Saturday, February 16, 2013

Travels, Design and Gestures

February has been busy.  I traveled to the Illinois Speech-Language Hearing Association convention in Chicago last week, which was a great experience (nice meeting Jenna Rayburn!), except for the fact that I got stuck there because of the blizzard in Boston.  The ISHA staff were extremely helpful; I found out that my flight was canceled about 45 min before my Saturday presentation, and got on the phone immediately to start the rebooking process. Well, 45 min later, the airline was still working on it, and I had to hand my phone over to the organizers to finish the call so I could do my talk! About 90 min after that, we had confirmed my only option- to fly directly to Dallas where I was scheduled to present at the Social Thinking Provider's Conference on Tuesday. This turn of events was a little crappy, but at least I got some good steaks in Chicago while I killed time, and it was also excellent to be at the STPC, where Sarah Ward, Maryellen Moreau and of course Michelle Garcia Winner also presented!

So, I need to give this blog some love after being tired and on the road....after I get back from a vacation in LA, where I am headed right now! The wonders of slow Internet in the air!

But to share an idea for today, I recently wrapped up a series of posts on Google-based apps for iOS. In addition to providing access on iOS devices to Google's terrific tools for Search, Calendar, Mail, Documents and Maps, this series was partially about app design.  Google is doing a really nice job at designing minimalist, clean-looking apps that function smartly with gestures- a sweep here does this, a pinch here does that. It's a contrast to the tack Apple has taken in recent years with their apps, a design practice known as skeuomorphism. There's a vocab word for you! Skeuomorphism is basically the translation of analog (real) objects into a digital interface. In Apple's iOS apps, this is seen in the Camera app's display of a shutter on screen when you snap a photo, the leather bindings and torn pages of Calendar, the gears that actually have a turning animation when you update your OS in Settings, iMovie's theater front interface, page-turning animations in iBooks, etc. There was a big shakeup at Apple in the fall that was partially about skeuomorphism, and some bigwigs got fired.

Skeuomorphism in the Contacts App

In my recent column for ASHA Leader about app trends, I didn't get into this topic and the trend of more gesture-based design in apps. I am not saying I am against skeuomorphism. It's comforting to have something digital look like something we already understand. Many speech and language apps use skeuomorphism, with apps that look like books or board games or something else. Skeuomorphism is also a way to ground an app in a context or theme, which is helpful for learners. Kids dig this too. However, we should be aware of, comfortable with, and perhaps appreciative of other kinds of design.

Let's consider it "gesture literacy." It's important for us to be able to figure out what to do when there isn't a big button that says "Tap Here," and it's arguably important for us to be teaching kids how to navigate these digital spaces. And, in the process of feature-matching, we can avoid using apps that involve a lot of gestures when working with students who have fine or more significant motor difficulties.

Let's look at a couple more examples of this trend towards minimalist design, both of which are currently iPhone-only but will run on your big screen, and also relate to skills and concepts that can be targeted in language therapy.

Clear ($1.99) is an acclaimed to-do list app. You could consider trying it out if you are consulting with students who could benefit from this kind of color-coded reminders app. It also would be a fun way to work on sequencing, planning of tasks, or even connecting to curriculum and literature (make a to-do list for your favorite character). In using this app you'd also be teaching your students about the different kinds of gestures that can be used to interact with technology.

Solar ($1.99), also a recipient of rave reviews, is a gesture-based weather app. I have written frequently about how weather as a curriculum topic has a ton of language underpinnings for us to target: categories, description, temporal concepts such as seasons. This app's gestures also let you interact with time- and location-based information.

Just food for thought! Gesture on!

1 comment:

  1. This is a great site. Will be looking at it often. Good information on Google Apps.