Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Visibility is often an important criterion for users to effectively interact with products and systems.  There are several categories:

Architecture: At the most basic level, architecture tells the user what the system can do and where to find different kinds of functionality and content.  It is important that the architecture is visible both literally (it can be seen) and semantically (the meanings of words, graphics, and images are straightforward).

Controls: Controls are how the user interacts with the system functionality.  As with architecture, controls need both kinds of visibility.

Content: There are many subcategories of content, but basically content is the information that users need to do effectively use functions, make decisions, and otherwise satisfy their objectives for using the system.

Today I just want to focus on the content.  With the proliferation of mobile devices we now have access to many more kinds of information in many more locations, often where traditional user interfaces are not appropriate.  And because our eyes are much bigger than our brains (figuratively), we always want more, potentially overwhelming our capability to process it.

But on the positive side, sometimes this access opens up new sources of value.  In the medical domain, InTouch Health is launching its RP Vita telepresence robot for use in hospitals.  The robot travels around the hospital and transmits information about patients to the controlling doctor.  In emergency response, the Kopin Golden-i Wireless Headset leverages the same kind of technology used in Google Glasses to give police, firefighters, and paramedics access to information in the field without disturbing their primary life-saving activities. 

But my favorites are the low tech products being developed for the general consumer.  I am drawn to this domain because doctors and emergency responders are willing to sit through training and exert some effort to use tech if it gives them useful functions.  Maybe not too much, but at least some.

But consumers are ruthless.  There is usually another option available if their first choice proves difficult.  Or they can just save their money.  So designers need to figure out exactly what information their target user will find useful and deliver it in a way that facilitates seamless decision making, ease of use, and user experience.

Many of you may know I am a diehard foodie.  Watching food network, inventing new concoctions, cooking, and eating.  One of my biggest grievances when I go out to eat is that the meal I get never resembles what the menu describes.  I have heard others with this same complaint.  Even if the food is good, when it doesn't meet expectations it is a disappointment.  If there is a photo on the menu, it is artistically "enhanced."  So I was particularly delighted to see the new Livmenu tablet application that allows users to see live versions of the food before ordering.  In theory, the app could be expanded to allow the diner to watch their meal being prepared.  This would help set expectations a little closer to what they are going to receive.