Thursday, October 25, 2012

Calm Computing - Need of the Hour!

We have heard about Cloud Computing. I have written about Klout computing. I said in my LinkedIn status that my next post would be about Cognizant Computing. But, before that I found this ‘Calm Computing’ intriguing and need of the hour.

Before I start discussing about the term, would like to narrate few scenarios that would set the context.

Have you ever wondered why you end up spending more amount of hours in Internet than planned?

Have you ever started searching something specific in Google, clicked on a set of results and then you navigated from Google and you kept your reading / scanning on and on and lost the time and intent on where you started?  In search results, any hyperlink that you click ‘initiates’ or leads to a diversion.   

Have you ever clicked on the links recommended for you on news sites  (e.g. Harvard Blogs) and spent good amount of time without actually noticing the time lost?

Have you noticed the Facebook’ design of displaying your contact’s recent updates?. It will show the picture of yourself followed by a text box, waiting for you to add your comments. Pls note the ‘initiation of update’ is already done for you. All you need to do is to ‘complete’ the same. That’s good enough stimulant for the end user to add his comment.

Am sure most of us would have had these experiences. Internet sites are inherently designed to be ‘sticky’.  Sticky experiences help to generate relationships and transactions for the business. That’s the key. But, the flip side is that the end user ends up spending quite a lot of time involuntarily.

Distractions are everywhere. Email beep, Blackberry buzz, facebook social updates, advertising messages, phone calls – interruptions are pervasive.

While the biggest boon of today’s trend is abundance of technologies and devices, the bane is the attention deficiency. People are constantly distracted and there are tons of books, tools, techniques to help them to get focused on their work.

Have you ever wondered why so many to-do list apps are there in the industry?. Just search for a perfect to-do list app, and you will get tons of them.

I believe people want to get focused. And To-do list app does just that.

I believe today’s web user interface design is meant to facilitate constant information flow and constant feedback loops.  Starting from Google’s all-white web page design with list of clickable search results to Facebook comments update - all commercial internet sites apply the same principles.
This phenomenon may not apply to business applications. But with advent of Consumeration of IT, We may apply these practices to business applications as well unknowingly. 
So, if someone is addicted to Internet, its no surprise. The design leads to constant use and potential addiction.

So, What’s the solution?.

If User Interface design experts are helping to design ‘sticky’, same geeks are giving ideas to design for the opposite – to design for focus, to design for user attention.

Before getting to the solution, let us see what are the alternate user interfaces that we are used to, that helps us to focus our attention?

-          Conference rooms in offices which have small window and rest of the wall in the rooms are either covered with tinted glass or sealed. This helps the participants to focus on the meeting without getting distracted by the outside noise and whenever the participant wants to get the view of the office outside the room, they can always look through the small window.

-          Have you been to meditation halls where the hall is devoid of all unnecessary objects except one or two objects of focus?. (e.g. a glowing candle)

-          You can add lot more here… J

Is there anything that we can take from these physical interface designs and apply in our virtual world? This should help us to design user interfaces that would help users to focus and converge their attention on specific tasks/actions.

I have thought about this problem and potential solution a while ago and believed it was innovative. Not true. As the saying goes – Innovation happens elsewhere – and there are user interface design experts who have formalized this design paradigm and identified certain design principles for implementing encalming experiences.

They  call it ‘Calm Computing’. Its all about designing or engineering user interfaces for calming the human attention, helping to achieve focus. Search for this term and you will get tons of links that will direct you to more information on this topic.

Charlie Bess of EDS has been blogging about it in the topic of ‘Attention Engineering’.

With the abundance of devices and services, the critical need of the hour is to design applications that will apply Calm Computing principles that help the users to achieve their objectives without loosing too much of their precious resource – Time!.

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