Human Computer Interaction is a failed subject, as any kind of machine interaction, from a dishwasher to a digital watch and everything else in between, anything that provides buttons and controls fails to deliver an experience that is joyful & fun, in fact, most devices and software interfaces that we interact with cause frustration.
When it comes to Information Retrieval for Online Stores, commonly known as Site Search & Navigation, interfaces and UX fail too.
Teams dedicated to build a search in an online store focus on the rational side of the project rather than the experience itself. Needless to say that all technical aspects MUST be there, without them there is not even an opportunity to deliver anything. However, these aspects do eclipse the human side of any search experience, setting the goal before it really is, putting all the tick boxes on the system requirements and none on the human ones.
Engineers (-and I consider myself one-), set these technical functional requirements as the only destination, view the project as a logical set of problems and not as an emotional set of behaviours. Engineers have been trained in this way, to act, model, plan, build, analyse, understand, test and review logically, with logic at the heart of every decision. It makes sense they operate by logic ignoring therefore the irrational nature that drives Her or Him (the User) to express a rather illogical desire that can be hardly rationalised.
At the end of the day, a user DOES NOT NEED anything, logically speaking, they desire to be defined and endorsed by the things they acquire and it does not get more emotional and logical than that.
People are driven by emotions, plane and simple. There is an explanation to this:
We, as human beings hold the richest catalogue of facial gestures to articulate the most versatile and rich set of expressions. No other Ape hold this ability (-while is difficult to find differences between Apes and Humans, here is in my view the one single greatest difference-), and this is because we, as human beings, have a unique capacity not only to express emotions but to understand them. Language (and everything that language has triggered) is sourced from this extraordinary emotional staff that is the staff we are truly made off.
People is the subject, the fascination, the key to sound Software. The human factor is not an element of Information Systems Design but the FACTOR, the pumping pulse of it.
Now, lets talk specifically about Search Technologies and Strategies; Search technologies and Analytic tools that relate to Search, do focus on the analysis of queries, on the query performance (Conversion, Click-Through-Ratio, Findability) etc. No traces of the emotional factor…Really? Come on! What happens with the emotions behind? A query is not a query, a query is a desire, the pulse of demand, a signal from a wanting human being that happens in some vital context.
What is a query then? A query is to me like a face, a group of incoming queries are to me like a group of people, with their faces and expressions. That is why at EmpathyBroker we aim for sessions and not only queries, because we want to know what People did before, where they come from, what is the context of that query, what is the intention behind, the compromise, the commitment.
Wonder about what is behind a search query has always fascinated me, as it does watching people on the street or the airport, in a way looking to someone’s face for 2 seconds and trying to figure what they are about is pretty similar to watching someone’s free text queries and trying to figure what they mean, what they desire, what drives their demand, why they demand…
A query is not a query, a query is the pulse of an emotion towards something, a query has a context, a reason, a goal, an emotional value beyond any other type of valuation one can establish. If a query is an emotional signal, then whatever means are provided to satisfy a query need to respond not only with data, products, catalogue, prices or results, but with all that packed in a way that the emotional drive of a query is embraced and corresponded, not ignored.
If a Site Search Interface and Scoring/Ranking model only focuses in the rational side of a query (i.e. its language, its referral, its properties, its matches) and ignores the emotional involvement in the expression of such query, then the Site Search interface will fail in making the user feel real good regardless of the results being shown.
Having said that, how on earth, within the digital domain can a computer interface be capable of delivering a response to a human emotion? How can a cold, flat interface, be able of hitting that emotional side of a query?
I believe we can in many ways (-as we research in EmpathyBroker together with the search of the gaming mind, although that is another aspect-), and will develop one of the key parts of our research for this post: The interpretation of Objects/Places vs the Interpretation of Faces.
Our human brain has distinctive units dedicated to process places/objects on one side and faces on another. So although these brain units are similar, very similar, they serve different purposes. When we see a facial expression we are at our best, we have a mind that is unique in its capacity to understand its expressions and respond to them. We are masters, subconsciously, of forming an idea of a face, in fact it takes less than 1 second (If I recall well) to relate a face we see with the other faces we know (and therefore we have an interpretation towards). However when we deal with an object, we use a different unit, a unit dedicated to objects and places, is a completely different perception all together, totally oposite experiences indeed.
For the sake of this argument and with all my respect and consideration, Autistic children (with all that there is to this subject and without attempting to simplify its complexities), perceive faces like objects.
When we are navigating an online store we are pretty much going through an autistic experience, faceless, flatland kind of journey. We, with all out emotional charge and capacities are exposed to a cold interface that delvers nothing to our our facial recognition unit of the brain. This is where our human staff goes untouched and we can fall to frustration with easy.
However, when we have an iPhone in our hands (-or any other so called smart device-), and we unlock it while the icons appear in motion, then we click on one icon and it extends opening more icons with motion, then, we open an app or an image, we rotate, slide, scroll, or open with our fingers and it expands with motion and inercia, then our brain (-and this is my working theory-) attempts to process this object with its facial recognition unit, or better said, our eyes send a signal, a hit, to our facial recognition unit of the brain and that hit makes us feel good, it delivers joy.
Imagine that I hold in my hand a plastic cube, then magically this cube transforms gradually into an sphere…well, your brain is trying to understand it as a face because it can cope with it as an object. That act in its self makes you feel human, makes you feel good, takes you away from flat land to emotional land.
Beauty, symmetry, a smooth beat…all these make you feel human too. Motion that correlates with an expectation in a UX interface makes you feel human too, colours that correspond with action, an action that expresses itself with affordances make you feel human too. Who says that software can’t be aesthetic? I say it can, it can be beautiful and therefore deliver joy rather than frustration, I believe it can, I believe more and more in the next few years aesthetics will move from an add on layer to the heart of every human inter-actionable system like a search interface, just as we try to develop on sites like hoalen.com, biciclasica.com (ideally Chrome to explore these ideas), adoreme.com or lavinia.fr (in simpler versions in zara.com, pullandbear.com, adolfodominguez.com etc).
Stay tuned to EmpathyBroker as we grow. The time for aesthetic Software is here and we believe its future is not only profitable by it justifies the immense capacity of the human mind.