Behavior Modeling & Design, Business Analysis, Interaction Design, Product Development, Requirements Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User Studies, User-centered Design

“There is no Average Joe Bloggs” – reads the copy on the billboard advertisement of an insurance company. I couldn’t agree more with this, especially in the context of designing and developing new products for end users. No matter how much I like Statistics, we just cannot apply it to all things in our personal and professional lives. While its good to be number-savvy, we need to balance the quantitative with qualitative aspects, to get it right. More so in the case of product design and development, the “law of averages” doesn’t quite contribute to the successful product development. We are all familiar with the concept of user profiles and personas used in the design and development of products. These help a great deal in understanding the real needs and goals of your target audience. In this post, I will dwell on why designing for average users is a misconception and how we can make use of user profiles and personas in developing successful products.

All customers are not users

This is the biggest notion among my clients that customers are well, users of the products. Not always true! The good thing is that both customers and users are both people, the similarities end there.  I think that “Customers” is a favourite term for Marketers whereas Designers and User Experience professionals connect better with the term “Users”. Customers are the people who purchase your products and services, while consumers or users use these. In some cases or well, most cases customers and consumers are the same. As in the case of some daily use products, white goods, FMCG, customers and users are the same i.e., people who buy your products use them as well. But in the case of high-end products, enterprise applications and productivity solutions, buyers could be different from consumers. For instance, office supplies, financial services, technology products like computers etc., the people who pay are different from those who suggest. These in turn are different from the people who decide and yes, the people who actually use the products or services could be completely different from the above groups.

First, know your Users

Knowing your users is the most important step in the approach to developing great products. By knowing your users, I mean to say that you must understand the goals and needs of the users. This understanding will help you in shaping your product or service, make it more suitable and appealing for the users. You can’t just create a product in thin air and then retro-fit it to the benefit of some people. As they say, the most important question in any business is asking “whose needs is the idea/concept/product going to solve?” . Texavi’s Unified Experience Framework has a whole phase dedicated to help you get to this. The “Know the Needs of your Users” phase has all the tools, techniques and technologies to ensure that we understand the real needs of the users. These are often unwritten, untold, unexpressed and even unknown to the very users. So, its a big challenge to get to the real needs of the users.

Know the Needs of the Users - Texavi Unified Experience Framework

 

User profiling holds the key

It doesn’t make sense to design and develop your products for all the people in the whole world. There is a danger of missing out on most people, as they think it doesn’t suit their specific needs and goals. Also, on the extreme end, it doesn’t make sense to design your products for one or two users. This argument lends weight for some people to think the middle path and rely on the law of averages. So, they think that the best path is to design and develop for average user. But hold on, what is an average user? How can you get to that person and define the characteristics of average user? The answer to this question lies in the user profiles and personas. User profiles are essentially the characteristic grouping of users based on various properties, traits and behaviours. This doesn’t mean that you are defining an average user. Instead, you are trying to understand the essential aspects of your users.  Using the profiles and personas helps the team to have a common language of understanding. This not only helps them in having a good picture of the end users, but also gives them a great affinity to the users, because of the name, form and physical characteristics.

UserProfiles_Personas_Design

Personas – archetypes not stereotypes

You might have heard of the term “persona” used in the context of marketing, research and product design. A persona is a representative user from amongst the group, but does not point to one user from within the group. It is a powerful design tool that helps the design and development teams and client relate to the target audience. Persona is not a stereotype of the users, but rather an archetype from the user group. In a persona, you give a form, a name and a picture to the representative users, so that all the team members and concerned people can relate to that person more effectively and easily.

Persona - Texavi example

 

Benefits of user profiles and personas

While there are many benefits of using the user profiles and personas in the product development life cycle, I list below a few of them that really stand out.

  • Understand the real users who you should target from amongst the many people in the population
  • Help prioritise the target segments within the groups of people
  • Know the real needs and goals of the target audience
  • Support in connecting and relating to the real needs of the users
  • Design, develop the products in a more practical and pragmatic manner
  • Evaluate and test the products, keeping the real users in mind
  • Minimise the effort, time and cost of development and rework

Hope you agree with me now that the average user is a myth and acknowledge the power of profiles and personas. Please keep writing in with your suggestions and comments. Till the next post, ciao!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Business Analysis, Information Technology, Innovation, Interaction Design, Product Development, User Experience, User-centered Design

When I talk to my clients about developing great products that offer fantastic User Experience, many of them ask me why, when and how to go about doing it. The most frequently asked question from customers is “what is that one thing that makes or breaks great user experience?”. My consistent response to them has always been one simple word that truly wields the real power. Yes, it is “Consistency”. That is the mantra for creating great products and services that stand the test of time, offering delightful experiences to customers and users! However, this by no means is a quick-fix, short-cut approach to creating successful products and services. In this post, I shall touch upon the important role consistency plays in offering compelling experiences to your customers and users.

Think different, but be consistent

In the constantly changing business and technology landscape that we are living in today, it is imperative that you have to stand out from the competitive me-too products and services in the crowded market place. There is a growing need for businesses and individuals to think and act different. This also works when you wish to develop a new product, concept or idea and especially with the start-ups. It is indeed the hallmark of good startups to be able to think differently from the others to cut the clutter and make their presence felt. However over a period of time, the product or service gets adopted and it gains sufficient market penetration and user acceptance. At that stage, having consistency in presentation and overall experience becomes critical for the long term success of the product.

Consistency – experience and expectations

What does consistency mean in a product development context? Does it mean repetition, cliche and mimicking the same, always and in all ways? No, on the contrary being consistent helps your users to focus on the right areas in your products so that they derive optimal usage experience. Consistency can be seen as an antidote to monotony and often the positives of being consistent far outweighs the negatives of being routine and repetitive. Do not restrict consistency to just one specific product of yours, but broad-basing it across the products in a product line would help your customers and users.  Consistency though largely is a broader concept, does vary to some extent based on the users’ culture and geography. The concept of “business” has remained the same all through the centuries. Customers and clients raise a PO (Purchase order) and vendors propose and offer their products /services and then raise an invoice/bill towards the products or services offered.  Customers then make payments to vendors against these invoices. This is a consistent way of engaging in business and doesn’t vary from country to country and also does not change with the times.

Sample this as a proof of why I think that consistency is of a great help to delivering great experience. People from across the different parts of the world have been driving cars over the last few decades. There have been a lot of  variants like petrol and diesel, differences in engine capacity and volumes.  Cars do come in different models, sizes and shapes  – sedans, SUVs, hatchbacks and so on. They also differ in the transmissions like manual and automatic. The steering wheel could be on the left or right side of the car, depending on which country you drive. However, no matter where you are driving, what type, model, size or shape of the car, the pedals for brake, clutch and accelerator (also called gas) are always in the same place and in the same order. From left to right, it will be clutch, brake and accelerator and its no doubt that this is what simplifies the driving experience for most of the car drivers in any part of the world. This is just one example of how being consistent helps the users to adopt the products quickly to their context, expectations and experiences formed.

Why be consistent?

Consistency when used in the right manner has the power of giving freedom to your users. It ensures that your users put their focus on the goal rather than the medium. I like to draw an analogy for this with the cinema screen and the projected movie. Consistency in your products is akin to audience watching the movie and enjoying themselves without getting distracted and disillusioned looking at the screen beneath the movie. It makes the experience smooth and lends flow and fluency to what the users look, learn and do within the product.

Let us look at some of the benefits of consistency

  • Is shaped on the prior experiences of users
  • Helps direct users’ attention
  • Sets the expectations of users
  • Delivers stability and safety of users, in a few instances
  • Aids users in strong brand and product association

Consistency doesn’t kill creativity

Quite a few people think that consistency kills the creativity and new ideas. I would argue that consistency doesn’t affect the innovative or imaginative thinking. Innovative product companies like Apple, Google implement consistency across their entire set of offerings. You can use standards and design principles as the basis for your product. These are the foundation based on which you should architect, design and develop the product. These are often sacrosanct and non-negotiable. Next in the order of priority are guidelines which are like rules of thumb. They are not prescriptive, but provide direction to what should be incorporated and how. But compelling user experience doesn’t stop at this level. Only when you start referring to heuristics and patterns, can the product start delivering delightful and superlative experiences to users. I drew the diagram below to bring out the main points.

Balance consistency with creativity_Texavi

 

How to incorporate consistency

In the context of product development, consistency translates into the overall user experience and not just the superficial visual design. You need to look at all the various dimensions that contribute to the overall experience and delight of users. The following diagram sums up how you can lend your product a consistent experience…

What contribute to consistent UX_Texavi

 

Through the optimal use of consistency, user should be able to feel that he/she knows:

  • What I can do with this product
  • Where I am now, where I can go from here and how I can go
  • Why something works the way it does
  • What a particular element means when it is in of a certain colour, shape and size
  • How I can press, click, tap an element to get what I want it to do

 

Hope you find this post helpful. As always, please feel free to drop in your comments to help improve the quality and usability of my blog posts. Until next time, ciao!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agile Development, Behavior Modeling & Design, Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Innovation, Interaction Design, Product Development, Social business, Social Technologies, User Experience, User-centered Design

This post walks you through with an overview of Texavi, what we do, who we are and where we serve. You will also get to see the core services and offerings, practices and focus areas of Texavi. With this presentation, you will know how we can help you and the benefits for you, working with us.

– Team Texavi

Behavior Modeling & Design, Information Technology, Interaction Design, Product Development, User Experience, User-centered Design

In 2006,  Apple and Nike joined hands to develop Nike+iPod, that changed not only the way people listen to music on the move, but also the way they manage their fitness and in effect, their health and lifestyle. Just about the same time, Nintendo launched Wii, that changed the way people play games from being passive to an active, out-of-your-couch experience .  A decade ago, Google changed the way people navigated by shifting their focus from browsing to searching and now Facebook has changed the way people stay connected. All these products, beyond doubt, set out to change the behaviors of people who are motivated (I am not quite there yet:-) and are capable, if they are provided with the right resources.

           

You can change people’s behaviors

All the companies and products I mentioned above, proved that it is possible to use behavior modeling and design to effectively persuade people to do something positive. In this post and a few upcoming posts, I will touch upon how these companies and others have been successful in using the power of persuasion and behavior design. They have been effective not just in creating great products and services, but also in persuading and changing the behaviors of millions of customers and users, worldwide.  Let  us analyze and understand how they could do it and what really is the secret behind their success.  In doing this, I draw my insights from Prof. B.J.Fogg’s Behavior Model (a.k.a FBM) to explain the relationship among behavior, motivation, ability and triggers.  But first, let us understand persuasion and behaviors, in detail, in this post.

Persuasion as an art and science

Persuasion has been an art we have all been familiar with and it definitely is not new to us, human beings . Right from the time we are born and as we grow up into being professionals, we have been using different persuasive techniques to deal with family, friends, colleagues and customers. Marketers and advertisers,  through the ages, have been  successful in persuading us to look at, buy and use products and services. Its only recently that product companies have been looking at using persuasion and changing  customers’ behaviors through structured and proven methodologies. More recently product companies like Fit Bit and DailyFeats-Jawbone launched wearable devices that help track your movements and proactively suggest ways to improve your fitness and health. Both these devices have been designed to persuade people to change their behavior, from a passive to a more active lifestyle. The key here is they have been successful in implementing the Persuasion and design and develop products to help change behaviors in a pragmatic manner.

What is a behavior

We keep hearing about goals, needs, tasks and activities, being used in our professional and personal spheres.  Now you  might  be wondering how behaviors are different from these. Behaviors are perhaps more fundamentally ‘human’ and ingrained in us as human beings, than say, tasks or  activities. No wonder then that behaviors could be separated from the other superficial aspects, such as activities and tasks . This is how I look at behaviors and I am not taking this from any specific source or resource.  The personality of an individual can be dependent on both her attitude and behaviors. There are numerous theories suggesting ways to bring about attitude change. But as Prof. B.J.Fogg suggests, behaviors are better separated from attitudes for a clear definition and  a focused approach to behavior change. So, I will follow the same approach and focus merely on defining target behaviors and bringing about the desired changes in behaviors of people.

Creating habits, not just products

Behaviors can come in different shapes and sizes. You might want to classify behaviors into different types based on the longevity or  duration of their  occurrence.

  1. Get people engaged in a one-time behavior  Eg., Replace all bulbs in house with eco-friendly energy-saving ones
  1. Do it over  some  duration or  for a defined period. Eg., Take bus/train to go to office, 3 days in a week
  1. Do it continuously over a long term, almost as a habit. Eg., Use hand-sanitizers to keep hands safe from viruses

It is in the last category, lies the interest of most organizations and products. Which company wouldn’t like to have   customers using their product on a continual basis? Or better still getting habituated to using the product to the extent of  forming an addiction.  Recent examples for this have been Google, Facebook and Twitter…all of them did implement this long term behavior change in a smart way by creating habits  in people, successfully. Google created searching as a habit by replacing it with the browsing navigation.  Facebook created the habit of  checking out what your friends are up to and sharing with your friends your recent escapades. Twitter provided a way for people to express and update their activities in a short sentence.  If you want to be successful in your business, then start looking beyond your product’s features and users’ needs. It is time, you looked at making positive behavioral changes to your users in different contexts.

      

Behaviors and their flavors

Behaviors can also be looked at from the perspective of what you like to do to them. Some times, you  may want to induce new behaviors, while in other instances, you want to change the existing behaviors – increase, decrease, or altogether  stop them.

  • New behaviors  can be imparted to people. Eg., flossing teeth is new, compared to brushing
  • Increase existing behaviors. Eg., Brush teeth twice a day, instead of once
  • Decrease existing behaviors. Eg. Take less quantity of fatty food during dinner
  • Stop existing behaviors. Eg., Stop  smoking (hmm…this is tricky:-)
Now that we have covered the basics of behaviors, we are now geared to get into the details. In the next posts, I shall explain, taking help from Prof.B.J.Fogg’s Behavior Model, how you can be more persuasive in designing and developing your products. Until then, ciao!
Information Technology, Innovation, Interaction Design, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience

After all these years of my experience in engineering software products and applications, I realized that there is one phrase that I tend to hate the most. No, its not “Give me a ballpark estimate” or “I need this delivered by e.o.d. today”, though these come close enough to be 1st and 2nd  runners-up :). The one I am referring to is “Let users figure it out”. It is a nemesis to developing successful products, often resulting in a shoddy product.  The “Figure-it-out” syndrome as what I call it,  could be an evil for product development which can be as bad as, if not worse than Featuritis. The plausible cure for this syndrome is when the product is made easy to use for those people who are using it for the first time. In this post, I touch upon the ease of learning and use and give some tips about making your products a breeze for your users.

Easy to learn and use

Let us be honest, how many of us got trained on using the ATM card to withdraw money from a cash machine? At the least, how many went through the user manual, supplied? Popularly known as Any Time Money, the Automatic Teller Machine was conceptualized and designed so that users from different segments can get to use it with little or no effort. This is a classic case of designing a product which is not just easy to use, but also easy to learn for new users as well. Easy to learn and use a product is a critical yardstick to measure its success and is often ignored to a large extent for various reasons. Lacking this, a product might become a nightmare and the product or feature puts off not only novice users but also some experienced users, some times.

New user scared of technology product :)

But then it has the ‘user manual’

Training, setup guides, user manuals, glossary, help docs and other such documents are meant to support the new users in coming to grips with the product. Like a site map which provides a clear guide on how a web site is structured, most of the above artifacts are meant to make it really easy for the users. But then, there is a view prevalent among the Design community that site map comes handy only when a web site is not usable by itself. In other words, only when users are confused, puzzled and left with no option, that they would look at a site map. So is the case with the supporting documents and help guides that I mentioned above. No matter how effective and efficient your technical writing team is, your documentation goes often into the dust bin. The golden rule is ‘Customers and users don’t read user manuals!‘. Bear in mind that these are good supporting aids but they can never replace a well-designed product.

The ‘Figure it out’ syndrome

Whether its the apathy towards customers and users, or the need for speed in delivering the product to market, the figure-it-out tendency gains ground with the product development team. You don’t suddenly wake up one fine morning with the syndrome. It gets built up over time and plagues your product and users to no end. Here are the factors that can potentially contribute to it…lack of empathy and concern for users, a frog-in-a-well approach. Also, an unwritten but strictly-followed preference attached to functionality and technology over user experience tilts the scales against making the product intuitive.

Don’t undermine the impact of this syndrome, it could be long term, deep cut and manifold. It affects not just the product creators – the stakeholders and the development team but also the product consumers. For the creators, due to the relatively short-sighted  aspects of their planning and execution, there will be heavy overheads of customer-reported defects leading almost to a total rejection of the product by the users.  Some of the products tend to be so overly complicated for new users that they instantly give up and return them or pass on to others. There are umpteen examples of products which flopped not for their technological maneuvers, nor for their functional richness but merely because they are rather too complicated for users to start using it.

Steps for ease of learning and use

The first step in making your products easy to learn and use, is to know your users. There is an oft quoted saying in the User Experience industry that tells it all – “Know thy user and you are not your user”.  The next step is to design and develop the product in such a way that it is intuitive and clear for users. Cluttered and dense interfaces, confusing controls, unclear messages, lack of help when needed- all of these make it hard for your new users.  As Steve Krug puts it in his book, ‘Don’t make me think’, the moment you let your users start thinking about how to use any feature or functionality, you start to lose the user ‘s interest.  Also, there should be a flow that lets users feel immersed when doing a task. This would make them not only feel that they accomplished the task but also delighted. I would equate this to the concept of flow as explained by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his classic book on psychology – “Flow: the psychology of optimal experience”.

yes, don't make them think   Let there be a flow with the tasks in your product

Who are you creating the product for

To be able to design your product better for ease of learning and use, you need to clearly identify who you are creating the product for. Going back to the ATM card example which we discussed above, the product was intended to be used by the larger number of users with little or no literacy, who would have never seen, leave alone using a computer before in their life. It was designed and developed knowing fully well that it needs to work with all the users with different backgrounds and literacy levels.

Atm machine in use   Monk using ATM machine

The beauty of the ATM product lies in that they cleverly disguised a computer into the machine. Without users’ knowledge, they are actually using a computer and its all made so much of a breeze to use it. No wonder, the concept and product caught up and it has changed the very definition of  ‘banking’ on a global scale.  Another case in point is Intuit’s QuickBooks. While every other accounting product in the market was geared towards the accountants and qualified book keeping professionals, Intuit understood that there is a huge demand for a simplified accounting product for the non-accountants and novices. They launched QuickBooks with the sole focus on this segment of users and today it is the most successful product in that segment, popular for its ease of use among new and expert users, as well.    

QuickBooks - Accounting made simple for non-accountants

Expertise and experience make a big difference

I would suggest that you classify your existing and/or potential users, based on the following:

  • Demographics
  • Education and computer literacy
  • Professional
  • Psycho-graphic (attitudes, likes and behaviors)
  • Tasks and scenarios

More importantly, to make your product easy to use, you must first profile your users based on the product usage experience. The following is a typical way of classifying the user groups, but you can adapt this and modify it to suit your needs.

  • Novice /beginners
  • Intermediate
  • Advance
  • Expert/experience

Specify your target

Now that you had a considerable start in the path of creating a great product, you now need to ensure that you have the right pick. The list below will help you in approaching the product definition in a structured way.
  • Identify the composition and distribution of your existing and proposed user base
  • Have a clear markup of the proportion of new users vis-a-vis advanced or expert users
  • Specify which of the above user types you will target with the product
  • This is applicable equally to the features and functionality and not only to the entire product

Here is how you can make IT easy

Beside the above suggestions from my experience, I offer a few other tips below to do a quick check on how effective your product or feature in the scale of ease of learning and use. You might use these as guidelines during the design and development of the product or as checkpoints to validate the features and functionality in your product. I am classifying them into the typical buckets of user experience, so that its easy to assess them individually.

Functionality

  • What can I do with this product?
  • What do I need to do, so that I can achieve my goals?

Navigation

  • Where am I now?
  • Where can I go from here?

Interaction

  • What should I do to make this work?
  • How responsive is it to my inputs?

Presentation

  • Does this look pleasing to my eyes?
  • Am I distorting anything to make it appear what it is not?

Help

  • Can I get help when I need?
  • Is help provided when I require it?

As always, hope you find this post informative and useful. Please do give me your feedback. Until next post, ciao!

ZFTD32WWJGMW

Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Interaction Design, Product Development, User Experience, User-centered Design

We keep hearing a lot about the terms User Experience, Usability etc., being tossed around to talk about the products that are used in our daily life. These are increasingly related specifically to the technical products, devices, electronics,web sites and web applications.   To be honest and brutally frank about this, I was never taught all through my education about ‘usable’ and ‘usability’. Not only these, even my formal education did not dwell much upon ‘users’ and their needs. And I guess, this is true with most of you too.

Its true that we were taught about how to design great products and how to know our customers’ needs and satisfy them with our offerings. In this post, I wish to discuss some key aspects as to how we can deliver delightful user experiences, not just create products and services.

It lies in the details

Small things and details make up great user experience but  user experience is not a small thing.  Pay attention to the details and you are contributing to the delight of your users. It is often  the attention to the details or lack of it that makes a product a huge success or a super flop.

Take the case of Jabulani, the football used in the 2010 FIFA World cup held in South Africa.  Some players complained that the ball was not behaving in the way it should when hitting from afar and that they could not predict the path of the ball when in air.  Their contention was that perhaps it was not designed considering the altitude, pressure and the context of the stadiums in South Africa.  It could potentially be a  case of not getting into the details such as the usage context, which led to frustration among users.

 

A small exercise for you!

I don’t want to write too many details about this point :-) Instead, I want you to try it out yourself and experience the difference!

Follow the steps in the order I give below:

  • Open a browser window of each of the following:
    • Internet Explorer
    • Apple Safari
    • Mozilla Firefox
    • Google Chrome
  • Press CTRL+N keys or Go to File menu and select New
  • Compare what you see with each of the results

Here is the key for those who don’t have the time to do the exercise…Microsoft, Apple, Mozilla and Google each have come up with different browsers and different browser versions updated to suit users’ needs. We are not trying to look at the pros and cons of these, but the essence is to understand how much they care for their users and how much attention they pay to details. These are not the only measure of user experience or  efficiency of any browser, nor can we assess them comprehensively with this particular feature alone. But this shows you how much importance they give to users and their needs.

Let us observe how opening a new browser window works across these different browsers:

Internet Explorer opens a new window with the current site opened by default. It is almost as good as Copy feature. Copy the same window is not what you needed, but you expected a new window to be opened. Also, add to this the time it takes to open it, because it needs to load all the elements of the current page. It opens the window with exactly the same size as the previous window and you cannot see that its opened in the first place.

Now compare this with what Google Chrome or Apple Safari does. These open new (literally) browser window and this is not the copy of the current window, but a new browser window. Also the new window is slightly different in size compared to the previous one and you can see very clearly that a new browser window is now opened. I have illustrated these different options with a few images, so you can see the difference clearly.

Microsoft Internet Explorer

Google Chrome

Apple Safari

Mozilla Firefox

Information Technology, Interaction Design, User Experience, User-centered Design

You might vaguely remember the 3R paradigm used back in our student days.  Yes, you are right, the 3R approach emphasizes the three important modes of learning –Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic.  All through our schooling and college education, we had been taught how to read, write and calculate. Pretty much everything in this world can be understood and learned through a combination of these different modes. Okay, but why on earth, am I referring to the 3R model here? Well, most of the things that we were taught all along in our schools and college days changed with the advent of computers and then the Internet. Now, with the onslaught of smart phones, devices and tablets like iPhone, Blackberry, iPad and Android-based tablets, the user interaction and experience landscape has been undergoing a sea change!

In this post, I wish to walk you through the transition of  the technologies as we learnt, and used in the context of how we interacted with and experienced them. Let us also examine what is ahead of us today, as technologies evolve and become more human-centered. Also, towards the end, as a bonus, you can get a sneak peek into my newest tech acquisition, HP TouchSmart Convertible PC!

First, there was the Word

Yes at first, we all learnt how to read and write words. We started our learning using slates (literally and no sly reference to the latest gadgets a.k.a tablets ) :-) and slate pencils and chalks. We drew pictures with these and also with crayons, paint brushes and colors. Using these devices, we slowly graduated to writing letters and then words. As we grew up, and our ability improved, we moved on to  papers and pens. We started writing sentences, stories, essays, mathematical equations, chemical compound notations and so on.

These are perhaps the first set of learning media which we started interacting with on a serious note, and they did offer a high sense of involvement. Slates, Pencils, Pens and papers gave us that first hand experience of ‘direct manipulation’ where we directly interact with the surface, without the support of other devices, quite unlike keyboard or mouse that followed much later.

Type, don’t write!

We slowly got adjusted to these devices, interacting with them and got ourselves immersed using them. By the time, we started enjoying their usage, came the Type Writer, a machine using which we can type in to create letters without having to write with pen. Strange why they still called it as Type Writer when you were not writing anything, but actually typing. This was perhaps the first commercially used machine  on a large scale with a QWERTY keyboard.

I could remember the commercial institutes round the corner of many streets, where they used to train people on how to use the type writers. In fact, there used to be two examination papers based on the skill or rather speed of your typing – ‘Lower’ and ‘Higher’. People actually planned type writing as one of their professional interests. I remember a few relatives of mine who, in their summer vacation, went to commercial institutes to learn short-hand writing and type-writing. Type machines and type-writing became so ingrained in our daily usage that there used to be lot of opportunities for the job post of ‘Typists’, both in the government and private companies.

If you analyze the  interaction behavior of the user with these type-writing machines, they pretty much lost the original concept of direct manipulation which was more prevalent with Slate and pencil, paper and pen.  With the fingers operating the Keyboard and letters being imprinted on the papers, there is very less or should I say zero direct manipulation. Obviously, this would have led to some user dissonance in terms of connecting with the device, even though the efficiency factors of typing over writing weighed in more. Don’t forget that, still to a large extent, the writing habits of people stayed put, as type writers were considered more suitable for offices and not so much for homes.

Computer – Type Writer’s newer avatar

The Type writer machines were fading gradually and in their place, computers were introduced. This transition had been attempted under the guise that both have similar keyboard, that of QWERTY. The introduction of computers have been well planned, intentionally or otherwise, by preparing the people in a nicer way. Computers were made  less intimidating and scary, by comparing them  to type writing machines – while those had a slot for paper, computers don’t. Also, in the initial days, it was widely circulated that people who knew type-writing could only work on computers. So, computers were initially seen by some people, more as electronic type-writers than computing machines.

Computers began occupying key places in offices. They were given special  treatment and I remember offices used to have special cabins where computer were placed. People entering these air-conditioned cabins were asked to leave their footwear outside, lest the computers should catch some virus. The popularity of computers started to raise and soon the training institutes which used to teach typing skills changed their boards and began teaching how to use the computer keyboard and type effectively.

Computers were slowly introduced in colleges and schools as part of the curricula. We used to have laboratory session twice a week. In the lab, there used to be about 20 computers and these were shared amongst all the students. Computer users were still interacting in a pretty indirect way using the keyboard. Of course, mouse which became a popular input device in a short time was a better alternative to most of users. Mouse soon became a favorite amongst most users as users do not have to know typing nor do they need to spend months mastering how to use it. Using a mouse was better for users, as they just need to point and click. Interaction with the computer became a bit more direct, than that with the keyboard. Mouse soon turned out to be man’s best friend :)

Tap, pinch and slide – The slate is back

Slowly but surely, the game changer  in the interaction and user experience arrived on the scene.  Some ATM (Automated Teller Machines) had been introduced which have touch capability. Users could touch the screen to choose their options and computers were never the same again.  The market was abuzz with a few tablet pcs or convertibles which have both keyboard and touch options. However, due to various reasons, these just could not get the critical mass and failed to impress people. Then Apple brought out its first Touch based mobile phone, the iPhone and subsequently iPod Touch, music player with touch screen. Then came tablets such as iPad and Samsung Galaxy into the market, which offered larger displays than the phones and perhaps better features such as ebook readers etc.

With iPhone, the game really changed and users had an option of not keying in into their phone through the good-old QWERTY keypad. Tablets brought out a new way of interacting which is more direct than any other devices listed above. New modes of interacting with the device had emerged, thanks to the Touch paradigm. Users had to learn afresh some new interaction styles such as slide to unlock their phone,tap to select an item or file, double tap to open the item or file,pinch to zoom etc. Is there a learning curve to shift from the type paradigm to the touch paradigm?, no, not much because touch is the most direct manipulation possible and is quite natural to most of the people. So, no marks to guess which interaction mode won the accolades in the user community, quickly. Touch overtook Typing and writing, by eliminating the intermittent devices such as pencil, pen, keyboard and mouse.

Tablet PC – The best of all worlds

From the above, you might conclude that I am biased towards Touch and so have given it more marks than write and type. Not exactly true, because no matter how direct the manipulation can be and how rich the interaction can be, Touch has its own disadvantages. For instance, the sensitivity to touch might differ from device to device. Apple iPhone’s touch sensitivity is different from Blackberry Storm’s sensitivity which is different from Android-based HTC phones’ touch. Add to that, users don’t find keying in messages using the Touch keypad, as good as the QWERTY physical keypad. Some users might be plain lazy to unlearn their writing and typing habits to negotiate with the touch mode of interaction. I, for one, would prefer a keyboard to type in messages and text than a stylus based touch interaction.

Your and my prayers were rightly heard and answered. The Tablet PC was introduced. You no longer have to restrict to one type of input or interaction mechanism only. You have got the options of using the keyboard like a normal desktop or laptop computer. You can turn the monitor sideways and down to make it a tablet a.k.a slate. You might want to use your fingers tapping, sliding and pinching away on the tablet. When you want to do some finer selection, you can use the digitizer pen a.k.a stylus to write right on the tablet. I never thought that I would need a pen to write again, except for doing signatures. I was proved wrong with the proverbial history repeats itself.

With the tablet PC convertible laptop, the slate ( I was referring to the good old slates we used to write  on,  in our school days) is back into action. Along with that, the pen also made its presence felt in the form of digitizer, using which you can draw, paint, and write. It also doubles up as a mouse, because you can select, left click and right click. And to top it all, you have the normal keyboard using which you can type your way into the laptop.  Tablet PC is here to stay, with all the interaction styles and experiences packed into one. The option is yours to type, touch or write!!!

Here is the bonus. These are the snap shots of my new HP TouchSmart Tm2 Tablet PC. I shall write more about it in the later posts. Have fun!

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