Sunday 27 February 2011

Storytelling for advertising

I just watched one of my favorite adverts on UK TV (

It is amazing that they have implemented a complete website for comparing meerkats (I especially like the meerkat in Berlin wearing flippers). Not sure however how well it works as I have never visited the website it is advertising for… (but I do remember the name, hence it worked somehow).

There are a lot of new ways for story telling on the web. I like the article by Jim Miller that was 2005 in the interaction magazine [1] that discusses a case study of web based storytelling and how it may evolve. It talks about how to create and unfold a story using multiple web sites. This is pre-facebook and I think the possibilities now are even greater. I wonder if based on this one could create a class project on web user interfaces.

[1] Jim Miller. 2005. Storytelling evolves on the web: case study: EXOCOG and the future of storytelling. interactions 12, 1 (January 2005), 30-47. DOI=10.1145/1041280.1041281

Saturday 5 February 2011

Tangible User Interface - Understandable, Ergonomic, Aesthetic

As I am always on the lookout for user interfaces it was delightful to see the bridge and the engine room of the Queen Mary with truly tangible man-machine-interfaces. Large wheels and all sorts of knobs, cranks, and levers are there to operate the many functions. At a first glance they look nice, intuitive, and easy to use - but are they? Looking closer it becomes clear that many user interface elements were built primarily to enable mechanical control and not because of ergonomic considerations. The size of physical controls (e.g. the length of a lever) is often due to the fact that certain forces must be created to control the machine. The size and visibility of the mechanical properties are helpful for the user to understand the operation and to some extent foresee the impact of the operation. At the same time many of these user interface elements make the operation very visible to co-workers - you do not have to tell that you change the speed as everyone around you can clearly see it from your actions. It seems that ergonomic properties are of lesser importance in many of these controls, e.g. some controls require strong forces or large physical movements. All in all I would conclude that these tangible controls (that are designed due to physical constraints) are helping with the understandability of a user interface but are not necessarily a good model for creating ergonomic controls.

In some recent examples of tangible user interfaces I feel that people took the worst from both worlds - they argue for the physical controls - and all they get are less ergonomic UIs (e.g. needs more forces, movements, etc.) which are less understandable as the physical constraints do not map to the constraints of the digital system… Hence I think it is important to keep this in mind: the physicality of the controls should be used to make interaction understandable and the design should not compromise ergonomics (as we do not live in the mechanic era anymore).

One further thing that can be learned for these mechanical interfaces is the beauty of the design and implementation. Some are in shinny and polished metal, others are nicely decorated, and on others it is just pleasant to touch the wood. Beauty and esthetical qualities play a major role - and we know this for screen based UIs from Noam Tractinsky's work [1,2] as well as from the market success of devices like the iPhone.

[1] Noam Tractinsky. 1997. Aesthetics and apparent usability: empirically assessing cultural and methodological issues. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI '97), Steven Pemberton (Ed.). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 115-122. DOI=10.1145/258549.258626

[2] Tractinsky, N., Shoval-Katz A. and Ikar, D. (2000) What is Beautiful is Usable. Interacting with Computers, 13(2): 127-145.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

IEEE Computer Editorial Board Meeting in Long Beach

This week I went for my first IEEE Computer editorial board meeting to Long Beach. The meeting was held in the meeting facilities on the Queen Mary. I found this location very interesting and inspiring and at the same time a vivid reminder of changing times. The Queen Mary was an ocean liner - not a cruise ship - and its purpose was to get people quickly and comfortable between the US and Europe. With this regard I found the location very fitting when discussing the future directions of the IEEE Computer Magazine, the IEEE Computer Society's flagship publication, a magazine still printed on paper and distributed via traditional mail to most members. We all know that it will become digital - and many read it already in digital form. But the exciting and challenging questions are how a digital magazine will look like and it is hard to tell the timeframe in which the change is going to happen.

The discussions during the meeting and the expertise of the people on the board was for me reassuring that these massive transitions that are ahead will be mastered and that the publication will get even more exciting over the next years. I would expect within the next five years the way research results are presented, delivered, and discussed will change to a great extent. For me the assent the IEEE Computer Society is its base of experts and that it facilitates exchanges between these experts and the quality control it can provide in its top publications. Furthermore I think there is a great value in the editing of articles for the magazine. Articles become much more enjoyable to read after they are edited - this is especially valuable for authors who are non-native speakers like me, but I think it is beneficial to all articles!

Seeing companies moving into the space, such as Facebook (e.g. facilitating group communication and dissemination), Google and Microsoft (e.g. offering search in the academic space and analyzing relationships and citations) I would expect there is no reason to compete in these areas, but it should be figured out how to cooperate.

We had a long discussion focusing on the editorial direction for the next year and the number of ideas that can up for what type of content we should attract for the magazine and what topics to cover was amazing and motivating - and it showed me again how multi-faceted and exciting computer science is.

For 2011 the following topics will be included: cloud computing, Entrepreneurship, mobile computing, software, hardware, smart planet, Computational Archaeology and computing & arts (could be interesting for the TEI community!). If you have ideas what topic IEEE Computer should cover please tell me (e.g. by commenting or emailing me) or submit an article to the magazine! I would also hope to see a little more on user interfaces and interaction technologies.