Authors: Preece, Rogers & Sharp
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Understanding How Interfaces Affect Users


Chapter Introduction | Web Resources | Assignment Comments | Teaching Materials


The genre of fronting online shopping sites with virtual sales agents seems to be on the wane at the moment (perhaps an after-effect of the crash). Miss Boo can still be seen helping out, although she does not feature nearly as much nor interact with the user like she used to before. You can still get an impression of the style of interaction she was designed to exemplify, though. Also you could look at another kind of virtual agent (e.g. browse the Agentry site or watch Ananova) and ask the same questions, but in terms of the kind of website this agent has been designed for (e.g. a news site).

Many of the virtual agents are static and speak via speech bubbles. This may make them appear less convincing. Consider whether animated versions are more believable. For example, is Ananova, who moves her face and mouth in interesting ways to mimic talking, more believable?

Think about what the virtual agent does for you. Do you even notice it? Does it make you laugh, feel cynical or believe you are having an engaging interaction with the site?

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 so good on you. This ability to flatter and persuade is very difficult to emulate online. Do you think it would be possible to design a more flattering kind of agent that could coerce users into making purchases? What else would it take? Have a look at Rea and see whether she is convincing.