Computers in Things

3 Jan 2006 - 5:37pm
8 years ago
7 replies
486 reads
Dan Saffer
2003

On Jan 3, 2006, at 10:51 AM, Josh Seiden wrote:

>His claim is that *in the absence of interaction
>design* the nature of microprocessors combined with
>the nature of engineering-centric approaches will
>always produce a system in which the computer-like
>properties dominate.

I'm not sure I'd agree entirely with that. As a simple example, those
birthday cards that sing have a microprocessor and a sensor in them, to make
it play when it opens. I doubt any interaction designer ever touched them,
but they are still considered (sold, marketed, used) as birthday cards, even
though they have a little computer in them. The physical properties
dominate.

But perhaps that's an extreme example. There's probably a difference (or
perhaps a continuum) between objects that are *enhanced* by microprocessors
(the birthday card) and those that are *operated* by microprocessors (the
battleship). If the birthday card crashes, well, it's just a birthday card
and it still works, albeit in a limited way. If the battleship's (or even my
dishwasher's) system crashes, things grind to a halt. Those electric Toyota
Prius cars had software crashes that turned the cars off--sometimes in the
middle of busy highways.

http://tinyurl.com/b4a4b

My own car might still run, but I'd lose a lot of features. It retains more
"object-like" qualities than the Prius.

Anyway, just thoughts off the top of my head.

Dan

Comments

3 Jan 2006 - 5:39pm
Dan Saffer
2003

On Jan 3, 2006, at 10:52 AM, Rick Cecil wrote:

>Once you add a microchip to an object, it becomes a computer because you
>have hardware that allows you to interact with software, which, in turn,
>allows you to control other hardware. So, your dishwasher is more of a
>dishwashing computer--a specialized computer, if you will.

Is my car a specialized motor? Is the singing birthday card a singing
computer?

I'm half playing devil's advocate here, because I don't necessarily disagree
with this idea.

>Also, how we, as users, view the device is irrelevant. I don't view my DVR
>as a computer, but it is still a computer designed to record television
>shows.

This is a pretty bold statement to make. While I agree that users don't need
to know why something works, they do need to know what the thing can do and
how it fits into their environment. You don't think of your DVR like a
computer because it was deliberated designed not to look, feel, or act like
a desktop computer--although it could have been! It is supposed to look like
a piece of consumer electronics. This gives clues--visual and tactile--as to
how and where it should be used. Imagine your DVR was made of thin crystal.
Would you view it differently?

I'm channeling Listera today...

Dan

3 Jan 2006 - 5:44pm
Dan Saffer
2003

On Jan 3, 2006, at 3:31 PM, Adrian Chan wrote:

>All this assumes, of course, that the damn thing works! And unfortunately
>for us, we still have to accept a high level of failure, inefficiency,
>ineffectiveness, maintenance, and all of that..

I wonder if there's a sort of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for digital
products? It has to be reliable before it can be useful, useful before it's
pleasurable, etc.

Dan

3 Jan 2006 - 8:13pm
Ian Chan
2005

The idea that a microchip and a battleship have different natures, and that
when combined one beats the other, is almost a twisted joke on the pegboard
game of the same name.

In Alan Cooper's defense, I think he's suggesting that the complexity of
"state" that computers will give an otherwise fixed, or "stateless" object,
can complicate the simplicity of that object's design. I think he makes that
claim because integrating computing power into objects can often mean that
users have to make many more decisions, learn many more options, and simply
think that much more when they use that object.

Interaction designers ought to reduce complexity so that even information
achieves a level of simplicity (on/off; yes/no; success/failure...).
Reducing choices down to binary oppositions is one way to do this, indeed.
But creating new narratives, stories, presentation systems and
representations could be another way to manage the complexity of computing.
I've always thought we've been lacking in that department. We allow
technical definitions and language to structure user language, when really
it should be the other way around. No?

The disputed Cooperism:
>> His claim is that *in the absence of interaction
>> design* the nature of microprocessors combined with
>> the nature of engineering-centric approaches will
>> always produce a system in which the computer-like
>> properties dominate.
>

3 Jan 2006 - 8:31pm
penguinstorm
2005

On Jan-3-2006, at 3:37 PM, Dan Saffer wrote:

> I doubt any interaction designer ever touched them,
> but they are still considered (sold, marketed, used) as birthday
> cards, even
> though they have a little computer in them. The physical properties
> dominate.

They also don't cause any pain.

Although I did get a paper cut from one once.
--
Scott Nelson
skot (at) penguinstorm (dot) com
http://www.penguinstorm.com/

skype. skot.nelson

4 Jan 2006 - 12:42pm
Lada Gorlenko
2004

DS> I wonder if there's a sort of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for digital
DS> products? It has to be reliable before it can be useful, useful before it's
DS> pleasurable, etc.

I haven't come across it, but would suspect it's a straightforward
translation, pretty much as you suggested:

1. Physiological = Functioning
Same as in Maslow's hierarchy: anything that enables the homeostasis
of a particular digital organism, from power and hardware to system
applications. If it can't function the way is should, it's dead.

2. Safety = Reliable
Very close fit, as above. If it ain't reliable, it ain't "functionally
safe".

3. Love/Belonging = Useful
In Maslow, this is the level of social needs, which to me spells as
"what makes a product X a product X" or design that allows users
complete the target tasks. A digital camera can sing, but if it's
better at singing than at taking pictures, it's useless as a camera
and therefore fails on belonging.

4. Esteem = Usable
Following the "don't make me feel stupid" motto, a digital product
that blends seamlessly with the user environment and makes him feel
good, both as a matter of self-assessment and in the eyes of others. I
call it 'usable' and not 'pleasurable', since pleasure is firmly
becoming part of true usability these days, as it should.

5. Self-actualisation = Inspirational
If Norman doesn't call his next book "Inspirational Design", someone
else will :-) This is about products that facilitate peak experiences
(states that bring a sense of purpose and integration to the
individual) and can shape or change one's life.

Lada

5 Jan 2006 - 12:46am
Adam Korman
2004

It seems a little arbitrary to map qualities of digital products
(functional, reliable, useful, usable, inspirational) to Maslow's
theory of hierarchy of human needs... I think it breaks down after
the second level (I don't see how "love/belonging" is equivalent to
"useful").

But, it is kind of interesting to look at the success of digital
products by evaluating how well they satisfy the hierarchy of human
needs (or more importantly, to see how they fail at satisfying their
stated goals because they undermine foundational needs). For example,
you could argue that the point of Word is to assist me in self-
actualization (it helps me become the best writer I can be because I
don't have to worry about setting up margins or spelling, etc.).
Microsoft's marketing department seems to believe this ("Your
Potential. Our Passion.").

But Word falls down as a product because when it crashes it works
against my safety needs (it destroys my work, I could lose my job)
and my esteem needs (it is not very respectful, interrupts me with
inane questions, etc.). Arguably, because it can't meet these lower-
level needs, it undermines its ability to succeed on higher-order needs.

While the physiological needs (breathing, for example) don't come
into play for most of the products we're talking about, and safety
needs are largely (but not completely) addressed by engineering, the
others (love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization) are clearly in
our design court. So, it's not enough to focus on user tasks that
live up in the realm of self-actualization ... products that ignore
those axioms like "don't make people feel stupid" and "be polite"
violate people's esteem needs. I think this has a lot to do with why
Apple's designs are so often lauded -- it's their attention to this
level of needs that allows their products to be successful designs at
a higher level. iPhoto is a great photo management tool as much
because it respects me as because it is a good as a tool for its
intended purpose. What's interesting about the iPod is not so much
the click wheel or the GUI, but that it has managed to tap people's
needs around love/belonging (having those white earbuds makes you
part of something cool) ... this seems like the realm that Norman's
focus on Emotional Design is trying to address.

BTW - My understanding of Maslow's theory is about as deep as the
Wikipedia article on the topic <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs> so don't hold me to the fire on the
details!

-Adam

On Jan 4, 2006, at 10:42 AM, Lada Gorlenko wrote (this is heavily
edited):

> DS> I wonder if there's a sort of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for
> digital
> DS> products? It has to be reliable before it can be useful, useful
> before it's
> DS> pleasurable, etc.
>
> I haven't come across it, but would suspect it's a straightforward
> translation, pretty much as you suggested:
>
> 1. Physiological = Functioning
>
> 2. Safety = Reliable
>
> 3. Love/Belonging = Useful
>
> 4. Esteem = Usable
>
> 5. Self-actualisation = Inspirational

5 Jan 2006 - 6:30am
Lada Gorlenko
2004

AK> But, it is kind of interesting to look at the success of digital
AK> products by evaluating how well they satisfy the hierarchy of human
AK> needs

It's an interesting, but a different argument. What was suggested
is not an approach to evaluate how well digital products satisfy the
human needs, e.g., how an iPod caters for a human need for love.
Rather, it is an attempt to define a hierarchy of "intrinsic product
needs", equivalent to the Maslow's schema: what is X to a product that
the love/belonging level is to a human?

The essence of Maslow's argument is dependency of each level of needs
on all other levels below it. It doesn't mean that a hungry man is
uncapable of love, but it means that if a man dies of starvation,
discussing the dead man's ability to love sort of useless. The theory
should really be called "the hierarchy of sustainability of human
needs", as it is about long-term states, not momentary flashes.

The same long-term sustainability argument applies to digital products
as following: a product cannot be truly inspiring until it is usable,
and it cannot be truly usable until it is useful, and usefulness is
questionable if reliability fails, and reliability comes into the
picture only if the product is operational.

Lada

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