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A couple of weeks ago we had a Pecha Kutcha event at work. It was my first. If you don't know what Pecha Kutcha is, it's a presentation with 20 slides where each slide lasts 20 seconds. That makes your presentation 6 minutes 40 seconds long. It's about keeping the audience entertained.
I thought I'd talk about paradigms. Sounds daft, but it's really food for thought if you, well, take time to think about it. Which is precisely what you don't have in a Pecha Kutcha presentation...
I didn't have a lot of time to prepare, but I grabbed some previous slides from here and there and went for it. Here is the result, I've fleshed out my notes so they make sense to a reader.
If you are going to do a Pecha Kutcha presentation, don't do it this way, ha-ha. Way too much content. It's about 1/3 too much text, but a larger problem is that I'm trying to touch on too many points. You really need to limit the number of points you want to touch on, because the audience will need more than 20 second to digest each.
I didn't put in all the slides here, but I've numbered each 20 second slot as you see below.
- We are in the business of organizing stuff visually, - not for ourselves, but for other people.
One major problem we, as Interaction Designers, have is to understand how those “other people” think. We can't read other peoples minds just yet. Since people talk more than they draw, we listen to how they talk. What they say isn't that interesting, really. Lets be honest, he-he. It's how they talk, what words they use, that is interesting.
- When we design something, we have a mental model in our head of how the thing work. And we use metaphors to make our design understandable. The metaphor defines the personality of the product. Using the product is basically a dialogue between the designer and the end-user, just separated in time. You put a button “here” telling the user “click me”. After the user clicks you say something else - it’s a dialogue.
- How well does the metaphors we choose fit the users conceptual model? What do the people you design for bring to the problem you are trying to solve? A lot of their existing thinking is going to be a part of the system you end up designing - whether you are aware of it or not!
If they look at something and think “Oh, it’s a thingamabob”, when it's really a doohickey, you’re in trouble.
- And we are witnessing a pretty serious paradigm shift right now. The phones themselves are changing, the OS’es are changing and the form factors are changing.
We invite users to enter a place or use a piece of software that we have created. In order to make it understandable and coherent, we like to use metaphors. The desktop metaphor is well known from the computer, we have used it for 25 years now. "Files" are in "Folders", the “Trashcan” is for deleting stuff and everything is placed on a "Desktop". The Desktop metaphor is the dominant organizing principle for the computer. Bill Verplank talks about Interaction design paradigms, or "computer paradigms":
- Computer as Brain
An early metaphor was the Computer as a Brain. Thinking machines. The machines will take over thinking for us.
If the computer is a brain, then how intelligent is it? How do I talk to it? Can I use spoken language, handwriting? Artificial intelligence. You can see where this leads to all sorts of efforts to develop artificial intelligence where the goal often is a computer that know how to do things for us.
- Computer as Person.
The computer is an agent, an avatar. The computer becomes a “personal assistant”. It pops on screen, is friendly, talks to you. It also distracts you. Give the computer some high-level instruction and it scoots off and come back with what you want.
Verplank: An agent-based interface is going to require a lot of trust. And so far no one has been able to demonstrate anything remotely worthy.
By the way, I think The Semantic Web (Web 3.0) is really a revisit of "Computer as Agent".
- Computer as life is an extension of Computer as Person. You could argue that computers are already a life-form of sorts. Computer viruses are here and they can multiply. The robots are coming. Let's hope they will be vegetarian, not carnivores.
Verplank: Should systems have magic in them? No, computers should not have magic.
- Computer as Tool
This paradigm is all about efficiency, empowerment etc. Users have tasks, they have jobs to do. The computer provides tools that empowers them to do good jobs. It's all very IBM and "Microsoft". This tool paradigm is where "usability" comes from. A good tool is half the work, right? Computer as Tool uses a desktop metaphor.
- When computers became a tool, we started doing direct manipulation, grabbing something and using it directly.
Verplank: Interaction style changed radically. Before this we "set up" a task; We entered data, adjusted levers and then clicked "Go". The computer went to work and after a while spat out the result.
Web forms are indirect manipulation. Enter a bunch of stuff and click "Submit". AJAX promises to bring "toolness" back to the web.
- Computer as medium
The Computer as Medium: Right out of Nicholas Negroponte's Media Lab.
Multimedia. Ways to publish, communicate, persuade, engage and entertain. Convey a message and deliver content. Doesn't this sound a lot like the media industry? Computer as Medium use a page metaphor from the web.
Lately we’ve seen a lot of the river metaphors like in Facebook, Twitter, and a lot of others. Strong sense of time in this paradigm.
- What are the Mobile Phone paradigms?
Ever since the phone manufacturers started adding features they have tried to figure out what they are actually making.
What are people calling their phones? What are we as designers calling the phones? What is marketing saying? We're not using the same words.
- A phone is a phone
For many people, for most people actually, the phone is semitransparent – it has a very sub-servant personality. When people pick up the phone to call someone, they don't really see the phone. Their inner eye see an image of the person they are about to call or send a message. So they dont feel like they are interacting with the phone much.
- Phone as computer
“Smartphone” is a marketing term, “dataphone” is a people term.
Originally Apple didn’t want the iPhone to be a computer. But developers saw it as a computing platform and started hacking it. But it didn't become a computer to the users. Still, smartphone-users interact directly with the phone. It is no longer semitransparent.
- Phone as media
Is the iPhone designed as an entertainment device? No, but it has become one. If you look at what sells in the App Stores, host people see them as entertainment devices.
- Converged devices
Nokia: Multimedia Computer. This is the voice of convergence delivering a (weak?) marketing message. Or the message is good, but the execution is not.
Sony Ericsson has 3 product lines: Walkman Phones, Cybershot Phones and Smartphones. They have tried to brand these segments separately with good success. Now in trouble since the feature phone segment collapsed and their smartphone OS went the way of the Dodo.
- Phone as Fashion
Most of us don’t consider ourselves to be in the fashion industry. Apple is clearly into fashion when it comes to their products. According to Steve Jobs you have to buy a new iPod once a year in order to keep up. The iPhone would probably follow the same pattern was it not for the 18 or 24 month contracts.
Apple markets a bolt of lightning that connects to your ears and lets you dance down the street.
- If the phone has become a computer, what kind of computer is it? A brain? Media? A Tool? Computer as person. Maybe it is neither.
- Phone as a container
Phone as container for your "life story". Christian Lindholm of Nokia has worked a lot on this with "Lifestreaming". The place that stores the content of my life. But is it on the phone or is it really on the internet, - and the phone is just a way to access it? The answer to that question is important for anyone who designs software and services for mobile.
- The phone is my room, my personal place, my purse. What I have there is not for others to see? I share with others that I wish to communicate. Family, Friends. Flirting. It also have a work connection there, after all work is part of my life. Work and personal may exist on the same phone, but are separate parts of my life. I think this is what we are currently thinking as designers, when we work on mobile phone software. So let's hope the users see it the same way :-)
Somewhere in there, there was one more slide...but I can't remember what that was. Anyway, I encourage you to check out Bill Verplank for more on computer paradigms.