October 2010 Archives

Well, what are assignments good for in grad school, if we don't get to publish them anywhere? So here it is, the first assignment that I did for our first seminar course at SD PolyU in interaction design.


(The original article can be found here)

Assignment One

Using an existing product type, discuss at least three kinds of data that one may select for observation. Explain where you think each kind of data may lead one in an investigation of the nature of interaction.

The Twitter application for Android by Twitter Inc.

Illustrations 1 & 2: The Twitter application for Android

For this assignment, I will be considering the official Twitter app on the Android platform. It is one of the applications that I use the most on my mobile handset.

In the study of interaction design, we are looking at the relations between humans and objects. These "objects" are often computing devices, including the software which runs them or on them, because of their malleability and ubiquity.

To paraphrase Google's choice of name for its first branded phone, these handheld machines and their apps are communication "nexuses" between us and other people. The information that we put on the Internet is our medium of communication. In particular, the Twitter application lets users sign on, find and read, write and contribute to the Twitter network. Twitter in turn acts as a "media" where other people pool, analyze and derive information that is important to them.

For this assignment, we may be immediately interested in the interaction with the application, but in turn, we may more generally see it as an interaction with other people, via the Internet.

Clearly, I think that one of the first "data" that we have to look at is flow and hierarchy of the system. By this, I mean the way that this program is organized, and what logical steps a user must go through to accomplish what he came to the app for. The interaction may be initiated when the user voluntarily clicks the Twitter icon in his application launcher or when a notification draws his attention to the Twitter app (more on this later). The user is initially brought to a screen of six main icons and a bird figure that "tweets" trending topics on Twitter (see Illustration 1), and is further led down to more states with more streamlined potential functions. If he leaves the program to do something else on his device, he may be brought back to the same state when he decides to come back to it.

Another data that I would investigate is feedback and notification. In a sense, this Twitter application talks to us, the users. Without this response from the application, we would have trouble talking back to it. For instance, a sound notification may be triggered by incoming "direct messages" or "mentions" of our Twitter username by other users when the app runs in the background. Some types of feedback may popup messages (like the one seen in the mid-bottom of Illustration 1) when an error has occurred, such as a failed tweet when the network is unavailable.

Illustration 3: The Twitter app's settings menu

Coupled to response is the idea of controls. I define controls as the user input destined to change and modulate his interaction with the application. Controls are the icons that change the state of the app and they are the clickable areas when I read my friends' tweets. However, they are also in my mind the app's settings box, which lets us set up the amount and the kind of response to expect from the app.

Flow and navigation is what we are doing with our ship. Whereas controls let us steer around the app, feedback and notifications let us know where we are -- and whether we've hit a reef.

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