interface: aesthetics + experience


Interface is a psychological, cultural, aesthetic, and technological phenomenon, inseparable from the technologies we use in all aspects of our lives. Many types of interfaces exist, though we don’t always realize that we are confronted by an interface. We’ll engage specifically with the phenomenon of the interface and the end-user experience in this assignment.

Working in small groups over the course of two weeks, you will critique the interface and end-user experience of one web site per team member (e.g. if you have three people on your team, you’ll review three) and produce a written review of each to share with the class. The web sites will be assigned by the instructors.

Each student will be the lead author of one review and collaborate with their teammates on their reviews as co-authors. In addition, teams will choose one of the sites analyzed to give as a presentation in class. Your critiques must respond (at a minimum) to the questions posted below. Your written critique should be in essay form, rather than a list of answers to these questions. The presentation should be a collaborative efforts and highly visual (the approach people use for Ted talks and Pecha Kucha re good models to follow).

Post your review/critique on the class blog prior to the presentation deadline, and make sure it’s in the “Reviews” category. Each student will post the review they were the lead author of, and acknowledge their collaborators. You have two options when formatting/presenting your review/critique, you may write an abstract in your blog post and link to a PDF document of the review that you’ve uploaded (as the three examples below), or simply write the entire review as a blog post. Either way, include links and images as appropriate. The formatting and approach is up to you, as long as you address the relevant questions listed in the assignment description we’ll be happy.

The presentation in class should be at least 10 min. but no longer than 12 min. and should focus on what you believe are most salient design and experience factors of the site, a subset of the issues covered in the written review. The presentation should be exported as a PDF and included on the web site as a separate blog post. The blog post should include a one paragraph summary of the presentation and make sure it’s in the “Reviews” category.

Functional aesthetics

  • What are the predominant media elements on the site?
  • Are they visual? Aural? Gestural? Interactive? In what proportion?
  • What demands are placed on the user?
  • How is the content on the site managed? Is it static? Dynamic?
  • How is time used on the site?
  • Does the interface employ metaphors?
  • Are there recurring themes present on the site?
  • Is the work poetic or practical or a mix of the two?
  • Does the work contain parallels to the analog world?
  • How does the experience change when viewed on a mobile phone vs. desktop browser?
  • What do you think is the creator’s goal in developing the site?

Visual aesthetics

  • What is your gut reaction to the visual approach?
  • How does it make you feel? Initially? After time spent on the site?
  • How would you describe the visual aesthetic?
  • What are the visual conventions used on the site?
  • How is color used? Is the approach effective?
  • Is there one overriding aesthetic or are there multiple visual ideas in play? If there are multiple, do they work well together, or against each other?
  • How does the visual presentation support or impede the interaction?
  • Is the site an effective visual experience?

Interaction aesthetics

  • Does the site employ common design patterns? If so, what are they?
  • How is navigation handled on the site? Do you feel like you know where you are, and going?
  • Is it obvious why you are visiting this site?
  • Do you need to learn anything in order to use the site? If so, is it easy? Is it rewarding?
  • Is the interface practical (classical web aesthetics) or innovative (expressive web aesthetics)?
  • Does the interface achieve simplicity?
  • Does the interface reflect a high level of craftsmanship?
  • Is the site an effective web experience?

Three examples

Here are three examples of the type of review/critique we’re looking for, yours should be no shorter than “The Dumpster” and no longer than “The Timeline,”

Related references

  • Andersen, Christian Ulrik and Soren Bro Pold, Editors, Interface Criticism: Aesthetics Beyond the Buttons (Aarhus University Press, 2011)
  • Maeda, John, “Designing for simplicity,” TED Talk, video, simple_life
  • Murray, Janet H. Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice (MIT Press, 2011)
  • Scott, Bill and Theresa Neil, Designing Web Interfaces: Principles and Patterns for Rich Interactions (O’Reilly Media, 2009)

Acknowledgement: This assignment is based, in part, on “Design Studio II, Project 2” by Joe Quackenbush, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Spring 2009.

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