The Aha Design Process
Hi everyone. I'm Jason, and I'm probably most well known around the Aha office as the "user experience" guy. You're welcome to go out, Google it, and come back when you're ready, but I'm happy to give you a quick description. I'm concerned with your interaction with the product: how you learn it, how you navigate through the available functionality, and how it can adapt to your needs. When a new screen is going to be created, I'm always thinking about what information to show to you, the user, given your goals (what you need to do) and the environment you're in. Not only should it function like you expect, but it should look beautiful while doing it, too! While in previous jobs, I've been designing applications (or for devices) where the environment is relatively predictable, such as the palm of a user's hand (while sitting), the television in a living room, and so on. When the setting changes to a car, the design has to adjust accordingly. Usually, designers ask the question, "What is the user's primary goal" when creating a feature or an application. For Aha, all of our primary goals are truly secondary goals in relation to the environment, as your primary goal is to drive your vehicle safely without causing harm to yourself or others! So how do we let you accomplish those goals while staying safe? Well, our thought from day one was to design a safe interface for whatever platform Aha runs on. For the iPhone, Apple does a wonderful job in teaching application creators how to make interfaces that follow Apple's own design principles with their Human Interfaces Guidelines document. However, the user interfaces described are supposed to be used while you're not behind the wheel of an automobile. As our environment is mainly in the car, we relied on human factors driving research to help define our interface. (If you ever feel like reading books like Human Factors of Visual and Cognitive Performance while Driving, just come by the office; I'm happy to lend it out). This led to some of the principles that make up the Aha interface, such as:
- Light text on dark backgrounds: Although this may simply seem like an aesthetic change, the difference becomes much more apparent at night. With a white background, the extra brightness that's output from the screen can reflect off of your dark windshield and lead to distraction.
- Small "cognitive bits": Research has shown that traditional in-vehicle activities take generally few in-vehicle glances, with each being short in duration. On average, you can read your speedometer in a single glance, and that glance can be as short as 0.6 sec (Dingus, Antin, Hulse, and Wierwille, 1989). The more information you put on a display, the longer and more frequent glances will occur. That's less time for your eyes to be on the road. Therefore, we attempted to boil down the information in each feature to what you need "at a glance", so you can look quickly, see if something is new or changed, and look back at the road.
- Information entry while moving kept to a minimum: It's been in the news quite a lot lately that text messaging is very dangerous while driving; in fact, it can be up to 23 times more dangerous than non-distracted driving! Therefore, we want to keep entry of information while you're behind the wheel kept to an absolute minimum. This is why we look around for traffic on routes nearby and use voice as a way to receive and send information about traffic (and anything else fun and interesting) in shout rooms.
- Large target areas and gestures: When using a mobile interface where your finger is the input mechanism, fine control goes out the window in the car environment. The vehicle is moving, the device may or may not be mounted, and your primary focus is the road. So, there's relatively few selections per screen, because we'd rather you select the right thing the first time and have an easy time doing it. Also, gestures are incorporated (swiping back and forth on the shout room playback screen, for example), so you don't even have to look at the screen while using it.