This week’s esteemed guest author is Liz Danzico
Look around you. There’s a field surrounded by trees, a curb along a street, a raised subway platform, a sign-in invitation, a checkout process with five steps—indications of boundaries, of edges. Of frames. The field, the city, the transport system, the website—none have inherent boundaries. Yet they take on different boundaries when designers frame them. Designers, then, shape opportunities for user experience.
We make frames.
In places both private and public, social and separate, consumers are navigating frameworks that we put forth. We’re no longer telling the whole story, creating the whole experience for our users, we’re suggesting it. We’re not rulemakers, we’re makers of frames, wherever those frames happen. Stalwart as ever in vision, we set loose boundaries, and give over part of the product to our audience, giving way to new stories and behaviors.
“The behavior you’re seeing is the behavior you’ve designed for.” —Joshua Porter
People behave then according to the frames we set forth. Frame the opportunities intentionally, leaving room for new stories to be told, leaving room for behavior to unfold both true to the vision of the creator and in the imagination of consumer—the story that unfolds is a shared one.
Some principles from Erving Goffman, the father of frame analysis -
“People are unlikely to be aware of the framework.”
Frameworks allow people to locate, identify, and label an infinite number of concrete occurrences. People can move through the complex framework of a city or a website, but they’re unlikely to be aware of it or even be able to describe it if asked. People fit their actions into the ongoing world that support a set of activities—the “anchoring of activities.” It gives them context and interpretation from their point of view. Be clear, but leave room for stories to be told and to flourish.
“People tolerate the unexplained, but not the inexplicable.”
The boundaries we set forth should be loose in structure, but not obtuse. Too loose, and people can’t perceive them; too rigid, and they’ll feel constrained; too complex, and they’ll be confused. The experience is vulnerable, and care should be taken to understand users’ needs and contexts to anticipate the appropriate frame, as a break in frame is a break in context. They can be uninscribed, but not unexplainable.
As designers, as people, adjust the boundaries of your place. It is there you’ll see new meaning emerge, the behavior you designed for, and stories you never could have predicted.
—Liz Danzico is equal parts designer, educator, and editor. She is chair of the MFA Interaction Design Program at the School of Visual Arts. She also writes the brilliant blog bobulate.com.