At 650 pages, About Face offers so many different entry points into the discussion about usability, interaction design, and graphic design, and industrial design. Looking back through my notes, however, I noticed several themes coming up again and again. I’ve tried to group these themes and my comment/responses into several blog posts to make them a bit less overwhelming:
- Personal Connections
- Applying About Face to E-Texts
- About Face and Learning Spaces
- About Face and the Teaching of Writing
- Using Idioms to Re-envision How We Understand and Interact with Texts
This post begins with the theme of Personal Connections. And, as with the posts that will follow this one, I’ve tried to direct my commentary and response to About Face through a series of questions, which I then attempt to tease out and answer.
How does using personal connections help create better products?
Although I think I always knew in the back of my mind that creating positive personal connections was the hallmark of good design, reading About Face really made me think about it for the first time. The text is constantly emphasizing the importance of creating narratives and establishing personas to better understand the user. As someone whose academic foundation is in rhetoric, I’ve been trained to think about audience and the best way to reach an audience based on the context of the situation.
What I hadn’t though of, however, is the flip side of that relationship. About Face encourages the designer/developer to think of a digital system as human. How can we make products that have characteristics similar to the people we like? Is the product helpful? Or does it make us feel stupid?
The constant encouragement from the authors of About Face to connect with users on a personal level might possibly seem strange to someone who focuses solely on programming and the technical aspects of designing computer systems. But for someone whose background is from the humanities, it all feels very natural.
It reminded me of reading Content Strategy by Kristina Halverson, which explains how important good, targeted, and organized content is to successful websites. Many people might argue that a degree in the humanities is not as relevant or valuable as perhaps a degree in one of the “STEM” fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Yet the messages coming from books like Content Strategy and About Face is that people who are keenly aware of rhetorical principles have extremely marketable skills and abilities.
What are the ethical implications of imbuing our digital products with “human-like” qualities?
Although I think consciously trying to create technology that acts like a helpful friend rather than an inconsiderate customer service rep is a really good design principle, I wonder if it can be taken too far. There are many times throughout About Face where the authors encourage designers and programmers to create applications that better anticipate and “learn” their users.
In other words, computers should automatically store preferences based on user’s habits and commonly performed actions. This would, in theory, increase productivity without bothering the user with a million pesky pop-up windows, dialogue boxes, and annoying questions. Maybe I’ve only experienced the negative advertising aspects of this—but I personally find it a little creepy when several of my Facebook friends get engaged and Facebook suddenly starts posting wedding advertisement on my sidebar when I log in. I’m not sure I want my technology to “know” me that well.
I personally don’t mind a little bit of extra inconvenience if it means my privacy is secure.