Friday, July 20, 2007

Sensory User Experience

My April issue of Wired Magazine was shoved under some kid stuff so I didn't get to read it until yesterday. There was this article by Sunny Bains on how the brain processes sensory data and can adapt to new inputs. There were examples in the article of people using their tongue to sense images or objects, and others wearing things that lets you constantly sense where magnetic north pole is. Yet another test was something that pilots can wear that allows them to avoid spatial disorientations by giving them an alternative method of sensing 'down.' Most of the participants in these studies had lingering effects of the tests even when the sensory devices were removed.

Most of us in user experience design don't work with tongue input devices, but we do come across customers that have used software for a long time. These users develop a similar sort of sensitivity that goes way beyond the screen. There will come a time when the software will need to evolve, and there will be an inability to transfer these sensitivities to new designs without the same investment it took to become aware of input as they had with the old screens. In all the examples in the Wired article it took time for the brain to adjust to the new input. This has nothing to do with intuitive user interface design. That can grease the wheels, but there is something we should be more aware of when it comes to software design that is not visual. It reminds me of people that have practiced guitar to the point of not having to look at the frets, or how you know where your light switch is in your bedroom even in complete darkness. How can we harness this extra sense in the design process?

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