Blog: Design Musings and Other Nonsense

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Personal vs. Interpersonal Interaction Design (IxD)

As a designer who builds things people use, psychology and behavior of the end user enter into my thinking quite often.  Because, at least to me, a big part of experience design of any kind is knowing what kind of experience you are trying to create and whom you are trying to create it for.  Humans are complex creatures, and we can never know every reason someone will decide to say “yes” to your process (e.g. buy something, sign up, start using a site, etc.).  One thing that I think is critical, though, when building something is to understand what type of interaction people want given a certain experience.  Now, that is not to say that everyone will want the exact same kind of experience, but we are not trying to accomplish the impossible task of pleasing everyone.  We are trying to please the most people, in the best way, possible.

Perhaps an example will help explain what I mean.  I love Pandora and use it all the time.  What I love the most about it is the recommendation engine.  I just find it is smarter than other tools I have used (often by a long shot) at accurately predicting what type of music I will like (given what type of music it knows I already like), and allowing me to discover all sorts of music I love and probably would never have heard of otherwise.  Granted, the sound quality is not the best (to me, Pandora sounds compressed and quiet), and it tends to be a little repetitive, but the suggestion engine is what keeps me coming back.

Spotify, on the other hand, I could just never get into.  And, it is not due to a lack of trying.  I love the better sound quality on Spotify, and the simplicity of the app.  The problem?  The recommendation engine makes horrible choices.  Sort of like asking a friend for a recommendation for an amazing, Tuscan-Style Italian restaurant and them suggesting The Old Spaghetti Factory.  This is what I get from Spotify over and over again, endless dishes of mizithra cheese spaghetti and garlic buttered bread.

Plus, for me, the social side of Spotify carries zero weight.  Social media is great, and great for a lot of things, but unless you have general taste (or you happen to have scores of friends on Facebook with identical taste to you), recommendations gleaned from your friends will be hit and miss at best.   And, for something like music recommendations, I don’t really want a person to do it.  It is the perfect job for a computer.  I want my computer to deep-dive into the data I have fed it, as well as the data everyone else has fed it, and find unique relationships I would never have thought of.

To me, this is the essence of a personal experience.  I want one-on-one service, not service as a group of people.  I want a private experience, tailored to my wants and needs, and when that is the case, a group experience will never do.  And, when I sit down to design an experience, I try to pay really close attention to what type of experience people want.

Now, the funny thing about this is that often people will want both from the same site/app/etc.  Take ecommerce, for example.  When you need a specific question answered, Live Help is a much better experience than sifting through an endless FAQ.  On the other hand, when choosing what to buy, user recommendations/reviews are invaluable.  In this example, I want both a personal experience and an interpersonal experience.

Factoring in what type of experience people want, and truly what would be the most effective for a given situation, has come to really guide a lot of my design decisions.  More and more, I find that the clearer I can be about when to leverage personal experience, vs. when to leverage interpersonal experiences, the overall experience of the site/app/ etc. gets better and better.

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