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We had a Pye radio set in our home when I was a child [this is only an indicative image], and being ‘techno-savvy’, I was often asked to set radio stations. I still recall the tactile pleasure of turning the serrated ‘tuning’ and ‘fine tuning’ knobs, pressing the MW, SW, etc. band buttons, and of course the volume and bass/treble knobs. The physical act made me vividly realize I was tuning into various radio signals of different frequencies that literally travelled around the world without much loss of quality.

When we design digital product experiences today, we draw on a myriad such instances of physical manipulation, to bring the same tactile experience to digital interactions. Here is an instance from the ‘culture on audio’ app Raedhun, where one of the design challenges was to make content discovery easy and enjoyable. Being an audio app, clearly the way to go was by using the generic formats used by iTunes and countless other music apps, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. In addition however, we came up with a ‘Mood Navigator’ UI, which would enable the user to discover content via mood, which were represented as colours. Just trailing your finger over the colour spectrum would pop up moods, which was a fun activity by itself, especially as you could lighten or darken the spectrum by virtually ‘turning’ the dial – and unlock correspondingly lighter or darker moods. Long press at any point, and the app would take you to the audio listing screen with suggestions for the corresponding mood.

“When we design digital product experiences today, we draw on a myriad such instances of physical manipulation, to bring the same tactile experience to digital interactions.”

In another instance, while developing a UX for a tablet-based digital PoS for pharmacy shops, we researched their current method of keeping a note of transactions – especially during extremely busy periods. We found they use small chits, which they piled up in a corner, and at the end of the day used them to feed in the detailed transaction reports on their PC spreadsheet app. Our solution was to replicate the chits in digital form on the tablet UI – so that they would in effect be not doing anything new or different than their current practice. Of course, the digital chits made the looking-up and noting-down process much faster and more precise, and also saved time and labour on the end-of-the-day tallying job. Another instance of digital building on analog.

The fact is that we humans are built for sensorial interaction and engagement with our world. This also profoundly affects our sense of aesthetics and pleasure – just watch a bunch of kids playing with marbles! The positive memories or impressions of these haptic interactions go deep down into our pleasure trove, so if we can tap into these while designing digital products & interactions, they are that much more likely to get loved by our users.

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Arvind Lodaya

Author Arvind Lodaya

Arvind Lodaya trained in Product Design and consults across branding, design and innovation. He advises & teaches at premier institutes in India & overseas—and has been involved in several startups, including an environmental NGO, a museum on conflict, a strategic design consultancy and a design-led business incubator. He is also Senior Advisor for Radical Skills, and Director at PropelLabs.

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