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Blah, HCI

Thoughts from Project Glass and the discussions: thinking hard through telling a good story

Story matters. That’s one of the most important lessons I have learnt from Saul and our group.

Earlier this year I built a ‘visionary’ mobile browser that concentrates the essences from my thesis. The basic idea is: in that browser, tabs, bookmarks and menu items are conceptually placed on and around a person’s body. For example, imagine all the opened tabs (look up at your browser) are instead placed on a circular plane around your waist.

I know. It’s difficult to get the idea. What is more difficult is to convince people it’s a good one.

What is the story that would make this idea looks good? I had no clues until I had some *funny* experience that inspired me to base that story on my own:

That actually happened to me! I was sitting in the train painfully using my phone to search for Kendo equipment stores when I realized, hey, this might be the scenario that can ‘sell’ my wacky browser prototype. The pressing demand of using a browser on-the-go, and the hopeless suckiness of current mobile browser all together make room for an alternate idea, albeit, as the cliché goes, still needs formal user study to ensure its usability.

Story matters. Both to the storyteller and the audience.

I brought up this topic primarily because of the recent on-and-off discussion of Google’s Project Glass, especially a (what I think is) tirade from Cooper. Let’s just focus on the storytelling part. Cooper’s article thinks the Google video didn’t get the story right: while the coolness is pervasive in the video, the story behind it doesn’t fully make sense. The article enumerates a wealth of such examples which are almost given at a ‘frame-by-frame’ basis.

I feel bad for Google. Yes, we are being too harsh.

To summarize my take, I quote Steve Jobs: people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. I think this characterizes the essence of telling a story in a visionary video. Of course, there is always a dilemma – as seen from Project Glass: when we can do X, some people would kinda miss the time when we can’t; and they start to criticize X. For example, when we can straightly know the way to the ‘Music’ section from our glasses, some people would miss the time when we have to ask a salesperson; and they start to criticize this feature as ‘anti-social’.

I didn’t mean they are wrong. To me this is pretty normal. As one of our beloved researchers likes to repeat: everything is best for something and worst for something else. Of course so is your video. To me, what really matters is, as researchers (storytellers), by having to tell a compelling story in the video, we are forced to think really hard whether our idea is a good idea, and if not how we can make it a good and better one. When producing the story and the video, I always find all kinds of doubts, problems, weaknesses, flaws, misunderstandings… all which would never come to me if I simply keep my idea away from approaching how it would be perceived and used by real people in their real lives. Having used stories to elicit this useful information, I then re-shape my idea accordingly. As a result, the story and the idea improve mutually. Originally stimulated by the idea, the story now becomes a medium that bridges the idea to its audience.

In short, the pursuit of a good story makes us think hard, and in so doing it drives the quality of our idea and our research.


About Xiang 'Anthony' Chen

Making an Impact in Your Life


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