How can the UI/UX of texting better carry the weight of our conversations?
I found myself interested in the space that our text conversations live in.
When I text, my words always are placed on the right of the space with one (typically branded) color, while the words of the person responding are always on the far left in another contrasting color. Then, there is a predetermined amount of white space between us.
What if we thought of the text space as a physical space?
As it is now, the text environment feels like a storage unit, a rigid place for this to be kept. Yet, how could the text space feel more like a home- a place that was comfortable?
So, how do we modify an environment in physical conversations?
Based on my research, we modify spaces in to two ways:
When in a physical space, where we stand a room with the person we are communicating matters. Psychology researchers have found that where we stand and even how we stand indicates our emotions. It matters if we keep our arms tight to our bodies or stand tall.
I was curious about what if text space felt carried this essence.
So I imagined a version of text messaging system in which users could treat their message bubbles like stickers. This allows individuals to decide where they should place their message and the size/shape it should take on, similar to how we would with our bodies irl.
I provided people the prototype of this concept. I then asked them to have a scripted text conversation with me using these affordances. I would take on person A and they would be person B. We then acted this script through the text prototype, placing the bubbles were felt right/ embodied what they were thinking.
Here is one script that I gave to people.
The gif displays how the conversation would normally look in text design, it is contrasted with how the same conversation changes with the prototype.
metrics of success
I was curious if positioning was completely random/up to each person or if there was something meaningful about placing a bubble in a certain way.
What I found was there were clear patterns. Here are two examples.
In one of the examples, everyone chose to make the words "Hate it" really large.
The other example depicts a script in which the character was having a hard time with depression. Everyone displayed this kind of curvature in the positioning. The message “how u” being the closest to the center with the following pulling away. What was so interesting that it is clear that when visualize our thoughts- there a lot more nuance in our emotions.
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 the message we do not know if someone would have paused while saying that thought or hesitate. I wondered how can I capture this essence in the text space?
So I imagined an alternative in which the amount of time it takes for a message to be put together is the amount of time it takes to be read by the receiver. Essentially, if you are taking longer to type a message together, it will take that increased amount of time to appear. To ensure that this would be keep people in control, this would be a setting users could turn on and off based on the contact.
This is an example of a prototype that displayed an argument using this affordance.
testing and metrics
I showed people the prototypes. I was curious if adding time to the space was meaningful. I felt that if it was meaningful, people would have strong emotional reactions.
What I found was that the prototype DID stir people up. 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: how do these possible futures inform the current?
As it now, the only way we can modify text spaces is through emojis and Bitmojis. Yet, they ask us to try to take our complicated thoughts and fit them into comically colored circular faces.
I hope that this project inspires us to review what technology should be and how we should be seen in it. Should technology work to allow us express every detail of ourselves? Or should we keep technology at arms length, and only input specific partial aspects of ourselves?
Our nuance is what makes us, us. It is important to make decisions about the relationship we want technology as we enter a more technology influenced world.
Thank you for reading
and thank you to everyone that helped me make it
My parents, Gayatri Ketavarapu, Mimi Onuoha, Allison Parish, My IMA Thesis Class, Arnab Chaky, Lydia Jessup. Yeseul Song, Yash Gurditta. Ruchi Panot, Simran Phadnis, Ari Melenciano, Katherine Dillon, Su Kim, Shawn Van Every