Experience: Where am I? Where have I been? Where am I going?

One month ago I, who has had cancer, dropped my daughter, who has had kidney failure, off at school for her first day. And as I walked home, I was stunned. This day was in a future I didn’t believe could happen and which I had never allowed myself to think about.

I felt completely lost.

So there we were, at the gate. My daughter was completely cool about this new experience and walked into her new life, full of joy, without a backward glance.

I was less cool.

And this feeling of being lost reminded me of the questions I would ask when designing webpages: Where am I? Where have I been? Where am I going?

And when the answers weren’t immediately apparent, I would slap on breadcrumbs, menus, sidebars, search boxes and anything else I could, to make sure users knew where to go next.

Now as I type this, it sounds like I was designing a tunnel. I didn’t think about user experience. I was just herding them through, and literally pushing them to the exit.

And for a very long time, I used the same approach in life. I herded myself through a set of goals in the hope of reaching some imagined future. In it, I would be cool and everything would be fabulous.

What can I say? I was a computer programmer. I provided programmed solutions and users stepped through them in a specific way to get specific results. And then times changed. I moved off the mainframe and onto the web but I continued with the same approach. And I wasn’t alone.

In a recent blog post, Alan Dix discusses how being lost in hyperspace, was a common preoccupation in the human-computer interaction world. But lately, having looked at how users are behaving, especially on sites like Pinterest, Alan says perhaps they are not worried about feeling lost, or having control anymore. They are just enjoying the experience.

I had a similar discovery too when I was thinking about sprucing up this website. I wandered round the web to see what was new and was looking at Jeffrey Zeldman’s site when I saw that his breadcrumbs, sidebars, and search boxes have disappeared. I was baffled at first, without signage how would I navigate? What if I got lost? But on reflection, I realised, I didn’t need signage, I was there for a mosey round and an experience. How could I get lost?

And as I admired Zeldman’s clean design and crisp pictures, I was reminded of my la pavoni. It doesn’t have much in the way of instructions on it, but it is so asethetically pleasing that when I use it, I am not just making coffee, I am temporarily transported to coffee nirvana. And how could I ever get lost in nirvana?

I still believe that design is about communication and communicating intentions. But now I know this includes more than results. Good design must mean amongst other things, a collective sharing of ideas and good experiences, which is now easier to achieve, because we have a whole generation of users who have never known the web any other way. Users who demonstrate the no function in structure principle, because they don’t worry about getting lost. They turn up without any expectations of how something should work and are happy to experience a site without needing the interaction to happen in a specific sequence.

And after my recent life experiences where I had no control over what was going on or any clear instructions on how to proceed, I have learnt an important lesson. Being present is enough. An experience doesn’t have to be prescribed. It doesn’t need sign posting. It is not about knowing exactly where you are, where you’ve been, or where you are going. It is about right now.

The current experience is all we have, so we need to make it good. And on the days when being without signage brings me out in a rash, I remember my daughter on her first day of school, embracing life with joy, and I try to do the same. And when I do that, I become the person I always wanted to be in some imagined future:

I am cool and everything is fabulous.

Human-computer interaction: Can you see what it is yet?

check out the video of this interface on ted.com

The recent furore over the 2012 Olympics Logo reminds me of how people react to the user interfaces they find on everything they interact with, from websites to washing machines. If an interface, like a logo, is well-designed, no one notices or mentions it. If it is difficult or unsightly, people complain loudly and when given a choice, won’t use an interface they don’t like. Interaction designers, like IT support staff, are never thanked when all is well and severely criticised when interfaces cause users problems. Continue reading “Human-computer interaction: Can you see what it is yet?”

Function-behaviour-structure for website design

screenshot of summertown solutions ltd

So, you have decided to create your own website. You have read all the latest articles, bought a domain name, and now you are staring at your holding page wondering what your website is for and what you should put on it.

Never fear, function-behaviour-structure (FBS) theory can help. FBS is a popular artificial intelligence design theory and like all good fairy godmothers, it will answer your three questions:

  1. Function: What is the purpose of your website?
  2. Behaviour: What will your website do?
  3. Structure: What structure will your website take? Continue reading “Function-behaviour-structure for website design”

The eight tasks in an artefact lifecycle

full image at http://www.sumsol.co.uk/schema.pdf

A bridge, building, or piece of software may exist for many years. Or, as often happens in the case of new software, be scrapped before it is put into use. My mate Wayne, a professional software developer for over 12 years, has worked on several projects which were canned before they were completed. In a world of ever changing requirements and circumstances, ‘it’s not unusual’ as Tom Jones would say. Software development can take months, even years of effort, so scrapping the results is a waste. To counteract this, we have libraries for software reuse, design patterns and templates to avoid reinventing the wheel.

But why just reuse the product template or pattern? Why not template the tasks the artefact underwent during its lifecycle? By extending the theory of function, structure, and behaviour, there are eight tasks in an artefact lifecycle. Continue reading “The eight tasks in an artefact lifecycle”

Design using function, behaviour, structure

English Heritage pic of Rievaulx Abbey
Last month, at the Architectural Association, Bill Hillier described how English Heritage often want to reinstate the paths and roads of the historic sites they are trying to preserve. Hillier argued that these sites need new pathways as the way people interact with them now is not the same as when they were built. One example of this is Rievaulx Abbey. It was once a place where monks lived and worshipped, until Henry VIII dissolved the monastries to get his hands on their money.

Today, Rievaulx is a tourist attraction, which is occasionally used as a place of worship and the change in its functionality is reflected in the pathways around it. They can be described as paths of desire, which have come about because visitors wander across the grass or clamber over a wall to get to a specific part of the abbey instead of walking about retracing the routes the Cistercians may have used, which would give visitors a better insight into the way the abbey and its inhabitants behaved. Continue reading “Design using function, behaviour, structure”