Tag Archives: UX

Nomophobia, Really?

Captcha Fields and Facebook Connect

Captcha fields and the exclusive use of Facebook Connect for Web and app data submission purposes are two of my biggest digital phobias, oh if there were ever a UX faux pas avoidance manual.

When I encounter captcha fields I feel like I’m being asked to complete a rudimentary segment of a primitive voight-kampff test.
Prove to us you’re human and we’ll allow you to sign-up for our service, receive our newsletter, or bestow unto you the ability to leave a comment on our really important blog, assuming of course our moderators like what you have to say.

The Administrator’s disclaimer could read: Our desire to eliminate spam is so compellingly strong we’re willing to completely undermine the UX on our Web site and insult your intelligence by asking you to decipher this tediously convoluted visual abstraction. Our captcha fields will ensure you’re a real, live human being, and not some conniving spam bot looking to mercilessly scrape our site’s content. We appreciate your cooperation.

The equally irritating Facebook Connect is, by some accounts, contributing to the erosion of online privacy. “Please log-in to our service with Facebook Connect”, many digital services brazenly ask. Who doesn’t cringe when they see this nauseatingly austere message. A brilliantly designed personal data tracking system or the easiest way to bounce 30% of your audience. What ever happened to simply asking people to provide generic username/password credentials? When choice is limited the experience suffers. Chalk another one up for the UX faux pas avoidance manual.

But the latest phobia entering our popular tech nomenclature: nomophobia is both a fascinating phenomenon and a testament to how inextricably connected we’ve become with our phones. People who fear being out of mobile phone contact (nomobile-phone-phobia). Think that’s a strange phobia? Consider a recent study by UK based SecurEnvoy concluded 66% of mobile phone users are afflicted by this problem.

Hello Computer

hello computer

The science fiction genre is a wonderous storytelling vehicle. It gives us a glimpse into our future, the technologies we might be using, and how we’ll possibly interact with one another amidst the vast information networks influencing our world.

Since its release almost a decade ago, Minority Report remains one of the most referenced sci-fi movies for futuristic user interface design in recent memory. If there were ever an interactive design textbook or manual containing required viewing and inspirational cinematic pieces, Minority Report would almost certainly be among the top 20.
Admittedly, I’ve used various screen captures from scenes involving the PreCrime Unit and the funky gesture-based interface Tom Cruise and company used to catch criminals on a few creative mood boards over the years, as have a lot of other art directors I imagine.

There’s no denying gesture based UIs will someday replace mouse and keyboard inputs. Technologies like Pranav Mistry’s SixthSense UI and more recently Apple’s Siri, suggest we’re heading towards a dematerialized future of seemingly invisible devices in which conventional screen based interfaces will eventually be replaced by more natural forms of input. Speaking and physical body movements come to mind. In fact someday simply clicking a mouse or tapping a touch sensitive screen may feel like a painfully archaic way to interact with information. Let’s hope repetitive strain inducing forms of HCI one day become a thing of the past.

I recall seeing John Underkoffler demo his g-speak (short for gesture speak) UI research at FITC back in 2010. It was amazing. I thought to myself, the UI concepts depicted in Minority Report were no longer science fiction, but were arguably becoming science fact.
Underkoffler said he believed (at the time) we were 5 to 7 years away from interfaces similar to Minority Report. Though I now tend to think a more ambitious mind/UI leap will materialize in the form of cybernetic implants akin to The Matrix or Brainstorm (no, not that thing you do at meetings—the 1983 sci-fi movie starring Christopher Walken).

But it’s fair to argue cybernetic interfaces may be much further off —after all, who really wants a network ethernet cable plugged directly into the back of their neck? Who would want their thoughts recorded and played back for others to experience?
Perhaps learning jujitsu in a matter of seconds would have benefits. Why bother going to martial arts classes for years when you could perform a near instantaneous knowledge transfer downloaded directly to your cerebral cortex.

One day, something similar to this mildly disturbing scenario may play out and finally render books, television, digital texts, and all conventional forms of media consumption permanently obsolete.

Oh, but how would advertising function in such a hyper-knowledge based society? Would we pay subscription fees to agencies like Rekall providing weekly memory implants and virtual vacation experiences to Mars like the ones Douglas Quaid took?

The Nexus-6 Replicants engineered by the Tyrell Corporation in Blade Runner, though not human, were given memory implants to artificially provide an emotional cushion.
The years of experiences we generally take for granted provide a sort of mental stability in our lives, but would otherwise create a distressing existence if obstructed or removed —human or otherwise.

Maybe those of us employed as the UX designers and application developers of today will be the ones crafting the memory plug-ins of tomorrow.
True escapism and one of a kind out-of-body immersionsTM, all for the incredibly low price of $195 per petabyte of data assimilation. Sounds like a bargain, until you have a psychotic break from reality.

Still, these types of synthetic experiences characterized by direct mind/device neural interfaces sound down right nightmarish compared to current augmented reality concepts. In fact, the dystopian themes running rampant through sci-fi are made all the more explicit by such ideas and the popular notion we’ll eventually form an insidious bond with the technologies we use.

So, had enough doom and gloom yet?

In reality the next user interface you’re bound to experience (if not already) may be something a little less invasive. It’s possible Steve Jobs’ swan song, Siri, was inspired by a funny scene in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (yes, that strange image gracing the top of this post).
Captain Kirk and the Enterprise team travel back in time to save the world from, you guessed it, some advanced alien intelligence threatening to destroy the human race. Commander Scott finds himself in front of a primitive computer of the day (a Macintosh by the looks of it, circa 1986).
Low and behold Mr. Scott is surprised to learn he must use a keyboard instead of (gasp!) voice recognition. “How quaint, a keyboard” he says, as he begins to effortlessly type out the molecular formulas for 1-inch thick transparent aluminum.

Was Steve Jobs a Star Trek fan? Maybe Jobs, after watching this scene, had an epiphany for Siri and voice-op UIs back in 1986? Or maybe it was the scene involving the SAL computer in the 1984 film 2010 – The Year We Make Contact.
In any case, talking to our computers will soon become a normal activity while clicking a mouse, even touching a screen, perhaps going the way of the hand-written letter.

Don’t Bother Clicking Here

Don't Click HereIt’s surprising to still encounter copy decks and digital marketing briefs of varying scope employing the infamous phrase: Click here to dada dada dada…do something or other.

Back during the Web 1.0 and 2.0 era, a Web site’s interactivity was largely one-dimensional from the user’s point of view and may have warranted such oversimplification. Proponents of this now antiquated digital rhetoric argued Click here was the most direct and explicit call-to-action at your disposal.
As Brian Clark proclaimed in his much commented 2007 post, “it’s a no brainer”; [presumably as a way to denote] “actionable anchor text for links when I really want someone to click”.

Times have certainly changed. While this thinking may have worked as late as 2007, in 2011 audiences have become much more sophisticated with regard to hyperlinks and digital design conventions.

Simply instructing someone to Click here could be now be regarded as a form of visual-information clutter. Treating people like luddites only undermines a digital application’s experience and potential for user engagement.

If we can think of hyperlinks, for example, appearing in the form of buttons, text links, iconography and so forth, as one of the basic core elements of how the Web generally works—something everyone inuitively understands—the use of Click here becomes a completely redundant usability cue. Click here is unquestionably redundant because we already know this action is possible. Rather, what users really need is relevant contextual information about the hyperlink in question: “Tell me, what’s at the other end of this link?”

It goes without saying, we now live in an era of ubiquitous Internet enabled devices. Increasingly this means audiences now interact with digital applications via touch, gesture, accelerometer/gyro, and voice enabled interfaces rather than traditional desktop computer and mouse. As tablet and smart phone platforms gain popularity it would seem rather odd, in the storied tradition of the device-dependent-implying click here, to instruct people to Touch here or Tap your fingers here or there to perform some action. So why then do we continue telling people to click things?

Let’s be more descriptive and meaningful with hyperlinks and actionable content by NOT making the crude assumption everyone is still using a mouse.

When retinal tracking devices eventually supersede conventional mouse and touch screen inputs I wonder if will it be common to see user interface conventions telling us to Look here or Stare This Way for 3-seconds to invoke some action or do something. I really hope we can do better.