Archive

Interface innovations

A week or so ago, Ryan of Adaptive Path conducted a long, looping interview with me over IM where we covered the above and beyond.

Of course, this was meant to be something punchy, level-headed and action-packed as a promotion for their upcoming MX event, where people want to hear about the business-like practicalities and opportunities of ‘design thinking’ etc.

Instead they got something that Peter accurately described as ‘DVD-extras’, and I’m pretty comfortable with that.

For me, at least, and YMMV of course – crispy, crunchy blue-shirt and chinos bullet-points don’t do it. Design, invention and making comes out of play, punning and rambling on – generative, diverging and looping and splicing.

I’m very glad that Ryan decided to do the interview in IM, rather than emailing me questions that I could respond to as if in an exam. It’s a fun mess, that I’m glad to say Peter returned to and found a seed of something to advance further himself: the influence that our new ability of visualising shared behaviours has on our old ability as a social species to flock.

I’m hoping that my talk at MX will have a little more discipline to it, but still have enough DVD extras there for people to pick out and run with. If you register for MX, then use the discount code AP have given me: “MXMJ”, you’ll get 15% off the
registration price…

Lamenting lost futures is not that productive, but it doesn’t stop me enjoying it. Whether it’s the pleasure of reading Ellis’s “Ministry of Space” and thinking “what if?” or looking through popculture futures past as in this Guardian article – it’s generally a sentimental, but thought-provoking activity.

Recently, though, I’ve been thinking about a temporarily lost future that’s closer to home in the realm of mobile UI design. That’s the future that’s been perhaps temporarily lost in the wake of the iPhone’s arrival.

A couple of caveats.

Up until June this year. I worked at Nokia in team that created prototype UIs for the Nseries devices, so this could be interpreted as sour-grapes, I suppose.. but I own an iPodTouch, that uses the same UI/OS more-or-less, and love it.

I spoke at SkillSwap Bristol in September (thanks to Laura for the invite) and up until the day I was travelling to Bristol, I didn’t know what I was going to say, but I’d been banging on at people in the pub (esp. Mr. Coates) about the iPhone’s possible impact on interface culture, so I thought I’d put together some of those half-formed thoughts for the evening’s debate.

The slides are on Slideshare
(no notes, yet) but the basic riff was that the iPhone is a beautiful, seductive but jealous mistress that craves your attention, and enslaves you to its jaw-dropping gorgeousness at the expense of the world around you.

skillswap250907

This, of course, is not entirely true – but it makes for a good starting point for an argument! Of course, nearly all our mobile electronic gewgaws serve in some small way or other to take us away from the here and now.

But the flowing experience just beyond Johnny Ive’s proscenium chrome does have a hold more powerful than perhaps we’ve seen before. Not only over users, but over those deciding product roadmaps. We’re going to see a lot of attempts to vault the bar that Apple have undoubtedly raised.

Which, personally, I think is kind-of-a-shame.

First – a (slightly-bitter) side-note on the Touch UI peanut gallery.

In recent months we’ve seen Nokia and Sony Ericsson show demos of their touch UIs. To which the response on many tech blogs has been “It’s a copy of the iPhone”. In fact, even a Nokia executive responded that they had ‘copied with pride’.

That last remark made me spit with anger – and I almost posted something very intemperate as a result. The work that all the teams within Nokia had put into developing touch UI got discounted, just like that, with a half-thought-through response in a press conference. I wish that huge software engineering outfits like S60 could move fast enough to ‘copy with pride’.

Sheesh.

Fact-of-the-matter is if you have roughly the same component pipeline, and you’re designing an interface used on-the-go by (human) fingers, you’re going to end up with a lot of the same UI principles.

But Apple executed first, and beautifully, and they win. They own it, culturally.

Thus ends the (slightly-bitter) side-note – back to the lost future.

Back in 2005, Chris and myself gave a talk at O’Reilly Etech based on the work we were doing on RFID and tangible, embodied interactions, with Janne Jalkanen and heavily influenced by the thinking of Paul Dourish in his book “Where the action is”, where he advances his argument for ‘embodied interaction':

“By embodiment, I don’t mean simply physical reality, but rather, the way that physical and social phenomena unfold in real time and real space as a part of the world in which we are situated, right alongside and around us.”

I was strongly convinced that this was a direction that could take us down a new path from recreating desktop computer UIs on smaller and smaller surfaces, and create an alternative future for mobile interaction design that would be more about ‘being in the world’ than being in the screen.

That seems very far away from here – and although development in sensors and other enablers continues, and efforts such as the interactive gestures wiki are inspiring – it’s likely that we’re locked into pursuing very conscious, very gorgeous, deliberate touch interfaces – touch-as-manipulate-objects-on-screen rather than touch-as-manipulate-objects-in-the-world for now.

But, to close, back to Nokia’s S60 touch plans.

Tom spotted it first. In their (fairly-cheesy) video demo, there’s a flash of something wonderful.

Away from the standard finger and stylus touch stuff there’s a moment where a girl is talking to a guy – and doesn’t break eye contact, doesn’t lose the thread of conversation; just flips her phone over to silence and reject a call. Without a thought.

Being in the world: s60 edition from blackbeltjones on Vimeo.

As Dourish would have it:

“interacting in the world, participating in it and acting through it, in the absorbed and unreflective manner of normal experience.”

I hope there’s a future in that.

.flickr-photo { border: solid 2px #000000; }
.flickr-yourcomment { }
.flickr-frame { text-align: left; padding: 3px; }
.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }

After reading Jane’s post about using time people spend fiddling with Facebook for solving problems with other (gaming) networks, I wondered whether there were other things you could do with all those idle hands.

What about Folding@home or Mechanical Turk tasks, as shown rather sketchily above.

Back in May, referring to Sony’s announcment that the folding@home client would be installed on the PS3, Alice wrote about “Games that do good”

“Are there games or game mechanics that could be used to fund-raise or awareness-raise?”

My quick mock up is not all that enticing or interesting, though touches like sparklines, league-tables and scoring could rapidly turn such things into more of a playful and engaging activity, turning all those idle hands to good causes.

Know of anything like this going on?

Nokia Design: Explore Concept 2012 on VimeoConcept work here by the lovely people in our Calabasas studio illustrating what Nokia Nseries could do in 2012.

Just the device to have around for the end of the Mayan Calendar and the arrival of TimeWave-Zero/Barbelith/VALIS/The Solar Maximum/Whatever.

Our team was peripherally involved in brainstorming it with them, but they have put together a rather lovely thing here. There had to be a Welshman involved…

A while back I had an idle wish for a firefox extension that autogenerated a 2d barcode (semacode or other) from the URL of the current page/thing/resource, so I could quickly snarf it into my mobile and take it with me.

Instantly-mobile deeplinky goodness with no fiddly typing.*

A random thought tonight while staring at my browser: how much info could I store in a favicon, if I made it a 2d barcode?

semafav_URL

A favicon is 16×16, and readable datamatrix 2d codes go down to 10×10 and 3mm. Of course, readable here means by an industrial scanner from a crisp printed sticker, rather than a mobile phone and a fuzzy LCD display.

Here’s the semacode for the wikipedia entry on Blogjects (it was the 2nd workshop that Julian and Nicholas have run on those blighters this week, so it seemed an appropriate choice!)

blogject_semacrop

As you can see, a fair slice of the data is cropped if we try for 16×16 in order to make a favicon.

Still – I wonder if there’s anything doable there? Could something useful and/or diverting be done in this little space in the address field?

If not, my original lazyweb wish for a firefox extension to create instant takeaway datashadows still stands…

—-
* Yes, before Charlie gets all-up-in-my-face (;-) – I know winksite has semacode integration – but I want EVERYTHING I visit to have a code ,whether they like it or not!

I’ve started playing with Radar.net from Tiny Pictures.

Nothing much to report yet, but there is one little design detail that I’ll be stashing away for my own stuff (as long as Mr. Poisson et al don’t mind) which is not only going for a URL that is t9/predictive-text friendly, but also issuing identity elements (an auto-generated unique posting address to MMS pictures to, in this case) that are t9-compliant.

This makes it far, far easier and more pleasurable to set-up the service and integrate it with your mobile, which with these sorts of things is 75% of the battle won. Makes the thing feel very polished and considered from the start, which gives me the confidence to trust radar.net with a little bit more of my digital life perhaps.

My feeling is that despite all the hoo-haa about uglydesign/undesign’s success in Web2.0, it just won’t carry in the Mobile Web 2.0 world.

If you are anything like me, (a) how are you finding it? and (b) you probably have a lot of entries in del.icio.us tagged “toread” or “to_read” etc. etc. which you have not got round to actually, y’know, reading.

Yesterday I made the effort to actually print out some of the things I had tagged to read, and – read them!

What I’d like, LazyWeb, therefore – is a site/script/widget/thing that would

  • grab the URLs of what I have tagged “to_read” (or an arbitrary tag, of course)
  • goes and gets the text found at those URLs (this doesn’t have to be pretty)
  • then smooshes them together into a file I can then print or save for later printing.

How about it?

Almost guaranteed fame on lifehacker/43folders would be yours, as well as my undying gratitude.

UPDATE:

Matt Biddulph contributes this:

OK, you need lynx installed to get a nice dump of html to text file.
For a mac, http://www.osxgnu.org/software/pkgdetail.html?
project_id=226&cat_id=211
might have what you need.

Paste this in a terminal window on any mac or unix machine:

for a in `curl http://del.icio.us/rss/blackbeltjones/toread | grep
'<link>' | cut -d\> -f 2 | cut -d\ toread.txt

and it’ll make reading.txt with a html2text concatenation of all your
toread links.

Excellent – will try this on the weekend and report back…

Cheers,
Matt.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,134 other followers