Interface Critique – The Vtech Rhyme & Discover Book

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This toy describes itself as an “interactive baby book,” and is meant for kids from 6 months to 3 years (though my daughter lost any real interest after age 2). In general, it’s got some interesting features, but I ended up hiding it away from my kids because, ultimately, I think, it fails–downright obnoxiously–in its professed purpose as a “book.”

The good

Affordances – overall, decent

  • Its sturdy but flexible-enough construction allows for easy, natural, even slightly enjoyable page-turning.
  • The animal buttons on the sides of the pages are very easy and discover and use. They invite attention more than well enough and are solidly pushable. The “sliding” buttons on the interior pages also provide relatively easy discovery and use.
  • It succeeds in looking and feeling both like a book and like a toy.

Function and feedback – highly effective (unfortunately…)

  • Auditory and visual feedback are both highly responsive and engaging.

The bad

Mapping – the toy’s true undoing

  • The main culprits are the animal buttons on the sides of each page–which are, in short, a feature that serve as such a terrible distraction that it made me conclude that the toy is bad for kids. There is very little rhyme or reason to exactly what these buttons will do in any given situation–say something about the animal or start the singing of a song on one of the facing pages (but which one?). They flash during any and all actions and are simply too big to ignore. Given their size, it can even be difficult (for adults, let alone children) to turn the pages without grabbing/pressing them.

Function and feedback–conspiring to distract

  • The on-page slider buttons and the center (“binding”) musical note button also serve as distractions and are far from obvious as to their function. The pressing of any button anywhere on the device stops the current action (such as the singing of a song, which is meant to be done in  conjunction with the words on the page) and begins a new one. “Reading” this book with my kids, I think I was able to get through just one song in its entirety one out of every ten attempts.

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Sharp, “Affective aspects”

In this chapter of Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction, Sharp, in short, “describes various interaction mechanisms that can be used to elicit positive emotional responses in users and ways of avoiding negative ones” (p. 214). He opens his discussion by defining the notion of “affective aspects,” including a thumbnail sketch of the history of human-computer interactions and emotional response, noting that, rather than exploring ways to get a computer system “to show an emotion to a user,” this chapter will “consider how interactive systems can be designed to provoke an emotion within the user” (p. 182).

Much of Sharp’s exploration of this topic is pretty straight-forward–so much so that, to be honest, I found a fair amount of it pretty obvious (and maybe a little cranky and catty, too). I did, however, find Sharp’s consideration of the controversial debate around anthropomorphism in interaction design–which I didn’t realize existed–to be thought-provoking. I’m curious enough to start keeping an eye out for how human or non-human any device/program/etc. is “acting.” I also found helpful the brief listing of the kinds of negative responses that poor interface design can elicit in a user: “mak[ing] people look stupid, feel insulted or threatened” (p. 189).