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Designing Dimensional Interactions

Once again, in a world as of late dominated by mundane technology at best, Apple showed the world that it still has a few surprises left. The newly announced iPhone 6S & 6S+ feature numerous improvements to speed, battery life, and overall computing power. However, by far the most impressive announcement of the day was the introduction of 3D Touch.

Apple has created a completely new way of interacting with your iPhone. In fact, I would go so far as to state that they have actually created a new paradigm for interactive design. Long familiar multi-touch gestures such as Swipe, and Pinch are still ever-present, though they take a rather unapologetic back seat to this new technology. Tap, however, has been elevated to a rather lofty position. Now, in addition to the ‘Tap’ we are all familiar with, Apple has added two additional gestures: Peek and Pop. And as an added affordance, when activating these new gestures the user is rewarded via the Taptic Engine with a subtle tap. What this means is that the user will actually feel the results of his command. This serves as an ideal way to inform the user of the nuanced difference between a Peek and a Pop.

Now to answer the pressing question: What exactly are Peeks and Pops? A Peek is when the user lightly presses any number of options including an inline email in the Mail app, an embedded web link in an SMS message or even a thumbnail photo preview in the Camera. Said item will reveal itself with a ‘peek’ preview… A deeper press with more pressure, or a Pop if you will, opens your selection so that you have full native app access. These same interactions also mimic old-school desktop right-click functionality when used on a supporting app icon, brining up a contextual quick-access menu. For example, clicking the Camera app icon brings up options for instantly taking a selfie or regular photo, as well as recording video.

So now that we have established the technology, let us now move to the possibilities. In reality, even though it is billed as 3D Touch, the actual interactions in Z-space are minimal at best. In other words, a traditional Pinch or Swipe provides broad, sweeping affordance across the device’s X/Y axes. While Peek and Pop are pressure-sensitive nuances focused on a single point. Therefore designing for this new 3rd dimension should be focused on the reduction of clicks or taps required to get the user to the desired end-goal. 3D Touch is more about the pay-off and less about getting there…

As it was conceived and introduced, 3D Touch and its accompanying Peeks & Pops barely scratch the surface of design possibilities. The whole point of 3D Touch is to solve the mobile UI bottleneck of one screen > one tap > one action. At first glance Apple has succeeded in unlocking a one-tap deep-dive into core application functionality. However, is a one-tap deep-dive all that is achievable?

Touch and tactility working in conjunction are a powerful metaphor. Taptic technology is already in place on the Apple watch, providing user feedback without the need to actually view one’s device. One begins to wonder at the possibilities waiting to be unleashed by bringing similar design thinking to 3D Touch for iPhone. Imagine, if you will, applications designed specifically for Taptic 3D Touch instead of simply streamlining existing experiences.


Consider that the iPhone can be used as a primary computing device linked to secondary interfaces, this opens a wealth of possibilities for designers. 3D Touch can be construed as a control mechanism for any iPhone-connected device in the Internet of Things. Design thinking would seem to dictate that these paradigms have a low barrier to entry if they are useful in our everyday lives. An easy to understand example would an iPhone app for a Nest IoT thermostat. The app interface could simply be the icon and 3D Touch Taptic experience. The user could simply Peek the app icon to decide whether to raise or lower the temperature and hold the Pop of the icon afterwards until the desired temperature is reached. In this example, the user never even opens the “app” as there would be no app interface to interact with. All user feedback happens with increased tactility… Increasing feedback matches the temperature. Therefore the designed experience is just that, an experience.

In conclusion, as designers we are about to embark on what promises to be the beginning of a true paradigm shift in interaction design. As new technologies such as Apple’s 3D Touch become dominant over traditional multi-touch (in the same way that multi-touch has albeit replaced the keyboard & mouse), the way we approach designing for these technologies must dominate our design thinking.

We must strive to craft solutions and experiences that leverage the true inspiration behind these shifting paradigms… We must immerse ourselves in studying how interfaces (or the lack thereof) are evolving… We must ourselves evolve.

Achieving the Ideal End-User Product Experience

As User Experience Design matures from a creative endeavor into an integrated business process, it is becoming apparent that the traditional “umbrella” definition might not adequately describe the evolution of UX as a discipline. User Experience Design has traditionally been described as encompassing many recognized practices, including but not limited to: Information Architecture, Interactive Design, Human Factors, and Visual Design. As important to designing good experiences that the aforementioned roles are, it is becoming apparent that to truly craft an ideal end-user Consumer Product Experience, one must incorporate a higher level of problem solving while utilizing emerging and non-traditional skill-sets.


Emotional Design

Successfully thinking outside of one’s comfort zone is the first step to truly understanding what might be gratifying to the end-user from a motivational sense. The concept of Emotional Design is brilliantly summed up in a single quote from Jeroen van Erp, Co-Founder & Creative Director of Fabrique in the Netherlands, “It all has to do with a creative process for which the intended experience for the consumer has been taken as a starting point. A different perspective creates different solutions.” These days in an ever evolving and contextually changing product landscape, it has become imperative to evoke specific emotions while designing product experiences. Invoking targeted emotional responses during the design phase can ultimately lead to Consumer adoption of product innovations both seamlessly and at an accelerated rate, thus the payoff of implementing Emotional Design as the first pillar of true Experience Design.


Persuasive Design

Once one has achieved emotional enlightenment, so to speak, the next logical piece of the puzzle is understanding and affecting behavioral response. Traditional UX relies heavily on the creation of Personas to facilitate the distillation of common motivations across targeted end-users and other decision makers. One of the key factors in Persona creation is the documentation of the behaviors that ultimately reveal the motivations. It is this kind of thinking that can provide tremendous psychological insight early in the design process. And subsequently, this psychological insight can be used to insert triggers (single design elements that change motivation) into the design of the product. In alignment with Big Studio’s methodology of conceptual strategy and sketching, the ability to identify and affect said triggers early in the product lifecycle provides tremendous value when applied in an iterative manner. Persuasive Design is the most beneficial when affecting whether people do specific tasks by design… Without placing too much importance on how said tasks are accomplished.


Service Design

Now comes the time to ground these methodologies in a solid foundation. This must be prefaced with a query: What are the grounding elements of designing experiences that intrinsically link somewhat nebulous psychological tenants? The answer lies in Service Design… Service Design methodologies are pure facilitation. These methodologies provide ease of facilitation between the business and the customer, the design and the end-user and ultimately, the product and the Consumer. Many traditional User Experience tools such as ethnographic research play an enormous role in designing according to the needs of the Consumer in Service Design methodology… Thus ultimately, Service Design forms the backbone of a new Experience Design Trinity, bringing the customer experience back to motivations grounded in real-world experiences. Creating and documenting this “blueprint” of the service is again inline with the Big Studio process of conceptual sketching as early as possible in the product lifecycle.


Venn Intersection

Ultimately a reorganization of thought needs to occur… What is truly the most important in the “umbrella” hierarchy? Definitely not the ability to execute traditionally accepted User Experience sub-disciplines in a singular manner… In today’s world of ever-evolving platforms and advancing methodologies, one must consider this simple analogy: We are all in agreement that Information Architecture is important… A similar importance can be placed upon rudimentary Algebra, now taught in elementary school. IA is a skill that HAS to be employed, as it is a building block. We must strive and elevate, raising the notion of Experience Design (NOT just User Experience) to encompass a deeper level of human understanding that transcends simple design elements on Web 2.0 sites into truly cross-platform, multi-device delivery and truly proactive implementation of all we have learned as a cumulative design collective. And the term ‘Cumulative Design Collective” might just be the best description possible of where we need to be…