Experimental Interaction Design


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Role: Designer

Skills: Prototyping, User Testing, Iterating

Tldr: Imagining the future UI/UX for text messaging











Can the text space be like physical space?



How can the UI/UX of texting better carry the weight of our conversations?

Today, text UI feels like a storage unit, a rigid place for information to be kept. How could the text space feel more like a home—a comfortable, inviting place?

So, how do we modify an environment in physical conversations?

Based on my research, we modify spaces in two ways:


01 Positioning

02
Time















01



Positioning







Research


In a physical space, our positioning in a room with the person we're communicating with matters. Psychology researchers have found that our stance and posture indicate our emotions. It makes a difference if we keep our arms close to our bodies or stand tall.


I was curious about what if text space felt carried this essence.






Prototyping


I imagined a version of a text messaging system where users could move and resize their messaging bubbles. Users can decide where to place their messages and the size and shape they should take, similar to they would position their bodies in real life.








Testing


I provided people with a prototype of this concept and asked them to have a scripted text conversation with me using these features. I played the role of person A, and they were person B. We acted out the script through the text prototype, placing the bubbles where it felt right and embodying what we were thinking.


Here is one script that I gave to folks.






On the left is how conversations would normally look in text design, and on the right is how the same conversation changes with the prototype.










Metrics of success


I was curious whether the positioning of the message bubbles was completely random or if there was something meaningful about placing a bubble in a certain way.

What I found was that there were clear patterns. For example, everyone chose to make the words "Hate it" very large. In another example, the script depicted a character struggling with depression. Everyone displayed a kind of curvature in the positioning, with the message "how u" being closest to the center and the following messages pulling away. It was fascinating to see that when visualizing our thoughts, there is much more nuance in our emotions.










02



time







Research



In physical spaces, we can leverage time and use it in our conversations. For instance, there is a difference when someone says, “I hate you”  quickly, versus “I hate you” slowed down with a pause. That capturing of time is valuable and an amazing affordance to have.

However, in text messages, we do not know if someone would have paused while saying that thought or hesitation.  I wondered how can I capture this essence in the text space.






Prototype



I imagined an alternative where the time it takes to compose a message matches the time it takes for the receiver to read it. Essentially, if you take longer to type a message, it will take that increased amount of time to appear. To keep users in control, this feature could be toggled on and off based on the contact.








This is an example of a prototype that displayed an argument using this affordance.












Testing



During my testing, it was unclear if people would prefer to text this way or not. Some people were furious describing it might feel like someone was torturing them by writing slowly. Others were introspective wondering about the power dynamics that would be revealed that were once hidden.







Conclusion



Currently, the only way to modify text spaces is through emojis and Bitmojis, which ask us to condense our complex thoughts into comically colored circular faces.

I hope this project inspires us to rethink what technology should be and how we should be seen in it.

Should technology allow us to express every detail of ourselves, or should we keep it at arm's length, sharing only specific aspects?

Our nuance is what makes us unique. As we enter a more technology-influenced world, it's important to make conscious decisions about the relationship we want with technology.