What is navimation?

Thursday, February 26th, 2009 | General, Navimation examples | 2 Comments

This blog is about something I call navimation. But what do I actually mean by using this strange word? Before getting to the actual definition, we have to look at some background information.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that we create, share and use a lot of digital information every day. We consume news, TV, music, images and movies through a diversity of computer screens, including those of mobile phones.

To be able to find interesting content, we all have to find our way, or navigate, in this huge volume of digital information. This is done in a variety of ways, such as search, browsing, clicking interesting links and so on.

The information is usually presented to us at the screen, which we can describe as being a part of the interface between the human and the computer. The interface is what makes people able to control the computer, understand the digital information, and in turn communicate with other people. The interface has therefore a very important task.

Screen-based interfaces have become advanced. They can now show millions of colours, detailed graphics, and movement that is generated at the same time as we see it on the screen. This opens up for a range of new possibilities. Maybe one of the most prominent and impressing examples is the Apple iPhone, which uses motion rather consistently in the various parts of the interface. This is especially apparent in the Cover Flow interface (see video).

We haven’t got many specific words to describe this kind of motion in the interface. This is different from the motion we see in videos or on film, because here it happens with and as a result of something the user does. It is not only a playback.

Over time, I noticed that motion in the interface often (but not always!) occurs when the user  navigates digital information in the “virtual space” of the interface. I haven’t seen anyone else talk about this phenomenon, and therefore a new word seems appropriate. Actually a colleague of mine was the first one to articulate the word navimation, as a combination of navigation and animation. So, if you want the formal definition, navimation is the intertwining of the activity of navigation with the appearance of visual motion. The word motion seems more appropriate than the word animation, since animation often is understood as a specific genre or technique for making movies.

There are many ways to study navimation. For example, using cognitive psychology one can study how navimation is perceived by a specific user, and how navimation can help the user perform a specific task. From computer science, one can study how the underlying software technology can efficiently support navimation interfaces. From an artistic point of view, one can look at how navimation can be explored aesthetically and used for personal expression. From a marketing point of view, one can study how navimation can be used for strategic purposes, for example as part of visual identity and branding strategies.

However, my focus is somewhere else. As a design researcher, I am interested in how navimation can communicate. What can designers communicate by using navimation? How do you actually go about to create a navimational interface? What does navimation offer that visually static interfaces cannot? And – how is navimation engaging us at the affective level? These are hard questions, and I don’t know how many of them I will be able to answer. But I will try.

Feel free to drop a line if you have any suggestions, questions or opinions on this. What do you think about navimation? Is it only a buzz word, or does it have anything to offer?

Tags: , , , , , ,

For All Seasons

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 | General, Navimation examples | 1 Comment

The application ‘For All Seasons‘ by Andreas Müller was originally launched for PC and Mac some years ago, but is now also available for the iPhone (iTunes link). So far this is one of the best examples I have seen of ‘interactive motion graphics’. The interface is rather experimental in form, and allows for continuous user interaction. It makes it even more impressing that it works so well on the relatively small screen of the Apple iPhone.

For All Seasons [iPhone] from CreativeApplications.Net on Vimeo.

The graphical expression and visual movement is smooth and elegant. To give an example, in the ‘summer section’ (see video) of the application, the words of the text start swaying and swimming around like small fishes. If you touch the screen, the words tremble and swim fast away from the finger. The navigation is also very neat, if not particularly intuitive. By using two fingers you can rotate the ‘virtual camera’ around the scene, horizontally as well as vertically. The iPhone pinch can be used for zooming in and out.

I wonder how this type of interaction can be used for other and more utilitarian purposes. What if we could explore Facebook contacts or Flickr images by diving into a sea of swimming objects?

Tags: , , , , , , ,