This morning while doing a bit of blog housekeeping, I realized that I'd accidentally left the PComp observation assignment in unpublished draft form on Wordpress. However, instead of immediately hitting the Publish button to avoid further delay, I decided to do a bit of additional digging regarding the origins of the interactive technology that I chose to observe.
With camera and notebook in hand, I stationed myself on a barstool at Hi Fi in the East Village - a good ol' divey kind of place, within walking distance from my apartment, with a decent selection of beers on draught - and what's more, Hi-Fi happens to be the home of EL DJ (Extra Large Digital Jukebox), the best jukebox in the city, as far as I'm aware (full tracklist can be viewed here). What better place to watch people interact with technology while investigating from a user interface perspective the accuracy of Hi Fi's claim that theirs is "the best jukebox on the planet"?
EL DJ was custom-built "from a refurbished PC and some off-the-shelf additions," and houses tens of thousands of songs in MP3 format - many of which were manually uploaded from the owner's CD collection back in 2002.
Users spend the longest amount of time perusing all the choices that the jukebox presents to them. From personal experience, I doubt that this perusal time poses a problem to the majority of jukebox users, as many people seem to enjoy scanning the music at their leisure. On several occasions, users were approached by other people they didn't seem to know, who were curious/interested to see what music they were considering playing on the jukebox - so it could be said that the jukebox is a good way to meet new people through common interests - or at least spark conversation.
The EL DJ user interface consists of a trackball/mouse to scroll through the music on the display, and a keypad on which the user must key in the number of the song as displayed on the screen. Patrons seemed to experience the following problems with the user interface:
- Scrolling through albums using the trackball-mouse is rather unwieldy, as the movement doesn't always seem to be accurate. Also, the user must remove their hand from the trackball in order to key in the number of the song they want to hear.
- Many users seemed to have a bit of trouble entering their song choices into the jukebox - not only because they had to remove their hand from the trackball, but due to the length of the numbers that correspond to each song. As the night went on, some patrons seemed to have a bit of trouble remembering these five-digit numbers - and more than once, I heard users telling the person next to them to remember the song number as they keyed it in.
- Upon entering her song choices into EL DJ, one woman realized a moment too late that she'd misread a song number - perhaps an indication that the screen is too far away from the physical interface, or perhaps suggesting that the mapping isn't quite right. Upon observing this, the following quote came to mind from Norman's The Design of Everyday Things: "If an error is possible. someone will make it. The designer must assume that all possible errors will occur and design so as to minimize the chance of the error in the first place, or its effects once it gets made. Errors should be easy to detect, they should have minimal consequences, and, if possible. their effects should be reversible."
Hi Fi's jukebox houses a staggering selection of sweet tunes, but the interface leaves room for improvement. Devices located in bars should be so easy, even a cavemen could do it.