Driven to distraction: Giles Colborne


Published on

The interfaces we're building need to work in distracting environments. And we need to figure out how to cope with users' tendency to get distracted. This presentation looks at how we might achieve that. And why, I think, it's the most serious problem facing interaction designers today.

Published in: Health & Medicine, Technology
No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Driven to distraction: Giles Colborne

  1. 1. Driven to distraction@gilescolborne 1
  2. 2. On 10 October 2011,BlackBerry’s messengerservices went offline for 3days.During that period, Dubaipolice reported a 20% dropin road traffic accidents.Abu Dabi police reported a40% drop. This opens a window onto a hidden problem: The interfaces we create are killing our users. 2
  3. 3. Distraction is a problemfor our users. So it shouldbe a problem for us.Part of the problem is theshift from desktops tomobile. 3
  4. 4. The number of smartphones and Worldwide sales (millions)tablets sold now exceeds desktopand notebook sales. Expectmobile traffic to exceed desktop 800traffic within three years. You are hereThe design problem isn’t justscreen size and input methods. 600It’s also distracting contexts(even when we’re usingsmartphones at home).But there’s another kind of 400distraction... 200 0 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011E 2012E 2013E Desktops & Notebooks Smartphones & Tablets Source: Morgan Stanley 4
  5. 5. Even when we’re 4168concentrating fully on ourdevices, the constant pingof email, Twitter andFacebook stops us fromconcentrating.Office workers typicallycheck email 30-40 times anhour.We proudly call this‘multitasking’. And eachgeneration seems moreprone to multitasking. 5
  6. 6. People in their 20s are twice as likely to have large numbers of items open on their desktops as people over 50. 50+ Does this mean there’s a generation of elite multitaskers coming through? Should we40-49 reflect this in the personas we write?30-3920-29 0% 25% 50% 75% 100% 5 or fewer items 6 or more items 6
  7. 7. Well... no. StanfordPsychology ProfessorClifford Nass studied theperformance of highmutlitaskers and lowmultitaskers.He discovered thatpeople who regularlymultitask tend to beworse at it than peoplewho don’t. And people who mutlitask seem to experience side effects long after they stop. They’re less able to concentrate, less able to learn, less able to discriminate relevant and irrelevant information. Multitasking, it seems, is Clifford Nass bad for your brain. 7
  8. 8. Sure, you can walk andchew gum at the sametime. But for complexdecision making, there’s nosuch thing as multitasking.Your prefrontal cortex canhandle one task at a time.If you interrupt that, it hasto file away an (imperfect)memory of your task andpick it up again later – aninefficient process. 8
  9. 9. Interfaces like email areaddictive. When you see anew message in your inbox,your brain gets a little hit ofdopamine.Frequent, random rewardslike this are the mostpowerful way to trainpeople. And that’s what weget in email, Twitter... andthe interfaces interactiondesigners admire the most. 9
  10. 10. It’s what makes Tetris soaddictive. Random itemsneeding a simple response(nothing complex thatwould make you want toput the game down).And repeat. For hours. 10
  11. 11. This game has been doing my head in. Random characters arrive asking to be taken to random floors giving random rewards. Insanely addictive. And as for Twitter...Tiny Tower Do not download 11
  12. 12. OMFG No wonder people are addicted to these interfaces. Little nuggets of information randomly updating. Users don’t stand a chance. Yet it’s damaging their minds, causing accidents and stops them from living in the moment. We design this stuff. What should our response be? 12
  13. 13. We just could tell users to dealwith it. Leave the problem to self-help movements like ‘GettingThings Done’ (GTD).Which is like saying AlcoholicsAnonymous should fix society’sdrink and drugs culture.Or saying we can fix usabilityproblems by getting users to readthe manual.As an industry, we’re better thanthat. 13
  14. 14. It strikes me that the problems usersface are similar to those of peoplesuffering from Attention DeficitHyperactivity Disorder.I’ve spoken to educators and expertsin ADHD about the CognitiveBehavioural Therapy strategies theydeploy. Maybe we can take somedesign lessons from them. 14
  15. 15. 1. Minimise distraction If you’re coping with ADHD, some key advice is to create spaces where you can operate without distraction. Can we help people to do this? 15
  16. 16. Educators encourage people withADHD to use timers to break tasksinto 15 minute sprints and focus forthat period. Kind of like thepomodoro method for timemanagement. 16
  17. 17. Software like Vitimin R puts this onyour computer’s taskbar.But this is an add-on solution. It’sGTD for your computer.As designers, we need to think aboutwhat we can do to improve the user’swork environment. 17
  18. 18. We could stop our software frominterrupting people unnecessarily.Skype plays a noise every time thatone of my contacts on the other sideof the world shuts down Skype. Doesit need to do this?I think not. 18
  19. 19. Does iCal need to jump to the front ofmy windows to tell me that someoneresponded to a meeting request?No, it does not.We need to design more thoughtfulalert systems. 19
  20. 20. 2. Focus 20
  21. 21. This is a reading overlay used bysome people with dyslexia. The rulerhelps them focus on one line of text.The coloured overlay seems toimprove their focus, too.I often see something like this inuser tests when participantshighlight chunks of on-screen textthat they’re trying to read.You can imagine how you mightdesign an online form so that thetext under the user’s focus ishighlighted. 21
  22. 22. 3. Increase motivation For too many people, ‘motivating users’ means giving them prizes or points for completing tasks. But there’s lots of research to show those ‘extrinsic rewards’ aren’t great motivators. Is there a deeper solution? 22
  23. 23. Educational psychologist CarolDweck has written about howchanging people’s mindset increasesmotivation.People who focus on their ‘ability’become demotivated - because eachtask has a chance of failure andpossible proof that they lack ability.People who focus on learning,irrespective of success, see tasks asan opportunity for ‘growth’.Maybe taking the win/lose out ofour interfaces will motivate usersand stop their attention fromwandering. Carol Dweck 23
  24. 24. Years ago I designed this carconfigurator. It replaced a ‘wizard’style interface where the user had tocomplete a number of steps insequence to see their finished car.Instead I gave users a defaultconfiguration and a tabbedinterface. They could tweak things inany order they liked. Theconfiguration was always ‘complete’.When it launched, we found userswere twice as likely to complete allthe configuration tasks.It’s an example of exploration and‘growth’ beating ‘pass/fail’. 24
  25. 25. Clifford Nass ran an experimentwhere he gave participants bluewrist bands and asked them tocomplete tasks a computer.For half the participants he put ablue border on the computer screenand said ‘you and the computer arethe blue team’. For the other half, hegave the computer a green borderand said ‘you’re the blue guy workingon the green computer’.When the colours matched, peopletried harder and thought thecomputer was smarter.Motivating users can be as simple asmaking them feel the computer is onthe same side as them. 25
  26. 26. 4. Decrease pressure When we’re under pressure, we tend to give in to our addictions – like our addiction to petty distractions. How can we reduce pressure? 26
  27. 27. Game designers spend a lot of timetuning the learning curve of theirgames to make it engaging withoutbeing stressful.They aim for a smooth learningcurve.When was the last time you analysedthe learning curve for your app orwebsite? 27
  28. 28. Add this optionYou can remove it later When faced with high-risk choices, users are likely to give in to distraction. One way to reduce pressure is to let people know there’s an ‘undo’ option. 28
  29. 29. 5. Facilitate recovery If all else fails – and it will – what can you do to help your users recover from distraction? 29
  30. 30. Again, video games provide a clue. Ifyou pause some racing games duringa high-speed manoeuvre, when youun-pause you’re not dumped backinto the game (because you’d alwaysspin out of control). Instead, you’reshown a couple of seconds’ replaybefore you regain control of the car.It helps you re-orient yourself.Something similar happens when Ipause my iPod during a podcast: itrewinds slightly when I un-pause.You can see how you might use thisin an app. When the user returns, thearea of focus could be highlightedand the rest of the app could slowlybuild in. I imagine it would takesome fine-tuning, but it’s worthexploring. 30
  31. 31. A simple plan?• Minimise distractions• Focus So people with ADHD can suggest some interesting strategies and• Increase motivation design patterns that we can use to tackle the problem of distraction. But you can see more work is needed.• Decrease pressure And if we’re going to plan for distraction we need bigger tools than design patterns.• Facilitate recovery 31
  32. 32. And: understand context We need to be able to model users’ context in more detail so we can predict where distraction may occur and target our design efforts. 32
  33. 33. I’m not talking about adding a line to a persona.‘Dave likes to check websites on his iPhone,’Big deal.I mean proper analytic tools.But current tools to model context seemcumbersome and hard to implement. Can youimagine using OWL-DL (a context modellinglanguage) in a stakeholder workshop? 33
  34. 34. Our tools for task analysis are welldeveloped. I want something aspowerful and engaging as IndyYoung’s ‘mental modelling’ withpost-its to help me pinpointproblems of user distraction. 34
  35. 35. The task analysis tool GOMS-KLM helpsus predict how interfaces will perform.And it recognises that cognitive load isimportant. Maybe we should be usingthis kind of analysis more. K Press a key on the keyboard 0.20 seconds P Point the mouse to an object 1.10 seconds B Button press (mouse) 0.10 seconds H Hand from keyboard to mouse 0.40 seconds M Mental preparation 1.20 seconds W User waiting for the system to respond I’m struck by the fact that we lack tools and methods that will enable us take a strategic approach to managing and tackling distraction. 35
  36. 36. We’re designing products that are killing our customers. We have widespread evidence for this. Yet we’re not addressing the problem. In fact, we spend our time thinking about how to make our interfaces more addictive. I’m reminded of the tobacco industry in the 1960’s and 1970s trying to avoid mounting evidence that its products were dangerous. 36
  37. 37. During that same period, thecomputer industry was facing theproblem of usability. And itdeveloped the design patterns andanalysis tools that we’ve used eversince.The pioneers of that age areremembered as giants in usability.Today, we find we have a newchallenge. Distraction. Xerox Alto 37
  38. 38. I think we’re at the start of a new era You?in human computer interaction – onein which the design patterns andanalysis tools we need have yet to bedeveloped.These are problems that need solving.And if someone’s going to solve them,and enter the hall of fame,why shouldn’t it be you? 38
  39. 39. Thank you. @gilescolborne 39