Sunday, March 15, 2009

Interface lessons from game design: Play on

Gaming represents one of the purer forms of interface design. It must adhere to usability principles: afterall, if the interface doesn't work in a game, then it's no fun. But it also has to have utility and desirability built in or it's...well, no fun.

Somewhat counterintuitively, gaming interfaces are often inconsistent in the presentation layer of the interface from one to the other. This panel discussion covers lessons learned in gaming interface design that may be applicable to design of non-game interfaces.

Panel discussion....ready, set, go [my comments in brackets]: Robbins, Cressman, Josling, Franklin and Lazarro.

Emotion in design

Lazarro-Play creates emotions. More than 30 different emotions are documented in the choices that one makes while playing games (curiosity, joy, accomplishment, relaxation, etc.). The best selling games include at least three of the following four types of fun: hard fun, easy fun, serious fun and people fun. Independent of gaming, tapping into these emotions is relevant to the experience online [we've posted on the trinity of Useful, Usable and Desirable where desirable is the emotional component of the expereince]. 

Tools in design

Frank-Feedback is critical to the experience when users employ tools (like the Jump Tool in Super Mario) as part of the game. But also in tools like Google Docs. For example, rather than having a ribbon of icons for formatting text (right align, left, bold), why not allow users to drag and move text the way the want it [in the vernacualr this would be called direct manipulation?]. Interfaces built around touchscreen technology can change this, but even the very idea of simplified tools is still further along in games than other online interfaces. 

Controllers in design

Robbins-Hardware interfaces are changing the though, the interfaces are not so customized...keyboards and mice are relatively standard of course. The Wii controller [as a devices that moves in real space] has no real corollary [though a mouse does move thru real space, right?]. 

The fun is where the real world mapping of controls to the digital world has a's also an opportunity for fun and frustration. If the game controller mapped to the real world exactly, it wouldn't be as fun. [Imagine objects in a game operating under exactly the same gravity conditions as the real world...what fun would that be if you couldn;t fly!]. Touchscreens have a modicum of imprecision that can make them fun and frustrating. 

Devices like the iPhone create issues such as being able to see the screen when the device is put in motion (as in a bowling app). With Wii you can see the feedback of the controllers on the screen. With an iPhone you wouldn;t be able to see the screen while the device is in motion.

Every screen is going to be a touchscreen in the near term...this changes the nature of interface design when the controller device becomes the human hand directly manipulating the screen objects. [Imagine typing a word document the way you type email on an iPhone or Instinct...or pinching and pulling images, using swipes to move images/folders from a desktop to the trash]

Progress + Goals in Design

Cressman-Rewards + Reputation Systems. Game mechanics around ideas like earning points and reputation ratings are important. [Ref Amy Jo Kim's Google talk on this here]. Game ratings also get translated in web sites like eBay with ratings systems, stars and such. Use of badges that can be earned [similar to experience points on Xbox] is consistent with offline ideas like boy scout badges. Enabling these elements to exist in online tools--ways to build points and reputation--is an opportunity. 

Examples include ratings on ePinions. Social media points/reputation numbers like number of Diggs or Reddit. Designing the interface to reflect the different levelling associated with experience--a tripadvisor contributor or seller rating on eBay--should be embedded in the design of the status display...even if it is something as simple as color changes [like karate belt colors].

Another principle is the interface complexity ramping up with experience. The idea of getting an experience flow that varies with the users experience. Startup tutorials trend isn;t going to get the job done.

Social Aspects in design

Josling-Enabling people to feel part of something bigger than themselves is the basis of successful MMOGs like World of Warcraft, Runescape and others. The flow of community in online support forums for products (like software products) seems more laborious. Going to a support board, trying to follow the flow of support inquiries and responses. Being able to seek support in the application context for instance rather than having to 'go somewhere else' online is something that game designers do well and non-game interfaces might embed more consistently. 

BONUS POINTS for naming the game that the characters above inhabit.

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