Saturday, 22 March 2014

Five user modes in digital consumption

The fourteenth MEX took place this week, investigating ingredients of user experience across the themes of Create, Consume, Control, Communicate, Locate and Trust. I was fortunate to be invited by Marek Pawlowski to facilitate the creative sessions on the theme of Consume, where, over the course of four one-hour sessions, we sought to answer the following challenge:
"Illustrate 5 design techniques to eliminate distraction and restore focus to digital media."
In the investigation phase, during which the team explored elements of distraction and ways of inducing immersion, we considered some need states and user modes in the consumption of digital media. Since our final presentation largely dealt with the outputs of our work, I felt it would be worthwhile to indulge briefly here in relaying just five user modes in digital consumption, as identified by the team. These modes should in no way be considered to be complete and are not even necessarily the most common modes of consumption but they serve to illustrate a range of times, places, devices, channels and objectives in consuming digital media.

For a long time, I was dissatisfied by the near ubiquitous definition of TV consumption modes of lean forward and lean back. When these modes were first described, they sought to differentiate between the viewing of long-form, professionally-created, linear broadcast and that of short-form, user-generated, on-demand streaming. Last year, a study carried out for Thinkbox, produced a more textured landscape, in which TV-viewing need states can be classified across the six categories of Unwind, Comfort, Connect, Experience, Escape and Indulge. Whether you agree or not that these adequately encapsulate all need states, the study prompts us to consider the variety of user modes in digital media consumption, which clearly is extremely broad and probably impossible to index entirely.

Without further ado, here are five user modes of consuming digital media.

1. Commute

Occuring during the twice daily journeys to and from the workplace, this London-centric finding considered the need for distraction from the confines of the Underground and the other passengers pressing upon the commuter. Using a smartphone - or tablet - to skim over, for example, the Evening Standard's iPhone Newsstand app, the reader dives into the content as a distraction from the unpleasant reality but will have forgotten almost the entirety of the content by the time he reaches his destination.

Time: morning and evening commutes
Place: Underground
Devices: smartphone, tablet
Channels: news apps
Objective: distraction

2. Business

With emphasis on the need for timely information in the financial markets but applicable to a range of roles and industries, this consumption mode is about receiving information, data and analysis at the start of the day and at times throughout to ensure that the individual has the knowledge and understanding required to perform their business tasks. While print media still plays a role here, tablets and PCs are pre-eminent with specific articles accessed via dedicated apps, such as the FT, or from email news alerts.

Time: start of work day; throughout the day
Place: workplace
Devices: tablet, PC (alongside print media)
Channels: news apps; email alerts
Objective: to be expert in chosen field of business

3. Inspiration

Of importance to those involved in creative industries, the Inspiration consumption mode is a lengthy, highly-engaged period of time viewing the work of other creators. It entails full immersion into videos on, for example, Vimeo, without distractions in order to ready oneself for one's own creative indulgence.

Time: daytime
Place: workplace, usually
Devices: PC/laptop ie larger screen
Channels: video, especially Vimeo
Objective: full immersion and preparation for creativity

4. Evening Escapism

Much like the Unwind TV need state, Evening Escapism is a release mode, shaking off the shackles of the day's labour. In this mode, the individual might indulge in multi-screen consumption of different forms of media, from broadcast TV to social media, without there being any relation between the media consumed.

Time: evening, after work
Place: home - living room/bedroom
Devices: multi-screen - TV, laptop, tablet, phone
Channels: any
Objective: de-stress/unwind

5. Learning

Younger members of the team talked about a growing trend in casual learning. It's an individual activity but is likely to be discussed with other members' of one's social circle. In a slightly disengaged state of mind, the individual might watch - or merely listen to - typically short YouTube videos on how to do or make something. One example given was how to make an origami swan, for which several videos exist, including the one embedded below that has been seen close to 3 million times.

Time: evening
Place: home - bedroom/living room
Devices: laptop, tablet
Channels: video, especially YouTube
Objective: casual learning as a form of entertainment