22 June 2006, 19:10
A week ago I was in dornbirn (austria), to teach a workshop in user interaction architecture methods at the usability day IV. This conference had been organised by the research centre for user‐oriented technology of the fh vorarlberg. Guido Kempter and Philipp von Hellberg turned out to be excellent hosts, making the contributers feel right at home.
Dornbirn is a post‐(garment) industrial town, located close to lake constance. For a dutchman it is most impressive that the alps start in full force right on the edge of town. What an inspiring environment to work in. The fh itself is a wholly modern affair, prepared to start new—and close redundant—studies to adapt to the market. This reminded me of the original bauhaus: about every 2 years it reinvented itself completely.
Also the mensa deserves a special mention. It is run by a non‐profit company which buys all their ingredients directly from local organic farmers. Compare that to the mensa and canteens where I have eaten during my career…
The purpose of my workshop was to make colleagues in related fields of work (usability people, development, product management) acquainted with the methods I use on a daily basis.
To have something hands‐on to work with, and exercise the methods, I needed an example project. I wanted my workshop to be anchored in the rest of the uDay, so I trawled the programme for a major topic. I came up with two: interactive television and mobile. So I set the topic to interactive television on mobiles…
In the workshop it was my task to provide the participants with the raw project material (intend, domain knowledge, functionality, technology) that normally comes from the product and development teams that I work with. The participants in turn had to take the role of interaction architect. A complete reversal of roles.
Through the cutting edge projects that m+mi works performs for Nokia, I am quite up to speed with mobile UI, but interactive television was new to me.
looking for a vision
I needed to get a feel for the product vision behind interactive television:
- why are companies investing in it?
- who is this for?
- what value should it deliver to these people?
So during my preparations I google for clues. During the uDay I attend the interactive television track and filter the presented material. I talk to the project manager of the interactive television project of telekom austria. Here is what I found:
- triple play
- every telecom company, internet provider and broadcaster needs to provide the triple of internet access, telephone and television. Because, … , the other ones are moving into their turf anyway.
- a lean‐back experience becomes a leaning‐forward experience
- seems to be a classic, this one. The workshop participants and I were doubtful about this character change for television (‘drug of a nation’). But it is not up to the interaction architect to question this. It is the product managers job to define and believe in this. We have to extract value for the end‐user. And I find it lacking in this department.
- more features, crammed into your television
- is what I personally got demonstrated when drilling further for user value.
This does not add up to a product vision. So during the workshop we had to define our own, to be able to get even started. I am actually sure a vision exists, distributed between the back of the minds of all the people working on interactive television at this moment. It is just that nobody has been able to put it in words yet.
It is my role as interaction architect to help to formulate the product vision, and then to implement a process that bases ultimately all decisions on it. Because without a product vision no amount of UI concepting, graphic design, technology or usability testing will get you anywhere. You simply have no goals to aim for.
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