Sketching in time

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009 | Design process, General, Navimation examples | 3 Comments

“Since they need to be able to capture the essence of design concepts around transitions, dynamics, fell, phrasing, and all the other unique attributes of interactive systems, sketches of interaction must necessarily be distinct from (traditional) types of sketches…” Bill Buxton: Sketching User Experiences

This week I have been involved in teaching a group of interaction design students at the Design for interactive and social media course at AHO. The topic has been ‘Sketching with time’, and has focused on using stop motion combined with paper prototyping to sketch interface ideas. The week’s assignment was to make a photo album interface and experiment with navimation.

Before introducing the students to the technique I had to try it out myself. I found the Mac application FrameByFrame which has been brilliant for this purpose. The functionality of the software is limited, but it is free, extremely simple to use, and serves the purpose for quick motion sketching.

Here are two of the quick stop motion sketches I made:

I also tried using video, recording my actions in real time:

The video quality is quite rough (partly because I am using a really old DV camera), but I don’t see this as a big problem. The technique is primarily to be used for quick sketches early in the design process.

Video Sketching

The students got three days to make their video sketches. During these days many of the students managed to do a lot of experimentation and test out different ideas. The task was in many ways an experiment from our side, so I was positively surprised by the diversity and quality of their work. I also got the impression that they had learned a lot about timing, response and communication in the interface.

The technique has clearly some disadvantages – it is for example hard to make subtle movements and deal with details and many elements at the same time. However, it seems especially suited for 3D motion sketching, since this often requires a lot of time and skills to do on a computer.

UPDATE: see some of the videos the students made.

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OnLive: straming navimation

Friday, March 27th, 2009 | General, Navimation examples | No Comments

This week the upcoming service OnLine was presented at the Game Developers Conference 2009. OnLine is a video game service that allows games to be streamed live from a data center onto TVs or computers, so that the users don’t need their own advanced graphics hardware. It is not even necessary to install the games, as the computer center does all the work. Welcome to cloud computing for games.

OnLive is also interesting in terms of interface and visual design. Just take a look at this video of the game interface:

As you can see, the service provides a visually rich interface. In the cinematic intro sequence, we fly through the logo and enter a new universe. The ‘virtual camera’ then flies over a globe that is filled with small tiles of videos, before it settles on the main menu. In navigating between different sections and games, a range of different animation techniques and transitions are employed. I looks like the rich environment will make it both easy and fun to find new games, friends, and other players.

I’m exited that the people at OnLive have developed a technological platform that reduces the disadvantages of employing advanced motion graphics, and that they have chosen to design such a rich navimational interface. I just hope it won’t be too long before we get this to Norway…

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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?

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Siftable Computing

Monday, February 9th, 2009 | General, Navimation examples | No Comments

For a while I have been thinking about how the principles of navimation can be embodied in the physical world. There is no reason why navigation intertwined with screened movement should only happen on the screens of mobile phones and desktop computers. Then suddenly I stumbled upon this ‘Siftable Computing’ video, demonstrating a new mixed-reality interface:

This is a student project by David Merrill and Jeevan Kalanithi from the MIT Media Lab, presented at the TED conference (via Wired).

The interface (or should we call them interfaces?) consists of many tiny cubes with screens. Each cube has motion sensors, and they react in certain ways when they are placed together. The video also shows how these small boxes can relate to a larger screen for different types of interactions.

Obviously this platform opens up for a range of possibilities for interaction design, and new and interesting ways of communicating through the interface. It raises questions of what an interface can be, and, for example,  how the sensation of space can be manipulated. The cubes can be rearranged in the physical environment (restricted by laws of nature), while the screen spaces allow representations of all kinds of spatial environments. When interaction and movement (both real and screened) is introduced, a range of combinations are possible. There must be a lot of possibilities to explore beyond those presented in the video. I hope the inventors will be able to make this into a commercial product, as it will allow for a range of new and exiting interfaces to be designed.

UPDATE: Lise gave me a hint on the nice presentation by David Merrill at TED.

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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?

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