fast forward another 14 years to today, my watches sit inside my wardrobe for weeks without being touched. That is the same for most people. While the spirit of reading time is still alive and well, it has long left the metal and plastic shells on our wrist and into our mobile phones.
In late 2007, the CEO of Amazon announced the first Kindle to the world. It was hailed as the ‘iPod of reading’ and it would change the way we read books. The world bought the idea. Two and a half years and 3 updates later, the Kindles became the standard of e-Book readers. Other booksellers and device manufacturers followed suit and offered similar hardware and service. With the Amazon’s model taking the lead, eBook readers were on their way to make history.
But that road took a turn on Jan 2010, when Apple announced the iPad and iBooks. Unlike all eBook readers, the iPad is a generic device. It is built for all types of online contents from webpages to apps, games, videos, podcasts, music and books. The iPad ignited debates on the fate of the Kindles and e-Book readers alike. During the past 5 months, more and more evidences are showing that the future of e-Books readers are turning dim.
First were the price drops. Within the past month, three major eBook reader manufacturers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony) all dropped the prices of their products. The price of a Kindle dropped by 27%. The just released version of the Nook is 25% cheaper, and it comes with wifi and free wifi access in Barnes and Noble stores. The prices of those 3 eBook readers co-incidentally rest just under half the price of an iPad. In my opinion, those prices are still too expensive for eBook readers to remain attractive. In fact, I think the right price of eBook readers is 0.
Vast majority of people want to read books, not to own and maintain another electronic device. The value of being able to download books over-the-air and carry library of books along have now been marginalized by all the other features and possibilities offered by the iPad. All eBook readers on the market can only reliably compete with the iPad on readability of the display and weight, but those advantages will loose strength or simply overlooked by consumers as the iPad product line improves.
Some have argued that eBook readers, being dedicated devices, offer better reading experiences because they allow users to escape emails and other online distractions. That is a weak argument because people today are comfortable with multi-tasking. The explosive growth in smart phones attests that people are looking for devices that will allow them to do more and carry less. For those who really want un-interrupted reading, the off-switch to data connection on the iPad is only two clicks away. On the flip side of that argument, paying half the price of an iPad and get less than 20% of the feature simply doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Last but not least, the business model behind eBook readers is, and should be about selling books. The common denomination of feature that makes up all of eBook readers on the market today suggest that the hardware is already on the path to commoditization. I predict that before the next version of the iPad is released, manufacturers whose main business is in bookselling will either converge toward iPad to de-risk themselves all together, or give away eBook reader hardware for free and let volume of eBook sales support that channel. Other eBook reader manufacturers that solely profit from hardware will need to take the second option in order to stay in the business.
This tectonic shift under eBook readers is nothing but typical. Convergence of devices, contents and services is the counter-force that pushes back upon the endless gush of new offerings (and their variants) that appear on the market every week. Behind these convergences is the mind of consumers, who vote for the best solution to satisfy their practical and emotional needs every time. It is those needs behind that businesses should seek, not the questions that their offerings can help answer.
About 2 months ago I resigned from Motorola. During the last 5 years, I gained tremendous amount of experience and worked with many immensely talented people. There is never a good time to end such a great relationship but personal life and new prospects call for a shift in direction. It was my time to turn a new page.
After reflecting on my past 5 years, I found my perspective on interaction design to be very different than when I left DePaul University in 2003. Here’s what I learned:
Interaction Design is an exercise to define context
One of my recent favourite quotes is Alice Rawsthorn’s comment on the new generation of products in ‘Objectified‘, to which she thinks “the form bears absolutely no relation to the function.” If that is a trend in product design, it is a tradition in digital interaction design. Most digital UI controls lack volumetric and tactile properties. Many designers, including myself when I started my career, seek arrangements of controls that ‘make sense’ and to create ‘affordance’ in the design. What I have come to realize is that correctly and efficiently communicate a context of use with the user is a much more reliable path to a usable and engaging design.
Generally speaking, users perceive an user interface in aggregate, not by individual component. If all the components on the first few screens efficiently and coherently communicate what type of application it is (e.g. an media player with online contents on my mobile) and the rest of the application also aligns with that character, usage is generally clear and fluid. Focusing the on the arrangements and placements of controls along is not enough. In fact, being overly stringent in building and applying usability guidelines put undue restrictions to the designers and leads to interaction designs are that overly instructional and non-engaging. Usability and rationality in design are of course important, but letting them lead the creative process is like letting a carriage lead the horse.
About 2 weeks ago, I presented the first draft of this deck in UXCampLondon.
The idea of considering user’s emotions in mobile UI design came up while I attended Judith Gregory‘s class at IIT Institute of Design. Since then, I have been researching and crystallizing thoughts around the subject. The opportunity to present it to a group of UX design experts in London was both exciting and a little nerve-wrecking. I put together the structure of the deck in Chicago and finished this draft within a few days in London (mostly in a neighbourhood pub because of their free WiFi :P).
The feedback and questions from the UXCampLondon crowd was tremendously insightful. At the beginning of the deck suggests the general affiliation between users’ emotional response to designs and consumer trends. One of the audience responded and advocated for a more sustainable approach to create long-lasting products and customer relationships. On my example from Apple’s Logic Studio, Tom Hume insightfully pointed out that the seemingly un-usable UI may target advanced users (or aspiring novices) want to gain the satisfaction of mastery on complex controls. Complexity of an UI leads user satisfaction, what an exciting new concept! 🙂 I am sharing this early draft here. Please post any question you have. I will update and add content to this deck in the weeks to come. Please stay tuned.
Last but not least, I want to give credit to companies for the materials that I used as examples. Dave Armano’s illustration on Experience Design is illuminating.
Update 18-Sep-2009: Cool notes from one of the audience posted on Flickr. 🙂
My girlfriend came visit me and we played ‘Little Big Planet’ on my Playstation 3. Amongst many things uniquely fun about the game is the ability customize just about anything on the characters at any time.
You can also take snapshots of characters during their adventures within the game. Through our game play, we became attached to our little sock-puppets personas. My girlfriend once got upset because she forgot to save her customizations. I also spend time before we started every quest to put on the right look.
On way back home one day, I had the idea of sending one of the in-game snapshots to my girlfriend. Low and behold, the snapshots we took can be saved to a memory card with a touch of a few buttons. We shared and talked about the game during a few exchanges of emails. We also clipped faces of our characters and use them as our IM avatars.
Cross-medium experience is nothing new. Companies have been using multiple media to promote brands since the 70’s. In entertainment, the Matrix franchise creatively and fearlessly threaded their mythology into games, comics, supplementary short movies and took storytelling into a new level (It is examined in details in Henry Jenkin’s Convergence Culture).
Doblin Group, a strategy firm in Chicago (now part of the Monitor Group) advocates experience extension in their Experience Framework as a way for companies to strengthen brand message and build customer loyalty.
With a seemingly trivial feature, Little Big Planet allows us to extend the capital that we build in their world into ours — to keep, share and most importantly, to tell stories about the adventures that we had in a fantasy world made out of felt, lint and paper cut-outs.