New magneticNorth web site

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Great to see magneticNorth’s new website live. Brendan gave me a sneak peek of it yesterday and I love it.

The navigation is very playful and intuitive. Actually it is intuitive because it is playful. You basically scribble a doodle and this makes a mask into which a piece from their portfolio opens. You can then click on that item to view more info about the work or simply make another scribble to look at a new piece. The navigation across the top is a history that you can move back and forth through or reset.

What is nice about the whole thing is that you just don’t have worry about doing anything ‘right’. You can scribble any shape and you can scribble over the top of other scribbles and everything automagically sorts itself out.

Go and have a play yourself and tell me what you think.

[UPDATE: Quite some debate started about this, which I’m very happy to be part of. I wrote a long response, which is almost a post in itself, but decided to leave it in the comments.]

Tonematrix

Inspired by the Tenori-On, Andre Michelle put together Tonematrix. Each square creates a wave force that spreads across the grid (I don’t think that affects the sound though).

It reminds me quite a bit of a piece Andy Allenson made at Antirom years ago that was a multi-user grid sequencer. The smart thing about it was that you could adjust the grid cell amounts to produce complex polyrhythms. It was done in Director and I can’t find it online anymore unfortunately, but it was very compelling. I was always amazed that he got it working over the network too – around 10 years ago now.

I am glad to see sound finally getting some attention in Flash (now that pixels have arrived too). The work Andre has been doing is amazing, but I’d really like to see it being used for more unique, unusual and playful experiments rather than reproducing vintage sequencers and synthesisers (that’s what Reason is for, right?). Somehow that seems to be a missed opportunity – Tonematrix is a more interesting direction.

More on Andre’s blog.

(Thanks to Matt Delprado for the heads up).

Flash on the Beach 2009

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I am thrilled to have been asked to present again at Flash on The Beach again this year. The info about my talk isn’t up yet (and fortunately that highly unattractive picture of me in the sidebar has been covered up with the text). I’ll be speaking about a deeper understanding of play based on my research over the past few years.

Play and playfulness has been a feature of quite a few designer’s talks in the past few years and has gained a lot of currency.This is all good, but much of it doesn’t really explore play in much detail and depth. An understanding of what constitutes play and how we know we are playing or are in a play space can be put to use in interaction and experience design across a much broader spectrum that the usual approaches.

Hope to see you there. For all the latest info, follow FOTB on Twitter.

Jonathan Harris at Flash on the Beach 08

Jonathan Harris’s talk at Flash on the Beach caused quite a stir this year. Originally titled The Art of Surveillance and Self-Exposure, he altered the last section to Beyond Flash (slides here) arguing that “there have been no masterpieces” in Flash (and he included his own work here).

I recorded the session, which you can listen to below to decide for yourself. (Due to a technical human error, the first couple of minutes are missing):

[audio:http://www.polaine.com/playpen/podcasts/jonharris_fotb08.mp3] (Direct download – 35MB)

He also suggested that the Flash community has become too absorbed in technical tinkering at the cost of ideas, and that’s probably the part that angered most people, so much so that he decided to write a response.

Whilst some attendees took a lot away from the talk, several prominent people in the Flash community such as Peter Elst, Keith Peters and Erik Natzke took exception to either the message or the delivery with many accusing Harris of arrogance.

I’m not convinced by many of those responses.

I’ve known Jonathan and his work for some time and interviewed or written about him quite often. I’m preparing a profile on him for Creative Review right now, so I got the chance to catch up with him directly after his talk. I find him far from arrogant, rather he is quiet and thoughtful about both life and his work.

Calling someone arrogant is the easiest way to avoid any truth in what they have to say and dismiss the value of it and them. Another tack was to dismiss him as “some artist” with his head in the clouds and no idea of commercial realities, but Harris has done his fair share of commercial work and until recently was Design Director at daylife.

The Flash community is often unaware of much of the history of interactive media. Over the years I’ve seen many, many re-inventions of the wheel. Some of it is about seeing whether a prior work or technique is now possible in Flash, but a lot of it claims to be “new” when it isn’t, even some of the most celebrated pieces.

The truth is, there hasn’t been anything much that has been a paradigm shift coming out of the Flash world for a long time. Carlos Ulloa’s Papervision3D and André Michelle’s Audiotool are both technically brilliant, but what is impressive is that is was possible to create in Flash, not that they are a paradigm shift from Sega Rally or Reason. There are plenty of other examples too.

The question should be, what does making any of this in Flash bring that no other format could bring to the project? It could be file size, it could be openness or the fact that it is free (which is probably the biggest aspect of Audiotool, for example).

But something like Harris’s We Feel Fine could not have been made in any other age – it is a result of the blogosphere and interactivity combined. It could have been made in Flash, Director, Processing, C++ or several other languages.

And that’s the point – the tools are irrelevant if the idea is good enough. When Harris said, “Tools are not the idea. Tools are tools.” he’s absolutely right, which might be hard for some people to hear who are focussed on the tool alone.

Flash On the Beach 2008

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Flash on the Beach 2008 is coming soon: September 28th – October 1st in Brighton.

I’m not speaking this year, but plan to be there to write about it for Creative Review again. It’ll be nice to relax into being in the audience rather than worrying about my own presentation.

I’ve been to a fair few conferences and some of them can be fairly elitist beauty pageants, but FOTB is by far the best I’ve ever been to thanks to the hard work and personality of its founder, John Davey. The event feels like a family gathering and the quality of the presentations is usually excellent, often showing things you won’t have seen elsewhere.

The line-up is looking impressive and Jonathan Harris’s session should be worth the ticket price alone and no doubt Robert Hodgin will inspire another round of Flashers to get into Processing.

Director 11 Released – R.I.P. Director

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Director 11 was released a couple of months ago apparently, though I hadn’t seen the press release. If this was a new version of Flash, the web would be going crazy right now, which just goes to show what’s happened to Director over the years. It was only Douglas Edric Stanley’s rant on how unstable it is that alerted me to the fact.

The good news is that Adobe have finally got around to releasing an Intel version of the Shockwave plug-in, so all that old stuff we made can be viewed online again, and Director is now Intel and Vista compatible.

The bad news is that it’s about three years too late. Macromedia and then Adobe pretty much let Director gather dust whilst they polished Flash. Though I’m sad to say it, there seems to be little point in Director anymore.

I’m sad because it could have been a contender in the multi-touch prototyping arena and because Macromedia and Adobe really just let a good application die. It’s also depressing because all that Lingo I know is pretty much redundant – I think I’ll learn Fortran next.

Director used to be (and probably still is) great for rapid prototyping, had a great set of plug-ins with its Xtras and its handling of bitmaps, video and audio was far superior to Flash. Now the likes of OpenFrameworks and Processing are there for funky stuff and Flash can handle pixels and video brilliantly for the day-to-day work.

I still think Director has a much, much better interface and conceptual paradigm than Flash, though the next version of Flash, ‘Diesel’, steals quite a few elements from Director to finally make keyframes usable. I also think that Lingo is a great way to get non-coders into programming because it’s very forgiving, although I know many ‘real’ coders find it too sloppy because of that.

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Adobe’s ‘Extreme Mountain Bike Race’ – about as extreme as a fluffy kitten.

Adobe appear to be staking Director’s future on 3D games online, but I can’t help thinking that in these days of online PS3 and XBox games – not to mention PC-based games – that the market isn’t huge for people wanting play 3D games that look and play like they’re from the Playstation 1. Simple 2D games like Line Rider are brilliant. If you want 3D, get a giant graphics card or a console.

Although there is talk of Director 12 and even 13, they’ll be too late to be of any use even if they do arrive. Director is effectively dead.

A great deal of the early discoveries and experiments with interactive media were created in Director (and Hypercard) and a lot of what we now take for granted online and offline wouldn’t have been the same without it.

So long, Director, been nice knowing you.

I know some of you out there reading this are of have been Director developers – I’ve even taught a few of you – what do you think?

3M Interface – Reverse Multitouch

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My brother, Matt, just e-mailed a link to this interface on the 3M website. Given the multitouch hype at the moment, it’s quite a clever little riff on the theme.

Basically it’s as if you are standing to the rear of a multitouch screen. Your mouse controls the finger movements of the person blurred out in the background and a selection does the old two-finger click-and-drag-larger movement that seems to have become a multitouch standard.

Website Navigation Via Camera Tracking

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The website of Publicis & Hal Riney uses camera-tracking in Flash for the navigation – the first website to use it as far as I know.

Although described by a Twitterer as “Minority Report-like controls” (can we stop using that as the yardstick please!), it’s really more like the method used in the EyeToy Play.

I want to tell you it’s great and I’ll never want to navigate an old-skool website with a mouse again, but it isn’t and I don’t. The disconnect between my image (there in the bottom right) and the things I’m controlling (the arrows in the main part of the screen – you can see one on the right) destroys the most important part of any camera-tracking/multi-touch navigation: Because I’m having to mentally re-map the spacial relationships, the body as the affordance and direct manipulation of camera-based interaction is lost.

Besides, the mouse-based menu is a lot nicer to use and better designed.

They deserve kudos for giving it a go – and probably being the first – and the site itself uses the old ink-in-a-tank technique to great effect. It’s a nice job in Flash, but sadly the camera part is a novelty rather than ground-breaking – I soon went back to the mouse version.

The video loops of the head honchos talking on their mobiles is very cheesy agency style though. I’m pretty sure we’re beyond the time when talking on a mobile signifies you are important. Either that or my 13-year old nephew is running a multi-million dollar business.

[tags]camera tracking, navigation, Flash, Hal Riney, Publicis[/tags]

IKEA Complete Bedroom

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I seem to be having a bit of an IKEA theme going on at the moment.

Following on from the Dream Kitchen site there’s a nice new piece called The Complete Bedroom.

It uses the same kind of multi-angle video technique that the other versions use, though this one is simpler. It has some nice quick-cut segments as you switch between each bedroom to contrast the hectic lives of those we are observing with the relaxing bedroom zone.

In terms of interactivity it’s very simple and the charm is really down to the filming and music, which is what ad guys are good at. But I think it’s a good blend of digital and traditional approaches.

[tags]IKEA, flash, video[/tags]