“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

A “white space” for Interaction Design (IxD)

A while back I posited a question “What is white-space in Interaction Design (IxD)?” I had no answer then, but a discussion on the IxDA discussion list about non-US examples of design brought up an example out of Sweden’s Interaction Institute known as Brain Ball. Brain Ball is a game where the person who relaxes the most wins. Using brain patterns to determine the level of relaxation, a ball between two people will move based on those measurements. Go to the above link to read more about it.

In reading about Brain Ball it occurred to me that a allegory of relaxation is “inaction”. In this case it is at an almost unconscious level, so it is not exactly stillness of motion, but also stillness of thought. I compared this idea to something that Robert Fabricant of Frog Design said recently at an IxDA event in NYC. He spoke about what he called the “feedback loop” between user and product.

In the case of Brain Ball one could extrapolate the solution to say that the feedback loop is based on inaction (physical and mental), and there are other examples that come to mind when thinking about inaction as the basis for behavior. The most clear example is when the product is expecting an action from the user within a specific time frame and when that time frame is exceeded it might first warn the user of some eminent decision, or just remove their authentication, to protect the user. Anyone who thought they could swipe their card at an ATM and then start filling out their deposit slips with too many checks may have faced this behavior. The other example is when the system doesn’t respond in a timely manner based on the user’s expectations. This usually causes the user to refresh, re-click, re-initiate, or just give up a previous action.

So what does this all mean in practice? How can playing with the properties of “inaction” be valuable to the whole of a design? What matter can it make to my current projects that I’m working on?

As in all abstractions of reality the answer to those questions really are determined by the level of intentionality in your design process. Most designers from what I have seen do not think about abstract interaction theory, but concentrate more at the level of results. While this is functional it may limit the types of options that are conceived of during a design process.

Other theories of IxD intermingle with this idea of “inaction”. Because inaction is fluid. Not all of you need to be still as in the case of Brain Bubble. maybe it has to do with “change” as in the case of Alan Cooper’s theories around posture. A user that changes their posture (or their context or their focus) often is very active, but if the posture doesn’t change often, there is a stillness that effects the level of interaction. Then there is the concept of rhythm. The pacing of change by the system in your solution or the total environment can effect emotional responses like patience or aggravation. If the pacing is quick I might just put enough information to get attention, while if the pacing is slow, I might allow for further detail which would be too distracting in a faster pace, or I may allow for various levels of zooming the different components of complex information sets so I do not have to compete in my mind.

The other area of negative space or inaction in this regards is contextual or environment. What is going on around me. What level of distractions, interference, relevant input, etc. do I have to assimilate into the feedback loop of the conversation between product and myself (as user)?

These are real criteria for making decisions in a design based on the negative or positive interactions around a user community. The more designers intentionally focus on design criteria or design foundations the cleaner, clearer, and more appropriate their designs can be towards their end-goals.

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