“Hands Are Fantastic!” “Hands Are Our Future!”

 

The “Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design” accomplished its purpose for me without a doubt: it was a huge wake-up call to the way in which we all have tunnel vision about what the future will look like in terms of technology. I truly never noticed – never even thought about – the fact that all of our devices – computers, tablets, phones, and more – are glassy screens controlled by swiping our fingers. In fact, when he stated the following I had no guess about the “two things” to which he might be referring: “Hands do two things. They are two utterly amazing things, and you rely on them every moment of the day, and most Future Interaction Concepts completely ignore both of them.”

Ohhhh, right, hands feel and manipulate things. On that note, I definitely agree with the author: we all need to rethink our vision about the future, and see how we can gradually incorporate more and more natural human capabilities into human-computer interaction. However, the “rant” also made me think more about current devices. We do feel with our hands the smooth edges of our phones and computers, we do use our sense of touch to locate the keys on the keyboard without even looking, we do manipulate things on screens in an intuitive way (e.g. zooming in or out by moving two fingers), and in my high school we could write on and touch with our fingers (and so much more) on the “smart boards” in our classrooms. For these reasons (in combination with the fact that screens are pretty, compact, sleek, etc.), I cannot help but think that screens in their own way are not so “unfeeling” or “unnatural” as the author makes them out to be. That is not to say I disagree with the fact that we should not limit ourselves and our technological research efforts to screens, but that it is possible that their ease, compactness, and intuitiveness means that there is something about them that might not go away as the Kodak black-and-white camera did.

In the follow-up article, the author addressed some feedback that he had received. I actually felt bad that he had to address the issues he did, considering that most of them were inapplicable (e.g. “What about voice?”) or simply… kind of stupid. He had a great answer to a piece of feedback of the latter kind asking, “Why didn’t you suggest any solutions?” His answer: “The solution isn’t known, and I didn’t think making stuff up would help.” Haha. 😛

Overall, I loved the author’s fun, laidback, down-to-earth writing style, and now that I know about his website I will be sure to spend time this semester looking through more of his articles.

Why the User is Always Right & Why It’s Good to “Make Things Pretty”

In “The Psychopathology of Everyday Things,” Don Norman explains the importance of “human-centered design” (HCD). This design method emphasizes the need to understand people and human behavior, and to design in order to meet human capabilities and needs. He explains that as technology becomes increasingly widespread and complex, that the possibility for confusion and irritation caused by technology increases, as does the need for HCD in order to reduce those negative reactions. He provides plenty of common examples to illustrate bad, non-intuitive design (ranging from doors to refrigerator settings) and explains that there can often be a disconnect between the engineers of products and the way in which consumers will actually use (or try to use) products.

(A picture of Don Norman, in case anybody is curious:)

Being an introductory chapter, Norman also spends time introducing us to a variety of design terms: affordances, signifiers, mapping, feedback, conceptual models, system images, and more. While all are important (and are things to keep in mind as we continue to create projects in this class), he spends a disproportionate amount of time distinguishing between the first two terms: affordances and signifiers. He states that, “Affordances determine what actions are possible. Signifiers communicate where the action should take place.” After many pages of explanation, I found that his best explanation of the two was actually made through the example of a pair of scissors (which was provided to explain a different term, actually). Norman explains that the holes of scissors are both affordances and signifiers. The holes permit (i.e. “afford”) fingers to go through them; the fact that people have fingers and the scissors have holes constitutes the “relationship” that is the definition of affordance. The holes are also signifiers, however, because they are indicators of where, exactly, the fingers should go in order to use the scissors.

During the reading of this chapter, I could not help but think about what I have been learning in my Wayfinding course so far this semester. In particular, we have been reminded over and over again that “the user is always right.” Users (read: humans) are not stupid; if a person tries to push a door that must be pulled, they are not unobservant or unintelligent, rather, the door must be poorly-designed and is misleading the user into pushing rather than pulling. The notion that design must be made with actual human behavior and intuition in mind seems incredibly obvious – which has long made me wonder why so many things are designed in a way that makes them difficult and frustrating to use. Norman provides me with an answer: there is a disconnect between the engineers of products (who are extremely logic-minded) and actual (not necessarily logical) human behavior.


In the article “Emotion and Design: Attractive Things Work Better,” Norman asserts that attractive, pleasurable designs instill positive affect in people, which leads to cognition that is more creative and problem-solving. In contrast, bad design leads to negative affect, which leads to narrow, focused cognition. He argues that, for this reason, aesthetics are important in design, for they actually make experiences better and products more usable.

Going off of his reasoning, this means that in emergency situations when people are thinking narrow-mindedly, design should be easy and straightforward, since people cannot think creatively to solve problems if they arise. It also means that in non-emergency situations, design should be very aesthetic, for when people have positive affect, they are less likely to be bothered by other problems that might arise, will be more innovative in dealing with such problems, and overall will simply have a better experience.

I truly enjoyed reading this article, because there have been many times when people have asked why I spend “unnecessary” extra time to make things pretty – whether it is a powerpoint, a project, or even the format of an email. I always felt that it was important: I thought that the professor would feel less annoyed about all my questions if I organized in them in a nice-looking list, or that the class would understand my presentation better if I color-coded the subtopics according to a pretty color scheme, and the list goes on. Despite being told that “nobody would even notice” the small, design-related elements I added, I could not help but include them anyway. Now, after reading this article, I am more convinced than ever that beauty/aesthetics is not superficial like it obviously sounds; clearly, people have a more positive experience, and a special, more innovative way of thinking when something has a more visually pleasing design.

 

LED Soccer

Although my project last week (the pedal-like switch) was entirely practical, I decided that I could shoot a bit farther this week: I wanted to combine my tendency towards the practical with more creativity and fun. I hoped to make something that could realistically be used by people, but I wanted the purpose of that use to be simple entertainment. On that note, presenting…

LED Soccer!!!

The game works like this: in the picture above, you can see that the bus board is set up with five rows of LED lights. On either side of each row, there is a pair of either green or red lights. In order to win the game, a player must pick up the soccer field box (shown above in the top picture) and make the ball hit the left or right goal, according to whether the green LED lights on the bus board are on the left or the right side.

For example, when the game starts, the player must hit the ball into the left goal because the green LED lights are on the left side of the bus board. If the player does so successfully, then he or she moves on to the next round/next row of lights on the bus board. The player knows which round he/she is on because all of the LED lights on the current row will flash. Once the player goes through all of the rounds/rows successfully, he or she has won and all of the LED lights flash together many times. Below is a video showing a player playing through the game successfully – watch how the player’s goals correspond with the lights on the bus board.

Extra notes:

  • If the player hits the wrong goal/side (i.e. the side that corresponds to the red LED lights), then those red lights will temporarily light up, and then the player will have to start over from the beginning of the game.
  • If the player hits either of the sides of the soccer field (the sides that do not have the goals), all of the lights on the current row will light up, and the player will have to start over from the beginning of the game.

(It’s best to let the video load first, and then play it.)

Creating this game required a) planning and placing the circuits and LEDs, b) writing the code, and c) creating the soccer field.

Planning and Placing the Circuits:

This part was actually not too difficult, once I started to figure it out. To attach each pair of LEDs, I simply put both the long legs in one row, the short legs in another row, and connected the long legs to the pin on the circuit board, and the short legs to resistance (which connected to the ground).

Each part of the soccer field (the left goal, the right goal, the left side, and the right side) were also connected to a pin as well as to resistance and the ground. The only part that was always connected to power was the ground of the soccer field (the strange rectangular shape made of aluminium foil at the bottom of the field).

Writing the Code:

It was only through 1) my Intro to Programming skills, 2) a lot of googling, and 3) the help of a friend who is a Computer Science major, that I was able to write the code for the game. I attach it here, with comments within it to show what each part is doing. It seems long, but is performing very basic functions.

Creating the Soccer Field:

Cutting aluminum foil for the goals, the sides, the ground, and attaching two wires to each of them took quite a while. Moreover, the first time I attached the wires to the aluminium foil, the wires did not connect to the foil well, so I had to then wrap the ends of the wires in foil first, before again attaching. Overall though, creating and designing the soccer field was rather fun, and I like the finished result.

Please let me know what you all think about the game, and how I can improve it!

A Fridge Light, Mandarin Chinese, and Archimedes: Response to “The Art of Interactive Design” and “The Jump to Universality”

In the first chapter of Chris Crawford’s “The Art of Interactive Design,” we learn about the term “interactive.” What does it mean? What types of things are – and are not – interactive? He answers the first question in a clear, concise, easily understandable fashion: he compares interactivity to a conversation. He explains that, analogous to a conversation, interactivity is a “cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak.” Importantly, he notes that all three steps – listening, thinking, and speaking – must be present and of a high quality in order to something to be truly interactive. If even one of those steps does not exist, or is of a low quality, the entire process is broken/damaged. This idea is intuitive: if, in a real life conversation, even one of the two people involved forgets to listen, think, OR speak, the conversation would undoubtedly be negatively influenced.

While I enjoyed the whole chapter – especially the author’s casual, humor-filled writing style – the particular concept that stuck with me was the notion that interactivity is not like a Boolean property. Something is not just interactive or not interactive. Rather, interactivity is a continuum, and thus things can be more or less interactive. This conception of interactivity makes much more sense to me, and makes it easier to talk about the interactivity of anything: clearly, a refrigerator that has a light turn on when the door is opened is less interactive than a computer. Overall, the chapter was an interesting read (which was highly aided by the informality of the author) and gave me a new way to think about interactive media.

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“The Jump to Universality” was also a great read. It explained the way that even though “universality” in systems is highly desirable and useful, that humans avoided it until relatively recently in history (in particular, the Enlightenment, although it was still not quite smooth sailing even afterward). What made the read particularly interesting to me was that I have actually been interested in this subject – although I did not realize it was a topic of much study already – ever since I started studying Mandarin Chinese. As most people know, Mandarin Chinese does not have an alphabet, but actually has a unique character (picture, in a way) for each word. (Of course, there are compound words, and words with many different meanings.) I could not understand why, at some point along the way, nobody realized that this was a highly inefficient way of writing a language. I thought, for some reason, that this might be unique to China (for any of a variety of reasons). However, after reading this text, I now see that this phenomenon of avoiding the “jump to universality” was universal around the world, in all cultures and all types of subjects. Knowing this, I think that even in the present day, when we think of solutions to problems, we must fight the urge to find quick, easy-fix, “parochial” solutions in favor of bigger picture solutions.

Of all the examples provided in the text, the example of Archimedes, the mathematician that limited the way in which large numbers could be written down, stuck with me the most. This is perhaps because numbers seem to me, intuitively, to be the easiest, most obvious system to make the “jump to universality.” The fact that a brilliant mind like Archimedes failed to realize this is astounding, and says a lot about the way in which people used to think (and, in many subtle ways, might still think). All together, I found this text to be particularly intriguing and I look forward to doing more research on this subject independently.

A Real-Life “Trolley Problem” :P

Today, by mere luck and circumstance, I noticed an interaction that was not going as smoothly as a design-minded person would hope: I saw a worker here on campus pushing a trolley cart, but not in the traditional way. While I expected him to be pushing the cart with two hands from behind (as is illustrated on the left in the picture below), he was actually walking next to the cart, pushing it along with him with only one hand (illustrated below on the right). It only took a few seconds to realize why: if he walked quickly while pushing it from behind, his feet would would have hit the cart.

The problem lies in the design of the cart: the handles simply go straight up, forming a perfect 90 degree angle with the base. This means that there is little space between the base and the feet of whoever is pushing it. If users continued to push it in the traditional way (from behind), this method would “fail” them by causing either a) inconvenience and inefficiency, since workers have to walk more slowly, or b) injury, since workers might jam their foot on the base of the cart by accident. Clearly, the worker I observed had found an innovative (successful) alternative to both of these possible consequences, by pushing the cart from the side and avoiding injury while maintaining a fast walking speed.

There are definitely better designs for carts. These include carts that have long, curved (or angled) handles so that the base of the cart ends up being quite far in front of the user’s feet (illustrated below on the left), and carts that are balanced on one wheel, and are thus at an angle that again leaves a lot of space between the cart and the user (as illustrated on the right below).

No-Hands Switch Project — “Pedal” Switch

While brainstorming about what type of switch to create for this assignment, I thought of many ideas: I considered using everything from earrings to my permanent retainers as conductors, and even thought about how to make aluminium foil false eyelashes to make a switch that would turn on simply by blinking. However, I tend towards the practical, so instead of thinking about what interesting materials or body motions I could use, I started thinking about what function my switch could, and should, serve.

This function-focused line of thinking led me to consider what types of switches would be good for a situation in which individuals are unable to use their hands, whether in an emergency or as a result of a disability*. Thus, I thought of creating a simple pedal-like switch, by which individuals could turn on a light by moving their foot, whether seated or standing. Continue reading…

“Electronics for Earthlings” Response

As a pre-law student with little background in science, I am thrilled to say that Kenn Amdahl more than accomplished his goal of writing a book that makes scientific concepts interesting and easily comprehensible. Evidence for this lies in the fact that a) I laughed, smiled, and forgot I was reading an assigned text multiple times, and b) I later found myself googling whether or not electrons really exist and spending time on Quora reading answers to this question. Interestingly, the many answers/responses I found were far more abstract and philosophical than the scientific, nitty-gritty answers I expected to find.

In regards to understanding electricity and circuits, I will admit I found myself a little lost in the first class – I was struggling to recall the most basic concepts from my high school science classes. After this reading, however, I understand the fundamentals once again. I could now explain to a friend the basic idea of (or process involved in) all of the subjects covered in the text: static electricity, the electron theory, elements/molecules/atoms, protons/neutrons/electrons, the chain-reactions involved in atomic explosions, voltage, current, and resistance, and circuits and switches. (I started to summarize these all in this response, but realized that it would be rather time-consuming and lengthy, and that the reader(s) of this response will in no way find such a summary useful.)

The one thing I found to be the most interesting in the text (besides the author’s begrudging attitude towards the electron theory and his inclusion of various interesting stories, dreams, and anecdotes) was the author’s emphasis on understanding scientific models as just that – models. He explained that models are not reality: models typically only highlight one aspect of what they are trying to represent and should not be conflated or made equivalent to the phenomena they portray. This is really helpful to me: in past science classes I had never been fully satisfied with the models we used, for I felt they left me with far too many questions. Understanding models as what they are – imperfect and incomplete, though helpful and enlightening tools to understand scientific phenomena – undoubtedly will help me as I continue the learning process in this class.

Lastly, in case anyone would like them, I’m attaching the notes I took while reading this text below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Response to There Are No Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings, Kenn Amdahl, © 1991]