As a student at The Centre for Digital Media (CDM) I’m studying User Experience Design this term and will be documenting some of the exercises and projects done in the course here.
In the second week we learned about affordances, or physical characteristics of an object or experience that tell the observer/user that some specific interaction is possible. One of our first assignments was to create a cube that included just one of the following affordances in its construction:
- Rub Me
- Turn Me
- Squeeze Me
We went through this process in two parts; the first was a time-boxed exercise in the classroom where we were also constrained by a limited amount of materials. Initially I had no idea what to do and started by surveying what kind of materials were available. I didn’t see anything that inspired me so I tried sketching out some ideas. I thought of some initial concepts for “turning” and went back to see how realistic they were with the materials. From there I created this initial concept:
I took looked at the available materials to see what was available and if anything inspired me. Nothing jumped out so I started sketching out ideas. I chose to constrain myself to a “Turn me” affordance. I thought about different physical characteristics that would say turn me, and thought about a cube containing sand or water that was unbalanced. None of that was available to me, but I noticed there were cups and small styrofoam balls. I thought about cereal box games with small balls that fall down a path, and how I might be able to do something similar. I opted to go with one ball and one cup to keep the cube small, and used clear plastic on two sides to see inside the cube. Overall the design was successful and resulted in user’s turning it to get the ball in the cup, however, I felt the focus became more on the “game” element of getting the ball in the cup, and not on the cube’s construction indicating that the “Turn me” action was possible.
Because of this I opted to start over in the second part of the exercise; taking the cube home and refine or redo it. I wanted to stick with the “Turn me” affordance, but do it in a way that communicated the affordance without relying on sight, so that it was usable to both sighted and non-sighted people.
After some deliberation I settled on carving a path into a cube that could be traced with the fingers. I chose a cube that was roughly palm sized and covered it in foam, carving the path into that instead. My thinking was was that users could trace the path to the edge of the cube, see that it continues, and this would tell them that they could turn the cube to follow the path.
The construction also provided some visual cues due to the contrasting nature of the black foam and the lighter wood cube underneath. I did some testing among classmates with the cube, and almost all turned the cube. However, a few also thought that they were perhaps supposed to peel the foam off of the wood cube, especially if they were testing with their eyes closed. This may be another approach I attempt testing where peeling something off the cube is the affordance to tell users to turn the cube.
Overall both cube designs were successful in achieving the intended outcome, but testing revealed unique issues with each. The first became more of a “game” with the user trying to get the ball in the cup through any means necessary, not just turning it, and the second and unintended consequences from the materials that lent themselves to more complicated interactions. Further prototyping and testing would help refine and solidify the experience.