What will the world be like when everything you own is networked? What if the floor on which you walked, the clothes on your back, your razor, and even in your toilet could not only talk to each other but also could share information with your friend’s devices and other devices and sensors connected to the cloud? What kind of design principles are important in this new world where interfaces melt away and you no longer have a keyboard & mouse and motions such as the unconscious wipe of your nose on a sleeve is a gesture that sets of a series of transactions in your wired jacket?
Adam Greenfield, a big thinker about design concepts in a world of “ubiquitous computing” where networked devices will be everywhere came to speak at Yahoo on Friday. While the talk was full of interesting tidbits (did you know that IPv6 will provide us with enough new IP addresses to network every grain of sand?) he ended his presentation with a list of design principles for this new reality which is rapidly approaching which are worth repeating. The principles are his, the interpretation mine:
1. Default to Harmlessness – in a world where it is possible for a device to broadcast your most intimate details, one must be sensitive to to these risks in the context of the culture in which the device operates. He went on to talk about the example of the Japanese escalator which chimes in warnings upon approach (“the entrance to the escalator is here, take care upon alighting on the escalator”), upon riding the escalator, (“grab hold of the handrail at all times, if you have children with you, take care to hold their hands to make sure they do not fall”), upon approach to the top (“the end of the escalator is near, get ready and take care when getting off”) and then, if you’re going up the zig-zag of a department store, all over again, (” the entreance to the escalator is here. . . “). You get the picture, risk is relative. One culture’s blanket of motherly concern comes off as smothering, nagging nitwit in another culture.
2. Be Self-Disclosing – ubiquitous systems should be technically and physically self-disclosing. Adam shared a few icons he worked on with his wife that could help indicate to the viewer the type of device they are interacting with and what information about them will be shared. One only hopes that the TSA would do this with the new RFID US passports.
3. Be Conservative of Face – ubiquitous systems must not unnecessarily embarass, humiliate, or shame their users. Although Adam didn’t mention this, my favorite example of this is the, “oh, I can’t, I’m away today” excuse that someone would use to avoid a lunch or other social engagement. With geo-sensing devices that publish your location, these would be impossible. Networked devices need to be fuzzy enough to maintain the, “masks of plausible deniability” that are the lubricant of any society.
4. Be Conservative of Time – basically don’t waste the user’s time. If the interface adds extra steps that do not add to the experience or re-assert themselves unnecessarily (too many OK/Cancel buttons), they should be removed.
5. Be Deniable – you should be able to opt out of using any of these devices without suffering any inconvenience. Adam feels this one is the most important principle but unfortunately one which has most likely already been broken. The consequences of living outside the world of networked devices is less convenience. Try to leave your FasTrak transmitter at home and see what happens to your commute time when you need to wait to pay your tolls in cash.
Food for thought and one that makes me realize that despite all the talk about the next-generation web, the keyboard/mouse/lcd is really quite a crude interface for the intermediation of experience.