Feedback is critical to managing expectations, and good design provides this. Feedback—knowledge of results—is how expectations are resolved and is critical to learning and the development of skilled behavior.
– Don Norman
This week I started to learn how to listen for good design. I began to pay closer attention to how I was reacting to the banal things around me, and what that meant for my emotional state. How did something make me feel? What was it about the thing that created such an emotional sensation? Why did I choose to interact with it in the way that I did? With this increase in conscious observation, the principles of feedback and friction became particularly apparent to me.
I already knew, without understanding, that I had expectations from each of the things that I interacted with on a daily basis. Putting each of these expectations under a microscope revealed the effects of feedback — knowledge gained from results, and friction — obstacles and slowdowns in a dictated path (Norman, 2013). I didn’t realize how much weight I placed upon the physical feedback of my actions when considering the enjoyment of an item. I had been placing digital items in a realm separate from the physical world, but now realize that their presence needs to be represented physically (and will, necessarily) in order to interact with the humans they were intended for.
Additionally, being a new person to the world of UX design, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the amount of friction I was encountering in learning new materials and taking on a graduate level amount of reading. Friction that, while slowing my progress forward, was improving the process — so much so that perhaps it could be considered valuable positive feedback rather than friction.
An apt story comes to mind when comparing physical feedback with feedback from digital technologies. When a fuel delivery control technology started trickling down from aerospace engineering to professional motorcycle racing, there was an improved throttle developed for MotoGP race motorcycles utilizing “fly-by-wire” technology. It was better, technically, in almost every way – it was lighter, faster, allowed for finer adjustment, was electronic, and could be integrated into the existing tech seamlessly. The only trouble that was encountered was the rider. When the old style throttle controls — a twist-grip connected to a cable and spring — were removed, the rider lost his feedback mechanism and had no idea how far to turn the grip to achieve a throttle position that he could translate to a specific speed. It was completely disconcerting, which is unacceptable in such a dangerous sport. So designers had to reengineer the twist-grip to maintain some type of positive feedback for the rider, essentially going “backward” to lower-tech springs to create the necessary user experience for functional behavior. I can only wonder how the rider must have felt when they were out on the track with a machine that responded unpredictably beneath them.
The experience needs to be customizable for each user based on their comfort level of friction and their feedback requirements. I’m willing to explore my own needs — something I’m not accustomed to doing — so that I can better see what other’s needs may be.