industrial design is creating the visual and haptic experience of a product. interaction design is the composition of the experience. both are essential for product success: stylish designed products which are no pleasure to operate undermine the efforts of engineers and product designers.
the user interactions necessary for recording an outgoing message on the Sagem/Philips fax machines of the series »magic3« were less than obvious. therefor one of the most frequently asked question in Sagem's call center was: »how can i change the outgoing message of my answering machine?«. this was only possible by pressing the record button for more than two seconds — a second function, which was not easily found by many users.
Sagem asked us to find a solution, but not without setting tight constraints:
- we were not allowed to change the functionality of any of the other buttons
- we couldn't rearrange the layout of the keyboard
- for feedback we could only use a 16 digit single line display, one led and a speaker
- and as in almost every project: quick — to be exact: we had 3 days
in short: we »only« could redesign the flow of interaction. tight constraints, but we are not asking for less.
we studied all the other functions of the fax machine, as well, in order to clearly apprehend the context of the function to be designed.
but our major exercise was to understand the user. therefore, we talked to users, watched them using the machine and dissected each of their steps to the fulfillment of the task in question. this gave us some clues on how to solve the problem.
from the research we derived a list of areas where we could improve the design:
- no visualization of double function buttons
- no advise to talk into the telephone receiver for better recording quality
- no indication of recording start
- visual noise through blinking play button
- no easy way to delete messages
- no possibility to reset the outgoing message to the factory-set outgoing message
how we got rid of the double function key
we avoided the double function of the record button completely by jumping into a subset of the setup-menu. this has the advantage that the functionality of the answering machine is shown and can be accessed faster. plus it also builds on the already learned interaction with the menus. furthermore the setup of the answering machine can also be reached within the setup-menu via the newly build entry »answering machine«.
with automatic scrolling through the menu-entries we show the user the whole range of the menu. by pressing any of the valid buttons [number keys or arrow-buttons] the user can interact with the menu.
this solution had the additional benefit of integrating the deletion of messages and reseting the outgoing message to the factory-set outgoing message.
another major issue was the lack of feedback when the recording starts. we solved this by counting down 3 seconds before actually recording — this gives the user time to prepare for the recording. with the countdown we also tackled the problem of bad recording quality by not using the telephone receiver. if the receiver is lifted »PLEASE WAIT 3s« is shown, otherwise »LIFT RECEIVER 3s« is shown.
simultaneously with the start of the recording the fax machine gives feedback about the length of the recording together with the remaining time available. also the led changes from blinking into steady light.
the blinking play-button isn't used at all in the recording process, it's only used to indicate a new inbound message.
the art of documentation
a challenge in almost every interaction design project is: how to document the solution so that all participating parties can give input and feedback, and at the same time it is in such a detail that the technologist can implement it.
we documented our solution in the form of a flow with additional explanations where needed. in this case we also developed a special syntax to address all aspects of the fax machine and its interface elements. we not only documented the solution in this way, but also the current situation, to be able to find out all details and to show the improvements.
additionally to the flows we delivered a short document with a summary of the areas of improvements together with our suggested solutions.
workflow: »workflow is the operational aspect of a work procedure: how tasks are structured, who performs them, what their relative order is, how they are synchronized, how information flows to support the tasks and how tasks are being tracked. as the dimension of time is considered in workflow, workflow considers 'throughput' as a distinct measure.«
flow-chart: in interaction design we use flows as a tool to communicate within the team and the client how the flow of interaction should be designed. the flows describe our designs with sufficient completeness, in order for developers to be able to write code from them. anything left unsaid is likely to be misconstrued or ignored.
for a deeper insight in modeling flows see also »use cases and interaction design«