Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Monopoly and designing interactive digital artefacts

What would happen if the design principles of Monopoly where applied to an interactive digital artefact?

In the words of Durrell Bishop the real-world is full of self-evident objects where their shape displays their mechanical properties. What if digital tools could actually be clearer in their display as to what they performed? I am not talking about icons here. I have lost too many man hours trying to decipher the icons on Microsoft Outlook Web Access when I need to send an email due to some egoist insisting on using icons they thought were >cool< that no-one else does… but I digress.

Bishop uses Monopoly to explain his premise on self-evident design. The game itself has a complex system that is as complex as using a video recorder (slightly old school but hang in there) and he argues that it's functions are self-evident. The board graphics demonstrate clearly the possibilities and route around the board; the pieces show the players' proximity and the dice demonstrates the position of both the current and previous spatial position of the latest player. Houses show both ownership and risk. At each stage there is a physical signal as to where the game currently is.

If a player has to go the toilet or make a cuppa during play, when they return it doesn't take a full debrief to resume the game. Bishop's main point is that at one glance you know where you are. Using the comparison to a video recorder he suggests that videos would have been more user-friendly if at a glance the user would know what is on the tape, where the programme they want lies on the tape, how much is left on the tape and who else needs to watch the programmes remaining on the tape before it can be recorded over.

So my point of interest in Bishop's research is whether digital interface design can transcend the icon-centric bull and harness more self-evident design principles to make the usability of interactive digital artefacts more intuitive for the user. Does anyone have anything to add to this idea?


fusewire said...

So, in effect you want a new way of seeing ... or rather we (if we are the designers ...) need to find new ways of presenting our content ... but we can only play Monopoly because we have an understanding of the capitalist pan euro-usa concept of market forces.

If you were from a different culture how "self-evident" would the visual imagery of the board and pieces be? The shapes maybe "self-evident" up to a point but the perception of the viewer will translate those shapes into varied meanings because of their varied experiences.

I would offer that is why the MS icons don't function well even for people with considerable experience on computers. Anyway there are too many of them. In that respect Monopoly is successful because the iconic elements are The Board is a simple path of squares( repeated with typographic information): 2 kinds of property {red and green House shapes}: player pieces same size/material but similar):money different numerical values and colours but similar: 2 packs of cards.

They all re-inforce themselves by repetiton of shape but differentiate through colour variance. It's that inner "re-inforcement" that enables us to" learn the game fairly easily and achieve success of a varying degree.

But like all games it is "finite" even the dice are limited by the mathematetical combinations possible using 2 x 6 sided die.

To create an "intuitive" usability is a tall order for digital interface because the design solution has to address the "finite" limitations prescribed by all aspects of the interface which inlcude the setting within the hardware not just the virtual environment within the screen. As I understand it in the present situation once we access the virtual space we need to learn new maps .. as many maps as there various interfaces... So I learn the Windows map / the Adobe map /or "John Doe's" ( made by yahoo) map.

Good luck on the "New Media / Multimedia(what was that?) interactive Media Holy Grail" trail.

...and that's just a start :)

Alec said...

There's a huge difference between conveying concepts and hard information. The portrayal of concepts is certainly culture-specific, but there is still some learning involved. A Monopoly game in progress wouldn't mean much to someone who hadn't seen Monopoly before.

The relative positions of player pieces and houses/hotels may offer some idea of imminent risks, but there is no information about who owns the property or which player approaches them. Wider still, there is no information anywhere about who has the most property and/or cash and is therefore winning.

Likewise, the example of video recorders can be separated into the process of programming the machine and specific information about what is on the tape or who is still to watch it.

Various manufacturers made attempts to provide some information on screen, such as remaining time, and there are things like Electronic Programming Guides showing what's on different channels, or Sky+ boxes with their lists of recorded programmes.

Going in the opposite direction, there was the attempt with VideoPlus to remove control of the process from the user, by giving him/her fewer chances to make mistakes - just type in an apparently random number.

I find it hard to imagine an interface that is totally intuitive, even within culturally- dependent and therefore recognisable (to some) symbols.

There have to be few enough decisions so that the user can learn the system without much effort, yet there also has to be sufficient feedback from an interface to show the user the consequences of what they have done, with adequate opportunities to correct mistakes so that they still feel in control.

In my opinion, the richest areas are those where the number of decisions is limited, but the total number of possible outcomes is huge. Garageband springs to mind as an example of this, not because of the design of the interface but because relatively few decisions from a large choice of possibilities can lead to a hugely varied set of outcomes.