A beginners guide to kissing

Have you ever used a device or app where you had the idea you were pOw3nd before you touched it? Well your not the only one!

Interaction designers have come up with a lot of stuff that actually does not make sense at all. Making the interface beautiful and all interactive, working with new visual effects and trying to suck in the user to use their program every day because it has so many cool features. Well… those designers deserve a kiss, a Keep It Simple Stupid kind of kiss. Interaction design should not concentrate on creating features, but on narrowing down features so that the essentials of the device or app are clear and well defined.

What is kissing?

k.i.s.s. is an acronym that was first used by lead engineer Kelly Johnson of Lockheed’s Skunk Works. He used it as a design principle to keep his designs simple. Originally k.i.s.s. was an acronym for “Keep It Simple and Stupid”. due to popularity reasons it changed to “Keep It Simple, Stupid” over time. It is most likely that this specific acronym came from other maxim’s from Occam’s razor, Albert Einstein and Leonardo Da Vinci who all had the same kind of view on keeping things simple and straight forward.

Why do we need to kiss?

Like I said before… Have you ever used a device or app where you had the idea you were pOw3nd before you touched it?

What is going on?

What interactions designers mostly do is look at interaction problems. Some team thought up something and the interaction designer will need to work that into a workable form. Let’s assume that is the situation…

What happens next is that the interaction designer will look at what the thing he needs to create should do and then create a prototype of his idea of what it should do. This is basically a correct step, he has an idea of what it should be and makes it more physical.

Next the interaction designer will present that prototype to users that will eventually use the finished product. A good step to involve users into their equation what will work and what not. One of the drawbacks of this is that users also have a lot of great ideas and these ideas will influence the ideas of the interaction designer. This is good on one hand and bad on the other. why? well, good because new ideas don’t originate from one person or a small group of people. It is good to have an outside view of the situation. On the bad side. New ideas will mostly result in more features, in software development this is called “feature creep” (in general seen as a bad thing). More features, more interaction possibilities and more crap in front of you that keeps you away from what you were actually aiming for.

So with those newly acquired features supplied by our friendly use the interaction designer goes to work. What comes out of this is that the thing will have way to many features and has less idea of what it wants to do in the first place.

When analysing a gun it is easy! A basic gun has safety, scope and trigger. Safety to not shoot yourself, scope to be able to hit something and trigger to shoot! This interaction is kiss. Simple, efficient, effective and deadly. Of course there are options to pimp your gun a bit with special holsters, scopes, paint, lasers and maybe even a grenade launcher. But the basics never get clouded by the extra’s.

examples

I could tell you that interaction designers make wrong turns and hope you believe me. But I can also show you…

What is not working?

fisheye menu example

Fisheye menus: The HCIL of the university of Maryland has been the bleeding edge as it comes to interaction. Although this is one of the leaders of the fight for better interaction design they can also make a nice miss hit when it comes to their products. The developed and investigated the Fisheye menus. This initial idea is good to use a zooming interface to let the user better interact with a list of items. When looking at the implementation of it you see my problem. They added letters on the side to indicate the location of the different non-readable items. A doom area was added to indicate where the user was watching. When a user first get’s confronted with it he or she has no idea what to do with it. It is definitely not KISS! When analysing what went wrong it is very easy, lists with so many items do not belong in a list. If your list is that big…. let the user select from categories, let the user type their own input and maybe fill a suggestion box with possible answers or even make a searchable list… but do not use a zooming interface for text!

Pressure sensitive keyboard: Microsoft created a pressure sensitive keyboard for the PC and HCI projects have taken this new way of interacting with a keyboard to changing the input of the keys. So when pressing backspace lightly the single letter will be removed and when pressing it harder removes the word. In basics a good idea. Problem that arises here is… what do users expect from the keyboard? what if I press the “A” key hard or soft… does that give me an ‘A’ or an ‘á’ or an ‘à’ or an ‘Ä’? The problems seem to build up at this point. And what about learnability? Yes, you can learn to work with this keyboard and if you do it might be helpful. But all the time it takes to learn it and to use it is actually not really added to your productivity. Another more principle problem of this is that when typing fast people tend to press different key’s and combinations at different types of pressures, even emotion can effect peoples pressure on a key. It is not really an exact science in this… I did see some interesting implementations! In the video below you can see that the specific pressure that someone types can be used to enhance security of your password. It adds some biometric data to the password (anyone in security knows about the “what I am, know and have” ideology is here in play).

What is working?

Iphone touch interface: It is said that you can give the Iphone to a child and it will be able to operate it. One button for menu and big icons for the applications. I don’t think that there is another more difficult way you can use it. Basics are intuitive, minimalistic and smart. I’m just talking about the Iphone because it is a good example for k.i.s.s. design, but you could argue that the Ipods and other apple products follow the same idea.

Google minimalistic homepage: I actually was not surprised by Google’s new minimalistic homepage. One of the early statements of Google about their interaction design is to keep I simple and to the point. I must agree that they made a lot of intricate stuff, but it always tried to focus on the core task of the app. The minimal Google homepage is I think a great example of K.I.S.S. A logo, a search box, and two buttons. And here counts… yes! I want more! Move the mouse and you get more services, go to iGoogle and create your personal homepage with all your tools. But the first impression by Google is the basic functionality. This basic first impression lets first time users get more easily into the service and explore all the other features in their own pace… or not at all!

What do I want to say?

That is actually REALLY simple… Keep your head on your head and just keep it simple! Plan ahead and plan at least one moment where you reflect on the kissability of your product.

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