This time, we take a look at a nice article on UX lessons that can be learned from video games (and some that can’t), creepiness v.s. convenience in new technologies, and our thoughts on what the energy company of the future might look like.
Have a great week, Hi Mum! Said Dad
How Video Games Inspire Great UX
Scott Jenson put out a really good article, How Video Games Inspire Great UX , after talking to Ralph Koster, author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design. The article a really refreshing read from someone who’s put in the time to understand both formats and the interaction and crossover between the two (Shoehorned and hamfisted ‘best practice of X superficially applied to Y’ articles are a dime a dozen).
Highlight: Games are constantly trying to evolve new and exciting interaction patterns. “Compare this to app designs. For very good reasons, we try very hard to fall back on guidelines. We work very hard NOT to reinvent the wheel. While this makes sense, we can’t just fall back on guidelines forever now can we? Maybe this is a bit obvious, but we’re not going to be using today’s phone UI designs 30 years from now.”
Creepiness v.s. Convenience
When people decide to adopt new technologies, they weigh up the benefit of that technology or product against a number of costs and risks. The obvious lines of financial, effort and time costs are fairly obvious, if not simple, but other costs require deeper probing to uncover. One such cost is the ‘creepy cost’ - the perceived privacy given up to enable a new feature. This is affected by both the expected cost (“if I install YouTube, I expect my viewing habits to feed into an ad-serving algorithm behind the scenes”) and uncertainty/downside (e.g.“what’s the risk of YouTube getting hacked and what might happen to my viewing data in that case?”).
At first, without experiencing the initially abstract benefits of a feature, a user fixates on the initial costs and gets tense. Over time maybe they see adverts, other people using the product, or other products using similar technologies and start to get interested. At some point the value proposition might exceed the creepy cost, and after trying out the product, the benefits become clearer and the uncertainty costs are reduced.
The clearest example of the moment is voice assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, and it’s easy to feel like they’re the only examples and that people’s hesitations are immovable. Historically we’ve seen it play out before e.g. uncertainty over GPS tracking when Google Maps first launched on mobile in 2008, and users not being sure whether they were comfortable sharing images on early social media platforms.
For app makers, our main task is to stay grounded and aware of real people’s opinions on these technologies, and not to assume that users will be as excited about the novel but (to a user) obscure benefits that they might provide. We need to make sure any ‘decision moment’ is timed so the user knows as much as is reasonably possible about the benefits of granted permission, and your product in general, before being asked to evaluate the creepy cost. Consider creating fallback plans in situations where they’re just not ready yet so that opting out of one shiny new feature doesn’t break the rest of the experience. Google Maps still works without GPS tracking, and Instagram doesn’t require you to give it camera access from first launch - they want people to stick around long enough that they see the benefit of granting that access.
Of course, all of the above comes with the caveat that sometimes apps are just being creepy, like the Spanish football league using their app to listen to fans’ microphones and checking their location to identify bars that were playing illegal streams of games.