What do interaction designers need to know about
ubiquitous computing, what you call “everyware?”
the single most important thing that we need to wrap our heads
around is multiplicity.
Instead of the neatly circumscribed space of interaction between
a single user and his or her PC, his or her mobile, we're going
to have to contend with a situation in which multiple users
are potentially interacting with multiple technical systems
given space at a given moment.
This has technical implications, of course, in terms of managing
computational resources and so on, but for me the most interesting
implications concern the quality of user experience. How
can we best design informational systems so that they (a) work
smoothly in synchrony with each other, and
(b) deliver optimal experiences to the overburdened human
at their focus?
This is the challenge that Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown
refer to as "encalming, as well as informing," and
I think it's one we've only begun to scratch the surface
How will the interactions we have with digital
products now differ from those in the future?
The simple fact that networked information-processing
devices are going to be deployed everywhere in the built environment
rather strongly implies the inadequacy of the traditional user
interface modalities we've been able to call on, most particularly
keyboards and keypads.
When a room, or a lamppost, or a running shoe is, in and of itself,
an information gathering, processing, storage, and transmission
device, it's crazy to assume that the keyboard or the traditional
GUI makes sense as a channel for interaction - somewhat akin
to continuing to think of a car as a "horseless carriage." We're
going to need to devise ways to interact with artifacts like these
that are sensitive to the way we use them, biomechanically, psychologically,
and socially. Especially if we want the systems we design to encalm
their users, we're going to need to look somewhere else.
Voice and gestural interfaces, in this context, are very appealing
candidates, because they so easily accomodate themselves to
a wide variety of spaces and contexts, without taking up physical
or preventing the user from attending to more focal tasks.
become particularly interesting given the expansion in the
number of child, elderly, or nonliterate users implied by the
ambit of post-PC informatics.
On the other hand, they're computationally intensive, and they
also present serious questions of capture fidelity, of interpretation,
and again of multiplicity. Even under ideal circumstances,
present-day IVR systems are fairly wretched. I, at least,
every time I'm forced to interact with one.
What all this suggests to me is that we're a couple of years
away from the truly robust application of voice and gesture-driven
It's reasonable to assume that, in the fullness of time,
voice-recognition and gestural interfaces will form part
of the everyware designer's
working armamentarium - but we're not there yet.
How can interaction designers begin to document
That's an excellent question to which I'm afraid
I don't have a good answer, at least not in the abstract. I think
it's going to take some time, and the opportunity to internalize
our experience of developing real-world ubiquitous systems, before
we can come up with a consistent set of deliverables that represent
and document the kinds of interaction we're talking about here.
I'm optimistic, however, that both a community and a body of
practice will rapidly accrete around everyware. The challenge
modeling hypermedia spaces existed for half a decade before the
now-standard set of Web deliverables emerged as a response, forged
by the requirements of daily practice; similarly, I think it'll
take a few years for their everyware equivalents to crystallize
out of solution.