Why ‘the Space Between’ is Vital to Developing UX: Interstitial Space

Interstitial space is the space between structures or objects. For instance, highrise architects term the space between the ceiling of one floor and the bottom of the floor above: interstitial space. Frequently this is an important, but under-utilized; even unknown area in life.

Thinking of how interstitial space affects you personally, consider the space between your day dreams and putting those dreams into words. It’s hard to put everything from a dream into words, is it not? This is the rich, fertile area of the imagination. This is interstitial space: never entirely definable. It is non-linear, intuitive and necessary.

In day to day life, we experience interstitial space psychologically as we weigh decisions in our heads, before taking action; one way or another. The interstitial area is neither an idea nor an action in this case, it is the space of consideration.

Just as highrise buildings carry most of their important mechanical functions, like heating and air conditioning systems, fire, plumbing, electrical and communication systems in their interstitial spaces, our bodies have interstial space between identifiable bones, muscles and tendons and under our skin. Called the fascia, this rich tissue is what is primarily responsible for our shape; and it is malleable. Without our interstitial tissue we’d literally be ‘skin and bones’. Inside the interstitial space signals are conducted throughout the body–apparently autonomously from the central nervous system. Notice how your interstitial territory looks (and feels) when you are hung-over!

Computers carry interstitial space, too. When information is neither software, nor committed to stored memory, it exists in ‘random access memory’; this is the rich area of our ‘working’ information, things that we are doing ‘right now’ with our devices. On mobile devices, interstitial space is physically where annoying pop-up advertising occurs.

Concepts and terms are another area where the term is important to consider. Trying to categorize a series of objects, some of which seem to not quite fit in one area, or another? Interstitial. Developing a list when something important, yet seemingly irrelevant to the current task at hand occurs to you? Interstitial.

If you think about it, our world is run in interstitial space. This is the space of conversation, of relationship, between intention and action. Frequently it is also the space of misunderstanding and sometimes even, frustration.

The interstitial space of the ‘user experience’ or UX, is one such vital, misunderstood and all too frequently frustrating areas of life! I want my device to do something; I think it can, but I can’t easily determine how to tell it what to do. Stuck in menu overload, swamped by unwanted advertising, frustrated by not understanding the command structure, terminology or gesture needed to get a device to sit up and pay attention to your intention? Welcome to the areas of UX interstitial space. UX interstitial space is the blend of psychological, logical and linear combined with emotional and intuitive intention on the one (human) side and the binary, designed, and engineered side on the other (device) side. Too frequently these don’t mesh easily, resulting in an angry experience and all too frequently ‘abandonment’; the term for when a person just gives up in frustration and does something else.

The fact that scant attention is paid to the interstitial space of UX explains why brand loyalty is increasingly short term, apps are underutilized and then abandoned / deleted and brands lose customers in an instant. It also explains why the majority of smart phone users are unhappy with their devices and fewer than half of mobile retail experiences are rated as satisfactory.

What is the solution?

UX architects (especially), as well as engineers and designers have to begin paying as much attention to the psychology of interstitial space as building architects do to the functioning of their interstitial spaces. After all, IT architecture is not a static premise, it is continuously in motion, movement and adaptation. This requires a kinetic perspective, rather than looking at UX as a ‘fixed moment in time’, developers must understand it is a dynamic and free-flowing psychological space first, and then a technical space.

Architects should and must become familiar with the psychology of interaction, including how the eyes relay information to the brain (for instance how color communicates milliseconds before sharp or form and way before text), how hands and digits connect with innate physical functions, why societal influence is imperative as well as (vitally) why and how preferences are formed; if they want to grow their careers beyond the mundane.

Bryce Winter is Chief Architect at GENR8 Technology Group in Vancouver, Canada and author of the X8 advanced AI kinetic architectural language. You may discover more about him and his work at GENR8.ME.

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