Multi-Touch System I have Known and Loved

Bill Buxton's "Multi-Touch System I have Known and Loved" has been updated as of Sept. 2009. The article provides examples and a history of the multi touch systems Buxton has been involved with or known about over the years.

Multi-touch technologies have a long history. To put it in perspective, my group at the University of Toronto was working on multi-touchin 1984 (Lee, Buxton & Smith, 1985), the same year that the first Macintosh computer was released, and we were not the first. Furthermore, during the development of the iPhone, Apple was very much aware of the history of multi-touch, dating at least back to 1982, and the use of the pinch gesture, dating back to 1983. This is clearly demonstrated by the bibliography of the PhD thesis of Wayne Westerman, co-founder of FingerWorks, a company that Apple acquired early in 2005, and now an Apple employee.

In making this statement about their awareness of past work, I am not criticizing Westerman, the iPhone, or Apple. It is simply good practice and good scholarship to know the literature and do one's homework when embarking on a new product. What I am pointing out, however, is that "new" technologies - like multi-touch - do not grow out of a vacuum. While marketing tends to like the "great invention" story, real innovation rarely works that way. In short, the evolution of multi-touch is a text-book example of what I call "the long-nose of innovation.

View the examples at Buxton's site.

PhotoSketch Storyboard Application

PhotoSketch is an online tool created by five students from Tsinghua University in China and the National University of Singapore. It creates storyboards from sketches by finding & stitching background images & item layers.

We present a system that composes a realistic picture from a simple freehand sketch annotated with text labels. The composed picture is generated by seamlessly stitching several photographs in agreement
with the sketch and text labels; these are found by searching the Internet. Although online image search generates many inappropriate results, our system is able to automatically select suitable photographs to generate a high quality composition, using a filtering scheme to exclude undesirable images. We also provide a novel image blending algorithm to allow seamless image composition. Each blending result is given a numeric score, allowing us to find an optimal combination of discovered images. Experimental results
show the method is very successful; we also evaluate our system using the results from two user studies.

Via Creative Review

To Change Effectively, Change Just One Thing

Peter Bregman writes about how finding the simplest solution provides the most effective path to change. In his story he talks about how changing one thing, one habit or pattern of behavior, permitted him to be effective at losing weight. This simple strategy contrasts with the multitude of diet books that suggest entire regimine of change in order to lose weight.

It’s a great tale that Bregman uses to illustrate how simplifying a process or dealing with a challenge can sometimes be most effectively handled by reducing it to its essence, and devoting 100% of energy on a singular action. I think there’s no doubt that this practice, whether it’s in finding a touch point for a strategy or determining a singular idea behind a project’s goal is pretty powerful.

I can see this kind of focus working well for me if I remember to keep the one thing in mind. I’m finding the idea compelling enough that I tacked it on my wall to remind me of the focus of my current project.

Link via @jc

Audi Car Configurator on Surface

This is video showing the interaction design of a Surface interface to configure the Audi A4.

Audi A4 Car Configurator by Neue Digitale / Razorfish in collaboration with Realtime Technology AG. Showcased at this year’s IAA - the world’s leading automotive fair. The application allows multiple users to configure an Audi A4 simultaneously by changing the car’s paint finishes, rims and by selecting and coloring style package components. The configured A4 is experienced in an immersive 3d environment, in which users can navigate seamlessly by zooming and panning using a multitouch-enabled interface

View the video on Vimeo.

BumpTop 3D Desktop

I’m becoming more and more intrigued by the latest offering of inexpensive touch screen PCs like the MSI Wind Top that have been released recently, as well as the rumored Apple Tablet. I’m excited for the penetration of touch interfaces on higher resolution desktop applications, which will start to spread at a much greater rate to a wider audience when we see low cost devices like tablets and touch screen desktops at netbook prices.

The researchers behind BumpTop released a new commercial version of their desktop interface software that shows how Windows users might begin to use their touch screen PCs before Microsoft releases its own touch interface. You may recall the demo of BumpTop for Windows tablets that was initially demonstrated in 2006 and published in Proceedings of CHI 2006. The recently released $29 product for Windows 7 is a desktop overlay that allows users to access, manipulate and filter objects on their desktop using a piles metaphor.

If Apple comes out with a tablet, I’m sure will see a lot of similar interfaces using their dock piles. Watch the video above to see how the app transforms the Windows desktop, or check out the BumpTop page for more info.

Caterina Fake on why working hard is overrated

Caterina Fake, founder of Flickr and Hunch, talks about why working hard isn’t as important as working on the right things. Or as I once heard on a cartoon as a kid… “you have to work smarter not harder.”

Much more important than working hard is knowing how to find the right thing to work on. Paying attention to what is going on in the world. Seeing patterns. Seeing things as they are rather than how you want them to be. Being able to read what people want. Putting yourself in the right place where information is flowing freely and interesting new juxtapositions can be seen. But you can save yourself a lot of time by working on the right thing. Working hard, even, if that’s what you like to do.

I loved that paragraph. I also loved the anecdote about Watson and Crick, the scientists who discovered the structure of DNA, and how their discoveries didn’t come from hard work, as much as from being in the world thinking, experiencing, allowing ideas to happen. I think there’s a valuable nugget in there to product developers about that space that’s sometimes needed for creativity that isn’t valued enough and understood.

Creating features to compete, building, and accretion without the relentlessness to say no and focus on the right things isn’t the path to quality and excellence. The right path in product development is kind of like finding the right path in life. Asking the hard questions about the things that matter and prioritizing effort around those things is hard work. But it’s not working hard on the wrong problems, for the sake of working or existing. It’s defining what is meaningful and pursuing those thing with fervor.

Thanks to 37signals for the link.

SpoolCast with Todd Zaki Warfel: Prototyping Experiences

Jared Spool talks with Todd Zaki Warfel about his forthcoming Prototyping book to be published by Rosenfeld Media, and got him to talk about his 2 years of research while working on the book.

Todd’s firm, Message First, utilizes prototypes as a core element of the design process and has been giving a series of presentations and workshops recently to describe his research into the different prototyping practices of UX pros, and talk about the utility of the prototype. He engages clients early on in generating ideas, and uses the prototype to quickly get something in front of them that comes as close to the experience and behavior they might expect from their product. He provided a little bit of insight into their process.

It may surprise you that they start with rough, black and white sketches which they share with their clients both early and often. Whereas some design shops may work hard on a prototype for three months before first showing it to their client, Todd thinks that’s a bad idea. There’s nothing worse than diving deep into a design direction only to have it unilaterally shot down in the first review.

Instead, you need to get your client to give you lots of feedback very early in the process, starting with basic and rough sketches. It will save both sides a lot of time, effort and frustration. Once the design direction is solidified, Todd and his team move their prototypes into color and interactivity. The Messagefirst crew is now often jumping straight to HTML, CSS and JavaScript for the higher fidelity mockups.

One of the things I took away from this talk was that the best prototyping tool is the one that your most familiar with and know how to exploit to communicate the ideas. That said, there comes a point where the tool you use, whether it’s Visio or OmniGraffle, Powerpoint or Excel, shows its limitations at communicating well enough. And this is why so many people jump more quickly to HTML prototypes.

This is essentially where I am today. I’m strong enough in the tools I use and have extended them beyond the capabilities they were created for. But what Todd and his team are doing makes sense. He engages clients early on with sketching exercises, and continues to ideate and refine on paper until they have a strong direction, and then they begin to demonstrate the ideas in a format that feels like the product.

Listen to the podcast on UIE.