Musical interactions – part 2

Design, Opinion, UX

I was really (pleasantly) surprised to get so much audience participation and questioning after my talk at the Digital Brand Jam event at Brunel – especially after I shot down on one of the questions around music industry, and how easy it was to distribute these days.

The questions were incredibly pertinent to my professional interests so I thought I’d share some of them (and my responses). I got a lot of interest in my thoughts on the following areas:

Should it be digital-with-physical, or physical-with digital?

I experienced a lot of turmoil deciding which way round this should be (I was still wrangling with it on train journey to the event). I concluded that the digital stuff has become the brains, and the physical aspects have become the interface part. So, you could have the same interface parts for longer periods of time and get familiar with how they feel.

How does expertise come into the frame, and how is it considered in the design of tools, services and systems?

I have paraphrased here but the questions were around designing something that could be used for the first time by novices or something that would be used regularly by experts. There’s a whole series of blog posts in me about this one, but my answer was along these lines…

When you design for a novice user using cookie cutter, ‘clip-art’ UI paradigms to make something seem ‘intuitive’ (my most hated word in UX), you can actually disempower the expert user who needs more flexibility and control. Not many systems, products or services manage to cater for both ends of the user spectrum and this makes it harder for a novice user to rapidly become an expert user.

Investment Bankers, for example, compete over their knowledge of Bloomberg short codes. Clinical consultants like to demonstrate their expertise and expose the complexity that underlies their practice, rather than dumbing it down.


At the IxDA London Movie Night (movie clips coming soon), we discussed the tension between design for novice vs. expert users. It was generally felt that when you design for one side, you might detract from the other. However, I think there are examples where this hasn’t necessarily been the case, notably console games (most famously Nintendo’s flagship Mario series) and the Tenori-On, which after about 10-15 minutes of guided play, allows you to make beautiful music and grow your skill level very quickly.

How does motivation affect interaction?


I explained my personal motivation to buy technology (well, gadgets) as underpinning a lack of skill or willingness to do something. I mentioned my interest in buying the excellent Fiskars weed puller and how it got me to do my first bit of weeding for about 15 years. It’s a fantastic product – easy, satisfying, and incredibly empowering, like a tool should be. I talked around how games help to motivate people by easing them in through play and increasing the level of challenge before addictive interaction and obsession begin.

How can sound be used in design and interaction?

One of my favourite subjects. I believe that sound is a relatively untouched area in design (some good thoughts around it here). We focus so much on physical forms, the way something might look, or even how it smells, but less about how it sounds (car door and electric car engine sonic aesthetics aside).


I mentioned my interest in using sound more effectively within Investment Banking scenarios as part of better alert systems or to allow people to concentrate better in times of stress. I also made reference to a friend’s research into info sonification, where messages, alerts and feedback that would normally be visual could be made audible, therefore using another channel of communication that could better augment our lives than being obsessed with looking at screens.