I am a user experience designer with experience designing, developing and leading the creation of software products. I am seeking an opportunity to work with a team that is passionate about building great technology products.

Designing for Interaction

This post has been on my mind for a long time. I always put it off thinking that I need to understand this a bit more before I write about it, but I have now decided to keep this as sort of a live post. I will develop on this or post afresh as I learn more.

I have always had an interest in interactions. I love meeting people and making new friends. I dream of designing spaces that encourage interactions.

A few observations about interactions…

·         I remember I had a big fight with half the bus on a trip to Mysore. It was as if they had all united against me in the fight. What was awesome was after the fight died down, people, strangers seated next to each other, started talking to each other. They were mostly bitching about me at first but later they started to talk about other things too.

·         I remember, back in the defence, we had tambola (similar to Bingo) nights on Saturdays. A lot of times, interactions started at these parties. Say 2 people win the full house together, people on adjacent tables ask each other about the numbers that have been called out already, people calling ‘bogie’ when someone claimed they had got a required combination.

·         Yves Behar spoke about the NYC Condom project in his TED talk. He spoke about how the condom dispensers became a centre of curiosity and created interactions among people, breaking a sort of taboo.

·         These days I’m attending a course called the Landmark forum and I have come to observe how people there meet each other once and then every other time greet each very warmly. This is similar to the experience I had in Mumbai when I used to volunteer with the Chinmaya Mission for their annual Shivratri celebrations; there was a sort of camaraderie that got built up between fellow volunteers. Even complete strangers greeted each other very warmly.

·         Outside my office building, there is a sort of a parapet, people often sit and wait for each other for lunch etc… they end up meeting and talking to a lot of other colleagues in the process.

·         We all know about the water cooler example which is quoted so often in management discussions.

·         Mumbai local trains… folks meet up or sometimes just see each other regularly in the train because they take the same train everyday to and from work. They end up talking to each other, holding seats for each other etc.. oh there are a few groups who sing devotional songs together every day in trains on the way back from work as a form of meditation I guess.

·         Sports are an obvious example.

·         Oh! And an interesting one for singles, Salsa classes encourage a lot of interations 😉

Observations about the lack of interactions

·         Cubicles… I have observed, here at Infosys, people sitting next to each other for months and not talking much to each other. This is usually the case when the people sitting together aren’t on the same projects. I believe the cubicle design of 4 people facing 4 corners also plays a part in this.

·         Bus rides back from office…. somehow people don’t talk to each other even though my guess is that a lot of them take the same bus everyday. Most people have their headphones on or are reading.

·         Short duration bus or air travel doesn’t encourages as much interaction as long duration train travel. There might be more to it than just the duration.

The concept of conversational affordances

I attended a talk by Dr. Murli Nagasundaram at USID2009 where he spoke about designing for conversations. He said different places have different conversational affordances. To illustrate he spoke about how typically on a train journey (in India) you end up talking to your neighbours. He also said the kind of conversations that the train environment affords are very different from the kind you would have say in a coffee shop, even with the same people.

The cultural aspect

I understand how there is also a strong cultural angle to it. In some cultures striking conversations with strangers is OK, while in others it isn’t.

I’m sure there is more and all of us have had these experiences. I’d be very happy to hear about yours.

8 thoughts on “Designing for Interaction”

  1. raunakpan2000
     ·  Reply

    A good one. Interactions are very important. Of course it depends on the nature of the individual but I think with age people become a bit more anti-interactions…. Back in school I was more interactive but as time passed by i somehow like to stay in “my world”….

  2. Athira
     ·  Reply

    Doesn’t hold much for me what you said. You know I would strike up a conversation with ANYBODY. hehe

  3. Ishan Bhalla
     ·  Reply

    @Athira ah yes! ofcourse! works quite well for you doesnt it?

  4. Shw J
     ·  Reply

    Ishan u forgot to add a crisis situation when ppl interact with each other.I’d cite the example to my beloved local trains, atleast in the ladies compartment we have the usual episodes of faintly, feeling dizzy etc…U shud see then my god the very women who wud rip u to pieces for a square inch, will fan the affected,give water,offer candy n even give a place to sit.Also, apna 26 July

  5. Ishan Bhalla
     ·  Reply

    Good point Shweta! I have observed that too.Oh also now that you mention it I remember once in the train there was this young guy who was leaning out and this middle aged man started scolding him for doing so. It was heartening to see that concern.

  6. Raunak
     ·  Reply

    The point i made about interactions and conversations depending on age and people can be compared to the fact that everybody has his own way of looking at interactions. An expert user(good at conversations) versus novice user(not so good wid conversations). I think it is a design discussion after all.. isint it 🙂

  7. Srija
     ·  Reply

    People not talking to other people on the bus? Here’s my theory. And this is in defence of these people who come across as snooty or antisocial. 🙂 I like to put these people in the following categories:1) It scares the hell out of these people to make some more friends! Because they already have too many friends and too little time to give them. These are people who have a bunch of friends they are close to, meet up often and share deep bonds with. They do not want to start new friendships. Imagine remembering more birthdays, anniversaries, kids’ birthdays!2) These are people who cherish their bus time! Bus time is to catch up on their reading and their favorite music. An interesting book and a babbling neighbor is the worst situation to be in! 3) The constant droning of the bus puts these people in a trance. The buildings and roads zooming past their windows, the changing landscapes, all a perfect setup for zoning or spacing out. This is also a time for introspection and conversations with themselves.4) These are people for whom bus time = sleep timeSo let them be! If you find one of these types sitting next to you on the bus and you have this uncontrollable urge to talk, chew a gum, find yor head phones, do anything, but don’t talk to them. Believe me, you don’t want to mess with them! 🙂

  8. Ishan Bhalla
     ·  Reply

    @Raunak: Agree with you about the age thing! Makes sense.. as kids, we’d just walk up to people and say.. can I play with yoiu? and make friends but now its not tht simple.. though sometimes i wish it worked tht way ;)@Srija: 😀 Agree.. I’m not much of a bus talker either.. but my point is about the way the context affects the interactions or lack thereof.

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