I downloaded the iPhone app Weddar yesterday.
It’s a cute application that seeks to crowdsource the weather in the area that you’re in. It’s not about meteorological fact (22°C, 6mph Westerly wind, 78% humidity etc), but about how the weather is perceived.
I’m struck by the simplicity of its question, and the basic idea behind it: reporting on how it ‘feels’ is quietly brilliant.
For me, this is what the web does best: interpretation. Facts, it’s not so good at. Yes, you can get information from anywhere, on anything — and we’ve all used Wikipedia as a source — but unless it’s experienced or printed on paper, it doesn’t feel quite real. This is possibly because of the endlessly shifting sands of the internet, a fact changes regularly online; in print, it’s every few years or so, e.g. “the most recent study (2003) suggested that…”.
The web is empirical. It is full of alternative versions, experiences, perceptions and theories about the same events. That’s how it has naturally developed, and clearly how people want it to be. Whilst there has been a recent fetishisation of data visualisation and infographics, this is again down to interpretation of information. They may be displaying facts, but they’re doing so in a representational manner.
The web is increasingly being designed around glanceable information and dashboards, about receiving and understanding information quickly. Most of this is around statistical truth and data veracity, but that’s not the most important thing. In his TED talk about Behavioural Economics (ack), Rory Sutherland talks about online banking interfaces. To paraphrase, nobody wants the truth about their bank balance, they want a representation of it. e.g. if you’ve got £x left for the month, which is more than normal (or linked to a personal target), then a simple visual indication of that is more important than the pounds and pence.
Very little is designing for impressions or perception. BERG’s Schooloscope is a fairly recent piece of information design that offers an honest representation of data collected around school reports:
It also offers a summary ‘feeling’ of the institution:
That’s good and fine, but most parents would dig deeper into their children’s future school choice than a glanceable website. It does point towards things we should be developing around and designing for. ‘Feeling’ should be a central design conceit: designing for the elicitation and engagement around it. To provoke interpretations, alternative versions and develop a rounded perception.
Perception is all about storytelling. By piecing different perspectives, interpretations, experiences together — you can create a ‘multilayered empiricism’:
Advertising seems to get this more than most. Market research is leading in sentiment analysis of how brands are perceived, experiential marketing is attempting to craft relationships between consumers and product, and there is a rise in corporate transmedia seeking to tell engaging/convincing stories. Perception, relationships, and experiences.
All of these add up to measuring and owning how consumers ‘feel’ about a product, service or brand. If you can build things for people to have distributed feelings around, and engage with feelings around those things, then you’re onto a winner.