MB’s Dan Soltis talks at UX Brighton

Last Tuesday MB’s Dan Soltis headed down to talk at UX Brighton, a monthly event that aims to disseminate knowledge in all aspects of user experience. This month’s theme was ‘The Physical Web’ and discussed how to approach problems and design experiences as the ‘Internet of Things` becomes a larger and more everyday presence in our lives – within household appliances, everyday objects and bespoke devices.

Claire Rowland from AlertMe.com opened the talk with the line “Siri, did I leave the oven on?” and provided great context by discussing smart homes and some of the UX considerations for systems that inhabit a complex and personal social space.

Denise Wilton from Berg complemented this nicely by talking through the design decisions that went into creating Little Printer.

Dans talk was split into two parts. The first discussed the Internet of Things and how those involved in it’s creation occupy very disparate but ultimately connected spaces.

Whilst a hobbyist may have created a functional but un-designed device, and a designer may have created an aesthetically considered but semi-functional demonstration piece, both are discussed and critiqued on the same level.

This is happening on a larger scale too, sole tinkerers, design agencies, governments and, more recently, startups – are all producing devices and products from different motivations which solve different kinds of problems. These different perspectives are all important for designing in the inherently interdisciplinary space of IOT, but still have a long way to go towards developing connected objects that are functional, useful, commercially viable and compelling.

The second half of the talk focussed on how to use design to approach device interfaces in a people centered, sensible way.

It is important to remember that many standard UX tools are still ultimately important and relevant – understanding people’s motivations and use cases, providing clear feedback, metaphor and other interaction hints – are all great ways of supporting discoverability and wayfinding. Whilst these traditional UX principles are valid, there is a need to understand the differences between physical interfaces and standard screen interfaces. Senses like touch and hearing can become more influential, and highlight the need to give feedback WHERE a person is interacting. eg “If I am manipulating an object, I am not likely to see feedback on a screen a few feet away, but am likely to feel if that object vibrates”.

Dan argued that the physicality of the person interacting is as important as the physicality of the device, and the limits of people’s bodies should be interrogated in the same way an interface is. Does a large system only work for people of a certain height? Does a gestural interface make your arms tired over time? Are the movements you are asking of people actually difficult to perform?

The final overarching consideration that Dan put forward is to consider the learning curve that these decisions dictates. IOT based devices are, by their very nature, creating both new systems AND new physical interfaces. The user will need to learn what it is, how it works, and what they should do. This may cause them to question whether it is worth the effort, which should be mitigated by insuring the system and interface are not overly hard to grasp.

As our world moves towards hyper-connectivity and starts to populate with more complex and multi-functional devices, it’s becoming increasingly important to remember that humans are, and always will be, human.

The 2012 UXBrighton Conference is on the 2nd of November, you can buy tickets here: http://2012.uxbrighton.org.uk/

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