Worth the wait?

Previously we discussed how the ability to hear and feel the punctuations in rhythm offers a new means by which to interpret body data, giving physical form to digital information, making bits directly manipulable and perceptible. However, what we also alluded to was that the experience with the PMT (and its lasting memory) will not only be framed by the design of the installation itself, by the design and management of the moments before and after interaction, from experiencing audio feedback from the other participants to waiting your turn. Of course, waits are unavoidable when there are more people than resources (we only have one PMT after all), however, rather than looking at this as a obstacle we would like to focus on the opportunities this offers for framing and even heightening the interactive experience.

Once upon a time…

Waiting is of course a fact of life, often negative and disliked, but sometimes positive, anticipated and enjoyed. Think of the anticipation of opening presents on Christmas morning. Joe Garlington, creative vice president of interactives at Walt Disney Imagineering, developers of Disney parks and resorts, in an online article for CNN remarked, “We like to view [queues] as the first scene in the story.”

Now, it may come as no surprise to hear someone from Disney say this. I’m sure we all remember being stood mesmerised in the waiting line for rides such as Star Tours, being drawn into a science fiction fantasy world, shooting our anticipation through the roof before even embarking on the ride itself. It goes to highlight a point though that is easily forgotten: The waiting area is the first step in framing the interactive experience. If we consider the design of The Rhythm of Life, there are three key aspects that we need to consider:

• Participants must wear black gloves for a minimum of 5 minutes prior to use of the PMT to minimise the interference of photons absorbed from the surrounding environment.
• In order to generate data that is truly of benefit for scientific research, it is advantageous to ask participants for a small amount of additional data e.g. gender, age, weight etc.
• Participants are essentially asked to donate their body data for scientific research in exchange for a new experience with themselves on a microscopic level. Herein lies an opportunity to tackle the issues of private versus public data.


Waiting Room (2008) by Sean Raspet

Given that these three aspects must be dealt with prior to interaction with the PMT, this illustrates the importance of designing and managing the expectations of those waiting. As design thinker Don Norman puts it in his 2008 paper “The Psychology of Waiting Lines”:

“Emotions colour the experience and, more importantly, how the experience will be remembered… When in a positive mood, minor setbacks are considered minor, not a major problem. But when anxious or irritable, the same minor setback can become a major event… “

Norman goes on to highlight the example of Disney employees, “[who] are taught to pay special attention to customers who are most upset, both because they are unhappy, and especially, because negative emotions can spread.” To put it succinctly: emotions are contagious. This is important to highlight, because the emotions of the audience prior to interaction with the PMT not only impact upon their overall experience but even perhaps on the data feedback on some level. While this may only be be minimal, it is worth taking note of.

In his paper The Psychology of Waiting Lines, Don Norman proposes 8 design principles for improved user experience:

Eight Design Principles for Waiting Lines

1. Emotions Dominate
2. Eliminate Confusion: Provide a Conceptual Model, Feedback and Explanation
3. The Wait Must Be Appropriate
4. Set Expectations, Then Meet or Exceed Them
5. Keep People Occupied: Filled Time Passes More Quickly Than Unfilled Time
6. Be Fair
7. End Strong, Start Strong
8. Memory of an Event Is More Important than the Experience

As mentioned above, people in general accept that some period of waiting is acceptable, albeit that the duration should appear appropriate and fair. It is however said that people do not tend to think of time in a linear fashion. Take for example, the progress bar, used within software to visualise the status of an ongoing process. In a 2008 research paper titled ‘The effect of the progress-bar’, researchers discovered that the examples of status bars that were perceived as being the fastest, were those that increased in speed when reaching the end of the bar. The key word here is perceived. It is in fact advantageous to ‘fake’ accelerating progression to generate a more positive user experience. To put this another way, experiences should exceed expectations. One trick regularly employed by theme parks is make the waiting line bend or turn corners, so that at any point, the line looks only as long as the distance to the next corner. A cunning visual trick for sure, but no doubt it works. It is important though to keep expectations somewhat in check with reality. With this in mind, we might choose to add a level of contingency to help manage expectations. For example, if there is variability or uncertainty in the time spent queuing, we might consider providing an over exaggerated estimate of time, thus, participants are more likely to be pleasantly surprised than annoyed as their expectations are not met.

Don’t show the monster too early…

Of course when you think of waiting lines and waiting rooms you immediately think of visiting the doctors or hospital – something that, for the most of us, doesn’t exactly leave a positive imprint in your memory. First you wait in line at reception, then to meet with the doctor or nurse, and in some cases (particularly when visiting A&E) this repeats itself a number of times before the end of the visit. Hospitals can provide some of the most anxious waiting situations, with uncomfortable surroundings, a potentially negative outcome, and often, a complete lack of information. There is, if designed well, something to be said for splitting the components of the service into bite sized chunks, not just from the point-of-view of efficiency, but as an opportunity to develop a richer experience. Don Norman refers to this as “buffering’, thus an otherwise non-enjoyable waiting room can be transformed into a practical, positive experience by making it serve as a “briefing” or “preparation” room. There, the waiting people are “entertained”, perhaps by having the mission they will be engaged in explained, or perhaps being told the back plot and background information of the activity. The result is that people are entertained, perceiving this as something relevant to and part of the total experience rather than perceiving it as a waiting line. This could certainly be a useful approach within the project, as designing key touch points such as the playback of the current participants rhythm to the audience and the filling out of personal consent / data forms could be used to plug the gap in waiting, while allowing a moment to contemplate the underlying project concept. It is known, for example, that the notion of duration is dramatically affected by the mental activity of the individual, thus simply asking participants to provide additional data can become an integral and informative part of the experience.

Do you remember when…?

Ultimately though memory is by far the most important aspect of the waiting line experience. Evidence suggests that both the start and the end of an experience are most critical in determining one’s memory of an event. This is dubbed the serial position effect and explains why the ending of an experience is in fact much more important than the beginning or middle. In essence, the events at the end of the line can make the whole wait seem worth while. In fact, thanks to “Cognitive Dissonance,” the perceived suffering actually enhances the enjoyment of whats to come. To what extent could you actually play with this? For example, most of us would perceive form filling while waiting in line to be a boring task that simply kills time. What if you were to design the form to test the participants beliefs on contributing private data? Would you choose to deliberately aggravate them before offering them the experience to highlight the concept? Perhaps you choose to accentuate the question of open source body data and prepare them mentally for their data going public? These kind of decisions are critical in determining whether the key aspects of the project are correctly expressed and understood.

This also relates to the “after service” aspect of project. We have already discussed ideas such as letting participants take home their own rhythms as an MP3 or in the form of sheet music, to the planned second phase of the project by where the data takes on a life of its own via an online platform where we not only present other forms of the data (such as sound compositions and data visualisations) but the data is offered open source for further scientific research. Such concepts allow the project to end on a positive note and stimulate positive recollection of the experience. This is perhaps something to be further addressed in the second phase of the project, (the creation of the open source web-platform) and yet, how this is managed and communicated via the first phase installation will already go a long way to determining the scope of the project in the long term, and this cannot be ignored.