Notebook

Hillcrest Labs provides a vision of the pointing and navigating future with their demonstration of Freespace motion-controlled TV remote.

I came across the video demos of Hillcrest Labs' remote control via NewTeevee. The video above shows a demo at the Consumer Electronics Show last winter, but check the NewTeevee link for the more complete demo of their Freespace motion control technology (sadly they won't let me embed it here). The demo shows a proof of concept software interface for the TV that allows the user to navigate and access media on their TV/Computer using the "Loop" concept remote control.

The prototype TV interface shows the flexibility and scalability of navigation that is possible with a motion controlled remote pointing device equipped with scroll wheel and selection buttons. The software they demo is a zoomable user interface (ZUI) that was created to demonstrate the possibility for navigating a media space on the TV. The remote provides tremor control, so panning motions with the remote don't produce the jiggle you see on the Wiimote.

This demonstrates the great potential and possibilities that ZUIs provide for a simple hierarchical interface like this. Other options could have been explored, but the ZUI provides a very intuitive experience using pointing rather than an up/down/left/right control for navigation, e.g. in your TiVo and Apple TV remotes.

The technology will be licensed to consumer electronics companies, so we might hopefully see this navigation paradigm on set top boxes in the future.

Researcher provides another Wii Remote hack, this time to help business users create interactive whiteboards on the cheap.

You might remember the incredible Wiimote hacks by by Johnny Chung Lee, who gave us head tracking demo for desktop VR displays. Lee, a PhD student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University is back with some more useful Wiimote hacks, this time to turn any surface into an interactive whiteboard. He shows how to turn a wall into a whiteboard with a DIY LED pen interface, and also how to create a multi-touch desktop or laptop LCD display using 2 LED pens. These are incredibly useful ideas for creating inexpensive interactive displays.

Using an LED array and some reflective tape, you can use the infrared camera in the Wii remote to track objects, like your fingers, in 2D space. This lets you interact with your computer simply by waving your hands in the air similar to the interaction seen in the movie "Minority Report". The Wiimote can track upto 4 points simultaneously. The multipoint grid software is a custom C# DirectX program.

Jakob Nielsen reveals the winners of a competition to identify the 10 best-designed application user interfaces for 2008.

The winners:

  • Campaign Monitor by Eyeblaster (Israel): Integrated management of multiple advertising campaigns for media buyers.
  • CMSBox by CMSBox (Switzerland): Content management system
  • FotoFlexer by Arbor Labs (USA): Photo editor
  • PRISMAprepare by Océ (The Netherlands): Print shop software.
  • Seating Management by Magellan Network and DesignBox (USA): Hostess-stand reservation book for restaurants.
  • SQL diagnostic manager by Idera (USA): Database performance monitoring and diagnostics
  • SugarSync by Sharpcast (USA): Synchronizing files across multiple computers.
  • SuperSaaS by SuperSaaS (The Netherlands): Creating and hosting scheduling and reservation systems.
  • Wufoo by Infinity Box, Inc. (USA): Online forms, surveys, invitations, and payments.
  • Xero by Xero (New Zealand): Accounting for small businesses.

Bill Buxton gives a lecture at the Stanford University Human-Computer Interaction Seminar (CS 547, June 1, 2007) giving an excellent deep dive into some of the topics in his book, Sketching User Experiences.

Designing for experience comes with a whole new level of complexity. This is especially true in this emerging world of information appliances, reactive environments, and ubiquitous computing, where, along with those of their users, we have to factor in the convoluted behaviors of the products themselves. In this talk, Bill discusses the design process itself, from the perspective of methods, organization, and composition.

His discussion of the necessity of sketching and ideation in the design process ultimately describes what design is about. While engineering might be about getting the design right, design is about getting the right design. To arrive at the right design, we have to be willing to produce many ideas, to present and argue them, and to want to be wrong so that we can learn and improve on what comes out of the design critique.

If you ever get tired of writing sample copy in your design documents, at least be semi-lazy rather than completely lazy. Use Corporate Ipsum.

About 10 years ago I participated in the daily indexing of news articles as part of my job designing a digital library. During graduate study for the MLS my concentration was actually on information retrieval and classification, so I was interested in doing the job and understanding the content in order to know how to make it useful to users. Customers would get this information via the web site, by email, and in newsletters. Every day I had a bunch of news articles from a load of database feeds queued up for me to skim and tag. A first pass of auto-indexing and clustering was done and we'd have to check the applied tags and add new tags for subject, company, product, etc. We had a person whose primary job it was to maintain these terms, with the cooperation of subject matter experts in the business, in separate controlled vocabularies.

That faceted approach to indexing and description has really informed a lot of what I've done as a blogger in the years that I've maintained sites at iaslash, urlgreyhot, and now here. You see the result of the faceted approach to tagging in the metadata for every entry, and in the navigation for things like Design Tags and Design Colors. But I've hidden some of that tagging until I had some time to add views for navigating via those facets. I've been operating this blog with the mantra, "... better to get it up fast and fix it later."

But now I've added a few more facets to the navigation. If you notice the subnav in the Interface, Design, and Notebooks sections, you will see that there are now options to browse by Companies in all of them, and additionally by Person in Notebook. So now you can view only Nike Interfaces or alternatively only Nike Designs, for instance. Also, in the entry metadata, the term Nike will appear in the pill shaped tag, and you can click that link to see all Nike tagged items across all sections of the site.

Just to give you an idea of how these tags get into each entry, have a look at the article editor below, and you'll see how granular I get with my tagging. I think it's probably much more than you'll find in a typical blog. Aside from the title, every field you see below is a taxonomy field expanded in the categories (ugh, I hate that they changed the label) area.

I believe over time this will provide a more complete picture around the experiences with each of the sites that I'm choosing to feature here. There are quite a few features in my roadmap for this site that just take time to implement. I will for instance find a way to segregate views by product rather than merely by company, so you can view only GMail UIs and not all Google UIs. Rest-assured, those tags are already baked in, but you won't be able to see them until later. Some of these and other useful features that made me want to create this site are forthcoming. Now that I've spent some months understanding what I like to do here, the volume may decrease slightly so I can focus on quality and providing more analysis. As always I welcome suggestions.

Drupal users may also expect that sometime in the future I'll expose more about the process used to put this site together, especially regarding how the taxonomy bits are being utilized. Thanks for continuing to stay with me as I explore these ideas.

"Cymbolism is a new website that attempts to quantify the association between colors and words, making it simple for designers to choose the best colors for the desired emotional effect."

Interaction-Patterns.org is the Stimmt AG - Uni Basel Pattern Catalogue. The Patterns page lists each design pattern name, a very brief description of the interaction, and a link to the page that describes the design pattern, e.g. YUI or Welie pages.

I recently noticed that I'm not the only one posting interface design and interaction videos on Vimeo. Here are 4 Vimeo users who are doing this now:

Know of any other UI and Interaction Design video bloggers? Let me know about them.

Diving deeply into problem analysis or early bottom up activity is not typical activity for experienced and successful designers. A more flexible approach and parallel thought processes and activities are more characteristic. That is the observation of Nigel Cross in an essay he writes in the Design Studies Journal.

Victor Lombardi sparks a great debate about design process on Noise Between Stations while discussing the differences in approach to process between expert and novice designers, as described by Nigel Cross and Henrik Gedenryd in their independent research on the topic. PDF documents may be downloaded for Cross' article, "Expertise in Design", and Section 3 of Gendenryd's PhD dissertation on "How Designers Work".

Some of what Cross observes about the differentiation in process and even in capability resonates with me. The following quotes encapsulate his article for me:

...[S]uccessful design behaviour is based not on extensive problem analysis, but on adequate 'problem scoping' and on a focused or directed approach to gathering problem information and prioritising criteria.

...

Successful, experienced and—especially—outstanding designers are found in various studies to be pro-active in problem framing, actively imposing their view of the problem and directing the search for solution conjectures.

He maintains that expertise is acquired, and the approach that is characteristic of expert designers is simultaneously top-down/broad and bottom-up/deep. Experts tend to use generative reasoning (a conceptual approach to problem solving) rather than exhaustively doing problem analysis. Cross observes that the expert's typical design process is a co-evolution of the problem and solution:

  • Name and describe features of the problem
  • Frame by recognizing partial solutions and use them to impose a coherence that guides subsequent design steps
  • Conceptualize partial solution structure and iterate over its form

This is a process of finding the possible solutions that the individual wants to address or feels might provide the best solution based on experience or some other externally acquired knowledge. The act of drawing and designing continually exposes further requirements and required inventions in the problem/solution space.

I also like what Cross describes as the "Opportunistic Behavior of Designers." The idea is that expert designers typically follow a set of principles and structures when they set out to tackle a design problem. But then the designer may abandon rigor when a partial solution arose that provided a direction or confident line of inquiry.

This is where I think the differentiators between expert and novice lie. The ability to know when to go deep is probably lost on less experienced designers, who may spend cycles on the wrong activities in favor of structure and rigor for their own sake, or because of lack of confidence in one's knowledge. Consequently a novice may go too deeply into problem analysis or may dive into a particular solution too early. I know what this is like, and have done that many times in my career.

I think the above point is more interesting an observation than the one Cross makes that expert designers spend less time generating alternative ideas or a large volume of ideas. I'm reminded of Buxton's description of the expanding and shrinking funnels in the generation and refinement of a design. Sketching, that ideation phase where a lot of ideas are generated until the "right" partial solution emerges, is likely different from person to person depending on expertise or simple design acuity.

What I take away in this observation of experts is that design, whether it's industrial design, architecture, or interface design, cannot be a rigorous process in terms of adherence to structure. Every activity can't be as measurable and rigid as you might guess from reading what theorists have to say. This is why I've been turned off by interviews in the past that require an interaction designer to be so heavily weighted on the research end. I know what I do when I design, and that's not it. Research might be part of what I do, but it's not the center.

I've never really listed the less tangible attributes of my own design process before. In my self-awareness as a designer the following attributes, culled from this article, describe the kind of designer I would try to be at the end of the day.

A good designer...

  • relies on principles and experience—uses first principles and the cumulative experience over her career or within the project to inform her process
  • is a multi-tasker—I don't really like that term, but it means she can work multiple activities and thought process, both broad and deep, in parallel
  • is flexible—knows when to abandon rigor in favor of action and decisiveness

I still have to read Gedenryd's section on "Design and congition as inquiry" to comment on that, but this is my reaction so far to Cross' excellent article on this topic and the comments generated in Victor's blog entry.