Kinetic Design

Alongside the surge of interest in gestural interaction, there appears to be a rising fascination with kinetic works too. Some of this comes out of the crossover of interaction designers now being able to relatively easily work with physical computing interfaces like Arduino boards and camera tracking.

But there seems to me to be a fascination with the physicality of objects too. Not in the static sense of product design’s endless fascination with chairs and lamps, but in the way objects move and transform. ‘Kinetic designer’ Ben Hopson, has written a long and interesting piece on Core77 titled Kinetic Design and the Animation of Products in which he explores this discipline.

I’m not sure he can really claim to have ‘created’ the discipline, but he has certainly brought together some interesting ideas and approaches in one place. Much as Dan Saffer has argued in Designing Gestural Interfaces, designers in this area need “A Vocabulary for Motion” and methods for sketching and recording motion:

“What choreographers, physicists, and puppeteers have in common is that they are all able to sketch movements, record their ideas, and talk about them. Design has no such tradition of kinetic notation or vocabulary. While design has many resources with which to address form, surface, and structure, it has no means of effectively developing or recording a spatial event that takes place over time.”

Interaction design does use some elements from these disciplines and many more to describe interactions, but in the end it always comes down to what it feels like. And the only real way to do that is to make a prototype.

“Fancy hardware or mechanical elements are not necessary for such models and, in fact, can become a hindrance. As long as a sketch moves as it should, it doesn’t matter how it’s made or from what. Dirty, fast, and cheap sketches are usually sufficient to demonstrate a motion concept. One can use simple materials like foamcore, tape, hot glue, and balsa wood. The model itself is not important– just how it moves.”

The same is true in interaction design. For me, the question are always, “does this encourage playful interactions?” and “do I feel compelled to keep interacting with/using this interface?” These are intangibles – they are experiences and it is very hard to predict without a prototype. It is also what makes it so hard to describe what I do for a living…

Update: Sarah reminded me in the comments about the DVD player vs. jukebox comparison in Ben’s article. It reminded me of Nakamichi’s famous Dragon casette deck that turned the tape for you: