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Portioning and Sequencing

. wandereye

Some people are asking what I mean when I say "portioning and sequencing" when speaking to user experience of interfaces. 

Information density is another term usually thrown in there in the buzz or our jargon and argot. A metaphor to use for this could be reporting or journalism, the basics of a scoop, the "who, what where, when and why?" frameworks (in addition to "if it bleeds, it leads..."). All this encapsulated in something referred to as "context" to make a "story". Some writers spin tales that require a lot of thinking from the reader to understand what's going on. Other writers are more direct. Depends on the story, the "vehicle" and other things like the tools of nuance and the beautify of prose. Seems like in all equations there is an audience (of one or many), experiencing it all from various viewpoints or perspectives (person). There is a great deal of consensus out there in the "community" baaaaing "elegance" and "simplicity" that "good" presentations are those that are consice and legible and organized in ways that allow for consumption in ways that allow for digestion, reflection, or enough pause to let something or everything or nothing sink in. 


When it comes to user experience and interface design, portioning is like a meal: there is an order, even if the order is non-linear or sequential, there is an order. Why? Because of that "time" concept. There are people who speak fast (like me, only sometimes), perhaps bombard you with tons of tangental abstract babble and leave you gasping for a moment to attempt to string together even a remote sense of meaning or value. And there are others you have to probe for reponses, who tend to be on the awkward end of the spectrum or simply quiet... There are rules embedded in language and culture both innate and learned that help us all function interdependently in a world of chaos. These rules are in place to portion the randomization of situation. The structures funnel everyone and the standards allow for exchange and interaction. And each one seems to be in place to hold back the flood of having to experience it all all at once. There are exceptions, like "thrash core" or "speed metal" in terms of music or sound vs. the soaring crescendos of lyric opera.

The Three-Level Interaction Modelâ„¢

  1. Indication: introduce and orient and notification layer. Example: your phone shows a "1" over the icon, symbolizing that you have a message or a recent call (notice that even micro-symbol semiotics can have states thanks to visual design vernaculars).
  2. Engagement: acknowledgement and response state of indication. Examples: these layers are not cut-and-dry and sometimes there is overlap. Discover modes provide little in the way of indication and use engagement to trigger interaction. "Easter eggs" and games use this. Another example would be, to use the phone metaphor, a "tray" pops out of the phone icon to show the number (and other indicators) of the recent caller and/or other information about the notification/indication of a recent call or message.
  3. Immersion: launch or navigation to full context of indication. Examples: I tap on the phone icon and instead of a tray I go to another context like the "message box" where I can "navigate" my messages and "CRUD" them.

This model allows the design of the experience to focus on concepts like "periphery" and "primary" focus from all perspectives, including "backend" in terms of "latency" of response to "input". Why the ""? I can't help hearing the echo of an article a friend (thanks Ania, as usual) let me know about where the blogger said, in a nutshell, that the stuff we talk and think and blog about only .0000000000000231% of the population cares about, would understand based on the amount of "buzz words" (jargon and argot) and the amount of time it would take to do this that could be spent, say, winning a bingo game, seeing Bon Jovi, or eating Haagen Daas. But it comes down to a true and sincere and passionate advocacy of the audience us "user experience" professionals design "products and services" for. All of these models and diagrams and jargon and argot do have utility and meaning when applied, if not discovery of error and mistake that leads to succes and understanding. 


Part of presenting information requires proper sequencing. When you teach photography, design, art, or advertising, there are ways of introducing concepts to students or colleagues and this progression is handed out usually in the beginning of a semester (span of time) in the form of an outline or syllabus or schedule. Browsing or searching for products "online" or via any "interface" can feel like a time-warp lacking any logical sequence of events, information or context. We don't expect much from a computer in the way of empathy or understanding of us. And with shopping sites, we don't expect much difference from what our experiences in stores are like: large warehouses chock full of colorful variety stacked high on shelves. Aisles and shelves and pathways allow for a semblance of "portioning and sequencing" as the customer meanders, pushing cart, filling cart. Online, the information, the products, can come to the customer while s/he sits in a home theater next to a loved one surrounded by a TV and stereo and gaming systems and portable devices. There is no cart other than a symbolic icon and a reflection of purchase or order status (in best cases). Without customer service representatives, there need to be clear indicators of access to "help" but should that be front and center? Part of the joy of shopping online is that you don't have to deal with parking, crowds, lines. Part of the peril of it is not seeing the inventory and being able to instantly gratify the need for the acquisition buzz. Shopping online is like being able to walk into a "store" and wave your hands or snap your fingers while you watch a bunch of "aisles" and "shelves" dynamically and spontaneously reorganize. Real estate wise, it's a minimal investment for a maximum amount of "floor space" with no expansion limitations. Which is a good and a bad thing (depending on how you portion and sequence access to the space). 


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