Jiggling Icons on the iPhone

There are plenty of big announcements and coverage of Steve Jobs’s Macworld keynote. I’m happy to see the new AppleTV, movie downloads and rentals, and of course the MacBook Air.


But it was the the jiggling icons in the new iPhone home screen selection. When you are moving icons around and sorting them the icons jiggle in anticipation (or perhaps fear of being trashed).

Why does this frivolity matter? Well, the first thing for me is, of course, the playfulness of the interface. Die hard functionalists will probably hate it and find it an unnecessary waste of computing resources, but then so is any GUI.

Playful interfaces not only bring some pleasure to everyday tasks, they also encourage the user to explore and through exploring they learn the way the interface works. That’s what playing is all about and the good thing is it doesn’t feel like you are learning, it just feels intuitive or fun.

It also helps add personality to the interface and phones are extremely personal devices.

Lastly, why not? Everyone appreciates a pleasant physical environment – nice cutlery, a stylish lamp, a lovely pen, a favourite armchair. Most of those are necessary – a packing crate, an old door and a couple of piles of bricks functionally work as a desk set-up, but you wouldn’t want to work like that every day. We all spend an inordinate amount of hours on the computer or phone, it makes sense that it’s pleasant to use.

[tags]iphone, apple, macworld, keynote, interface, play, gui[/tags]

OLPC versus Nintendo DS


Alexander Stojanovic makes an interesting comparison between the Nintendo DS and the OLPC. Having bought both for his five year-old daughter at Christmas he has been able to compare:

The Nintendo DS (NDS) is the clear winner as an interactive device and learning platform. It truly is a paradigm shift for UI/UX. Our daughter was able to figure out how to configure two DSs for PictoChat (via WiFi) and now constantly wants to “IM” pictures and text with me. It’s an eye-openning experience.

The OLPC is the utter disappointment though. Everything about it is sluggish, unresponsive, cryptic and just sub-optimal.

Like Alexander and as someone who works in both interaction design and educational futures I really want the OLPC project to be a great idea, but I’m pretty worried it isn’t.

The first objection is that really the world would be a much better place if every child had enough to eat, was healthy and happy quite apart from having a laptop.

The second is the potential environmental hazards of sending out so many laptops perhaps not [all that environmentally friendly](and the associated environmental concerns.

Finally, everything is in the execution. Nicholas Negroponte is keen to stress that the OLPC project is “an education project, not a laptop project” and that is, of course, highly laudable, but I’m worried that in the quest to make them so cheap, the user-experience might have been lost in the process.

Alexander Stojanovic’s post seems to be confirming these fears for me:

The OLPC delivers a very – how shall I put this – “academic” idea of what people (children) will want and like. The NDS was clearly tested and usability done on each aspect. The OLPC looks like all the decisions were hardcoded early on by a brain trust of “experts” without any thought of the actual experience of using, maintaining or enhancing the device.

Having created several interactive projects whose primary audience is children, I have experienced first-hand the need to test ideas on children. Looking through the “lens of the learner” is one of the first tenets of teaching and learning.

Engaging people is one of the first tenets of interaction design. Without that the rest doesn’t even get seen. Whilst I congratulate the OLPC team on their achievement I really hope they don’t forget those two principles.

[tags]OLPC, UI, Nintendo[/tags]

Use Designers Better


For several years I’ve been trying to express how design thinking can be used across a whole range of disciplines from sustainability to education to, well, design stuff. Service Designers like Live|Work do a great job of bringing much of these ideas under one discipline. It helps designers move up the chain of events in a project and have influence earlier on, when it’s really needed.

Designers aren’t just there to pretty stuff up. We can be used far better to solve problems. That’s what designing really is, especially in this whole interactive, interconnected, interweb world.

Thank goodness, then, for Ben Terrett’s brilliant talk that he’s put online called I’m a Designer, Use Me Better. It’s insightful, concise and funny in the way that things are funny when you know they hit on home truths.

Every designer, from every area, should read it.

Even more so anyone who is ever thinking of employing a designer should read it – I don’t agree with Ben that as designers climate change is our fault. We perhaps don’t voice our opinions often or early enough, but we also rarely get in front of the right people to voice those opinions to. Unless designers are used better and earlier in the process we’ll be at the mercy of corporate consultants pretending they know all about it.

[tags]Ben Terrett, sustainability[/tags]

Podcast with Matt Clark from United Visual Artists

Matt Clark from UVA at Core77 Broadcasts

Following on from my last post about Hereafter, my podcast interview with Matt Clark from United Visual Artists is now online at Core77.

We chat about a range of UVA’s work, process and interactivity. Matt gives some great insights into working across disciplines and the exciting and emerging field of interactive installations much more tightly integrated into architecture rather than being a last-minute add-on, as well as using their skills and techniques to create stunning visuals for video. My thanks to Matt for his time – have a listen and let me know what you think.

The Changing Culture of Mobile Phones

In France at least (which is good, because we usually only get a very Anglo-Saxon view of these things).

Experientia have translated the summary of a report by The French Association of Mobile Operators on the changing culture of mobile phone usage.

Some of the really interesting points are about mobiles becoming collective items passed around social groups (in response to free talk-time packages) as well as the nature of and relationship to the devices on an emotional/cultural level.

It’s all interesting and you should have a read in detail and it’s fascinating to see how culture takes up tools and plays with their affordances. This last point about the taking of photos with mobiles was interesting to me:

The mobile phone is seen as a “average medium” that renews amateur photo and film practice.

Mobile phone images are viewed as precarious images, often of uncertain quality, not to be printed and not be shared between devices. These images always call up a description of something one should see. They serve to create memories and to prove that one really was present at the event one is talking about (e.g. a concert, a celebrity passing by …).

Mobile phone images are integrated within several reference frameworks that preceded the phone: the journalism of the everyday and one’s own life, spontaneous family images as opposed to fake happiness, the sensationalism that comes with having to set up brief, clear, efficient and striking acts.

More spectacular scenes can raise the challenge by bringing in the grotesque, the playful, the macabre, even violence. This is what lead to the videos gags, the MTV Jackass and the so-called ‘snuff movies’. The aggressions filmed on a mobile phone are one of the most recent expressions of this (although the expression ‘happy slapping’ was not used by any of the people interviewed within this study).

I’m not sure who did the translation (the blog post doesn’t show the author), but I’m guessing it was Mark Vanderbeeken who maintains Experientia. I can’t thank him enough, my schoolboy French would have bee soon out of its depth and drowning in a sea of declensions.

[tags]mobile, photography, Experientia[/tags]

Evolution of Dance vs. Titanic


I’ve just been chatting with my online students in Australia about emerging media and it led me to do some quick sums on the merits of Titanic, the biggest grossing movie of all time, and Evolution of Dance, the most popular video on YouTube ever.

So, Judson Laipply’s frankly rubbish Evolution of Dance comes in at 58,381,789 views.The real figure is probably a lot more because people uploaded loads of duplicates (and still do) and also upload them to other video sharing services as well as ripping it and sending direct via e-mail.

Compare this to something like cinema and you start getting a picture of how powerful hyperdistribution can be.

(this post is quite long, so read on for more…) Continue reading “Evolution of Dance vs. Titanic”

What is education worth?

Interesting piece in the Guardian about a new (but already out of date) British Council report (PDF link) on what education is worth to the UK. I’ve always wondered where the philosophy that universities or education should be profitable in the most basic, business sense comes from – it makes little sense with something so crucial to the fabric of society. That is, one would hope, what taxes are for.

It’s the same narrow economic thinking that asks hospitals to make a profit too. Nobody, however, seems to ask the military to make a profit (“Please make sure that $1.9m missile gives us a decent ROI when you blow up that desert village. Don’t miss.”)

The answer to the title question in the UK, by the way, is £27,771.50 million. More than financial services or the automotive industry.

Tom Coates on Andrew Keen

If you don’t know who Andrew Keen is, Google him, I’m not linking because I find him and his views on the internet and the changing face of the professional/amateur divide simultaneously calculating and idiotic.

If you do know who he is, you’ll understand why Tom Coates’s drubbing of him is so spot on.

Dynamic resizing of image content

This technology developed by Ariel Shamir from the Efi Arazi School of Computer Science resizes the content of images in the same way that web pages are dynamically scalable. It’s easier to explain once you seen the video, but basically it intelligently adds or removes pixels so you can squash or stretch an image without it distorting.

It seems to have been doing the rounds of the interweb for a few days, but I’d only just noticed it from Tom Coates’s link to the Guardian article.

Of course it raises some pretty interesting questions about the validity and veracity of photographic images, especially when used as evidence, but this kind of thing has been going on for years before the widespread use of digital tools. Stalin was famous for manipulating photos and there is of course the famous National Geographic moving-the-pyramids one that was one of the early examples of digital manipulation (and in a ‘scientific’ journal).

I think it is also a great example of how one way of thinking in an area (web design) influences the way that one sees other disciplines (image manipulation). Before web browsers, the idea that pages (and thus images) would have fluid layouts would have seemed absurd.