May 06, 2009

Context variations

Through feeding and embedding, the same information now becomes available in different contexts. For those of you who reading this post from (a link on) Twitter it is different from those reading it on LinkedIn (where it appears as a feed on my profile).

The point is that the context influences the appreciation of the content by the reader. This is not new of course, but it does deserve attention. Especially when you accept that the user more and more designs his/her own experience of your content (e.g. by grabbing your feed and reading it from a personal portal site) or even reorganizes it (e.g. by using GreaseMonkey).

Also, browsers aren't a constant factor anymore. Especially (mobile) browsers in dedicated applications affect the context. For example, the iPhone Twitter app 'Tweetie' has its own browser with its own preferred functions like 'Add to Instapaper' (which is a quite different context in itself).

Since there are many variables in designing your content and its context - many of which turn out to be outside of your control - my advice would be to make it 'snack-size' with markers that allow the user to consume it bit by bit, eventually leading them to the place you want them to be.

Posted by Almar at 09:15 PM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2009

The Effort in Experience

Experiences can be good or bad, but the ones we value and remember are the ones that involve profound impact or effort. So making an experience easier isn't necessarily making it better. Likewise, requiring an effort from a user in an interaction doesn't have to be a bad thing, i.e. something you should avoid.

In her book "Neuro Web Design", Susan Weinschenk argues that going through a difficult experience actually makes people more committed. This because we want to think we are consistent. This behaviour is also the main rationale behind the 'Scent methodology' which I referenced to in the earlier 'Pacman navigation'-post. (N.B. I now purposefully do not link to the information about 'Scent' directly, because I think the experience is better if you read my other post before that).

This whole notion is common sense of course in game design; the games that do not involve too much effort become dull very quickly and get discarded.

But how to incorporate this in user experience design for the web. On the one hand you can go very literal like I suggested in 'Subsize it'. On the other hand you can add layers of experience like Brendan Dawes does in his projects (e.g. Doodlebuzz and Play-doh as interface) as described in his book 'Analog in, Digital out'. In his words " [some acts should be] a lot less trivial [... because then] the whole experience actually means something, and the person on the other end knows it."

Also, in his projects, he crosses the real/virtual boundary all the time, which in itself significantly increases the experience through triggering many more senses, much more profoundly.

Posted by Almar at 04:30 PM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2009

Virtual Character

Through the writers and creators of (comic)books, cartoons, animations and games, imaginary figures have been able to develop very real characters. They come alive and especially in electronic games you can interact with them. New communication tools on the Internet, especially Twitter, now seem to bring alive "the biologically challenged"; objects.

The best known is the Phoenix Mars lander currently exploring the surface of the planet Mars and sharing its acts and thoughts. It's bio says it all "I dig Mars!". According to animator Lee Lefever "[..] they gave that little machine a personality on Twitter". It even won three "Twitties" (awards for Twitter messages).
I started a similar blogfeed for VIRVIE's animation's lead figure Virrt. And the latest example is Air Force One (yes, Obama's new ride). Although that one will probably be tweeting "no comment" quite often.

I think the whole thing best resembles a 'Punch and Judy show', but in this case grown-ups are the enthusiast spectators, shouting to the stage.

It does apparently fill a need. People look for human traits in objects, see for example the discussion on 'software with an attitude' on the weblog Signal vs. Noise.
All of the above examples have humans behind them of course, but even that might change in the future. This evolution is already in progress judging from the BIOMODD installation by Angelo Vermeulen. So watch out ;-)

Posted by Almar at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

October 02, 2007

Judging a book by its cover

There is a reason for the fact that book covers have intricate title's and designs, and that the 'selling summary' is on the back. The brain actually processes the colors and patterns before you consciously read anything. Which in turn allows you to recognize and remember the book. To facilitate this process the cover is usually kept very clean (i.e. little text). Even the back cover is usually written with the mindset 'less is more'. This is especially intriguing, keeping in mind that the cover is the only the place where all the valuable content inside can be sold.

See this example and also notice the opening words on the backcover (even though it's blurry, I won't tell what it says, because it's a classic and you(r brain) will figure it out):

Bookcover and backcover
(Inner Navigation by Erik Jonsson, cover design by Erich Hobbing)

Posted by Almar at 02:24 PM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2007

The establishing shot

In an age of omnipresent media, the age old skill of storytelling becomes the critical success factor; it's the motor of the present experience economy. In order for media to reach an audience, the stories they 'travel in' have to be good. And one place where an audience engages with a story is on a website; especially but not exclusively the homepage.

A story 'feels' good when you can immerse yourself in it, therefore a key element is creating a strong sense of place. The homepage should create a strong sense of place by showing an elaborate 'establishing shot', which goes well beyond creating a mere atmosphere through look&feel (and the regular 'window dressing' imagery).

The following picture already tells you a lot of things.

Establishing shot

It triggers resembling memories and therefore emotions – even though you don't know when and where it is – just by looking at it. If the appropriate introduction is made on the starting page, with the appropriate imagery, browsing a website will feel like following and being part of a story.

Posted by Almar at 05:14 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2007

The strength of symbolism

The use of symbols and icons on websites (and other interfaces) is widespread. The use of broader symbolism, however, is not very common these days. That symbols can be very powerful is a historical fact and they can be found in the groundplans and shapes of buildings, in flags and shields and even whole city plans.

A symbol done right, can make it iconic. An example of symbolic buildings in the making are the CCTV and the Television Cultural Center towers in Beijing. Although a lot of symbolism is already associated with this building, it being called by its designers 'a canopy that embraces the entire population', I noticed a resemblance with the Chinese character for 'central':

Learn Chinese Characters-1
and the buildings when they are aligned:



China is actually called Zhongguo in Mandarin Chinese. The first character zhōng (中) meaning "central" or "middle," while guó (国 or 國) means "state". The term can be literally translated into English as "Central Country or Central Kingdom, the less accurate translations are "Middle Country" and "Middle Kingdom" (from 'Names of China' on Wikipedia).

Posted by Almar at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2007

Thinking out of the [screensize] box

Although the prospect of 3D visualisation is still dim, we unnecessarily limit ourselves too much to the two dimensions of the computer screen. On the one hand the use of perspective could be greatly improved; for some reason most websites are still hieroglyph-style. On the other hand animation could be used to enhance not so much the navigation but the actual perception of a sites content.

I therefore propose to use previews like in Coverflow (as known from Apple's iTunes):

flipbook.swf (application/x-shockwave-flash Object)
Check out this coverflow demo in flash.

Not only can you present to contents from multiple pages (in this case covers), but also browsing is improved and you can lure people to places, where they might not go directly (see the question mark).

[update: now a demo for the VIRVIE-website]

Another example is actually more 'thinking inside a box'; see the desktop prototype Bumptop. I find the use of 'walls' especially interesting. I wonder if this actually makes you think lateral...

Posted by Almar at 04:53 PM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2007

Plain view: embrace your limitations

I've been witness to more than one 'homepage war', where everybody wants their piece of the valuable 'online real estate'. It's usually a fruitless battle and in the end everybody - and especially the visitor - looses.

The problem is, there is always lack of horizontal space. We gained a little with widescreen monitors, but that's it. In vertical space there is the perceived barrier of the 'fold' (see Blasting the Myth of the Fold). But these are both limitations that should be embraced; reserve the top 60-70% of the page (full width) for an image - remember: one image says more than a thousand words - and design for people to delve deeper into the page. For examples on how to do this, look at mobile phones and PDA's; you can even think of zooming like on the iPhone. This practice shouldn't stop at the homepage, but be continued consistently through all pages.

And if you're looking for inspiration on what to do with the new found space, take a look at Birdseye aerial kyte photography and 'Plain Pictures; images of the American prairie' by Joni L. Kinsey. PLAIN PICTURES PB: Books: KINSEY JONI L

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Posted by Almar at 02:38 PM

June 18, 2007

Esthetic distortion and human features

The human brain is especially equipped for noticing distortions or anomalies. Lateral vision (which allows you to 'see' next to you while looking forward) for one, protects you from possible harm. Also (human) features that are especially important attract special attention. For example, a person is able to discern from great distance whether another person is looking at or past that person. These human traits are the basis of most artistic expressions around the world; by distorting or exaggerating important features our attention is grabbed. By doing this skillful and subtle it becomes esthetic. Unfortunately both are an exception on the Internet, whereby possible attention is lost. Also, these brain functions are tailored for human features which could mean websites should have more resemblance to those (N.B. Ever notice that car front designs get more and more face-like features?)

112_0701_coty_04l 2007_Car_of_the_Year_testing front_view.jpg (JPEG Image, 750x469 pixels)

Posted by Almar at 06:30 PM

December 04, 2006

Impressive lobby

Buildings like hotels and offices have had lobbies for ages. The importance of the lobby is most prominent in the derived verb 'lobbying': to seek influence. Usually it refers to people in the lobby that are trying to influence other people in that same lobby. However, the lobby itself is usually designed to exert influence as well. It is designed to impress visitors, to give an impression of the wealth and power of the owner.

Homepages are generally considered the lobbies of websites. Therefore they gained a lot of attention. However, with the current popularity of search-engines and feeds/aggregators they are on the decline. I still think that websites have a place to impress their visitors, but it should be more of a 'central square' where pass by or which you have to cross. And in order to succeed it should have the same qualities as real life famous and impressive squares (or lobbies for that matter): sheer size or a magnificent centerpiece.

powered by performancing firefox

Posted by Almar at 02:38 PM

June 20, 2006

Watch the crowd

A crowd draws attention, so show your visitors. Where they have been, but also where they are now. Not only with 'favorite links' or actual characters (see e.g. Habbo hotel), but also more subtle; like changes in color. As I mentioned before: use should influence the appearence.
Next to this it would be interesting to see who passes your webspot, instead of just those who stop to pay you a visit. I'm not sure how this could be observed or measured, but it will give you a better insight into your context.

Posted by Almar at 09:38 AM

May 15, 2006

Virreal real estate

Context is everything. For example a tree in the middle of a field looks very different from a tree in the middle of the forest (a lot less branches and leaves, because there just isn't enough light).
Still we use the first example as the analogy for most of our site structures.

We tend to think that our site (our URL) is a spot in an open space, but I don't think that's the case. Some domain names are actually very crowded (a lot of similar words are claimed by different parties) and some companies tend to register domain names that reflect their products or services, next to their company name. So their actually acquiring virtual real estate to strengthen their position.

I want to suggest to go a step further; be like the tree in the forest. Search for that piece of light, where ever it is, and influence your context. Create links between these seemingly unrelated domain names, thus creating some virreal real estate.

Posted by Almar at 08:59 PM

April 24, 2006

Use influences appearance

'Entering' a virreal should ideally alter the appearance of the virreal also for future visitors (like a natural trail). Or to put it mildly; use should not go unnoticed.

Google Image resultaat voor

You would want the same effect as a crowd that draws attention. Of course, it shouldn't cause jams or affect the service, but when you're there you want to feel that your part of something. This goes beyond list rankings, top referrals or digg-counts, because those are gone as soon as you click the referring link.

Posted by Almar at 08:19 AM