Maybe you remember the small, keychain virtual pet called a Tamagotchi, the hugely popular and must-have toy of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Tamagotchis were essentially small egg-shaped computer with an interface usually consisting of three buttons, and inside this small device lived a little creature that you would care for from it’s birth to its death. Tamagotchis ultimately required a great deal of attention in order to prosper, they must be fed, cared for, entertained, and even taken to the restroom. If you did not care for your Tamagotchi well enough, you were greeted with an untimely death. If you took really good care of your Tamagotchi, you were rewarded with being able to watch them provide offspring or grow to old age. By 2010, there were over 76 million Tamagotchis sold worldwide.
Today products and apps have become increasingly automated and homogenous, making it hard for users to decide amongst a sea of seemingly the same app or product. For example, the rise of AI devices such as Alexa and Google Home are so similar in their design that it is difficult for the user to decide which device would be the best. As a result, designers are starting to feel a disconnect from their users. As the advocates of the user, the UX Community is now beginning to tackle the issue of how to make your product or app stand out to users. It seems that the answer to this question comes from older design strategies, where products had their own personality and quirks, even at the expense of the products performance or preciseness. In comes the “Tamagotchi Gesture”.
The “Tamagotchi Gesture” brings a much needed human and emotive touch to the world where efficiency and dispensability reign supreme. In a fully automated world, there is something to be said for something that requires attention, love, and detail to make it work as best as possible. “More and more product designers are deliberately invoking the Tamagotchi Gesture in their work — crafting personality and charm by imbuing their products with a certain obsolescence, incompleteness, and fragility” comments Chase Buckley, a self-proclaimed Design Evangelist.
The idea of implementing Tamagotchi Gestures into your design is all about learning to embrace the parts of your design that may not be the most efficient or practical in terms of usability, but in turn gives a certain charm that users come to identify as an integral part of the overall experience. It is all about balancing the fine line between usability and user experience, and understanding that sometimes perceived ‘usability’ features may not be the best way to create an optimal user experience. For example, let’s look at the online forum Reddit. Their user interface is not ideal in terms of usability; it’s bare-bones design and forum-style organization make the website itself a bit daunting to new users. However, Reddit itself is extremely popular and successful, with Reddit avid user’s referring to themselves as “The Front Page of the Internet”. This is a good example of how the Tamagotchi Gesture works; Reddit’s web page design is reminiscent of early web page designs, where things didn’t always work immediately, where they weren’t always pretty or flashy, but they nevertheless provided a positive user experience in their uniqueness and kept people coming back. This is the very definition of the Tamagotchi Gesture. “They're pointless yet needful, comforting precisely because they require tending” states William Gibson, author for Wired Magazine.
Tamagotchi Gestures are rooted in their ability to provide comfort and delight to their users precisely because they required attending in order to be able to be used effectively. Blogger Andrew Hovell adds, “I like the thought that 'by adding something that requires care and concentration we are nourished'. That's so important in a world that's all about now, instant gratification and disposability.”
This year we can expect to see many UX practitioners implementing the Tamagotchi Gesture throughout their products and designs, thus invoking a sense of originality, animation, and charisma into their products that will ultimately enhance the overall user experience.
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