Troika is on Cloud, er, Five

If you haven’t already explored the background behind Troika’s cloud for BA’s Terminal 5 – “a five meter long digital sculpture whose surface is covered with 4638 flip-dots that can be individually addressed by a computer to animate the entire skin of the sculpture” – Pixelsumo has got the goods and also images of the Processing pattern mock-up tool.

More development images and info here.

Or just watch the video above and wish you had done it.

[tags]troika, artwork, installation, cloud, processing[/tags]

Wii remote for a head tracking display

Here’s an interesting video of inverting the Wiimote and infrared sensors to create a surprisingly realistic optical illusion for a single user:

A lot of interaction and GUI design is about optical illusion and willing suspension of disbelief, something usually talked about in fiction. It’s tempting to try and make things ‘for real’ sometimes, when actually a fake or a bit of smoke and mirrors works better.

Driving games aren’t really using realistic physics, they’re usually souped up to make things more exciting. Those aren’t really files and folders on your desktop there and this isn’t really a page. Of course you know that in the back of your mind, but you willingly ignore it in order to utilise the illusion.

When you try and make a metaphor real, you get all caught up in knots sometimes and lose the benefits of the abstracted version. Bumptop is a classic example of this – by mimicking a physical desktop you end up with all the same hassles, such as too little space for all the junk. I wrote more about this at length before.

What’s interesting about Johnny Lee’s approach above is that it’s so low-tech. Another example of the openness and cheapness of the Wiimote producing innovation. The other aspect is that it doesn’t really require much in the way of a headset, unlike other VR systems whose kit only serves to constantly break the suspension of disbelief.

Although plenty of research grant applications seem to thrive on making things much more complicated than they need to be, it is generally good to remember the KISS principle.

Can you think of some other good examples of these kinds of simple illusions in interface/interaction design?

[tags]interactivity, VR, Wii, tracking[/tags]

20,000 Processing Particles

I’ve played with Processing a fair bit over the years, but never really got stuck into anything solid – most of my time has been spent fixing up my students’ projects!

Over the break I’ve been playing with some other ideas, working through the very good book by Casey Reas and Ben Fry, Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists. It’s probably one of the best books I’ve ever read in terms of introducing and explaining how to code for people without a computer science background.

Inspired by Robert Hodgin’s wonderful Processing work I thought I’d have another crack at particles as they seem to be all the rage at the moment. The particle creation part is easy, but getting them to interact with decent physics was getting too much for my mathematically challenged brain. Thankfully I came across the Traer Physics Engine by Jeffrey Traer Bernstein, which handles a lot of that maths for you.

My “Hello World!” code for any platform tends to be a bouncing ball (or an array of them) because it covers most of the structures – if…then, variables, arrays, etc.

So I started building and engine that has a bunch of particles that are all attracted to each other, but more attracted to a single one which is following a target invisible bouncing ball around the screen. (It would make more sense to collapse the particles into the ball code, but at the moment I’m just plugging stuff together.)

It’s very simple at the moment – just an ellipse as the graphic with some trails going on. The above is a version that rendered out in non-realtime with 20,000 particles. I like the way they seem to rope together and struggle to break free. Sometimes there’s a kind of breakaway flare.

There’s also a bit of gravity going on, which drags everything down. Any particles that go off the bottom of the screen are simply recycled up the top (you’ll see this in the initial explosion). A interesting upshot of this is that sometimes the tail of the flare/rope falls off the bottom and those particles make a break for it from the top.

You can play with a 2,000 particle version of it here (and view the source code)..

There are also a couple of other versions on Vimeo.

[tags]processing, particles, generative, video, vimeo[/tags]

The Whale Hunt by Jonathan Harris

whalehunt_1_thumb.jpg

Whatever your opinion on commercial whaling, substance whaling is a totally different affair. It’s been part of aboriginal Eskimo life for thousands of years and has deep roots in their cultural life, beliefs and survival.

Jonathan Harris, whose work I find consistently beautiful, has created a mesmerising project called The Whale Hunt documenting the ten days he spent with a family of Inupiat Eskimos in Barrow, Alaska, during their annual spring whale hunt.

Taking 3,214 photos, each at five-minute intervals he has created what he calls a “photographic heartbeat” of the experience. During moments of heightened activity, the “heartbeat” would quicken to a maximum of 37 pictures per minute.

whalehunt_2_thumb.jpg

The mass of information and images (almost all of which are, amazingly, beautiful photographs) can be viewed in different ways through different interfaces and constraints, something that characterises Harris’s work.

Be warned, some of the shots are pretty grisly, but you will also see the beauty of the landscape and a sense of the ritual. Visit The Whale Hunt site for the background or dive right in and play.

[tags]jonathanharris, interactivity, interface, visualisation[/tags]

Poke’s Never-Ending Web Page for Orange

I meant to post this last week but was travelling and forgot. Take a look at the never-ending web page that Poke designed for the Orange Unlimited campaign “Good Things Should Never End”. Iain also posted some secrets about the site – goodies are hidden therein.

Lovely, silly animations by Rex and some smart little interactive toys too. Infuriatingly it really does seem to never end too – I keep trying to chase my scrollbar to the bottom but the fun just keeps coming.

Apart from it being a fantastic, playful time-waster it’s also perfectly aligned with the message. Nice.

[tags]animation, marketing, illustration, Poke, play, interactivity[/tags]

Games, Play and Web Applications

[Dan Saffer’s](http://www.odannyboy.com/blog/new_archives/2007/10/presentation_ga.html] latest presentation called Gaming The Web: Using the structures of games to design better web apps is a great summary of many of the themes I’ve covered over the years, which is gratifying to see.

In his presentation Saffer looks at the way games are structured, the difference between games and toys and also interactivity and flow, which I also wrote about a while back.

Flow

The flow principle was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and, amongst other things, looks as the border between boredom and anxiety. The idea being that when a task is perfectly pitched to our abilities – not too hard and not too easy – we become fully engaged in it. Games designers have been using this process for years building up these skill levels via game levels.

Toys, Play and Games

Much of what Saffer has to say about toys versus games is also really valuable and echoes what we were banging on about back in the 90s at Antirom. Toys are things without goals and rules in the way that games have them. There’s a lot to learn from toys because people simply pick them up and play with them, sometimes becoming quickly bored, but other times becoming absorbed and inventing games from that play. It’s a great way of getting people to explore and learn a new interface and it’s one of the things that Apple do very well.

Part of my ongoing PhD is about this very aspect of interactivity and uses OS X as an example. As Brenda Laurel argued way back in 1993 in Computers as Theatre, computers have grown from the paradigm of being a ‘tool’. Windows has always separated the ‘business’ side of computing from the gaming side and the OS itself (prior to Vista) has always had quite a utilitarian attitude. The Mac OS has always had a sense of humour and this leads to nosing around and playing and thus discovering its hidden secrets. That irritates those wanting to ‘just get the work done’ but it also emotionally engages people and is, I think, one of the reasons Mac fanboys (and girls) are so passionate about their emotional attachment to all things Apple.

Saffer breaks down the structure of games thus:

Mechanics create Dynamics which create Aesthetics

and argues that this is how most development works. The business or technical mechanics come first and then the aesthetics are bolted on top, when actually we should be thinking the other way around (or perhaps not thinking directionally at all):

we should really be designing like game designers do: you start from the opposite side of the equation. We should figure out the aesthetics–what should this feel like? what is the emotional response to this application?–and work backwards from there. What dynamics will create these feelings? And what mechanics will support that?

It’s one of the reasons the iPhone interface looks like it does and most other mobiles are a complete nightmare to navigate and configure

The point is that in a world where so many interfaces are competing for our attention those that fail to engage from the first contact (and this is usually an aesthetic, playful moment) fail entirely. Put simply, if someone can’t be bothered to play with your GUI all the technical wonders in the world behind it won’t ever get seen or used.

Cultural Play and Change

The main thrust of Saffer’s presentation is about web apps, of course. The last chapter of my PhD is about social play in this realm. A few months ago I wrote that StumbleUpon is the Antirom of the Web as an example. Social software is about play and discovery and ‘work’ or ‘business’ benefits are spin-offs from that, not the other way around.

I would go further than Saffer, though, an argue that it’s not just designers and developers who need to get playful with their design, but that corporate and company structures need to become more playful. In a presentation to Neue Digitale in Frankfurt last year I spoke about play and playfulness not only being useful design outcomes but also an essential design approach. But for this to happen the playfulness needs to be structured into the company workings not just bolted on in the same way as we argue that design should be integral to the entire process as it is in service design.

Much of this I’m going to be talking about next week in my session at Flash on the Beach in Brighton – if any of you are there, please come and say hello!

[tags]Dan Saffer, interactivity, play, design, flow, antirom, presentations[/tags]

IKEA Dream Kitchen

ikea_kitchen.jpg

The multi-camera technique that freezes a moment in time, but allows you to pan around in space (popularised as bullet time in The Matrix, but it has quite a history) seems to be being used all over the place in Flash micro-sites now.

Now that Flash handles video and images so well, it’s interesting to see people try and use that ability in original, navigable ways rather than just putting a TVC on the web.

The folks over at Forsman & Bodenfors in Sweden have been going great guns with it on the IKEA Dream Kitchen site, which allows you to move around various styles of kitchen as they are frozen in a moment in time. They also did a Swedish version (that I think might be from 2006), which is simpler, but I like it better personally.

The same technique was used in the Halo 3 launch site by Method Studios.

(The picture above isn’t really a great example because it looks like an ordinary picture, so you have to imagine being able to move around the space – or you could just [look at the site](http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/rooms_ideas/ckl/default.html] yourself).)

[tags]interactivity, play, IKEA, Flash[/tags]

Interactive Gestures Wiki

Multitouch screens of all shapes and forms are really all the rage, but with them come whole new paradigms of interaction. Do you wave like a Wii or do the Minority Report hand swipe popular in many kinds of large-screen set-ups.

Interaction designer, Dan Saffer, who also wrote Designing For Interaction has written a call to arms for interaction designers over at Adaptive Path. He points out some of the issues and dangers if these ideas aren’t documented and resolved. Standards help everyone and sharing knowledge of what you’ve played with, what works and what doesn’t is essential. As Dan says:

And if we wait, well, we’ll simply find individual companies (Apple, Microsoft, Perceptive Pixel, etc. etc.) creating their own standards (as is being done now). And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, one can easily imagine having to remember a crazy amount of movements and gestures for common actions. (”Wait, to turn on the lights do I tap the wall, or wave a hand? Is this an iRoom or MS Rume?”) We’ll get a lot of ad hoc solutions – some of which will be great, some not so much. Standards and a pattern library would help.

In order to gather this knowledge together in one place, Dan has started an Interactive Gestures Wiki. It’s already interesting to nose around and see just how many gestures and ideas are already out there, but it needs some filling in from us all.

[tags]multitouch, interactivity, gestures, physical interaction, dan saffer, wiki[/tags]