Redefining Perception: The Pros and Cons of Blacknegative’s Unique User Experience

Perception is to become aware of something through the senses. Our brains are constantly collecting data in order to interpret the world around us, thus implying an intuitiveness to awareness. Blacknegative is a web interface that capitalizes on our two most prominent senses, sight and sound, in order to create an intuitive and unique user experience. The website exudes elegance and manipulates emotion through both of these senses, however, its abstract approach to perceivability creates some problems in relaying information to its users. According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), in order to accommodate as many users as possible, websites should be perceivable through a variety of modes; content must be adaptable and distinguishable, as well as provide alternatives to text and time-based media.

Right off the bat, Blacknegative struggles to balance its mission of creating an emotion-driven experience with accessibility. The home page is visually interesting, but the text is too small to read and doesn’t offer clear instructions of how to operate the site. On the other hand, what the site does offer is sound that relays more information than the minimal text. This background music is ambient and conveys a sense of elegance and fascination, inviting the user to indulge in curiosity and explore the site further.

While it doesn’t necessarily come up to code with the WCAG, Blacknegative isn’t advertising as an interface that would require the user to understand what is on the page; the site is selling an emotional experience. Whether the user is blind or deaf, Blacknegative is still able to convey a message through its visuals and audio.

As you scroll through the interface, you come across various projects that combine graphics with complimentary audio and videos. One example is a project involving Bose Evolve headphones, in which the following audio is accompanied by a short video that conveys the essence of the product without words.

Bose headphones

The audio corresponds images displayed on the screen, such as headphone jacks and cords, and evokes the electronic sounds that one would imagine these objects represent. Both the video and audio display Bose headphones as “hip” and cool, which would appeal to a younger audience.

In terms of accessibility, Blacknegative’s interface is lacking. The site is confusing to navigate, even for a person with normal sight and hearing. For a blind user, there is no way to easily scroll through each page without being told to do so. However, the interface is audibly perceivable in that the sounds associated with each page evoke specific emotions. For a deaf user, the images also do a good job of conveying emotion, despite a lack of text. One change I would make to the site is the ability to turn off or pause sound and videos. The user’s sense are constantly bombarded and sometimes make hard to interpret the information presented. Unfortunately, the beauty of Blacknegative’s interface can only truly be appreciated with the audio and visuals in conjunction.

The Rush Hour Tango

Intersections are not merely crossing points between streets; they are hubs of activity and nodes within communities where interactions and routines take place. Ideally, drivers and pedestrians would cross paths in an organized and timely fashion, like an intricate dance. However, impatience and human error often lead to one party stepping out of turn. Drivers are legally allowed to turn right through red lights, and pedestrians sprint across the street at any chance they get, regardless of the walk signal. Busy intersections like 5th and Spring St need an interface that can increase safety and awareness for people both on the road and on the sidewalk.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, approximately 65,000 pedestrians are injured by moving vehicles in a given year. In 2014, almost 5,000 of those injuries resulted in deaths. From a pedestrian’s perspective, crossing should be straightforward if you follow the visual walk signals. Additionally, the sounds of loud trucks, buses, and cars speeding down the street act as an indicator of when to or not to cross. For someone who is visually impaired or easily distracted, on the other hand, a direct and alert auditory signal might be a beneficial instruction. Many crosswalks are now implementing buttons that speak to users when pushed, emitting a forceful yet poor sound quality “wait!” or “crossing!” I would improve this interface by making the voice more clear and neutral, as the signal should be neither alarming nor calming; its purpose is to relay information, not an emotion.

From the driver’s perspective, sitting at a traffic light certainly is not an enjoyable experience. Although many states have laws protecting pedestrians in crosswalks, drivers attempt to make quick turns or speed across intersections without paying attention to the people around them. Distractions from phones, radios, and activity outside the vehicle all take away from the task at hand. I would improve driver awareness by including a signal in the intersection interface that is emitted to vehicle radios or possibly cellphones that alert a driver when pedestrians are crossing. Such a voice would need to be neutral, as Clifford Nass and Scott Brave state that “the same voice cannot be effective for all drivers.” It would be difficult for an outside interface to detect a user’s emotion from within the vehicle, so neutrality is key to appealing to the masses.

Waking up with Justin Timberlake

Every morning at 8:05am I have Calculus. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I wake up at 6:30 to shower, eat, and power walk to west campus. My morning routine is crucial to starting the day off right, so after falling out of bed I drag myself to the bathroom. When my brain is too tired to process information, I use the radio to keep track of time. Even though the quiet hours are 10pm – 8am, as I walk down the hall I can already hear the 24/7 radio in the bathroom blasting Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” for the third week in a row. Like some sort of trigger engrained in my brain, hearing that music knocks down the first domino in my chain of morning tasks. I got that sunshine in my pocket, got that good soul in my feet. No Justin, it’s too early for this enthusiasm.

I turn on the shower, shampoo, and rinse. By then, the next song is starting. I finish my shower in about one and a half songs total. I go back to my dorm to get dressed quickly and eat, then go back to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I know it’s about 7:30 because the morning talk show is starting, most likely giving unapologetic advice to a woman who wants to know whether or not her boyfriend is cheating on her. When the hosts finally kick her off the call, it’s a little after 7:40.

These sound patterns that recur every day, are essential to my daily routines. It’s not necessarily the content or words that are important to hear, but the general type of music or radio show that’s playing that matters. It conveys the information I need, an amount of time passed or time of day, in an intuitive format.

At this point, I wouldn’t even need a watch or a phone to tell the time of day. All I need is that radio in the Harrison 2nd floor bathroom. I don’t even know what station it’s on, but I know in the morning you can hear the top 20 countdown; midafternoon through rush hour is commercial free 80’s love ballads; nighttime it’s bumping rap and R&B. Even when the hand dryer is blasting or someone turns on the shower, the radio reverberates throughout the bathroom and dominates the soundscape. Music can be both motivating and relaxing, so having it as the primary sound in that environment is a perfect start and end to my day.