Usability and fun
An overview of relevant research in the HCI community
Department of informatics, Umeå University
S-901 07, SWEDEN
Fun and IT product quality in general
Fun and entertainment are becoming increasingly important in almost all uses of information technology (IT) (Wolf, 1999; Pine II and Gilmore 1999; Monk, Hassenzahl et al. 2002). The entertainment industry is expanding rapidly, and the number of crossover activities between various media, such as movies, television, computer games, toys and the web, is exploding. No longer do we see only stand-alone entertainment products, such as video games and toys. Today entertainment products are sold as “packages” designed for use with different media (Wolf 1999; Bolter & Grusin, 2002). Historically, various
types of media have been used in marketing of products of all kind. Now it is hardly possible to discern any boundaries between the marketing of the products and the products or services themselves (Pine II and Gilmore 1999). A movie nowadays comes with a web site with movie clips, and stories from the production process as well as clips from backstage. Images from the movie can also be downloaded; post cards with a movie-related content can be sent and games can be played on the web site based on the story of the movie. DVD of movies are also on sale which include additional material such as sequences or storylines not shown in the movie. There seem to be no limit for crossover features in the entertainment business today. What is happening has been termed a Technology Convergence (Pavlik, 2000; Pinhanez, Karat et al. 2001; Bittanti, 2002; Bolter and Grusin, 2002; Frank and Lundblad, 2002).
IT-based entertainment can take a variety of forms. Firstly, there are the more interactive types of entertainment: games of all kinds using different types of technology; Virtual Reality-chats for making new
friends; applications for mixing one‟s own music, design and send virtual post cards etc. However, not all such entertainment is interactive, much is designed for passive use, such as music videos to watch, virtual museums and art galleries to visit, live images of Earth from a view of a satellite or space shuttle to be explored. Technology driven entertainment knows no bounds (Pine II and Gilmore 1999; Wolf 1999). Yet, fun and entertainment as qualities are only rarely discussed and measured in the context of IT. HCI has focused mainly on work-related systems and their measures of success (Blythe & Wright, 2003). There were some attempts to cover questions related to fun and entertainment in the HCI field in the early 1980‟s by Malone (1980; 1982), but this was not followed by other researchers in the field (Carroll & Thomas, 1988). The interest of the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) community in pleasure and fun in relation to 1IT is now beginning to grow, but still the lack of a coherent understanding and theoretical base is emergent (Carroll and Thomas 1988; Monk, Hassenzahl et al. 2002; Blythe & Wright, 2003).
When fun and entertainment become the objects of study it raises further ontological questions such as what is enjoyment and fun, where does it appear, where and how can it be measured and what measures should we use? (Aboulafia et al., 2001, Monk, 2002; Monk et. al., 2002; Blythe & Wright, 2003). Many philosophers throughout history, for instance Plato, have raised these questions but no one to date has produced a definitive answer.
1 The number of related research conferences which include the areas of pleasure and fun is growing (c.f. “Computers and Fun” and “International Conference for Affective Human Factors Design”). Respected research journals are publishing special issues on the subject (c.f. Monk & Frohlich, 1999)
In the past, Human Factors (which in this context can be seen as equivalent to HCI) had a minor impact on „design‟, as in product design. Jordan (2000) divides the role Human Factors have played in design into
three historical phases: (1) Being ignored – fifteen to twenty years ago very few human-factors specialists
were hired by industry, which did not consider human factors of any importance. (2) “Bolt-on” human
factors – in this era some specialists were hired, but only to add a „nice‟ interface to systems and products already structured and designed. (3) Integrated human factors – lately, human factors have come to be
considered relevant throughout the design process and specialists are consulted as part of design projects from the very start (Jordan 2000). Even if the latest phase is referred to as integrated human factors, the optimal scenario with research about HCI occupying a central position in the design of pleasure products and technology still seems distant. One can speculate numerous reasons for this. Firstly, the entertainment industry as a whole traditionally assigns only a minor in design to audiences and users. There are 2exceptions to this rule but in general products are launched without any input from potential end users, i.e. the audience. Second, and perhaps more worrying, the HCI community seems to neglect these types of objects of study (Monk, Hassenzahl et al. 2002). Even if some early work was conducted by Malone (1984) for example, who proposed heuristics for enjoyable interfaces, there is little interest in further research on the topic (Monk, Hassenzahl et al. 2002). There may be several reasons for this but the fact that cognitive psychology, which must be seen as an important discipline in HCI has no tradition of carrying out such studies is probably one. Another may be the subjective nature of pleasure as an object of study. It is hard to produce significant results in that type of research (Monk, Hassenzahl et al. 2002). A third reason might be the process of funding research. Those responsible for funding research, worldwide, may have been reluctant to fund research into pleasure and fun, concentrating resources rather on workplace related technologies and systems (Monk, Hassenzahl et al. 2002)
Currently, there are three basic perspectives on enjoyment and fun in HCI research: (1) Usability
reductionism, where enjoyment is simply seen as a result of ease of use. (2) Design reductionism, where
enjoyment and fun are features to be added on by graphical and industrial designers. Finally, (3) market
reductionism where the concept of fun is seen only as an advertising tool. These perspectives provide almost no support in the extensive work of designing and evaluating entertainment, enjoyment and fun. Research on this topic is beginning to clarify the complexity of users‟ needs in such contexts (Monk et. al.,
2001). Yet, in many cases understanding the concepts of pleasure, entertainment and fun is neglected, as is the case in usability evaluation (Thomas and Macredie 2002). What does usability mean in the context of fun and entertainment, and how can we evaluate this type of technology? These are key questions for future HCI research.
Fun, usability and the web
The current state in research related to entertainment and fun, within the area of HCI and other disciplines, can be summarized as follows:
Recently, discussions have surfaced about the need for new types of measures. A more holistic view, compared to the cognitive and physical view of products, is emerging and different types of human-product relationships are being explored. Jordan (2000) constructs an explanatory framework and discusses four different types of pleasures; Physio-Pleasure, Socio-Pleasure, Psycho-Pleasure and Ideo-Pleasure. These are of more general types of pleasure and are not confined to the web. However, they may well be used as a support in designing tests and analyzing data. Pleasure in relation to product design and system design has been covered in recent research (c.f. Bonner 2002; Creusen and Snelders 2002; Popovic 2002; Reinmoeller 2002; Ruecker 2002), as also has pleasure in relation to usability (c.f. De Angeli, Lynch et al. 2002; Noyes and Littledale 2002; Overbeeke, Djadjadiningrat et al. 2002).
2 A documentary, shown in Sweden in 2001, pointed out that the world famous and award-winning television show „Friends‟ is partly tested on live audiences to see, for instance, if the audience correctly understands the jokes.
In the area of Affective Computing (Picard 1998; Höök, Persson et al. 2000; Picard, 1997), research is
increasingly focusing on issues related to interfaces and systems that imitate human behavior, such as robots, interface agents and assistants etc. confining around such questions as how they should be constructed and how people react to them. Some studies have been conducted where designed affective systems were evaluated with users, giving rise to interesting discussions (c.f De Angeli 2001; Wiberg and Wiberg 2001). User experiences and emotions and how they are affected by information technology of different kinds have also been covered in recent research (c.f. Bates, 1994; Marcus, 2002) in both theoretical and concrete terms (c.f. Aboulafia, Bannon et al. 2001).
As esthetics play an important role in our object of study, i.e. entertainment web sites, this is obviously a domain that should be covered here. Esthetics and beauty are taken up in the research and are discussed in the context of IT and IT use (c.f. Schenkman and Jönsson 2000; Tractinsky, Katz et al. 2000; Karvonen, 2000). The questions generally asked in this context are how can esthetic values be judged and how does that relate to usability. Schenkman & Jönsson (2000) explored first impressions of web pages when presented to subjects in order to discover the kind of web pages they preferred and what subjective factors determined their overall impression of the web page. They found that of four important factors, beauty, i.e. esthetics, the best predictor of the overall impression of the web page. Tractinsky et al (2000) discussed the relation between aesthetics and perceived usability and proposed a correlation between the two. After an empirical experiment with an ATM machine they were able to show that the hypothesis appeared to be correct, i.e. the esthetics of the system affected the post-use perception of both aesthetics and usability. Karvonen (2000) emphasized the need for knowledge concerning aesthetic theory and history when discussing interface design, instead of inventing new frameworks for every new type of interface. In the usability field Nielsen (1999) argues that simplicity should be the guideline when designing usable web pages – an argument that has been familiar in aesthetics for three hundred years. Karvonen also argued that aesthetic values might not be individual and unique for every person. Instead preferences might be more generally based on styles, trends or fashion – and can therefore also, at least to some extent, be categorized. The number of research publications concerning computers and information technology in relation to entertainment and fun, is increasing rapidly (c.f. Thomas and Macredie 1994; Draper 1999; Agarwal and Karahanna 2000; Amant and Young 2001; Pinhanez, Karat et al. 2001; Pinhanez, Karat et al. 2001; Pinhanez, Karat et al. 2001)
Fun in relation to Experience and flow
Pine II and Gilmore (2000) provide some guidelines for exploring the concept of experience, and present a number of theoretical frameworks for shedding light on important aspects of experiences in general. For instance, one fruitful way to categorize experiences would be to use two dimensions, absorption vs. immersion and participation vs. non-participation. Pine II and Gilmore present a framework based on these dimensions described further in Chapter 2. However, this work is on a more general level of abstraction, which includes all experiences and not just those related to the use of IT. In the context of IT research, mainly in HCI, a number of attempts to come to grips with the idea of IT-related experiences and affect have been presented. This includes both empirical and theoretical work. The main purpose of the empirical work can be said to be the sharing of results concerning the evaluation and measurement of human experiences of using various types of IT systems (c.f. Höök et al, 2000; Höök & Svensson, 1999; Scheirer, J., 2002). Theoretical work on the other hand often focuses on how experiences and affect in the context of IT can be understood on a more general level and the results often include frameworks and theories of different kind (c.f. Aboulafia et al, 2001; Huang, 2003; Forlizzi & Ford, 2000; Norman, 2002; Norman, forthcoming).
The concept of „flow‟ is sometimes also used when investigating experiences. This concept was invented by Csíjszentmihályi (1990) and describes the state of a mind when it is experiencing something. Some empirical work based on this concept has been conducted in the context of web use (c.f. Chen et al, 1999; Novak et al, 1998).
Fun and User satisfaction
When discussing fun and entertainment in the context of usability, the most closely related notion is „user
satisfaction‟. Usability evaluation has traditionally focused on aspects related to function, such as efficiency, number of errors etc. (cf. Nielsen 1993). However, research into the aspect of user satisfaction has so far been neglected in the research discipline of HCI (Lindgaard & Dudek, 2003). Similarly the concept of user satisfaction been fully explored, nor have methods for evaluating this aspect been developed. Data regarding user satisfaction are mainly subjective, which may be one explanation for the lack of research in the area. In addition, one of the most influential research disciplines regarding usability evaluation in HCI research, has in the past been cognitive psychology and no tradition exists in this field of investigating subjective aspects such as user satisfaction, either conceptually or methodologically. Thus this may constitute another explanation for the past absence of research into user satisfaction. However, the subject has been covered in more recent research literature (c.f. Evans, 1993; Harrison & Rainer, 1996; Mahmood et al, 2000; Chin & Lee, 2000; Lindgaard & Dudek, 2003).
Fun and entertainment
Fun and enjoyment are to some extent related to user satisfaction. There is a marked trend towards entertainment on the web. Evaluation of entertainment web sites, specifically designed to be affective vis-à-vis the user, challenges traditional evaluation frameworks in the area of Usability Engineering (Olsson,
2000a, ibid. 2000b). Recent studies of Internet use or "surfing" show that when people are enjoying themselves, time parses unnoticed and they focus mainly on the current activity (Agarwal & Karahana, 2000).
Various views and aspects of entertainment on the web are covered in research. Some authors mainly consider the traditional view of entertainment, where there is a sender – receiver situation, with no or only a
little interaction, „webTV‟ for instance. One large study of such web pages questioned whether web
entertainment could be passive and the results showed that this could in fact be the case – users preferred
less clicking and more watching (Pinhanez et al., 2001a; ibid. 2001b; ibid 2001c). Similar studies, from the same research group produced similar results in that entertainment on the web is interactive, but not exclusively so – entertainment that is only watchable also resulted in user satisfaction (Karat & Karat, 2003). Other types of research focus on high level interaction and the social aspects of entertainment (c.f. Amant & Young, 2001). Quite a large number of studies deal with entertainment by focusing on games –
both web-based and stand-alone games - (c.f. Thomas & Macredie, 1994; Draper, 1999; Fabricatore et al, 2002), where for example, the „playability‟ of games is investigated and measured Research needs to
highlight the salience and possibilities of user studies and other evaluations of usability-related aspects as, with few exceptions, the games industry has little or no past experience in this field (c.f. Federoff, 2003). To analysis fun as a software requirement can be complex, as exemplified by Draper et al. (1999).
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