Not what I was expecting

Colorful and stylized hard plastic animals

UX not only applies to the virtual but to any touch point that conveys your brand experience in the real world; active or passive. You’re still a user because you are consuming, taking in; creating your environment. Various cues along this user journey set expectations. If these expectations are not supported, then your perception changes.

These basic animal shaped toys have been in my doctor’s office for years. I’ve always liked them but had never touched them. Their shapes and colors always made me think of them as solid but soft, structurally sound yet approachable and playful.

I was recently in the office and a mother was letting her small son play with them. He picked one off the couch and dropped it on the wooden floor. It made a hard, sharp sound that surprised me and just like that they were different. My perception of them changed instantly and mild disappointment set in. What I had once considered comforting became loud and disruptive. This single experience in my journey caused me to lower my expectations of something I once looked forward to.

Every detail, perception and expectation matters and must be considered if you want to provide a good journey. This part of the story isn’t a deal breaker, but I was a bit let down.

The power of touch

Tactile feedback gives us a rich and visceral way to experience our environment. It allows us to discern things such as shape, texture, volume, density, and relationships between objects.

Current use of tactile stimuli in touch screen devices is primarily addressed through vibration. Research has also produced surfaces that are able to physically distort a screen.  It’s not unreasonable to think that touch screen devices might one day be able to mimic more complex and subtle surface texture.

Meaning is ultimately determined by context. The meaning of one thing is determined by its relationship to other things. This is the same principle we employ when we organize visual information on a screen. We use elements like white space, color, alignment, grouping, and hierarchy to draw attention and give meaning to elements and sets of information. The use of texture on a touch screen device could provide users another facet of understanding and context.

Touch could make information more accessible on surface devices. A sight impaired user might be able to complete a task through touch alone. Tactile qualities could also be used to support visual elements, skeuomorphic or not.

The possibilities for tactile feedback on touch screen devices are likely as varied and nuanced as the tasks themselves. Of course, each implementation would have to be considered within its own needs and design constraints, just like any other smart design element.