Voting Machines – The Ultimate Interface?

ballot_box.jpg

Photo: binkley27

Dan Saffer just wrote an alarming piece about electronic voting over at Kicker Studio and it reminded me of a great article I read recently in the Suddeutsche Zeitung (it’s in German, read the ridiculous Google translation here).

The SDZ article points out that an essential aspect of voting is there being no doubts about the integrity of the system. Any mistrust should be avoided. One of the benefits of a piece of paper is that you can point to it, watch it, examine it and use it as proof of your vote. Not so with many of the electronic voting machines. Sure, it’s slower and more expensive to do it with paper, but it’s a pretty important decision and, let’s face it, elections aren’t cheap.

Dan quoted this from the Charleston Gazette:

Shelba Ketchum, a 69-year-old nurse retired from Thomas Memorial Hospital, described what happened Friday at the Putnam County Courthouse in Winfield.

“I pushed buttons and they all came up Republican,” she said. “I hit Obama and it switched to McCain. I am really concerned about that. If McCain wins, there was something wrong with the machines.

“I asked them for a printout of my votes,” Ketchum said. “But they said it was in the machine and I could not get it. I did not feel right when I left the courthouse. My son felt the same way.

Voting is perhaps the ultimate in interface design. It’s not just about an interface for the vote, it’s also the people’s interface to the lawmakers and country’s budget. I never used to care much about voting until I moved to Australia where I couldn’t vote and this horrible git was Prime Minister. But it deserves some proper thought and shouldn’t be done just for the sake of it being cheaper and easier – some things are better because they’re hard.

Games, Play and Web Applications

[Dan Saffer’s](http://www.odannyboy.com/blog/new_archives/2007/10/presentation_ga.html] latest presentation called Gaming The Web: Using the structures of games to design better web apps is a great summary of many of the themes I’ve covered over the years, which is gratifying to see.

In his presentation Saffer looks at the way games are structured, the difference between games and toys and also interactivity and flow, which I also wrote about a while back.

Flow

The flow principle was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and, amongst other things, looks as the border between boredom and anxiety. The idea being that when a task is perfectly pitched to our abilities – not too hard and not too easy – we become fully engaged in it. Games designers have been using this process for years building up these skill levels via game levels.

Toys, Play and Games

Much of what Saffer has to say about toys versus games is also really valuable and echoes what we were banging on about back in the 90s at Antirom. Toys are things without goals and rules in the way that games have them. There’s a lot to learn from toys because people simply pick them up and play with them, sometimes becoming quickly bored, but other times becoming absorbed and inventing games from that play. It’s a great way of getting people to explore and learn a new interface and it’s one of the things that Apple do very well.

Part of my ongoing PhD is about this very aspect of interactivity and uses OS X as an example. As Brenda Laurel argued way back in 1993 in Computers as Theatre, computers have grown from the paradigm of being a ‘tool’. Windows has always separated the ‘business’ side of computing from the gaming side and the OS itself (prior to Vista) has always had quite a utilitarian attitude. The Mac OS has always had a sense of humour and this leads to nosing around and playing and thus discovering its hidden secrets. That irritates those wanting to ‘just get the work done’ but it also emotionally engages people and is, I think, one of the reasons Mac fanboys (and girls) are so passionate about their emotional attachment to all things Apple.

Saffer breaks down the structure of games thus:

Mechanics create Dynamics which create Aesthetics

and argues that this is how most development works. The business or technical mechanics come first and then the aesthetics are bolted on top, when actually we should be thinking the other way around (or perhaps not thinking directionally at all):

we should really be designing like game designers do: you start from the opposite side of the equation. We should figure out the aesthetics–what should this feel like? what is the emotional response to this application?–and work backwards from there. What dynamics will create these feelings? And what mechanics will support that?

It’s one of the reasons the iPhone interface looks like it does and most other mobiles are a complete nightmare to navigate and configure

The point is that in a world where so many interfaces are competing for our attention those that fail to engage from the first contact (and this is usually an aesthetic, playful moment) fail entirely. Put simply, if someone can’t be bothered to play with your GUI all the technical wonders in the world behind it won’t ever get seen or used.

Cultural Play and Change

The main thrust of Saffer’s presentation is about web apps, of course. The last chapter of my PhD is about social play in this realm. A few months ago I wrote that StumbleUpon is the Antirom of the Web as an example. Social software is about play and discovery and ‘work’ or ‘business’ benefits are spin-offs from that, not the other way around.

I would go further than Saffer, though, an argue that it’s not just designers and developers who need to get playful with their design, but that corporate and company structures need to become more playful. In a presentation to Neue Digitale in Frankfurt last year I spoke about play and playfulness not only being useful design outcomes but also an essential design approach. But for this to happen the playfulness needs to be structured into the company workings not just bolted on in the same way as we argue that design should be integral to the entire process as it is in service design.

Much of this I’m going to be talking about next week in my session at Flash on the Beach in Brighton – if any of you are there, please come and say hello!

[tags]Dan Saffer, interactivity, play, design, flow, antirom, presentations[/tags]

Interactive Gestures Wiki

Multitouch screens of all shapes and forms are really all the rage, but with them come whole new paradigms of interaction. Do you wave like a Wii or do the Minority Report hand swipe popular in many kinds of large-screen set-ups.

Interaction designer, Dan Saffer, who also wrote Designing For Interaction has written a call to arms for interaction designers over at Adaptive Path. He points out some of the issues and dangers if these ideas aren’t documented and resolved. Standards help everyone and sharing knowledge of what you’ve played with, what works and what doesn’t is essential. As Dan says:

And if we wait, well, we’ll simply find individual companies (Apple, Microsoft, Perceptive Pixel, etc. etc.) creating their own standards (as is being done now). And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, one can easily imagine having to remember a crazy amount of movements and gestures for common actions. (”Wait, to turn on the lights do I tap the wall, or wave a hand? Is this an iRoom or MS Rume?”) We’ll get a lot of ad hoc solutions – some of which will be great, some not so much. Standards and a pattern library would help.

In order to gather this knowledge together in one place, Dan has started an Interactive Gestures Wiki. It’s already interesting to nose around and see just how many gestures and ideas are already out there, but it needs some filling in from us all.

[tags]multitouch, interactivity, gestures, physical interaction, dan saffer, wiki[/tags]

Dan Saffer on Design Research Lies

Brilliant clip of Dan Saffer doing the start of his How To Lie With Design Research talk at the 2007 Design Research conference.

If you’ve ever been to pretty much any conference (but especially design education ones) and heard someone just spout nonsense for half an hour, you’ll enjoy Dan pointing out the elephant in the room. It’s worrying how convincing he is in that first minute…

(The video is by David Armano over at Logic+Design).

[tags]interactivity, dan saffer, conference, research[/tags]