This is the first blog of a series for my HCI course at StonyBrook. The course is taken by Prof. Roy Shilkrot, who was a part of the Fluid Dynamics Team at MIT Media Labs.
The first lecture touches on the theory and history of Interaction design.
Don Norman’s below video shows that it is the creativity that can make us think of the different ways a user can make use of the product. Our users need not necessarily think of the product in the same way as a designer. Don takes some quirky examples like using a book to scratch the head(Each one of us might have used this technique once :P). This makes me think of what would happen if we come across a product never seen before and have to guess what to do it. What if, I 3D print a weird shaped product and give it to you to guess, what the product is used for. I am sure, the responses will be extremely creative and varied. Check out the below video about affordances.
Affordances are just the properties of the actionable item and the limits of the actor. And as seen above, there can be hundreds of affordances one can think of for a simple barrel.
Signifiers and Affordances are often confusing and I am still not completely able to understand the differences entirely. I came across a short article on Don Norman’s web page about signifiers.
“The perceivable part of an affordance is a signifier, and if deliberately placed by a designer, it is a social signifier.”
In order to apply the knowledge of the design process, I have come up with a few design problems I have faced personally on a day to day basis and I would like to provide an alternate design which I think is better in some ways.
Smart water bottle reminder
Most of us drink water from a single sipper that we have and we refill it all the time. If we are really health conscious then we might even use the app “Drink Water” and set reminders and track the amount of water we drink every day. But as you might have experienced, often that doesn’t really work, especially for people like me, who are lazy to go the kitchen to fill the bottle again and I know a lot of people who fall into this category.
However, checking a mobile phone is what I do very frequently. It makes me uncomfortable if the device hasn’t rung in a while. Using the mobile device and the water bottle can together solve the problem of drinking enough water and on time.
In terms of Interaction design, I first set the goal of this product, which is to make the user drink enough water and regularly.
There are 2 devices involved in this
- A water bottle
- A Mobile App
The water bottle is a smart bottle, which is connected to the mobile device using a Bluetooth sensor. It is built using the following components-
- Infrared Sensor – The infrared sensor is used to detect the level of water currently present in the bottle. The user doesn’t have to interact with this component.
- LED signifiers – The led strip is attached to the bottle. When it is time for the user to drink water, one of the LED’s will light, depending on the frequency and amount of water that needs to be consumed. This is an important signifier, as it conveys 2 things –
- It is time to drink water.
- The amount of water that needs to be consumed at this time.
- Microcontroller – The user doesn’t have to interact with this component. This component will be responsible for turning on the LED’s and the collect the information from the Infrared Sensor.
- Bluetooth – The bluetooth is used to communicate the user preferences from the bottle to the device and also initiate the actions of turning on the LED at desired times. A low energy Bluetooth device can be used that can run on a small battery for a couple of years, instead of a solar powered cell. The trade-offs can be dealt with further. We can also add a bluetooth switch to turn on the bluetooth only when we need to sync the data from the water bottle with the mobile app.
An expanded view of the Bluetooth button is as below. We use a different color for the button as compared to the cap of the bottle. The button has 2 led lights embedded in itself, a blinking blue light for ready to pair state and a green continuous on light for connected to mobile app state. The button is a single click button which gives user immediate feedback with the blue light blinking. The blinking light will turn off automatically after a threshold time, if the bottle is not connected to a mobile device.
The user interacts with the mobile app in multiple ways. First, the user downloads the app, by either scanning a QR code on the bottle package or directly searches in the PlayStore for it.
On startup, the user first needs to set up his/her preferences as shown below –
On clicking confirm the app would request to connect to the water bottle and search for a Bluetooth device with the bottle’s name. We will have to turn on the Bluetooth on the bottle and then connect to it from the device.
On successful connection, the user settings are pushed to the bottle and the bottle is calibrated to remind you to drink and refill water.
This app will lock your device and will not allow unlocking unless the necessary amount of water is consumed by you. It will do the same when the bottle is empty and needs a refill.
Thus, using a user’s urge to check a mobile device every now and then, can be explicitly used to make him/her drink enough water at regular intervals using the Water bottle Reminder.
The early adopters of this bottle, I perceive, would be people similarly to me, who consciously think that they need to drink water and even try using different apps, but all in vain.
In order to validate, if there is a real need for such a product, I would first perform a field study or a survey on Stony Brook campus, either by asking people at random or by using a survey tool to collect data points.
Once I am assured that there are other facing the same problem as me. I would distribute the prototype among a few people with the phone blocking functionality and the LED indicators turned off. However, I will still continue to collect the data from the sensors and keep track of the amount of water they consume on a daily basis. A 15-day data of 10 people would suffice to test if this proposed concept really works.
Now, I would turn on the phone blocking feature and the LED indicators for the same people and observe their drinking patterns for 15 days.
At the end of the month, I would have clear metrics of the water consumption patterns for 10 people with and without the smart bottle reminder. These metrics will help in deciding whether the product works or not. Also, I will take feedback from these people about their experience and if they have any suggestions to make it more effective.