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Dialog with an Uncertain Future / Excerp (Irregular updates)

The 8th Installment"The Rapid Growth of Digital TV from a 'Long-Term Usability

by Masaya Ando from the Master Program of Innovation for Design and Engineering

A recent newspaper report noted that the take up of digital TV compatible with terrestrial digital broadcasting had exceeded 60%. Whether this figure is interpreted as large or small will depend on the person. For my part, I’m very interested in tracking the growth of digital TV. My interest likes in watching how people’s “mental model” will change as digital TV enters widespread use with its diverse functions. By “mental model,” I mean the functions and structure that users have in their mind for the equipment they operate.

Traditionally, TV was synonymous with easy operation, in that you can watch it with just the press of a button. What you could do was simple: watching broadcast programs only. In contrast, today’s digital TV is “video information equipment,” with a complex array of diverse functions. It provides more than program data and electronic program schedules. More and more products that provide functions that, for instance, allow you to record programs to hard disk, or allow you to access the Web and use a video on-demand service.

This increase in functionality means an expansion of the operating system. Superior operability becomes a major challenge for manufacturers. If users never use the appealing functions, they are meaningless.

Research into creating easy-to-use products is called usability research. I have been conducting intensive usability research, jointly with major home appliance manufacturers. They see to create easy-to-use products, and are constantly adopting initiatives for usability. Yet most of the current initiatives focus on improving usability of individual products, and little work is done on programs to consider user experience from a long-term perspective.

Products like television sets are durable goods that will be used for many years after purchase. Over this period, users need to follow the operating systems. Human beings adapt well. Even if products are difficult to use, people will get used to them if they consistently use them over long periods. They can also gradually develop new mental models through the user experience. Once they become accustomed to operations and develop mental models, they will find it difficult to change. This appears to have an impact on their behavior in using and purchasing other products.

Let’s take a familiar example. The most recent version of the most widely used Japanese word processing software made a major change to its interface. As a consequence, we can presume that there are many people who know what they want to do, but have difficulty finding the right menus. The same applies to digital TV. In other words, there is a possibility that the mental models users have for the operability of widely used digital TV may have repercussions for the interface designs of other products in the future.

Considering usability and interfaces from a long-term perspective should be essential in terms of benefits for both manufacturers and users. For example, one manufacturer strategically provides interfaces for operating systems common to any product. If the same operating systems are provided, users will have fewer hurdles to clear in learning how to use the product. This strategy is a good example of considering usability from the long-term perspective.

As for this concept of considering usability from a long-term perspective, which I explained above, I call it “LTU” (short for “Long-Term Usability”). I have proposed this concept for several years, and have been conducting research intensively. Still, this research is only a beginning, and we have a way to go before we have knowledge that can be applied for practical uses.

I would like to focus on what impact the rapid growth of digital TV will have on mental models of users in the future, while continuing research to help create innovative and user-friendly products.

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  • The 9th Installment

    “The Tactics of the Underdog”

    by Hiroshi Koyama,
    Professor, Master Program of Information Systems Architecture
  • The 8th Installment

    "The Rapid Growth of Digital TV from a 'Long-Term Usability

    by Masaya Ando from the Master Program of Innovation for Design and Engineering
  • The 7th Installment

    “The Parable of the Sower”

    by Yuka Kato,
    Professor, Master Program of Information Systems Architecture