The Economist introduces the concept of the uncanny valley, as it was defined in context of animation and robotics. The concept seems like a more general idea to me, somehow. As such, it makes me wonder about an uncanny valley for any topic where, the designer aims to make the most desirable product – in category.
If my intuition amounts to anything, then Mori’s map would suggest that the difference between say, a midding product design and an elegant product design, is non-linear.
In other words, while products that crowd the middle appear to quite close in quality to one another, but the delta between the head of a product category and the middle of it are miles apart.
The idea of the uncanny valley was originally proposed by Masahiro Mori, a Japanese roboticist, in 1970. Though he had no hard data, his intuition was that increasing humanness in a robot was positive only up to a certain point. Dr Mori drew a graph (see chart) with “human-likeness” on the horizontal axis and a quality he called shinwakan (variously translated as “familiarity” and “comfort level”) on the vertical one. As an object or image looks and behaves more like a human, the viewer’s level of shinwakan increases. Beyond a certain point, however, the not-quite-human object strikes people as creepy, and shinwakan drops. This is the uncanny valley. Only when the object becomes almost indistinguishable from a human does shinwakan increase again.
Dr Ho and Dr MacDorman accept the general idea, but they began by throwing out the idea of shinwakan. In their study, just published in Computers in Human Behavior, they say that Dr Mori’s ideas of familiarity and comfort level do not properly get at the quality of uncanniness. Neither do some suggested alternatives, such as warmth and likeability. The wicked queen in Disney’s “Snow White”, for instance, was hardly likeable. But she was not uncanny either.