Towards More Better Whatzit Interaction

Jeffrey P. Bigham

Carnegie Mellon University


Whatzit Interaction has increasingly become a vital component of our lives.

One of the primary contributions of this paper are the implications for design for whatzit interaction that our work revealed.

Prototype Design Principles

We derived an initial set of design principles for whatzit interaction by retroactively describing the things we did as design principles. We then just kept those, since they already happened.

Whatzit Interaction Study

We recruited 8 people to participate in our study of Whatzit Interaction. None of the 8 participants had previously interacted with a Whatzit. All came to our lab and were presented the 14 Whatzit prototypes introduced in the last section in random order. We recorded interaction times and asked a bunch of Likert scale questions asking about how much they liked us.

Thus, while our study resulted in few (no) significant quantitative or qualitative differences between participants using any of our prototypes, or between our prototypes and a baseline of eating a hamburger in our lab, we learned many lessons that we believe have implications for design of future whatzit interaction, as we detail in our next section.

Implications for Design

Our work revealed a number of implications for design of tools, methods, and studies in the whatzit interaction space.

Know Your User

A primary result we learned by observing users interact with our prototype was that users did not interact with it in exactly the ways we had expected. Surprisingly, they didn’t know what all the buttons were for, or even know that the things we intended to be buttons were buttons at all, e.g., double right-clicking on the menubar’s edge triggered the main interaction we were testing, but few of our participants found this. Thus, an implication for design for technology in the whatzit space is to consider users early and often, perhaps even iteratively refining whatzit interactions with your users.

Recovering From Errors

Many of the participants in our studies had difficulty recovering from errors that the prototype made, even though in our pre-study tests these were quite rare. Upon interaction with the whatzit, the prototype sometimes entered an unrecoverable state, which required the research team member running the study to reset the prototype, losing all work up to that point, and generally frustrating participants. An implication for design uncovered in our research is thus that it is important to enable users to recover from errors when interacting with whatzits.

Whatzit Interaction May Not Be for Everyone

Few of our participants had heard of whatzits before the study, and none understood why they should interact with whatzits or how our prototypes contributed to them interacting with whatzits better in such a case as they could be convinced to want to do so. This is likely to be a continuing problem for this increasingly growing important area. Thus, an implication for design of whatzit interaction is that whatzit interaction designers should spend more time carefully laying out the argument for why whatzit interaction is actually very important and how people would be much better off if they wanted to interact with whatzits. We believe this is a fruitful line of future work, as we detail in the next section (see Future Work).


We would like to thank Whatzit Corp for funding our important research. We would also like to thank Casey Fiesler who was somehow involved. You should assume that any research she does going forward forevermore is tainted by this involvement. She cannot be trusted.

This page and contents are copyright Jeffrey P. Bigham except where noted.
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