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21 October 2017
24 May 2013
ID Podcast 7 - Complexity, Emotions, Skeuomorphism, and Anthropomorphism
ID Podcast 7 - Complexity, Emotions, Skeuomorphism, and Anthropomorphism

By MADA Senior Lecturer Robbie Napper


Robbie NAPPER: Complexity, emotions, skeuomorphism, and anthropomorphism. Hi there. Welcome to the Industrial Design podcast. You're with Robbie Napper. Today, I'm going to talk about complexity, skeuomorphism, anthropomorphism, and emotional responses to products. It's a lot to take in, so let's get started.

NAPPER: Complexity. We are dealing with complex products. They may range from a digital camera to a car to something that's perceived as simple, but is actually complex. The demand for features means that we must cope with complex products. Now remember that complex does not necessarily mean complicated, and a complicated thing does not necessarily mean that it is complex. We have an issue whereby society demands a certain amount of complexity in products, so to quote Don Norman, "There are many cries for simplicity in our lives, simplicity in the activities we pursue, the possessions we own, and especially in the technologies we use. 'Why are there so many buttons? So many controls?', people plead. 'Give us fewer buttons, fewer controls, few features.' they say. 'Why can't we have a mobile phone that just makes phone calls? No more, no less.' Invariably, the demand for simplicity is illustrated with wonderfully simply devices and things, simple appliances, hand tools, or household items, all with the intent of demonstrating that simplicity is indeed possible. In attempting to reduce the frustrations caused by the complicated nature of much of today's technology, many solutions miss the point. It's no great trick to take a simply situation and devise a simple solution. The real problem is that we truly need to have complexity in our lives. We seek rich, satisfying lives, and richness goes along with complexity. Our favourite songs, stories, games, and books are rich, satisfying, and complex. We need complexity, even while we crave simplicity. So the problem here with complexity is that we cannot actually always design a simple product because it may be, by necessity, complex."

NAPPER: Now let's start on emotional design, another topic that we're dealing with in the current unit of interface design and of course, there are the three main responses that we can categories emotional design into. I'd like to read a little bit more Don Norman if I may, just to expand on some of the definitions. First, of course, we have visceral design, and visceral design is what nature does. Now I know that's a loaded term, and of course nature doesn't design, nature evolves. But "we humans evolved to co-exists in the environment of other humans, animals, plants, landscapes, weather, and other natural phenomena. As a result, we are exquisitely tuned to receive powerful emotional signals from the environment that get interpreted automatically at the visceral level." This is where the list of features in another part of the book come from. Colourful plumage on a flower - these sort of things, o.k. These are the important visceral responses.

NAPPER: Moving on to behavioural, the second emotional response - "in most of behavioural design, function comes first and foremost. What does a product do? What function does it perform? If the item doesn't do anything of interest, then who cares how well it works? Even if it's only function is to look good, it had better succeed. Some well-designed items, miss the target when it comes to fulfilling their purpose, and thus deserve to fail. If a potato peeler doesn't actually peel potatoes, or a watch doesn't tell accurate time, then nothing else matters. So the very first behavioural test a product must pass is whether it fulfils needs."

NAPPER: So, moving on to the third emotional response, which is reflective design. And reflective design, quote Don Norman, "covers a lot of territory. It's all about message, about culture, and about the meaning of a product or its use. For one, it is about the meaning of things - the personal remembrances something evokes. For another very different thing, it is about self image and the message a product sends to others. Whenever you notice that the colour of someone's socks matches the rest of his or her clothes, or whether those clothes are right for the occasion, you are concerned with reflective self image." How can we put this to work for us? Well, ask yourself when you're designing, "What does a person need to get out of this product?" Look at the market, who your target market is, and that will help you define this. For example, using our current project, the range of Canon cameras is largely defined by their behavioural and reflective qualities. For example, to take something straight from the Canon website, the IXUS 500HS is described by Canon as "Super-zoom, super-stylish, and super-slim." Now you can see how, even in that description, the behavioural qualities take a back seat to some of the reflective qualities. A theory of how qualities attract people to products, which is known as Kano's "Theory of Attractive Quality", is very important here. As new features become engrained in a product sector, they become the new baseline of performance, and thus they become "must-have" qualities. This theory distinguishes between attractive qualities, those which are important in the sector and perhaps new, and those which are "must-have" qualities, which are the baseline of performance. So what Canon are doing with that camera is that they're saying, "The must-have qualities are intact, but the style is new." The style is an attractive quality, or what we might say, stepping back with what we now know, is that the reflective attributes of that camera are an important quality of what it provides the customer.

NAPPER: In this case, the behavioural qualities are the must-have, but the reflective qualities are the attractive ones.

NAPPER: On to a new topic for today: skeuomorphism. In the development of many interfaces, in particular graphical interfaces, skeuomorphs are used as an advanced type of mimicry to try and enable friendlier responses to new or intimidating products and interfaces. Now, where's an example? They're used everywhere, but many examples of skeuomorphs can be found in Apple's iOS apps, such as calendars or books or my particular favourite, of course, is the podcast app, which actually uses a reel-to-reel tape player skeuomorph to demonstrate the ability to fast-forward and rewind. Now, a reel-to-reel recorder, that's something from a very long time ago. They're often nice to look at, these skeuomorphs, but also, at worst they can actually be misleading and also they can just add clutter which slows down your device, of course. The problem with skeuomorphism is that it takes up screen space and it can lead to visual inconsistencies. If the user has no experience of the device being mimicked, then it offers little or no benefit. But, on the positive side, a skeuomorph can be used to make people a little bit more comfortable with something that might otherwise be intimidating, and as designers, we have to create a careful balance. Those of you with iOS devices might swipe down from the top of the screen to see your updates and your incoming messages, and you'll notice that the background of that is in a fine linen sort of a texture - very interesting. If you do the same thing on an Android device, you won't find a skeuomorph, but you will find a texture, a very subtle dark-grey on dark-grey stripe, which adds richness and texture, but is not a skeuomorph - it's not trying to be something else. Most importantly, the problem with skeuomorphs can be that often we throw away new opportunities. Why should something as advanced as an iPad with a podcasting app, have something harking back years, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, to make the interface more understandable? It's actually making things more difficult, and furthermore, the skeuomorph in that particular case is not accurate because it has buttons.

NAPPER: The last thing that I'd like to talk about today is anthropomorphism. A lot of big words today, sure. Now, this is sort of a higher form of skeuomorphism, making products with faces or features which we humans we read as faces can make them more approachable. Of course this also ties in to our visceral response. It is, of course, a visceral reaction, and we are apt to see faces in a range of products, most notably in cars. If a product has a face, then as designers we should ensure that that face also contains information that is useful to the user in the same area so that they're likely to look at it. Now a car here is a bad example, because from looking at the front of a car, there is no sort of interaction that can really take place. Making products anthropomorphic, that is to say, with human attributes, is a great way to ensure an emotional response and to instantly engage with your user. Just don't make it cheesy, or the effect will actually be lost. So think about the design of something advanced like a camera and how we might make a face-like element to the back-end, where the buttons and the screen are. This may or may not be possible, and we might deploy it more effectively deploy it in certain situations.

NAPPER: So, wrapping up, this semester we've covered a range of issues inside our user's heads, all enabling us to make products easier to use. So I'll start with a reminder of something that I said in week one. In industrial design, it's important that we make products with good qualities in a range of areas: durability, style, manufacturability, sustainability, and of course many others. But if we don't have good interface, the above qualities are somewhat lost when products are actually used. As designers, we need to always deliver the goods to the user experience.

NAPPER: See you next time.

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