I chose our apartment building’s intercom electric bell as the public technology interface to critique. This is an Alpha Communications, open-voice (loudspeaking) apartment (multi-family) intercom kit with an electric bell.

This concept of having a apartment intercom electric bell was new to me. I have seen apartment intercoms in India but I haven’t interacted with one earlier.

The working:

There is a unit installed at the main door of our building. Ideally this system should work as follows.

An intercom system interface where the (guest) actor 1 arriving on the door can ring the bell for the desired apartment. The actor 1 can talk speak into the machine .

Once the doorbell rings (the person inside the apartment) actor 2 hears the doorbell and can press the button labelled listen to hear the response of the person who is at the main door. The actor 2 can respond back to the actor 1 by pressing the button talk and give a response. The actor 1 can then get through the building main door and come in once the actor 2 clicks on the door button.

Observations

“As said by Norman, well designed objects are easy to interpret and comprehend as they contain visible cues.

The intercom system interface has apartment numbers written next to the buttons. But the nomenclature of the apartment numbers does not match with the buttons. The three storied building has six apartments.This product is poorly designed and is frustrating to interact with as it provides incorrect clues.

The visitors(actor 1) cannot comprehend and press the bell for the correct apartment on arriving at the main door. Ideally, there should be 2 actors involved in this interaction . However due to the fault in the system 8-9 actors end up participating in the interaction and cause chaos.

As said by Norman, the design needs to provide a good conceptual model. A good conceptual model allows us to predict the effects of our actions. Also , I observed a common interaction amongst people that they tend to ring the bell to speak. A good design should provide visible clues. Answers should be provided with the design without any need for trial and error.

The same issue is faced by the actor 2 who is inside the apartment. While using the intercom system from inside of the apartment there are clear visible clues. But the usability is really bad. There has to be a sync between the person talking on the main door and the person trying to listen to the stranger’s voice from inside. Almost every time the actor 1 is stuck at the main door for a very long time as his message does not reach to the actor 2.

The principle of mapping is missing here – The relationship between the two entities is not establishes almost all the time.There is a result expected from the mapping of the relationship between the controls and the movements. Whatever observations I made – 90% of the time the goal of the stranger coming to visit a person in the apartment was not met.

The feedback mechanism was present in the system. But it got fulfilled only if the right person answered the intercom.

As rightly said by Crawford, interactivity is a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak. All these operations should happen smoothly. This intercom electric bell has all these entities but none of the users were able to meet their desired motive of meeting the right person in the right apartment. I have seen friends of the building residents, post mans , delivery guys getting frustrated and leaving without completing their desired tasks because of the inefficiency in the system.

Also , there is another defect in the machine/product that the main door does not open when the door open button is clicked from inside the house. The user then has to go out and open the door for the guest.

I agree that good human- centred design practices are most essential for tasks or situations that are stressful. We need to position usability in its proper place in the design world.

They can be subtle or direct, they can be authoritative or personal and they can be communicated through a combination of words, visuals, sounds, haptics and texture.This interface needs to be purely based on utility.

I believe that affordance provides strong clues to the operation of things. If I were to redesign this intercom bell design the design would be as follows

The system should be intelligent to take decisions. Once the user rings the bell – the system should prompt the user standing outside to send a voice message. Once the person inside the apartment gets the response, the system will prompt the user outside to give a reply.

The interface could visually look as follows(reference taken from pinterest) – giving visible cues and updates to the user continuously.