Thursday, October 30, 2008

Reading List: Wired, November 2008

Here is an overview regarding two interesting articles from this month's wired magazine. I've provided a link for only one of the articles as I could not find the other one online. Enjoy.

Mainstream Physical Computing Interfaces
In the Gadgets column, Steve Levy talks about three products that have succeeded in integrating the digital and physical world in a compelling and easy to use manner - the Wii, the iPhone and Guitar Hero. Though all of these gadgets were launched before 2008, it was only this year that they reached maturity, achieved more widespread adoption and "dominated the zeitgeist." I have to agree with Steve's assessment since these are three of my favorite gadgets. Link to column, The Melding of Physical and Digital Realms.

Open-Source Hardware
Clive Thompson's article titled "Build it. Share it. Profit. Can Open Source Hardware Work." about open-source hardware was very interesting. Now that production cost for hardware technology is now sufficiently cheap new companies with open-source hardware business models have begun to appear and flourish. Improvements in technology design have also made it easier for DYI gadget builders to create cool prototypes without a PhD in advanced robotics. I have been tinkering with the idea of building some home brewed gadgets for a while - this will be one of a step of my self-imposed curriculum.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cool Design: Holographic Projection Interface

Check out this interesting portable computing concept that I found on PSFK, from a post titled Augmented Reality Using Holographic Projection. This portable interaface is known as Ringo and was designed by Ivan Tihienko. It enables users to interact with the computer using their hands and feet. It is based on holographic projections; the video below illustrates several potential capabilities including messaging, GPS and a cool two-player game of air hockey.

The concept is very cool, I predict that this technology could revolutionize the way we interact with computers (rather obvious prediction, I know). It would add a physical dimension to the interface that will afford many new interaction possibilities at home or on the go. In public environments this type of interface will be leveraged primarily for multi-user applications. Many people would feel uncomfortable flapping their arms in the air in public spaces in order to write a message or carry out other similar interactions. However, in more private places users will likely engage in wider variety of both single and multi-user interactions.

In the realm of mobile devices this technology could be marketed as a task-specific gadget, such as a gaming system; it could also be included as a secondary interface on mobile phones/PDAs (I want one on my phone). This interface is not appropriate as a primary interface on mobile phones/PDAs because the privacy provided via traditional interfaces is more appropriate for many type of applications. For example, you don't want people to be able to read your emails, or SMS conversations; you probably don't want them to always know who you are calling as well.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Interface for Storytelling: Jonathan Harris

I came across Jonathan Harris in his Pop!Cast from the Pop!Tech conference. In this podcast, which is featured below, Jonathan shares his passion for creating storytelling platforms. These "platforms" are innovative interactive interfaces that enable the "listener" to engage in the story on multiple different levels. The two of these platforms that I have explored offer different approaches to storytelling that are reflective of the different nature of the content itself. They are unlike the more common interactive storytelling approaches embodied by YouTube's annotation feature.

The Whale Hunt (link to site)
The Whale Hunt storytelling platform was developed to document the nine days that Jonathan spent living with an Inupiat Eskimo family in North West Alaska. This voyage was captured in thousands of photographs, approximately one photograph was taken every five seconds. The design of the website enables users to interact with the story in many interesting ways, supported by the story's content and medium.

Users are able to: see a graphical representation of the excitement level felt by Jonathan throughout the timeline of the story; select sections of the story based on the context (village or artict ocean), content (whale hunting, traveling), and color of the picture; view substories related to other "cast" members. Check out how Jonathan describes his own interface, where he provides a brief overview of the challenges he faced.

We Feel Fine (link to site)
The We Feel Fine storytelling platform differs considerably from the Whale Hunt. This difference is driven in large part by the type of content featured on each site. Whereas the Whale Hunt features content that is extremely detailed and specifically created for the purpose of the storytelling site, the content on We Feel Fine is harvested from blogs across the world. Each sentence is selected because it contains the world "feel".

These snippets of copy are analyzed to capture the "feeling" being expressed and are then compiled with data regarding each blogger's gender and age, and local weather information. Finally they are made available via a truly unique interface, here is a quote from the description of the interface by Jonathan, and co-creator Sep Kamvar: "The interface to this data is a self-organizing particle system, where each particle represents a single feeling posted by a single individual." (check out the full description here.)

Jonathan Harris - Pop!Cast

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Experience Design: Nike and Runners

Much has been written about Nike's groundbreaking programs for Basketball fans (aka "ballers") and Runners. Nike is one of the few brands that understands they are in the business of enabling people to become better runners or basketball players, as opposed to selling sports gear. Nike leverages many online and offline programs to deliver on this promise.

I have been familiar with Nike's online programs for runners for a while now - I gave my father an iPod with a Nike+ attachment a few years back. Nike+ is one of the coolest web supported applications that has been designed in the past years. However, it is only one part of much larger initiative to engage runners. Two interesting characteristic that bind together all of Nike's efforts are: their attempt to create a community around this individual sport; their ability to integrate the Nike brand in to these communities in way that is positive and adds value to the community. To illustrate this point I will highlight two initiative of which I recently became aware - I do want to point out that these initiative are new to me, but they were actually launched several years ago. The first initiative is Nike's Run NYC community; the second is Nike's Runner Stations.

Building Communities of Runners
Nike supports communities of runners in 15 cities throughout the United States. For each of these communities, Nike keeps a regularly updated blog that provides updates regarding past and future events that range from group runs and training sessions to a speaker series. Here is a link to their NYC runners blog, here is a direct link to their event calendar for October. Nike also prints flyers that included information regarding training runs and running paths available in these various cities (check out the red card at the top of this listing and the flyer to the left of this paragraph).

These communities provide Nike with the ability to build stronger relationships with runners founded on a common passion for the sport. Nike is not only selling shoes to the participants of these communities, but rather helping them become better runners. They are selling a transformation rather than a product or experience.

These communities also enable Nike to better understand the needs, wants and attitudes of runners - insights that can be leveraged in the development of new products or marketing and relationship programs.

Nike's Runner's Stations
I came across a Nike Runner's Station in Hudson River Park in Tribeca. This station, which is funded by Nike, provides runners with the opportunity to try Nike shoes and to get information regarding Nike's Run NYC events (e.g. training runs, etc). Drinks and snacks are also sold at this station, with all proceeds going to the Hudson River Park.

The runner's stations provide Nike with the opportunity to engage runners in their place of practice. Just the fact that Nike is present in this popular running spot gives them some level of credibility with this specific local community of runners. They have also done a good job at maximizing the value of their presence by providing runners with the opportunity to try out (as opposed to try on) Nike running shoes. The fact that Nike contributes all profits from the station to the Hudson River Park is another way that they show support for the local running community - essentially they are helping to support the local communities place of practice.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Death of Rollovers

I just realized today how rollovers don't work on touchscreen displays - I know this probably seems obvious to those with experience designing applications for touchscreen displays. I had this realization when I was visiting the Guggenheim website on an iPhone. The home page for the Guggenheim organization features a pictures of their museums and the names of the city appear only on rollover. Therefore, I was only able to see the name of the city where a museum was located only when I clicked on the picture of that specific museum. As touchscreen displays continue to become more commonly available, designers will not be able to rely on rollovers to display useful information about the behavior of a button.

Cool Design: Muji Chronotebook

Check out the design of this day planner from the Japanese brand Muji - the Chronotebook. I came across this cool book on PSFK earlier today (they originally picked it up from jack cheng's blog). The thing that struck me about the design of this day planner is that it reminded me about how we often get so used to existing solutions that we become blinded to other perspectives or approaches to the same problem. I had become so accustomed to the standard day planners that I almost took it for granted the possibility of coming up with a different (and in my mind) more effective approach.

I have purchased many day planners throughout my life. Sad to say that none of them survived; nor were they actually put in to use for that matter. Standard day planners have always seemed overly structured to me. Their design allows for no flexibility - if you have a bunch of short meetings between 11 and 12, good luck trying to fit it into a standard day planner. I personally like the freedom to be more creative with the way you plan your day - on the chronotebook you can easily add personal touches, such as graphics and embelishments, to help you stay on top of all your commitments, or for a little extra self-expression.

With this new notebook, Muji once agains proves that they can still deliver innovative and simple design solutions that are practical and emotionally engaging. I haven't wanted a new day planner in years.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Book Summary: Where the Action Is - The Foundations of Embodied Interaction - Chapter 4

Where the Action Is; The Foundations of Embodied Interaction
By Paul Dourish
MIT Press, 2001

Chapter 4 – Being in the World: Embodied Interaction

Dourish contends that embodiment is an attribute of how we experience physical and social reality. In turn, it is also “a unifying principle for tangible and social computing.” In this chapter he defines the notion of embodiment (and embodied interactions) by exploring the emergence of this concept.

The Quick Definition of Embodiment:
In this chapter Dourish evolves the definition of embodiment from “embodied phenomena are those that occur in space and time” to “embodiment is the property of our engagement with the world that allows us to make it meaningful.” He also shares a definition for embodied interaction: “[it] is the creation, manipulation and sharing of meaning through an engaged interaction with artifacts.”

In the book you only get to these last two definitions at the end of the chapter, at which point it makes more sense. So if you are confused just read on about the theories underlying this definition.

Emergence of the Concept of Embodiment:
Dourish’s exploration into the emergence of the concept of embodiment focuses mostly on thinkers from the phenomenological tradition, a school of philosophy in which I am personally interested. The perspectives that he highlights share three commonalities in their approach:
  1. The concept of embodiment plays a central role in all perspectives. Remember that our definition of embodiment is “a property of our engagement with the world that allows us to make it meaningful.” This definition expands beyond the notion of embodiment as a physical property to encompass non-physical properties that impact our experience of being-in-the-world.
  2. Practice plays a central role in all perspectives. By practice, Dourish refers to actions carried out in the world to accomplish “practical goal[s].” Action in the world is considered fundamental to our understanding the world and our relationship with it.
  3. All perspectives consider embodied practical action as a source of meaning. Embodiment is a source for intentionality rather than the object of it.

The Evolution of Phenomenology:
Phenomenology is relevant to understanding Dourish’s concept of embodied interaction because it is a school of thought that focuses on “ the behavior of embodied actors going about their business in the world.” It rejects abstract and formalized reasoning in favor of the world of everyday experience. To phenomenologists, meaning is found in the way the world reveals itself to us as being available for our actions, and in the way in which the world acts upon us - in both its physical and social manifestations.

Edmund Husserl is considered the father of phenomenology. The main aim of his investigations was to understand the relationship between objects of intentionality and our consciousness of those objects - in other words, the relationships between the objects of meaning and our experience of those objects. Intentionality is an important concept in phenomenology. I will not go into detail about this concept here because it is explored in detail in the next chapter of the book.

To properly analyze the relationship between these two notions, phenomenologists need to get passed the “natural attitude” under which humans operate that assumes the existence of “perceived objects” or meaning based solely on the perception. Life-world (lebenswelt) is a concept that Husserl introduced to refer to the everyday, mundane world of common background understandings that give rise to the “natural attitude” and provide a context for everyday experiences.

Martin Heidegger was a one of Husserl’s students. He broadened the focus of investigation from purely mental and cognitive concerns to encompass physical considerations, breaking away from Husserl’s perspective that separated mind and body, to embrace a wholistic perspective focused on being. Heidegger believed that first you need “to be in order to think.”

Based on Heidegger’s perspective, the meaningfulness of everyday experience arises from the way we exist in the world rather than from one’s mind – the experience of being cannot be separated from the world in which it occurs. He believed that the way we encounter the world is practical. We encounter it as a place in which we act and as a consequence intentionality (or meaning creation) is a practical affair.

Another important perspective that Heidegger introduced is that the world is not simply an object of our action but also as a medium through which we act. He distinguishes two ways in which we encounter the world: “ready-at-hand” and “present-to-hand.” Present-at-hand refers to when we encounter the world as an object of our action. An example of a ready-at-hand encounter is when we pick up a hammer and are conscious of the way we are holding it in our hand. Ready-to-hand refers to when we encounter the world as a medium through which we act. For example, when we are using a hammer but our consciousness is focused on a task such as hammering a nail

Here is a nice quote from Dourish about Heidegger’s impact on phenomenological thinking: “Essentially, Heidegger transformed the problem of phenomenology from an epistemological question, a question about knowledge, to an ontological question, a question about forms and categories of existence.”

Alfred Schutz extended phenomenology “beyond the individual to encompass the social world.” His main contribution focused on the issue of intersubjectivity. This concept refers to our “intersubjective understandings of the world and of our actions [with]in it.” Intersubjectivity ultimately provides the foundation from which social action emerges and from which social order is constituted.

Schutz’s rejected the traditional sociological perspective, which viewed intersubjectivity as a universal law. To him, intersubjectivity is a phenomena that emerges out of our everyday “mundane” experience - it is a problem that is “routinely solved by social actors in the course of their action and interaction. Social actors are, in effect, practical sociologists, solving the problems of sociology for themselves everyday.” One last important point is that this world of everyday “mundane” experience is the life-world described by Husserl.

Maurice Merlau-Ponty is the phenomenologist that placed the greatest emphasis on the concept of embodiment. The main focus of his investigation was the role that the body played in unifying the duality of mind/body, and subject/object. Embodiment had three different meanings according to Merlau-Ponty.

“The first is the physical embodiment of a human subject, with legs arms, and of certain size and shape; the second is the set of bodily skills and situational responses that we have developed; and the third is the cultural “skills,” abilities, and understanding that we responsively gain from the cultural world in which we are embedded. Each of these aspects, simultaneously, contributes to and conditions the action of the individual, both in terms of how they understand their own (the ‘phenomenological body’) and how it is understood by others (the ‘objective body’).”

Beyond Phenomenology
In this chapter, Dourish also introduces other modern theorists who are not part of the phenomenologist school but who have focused on the physical and social aspects of embodiment.

Being in the Physical WorldJ.J. Gibson is a proponent of ecological psychology, a branch of psychology that focuses on “knowledge in the world” as opposed to “knowledge in the head.” He introduced the now common concept of affordance, which “is a property of the environment [or an artifact] that affords action to appropriately equipped organisms.” This concept has heavily infiltrated the world of HCI, and it reached the general consciousness via Donald Norman’s book “The Psychology of Everyday Things.”

Being in the Social WorldLucy Suchman drew extensively from Garfinkel’s ethonomethodological perspective, which in essence “claims that everyday social practice creates and sustains the social world by rendering it publicly available and intelligible. Members’ methods for making action accountable are means through which the phenomenon of objective social reality is achieved.” (go back to the chapter 3 summary for more on ethnomethodology). Suchman demonstrated how the regimented models that are embodied in most interactive technology do not properly support the contextual and practical means by which human action is organized.

Language Games and the Meaning of Language - Ludwig Wittgenstein was a philosopher who studied language. He posited that meaning in language does not arise from words themselves but is rather embedded in the practice of language. He saw language as a form of action, rather than a system of symbols with objective meanings. To emphasize his perspective he developed the notion of “language games” that refer to “socially shared linguistic practices ‘consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven.’”

The goal of this rather long post is to help you understand Dourish’s definition of embodied interaction, with which I began this summary: “[it] is the creation, manipulation and sharing of meaning through an engaged interaction with artifacts.” I hope I have succeeded in doing so, if not, leave a comment and we’ll see if I can help shed any more light on the subject.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Taking GPS Games to the Next Level

Earlier today on PSFK I came across a posting from Hamburg about an awesome GPS-based game showcased in this year's Ars Electronica Festival. There are several cool thing about this game: it offers an immersive multiplayer experience that is based on the concept of a "hungry pack of wolves chasing after a sheep herd"; to succeed players have to react to real- and virtual-world obstacles on their pursuit; to impact the game players can also place real objects that have virtual properties; lastly, it enables "visitors" to keep track of the game's progress on a real-time map that keep track of the location of the wolves and sheep (players). Check out the video on the original posting on PSFK.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Evolution of Location-Based Services

I have never been a big fan of GPS. This is not to say that I have anything against this technology, instead this is a product of my being a New Yorker who rarely lives the city (and has a need for such devices). Recently my perspective has begun to change as more interesting location based services have started to pop up. On this topic, here are two interesting links regarding location based services:

Little Spring Design: Location services beyond maps, directions, and local search.
Here you will find a list of ideas for services based on GPS technology coupled with understanding of human beings (funny how it helps to add in the human understanding). Some of these services already exists while others I only wish they did. On service idea that I would personally like to lobby for is to be able to check the bus arrival time for the nearest stop on the M15 bus route in Manhattan. Bloomberg please help.

Jennifer Killian (Frog Design): Meriam case study. This is a video about a GPS navigation system that was released in Europe last year. This system definitely shows how GPS systems are quickly moving from functional tools that have been engineered to emotional tools that are designed.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Interactive Foil - Making Touch Displays out of LCD's and Projectors

In the spirit of continuing my investigation into the world of touch interfaces, check out this innovation from Visual Planet (I found out about this invention through interaction design blog). They are releasing an "interactive foil" that can be coupled with a standard LCD or projection display from 30 to 116 inches to deliver touchscreen functionality. Check out the video below of a prototype in action. If the cost is sufficiently low this will further drive the proliferation of touchscreens in public places - in doing so it will open up new opportunities and challenges for interaction designers.

As this technology increasingly becomes more available, it will be interesting to see how people respond to the appearance of touchscreen devices in different places. How will the type of interactions that people are willing to engage in differ based on their context. For example, people will feel comfortable engaging in some types of interactions in the privacy of a back of taxi that they would not be willing to do in a more public place, such as a bus stop.

As an inexperienced and technology-loving designer I have to always remind myself that I have a higher comfort-level with technology-based interactions than most others (my wife can attest to this). This is part of the reason that I have chosen to pursue this curriculum in interaction design - to help unleash the power of computation to enhance our experience of the world and improve quality of life.

Wii Hacks from Johnny Lee

I always thought the Wii was pretty cool, but now I understand the true potential of what you can do with the Wii's technology - if you have the courage and time to tinker with it. Johnny Lee is a researcher who became a star on YouTube for his ability to hack the Wii remote to create a low-cost multi-touch whiteboards and and head tracking device for desktop visual reality (VR) displays (check out the video below). Another video from Johnny that is not nearly as popular but more informative, is Johnny's talk at Ted ealier this year.

Multi-Touch Whiteboard Video from YouTube

Video of Johnny Lee's Talk from Ted

If you have the time and the motivation, check out Johnny's site where you can access the how-to instructions and software required to re-create these awesome gadgets for your personal use.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Multi-Touch Interfaces From IDEO and Others

I recently came across a few posts on the IDEO Lab blog about multi-touch computing. I am a huge fan of touch computing. My experiences with these types of interfaces are limited to the iPhone, the SmartBoard from my wife's classroom, and random retail and public instalations that use Microsoft's Surface or other technologies.

I had never really thought much about the collaborative potential of large scale multi-touch interfaces. It seems obvious now, after reading about the IDEO Lab's experiments. Here is a great quote from one of their blog postings about the collaborative nature of multi-touch systems: "multi-touch, particularly on large displays, assumes multiple inputs at the same time. Multiple fingers, yes, or multiple hands from multiple people. In other words, it’s a system designed for “us” instead of for “me” — for collaboration instead of heads-down work."

Here are three videos that show the potential of multi-touch systems in action. The first video covers a talk from Jeff Han at TED in 2006. In this talk he introduces his Perceptive Pixel multi-touch display and makes the case for basing future computer interfaces on this type of technology. The second video documents a "Home-Brew" project from IDEO, check out this story about how they put this together. The third video shows a prototype from Perceptive Pixel.

Jeff Han's Talk at Ted

IDEO's Multi-Touch Project

Perceptive Pixel's Multi-Touch Project