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Seductive barrell rolls

On Friday, at the second and most excellent UX Brighton conference, Giles Colborne laid out a stern warning against designing interfaces that distract. And yet I couldn’t help the feeling, even as tales of lowered traffic fatalities during the Blackberry outage were recounted, that many in the audience would love to do just that – Giles himself admitted that the most “addicting” interfaces are the most successful, be it Twitter, email, Tetris or Facebook.

On the day Giles defined addictive interfaces as those that hand us a delicious, dopamine treat through random rewards, the internet was delighting in the newly discovered Google easter egg of “Do a barrell roll” (among a few others). I smiled thinking that Google have become masters of random treats: Easter eggs, Google doodles. Whether this “random seduction” on their part is deliberate or not is up for discussion, but it’s certainly good for business.

Addictive interfaces may be bad for our cognition, but they keep us coming back and build attachment to a products and services.

Evaluate the Ecosystem

Andrea Resmini, one of the speakers at Friday’s UX Brighton conference, described how users’ tasks are often fragmented because product makers give too much consideration to a particular channel – be it a website, mobile app or some type of ubicomp device – rather then focusing on the whole ecosystem that supports a user’s goal. In other words: users think in terms of tasks, not channels or devices; and designers are too often guilty of feeling the elephant.

This resonated with me, since, as part of a school exercise, we’d been asked to conduct a user study on some aspect of commuting or transport. We had chosen to examine the Southern ticket collection machines at Brighton station. There are two flaws to be noted here: one in our own approach; and one in Southern’s own design of the task flow across the different channels.

We had set ourselves the task of “How usable / efficient is the ticket collection machine?” rather than “How easy / efficient is it to buy and collect a ticket?”. The second question is more closely aligned with the user’s actual high level goal. Since we focused too much on the channel, we failed to address the higher ecosystem around the task: the website where the ticket was bought, the placement of the machines, etc. We therefore may have failed to identify the true pain points involved in the process.

Secondly, Southern themselves have arguably failed to create a seamless experience of ticket collection. When buying a ticket on the website, the booking confirmation screen reminds us that when using “Ticket on Departure” we will need our “reference and card used to pay in order to collect your tickets. When arriving at the station, the communication from one channel to another has already broken down. The ticket collection machines are not called “Ticket on Demand” (despite the site suggesting, through capitalisation, that this is their brand name). The collections are also misleading. Only the purchase card is needed to collect the tickets OR the reference number and another credit card.

There’s a hint of irony in the fact that we set out to help the user by seeking fault in a machine, but may have failed because the machine, not the task, became our focus.

Damaged goods

Knackered iPhone
If “emotional fullfilment” can be listed as one of the goals of UX, then I suspect it must have a perverse side.

Last week, while walking home, I let my iPhone 3 slip from my hand (despite its rubber cover) and watched as its screen cracked into dozens of pieces on the ground – yet stayed otherwise in tact.

I’m not a massive fan of Apple products and the phone had been a hand-me-down from a former employer. Therefore, my initial reaction was glee at finally having an excuse to replace the thing. But bizarrely, upon discovering that it still worked without a hitch, I delicately wrapped the screen in clingfilm and continued to use it with an odd sense of satisfaction.

Because I had – however perversely – made the phone uniquely mine, I became all the more attached to it. I no longer felt like one of the iPhone carrying clones. I also had new-found respect the phone’s sturdiness as a manufactured product. The snooty smartphone had finally become a thing of substance and character.

I will obviously replace it at some point. The clingfilm wrapped look isn’t at all flattering and I don’t want to end up with a shard of screen embedded in my thigh.

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