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Say Goodbye to Done

I found this recent paper published by the Nokia Research Center (via Putting People First) an extremely interesting read. It echoes and builds on some thoughts I’ve been having recently about mobile user experience and interaction design.

What has long excited and inspired me about mobile user experience is how it presents the opportunity to explore new ways for people to interact with information. The Nokia paper depicts a future where people and their mobile devices will be part of a self-organizing ecosystem of data. It’s exciting stuff, but the question remains for me… How do we begin to design for that future?

One mobile user experience trend I’ve been tracking is the slow erosion of a task-based interaction model. Most software, web sites and web-based products we use today have evolved around the task-based model, and it has served us well. PCs are great tools for efficiency and “getting stuff done”. Designers are well armed with a vast set of tools and processes that support this approach - use cases, task flows, task analysis - just to name a few.

The thing is… mobile isn’t a great platform for accomplishing tasks. The small screen and variability of the mobile context leaves most users feeling lost in a labyrinth of menus.

If PCs are great for getting stuff done, mobiles are good at exposing possibilities. More and more, I’ve been thinking that to create great mobile experiences, designers need to say goodbye to tasks, say goodbye to done… and explore new or different interaction models that leverage the things that mobile is good at. Exposing possibilities.

task vs. possibility image

Here are three emergent interaction models that I think support the idea of exposing possibilities in the mobile context:
1. Accrue value over time
2. Facilitate exploration
3. Sense intent

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Interactions that accrue value over time
This interaction model shifts the focus from task completion to surfacing information and making it easy for people to participate. A great example is Twitter. I’ve long heard folks who’ve never used Twitter ask, “What’s the point?” Compared to a similar experience that uses a more task-centric model like email, Twitter’s value is only revealed as users engage with the service over time. The value of the interaction is not around completing a task - typing a response to “what are you doing?” - but rather the conversation that can happen as a result.

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Interactions that facilitate exploration
This is an interaction model that calls to mind two of my favorite iPhone apps – Koi Pond and Bloom. These are open-ended interaction models that are easy to enter and exit. The interfaces usually have built-in affordances that inspire curiosity and play. They usually have some type of clear and immediate feedback, are visually rich and engaging, rely on animation to aid in cognition, and often orchestrate touch, gesture and sound into the experience. Pointless? Perhaps. However, there is something so completely intriguing and fun about these interfaces that is far more emotionally satisfying than clicking a send or buy button on a web site.

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Interactions that sense intent
This interaction model is one I’ve been tracking for the last 18 months and is perhaps the most exciting of the three. This model uses information from sensors, use patterns, GPS data and algorithms to anticipate needs and deliver intuitive options that make sense in a particular context. Devices are already doing this today. Sensors and accelerometer data on the iPhone can sense the orientation of the device and adjust the interface and screen orientation accordingly. The mobile Google Maps application anticipates that users will want to use their current location and automatically integrates it into the interaction. This model seems to be less about enabling users to complete discreet tasks and more about sensing what users want and delivering intuitive options.

I doubt tasks will ever be banished from our mindset completely and they shouldn’t be. The task-based model has been a good friend that’s served us well. However, it feels like the only way we can realize the opportunities that mobile interaction design presents is to say adios to our old friend, “the task” for a while and focus on making some new friends.


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