I am often struck by the strive for simplicity that seems to guide almost all HCI research and also most of the popular press surrounding interaction design and UX. This strive towards simplicity seems to be so fundamental and unquestionable that it is not even understood as a purposely chosen goal. Instead it seems to be a given. Of course, it is not a problem to try to make things simple. Why shouldn't we? And as long as we are dealing with very simple software and apps that help people do simple tasks this is not an issue. But not all tasks are simple.
A lot of people are today working with (are users of) software of extraordinary complexity. This complexity is not necessarily a consequence of highly advanced algorithms or procedures, or of any intricate intellectual complexity, instead in many cases it is simply a consequence of a large number of variables and data, some kind of combinatorial complexity. Examples of this kind of software is commonplace at your doctors office, your bank, your insurance company, and many other businesses and institutions. A lot of this software is aimed to support professionals dealing with scheduling, logistics, planning, recording, monitoring of processes and procedures.
The complexity or feature richness that this type of software manifests is of course not a 'problem', instead it is a strength. The software is valuable exactly because it makes it possible to handle complex and rich information and data in a way that is impossible or extremely cumbersome with manual means. We might call this type of interactions for 'rich interactions'.
When we look at the field of HCI research today it is obvious that the area of 'rich interactions' is not particularly popular as a research topic. It seems as most research is aimed at making quite simple tasks even simpler by the design of interfaces that lead to smooth and enjoyable user experiences or aimed at introducing interactivity into areas where it has not existed before through smart devices, tangible interaction, etc. But where is the research that could actually bring the field forward and provide some insights about how to design 'rich interactions'?
I often hear or read colleagues in the field complaining and in many cases joking or being sarcastic about the state of the field when it comes to 'rich interactions', usually after having some personal experience in their encounter with a business or organization or in conversation around software such as MS Word or Adobe Illustrator. This kind of software is commonly seen as examples of failure when it comes to UX design since it is cumbersome to use, complicated, difficult to learn, etc.
It may be possible, of course, that some of the issues with this kind of rich interactions can be resolved with new forms of interfaces, new modes of interaction, clever interface solutions, etc. but it is not possible to reduce the richness by design. The richness is what makes the software valuable in the first place.
So, my question is, where is the HCI research that in some serious way is studying the nature of rich interactions? Where can we find insights, principles, and knowledge that could support those who are designing rich interactions?
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
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