Interaction Design for Multimedia Software


AAIM 4th Annual Conference on Multimedia in Education and Industry, 1995
Elizabeth Boling and Sonny Kirkley
Indiana University, Bloomington


  • Interaction design
  • Function and form
  • Lessons from entertainment and edutainment software
  • References

  • Interaction design

    Multimedia is experiential ... Although every medium has experiential elements, multimedia frequently offers multiple elements simultaneously, or in rapid succession (text and animation and video and sound and hyperlinks and so on). At the same time the user of the multimedia program is usually invited to interact with it; in fact, most instructional programs won't do much of anything unless the user does interact with them.

    If you have ever developed multimedia from a storyboard and discovered that your reviewers liked the storyboard but hated the product, or if you have purchased a multimedia title on the strength of the description on the packaging only to be disappointed in the real thing, you are well aware that the description of a multimedia program differs from the experience of using the program,often by quite a lot.

    What is delight?
    Delight is the facilitative component of experience. It can be stimulated through a variety of means, including:

    What is difficulty?
    Difficulty is the challenging component of experience. It can arise through a variety of means, including:

    At first glance it seems reasonable to postulate that designers should strive to create experiences in which delight is optimized and difficulty is minimized. Reviews of multimedia software suggest that,in fact, different groups of instructional multimedi a designers have tried either to optimize delight or to minimize difficulty. Unfortunately, neither approach results in optimal experience for most learning.

    Community Exploration
    Conte Software; a division of Josten's Learning Coporation

    AUX Self-Tutorial
    Apple Computer; Apple Developer University
    Csikszentmihaly's studies of optimal experience indicates that balanced elements of both delight and difficulty must be present in an experience. Delight without difficulty may produce desirable experiences but does not tend to result in learning, and difficulty - even the positive kind - unrelieved by delight does not engage learners sufficiently to facilitate learning.

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    Function and form

    At a fundamental level, the components that designers manipulate in creating experience are function and form. Function and form are not the same thing, although they are highly interdependent.Functions are capabilities of the system and the learner within the system. Forms are the maifestations of functions in all possible states.

    A given function may be represented by any number of different forms ...

    ... and functions may be selected to support different overall types of experiences with multimedia. Schweir and Misanchuk propose classifying experiences accordingly to the characteristics of the interaction available to learners:

    As the preceeding examples illustrate, type of interactivity is not determined by the production value (or relative level of sophistication in design treatment) of the product. The type of interactivity is the result of design decisions, whether they are made consciously or unconsciously.

    The "quality of design" here is used to mean the degree to which decisions about the design --

  • support the type of interaction desired by the designer
  • support a type of interactivity appropriate for learners, content and context
  • work together to create an integrated experience
  • minimize unecessary difficulty and create positive difficulty
  • optimize desirable delight without violating Ocham's Razor (use the "back" function of your browser to return from this link)
  • "Quality of design" is not being used to mean --

  • amount of content
  • number of media elements (sound, graphics, and video)
  • presence of media elements
  • quality of media elements (that's production value)
  • -- although any of these items might be factors in enhancing delight or reducing difficulty, and any of them might be manipulated to increase positive difficulty or reduce egregious delight!

    The matrix illustrates the distinction between design quality and production value as components of multimedia software. In the upper left quadrant (high design quality/low production value) we might place, for the sake of example, the early Your Tour of the Macintosh (Apple Computer, Inc.; 1987). Compared to the color depth, text treatments, and animation possibilities of today, the production quality of that product was fairly low. However, its design quality was high -- the learner was given ade quate and understandable controls for navigating the tour; when the learner practiced new skills (like clicking), the program delighted him with animation; and the program was entirely consistent in the type of interactivity provided for the learner.

    In contrast, consider a program like How Computers Work (Warner new media;1993), which would appear in the lower right quadrant of the matrix. The production value of this program is fairly high - sophisticated graphic treatment, custom-designed ic on sets, and sound and video of decent quality throughout the program. The design quality of the program is fairly low; examples of the low design quality include icon sets too large to learn comfortably, mix of advanced and elementary content without suf ficient warning to the learner, and whole segments in which learner control is minimal at best.

    During the AAIM presentation an audience member suggested that there might be third continuum representing LEARNING added to this matrix. In such an extended matrix we could describe software exhibiting low design quality and low production value and low learning, or software exhibiting low design quality and low production value and high learning. Such a matrix would be valuable for further distinguishing components of programs ... we might expect to find very few examples in which high learning occurs with software exhibiting low quality design and low production value, but it is useful to understand that the possibility of there being such an example does exist.

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    Lessons from entertainment and edu-tainment software

    The three "lessons" listed here are a sample of the issues that have arisen for us as designers in using dozens and dozens of commercial software titles in entertainment and edu-tainment. They are offered as examples ways in which we believe designers are enhancing users' experiences with their programs ... we don't believe designers of instructional/educational software should always use the same strategies, or use them in the same way other designers use them, but we do suggest that enhancing user exper ience is valuable and necessary. Instructional designers of multimedia should be aware of and consider using the available options for enhancing learners' experiences with their programs.

    Recognize that form influences and shapes experience
    The first obvious lesson is that commercial developers recognize the role of form in the user experience -- most of us understand this lesson when we think about going to the movies; the form of a film (lighting, camera action, editing) exerts a profound influence on the way the viewer will experience the film. Educational developers recognize the role of form too; if they didn't we wouldn't hear ourselves apologizing for the look and feel of our programs with regularity as they are demonstrated at conferences. We typically hear two points of view on this subject: 1) "I recognize that better design of form would fundamentally enhance my product but I don't have access to anyone who can do the job"; and 2) "This is an educational product - too much attention (read: any attention)to form would send the wrong message / distract the learner / just decorate the 'real' content." The first point of view is understandable but begs the question -- how we can honestly conduct research on learning with hypertext, the effect of animated graphics on learning, or any other interesting question in media without fixing the form problem first? The second point of view is, in our opinion, simply indefensible unless the programs in question truly have been designed with sufficient attention to form in the first place, and too often they have not been.

    Emphasize an editorial point of view
    A quick review of some current "hot" titles in multimedia - Amnesty Interactive, Passage to Vietnam, Who Built America, The Complete Maus - shows a strong editorial point of view established in each title. It's too easy to explain why an editorial position is appropriate for each title and not pay attention to the lesson we should take away - the editorial point of view is a compelling , and positive, component of the experience each title provides. Picture each of these programs stripped of its "voice," presented in the neutral tones of education, and you are picturing a lifeless media experience.

    We are well aware that every program takes an editorial point of view, and equally well aware that we typically expend a lot of effort on avoiding the externalization of that point of view. While this may make very good sense in writing a textbook for adoption in Texas and California, as designers we must recognize that the practice of neutralizing a program's voice cuts us off from an important tool for enhancing our learners' experiences.

    Integrate media elements into the entire interface, not just the content
    Many educational designers will be familiar with Broderbund's interactive books titles like Just Grandma and Me or Arthur's Teacher Troubles. In both these programs we can see media elements incorporated into the interface of the program its elf; for example, the "yes" and "no" buttons for preferences on these disks are represented by animated characters nodding and shaking their heads respectively. The recently published Passage to Vietnam features several instances in which tiny Quic ktime movies of a person appear on screen, pointing to various interface elements and explaining what to do with them. The same disk makes use of the same technique to deliver content information too - in fact, it is the lack of distinction between the tw o uses of video that helps promote a sense of tight integration in the interaction design of this program.

    As with any technique, use of media within the interface can be taken to unhappy extremes or slapped onto otherwise lackluster content without appreciable improvement in the user's experience of a program. One of the key elements that we believe distingui shes successful efforts is integration of media at equal levels of development / production value in the content and the interface of a product. The Broderbund Living Books are replete with high-quality, delight-producing animations; it's no surprise to f ind them extending into the interface and it might be a disappointment not to find them there. The mini-people in Passage to Vietnam are not simply little "interface trolls" that lurk around to tell you how to run the program; they are part of a whole approach to telling the story of how the disk was made and how the photographs on the disk were taken and edited and how to use the various parts of the program.

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    References

    Boling, E., Johnson, L., & Kirkley, S. (1994). A quick and dirty dozen: guidelines for using icons. HyperNEXUS, 4(2), 5-7.

    Cotton, B. and Oliver, R. (1993). Understanding hypermedia: From multimedia to virtual reality. London: Phaidon Press Ltd.

    Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.

    Horton, W. (1994). The icon book: Visual symbols for computer systems and documentation. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

    Mullet, K. and Sano, D. (1995). Designing visual interfaces. Mountain View, CA: Sun Microsystems.

    Norman, D. (1990).The design of everyday things. Doubleday: New York. Schweir, R. and Misanchuk, E. (1993). Interactive multimedia instruction. . Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology.

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    last update 13 August 1996 ... questions and suggestions to eboling@indiana.edu
    Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
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