The Narrative Lens: User-Interface Relationships

Session Title

The Narrative Lens: User-Interface Relationships


Elia Nelson, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Session Type: Presentation

A cycle of novelty, exploration, and ownership seems to be common to diverse things that inspire deep attachments: artifact collections and curio cabinets, video games, romantic relationships. Yet mechanisms for enabling this kind of deep relationship with modern interfaces are still vague. In particular, can we design for that first phase of interaction — novelty, delight, and a feeling that something “magical” is happening? Are there clues in users’ verbal reactions to novelty that might indicate ways to help them move beyond the first feeling of delight?

Encounters with novel or semi-novel artifacts often inspire people to respond with short autobiographical narratives, snippets of stories that can offer designers a lens onto the beginning of a human-interface relationship. Drawing from inquiry into the ways that families interact with novel objects and interfaces in a children’s museum, and the ways in which museum staff facilitate those interactions, this presentation will discuss the value of conversational stories to interaction designers by reflecting on the following:

1. Is there research we can do to suggest avenues for “magical” interactions?
2. What are the advantages of an interface-as-facilitator metaphor?
3. How can interaction designers help new users move from novel interactions to a deeper exploration, thereby encouraging users to build a relationship with the interface?

Observations underscore the premise that a novel and delightful interaction provides an opportunity for users to spend time exploring and developing a deeper relationship with the interface. But clearly this is not always the case; in many cases even when a design succeeds at inspiring the feeling of magic, the interaction remains superficial, a short-term pleasure. In this session I will explore how attention to personal reactions to novelty, as articulated in short autobiographical stories, can provide designers with insight into helping users make the transition from novelty to exploration.


Elia is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Language, Literature, and Communication at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Her research interests include the uses of stories in science education, the relationship between narrative and identity, social technologies, affective objects and craft practice, value sensitive design, and the participation of children in design.