Multimodal in its purest sense is defined as being characterized by several different modes of activity or occurrences. But nestled within the world of experience design, this term has taken on a new meaning of providing the user with multiple modes of interfacing with a system.
What started as an effort to provide disabled individuals with ease of use in regard to technologies, has now evolved into its own science. With a heavy focus on human factors engineering, a new system has developed to evaluate how users interact best with tasks, systems, and environments. As digital customers become more sophisticated and begin demanding readily accessible interactions in real-time, the necessity of incorporating multimodal strategies within your business and marketing plans will become evident.
The increased desire for multimodal interactions has been felt across several industries, from the automobile industry to the gaming industry and beyond. One cause is as consumers are subjected to constant onslaughts of information and sensory overload in almost every aspect of their lives, multimodality provides a light at the end of the tunnel. Multimodality is a resource that can help alleviate the tedious process of information absorption and prioritization.
One example is how automobile manufacturers are applying the concept of experience design to transfer more processing tasks away from drivers and onto the cars. By creating smarter cars that have the ability to detect and react to their environment, cars can now share in the act of making driving decisions. Nissan’s new radar solution does exactly that. Attached to the rear bumper, these radar sensors can detect when another car is in a driver’s blind spot. And rather than compete against a plethora of driving distractions from incoming phone calls to warning lights and fighting children, to communicate the car employs both audible and tactile channels. When a driver attempts to change lanes or merge and someone is in their blind spot this sets into motion the following: an audible alarm, an electronic yawing of the brakes, and a subtle righting of the wheel bringing the car back into the center of the lane. Infiniti provides a similar technology in their cars – both systems help their drivers avoid becoming one of the 830,000 blind spot accidents that occur yearly (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).
However, this is not the only driver for multimodal strategies. Two main functions of multimodal interactions are to reach new levels of consumer engagement and lower consumer learning curves. In the gaming industry you need to look no further than the XBOX Kinect or its competitors Nintendo Wii and Playstation Move. These systems feature a natural user interface to enable the use of gestures and spoken commands as a method of interaction. This capability is supported by software technology equipped with motion capture, and voice and facial recognition. Now gamers can lose the controller and actively participate through a new input channel – be it dancing to DDR or battling aliens in Space Invaders Extreme. As for the reduction in the learning curve, this is evident by the rise of new consumer markets and the decline of the teenage gaming stereotype. Walk through a family living room these days and you might see a mom exercising to Wii Fit Zumba Fitness or a group of adolescent girls dancing to ‘TiK ToK’ on Just Dance.
It’s evident that multimodal interaction is exuding a strong influence in the experience design space. Examples of its application appear to be boundless – we can continue with how Siri and similar software technologies (Google’s Majel Project) are shaping the mobile phone market, or General Electric’s Kitchen of the Future. These technologies are revolutionizing the way our society interacts with products, systems, and in turn each other. A decade ago it would have been hard to imagine cars making decisions, or dictating instructions to your phone’s operating system. All in all, experience design and multimodal interaction is working to integrate technology seamlessly in all aspects or our lives. It will be exciting to witness what is to come next in this field.