KIN809– Interaction Design
Assignment 3– Interactive Mapping

Copyright 2004 Leonard King

Aims: This assignment requires you to develop a design for supporting interaction across large-scale, dynamic social networks.

Introducing DoLE

A Domestic Load Evaluator for keeping track of domestic chores.

Introduction

The purpose of this assessment piece is to create a technology that facilitates interaction within a social group through the use of mapping theory to create a means of visualising user data in such a way that members of the group can understand and respond to it. As part of this explanatory element to the assignment I will describe the function of the interactive piece and what social interaction it is intended to create. I will then go on to discuss how the user data is mapped and how it can be responded to, pointing out its relative strengths and weaknesses in its current implementation. Throughout the explanation I will look at how this technology makes use of current interaction design theories such as ubiquitous computing, user agency, modality, presence and information semiotics.

Aims

The Domestic Load Evaluator is a means of quickly and easily determining how many domestic tasks need to be performed within a family or household group at any one time. Utilising a small LCD display that can be wall mounted and connected to a network and thus to the internet, the unit allows the user to add tasks either manually, or automatically through an inbuilt calendar function. Tasks are noted in a list down the side of the display. To easily see what tasks need to be done at any given moment the unit uses a cartoon character to visualise the tasks. The more or less tasks required to be performed at any one time changes the apparent demeanour of the character. The user is compelled to believe that their actions can make the character happy, angry, frustrated, tired, relaxed or sad. Through the use of appropriate modality in using a cartoon character it is intended that the unit would be appealing to children to make them more likely to perform these tasks.

One of the key features of the DoLE is its reward structure. As a means of further enhancing appeal to younger users, tasks completed in a timely manner allow the accumulation of “points.” By utilising interactive elements of successful toys such as NeoPets or Tamagotchi’s (Knight Ridder, 2004) the unit promotes a sense of user agency. As points accumulate through user interaction, the user is able to change the appearance of the character. Of course, if the user doesn’t keep up with the tasks the character’s appearance reverts to its median state.

It is intended that the unit will allow interaction between household members on a number of levels. Firstly, it is intended that the unit acts as a sort of household noticeboard where chores can be designated for all members to see. Secondly, it is intended to bring a sense of common experience through the shared nurturing and development of the DoLE character, similar to a family pet. Thirdly it seeks to develop a task/reward structure for children to learn from.

Mapping

Explanation of Mapping techniques

As previously mentioned, the DoLE unit maps the number of tasks at any given moment in time. It does this through appropriate use of character “emotional” response. If the character has no tasks to perform, it is portrayed to act in a manner that can be interpreted as relaxed and happy; smiling, waving, sitting on a deck chair with a drink, etc. With the introduction of a single task the display shows sequences with the character performing a simulation of that task. At this point, due to the light work load, the character maintains a happy façade. As more and more tasks are added to the diary list the character appears to lose its happy and amiable nature. The unit displays sequences showing the character performing the same task, only now the subjective rendering of the character has changed. The more tasks there are to do, the grumpier and sweatier the character seemingly becomes by rendering the character frowning, bent over, with plodding footsteps and small droplets coming from the body. A viewer is able to associate this unhappy and overworked character with the large number of tasks. They would hopefully perform those tasks, remove them from the unit and allow the unit to display sequences where the character is a little happier.

Through the reward structure it is also possible to see how successful a social group has been in maintaining their domestic cleanliness. If tasks are completed in a timely manner, points are awarded. Through the use of these points the users are able to “purchase items” for the character. These items allow the users to promote their sense of individuality onto the character through clothes, accessories, entire outfits, even leisure items for when DoLE has nothing else to do. However, letting tasks build up means the items are removed from the character, creating an impetus for the user to maintain a high level of cleanliness, or at least limit the number of tasks that remain.

Through external links to the internet and syndicated feeds to meteorological reports, and through its inbuilt time/date function linked to statistics regarding median sunrise and sunset for a location, the unit also maps the weather, the amount of daylight and the appropriateness of any task to those factors at any given time.

The intention is that through appropriate use of the modality of the cartoon character i.e. cute, childish, harmless and amusing, and a genuine sense of agency by allowing the user to see that their actions make a difference to the character’s “wellbeing,” the user will cease to think of it as a technology that they interact with, but rather something that interacts with them. It is not designed to create a space that facilitates a sense of non-mediation in a mediated environment, or tele-presence (Lombard and Ditton, 1997) nor is it entirely designed for ubiquity and transparency such that the user is unaware of the technology’s presence (Weiser, 1991). Rather, the user should feel that the technology and the character in it is a part of the household, and be freely happy to interact with it as a part of the family unit. Rather than the user feeling they are part of the technology’s world, the technology, and the virtual world within, should feel like it is part of the user’s world. There is still a requirement for the user to actively interact with the unit. The hope is that the user will consider it interacting with an entity rather than a technology.

Similarly, it is also hoped that through using technology to map real world endeavours, it will allow and even promote the user to engage in real world, focal activities even though the impetus for performing the tasks is based in a displacement technology (Borgman, 1999).

Current Issues with Implementation

A study of the technology as it has been submitted leads me to the belief that it would benefit from increased modality, in particular the use of audio to accentuate the cartoon elements of the visuals. While constant sound effects would be distracting and even possibly annoying over an extended period of time, small, appropriate character noises would help to maintain character presence during interaction by the user. Similarly, an occasional sound effect for key events such as a change in the character’s mood or an addition to or change in the list order would be appropriate.

Due to a lack of skill as a character artist, I have created a very simple style throughout. While I believe this helps to maintain the cartoon look, there’s no reason why a user base could not create their own characters for use in their units, thus deepening the attachment between the technology and the user community.

Most importantly I feel there is a failure in the mapping. While certain things can be accurately mapped, such as the time and date or the weather, the accumulation of tasks or deleting them as completed is entirely user-based. If a user does not engage with the technology sufficiently the unit has little ability to determine anything beyond itself. The state of the character is entirely determined upon the user feeling enough of a connection to wish to interact with the technology. Moreover, there is no way of objectively determining truth. If a user wishes they can quite easily delete a task, irrespective of whether the task was actually completed in the real world. Short of creating a ubiquitous network of home appliances that check in with the DoLE unit every time they are used, user honesty is the only means of accurately mapping their domestic actions.

Conclusion

The popularity and power of this form of character based mapping is already apparent through toys such as the previously mentioned Tamagotchi and RoboDogs (Knight Ridder, 2004, Eckstein, 2004), web-based virtual worlds such as NeoPets (Fonda, 2004), and even new technologies for seniors to assist them with remembering to take important medication (Moos, 2004). While certain elements may require specialist installation, such as internet connection, with a user base that already understands the basic concept there should be minimal problems with implementing it as a domestic based technology.

Launch Assignment

Requires Flash

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References

Borgmann, A. (1999) Holding On to Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Eckstein, Sandra (2004) “Play it forward Interactivity of toys leaps ahead to keep up with a generation of sophisticated kids.” The Atlanta Journal - Constitution. Atlanta, Ga.: May 20, 2004. pg. NW.3

Fonda, Darren (2004) “Pitching it to Kids.” Time. New York: Jun 28, 2004. Vol.163, Iss. 26; pg. 52.

Lombard, M. and Ditton, T. (1997) At the Heart of It All: The Concept of Presence. Journal of Computer-mediated Communication 3:2.
Available at: http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol3/issue2/lombard.html
Accessed 28 October, 2004.

Moos, Bob. (2004) “Specialty firms springing up to serve growing ranks of seniors” Knight Ridder Tribune Business News. Washington: Jul 10, 2004. pg. 1

Weiser, Mark (1991) “The Computer for the 21st Century”
Available at http://www.ubiq.com/hypertext/weiser/SciAmDraft3.html
Accessed 28 October, 2004

Wire Feed (2004) “New generation of Japanese virtual pet goes on sale in New York, San Francisco” Knight Ridder Tribune Business News. Washington: Aug 11, 2004. pg. 1