Design for ecological fit

in Interaction design

Our lives are becoming flooded with new devices – for work, communication, entertainment, and so on. Laptops, flash drives, MP3 players, GPS navigators, gaming devices, and mobile phones communicate with each other, exchange information and share data. How do you design in this new world?

I have just been reading some super research by a team at Indiana University who are trying to understand how people manage their device ecologies. They’re looking at technical, experiential, and social factors. It turns out that what people do with one device cannot be be considered separately from what they do with other devices. Similarly, the meaning they give to one device is related to the meaning they give to other devices. These things are critical for experience designers to appreciate.

The research reminded me of my own device ecosystem. I used to have two laptops: one in the office, and one at home. I’d transfer data between the two and both were synchronised via my .mac account. But the wireless card in the ‘office’ laptop died, so I brought it home. Since then I’ve hardly switched it on. Why? Because I can’t connect it to the internet easily. Its lack of connectivity into my device ecosystem (comprising my iPod, router, .mac account, etc) renders it useless. That’s what I mean by saying that we need to understand how devices fit into a wider ecology.

We need to increase our sensitivity to people’s device ecologies if we are to build products that people choose to buy.

If you’re an interaction designer you need to:

  • Be more sensitive to device ecologies when conducting field studies
  • Extend models of context (e.g. affinity diagrams) to capture people’s device ecologies
  • Consider people’s device ecologies when authoring personas and scenarios
  • Think about how your designs and products fit into people’s device ecologies

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