You can’t be social by yourself

Found a great explanation of social design from Crysta Metcalf of Motorola, who is currently involved in an ethnographic research project to find out how people communicate through technology: (via experientia)

‘When we talk about the “user experience” the main emphasis is often on an individual’s experience with a particular technology. Even with a purported social technology, for example a social networking site, we still tend to create for the individual’s interaction with the site (how does someone find their friend, how do they access this site easily from a mobile device).

However, designing for sociability means thinking about how people experience each other through the technological medium, not just thinking about how they experience the technology. The emphasis is on the human-to-human relationship, not the human-to-technology relationship. This is a crucial difference in design focus. It means designing for an experience between people.

Found a great explanation of social design from Crysta Metcalf of Motorola, who is currently involved in an ethnographic research project to find out how people communicate through technology: (via experientia)

‘When we talk about the “user experience” the main emphasis is often on an individual’s experience with a particular technology. Even with a purported social technology, for example a social networking site, we still tend to create for the individual’s interaction with the site (how does someone find their friend, how do they access this site easily from a mobile device).

However, designing for sociability means thinking about how people experience each other through the technological medium, not just thinking about how they experience the technology. The emphasis is on the human-to-human relationship, not the human-to-technology relationship. This is a crucial difference in design focus. It means designing for an experience between people.

Of course designing for an experience between people doesn’t mean ignoring the interaction with the device, but it calls for taking something else into account. That “something else” is often another person or people. How do we, as developers of communication technologies, make the communications more interesting, more exciting and more stimulating for the receiver? How do we help our users meet the needs of the other people in their social network? How do we create a shared experience that is equally compelling for all participating parties? When we begin to think like this, we truly start to think of designing social software, social applications, social media.’

I was thinking about this yesterday…that we still glom onto singular words when describing designing for others. Even “experience design”, the preferred term of the moment, is singular. But it still focuses too much on a singular user and their experience when most of what people are doing nowadays is having shared experiences.

That’s why I prefer social design, because you can’t be social by yourself.

Several of the findings from Metcalf’s ethnographic research are interesting (here’s a pdf of the presentation). One, in particular, caught my eye:

“There is so much emphasis on doing things together that our participants try to recreate being together, even when they are not”

This signals to Metcalf that there is an opportunity to design for generating shared experiences, not just talking about previous ones. Right now most of our technology is focused on sharing previous experiences through media (pictures, video, writing), not really sharing new experiences as they happen.

This reminded me of Facebook’s “send a gift” feature, which is different than most of the other features on the site because it’s an activity in an of itself. While we can see what has happened on the news feed and on our wall, we don’t really get further than commenting in terms of having a new experience. But sending a gift is something else…a new, shared experience that both people enjoy.

Published: June 29th, 2007

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