Sunday, 26 February 2012

Ordering wine: the physical, the digital and the social

For a family birthday recently, we went to Inamo. This is not a restaurant review, but reflections on an interactive experience.

Instead of physical menus and a physical waiter, each of us had a personal interactive area on the tabletop that we used to send our individual order to the kitchen and do various other things. In some ways this was great fun (we could have "tablecloth wars" in which we kept changing the decor on the table, or play games such as Battleships across the table).

In other ways it was quite dysfunctional. For example, we had to explicitly negotiate about who was going to order bottles of water and wine because otherwise we'd have ended up with either none or 5 bottles. In most restaurants, you'd hear whether it's been ordered yet or not, so you know how to behave when it's your turn to order. But it's more subtle than that: whereas with physical menus people tend to hold them up so that they are still "in the space" with their party, with the tabletop menus people were heads-down and more engrossed in ordering from the menu than the company, and there was no external cue (the arrival of the waiter) to synchronise ordering. So the shift from the physical to the digital meant that some activities that used to be seamless have now become seamful and error-prone. The human-human coordination that is invisible (or seamless) in the physical world has to be made explicit and coordinated in the digital. Conversely, the digital design creates new possibilities that it would be difficult to replicate in the physical implementation.

There is a widespread belief that you can take a physical activity and implement a digital solution that is, in all respects, the same or better. Not so: there are almost always trade-offs.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Device use in intensive care

Atish Rajkomar's study of how infusion devices are used in intensive care has just been accepted for publication in the Journal of Biomedical Informatics: a great outcome from an MSc project!

It's a great achievement for someone without a clinical background to go into such a complex clinical environment and make sense of anything that's going on there. The Distributed Cognition approach that Atish took seems to have been a help, providing a way of looking at the environment that focuses attention on some of the things that matter (though maybe overlooking other things in the process). But this is a difficult thing to prove!

It's one of the real challenges for the design of future healthcare technologies: that to design effectively, the design team really does need dual expertise: in technology design and in clinical work. There are few courses available that provide such dual expertise. And also surprisingly few people seem to be interested in acquiring such expertise. Therein lies another challenge: how to make healthcare technologies interesting and engaging?