Authors: Preece, Rogers & Sharp
Case Studies
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2 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Chapter Index
Understanding How Interfaces Affect Users

Chapter Introduction | Web Resources | Assignment Comments | Teaching Materials

The early virtual sales assistants that fronted online stores were often static, such as like Miss Boo (see wikipedia for history of her demise). Nowadays, many have had some form of animation added to them to mimic aspects of human behavior. For example, Anna at Ikea moves her head, smiles and blinks her eyes a lot. She will also speak to you if you select that option. Cybelle raises her arm, shrugs her shoulders, closes her eyes a lot and puts her finger to her mouth when she is being coy. Type in “I like you” and see what happens. Such animated versions can seem more believable than the static ones. They certainly draw your attention first time you interact with them. However, their appeal may wear off after a while.
What do virtual agents, like Anna or Cybelle, do for you when first encountering them? Do they make you laugh, feel cynical or believe you are having an engaging interaction with the site? Do they help you find what you want more easily?

When considering what the effect of an agent's screen presence is on a user think about how its context influences you. For example, real sales assistants can often be charming and entice you to buy clothes, because they say they look good on you. This ability to flatter and persuade is much more difficult to emulate online. Fluttering digital eyelids does not quite match the real thing. Do you think it would be possible to design a flattering kind of agent which uses other interactive techniques to coerce users into making purchases?

Sites that do not use virtual agents may appear less personal. However, they often use other techniques such as personalized greetings that can make the shopper feel they are getting special attention, e.g., “Hello Susan. Welcome back. We have some special deals and recommendations for you.”