Alternatives

by Carson Reynolds

Most attempts at adaptive interaction designs I’ve seen thus far seem to make a couple fatal mistakes. They often undermine user control, are inconsistent, or unpredictable. An interesting thought experiment to carry out is to imagine what an adaptive system would look like if it didn’t violate the maxims of usability and interface design.

Let’s imagine a decomposable and malleable application. Let’s further imagine that many aspects of its functionality are replaceable with alternatives designed by humans. This is just like downloading and installing new applications on your computer but is more granular. I don’t have to tolerate the idiosyncrasies of a bad design, the application architecture supports, even encourages modifications. One can see the beginnings of this already in open source projects like Mozilla and add-ons that don’t just augment but replace functionality like piemenus.

Is this adaptive? It provides adaptors that transition users into new interaction spaces. If a system were put in place to allow users to alter the behavior of all the applications then we would have a user-controlled adaptive system. Interesting extensions might be machine-generated adaptors or suggestions of which components ought to be replaced and by what.

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