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A remote control Usability and design

It can be a challenge to get people to take part in new and unusual behaviours – like using the remote control to buy pizza, or taking part in a programme rather than sitting back couch-potato style.

To succeed, just like normal television programmes, interactive television applications need to offer viewers something they want or need in a way that keeps their attention.

Two key factors that help shape viewers’ experience of interactive television services are the usability and the graphic design.

Usability is about whether it’s easy to use a device or interface for the intended purpose. An application with great usability works well, is understandable and leaves a sense of satisfaction. This requires an appreciation of the different types of viewers that are likely to use the service, what they want, how they live their lives and what will be easy for them to understand on screen.

Graphic or interface design can be seen to be about creating meanings beyond the basic functionality by manipulating the style of the graphics. A great graphic design helps make a service emotionally engaging and aesthetically pleasing, helps signal how an application should be used, and helps boost viewers’ enjoyment.

Think about the different reactions viewers would have to the same application designed in the style of a Japanese comic book, compared to the style of one of the early bank cash machines or the style of a kindergarten classroom. Each graphic design style would result in a completely different experience.

Usability and graphic design are symbiotic. An interactive television service designed purely for usability may allow viewers to perform tasks, but risks leaving them feeling disconnected, uninvolved and without a sense of allegiance. A service built only with graphic design in mind may look fantastic but be difficult and frustrating to use. The two must work together, not against each other.

How do you get the right mix? You wheedle your way inside viewers’ heads – and stare right back out at the television set. This involves the application of common sense, experience, observation, technical knowledge and research.

To find out how to apply these well, you can buy the book Interactive Television Production now. There are also some useful links you can try.


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