Talking about Flatland as Visualized by Carl Sagan

July 29, 2009

I first read Edwin Abbot’s Flatland several decades ago. It is considered the first science fiction novel, after all, since its first printing in 1885. I must say though, the simplicity of the story never really hit me until I watched the following Carl Sagan interpretation of it recently.

Future Home Interfaces: Beautiful Seams for Everyday Life

February 25, 2009

An earlier post, Metaphorical Refrigerators, Design, and Ubiquitous Computing, pointed to the need to go beyond the desktop metaphor in thinking about he design of interfaces in the connected home.  The video below offers a clear example of the direction such a transformation in thinking about interfaces must take. It starts off slow, so give it some time to see the point. I particularly like the implicit control that the user retains over most of the interactions, though the zany, intelligent agent is a little far-fetched.

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Posted by Larry R. Irons

Gestural Interfaces and Experience Design

December 11, 2008

gesture_bookDan Saffer’s recent book, Designing Gestural Interfaces, makes you think anew about the hand dryers and faucets in public restrooms that respond to waving hands. In fact, Dan notes that gestural interfaces are currently found in specialized products paired to specialized activities in specialized environments. As he observes,


Public restrooms are currently a great example of this, but other spaces could easily take on this sort of “hothouse” environment. The next likely place for such experimentation is kitchens: they feature lots of activities, plus a contained environment with tons of specialized equipment (pp. 160-161)

Designing Gestural Interfaces is the first attempt I’ve seen to provide an in-depth discussion of the challenges in designing devices that people control through gesturing. Although it isn’t the central point of the book, Dan discusses restroom interfaces that wet hands, dry hands, flush toilets, and dispense SaniSeats. And one of his example photographs is notated, “Apparently, public restrooms are excellent places to find gestural interfaces.”

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Lateral Thinking in Design

December 3, 2008

ideasearching1I just finished reading David Bramston’s new book, Basics Product Design: idea searching. First, I highly recommend the book, both for its writing and the visualizations of product ideas offered in it. The design of the book itself is as striking as the product designs it discusses and shows.

Given my recent posts on the importance of metaphorical understanding in the design of ubiquitous computing devices as well as design research more generally, Bramston’s distinction between literal thinking and lateral thinking in product design caught my attention.

Lateral thinking is a capacity to address conventional thoughts and assumptions related to a particular problem from a different or unorthodox angle…A literal approach to design still requires an imaginative approach, but tends to concentrate on more obvious aspects – a direct interpretation of meaning….In generating ideas for a design it is worthwhile exploring both aspects of literal and lateral thought patterns and, where possible, to instigate a hybrid approach of the thinking methods.

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Deep Metaphor: Exploring the Say-Mean Gap in Design Research

December 1, 2008

In recent posts I discussed different gaps, from the community gap in particular to the encompassing engagement gap. Each of those discussions attempted to size up a disparity between the attention currently given to the importance of community and social media by companies and the reality of the commitment of resources to them based on recent research in the United States and Europe.

We hear a lot of discussion these days about Web 2.0 and social media, especially on whether adoption is driven by demographics, lifestyle, or something else. Recently, while reading Marketing Metaphoria by Gerald Zaltman and Lindsay Zaltman, it struck me that regardless of the patterns of Web 2.0 and social media adoption, the applications tap into basic sensibilities for connection that we all share, regardless of age and lifestyle. As I note below, a sense of connection is an example of a deep metaphor that the Zaltmans discuss in relation to people, products, and brands.

Deep metaphors underlie the way people understand the context of problems they face in their everyday lives. Though the concept of deep metaphor was initially outlined in Lakoff and Johnson’s book Metaphors We Live By, Marketing Metaphoria takes it a step further by developing useful techniques for exploring how deep metaphors affect the perception of brands and products and, by implication, how to approach the say-mean gap in design research.

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Metaphorical Refrigerators, Design, and Ubiquitous Computing

November 11, 2008

Whirlpool CentralPark Connection

I’ve been meaning to write about Dan Saffer’s Masters Thesis since reading it a couple of years ago. A recent post by Mike Kuniavsky provides an opportunity to do so. Also, it appears that Dan left his position at Adaptive Path to found Kicker Studio, a product design company. In The Role of Metaphor in Interaction Design, Dan noted that metaphors help users/customers understand new products and services by providing cues that orient and personify the experience of the familiar with the new.

In other words, metaphors help us understand one thing in terms of another by highlighting similarities between the two, while at the same time implicitly recognizing differences. Dan also added that metaphors introduced to facilitate adoption of a new product can also limit its innovation in other ways. He specifically pointed to the Workspace is a Desktop metaphor, which conceptualizes the computer as an office tool primarily. I would add that the metaphor contributed to the myth of the paperless office by obscuring the differences between desktops and graphical user interfaces. Specifically, Dan contended that,

it could be argued that the desktop metaphor has hindered the development of ubiquitous computing as much as some hardware factors (p.22).

At the same time, he observed that the desktop metaphor was much more effective in gaining the widespread adoption of computers when compared to the previous metaphor, i.e. computers as programming environments. He recommended that whenever designers use a metaphor in a new product they need to begin with what is new, the subject of the metaphor, rather than what the metaphor refers to. In other words, don’t force functionality into a metaphor. Use the metaphor to support a concept rather than the other way around. The point builds on the design principle of Cooper, Reiman, and Cronin in About Face 3.0 to, “Never bend your interface to fit a metaphor” (p. 279).

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