I Want You To Want Me by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar

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Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar, who created one of my all time favourite interactive pieces, We Feel Fine, have a new piece called I Want You To Want Me commissioned for MoMA’s Design and The Elastic Mind show.

I Want You To Want Me explores the world of online dating, scraping data from thousands of online profiles all in search of love. As with We Feel Fine the interaction is simple, but allows you to view the data in lots of beautiful, emotional and meaningful ways. The interface is made up of balloons representing each person and each one has one of over 500 specially shot video silhouettes inside it.

The ways of looking at the data are described as movements and include things like “Who I Am” and “What I Want” along with “Openers”, “Closers” and “Taglines”, which are used in the profile descriptions. There’s also a matchmaker section:

Matchmaker algorithmically pairs people based on their descriptions of who they are and what they’re looking for. Balloon couples emerge on the horizon and drift to the foreground, before pausing side by side for a few seconds and then floating off together.

The project’s website explains it all in detail with some great images from it. A real treat is that they also documented their process with sketches, photos, etc.

[tags]Jonathan Harris, Sep Kamvar, MoMA, installation, dating[/tags]

Podcast interview with Jason Bruges

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My latest Core77 Broadcast interview with Jason Bruges from Jason Bruges Studio is now online.

In a slightly echoing room in Jason’s studio, accompanied by the usual sirens and car alarms of London’s Shoreditch, he talks about his roots in architecture, the journey to interactive surfaces, sustainability and his thoughts about giving this emerging area a proper name.

Hope you enjoy it.

The next one, coming soon, is with Troika.

[tags]Core77, Jason Bruges[/tags]

Programming for children

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Following on from my post and Nigel’s comments about Clicktoy, I just found Scratch, which is a simple multimedia authoring environment for children. It looks like it outputs to java applets as a playback format.

The team is led by Mitch Resnick at MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten, which would frankly be my dream academic post.

Scratch is free to download and is for Windows and OS X.

[tags]games, programming, multimedia, children, MIT, Scratch[/tags]

Maze Frenzy

Some little games, like Line Rider are simple and instantly addictive.

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Quite a few of my students have tried to build something like Maze Frenzy in the past, but this one is great. Just click on the dot and move the mouse. I wasted at least four minutes of my time playing it. Not bad.

There’s also a more difficult version if you’re already the maze master.

[tags]games, maze[/tags]

ClickToy – A game for two year-olds

Old skool interaction designers will remember Grandma and Me and the rest of Broderbund’s Living Books series. Those early ‘multimedia’ children’s books were some of the best examples of simple, playful interactivity. Anything on the screen that looked like it could be clicked did something – there was rarely a disappointment. Every tiny corner held a little interactive surprise and was surprisingly compelling. Some of those principles still influence the way I think about interactivity 15 years on.

Much of that approach has been lost in many current videogames, yet the truth is, many two year-olds play around on the computer and most of the stuff available is either a bit too gruesome or a bit too ‘edutainment’ focussed.

Clicktoy by long-time games developer, Ken Kavanagh, is a completely unstructured play environment. The first game, Meadow, is, well, a meadow. You can navigate around the space and press keys to make things happen. That’s it.

Kavanagh says that he was trying to think of something that his two year-old could use and enjoy and spent some time staring at the keyboard. Eventually he boiled it down to the idea that there are 101 buttons and thought, “What can I make happen if you make every button do something different?”.

It’s a good approach to interaction design – look at what you have and think about what you can do with it, rather than dream up something grand and make a half-baked version of the dream. The open-ended play helps make the most of this approach.

“Children’s toys, like Fisher-Price toys, are super simple, they’re sandbox toys, open-ended play, no structure or goal, you just simply play with it,” says Kavanagh. “I wasn’t seeing that in software.”

The meadow, replete with bunny rabbits, deer, bumble bees, rainbows and flowers, was as innocent and as wholesome an environment as he could think of and also reflected his son’s existing soft toy collection.

Press a key and the bunnies hug each other, press another and an acorn falls from a tree and comically bounces of the deer’s head who looks around in surprise.

The lack of any story, which normally drives children’s games is also an interesting aspect, as anyone who has made up a story or watched a child make up a story can attest to.

“Since the game provides no narration I think it’s actually a wonderful opportunity to provide it as a parent. We can make up a story about the bunnies visiting their friends.”

It’ll be interesting to see whether this kind of thing gains ground. There’s no doubt that it’s unlikely that very young children are going to ignore the computer. Letting them play seems like a good idea to me. Taking them to a real meadow to see the living ‘characters’ is probably a good idea too. Like Disney without the associated McDonald’s merchandising.

(Via CBC News)

[tags]games, clicktoy, children, broderbund, living books[/tags]

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]

37signals versus Don Norman

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If there was ever a clear example of the generation gap between those who have been steeped in digital culture from the start and those who have had to adopt it later in life, the current debate between 37signals and Don Norman is it.

I took note of the original article in Wired on 37signals and I know that Don Norman had weighed in with accusations of arrogance, because he was already quoted in the article. Experientia’s post alerted me to the fact that it’s still going on, and on.

I interviewed Jason Fried back in 2005 and didn’t find 37signals arrogant at all.

What’s weird is that I think Norman and 37signals are actually talking about the same stuff, and even sharing the same opinions in general, they just have different ways of expressing them, and neither side seems to understand the other. Personally, I find Norman’s views on simplicity versus complexity erratic and he too often equates simplicity with minimalism – he rants about it pretty frequently in the Design of Everyday Things and uses the minimalist failures as critiques of simplicity.

Normal mainly took exception to David Heinemeier Hansson saying, “I’m not designing… for other people.” The gist behind this is that they do what Apple does, create things that work for them and hope that other people like them (as they apprently do). But Norman suggests to 37signals how they should really work:

The solution is to decide which customers represent your core audience, and then to observe them at work, the better to understand their true needs. (Not by asking them, not by questionnaires, not by focus groups). Rapid iterations of prototype and evaluation is the key. The iterative design method of rapid prototyping, test, and iteration (all done within the span of a day or so) is well defined in the Human-Computer Interaction community.

That makes me suspect that Norman hasn’t really got a grip on what 37signals do – as a quick look at the (now free) Getting Real book would show. Here’s what they say in the “Rinse and Repeat” chapter:

Instead of banking on getting everything right upfront, the iterative process lets you continue to make informed decisions as you go along. Plus, you’ll get an active app up and running quicker since you’re not striving for perfection right out the gate. The result is real feedback and real guidance on what requires your attention.

37signals strive to avoid feature bloat. There’s a reason that word processing apps like Writeroom and Mellel are increasingly popular. They’re simple and clean. I have great respect for Norman, but sometimes he seems to voice opinions that really reenforce my feeling that HCI is a terrible methodology to study interaction design. It also feels like he’s stuck between two worlds, the old consultant model and the current world of flux.

Jason Fried makes a salient point in their well-written response, comparing what they do to being chefs:

And if enough customers tell us our food is too salty or too hot, we may adjust the salt and the heat. But if some customers tell us to add bananas to our lasagna, we’re not going to make them happy at the expense of ruining the dish for everyone else. That doesn’t make us selfish. We’re just looking out for the greater good.

I think that makes sense, especially in an environment where products can and should be niche, and can and should be changed and tweaked. It’s very different from the product-based world that Norman hails from.

*Photo credit: mcdemoura

[tags]HCI, 37signals, simplicity, Norman[/tags]