So we spent the week down here in San Diego at Etech. Hampton showed off Haml and we had a kick-ass vaultcamp party with Dan Grigsby and Radiant Core. The theme this year was ‘magic’ and as with most themes the results were mixed. Here are some of the things I found interesting to the work we do here at unspace.
Mike Kuniavsky from thingm talked about ubiquitous computing and the possibilities of adding enchantment to everyday objects since powerful processors (486, Early Pentiums) are now so cheap. He had a great saying “You can’t produce leisure, or automate happiness” which illustrated how a shift is required in how we design interaction to do things that might not be associated with technology currently. Often when we build software we take ordinary things like validating a form and add ‘magic’ with the goal of making the user experience better. The problem is being developers we tend to focus on visualizing features from our point of view and are often times surprised with customers don’t have the same reaction. Mike said that good magic doesn’t deceive, or confuse, it explains and I think that’s a good bar to set when we add these types of features to our software.
Danah Boyd had a great talk about what the real world (america), divided into age ranges is motivated by and how technology and social networks fit in at each stage in your life. She said that features have consequences and that has really stuck with me over the last couple days. We do the least possible to get to launch and keep our software highly focussed but we always have pushback from both clients and customers to add, add, add. When we conceive features often only the upside of the feature is discussed when the decision is made, and I think that’s the source of the problem. What if for every feature you made a list of consequences, what will it mean to the software, what are the side-effects? I think this will force features to make the grade before they become a reality.
Raph Koster did one of my favorite talks of the conference about video game interactions and technology. The first thing I liked was the concept of games being made up of smaller games, that’s how we try to structure our projects as small stand-alone apps that combine to create a large application. This lets you get to usable functionality and meaningful feedback quicker and allows clients to become involved with their application. He also talked about how each mini interaction should be FUN which is a great challenge for software design. How can you make filling out an 20 page grant form fun? What about the process of verifying your identity or creating a loan? The other thing I really liked was how he thinks all interactions must have context and that when and how you came should matter and have an effect. This has been a recurring issue for us as we often re-use pages for many different actions in the project. Also the concept of interactions involving skill so you can do it better or worse which lets you learn, so how can we make our software help customers get better at using it. This talk has really got my mind working about the projects we are working on right now.