Designing For Personality: Brunel Release Experimental Radio Software
A research team at West London's Brunel University today announces the launch of groundbreaking research into software personalisation. The PROSKIN Project is investigating whether there is a correlation between a user's profile and the design of software applications - i.e. how do different kinds of people respond to the colour and look of their phones or computer screens? The research is analysing feedback from the use of a 'WebRadio' - a customised Internet radio designed by the Brunel University team.
A user interface 'skin' is the term given to the layer of software that governs the look of an application - for example, the colour of the screen, where icons are situated, or which icons appear where. The PROSKIN (or PROfiled SKIN), research will help determine how people behave differently towards different skins - information which to date is not known. The study aims to identify and segment user types into small subsets with an 'identifying characteristic', matching up preferred skin types with user types. This will provide a set of user metrics for software developers to make informed design decisions, so that they can develop skins that will make applications more appropriate for different personality types.
Even subtle changes to a device's 'skin' may significantly change the quality of a users' interaction with the machine. As a result, the ability to 're-skin' or customise a user interface is fast-becoming a common feature of many software applications and operating systems - for example, Windows Media Player, WinAmp, Firefox, ICQ, MS Messenger, AIM all provide users with the ability to chose their skins.
Participants in the research simply have to download 'WebRadio', the customised Internet radio, designed by Brunel University. The WebRadio allows participants to change the user interface skin and log their interaction and provide feedback via questionnaires. Researchers will then analyse the log files and questionnaires to determine user interactive behaviour in relation with the user interface skin. The WebRadio can be downloaded at http://www.proskin.org
Nick Fine comments: “This is a great example of how software technology has progressed quicker than we can understand its implications. We can now change how an application looks easily using skins, but the question we have to ask is what effect this has. How can skins be best used to make users' lives easier? To answer this question, we have to understand a lot more about the users themselves and how they interact with technology.“
“It's an obvious question, but it's not one that there's currently much research on. The answers that we find won't necessarily give companies the ability to offer individual skins - that's not practical or commercially viable, but designing skins to suit types of user is realistic and achievable. The goal of our research is to try to find better, more personal ways of using tomorrow's software and applications.“