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Why IT casts a magic spell

Posted on 9 December 2003

New technology infuriates some - and enchants others.

Scientists at the University of York, are studying the reasons behind this 'enchantment', and their work may help designers and manufacturers of new technologies.

Researchers will look at case studies of consumers e-shopping or using picture phones, and talk to designers about how they try to inspire the people who buy new technology goods.

Dr Peter Wright of the Department of Computer Science at the University of York said: "We've made big strides in designing work-related IT like computers so that people feel more comfortable using them, but there has been an explosion in domestic and leisure computing and other technology which poses new design challenges."

For example, Dr Wright believes that mobile phones attract young people because they channel friendship, companionship, play, and communication. The look, feel and performance of a mobile is of more importance to them than to those who see them as a means of communication.

He also says that the design of some digital jewellery, such as necklaces with built-in microphones, concentrate on functionality and neglect the potential to inspire through emotion and sensuality.

Dr Wright, working with psychologist John McCarthy of University College, Cork, believes the word 'enchantment' is apt to describe people's feelings about the technology they enjoy. They say it's made up of sensuousness, a potential for transformation, and excitement - and are looking at how designers could increase these factors.

They are working with industrial collaborators, including HP Labs, which are interested in the way consumers use wearable computing items; e-shopping and brand business Siegelgale UK; and high-tech designers Sapient.

Dr Wright has published his theories in The Experience of Enchantment in Human-Computer Interaction, co-authored with John McCarthy and with Jayne Wallace, a student and digital jewellery artist, and her supervisor Dr Andrew Dearden of Sheffield Hallam University.

Notes to editors:

  • The Department of Computer Sciences attracts about 20 per cent of the nation's industrial funding for academic research in computing, more than any other department. .The Department has a research rating of 6* - the highest possible. .The Department's excellent relations with industry have led to its designation as a University Technology Centre by Rolls-Royce and as a Centre of Excellence by British Aerospace (BAe).
  • Research activity centres on the Department's seven major research groups: Advanced Computer Architectures, Artificial Intelligence, High-Integrity Systems Engineering, Human-Computer Interaction, Management and Information Systems, Programming Languages and Systems, and Real-Time Systems.

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David Garner
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