User Experience

Polite Computing and Adaptive Interfaces

“If we want users to like our software we should design it to behave like a likeable person: respectful, generous and helpful.” Alan Cooper

The other day I was running trough some presentations on Slideshare and I found a presentation that got me interested in the Polite Computing topic.

So what is Polite Computing? Polite Computing is about building software that is:

  1. Interested: polite software remembers users preferences and helps users make desired choices. It is not enough to give choices now and forget them later. When choices repeat, software should remember the last user choice as its default. Also, choices should be simple and clear. A choice that is misrepresented and/or misunderstood only confuses users and does not represent a real choice.
  2. Respectful: polite software does not hold back useful information and declares itself and its source. If the users are not acknowledgeable of  all the useful information, they can’t make the right choices. So it’s important to present them all the facts. Also, as a common interaction, it’s made of two parties: the user and the software/service. When one party is hidden, it can be accountable for its actions. A polite software declares itself to let users know what they’re dealing with.
  3. Forgiving: polite software lets users undo a mistake. When users make a mistake it’s important that the software lets them correct it, so that they feel confident and under control of the interaction.

From its characteristics, it’s possible to say that politeness is a key social requirement for Human-Computer Interaction.

So how can we make our software more polite? In my opinion the answer is on adaptive interfaces. Adaptive interfaces go beyond the “easy to use and work” interface, to interfaces that have personal meaning to the user by personalizing the interaction according to users most common tasks.

An adaptive interface can be defined as an interactive interface that improves its ability to interact with a user based on partial experience with that user. This type of interfaces shows “care” about the user and also respect for him.

Like everything, adaptive interfaces also have its cons. Because of its adaptive nature, this type of interfaces change, and users may feel a lack of consistency on the location of items. Also this problem leads to some difficulties on users learning how to operate with the interface. Resuming, adaptive interfaces may lead to users experiencing a sense of randomness and unpredictability. That’s why it’s important having good sense when building these kind of interfaces and study the past errors on this area, so that the you don’t end up introducing another Mr. Clippy on your interface!

In spite of its dangers, adaptive interfaces bring great improvements on the user experience subject. The key factor is not to mess too much with the interface and keeps things simple. Remember that doing things wrong may be worse than not doing it at all.


Susana Vilaça

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