In my process of creating a smart phone application that enables birders to identify, annotate, and share birdsong recordings, I am looking to gain more insight in the area of user experience design. Admittedly, I am well aware of my ignorance of even the most basic ideas behind designing effective user experiences. I come from a more back-end design background, focusing on implementing the “engine” of application more than the overall user experience. I often think of the latter as a user interface design oriented problem, so my self-proclaimed lack of a developed visual aesthetic sense tends to be reason enough to either ignore the design duties or leave them to someone else who is more gifted in those areas. However, in reading Marc Hassenzahl’s book Experience Design: Technology for All the Right Reasons, I have come to a greater understanding of the depth of experience design that I hope will encourage me to approach the problem with more insight and confidence than before.
In his book, Hassenzahl provides an insightful discourse on the topic of user experience design. He presents user experience design as an opportunity to mediate meaningful experiences for users through the use of products that incorporate interactive technology. Interestingly, he asserts that there is a fundamental separation between the experience created by the use of the technology and the inherent meaningfulness of the experience itself. Therefore, technology cannot necessarily provide significant meaning to an experience; rather, it serves to bring out that inherent meaningfulness in new and hopefully effective ways.
In my process for creating an application that can assist birders in the field, one of my primary goals in the beginning stage of designing this technology is to discover what makes the experience of birding meaningful to people. Since I am not a birder myself, I have consulted friends of friends who are avid birders. One of the most helpful questions thus far has been asking people to describe experiences they’ve had with birds that have had a strong impact on them. Although I am still waiting to receive more responses before analyzing the answers deeper, most of the responses hinted at the significance of being able to understand and connect with nature on a deeper level. By listening to the birds and attempting to identify their species, people feel closer to nature. I believe that the crowdsourced recording, listening, and identification aspect of this project will help to facilitate the meaningfulness of that experience in an effective way. Specifically, I plan to incorporate gaming features that will provide incentives for users to listen and record more, such as an identification tracker that tells users how many bird species they have recorded and identified. Features such as this will allow users to visualize how many birdsongs they have connected with, which will hopefully encourage them to continue to connect with nature more.
Avid birders often feel compelled to listen to birds and identify their species. One of the participants simply wrote that he/she is “always listening to birds,” whether walking through the woods or walking to work. However, the learning curve that is required for a birder to become proficient at identifying a bird by its sound is steep, so a technology that could assist birders in this process would help new birders hone their skills quickly. Hassenzahl writes about the importance of creating a user experience that exposes a universal psychological need, creates the urge to fulfill that need, and satisfies that urge. Hassenzahl’s points beg the question, “What is the psychological need that birders wish to fulfill?” In my opinion, this need is the connection with nature that influences so many birders to undertake the challenge of birding. They want to feel like they have a greater familiarity with the nature that surrounds them, and knowing the species of the birds singing near them provides that familiarity. I think of this experience as being similar to the feeling you can get when walking down the street you live on – you know your neighbors, your neighbors know you, and telling each other hello provides a sense of belonging to the neighborhood. Similarly, birders want to feel like they are a part of nature by knowing the names of the birds that surround them.
Now that I’ve identified the psychological need of a deeper connection with nature that birders wish to fulfill in their experience of birding, my goal is to create an application that incorporates a user experience that both creates the urge to fulfill that need and provides users with the means to fulfill the need. Therefore, I need to craft my application in such a way that it communicates to birders that using the app in the field will help them become closer to nature by enabling them to better identify bird species through their songs. The primary feature of this application that will communicate this is the crowdsourcing component, which puts the call to action on the everyday birder to play his part in contributing to the collective understanding of birdsong by the birding community. The app will need to be presented to birders in such a way that they understand that using the app helps both themselves and others to form a deeper connection with nature through a deeper understanding of nature. Specifically, one feature of the application will involve asking birders to verify the correctness of the species that other birders attributed to a birdsong recording. Each birder’s identification accuracy will be tracked and utilized to determine a confidence interval for that birder’s identifications. Thus, birders are incentivized to use the app more often to both hone their skills at identification and fulfill the collective urge to more fully understand birdsong.
It is my hope that birders will come to see the Name That Bird application as a useful resource for them as they seek to become better birders. In order for that to happen, I need to design the experience of the app around the most important psychological desires of the birder: forming a deeper connection with nature. By focusing on crowdsourcing and gaming features, Name That Bird will provide the user experience that will fulfill the need of the birders that use it.