Crossroads and Conjunctions
Feb 27, 2021
I reached kind of a crossroad in my project, but it’s a messy one. It’s not just that one path intersects with the one I was on. The path I’m on has no straight continuation from this point onwards.
Review of the process so far
I set out to find insights into the Intentions, Questions and Hypothesis that gave raise to this research endeavour. To do this, I crafted a Researchplan 2020 that I followed up to this point:
- gather insights into the interaction between users and voice assistants, as well as the involved emotions and values, through ethnographic methodology in the field
- analyse the collected material through thematic analysis to find weak signals and general understandings of the current situation
- work through material together with experts to come up with propositions for prototypes that rethink our interaction with voice assistants from an animism perspective
So far, this has worked out very much to my pleasing. The results were surprising at times and predictable at others.
- there is no real use case for voice assistants as an interface and would only make sense for a small percentage of users; mainly people with visual or mobility impairments, like elderly people
- there is a unifying current of frustration amongst all user-personas stemming from the expectations the users have and what is delivered by the assistant
- we already live in a highly animistic world; we just don’t have a vocabulary for it and the spirits we bring into our homes are much more like minor poltergeister then helpful kobolds (at times a bit like Pumuckl’s evil twin on crack)
- an alternative and also very plausible interpretation is, that people really don’t want an animistic techno-sphere and prefer the master-slave paradigme in HCI
The last step done so far, the Expert Workshop I, was very productive. I got a lot of material to think and work through, but I’m missing one crucial aspect. The missing of this aspect initiated this round of reflection. One aspect that we didn’t think or speak about, was form. Form as in gestalt, colors, materials, etc. We work a lot on interaction and persona, but for my approach that is not enough.
Problems and outlook
Honestly I didn’t think much about the testing, as I was hopeing that this would follow organically after I know how the prototype will be like. But the prototype is also depending on the way of testing. Will I just change on parameter, like material? Or the whole thing, inclusive packaging and interaction rituals and voice of the assistant and and and? In hindsight it could be said, that not defining what this prototype could be like was a risky decision. But for me it was more important to leave this kind of creative freedom to the experts. Also, and very crucially, I can’t interfer with one of the biggest aspects of a voice assistant and that is the software part. I could, but I would have to go down a different route and it would take a lot of time.
I was able to present my problematic at the last project club and essentially three answers were formulated:
- more form/material analysis is needed, for example in the form of product semantics and close readings of the assistants
- dig deeper into the psycological aspects, for example through Habermas’ Geliebte Dinge and theories of perception etc
- I need another round of ideation where I try to give form through speculative methods
I feel comfortable with all three approachs and/or a mix of it. But I’m very sure that I need to reschedule my timeline somewhat. I was thinking that I could produce kind of a real prototype in March and have it tested until the colloquium 2 by different participants, in a cultural probe style. But right now I think I will take more time to develop these prototypes, visualize them, give form to the interactive parts in mockup films, doing practical experiments with materials etc and then discuss these with the experts again.
The proposed timeline would look something along the way of
- form analysis and speculative design from March until April
- discussion with experts and writeup of results in May
Furthermore I want or even need to expand the scope of the project to animistic human-computer interfaces with a focus on voice user interfaces, for reasons I think I need to reflect on in another posts (or add on here later).