Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mobile, NUIs, Research: Yes!

I missed the introduction of the speaker and the first few minutes of the talk because I was waiting in line at the restroom. Walking into the tented area at the UX Speakeasy Conference where she was speaking I hadn't had time to find a seat when I heard something that made my ears perk right up. Something about mental models and how human action is constructed and reconstructed as people come into contact with the physical and digital world.  Taking this reality as the basis of a call for the creation of shape shifting digital content. For those who are interested in learning more about these ideas, a recommendation to read the work of sociologist Lucy Suchman. 

I scrambled for my program - who was this speaker? I was excited: I knew what this conversation meant. ("Yes!" "She gets it! Yes!") I was hearing a fellow researcher! From that moment forward I maintained a sensory laser focus on Rachel Hinman.
Rachel spoke about the necessity and inevitability of a transition from GUIs to NUIs (Natural User Interfaces).  About how mobile devices are driving a major paradigm shift in society's expectations of technology, necessitating that developers and designers alter their mental models. 

"Pages and screens are not our design material. Content is now our design material"

On the nature of constant change, its fluidity and the implications for good UX (User Experience) design: 

"Digital content needs to be like water".

Evocative statements such as these lead to fascinating speculation. For example, a chicken and egg question regarding our needs from technology and the capability of technology. Which came first - new technology or new expectations? i.e. Did the introduction of mobile devices initiate massive changes in what we want, require, expect from technology,  or did growing expectations about the place of technology in society lead to the ubiquity of mobile devices? 

Either side of the question can be argued. The answer is not as important in this case (imo) as asking the question and doing the research to understand it. Digging into the question makes it abundantly clear just how inter-related technology and human experience are. Here is an example, inspired by Rachel's ideas: Rachel said that GUI programs are dying under their own weight. Do you agree? Why? What does it mean to be a heavy program anyway? What programs or apps or interfaces come to mind? Why do they support or not support the claim? If, as Rachel next pointed out, mobile brings the age of the NUI interface - why is this so? Why mobile? What is so different about mobile? What does NUI bring to a mobile device? Alternatively, what does mobile bring to a NUI? How do we know we are designing in the right direction? (What does it mean to be in the right direction?)

Questions, questions questions. Questions like these can lead to innovative and ultimately productive research and design. Inventions. They can lead to devices that will sense your intent and reconfigure themselves in response (we return to Rachel's call for shape shifting content). Big changes, and yes there are challenges. Paradigm shifts and mental model reconfiguration can be scary because we have to toss out much that is familiar. Arguably, we are there now. "We are stuck in a NUI-GUI canyon right now...NUI development can feel anchorless for the designer".

Where will insight and answers to these complex questions and challenges come from? From rigorous applied research. My favorite moment of the entire conference came when, spontaneously, Rachel said "For those who think research labs are a waste - suck it!".  I couldn't have said it better myself. Thank You. :)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lisa, You've a great blog! In terms of interdisciplinary matters and computing from a health perspective you may be interested in the generic, free and open access conceptual framework Hodges model?
    Many thanks, Peter @h2cm
    Blog at “Welcome to the QUAD”
    Hodges Health Career – Care Domains – Model
    h2cm: help 2C more – help 2 listen – help 2 care!/h2cm