Interaction style and specification of the occasional user of digital interfaces
: perspectives from interdisciplinary assessment of virtual agent spatial guidance

  • Santiago Gil-Martinez

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Making the use of an unfamiliar digital user interface (Ul) easy, transparent and accessible is a challenging problem, particularly when the interaction occurs without any prior experience. Where and how the user pays attention is critical for the development of an effective human-computer interaction (HCI). The role of attention is particularly important in cases of an inexperienced user, unaccustomed to receiving valuable information for the interaction. Therefore, a recurring problem during an unfamiliar transaction is ‘what to do next’, where the user fails to anticipate the following step. This problem is well illustrated in the context of transactions using Self-Service Technologies, where the next step is likely to be unidentified by an inexperienced or first-time user, and accentuated by the lack of help or human assistance.

This thesis applies an interdisciplinary blend of Psychological, Animation and HCI principles relating to guiding users unfamiliar with the Ul to ease the digital interaction. A series of experiments address visuo-spatial mechanisms of guidance to orient and direct user attention during a search of target items inside a Ul. Dynamically animated virtual agent (VA) gaze and head cues were found to guide eye gaze and button presses faster than 1-image and 2- image agent cues. When these cues were animated using the principles of animation, they introduced a substantial increase in the likeability of the agent observed but also delaying the response latency. The use of the ‘exaggeration’ principle of animation was shown to provide the optimal balance between response speed and preference. Following on from the experiments, the thesis develops a formal categorisation for a user who occasionally uses UIs, the Occasional User (OU), and the specific development of a new interaction style for the OU, represented by a guideduser interface, that does not require any prior experience and only a minimum knowledge of to use it. In summary, this overall analysis of guidance mechanisms and unfamiliar HCI contexts indicates that VA visual cues influence the overt allocation of user attention and that, in combination with an ad-hoc interaction style, may be used to enhance occasional digital interactions.
Date of AwardAug 2013
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKenneth Scott-Brown (Supervisor)

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