Each day of our lives, we are lured by a touchscreen to glance at it, interact with it or even search for an excuse just to swipe at it. For most of us, this behavior has become second nature – and a lot of credit goes to effective design. As a child, I distinctly remember being fascinated by the claw arcade game at my neighborhood gaming parlor. After reading about activity theory, I think I understand why I felt drawn towards the game: observing the tool (claw) and it’s interface (joystick) in action meant that I understood the game instantly. Behind a transparent wall of glass, the claw promised to serve as an extension of my hands in grabbing a plush toy. But the magic lay in the joystick: it made the claw so easy and fun to operate that it had me reaching into my parents’ pockets throughout the evening.
As Kaptelinin and Nardi explain, internalization is cardinal in interacting with a new environment. Consequently, a system like a touchscreen or a claw machine which make their role in the interaction abundantly clear to the user, benefit from an easy learning curve. Once observed in action, these interfaces make it easy for the user to accomplish his/her goal without taxing the working memory, so much so that after a few transactions, using them feels intuitive. I would also like to talk about the cursor. Even though we see it blinking whenever we type, we scarcely pay any attention to it – a close analog of the unassuming nature of the screen and the joystick. And yet, if it wasn’t for the cursor’s blink, we wouldn’t know where to start typing. The cursor, the screen and the joystick are my favorite examples of UI which by virtue of either form or function, invite the user without requiring explicit instructions. When Dourish talks about phenomenology in the opening chapter of his book, I feel that these UIs have a common thread connecting their individual perception and action, which in turn leads to better user experiences in the real world.