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By (March 7, 2009) ()

CONCEPT DOC pdf: http://itp.nyu.edu/~dg1370/pt/MidtermConceptDoc-DG.pdf

PRESENTATION pdf: http://itp.nyu.edu/~dg1370/pt/EmailMidterm-DG.pdf

Concept: This project will attempt to make the chore of checking one’s emails and maintaining timely correspondence a responsibility that is a rewarding and fun experience.

Design Challenge: Today’s high-tech world has made it easier than ever to stay in touch with our family, friends, and colleagues. There are many ways to do so, from SMS text messaging to online social networks, creating a new set of pervasive human communication protocols. However, with ease of use comes the potential for receiving a great deal of communications, perhaps too many. Email especially can become overwhelming in today’s  “always-on” culture as many have to constantly manage their overflowing inboxes that contain important and time sensitive correspondence that can get lost amid  a multitude of spam. Too much email can lead from being overly obsessed with checking one’s inbox to neglecting one’s email and failing to reply to others’ messages.

The objectives of this project are the following:

    • Make the act of checking email fun and rewarding.
    • Maintain an empty or well-managed inbox.
    • Encourage regular and timely correspondence.

The design challenge is to find an effective way of achieving these objectives, namely through feedback and a reward/punishment scheme. The overall experience should be fun; the user should look forward to checking his email, which would encourage regular maintenance of his inbox. The user would also be rewarded for keeping an empty inbox and replying to emails. This would encourage the target behavior of managing one’s correspondence in a timely manner. The user would potentially be punished for not maintaining such regular behavior.

The project design will either be a graphical (software) or physical interface that would check and allow the user to manage one’s email. The interface would potentially be a figure given a personality that would have certain needs and require the user to fulfill them daily, similar to a pet. Its data point of view would be the number of emails sent and in the user’s inbox. The user’s responsibility would be to maintain an empty inbox, making the interface “happy.” Punishment would take the form of a “sad” interface, or one that is less stimulating.

Meeting the Challenge: Giving the experience of email a personality through its interface, perhaps by anthropomorphizing it, and making that personality depend on the user helps shift email from being a chore to being rewarding and fun. Just like feeding one’s pet or watering one’s plant, the responsibility becomes rewarding when one takes pleasure in the action as measured by a reward/punishment scheme of feedback.  The user’s behavior will change to the intended one if user action is required daily and there is noticeable positive change in the interface.

Target Audience and Outcome: The intended audience of this project is specifically those who find email a nuisance, specifically in keeping on top of the constant flow of email. It would be targeted to those that have large untended inboxes, may neglect their email, need motivation to organize their to-do lists, and get overwhelmed by maintaining correspondence. The desired outcome is for users to actively, consistently, and thoroughly read, note, and reply to all emails. Generally, this project hopes to shift attitudes, even for those who don’t have problems with email usage, so that people look forward to a creative and fun email experience.

Emotional Reaction: The immediate goal of this project would be to bring a sense of relief to users who have large inboxes not attended to. The aim is to elicit the same feeling that comes with finally cleaning a neglected mess at home, doing a large load of laundry after it has piled up for weeks, doing one’s taxes, etc. Numerous emails and long to-do lists can weigh on a person as there is an incessant uneasiness that things are not taken care of and in order. The feeling of relaxation or release from anxiety and distress is a powerful feeling that can motivate people to take care of other things in their life. The long term goal is to keep users in a sense of contentment that comes with order and organization and staying “on track.”

Sketch 1 – Flower Garden: A graphical user interface will provide access to basic email functions, such as retrieve, delete, reply, and send email. On the side panel a representation of a flower will slowly bloom. The more email that is read and moved from the inbox, or the emptier it is, the more light will shine on the flower. If an email is replied to, the flower will receive some water. The flower image has a week to bloom, and its size and color will be determined by the user’s behavior in regards to his email. The goal is to bloom as many healthy flowers as possible, which the user tracks over time in his virtual garden. Coding will implement Processing and Java.

Sketch 2 – eDog: A robotic dog that can access email data via a network connection. The dog will whimper if there are too many emails in the inbox, will wag its tail when outgoing emails are sent, and will bark affectionately when inbox is empty. Physical components will include servo motors, LEDs, speakers, and ethernet port or bluetooth.

Sketch 3 – Generative Art: A graphical art piece will be generated and expand over time. Each email read and removed from the inbox will create a colored pattern on the canvas. Replied emails will form a slightly different pattern and will shift the color scheme. However, the longer the inbox is left with read messages that have not been dealt with, the hazier and duller the image becomes. In order to maintain the aesthetic of the piece, the user will be persuaded to continue to manage his inbox regularly.

Recommended Sketch: Of the three sketches, the Flower Garden seems the most feasible and effective. While the anthropomorphized eDog is promising in relating positive and negative emotional feedback to specific behaviors, the novelty of a robotic dog is fleeting. Similarly, Generative Art is compelling only as long as the user feels engaged by the generation of the aesthetic design. One could lose interest fast. What is appealing of the Flower Garden is the fact that each week the user nurtures a new flower. Therefore, if the user made bad choices the week before, he can gain a fresh start and doesn’t feel too disheartened. In addition, the virtual garden will slowly grow over time, taking a long-term approach to inspiring behavior change. Perhaps to keep the user engaged, some user personalization on flower design would be beneficial. The timeline for project development includes the following stages: email access and navigation, interface design, visual/physical manipulation and code, and user testing.

March 7, 2009

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