Friday, 7 December 2012

Hidden in plain sight

Last weekend, I was showing a visiting colleague around the Wellcome Collection. As he stopped to take a photograph with his iPhone, I noticed that he unlocked his phone first, then flicked through several screens to locate the camera app, selected it, and took the snap. I quickly took out my own iPhone and showed him how to access the camera function immediately by sliding the camera icon on the "lock" screen up. He was amazed: a mix of delighted and appalled. He considers himself to be a "power user" but had never noticed the icon nor discovered its purpose.

I had noticed the camera image a few months ago, following an operating system upgrade, but I also had not discovered its purpose unaided, having assumed that it was some kind of information rather than a functional slider that provided a useful short-cut. I had to be shown the use by someone else who had already discovered it. Doh!

Once discovered, the feature is quite obvious. But it is not as easily discoverable as it might be: there is no immediately presented information about key operating system changes, and few people search for features they have no reason to expect to find. Children may explore objects just to see what happens; many adults lose this. Just putting something on the screen does not guarantee that it will be noticed or appropriately interpreted.

Social interactions are so often a powerful means for learning about the world and the less obvious affordances of systems.

1 comment:

  1. Funnily enough I worked this one out quite quickly as I'd already been thinking that this was something the iPhone needed. There might be cases when I want to start recording something fairly quickly (usually an interesting sound but I suppose it could be used if someone was up to no good!) and I was at the point of investigating how to tweak settings so that I could make that happen.

    Then with the system upgrade I noticed that the camera icon had appeared and I don't think it was there before. Also, somewhat curiously, the horizontal lines (which you can see in your top picture) immediately made me think of dragging upwards. No idea why as that's a bit counterintuitive.

    Anyway I was pleased that my phone had worked out what I wanted it to do before I had to learn how to tell it to do so ;)