HFID :: Inspirational Designs

Physical Identity and Privacy - Dorm Rooms

Chris Marra's Dorm Room

As a parallel to the concept of an online identity, expressed by a Facebook profile, I decided to explore the concept of a physical identity being expressed by one's room. As an R2 for the past two years I've put thought into what the things in my room tell about me - a Solidworks poster, a personalized life-size 18th birthday card, FIRST Robotics posters, two trampolines, a golf putting green, etc. Would people assume I was a mechanical engineer who did FIRST and liked playing golf but occasionally bouncing on trampolines? Everything that I choose to actively display in my room - or even make accessible, lets visitors make judgements about who I am and allows them to see a little bit further into my life - just like interests and likes on Facebook do. In essence, what you show in your room is a slightly higher-resolution real-life version of what knowledge you choose to put into your Facebook profile.

However, this only reflects the idea of content censoring in real-life - what about privacy settings? At Olin, the decision to keep your key in your door is a great analogue for this. Placing your key in your door creates the perception of your room being a little bit more open and encourages people to come inside. Keeping your door open when you're in your room makes it clear to people that you are ok with public access to the content in your room. A closed door with no key in it, means there is a very high barrier of entry to accessing someone's room and the information about their identity contained within. Some people might prefer to make sure they are in control of this access if they have things in their room they don't want to be public knowledge.

These concepts of both content-censoring and control over privacy settings on Facebook clearly have parallels in real life that are reflected by the ways we setup and use our rooms in communicating with other people. This is interesting to consider when moving forward.

The Photoshop Filter Preview

The Photoshop Filter Preview

The Photoshop filter and web-export previews are two examples of the many "digital preview" systems we brainstormed in our initial inspirational designs list. Other examples include print preview systems and the functionality of many modern digital cameras, which allow their multitude of fun effects and filters to be previewed live on screen before taking a photo.

The essence of these systems is that they provide real-time digital previews and feedback to the user about the state of their current settings. In the Photoshop FIlter Gallery (see photo), for example, the user is able to select a filter (B), manipulate its settings (C) and see a direct preview of the outcome (A). Two key concepts of this interaction are:

  1. The preview allows the user to see (and alter) the outcome of the settings without having to commit to them. A contrasting example would be an old analog photo camera, where you would only see the outcome of your camera adjustments after developing the physical photos.
  2. Depending on the power of the computer running Photoshop, the filters preview will be shown in a lower resolution than the final image outcome. The same principle applies to print previews, which are often shown in very small sizes and give more of a general/holistic view of the page's appearance when printing.

These two interactions can be used as an inspiration for our designs moving forward, as the current Facebook privacy system does not do a good job of communicating to the user, the outcome of individual settings on the privacy page. There is currently not real a notion of "previewing" or seeing a low-resolution holistic overview of ones settings.

Home AV Receiver and Audio Mixer

Mixer 1Mixer 2

Home audio systems are complicated, but its complexity is necessary because of the diversity of information flowing through it: various channels of digital and analog audio and video. Even though the number of potential inputs and outputs is daunting, when connected it is clear what the system takes in and puts out, as DVD players and cable boxes are connected to AV inputs, speakers are wired to channels based on their position in the room, and a video output connects to a TV, for example. With a basic understanding of the types of inputs and outputs connected, the function of the device is clearer despite the user having little knowledge of the execution of that function. In order to assist the user in controlling the adjustment of their content, various types of feedback are used. The system is initially configured using menu inputs with a text display, but in normal operation, the user generally selects inputs and outputs to be active with buttons or knobs. Feedback is provided directly as the outputs are accessible by design; sound is audible while the volume is adjusted, for example, and video output can be immediately viewed and evaluated, and the system settings corrected if necessary.

A professional mixer exists in a different context, but serves essentially the same purpose — to adjust information flowing through the system. For this reason, its back panel is similar to that of the home AV receiver, and clearly displays the sources and recipients of said information. The dials and sliders on the front panel are abstract in the absence of information, but once the user listens to the output and establishes a mapping between settings and the sound produced, they understand the physical setting of the controls to relate to a particular adjusted output.

In the most abstract sense, both systems work by taking in information or content, then acting upon or adjusting the information in some way, and finally output it in the desired form. In this way, they are relevant to the design of Facebook; its sources of information, the users, are concerned with how and to whom their information is displayed while the processes carried out within Facebook remain opaque. A clear correlation between posted content, the settings of privacy controls, and the result published would, like a mixer, allow users to creatively regulate how their information is shared online.

Toyota Prius

Prius System Monitor

The Toyota Prius has long provided users with nearly-instantaneous feedback on their driving habits. In the center of the Prius is a touch-screen LCD that provides a visual guide of how power is being distributed in the vehicle at that particular moment. For example, when the user depresses the brake the display indicates that the vehicle is using its regenerative braking capabilities to recharge the battery. This instantaneous feedback becomes useful as it allows users to learn how their behavior impacts the power distribution of the vehicle. This feedback system allows users to learn that the battery is used for gentle acceleration, but heavy acceleration requires engine power. Users can then train themselves to observe and use this information to drive more efficiently.

Prius Consumption Monitor

Additionally, the Prius provides a second window that presents a graph of vehicle efficiency over time. This greatly reduces the amount of time before the user receives this information. (In most cars, one has to fill his or her tank, read the odometer, and crunch the numbers.) This fast feedback loop encourages users to consistently try and improve their driving habits to decrease fuel consumption.

The instantaneous feedback system provided on the Prius is an example of where Facebook could go. Instead of simply changing your privacy settings on Facebook and discovering the impact of those privacy settings at some later point (just like finding out your fuel consumption after you have refilled the gas tank), Facebook privacy controls should provide useful, instantaneous feedback. This feedback should allow users to “drive” their privacy such that they can provide custom control over how information is disseminated.

Alarm Clock

Alarm Clock

Every day we face different objects that have earned our trust after demonstrating that they work efficiently and reliably. Many of these objects earn this trust after being tested or when demonstrating their competence in-use. A good example of such a product is an alarm clock. Before completely relying on it to wake us up on a Monday morning, many of us will first test the clock to see whether it works, to see how it works and to hear what the alarm sounds like (think of all the times you have set the alarm to go off in one minute just to be sure that the system works). Some of the other products and items in our everyday lives that earn our trust are household appliances, watches, iPods and many more. The ABS system in a car might also earn your trust after the first time it is activated and very obviously prevents you from sliding and loosing control over your car.

We are looking to investigate ways how Facebook can better earn the trust of its users. Currently, the system has so many diverse functionalities, many of which cannot be "tested" by the user.

Other Inspirational Designs

Calendar Sharing
Calendar sharing in both Google Calendar and Outlook revolves around assigning specific permissions - free/busy info only, read, read/write, etc - to specific people. This is a good example of controlling privacy by only allowing certain people access to content - although it is a much different set of circumstances.
LinkedIn
Specialized social networks like LinkedIn provide resources that allow users to share only a limited set of their personal information. This essentially represents automatic content filtering and potentially reduces concerns surrounding privacy.
Skype
Skype's buddy list model works by reciprocal friendships - just like Facebook - where a request must be made and then confirmed before either can see the other's online status.
Google Latitude
Google Latitude's friend sharing model requires a reciprocal friend request, but upon sending or accepting one it prompts the user to select what level of privacy to share with someone based on large generic buckets - Hide, City Level Location, and Best Location. This setting can be changed at any time, but there is no easy way to view who is in each group overall.
Foursquare
Foursquare has no way of creating privacy groups - any check-in to the service is broadcast to all of a users' friends. It too uses a reciprocal friend model - although users can choose where they broadcast their check-ins between connected services - Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter.
Email
According to our users, email is still perceived to be one of the most “private“ forms of digital communication. As most email messages are targeted to a specific person or to groups of people, users feel more "aware" about what is happening to their content.
Attorney-Client Privilege
Unless explicitly told so, any information a client conveys to a lawyer must remain strictly confidential according to attorney-client privilege. In order to be careful, no lawyer would ever test this based on precedent, or allow you to generically override it - they would verify individually on a case by case basis to make sure they aren't violating your privacy.
Online Banking
Most users of online banking software have a reasonable expectation that their information is kept securely on a locked down server that other people cannot access without their permission. Their data would not be given away to advertisers or displayed publically. Even without reading the privacy policies specifically, they already have an established expectation of what their privacy relationship is going to be like with the bank.
Light dimmer
Light dimmers provide immediate feedback about the current state of a user's setting.
Replacing the battery in a smoke detector
The act of replacing a battery in a smoke detector is typically done once or twice a year to ensure it is of proper working order and will not fail when it is needed most. In essence, this is the exact same thing as 'spring cleaning' of Facebook privacy settings, a recurring theme of action we noted in our users.
Automobile warning indicators
Many modern vehicles automatically alert the users as to when maintinence is needed and what that maintenance is. This takes the responsibility of remembering away from the user.
Grandfather clocks - transparency of function
Clocks are complex devices, but by displaying the swinging pendulum, users can understand how the time is kept and have an intuitive sense of its accuracy and precision.
Rube Goldberg machine
Causality in its most basic form. The viewer is unconcerned with why certain elements were chosen or how they were engineered, but they can clearly see how one thing affects another, giving them a comprehensive visual overview of the system.
Wireless router configuration panel
A wireless router configuration panel is a great parallel to Facebook's privacy settings for many reasons. It contains a high-level overview of its settings - of which there are literally hundreds - and attempts to organize them in a logical manner. Further, it is crucial to understand the lingo and implications of settings because there are often no ways to preview them, and difficult to access help information.
Web App Installs - setting up MediaWiki
Very similar to the wireless router configuration panel, web application installs also contain many configuration settings, with difficult documentation, a lack of real-time feedback on the effects of changes, and the requirement of a lot of domain knowledge.
Web analytics software
Web analytics software (e.g. Google Analytics) provides a highly synthesized form of information that attempts to remove useless details while only providing useful high level information.
Wattson - alternative approaches to displaying a product's state
Going beyond the numerical data display of a clock or thermometer, some devices like the Wattson display information in an ambient manner — relaying an abstract concept like temperature or stock price through a color or intensity of light.
Space Shuttle operations room
A Space Shuttle operations room constantly provides all parties with topical overviews of information (on wall displays). It also provides the mission manager with a fine degree of control over the mission. He only need shout across the room to make something happen.
Nutritional information sheets
The nutritional information bar provides consumers overview of the ingredients in a particular food. The intention is that with this information, the user can make an educated decision about whether to eat the particular food or not.
LabView
Every element of the “back panel”, or programming interface, has a corresponding “front panel” user-facing element that allows the user to adjust or view information about the element as a program runs.
Windowing Systems on Computers
Although we don't normally associate Windowing Systems with the concept of instant feedback, having windows resize and reflow content inside of themselves live is a fairly new concept. When we move or resize windows, we are being given active information about the effects by seeing its position update, its size update, and often what the contents will look like under these new settings.
Google Instant Search
Searches respond to your typing in real-time, allowing you to find relevant information more quickly as well as suggesting content for you to view based on your first few search terms. Additionally, it gives instantaneous feedback on how your changes to settings are affecting content.
News Websites
These resources generally show a high level dashboard of multiple articles but specifically highlight the most important ones. This allows users access to all data, but brings relevant data to the forefront. The TED Website takes a similar approach to visually prioritizing information on its front page.
CNC Machinery
CNC machinery is often very difficult to understand and use. Machines often have a plethora of buttons for every function. However, once learned, these buttons allow the user to be very efficient.
Old electronics with buttons for every function
Old electronics generally had a one-to-one relationship between buttons and function. This relationship is generally easier to decypher than a more complex relationship as each button has a clear and consistent meaning. Nevertheless, finding the button is difficult.
Cruise Control
Cruise Control is another example of receiving instant feedback about settings changes. However, it's only direct feedback comes from sensing the changing velocity of a car - most cars do not show an actual indicator of the set point other than watching the spedometer.
Googling for yourself
In order to understand the personal impact that we have on the internet, many people will now Google for themselves to see what elements of their personal information are available publically.
Voting and Elections
During election periods the media is often incredibly influential on informing the public about relevant issues and options. For Facebook privacy settings they have been too, and a lot of people base their decisions to change privacy settings off what they hear in the media.
Olin College Suites
We found that Olin College dorm suites were a good analog for the Friends list on Facebook. In both cases, you are sharing elements of your personal life with a group of people, not all of whom you would consider very close friends. We heard similar feedback about the Facebook Friends list from our users, who had many different groups of friends within their list.
Google Maps - Live Settings Preview
When viewing travel directions on Google Maps the user can drag points along the route and a live preview of where the new route, along with its new distance and new time.