Granularities of User Experience in Ubicomp

(images (CC), found on Flickr; by Huro Kitty, Sue Richards, Pernell, (C) David Fred)

If you look at the articles in the Ubicomp conference proceedings, you'll find them dominated by location sensing and tracking. Clearly, ubicomp is still about figuring where you are in a space. But what happens when you've done that? What happens to designing the user experience when you know location?

I'm trying to wrap my brain around what it means to design in this environment. Recently I tried to put some boundaries around the complexity with a simple powers-of-ten granularity scale. The goal is to define some classes of experience for which we can design and then assign a term to each class (from the words that regularly come up in discussions of ubicomp/ambient intelligence/geolocation, etc.). Basically, we may not know whether the fruit are apples or oranges, but at least we can say whether they're big or little.

This technique is, of course, indebted to two classics:

The scale

1 cm covert RFID, nail polish, cochlear implant
10 cm mobile phone handset, portable media player, wallet
1 m personal chair, car, ATM, payphone
10 m environmental wall, door, chandelier
100 m architectural church clock, billboard, bus
1000 m urban street intersection, landmark, crowd

(note: I'm using metric units because, well, they're designed to work as powers of ten. I'm not playing favorites among measurement systems, because, well, I like the English system a lot because of its excellent pre-Enlightenment idiosyncrasies)

My goal is to create a user-centered hierarchy (rather than hardware-centric) as a way of talking about the perceived effects of ubiquitous computing technologies. In other words, this is an attempt to talk (roughly) about end users' radius of focus in the moment as a way to design for that moment. Thus, these granularities do not necessarily refer to the size of the device, but to the range of effect that device has and the task being investigated. For example, video projector control panels are on the mobile scale, but a big video projector's industrial design can easily be on the personal scale, while its effects are usually on the environmental.

Undoubtedly, like with any classification scheme, there are going to be plenty of things that fall in between, but this is a classification exercise, rather than an attempt to create a canonical classification.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:




A device studio that lives at the intersections of ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, industrial design and materials science.

The Smart Furniture Manifesto

Giant poster, suitable for framing! (300K PDF)
Full text and explanation

Recent Photos (from Flickr)

Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design

By me!
ISBN: 0123748992
Published in September 2010
Available from Amazon

Observing the User Experience: a practitioner's guide to user research

By me!
ISBN: 1558609237
Published April 2003
Available from Amazon

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Mike Kuniavsky published on November 16, 2006 1:48 PM.

Two sites, two announcements was the previous entry in this blog.

Absurdities in healthcare: TEIGIT's CIGNA problem is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.