“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

It’s not really a page any more, but more of a stage

[This is the second part in a continuing series about UI Design. Catch the 1st part here!]

Storytelling has been huge of late. Many people have been talking about storytelling and creating narratives as a core competency and practice for good interaction design. Some have gone so far as to say that narrative IS what we experience when we use tools and services of any variety because it is through story or narrative that we derive meaning in our lives.

I have also recently been exposed to the practice and methods of service design. In their practice they do not speak of users, but of actors. This reminded me of the classic UML work I did as an IA/BA (business analyst) at the turn of the millennium. We also spoke about actors instead of users back then as well, but did not really think of them as pieces in a production. We didn’t take the metaphor that far.

Today though we are taking the metaphor of performance and production that far if not all the way to the end. We are using video production to create “experience” prototypes as but the clearest example. So I’d like to take this opportunity and declare that like many who refuse to say “user” any longer and use human or searcher or customer or creator, I am no longer going to talk about pages within any type of application platform. I would like to begin advocating for the term “stage” to be used.

Why “stage”?

First, the term “page” which is so common in use to talk about major changes in context (per my original piece in this series) for web sites and applications does not work for all types of application on all types of platforms/media. By using a new term that has appropriate usages outside of the web environment we can do a better job at training application designers instead of just web designers.

Second, it has two meanings. Both of them can be very useful when trying to describe how a human being moves through an interface. It is very common to talk about steps in a process as “stages”. Further, the term “stage” is a great allusion to performance and story. Yes, there is a 3rd meaning, but it isn’t so useful here since no one is on a coach (buggy) being pulled by multiple horses.

This second definition though is the main reason. The use of stage as an metaphor will lend itself to help so many designers think about the environment they are creating as a setting for where dialog and action collide towards creating a performance that satisfies and elicits emotion. Like the real stage itself, we can create sub-stages where sub-dominant contexts have great significance and focus if only but for a short while, while contextually relevant to the whole. We can understand though that a curtain pull between stages (scenes) can act as specific dramatic play, toying with the user’s anticipation, or better preparing the user to receive a large monologue of data that they will need further assistance in processing.

But it is also important to remember that not all UI Design is done for “the web”. Outside the web the concept of the page has no significance. For visual basica applications they have used the term “form”. For Flash applications they have used the term form or scene. I’d like to propose that by using a new term, we can find a semantic structure to UI design that speaks to all application platforms. It will especially help web designers to start speaking about their applications without being tied to the previous metaphor and its unnecessary limitations. I also think it will help web designers and developers alike move more fluidly between different types of application media.

In our next installment we’ll talk about what makes up a stage as it relates to UI Design and Interaction Design. If you missed the 1st one, you can always give it a read.

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  • http://singsign.tumblr.com Mads

    I wonder if Brenda Laurel’s “Computers as Theatre” (1992) could be a useful reference here? http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0201550601/1n9867a-20 – the Aristotelic drama as a template for the ways in which we deal with computer interfaces? And, from McCarthy & Wright’s “Technology as Experience” – the idea of closure, of energies and engagement being fulfilled in the interaction with an interface, …Drama and staging are certainly intriguing metaphors to begin to use in HCI & design

  • dave

    great reference! I totally agree and should probably apply this further if I expand these ideas into curriculum more. Thanx!
    — dave

  • Cliff Tyllick

    I think that instead of the word “allegory” you mean “allusion.” ;-)

    I had to read that paragraph several times to get what I think you mean to say.


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