The advent of the iPod proved a game changer for design and for product interaction, according to Steve Baty, principle of Meld studios and president of the Interactive Design Association.
Speaking at the recent ‘Global Media Ideas’ conference in Sydney, Baty said that in the years since the release of the iPod the usability models has shifted from an action/reaction dichotomy to an interactive model based on behavioural motivation.
This change parallels another big shift in the tech sector — the rapid replacement of the desktop with the mobile phone as the principle interface for consumers. “Design is moving from a request/response model to something more fluid and more engaging. And with that, the principles of interface design are much more complex and flow through,” he said.
And the success of products like the iPad, Instagram and Wii Fit demonstrate the powerful impact on sales of nailing the consumer experience.
According to Baty, “Over time people started designing services that were more about delivery. The digital environment became more of a service channel. Action and reaction was sublimated to the service itself. Instead, now we think about how people behave. A desktop is a fixed, static environment, whereas with mobility what you are really concentrating on doing is supporting behaviour. That's the important part. It's about you the consumer and how you are using the service.”
Another way to think of this, he said, was to understand that we were leaving behind fixed content models and replacing them with behavioural models.
He took an example from the world of gaming to describe the point. When Nintendo brought out the Wii Fit this was a great example of designing for behaviour. With Wii Fit, Nintendo changed the model from one of static game control through a console to control through a motivational model.
“Wii Fit demonstrated that people want to be engaged and interactive even though it was slower, with less powerful graphics and poorer sound quality than other games.”
He suggested the designers understood something their competitors didn't — they understood the motivation for behaviour.
The end result was hugely important for Nintendo — Wii Fit became one of the most successful games ever sold (excluding those that come bundled with a console) and by mid-2010 it had sold more than 22 million copies.
Baty said Instagram was another great example of designing for the user outcome. “They looked again at how to people wanted to act, what they wanted to do,” he said. “People want to take photos and share them so they focused on that simple proposition. They removed all the clutter and that left them with a razor sharp proposition.”
That razor sharp proposition went from first release in October 2010 to acquisition by Facebook for a billion dollars less than two years later — and all this for a company with only 13 employees.
He acknowledged that there are specific challenges in designing for motivational behaviour. “You need to understand people and it's hard to make assumptions about the behaviour of people.” It is important to recognise that motivations can be very different even when the outcomes can ultimately be the same, he said. “Understand the overlap in these motivations and design for that. You need to get out and see the world, and interact with people. You can't do that in a lab.”