Designing for Profound Activity :
Learning Photography by Using Digital Camera

Digital Camera Interface
MSc. thesis @ Technology University of Delft. the Netherlands.  10.2006

>> launch the prototype (macromedia flash)
>> final report (PDF. 3.3mb)

Since the complexity of digital technology inside electronic products went beyond normal users’ intellectual capability, interface design means allowing users to perform tasks without understanding how technology works. Consequently most current digital products are filled up with decision trees and menu structures providing functionality without showing what happened inside - so called the featurism of electronic products. As a counteraction to the featurism, products has started gaining additional layers of interface - e.g. Quick launch button, Interface Wizard and Character agent - which makes the products look simpler and smarter. As more layers are added on user interface, more operations are automated into one functionality and hidden behind the user-interface, thereby users can’t even aware of them. I raise a drawback of the approach in the specific product domain - Products for Profound activity

Opposite to Shallow activity, Profound activity evolves user’s expertise, thus a user would want to be an expert while doing it. Profound activities often have intrinsically unpredictable goals, especially when the activity demands user’s creativity, and it prevents automation from going too far.

When the interface is designed for shallow activities, it’s easy to learn, quick to use, but has restricted possibility, while a product with profound activities takes longer time to learn, but has wider possibility. Based on it, the design goal of this research-throughdesign project has been drawn - Improving a smooth pathway from shallow activity (easy for beginners) to profound activity (useful for experts) on user interface of electronic product.

To put this research project within the theoretical context, two existing areas of research were explored: Mental model and Learning by Using. The research area of mental model concerns ‘how product can support user’s knowledge acquisition while using it’. Going deeper into user’s knowledge acquisition, the area of Learning by Using states that daily products have both aspect of Learning and Using. Additionally, Scaffolding with Fading strategy supporting user’s gradual improvement is introduced. The exploration ends up with an interaction model - a pattern of reflective cognition caused by feedforwardfeedback interaction - which depicts how product interface evolves user’s activity to profound one.

Getting deeper into Profound activity, digital photography was investigated by interviewing amateur photographers and observing photographic excursion. As result, three groups of photographic knowledge are defined: Aesthetic sense, Technical knowledge, Operational skill. The technical knowledge doesn’t show up frequently at photographic moments, however, it connects user’s aesthetic sense and operational skill while user’s doing reflective cognition. By overlapping the interaction model and three groups of photographic knowledge, roles of feedforward-feedback interplay have been defined: in brief, the interplay interconnects the three groups with causal relationships.

An experiential prototype is designed and built through six phases of incremental development . starting with a conceptual model, ending up with an experiential prototype. The conceptual model depicts internal relationship between each element of digital camera interface, and is characterized in two aspects.

1) The internal relationship forms a network of controls and feedforward-feedback interplay.

2) The model is scaffolded in two steps.

The experiential prototype simulates photo-taking moments on PC monitor, and user controls it with mouse. Although it has some limitations caused by its low-fidelity - lack of tactility; lack of freedom in context; flaws in technical performance -, participants can adapt to the prototype quickly.

The experiment is set up to investigate how people interact with the camera and what they can understand during the interaction. Six volunteer has participated and each session was videorecorded. Their changes in photographic expertise were tested before and after the interaction, and compared.

The result of the experiment indicates that all the participants’ expertise in photography have been improved while interacting with the prototype. The experiment also shows the prototype mainly influences on user’s Technical knowledge and Operational skill, while Aesthetic sense was already mature in the opening test. The narrowed gaps between three knowledge groups prove that participants’ photographic activities stepped forward to profound activity.

Finally the reflection on the work gives what knowledge has been gained in this research-through-design project and to what extent the knowledge can be generalized in the problem area - Products for Profound activity

First, the gained knowledge starts from an interaction model illustrating how feedforward-feedback interplays can evoke user’s reflective cognition. The model is very abstract and fully generalizable in the problem area, but it also evokes further questions in detail.

The second knowledge is the knowledge groups in digital photography. Although the names of the groups are subordinated in the activity domain, their meanings can be applied to other cases.

Lastly the third knowledge, the conceptual model and also the prototype, is very specific to digital photography. Thus they can be an inspiration for other cases in the problem area.

(c) 2008 Tak Yeon Lee