One of the main challenges I encountered when designing this interface was controlling the pacing. How might I create a comprehensively reassuring atmosphere—addressing how the user might make choices every single step along the way—without crafting an experience that was plodding and tiresome? When does an interface offering measured and methodical help become too much?
Users of the Internet have become accustomed to fast-acting and highly responsive websites and interfaces. The Narrative Guide asks our user to slow down, to be thoughtful about her query choices, and to be methodical as she views results. It also displays those results in a visual, information-rich way—creating affordances for different kinds of understanding and connection making.
I believe the Narrative Guide addresses my sub-questions in the following ways:
– The system prompts the user to make choices at key points, and provides extra help and layers of prompts when needed. The user can personalize her journey through the system, but the interface acts as a Collaborative Coach through every step.
– The system addresses attention span by keeping the interface very simple, calming and comforting. Every choice is isolated, asking the user to focus on only one thing at a time. However, the user can always go back to review previous choices, relieving anxiety.
– The system provides a focused structure, and clearly displays information to keep the user on task.
Mise en Place
One challenge I encountered in the creation of this interface was deciding how intuitive it should be. Where is the balance between robust and practical functionality, and minimal and intuitive interaction? By providing a simple set of tools and sorting functions, I am attempting to create the possibility for many different kinds of interactions and experiences for users.
Typically, search engines return results that all look identical—purely language based and neutral. The Mise en Place interface attempts to color these same search results using sets of meaningful criteria, allowing a user to understand specific aspects of her results before she chooses to read them. This also allows users to see and understand many more results at once—eliminating the tendency of only viewing the first few pages of results found on search engines like Google.
I believe the Mise en Place interface addresses my sub-questions in the following ways:
– The system gives the user the agency to make decisions and choices throughout the search process, and offers visual and strategy support along the way.
– The system keeps the user focused on one step at a time, and provides reassurance that ideas and information aren’t being lost in the shuffle: everything is saved and stored for the user to find again.
– The system addresses working memory by visually displaying information in digestible bits, and allowing the user to sort through and make sense of her results as needed.
Ultimately, the greatest challenge in this interface was to find the smallest amount of triage that still functioned as triage. What small amounts of coding and sorting could still allow a user to understand differences among types of websites, and be able to track her journey through a search? What might be added to a simple chronological record of a search to provide another level of information? How useful would that information be to our user?
I believe the Intelligent Path interface addresses my sub-questions in the following ways:
– The system ambiently records the user’s journey through her search, and provides a way for the user to return to visited sites as needed.
– The system offers some basic forms of visual triage, while focusing the user on whatever task is at hand without shutting her off from any multi-tasking she may need to do. When the user needs to step away, she can easily return to the system and pick up where she left off.
– The system provides a record of a search (no matter how quickly that search is executed) and visualizes the information in a chronological, quantitative and qualitative way.
Conclusions and further questions
The concept of triage cannot simply be lifted whole from the medical discipline and pasted directly onto the discipline of information science or graphic design. The metaphor simply won’t hold. Instead, my concept of information-triage now echoes that of Peter Lunenfeld, “[it] is not so much about efficiency as the culling of the distraction in the search for meaning” (29). Information-triage should enable users to intuitively curate the material they encounter online.
The concept of information-triage has two facets. It can be thought of as a verb (process), and as a noun (display of results). By articulating this difference, I was able to design variations of both facets, and explore what might happen to user experience when the balance of power between system and user shifts.
My research raises further questions regarding three key issues:
– How can we balance the needs of each individual user within the process of searching on a vast and chaotic Internet?
– What kinds of interfaces should we construct to balance a user’s needs for efficiency, speed, relevance and ease of comprehension?
– How can we account for the great differences among users—even among one user’s different types of searches?
– How can we triage source credibility to allow a user to understand commonalities and differences, yet help eliminate or minimize what is superfluous?
– Who decides which sources are superfluous, and what is the criteria we should use?
–What is the mechanism and structure for tagging these sources?
– How much information-triage does the average user require—how much is too much?
– Is this just one more technique for the savvy Internet user’s tool-box? Or, is information-triage a technique that needs to be more encompassing than that?
– Could it (does it, should it) be a way of life? A way to comprehend the world around us?
– Do we need uncompromising diligence and vigilance—or can information-triage happen ambiently through the interfaces and computerized tools already at work in our homes, schools