The playfulness of everyday things

Swing Lamp by BCXSY

As if they had been the perfect students of my Interactivity, Play and the Everyday project at the Bauhaus, art/design cooperative, BCXY have been working on a project called PLAY!.

BCXY are Boaz Cohen and Sayaka Yamamoto and PLAY! “consists of a collection of products that was conceived out of a desire to bring a sense of nostalgia and playfulness into the grown-up environment.”

Mark Pesce once described a swing as the ultimate “invitation to play” – something that’s formed part of my research and work on interactivity ever since. So, naturally, I liked the glowing “Swing Lamp” – even if it is a bit spooky.

(via Pixelsumo)

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer talk at the Tate Modern

One of my all-time interactive installation heroes, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, is giving an artist’s talk at the Tate Modern tomorrow. He is representing Mexico at the Venice Biennale 2007 and his Body Movies projects remains, to me, one of the best interactive installations of all time. It perfectly combines simplicity and play layered over a more complex interaction. Most importantly, it also connects strangers emotionally and sometimes physically in spontaneous acts of playfulness an interaction.

His talk is at the Tate Modern on Thursday 14 June 2007, 18.30–20.00. For those of you who can be there, there will also be a webcast of it too.

Someone in London please go and let me know what it was like!

Leopard – death of the application?

I assume that most people interested in Apple, operating systems or UI design have seen Steve Jobs’s WWDC07 Keynote by now. He shows off lots of new features of Leopard and I saw the death, or at least transformation, of the application.

Leopard has got all the usual bells and whistles of a new Mac OS. It’s easy to dismiss some of these things as simply cutesy, but sometimes minor tweaks make a massive difference (like YouTube’s awful decision to change that tiny ‘share’ button to ‘menu’).

The three features that interested me are tightly woven together – the new Finder, the new Desktop and, most importantly, Quick Look. The Desktop and Finder tweaks aren’t so important except that they integrate Quick Look, the ability to look into files without opening the host application. Some of this has already existed in terms of dragging objects between applications seamlessly, etc., but this a much bigger step.

<a href=”” rel=lightbox’ alt=’Quick Look’ title=’Quick Look’>Quick Look

For Mac application files this pretty much means being able to use the files directly in the Quick Look mode – you can browse for a movie and play it, then zoom it to full screen and watch it, without launching another application. The same appears true for PDFs and Keynote presentations, etc. But Apple have made Quick Look available for most popular file types (like Word and Excel files) as well as creating a plug-in architecture for any odd file types left out.

Death of the application

From a user-interface point of view this is the death of the application in the way that we currently conceive it. Finally, data of all types are just objects, not Photoshop files or Word documents, etc. Just ‘stuff’ that you can pick up and look at, maybe work with, and put down again. It’s a subtle but giant leap because it shifts the metaphor of thinking about the computer as a toolbox, to one of objects to be used. It’s quite a Web 2.0 concept (I hate that term too, but there it is). Objects are out there in the world, tagged (probably) and can be used or mashed together in all sorts of ways.

It’s a leap because it’s a much more natural way of existing in the world, much closer to lived experience. As a human I use and manipulate all sorts of objects and information in different ways, often all at once, without having to shift in and out of, say, a special room or suit. As I sit at the breakfast table, I don’t have to swap in and out of ‘newspaper’ mode and into ‘eating’ mode in order to butter my toast. They’re all just objects on the table, which is why the integration with the Finder and Desktop are important.

The concept behind Quick Look enables you to do many of the things you need to do without having to launch the application, so why have the application at all? Imagine, when you needed the application’s ‘tools’ you just brought up the palettes and menu items. Think of the application’s engine as always there in the background, ready to be used. I’m having a look through some spreadsheets (to choose a really ‘tool-based’ example) via something like Quick Look and I need to change a couple of cells. Perhaps I can just do it there and then, without launching the app. The file type is mapped to the application and the required code is accessed as needed.

Maybe if I need to do more complex work the application launches, but instead of it feeling like I’m moving to another environment, I just see the toolbars appear. You could gradually drift into a ‘deeper’ application mode if you needed, or you could stay shallow. It would be one of the ways around feature bloat in an application. If I need a screwdriver, I just take it out of the toolbox, I don’t empty out the entire toolbox onto the table.

Most importantly, this is the ideal way of thinking for mobile devices. Applications and folders are a nightmare to navigate on mobiles and most applications are slow to launch. I’ve yet to see a decent example, although maybe the iPhone will deliver. What it does show, though, is decades of misguided thought about computers and applications – all that HCI focus on tool-based functionality. Sometimes it’s about the tool, but the objects (the data) that you are working with are the focus of your attention and intention – the content should be the interface, which is why, I think, that all those multitouch interfaces are increasingly popular. Applications make much less sense in those environments.

Another Antirom RGB performance

I was clearing out some old CDs and found a Videobrasil XII one with this Antirom RGB performace on it. I think Gisela may have shot the footage as there are also some interviews with us at the Antirom office (looking very young). But I’m not sure where this performance was and have no doubt violated someone’s copyright.

Sorry about the ultra-compressed low quality, it was a Cinepak, tiny QT movie and the framerate seems a bit broken too, but it gives you a good idea of the flavour and atmosphere of the performance all those years ago.

[UPDATE: I’ve re-compressed and re-uploaded the video above (and removed the old one). It’s still pretty rough, but the frame-rate is better.]


Nice to see Microsoft doing something truly groundbreaking, or at least acquiring something truly groundbreaking. The above demo of Photosynth and Seadragon by Blaise Aguera y Arcas (now that’s a name) is remarkable for both it’s smart computation and sewing together of images to create a navigable space, that is relatively resolution independent (in terms of processing speed at least) but also for its potential interface ramifications. I’m starting to see how something like that connected to Surface would be pretty nice to have around. Remarkably there is a demo available to try (for those of you with XP SP2 and Vista).

But it’s also a great example of how tiny contributions to the group pool add up to far more than the sum of the parts. As Blaise says, once someone tags your images with extra metadata, they become instantly more rich and useful. Words are relatively useless here, take a look at the video above or the video on the Live Labs site.

Wind to Light

Wind To Light installation

A few of you may have already have seen the tiny LED wind turbines recently. Putting lots of them into action onedotzero and riba london have commissioned a project called wind to light from jason bruges studio. The project will be unveilled next friday for Architecture Week 2007. From onedotzero (and keeping their penchant for lowercase letters):

this experimental site-specific installation illustrates alternative, sustainable ways of harnessing energy that will explore the power of the wind in the city, visualising it as an ephemeral cloud of light.

wind around the southbank will generate the power, creating a unique and thought-provoking light art piece that will delight all ages.

It reminds me a lot of the White Noise/White Light installation by MIT’s J. Meejin Yoon a few years back. Both make a visualisation of wind through light’s on the top of flexible poles. But it’s nice to see the Bruges one generating it’s own power.

Go check out the progress on the Wind To Light (sorry, that should be: wind to light) blog. The presentation will be on 21 June: 19:00hrs: riba london, 66 portland place, london, w1b 1ad.

Zach Lieberman interview on Open Frameworks

There’s an interesting interview with Zach Lieberman by Karl Willis on the website. Lieberman talks about his work on the Open Frameworks project, which is basically a set of C++ libraries specifically set up for creative work. I haven’t used it, but I imagine it’s a kind of supercharged Processing as it’s running in C++.

One point that I thought was worth pulling out, given the tension between research and arts practice that often exists in universities, was this:

One thing I was interested in, I always try to do this when I’m teaching, is to really preach this idea that artistic practice is research. That really art-making is research in the same way that, science, you know, a physicist is doing research. So I like this idea, when you think about research, research is really built on the work of other people.

Guardian site hacked or accident?

This story on the protesters at the G8 summit has a set of related links at the bottom of it. I noticed today that the one saying G8, which is meant to link to the Guardian’s Special Reports on the G8 in fact links to, which in turn re-directs to Do It Yourself: The Handbook For Changing Our World.

The book bills itself as “A Radical Guide to Ethical and Sustainable Living” and includes direct action. So, was the Guardian site hacked? Was it a database tagging slip-up or did someone within the Guardian Online’s ranks slip in the link? Or was it the janitor?

I don’t suppose the link will stay there for long, so go and take a look while you can.

Len Lye biography

Len Lye Biography by Roger Horrocks

Sometimes the Internet really works.

Shortly after I wrote a post about Len Lye’s films on You Tube (already bouncing off Dan Hill’s original post) I got an e-mail from Roger Horrocks who wrote biography of Len Lye. Roger was one of the founders and former Head of the Department of Film, television and Media Studies at Auckland University and, more pertinently, was once Lye’s assistant.

Very kindly, Roger sent me a copy of his book, which looks like a great read from the first skim through (it arrived this morning). Lye produced an amazing breadth of work, always thinking of new ways to create. I particularly liked the quote on the dust jacket that “Lye was – in the words of poet Alistair Reid – ‘the least boring person who ever lived'”. That’s not a bad epitaph.

Roger Horrocks and his wife, Shirley, also made a documentary about Lye called, Flip and Two Twisters, which you should be able to get from that link to their website or from the Govett-Brewster gallery.

Google’s Streetview

Google Streetview

So I’ve been a bit slow at blogging about Google’s Streetview as well as Microsoft’s Surface. I nearly didn’t write about either of them since the entire interweb has its tubes stuffed full of stories about them.

Anyway, on first glance I, like many others, thought “that’s interesting and possibly useful, but also a bit scary, especially for people and property caught in the photos”. So, for more strange Google Streetview sightings, take a look at the Top 15 from Mashable (there must be a lot of people with time on their hands out there). I can see a whole new Googleceleb culture arising…