Norman, Donald A. The Design of Future Things: excerpt from CHAPTER THREE “Natural Interaction”
Through the lens of understanding the importance of communication in design and interaction, I really liked contemplating on the distinction between signaling and true communication. As a ‘participatory designer’, I always prioritized the interaction and the mutual communication between the user and the experience. It surprised me that Norman saw this interaction as one-sided, which I do not necessarily believe that it is always true.
I like the emphasis on ‘true communication’ involving a two-way exchange of information.
The reading mentions how the alarms, alerts, and signals can become overwhelming, leading to distraction and annoyance. The proposed solution is to adopt a more natural form of interaction, akin to how humans perceive and interpret sounds and environmental cues. Natural sounds, in particular, can provide a continuous, nonintrusive awareness of events in our surroundings.
Participatory art often relies on collaboration and interaction between the artist and the audience. How can we ensure that the art pieces provide clear "affordances" that invite active participation, without forcing control on the audience?
In this context, the concept of affordances was crucial to understand. Affordances are relationships that exist in the world, indicating the potential actions an object or system offers to users.
While originally proposed as a perceptual concept, it has been applied to design, highlighting the need for affordances to be perceivable. I agree that affordances should be visible and intuitive to users. Users should not have to learn or guess how to interact with an object or system; the design should communicate its capabilities clearly. However, I also believe the room for creativity while thinking about the affordances. At times, I feel like there is no space for me to exist in my relationship with an experience/ a product/ a piece of music. If affordance and creativity intersected, both ease and creation could be cultivated.
I liked how the analogy of pedestrians and bicyclists in Delft, Netherlands, served as a metaphor for human-machine interactions. In this scenario, pedestrians are encouraged to be predictable, maintaining a steady pace and direction when crossing paths with bicyclists. The lesson here is that, in the absence of effective communication, predictability becomes essential. This concept extends to interactions with ‘emerging intelligent machines’. Rather than attempting to read and predict human actions, intelligent machines should behave predictably, allowing humans to respond appropriately. This brings back the agency to the human while maintaining a kinship with the other. I am hugging Haraway here.
The readings delve into the dilemma of who should be the predictable element in human-machine interactions. In situations where both humans and machines are equally capable and intelligent, it may not matter which party behaves predictably. However, in most cases, machines lack the depth of human intelligence and common knowledge. Therefore, it is suggested that machines should prioritize predictability, providing users with a clear understanding of their rules and actions. This approach minimizes confusion and potential risks.
One proposed solution to facilitate communication and predictability in human-machine interactions is the use of playbooks. These playbooks serve as shared models of tasks, allowing humans to understand the strategies being followed by the machine. The challenge lies in presenting this information in a simple and easily understandable format.
The reading underscores the critical role of effective communication, perceivable affordances, and predictability in human-machine interactions. To design intelligent systems that work seamlessly with humans, it is important to prioritize clarity, ‘ethics’, transparency, and simplicity in conveying information and intentions. By adopting these principles, we can pave the way for ‘healthier’ interactions between people and intelligent machines in the future.
Now as musicians and designers, how can we incorporate ‘healthy affordances’ into our creations and performances while fostering and encouraging creativity in others?