Pace and interaction design

Last summer, my friend Bill walked several hundred miles of the Camino de Santiago, a 1,000-year-old pilgrimage route through Spain and France.

He started off carrying a 40-pound pack, which contained the Camino guidebook, which recommended a brisk daily pace of 30 miles in order to complete the route.  On the first day out, maintaining the brisk pace, he twisted his ankle. On the second day, after hobbling along for a few hours, he leaned his pack against a big rock in a ditch, while he lay in the dusty grass , resting his swollen ankle.  When he started walking again, he felt much refreshed, until he stopped again to consult his guidebook to see how far he had to go that day…and realized that he had left his glasses on a rock in the ditch, two hours back.  At that point he discarded the paperbacks he had brought with him to read in the evenings.  Having nothing to read that evening after dinner, he started talking with a fellow pilgrim named Mike, a young runner who had set himself a goal of finishing the pilgrimage in record time. Bill never expected to see Mike again, since Bill with his twisted ankle and lack of glasses was proceeding at a turtle pace across the Spanish landscape. So he was surprised to run across Mike a couple of days later. Mike was sitting at the side of the road with his shoes off.  He had gone so fast, for so many miles that his feet were now painfully blistered and he couldn’t walk any more without making the blisters worse.  The two of them cooled their heels for a few days, then, so to speak, at a local hostel, getting to know one another, enjoying the excellent local brews, and having deep discussions about pace.

Are you designing a roller coaster or a tea party?  What’s the most efficient rhythm of work for the typical person?  What pace is going to be the most fun?   Every journey has its natural pace, including the paths through an e-commerce form, a game, or a web site.  Push it too hard or go too slow, and it’s just painful. Or even impossible.  There may be cognitive load constraints that have to be considered.  Is the person using the site a novice, or an expert? Are they multi-tasking or will they be giving this effort their single-minded focus?

The mind can absorb no more than the seat of the pants can endure. Is a sequence of tasks something that a person can do in a single sitting? Or are you going to make them get up several times to go find information that they don’t readily have at hand, interrupting their pace?  Are you going to make someone click “Next” and “Next” and “Next” without giving them clues as to how long this is really going to take?

Come hear my talk at SXSW Interactive 2011 in Austin! My topic is It’s About Time: Visualizing Temporality. I’m talking at 9:30 am Saturday, March 12.

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