Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New work directions: smartphone tensions

This is a question I've been interested in for a long time, and feel like maybe I'm finally assembling the tools, people, and mental energy to tackle it. To begin to attempt to tackle it.

What is it about smartphones that stresses people out, and what can we do about it?

Okay, a lot of things stress people out. Your friend's using his phone while you're talking to him. Your boss is calling you at night. Your family expects you to text them when your plane lands, and you forget. That lady in the car next to you is texting while she's driving. You keep feeling an itch to check on your Facebook. You keep feeling a literal itch, because your Facebook is buzzing you until you check it. You don't know what it is, but you feel a little scatterbrained.

A lot of issues! Ways we could approach them:
- pick a problem that is well-defined (like texting-while-driving) and develop targeted solutions to that. (like SafeCell, which stops you from texting while driving).
- pick a measurable dimension to address a slightly less well-defined problem.
- just start from the top and tackle the whole thing.

I think the last is most interesting. And I guess it leads to a multi-step approach:
1. understand the problem. What are the tensions involved here? Why do people want to use their phones so much? What about this becomes problematic?
2. address the problem.

For part 1, I'm thinking interview people and review log data to get at what people are actually doing and why. For #2, it's more prototypes/probes than actually functional ideas. Build apps that get at the causes of these stresses, not apps that change their behavior.

Because the goal here is not to build another app that helps you slow down/de-stress/be more present. If we build a thing you've got to use, we've already lost. But it'd be great if we could uncover some of the underlying design guidelines that should be built into phones and apps. Tell developers something like: "infinite scrolls are technically cool, but will cause users the following stresses: ..." or "if you notify people more than once a day, they'll start to get antsy about it" or whatever. Instead of building an app to help you de-stress, make your phone not stress you in the first place.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

UIST 2013 highlights

(names are presenter or first author; of course they're all "et al". well, almost all. google scholar the paper titles to get links.)

PneUI: Pneumatically Actuated Soft Composite Materials for Shape Changing Interfaces, Lining Yao
- exploring what you can do with air-filled interfaces.
- examples: a soft material with a bubble on the back curls up as the bubble is filled, or a tower expands and contracts as air is added/removed.
- cool thing: you could have a soft phone that just morphs into a wristband.

Controlling Widgets with One Power-up Button, Daniel Spelmezan
- prox sensor + pressure sensor makes one physical button you can do six gestures with.
- it's a lot easier to put one button than a bunch of buttons on many small devices.

Haptic Feedback Design for a Virtual Button, Sunjun Kim
- a soft button that feels like a clicky mechanical keyboard button. this is aesthetically pleasing.

Transmogrification: Causal Manipulation of Visualizations, John Brosz
- select a section of a graphic, morph it into another shape (e.g. square -> trapezoid, or even square -> circle)
- snapping to paths, so you can e.g. straighten out rivers on a map
- cool thing: you can make a chain of interactive infographics that all depend on the previous one.

Visualizing Web Browsing History with Barcode Chart, Ningxia Zhang (poster)
- looking at browsing to see how often you switch, maybe.

StickEar: Making Everyday Objects Respond to Sound, Kian Peen Yeo
- little sticky gadgets that each sense sounds and can be configured to do things

uTrack: 3D Input Using Two Magnetic Sensors, Ke-Yu Chen
- you wear two magnetometers on your ring finger and one magnet on your thumb, and then you can do free-space 3D gestures. Neat!

FingerPad: Private and Subtle Interaction Using Fingertips, Liwei Chan
- similarly, you wear a sensor grid on your fingernail and a magnet on your thumbnail, and now you can draw on your fingertip. The privacy of it is kind of cool.

BitWear: A Platform for Small, Connected, Interactive Devices, Kent Lyons (poster)
- little fingernail-sized buttons with Bluetooth and LEDs that you can configure on the internet.
- I would really like to play with these.

Imaginary Reality Gaming: Ball Games without a Ball, Patrick Baudisch
- you can play basketball without the ball. QR-ish codes on people's heads let an overhead camera know who is where, and a speaker says who has the ball.
- I mean, that's cool in itself.
- even cooler: imagine real world games with power-ups!

inFORM: Dynamic Physical Affordances and Constraints through Shape and Object Actuation, Sean Follmer, Daniel Leithinger
- tangible table, a lot of little square things that can move up and down.
- you can make really non-"computery" controls like the ball answering machine. Or it can move things around on the table. It looks like it has a personality.

Traxion: A Tactile Interaction Device with Virtual Force Sensation, Jun Rekimoto
- little metal thing with a moving magnet, feels like it's pulling left or right. The demo was a big hit. Pretty weird that it can fool your mind like that.

There were a few cool mixed-initiative things there too. Cobi: A Community-Informed Conference Scheduling Tool, AttribIt: Content Creation with Semantic Attributes, SeeSS: Seeing What I Broke - Visualizing Change Impact of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), A Mixed-Initiative Tool for Designing Level Progressions in Games, A Colorful Approach to Text Processing by Example. I might be making up a theme out of nothing (I guess the part-computer part-human system thing is just all of HCI) but there's something that feels pleasingly interactive out of these.