Form Follows Behavior

November 11, 2012

Without noticing, technology has caused us to adopt a new type of body language, that we now use in everyday life. These are gestures and postures that appeared with the use of computers, cell phones, sensors or game controllers.

We walk in the streets with our eyes focused only on our smart phones; At work we tap our computers gently to make them work faster, and before we go to bed we watch a TV show on our i-Pads as we lie down in bed and look at the screen. Technology dramatically changed our movements and actions in the space around us.

Examples of this are waving our mobile phones in the air to get better reception or steering the wheel with our knees while driving so our hands are free to look at our phone. Sometimes people respond angrily towards technology, like kicking a vending machine that refuses to cooperate. I saw a person pointing up his finger because his phone wasn't working, and another person shaking his laptop because the screen wasn't showing anything. People move their remote controls in the air from side to side in an attempt to communicate with the TV.

All these gestures are very interesting from a design perspective. If we understand how people behave once their gadgets don't work properly, we can use that knowledge to design better products, that have a better relationship with their user. Although people adapt to new technology faster than we think, there is definitely room for improvement in design. Crafting better feedback behavior and more adapted error messages from machines are definitely good candidates for that matter.

Of course there are different devices, such as Microsoft's Kinect, or Nintendo's Wii, that respond to human motions. However, in many cases these gadgets require the user to perform actions he is not used to performing. I think our job as designers is to study the ways in which people behave naturally, how they react to existing technology, and use that to design better products and optimal technological solutions. There should be a thoughtful implication for each gesture. How can we use the anger that a person reflects towards a gadget in a thoughtful manner?