I aim to shape products, interfaces and services that mediate meaningful dialogues between people, systems and their environments within everyday life.

Posts tagged ‘interaction’


Bret Victor’s Rant of the Future of Interaction Design

As a reaction to Microsoft’s recent future vision video, software engineer (and a former concept designer at Apple) Bret Victor wrote a fantastic post entitled “A Brief Rant On The Future Of Interaction Design.”

Victor rants that this future vision is not visionary at all. It focuses too much on screen interaction, which is is not that much different from our experience with our current devices. Case in point, look at all these ‘future’ interactions in Microsoft’s concept:

Each one of these scenes involves a flat screen. Yet, Victor also points out (and passionately so) that each interaction touchpoint involves the use of… hands! As humans, we have not only our fingers but our hands, arms and entire bodies that enable us to manipulate and interact with the natural world and to understand the tactile feedback we receive in return. So why should we be limited to finger pointing on a screen?

He illustrates the many ways in which we can use our hands to manipulate things that we could not possibly express via screen-based interactions:

Rather than limiting people to finger tapping/swiping, we should be inspired by our own human capabilities to design and enable a richer and more expressive interaction with our future tools.

Despite how it appears to the culture at large, technology doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t emerge spontaneously, like mold on cheese. Revolutionary technology comes out of long research, and research is performed and funded by inspired people.

And this is my plea — be inspired by the untapped potential of human capabilities. Don’t just extrapolate yesterday’s technology and then cram people into it. [...] Pictures Under Glass is old news. Let’s start using our hands.

Victor ends with a question that nicely sums up his entire point:

With an entire body at your command, do you seriously think the Future Of Interaction should be a single finger?


Fun. Cubed.

Combining aspects of Lego, video game, and board games, Sifteo Cubes are a new way to play. The prototype concept was introduced in a 2009 TED talk by David Merrill, and now these interactive wireless blocks are coming to market. Showcasing innovating interaction design, these 1.5″-inch cubes with full colour screens are motion- and context-aware allowing players to shake, tilt, jolt, rotate, slide and click to affect neighbouring tiles.

They pioneer something the company calls “Intelligent Play,” which is a vaguely elevated term for a toy that manages to be both fun and smart. They’re video games for people who hate video games. [...] “We’re not trying to compete with Nintendo, Microsoft, EA and others,” Sifteo spokesman Paul Doherty tells Co.Design. “We’re trying to create games that promote learning, spatial reasoning and truly interactive play.”

See the Sifteo cubes in action:

via Co.Design



A simple ring around a tree acts as a new space for kindergarten children to learn and play. The idea of using senses and bodily movement as tools for learning inspired the design:

The preferred space for teaching preschool children avoids the classical dynamics of frontal lectures. In “Philosophical Investigations,” Ludwig Wittgenstein writes that what children and foreigners have in common is the absence of knowledge of language and a set of codified rules. This leads them—in the first instance—to learn through the senses and the body. To give the children more freedom to move around the school, the directors of the Fuji Kindergarten requested Tezuka to design spaces without furniture: no chairs, desks or lecterns. As a result, “Ring Around a Tree” offers an architecture where there are no measures taken to constrain space, in order to liberate the body.

The Japanese Zelkova tree had already been a “place-playmate” for several generations serving as a treehouse, temporary shelter, and climbing area before being transformed as an addition to the Fuji Kindergarten.

Looking back on my own experience, the staircase and balcony of my childhood home was a playmate for my sisters and I. In addition to functioning simply as a connection between floors, it became an area for us and our friends to slide down and climb, listen to story time and to put on puppet shows. What was your place playmate?


UI Traces

George Kokkinidis highlights the variety of user interfaces on multi-touch tablets by photographing the resulting fingerprints on an iPad surface after using different applications.

The differences are highlighted by the quality, location, and quantity of the taps and swipes, displaying the unique interactions required by each application and providing a narrative of how a certain application was used.

Read Kokkinidis’ blog entry here.


MIT’s Recompose Concept

MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group have developed Recompose, an experimental touch interface that provides tactile feedback.

Recompose is a new system for manipulation of an actuated surface. By collectively utilizing the body as a tool for direct manipulation alongside gestural input for functional manipulation, we show how a user is afforded unprecedented control over an actuated surface.

Made up of motorized tiles that pop up/down, the 3D interface can be directly manipulated by pressing down on the tiles or simply using gestures by waving your had over various areas of the surface, which move in response to your input. The feedback is a 3D visualization of the user’s physical interaction with the tiles. A camera and projector, combined with computer vision are used to recognize and understand the language of the physical interactions.

via Fast Company


Flight Search with a Twist

As an avid traveller, I’m a seasoned user of flight search aggregator tools to find the cheapest and most convenient flight that fits my requirements. Tired of scanning through tables of text, I was delighted when I played around with the user-friend Hipmunk, a new flight search tool that visualizes all the flight results in a timeline that makes it easy to read, understand and manipulate.

First off, I love that I can constrain the search to only Star Alliance network since I’ll only fly those airlines to maximize my Aeroplan points.  Once the search is performed, the basic information such as price, airline(s), departure/arrival airports, number of stopovers, stopover airport, flight duration, and departure/arrival times are all colour-coded, organized and displayed in the timeline. Exact details are shown in a popup when you select an individual flight. It hides flights worse than others, decreasing the amount of visual clutter to sort through. In addition to the ability to sort by price, stops, arrival/departure times and duration, Hipmunk can also sorts by agony, which co-founder Adam Goldstein describes as

..a combined function of price, duration, and number of stops—basically the total agony you’ll experience in your butt and your savings.

The draggable departure and arrival times on the visual timeline is not groundbreaking, but it’s definitely a refreshing alternative to the existing flight search engines.

And finally, I gotta give brownie points for the awesome name.

via FlowingData


The Strategic Arc of Interaction Design: Moving Towards Holistic System Design

I came across a great article talking about interaction design as a high-level problem solving process that can take on a strategic role in organizations and society. Designing interactions has gone beyond simple input/output interfaces; it engages in holistic system design in which the individuals, organizations and technology involved are understood and considered.

Designing the interactions people have with other people, with organizations, and with systems is both a simple and a complex undertaking. Simple in that the mechanics of an individual interaction can be well-defined and articulated. The problem, and the solution, can be narrowed down significantly. Indeed, so simple can interaction design seem at times that the discipline is often collapsed to a plane of request-response interfaces that sit between the participants—the design of a web form; the layout of an ATM machine; or a ticketing booth for a public bicycle share scheme [...]

This simplistic view of interactions and their design, is not the only view, nor the most appropriate. When designers apply their more holistic lens to the design of interactions it becomes clear that the practice is a much more complex and deeper undertaking [...]

As designers of interactions broaden their perspective and take a higher level view of the problem, they simultaneously make another transition: they stop solving interaction design problems and begin solving problems with design. And it is in taking this step that designers—of all types—begin to play a more strategic role in the organisations and societies for which they work.

Source: Core 77


UX Book Club: Thoughtful Interaction Design

This month’s Toronto edition of the UX Book Club focused on Thoughtful Interaction by Jonas Löwgren and Erik Stolterman, who take an academic and theoretical approach to discussing the field and practice of interaction design. Most of us at the meeting found the writing to be a bit dry and that it jumped from one thought to the next without diving deeper to expand into details of the topic.

We had the pleasure of having one of the authors Erik Stolterman join us via video conference for an engaging Q&A and discussion session. The discussion covered topics such as: how thoughtfulness and reflective thinking makes one a better design practitioner, reflection in action versus reflection on action (the words of David Schön), explaining a rational design process to a junior designer is not what you actually DO, good design versus efficient design, and the importance of making a good case for the design process.

Related to the field of interaction design specifically, Stolterman brought up these interesting comments and ideas for further thinking and reflection:

  • interaction design does not have a long tradition as other design fields such as architecture or industrial design so it ends up borrowing a lot of theory, language, and  studio/critique techniques from other design areas, yet because interaction design is more future thinking and is constantly changing, is has become more open/collaborative, theoretical, and intellectual-based than its other design counterparts
  • future work will shift from software to the physical world of products and spaces – what kind of material will we be working with in 10 years?
  • ethical considerations come into play in how will we influence public and society as a whole; in designing the future world and its behaviours, norms and activities we must consider a social- and cultural-specific context
  • “deception of the small steps” refers to continually adding more interactivity slowly into our daily lives. So where will these small steps eventually take us? And what are “natural” and acceptable changes?


CASCON 2009 Wrap-Up

The CASCON conference wrapped up last week so here’s a bit of a summary of a few more interesting talks and workshops I attended.

Technology of Google Wave

Alex Nicolaou, Mobile Engineering Manager at Google, presented an inter

esting keynote about Google Wave. He introduced the concept and the idea behind Wave for those who were not familiar with it. He talked about some cool product features I didn’t know about such as grammar-based spell check that can be implemented for various other languages (and perhaps even for programming languages?), uploading photos to create a shared album and access control to different parts of the Wave and private annotations. In terms of platform, robots and gadgets can be added to and embedded in Waves for added interactivity and extended functionality.

As someone who has previewed Google Wave and had been initially confused with the entire application, I posed the question: The current email platform is very simple and easy to use, but using this new paradigm of combining chat, email and Google docs all into one, there seems to be mixed reactions so far. How does Google envision the widespread adoption of the application when the user experience is complex and confusing?

Alex explained that Google didn’t predefine specifics on how one can or should use Wave. Since it does so many things, there are many possibilities in the patterns of usage and behaviours that will emerge. The most interesting uses would be the unexpected activities that were not initially designed for that can arise. I later found a site that lists a wide variety of possible use cases in different contexts, so it will be exciting to see what can come out of Google Wave.

Sensor-Based Support of Clinical Contexts in Hospitals

This engaging workshop was conducted by Mark Chignell, director of the Interactive Media Lab at the University of Toronto. He introducted the use of sensors as a tool in facilitating smart interactions to understand context and situations of our environment so that humans can work smarter, not harder. Smart interactions for health care is significant because of the criticality, complexity and richness of data within the sector. For example, using sensors to identify problematic clinical contexts can provide decision support, simplify tasks, and improve doctor/patient interactions. We had a guest scientist/physician, Dr. Jacques Lee, from Sunnybrook Hospital participate in the discussion, which was quite valuable in understanding the current processes and problems and gaining feedback about idealized scenarios and user study evalutions presented by IML researchers.

Dr. Lee presented an interesting topic that he specializes in: sensing and preventing delirium in the emergency department (ED). Delirium is an acute brain failure that is preventable, common, and is yet easy to miss and lethal. Approximately 30-35% of patients develop delirium as they remain immobile in the ED, but many of these patients are sent home because the condition was never detected by the doctor. Delirium can usually be detected by sensing abnormal extremes (hyperactivity or inactivity) and by testing direct cognitive tasks. Accelerometers attatched to the thigh or behind the ears to sense hyperactive motion are possible solutions for indicators. Questions of practicality and acceptance then must be considered including the visual appearance and obtrusiveness.

Overall the workshop delved into some interesting discussions between designers, researchers, healthcare specialists and technologists regarding the future of sensor-based technologies that can be used to improve current healthcare processes and human-computer/human-human interactions.


L’introduction de Google Wave

La semaine passé, j’ai reçu une invitation pour essayer Google Wave que Google a récemment introduit. On dirait que c’est le nouveau mode de communication et collaboration en ligne, avec l’objectif de révolutionner la façon dont on envoie des courri

els. À présent, les courriels restent simples et utiles dans nos vies quotidiennes, mais il y a quelques problèmes : il y a beaucoup de copies et versions du même courriel qui sont créés et envoyés pour chaque destinataire, on ne peut pas intégrer des contenus de richesses comme des vidéos, des diaporamas, ou des cartes, on doit faire des citations manuelles pour répondre à une partie d’un message et finalement, il n’est pas facile à envoyer une réponse privée à seulement quelques personnes dans un groupe message. Par suite, Google Wave traite une conversation comme un document en direct où toutes les participants partagent une seule copie de ce document. Ce concept permet tous les participants de se collaborer dans le courriel en temps réel.

Après avoir essayé Google Wave, j’étais tellement confus avec l’interface utilisateur. À mon avis, je trouve ce nouveau paradigme de combiner Gmail, Google Docs et Google Talk ensemble un peu déroutant parce qu’au départ, on dirait qu’il est comme une messagerie instantanée glorifiée et les chaînes de conversations sont désordonnées et ne sont pas linéaires. Cet outil est encore en avant-première et n’est pas très pratique, mais afin qu’il soit adopté si répandu comme les courriels on doit chercher des situations intéressantes dans laquelle on peut l’employer.


CASCON 2009: Day 1

Today was my first day at IBM’s CASCON conference featuring talks and workshops from industry leaders and academic researchers.

Computing for a Smarter Planet


conference was kick-started with a keynote session by Martin Wildberger from IBM Canada speaking about Computing for a Smarter Planet. As the world becomes smaller, flatter and globally integrated, companies are adjusting their business processes to fit into this transforming ecosystem. As a result, technological solutions are providing businesses innovative and strategic ways for social change.

Wildberger describes our world as becoming instrumented through RFID and ubiquitous technologies, interconnected by networks, process chains and horizontal integration, and intelligent as we collect more data and information. The more data available can provide new insights and thus new intelligence to spur a process of innovation for smarter work, smarter food, or smarter telecom to name a few.

An interesting example discussed was the idea of smarter cities, in which we can incorporate sensor technologies through the infrastructure to make cities cleaner, safer and more efficient. The use of ubiquitous technology can effectively change social behaviours: traffic congestion and pollution in Stockholm was greatly reduced by automatic charges based on flow and time of day, acoustic sensors and recorders in Chicago allow police to triangulate the source of a gunshot, and drivers looking for parking in New York City can be immediately notified of the location of a free parking spot.

Notification Design in Collaborative and Social Networking Environments

This workshop looked at technology as interruption in our daily lives. Joanna McGrenere from UBC presented her research on notification design in the Jazz collaborative development environment before we broke into small groups to examine and discuss instances of notifications in technology, systems and devices. Phone rings, emails, and calendar reminders are obvious examples of notifications as are less noticeable forms such as seat belt signs, PA systems, traffic lights, microwave beeps and elevator floor signs to annoying examples like fire alarms and alarm clocks.

So when does notification become interruption and when are interruptions considered disruptive? We determined that notifications interrupt when they make us stop one activity to attend to the notification. Phone calls and alarm clocks are interrupters while seat belt signs and traffic lights are not.

In terms of the level of disruption that these interruptions cause, it depends on the context of the situation in which we find ourselves, the content of the interruption and how valuable it is to us, how much control we have over the situation, and the frequency and duration of the signal. A false fire alarm is then considered a huge disruptor as it has no value to us, forces us to evacuate a building, and continually signals off loudly for an extended period of time. Another big disruptor occurs when software/OS updates take full control of our system and we are left twiddling our thumbs in front of the screen until it has completed.

The subject of the new Google Wave came up in regards to its playback concept, in which the non-linear collaborative discussion can be played back see how the conversation unfolded in context.This could be an interesting platform in which notifications can be eliminated; rather than receive notifications every time an update has been made and by whom, users can now simply access the conversation whenever they want and still remain in the know.



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Electro-pop artist, Calvin Harris, uses bodies as a human synthesizers to create music using Bare Conductive, a skin-safe conductive ink. By applying ink onto the skin, a closed circuit can be created via touch, gesture and movement to allow electrical currents to flow through. Watch the making of video below.

Here is a video explaining more about Bare and the exploration of the technology through dance and movement.


Masters Thesis Exhibited: Memorables

After 2 intense months, my Masters class finally presented and exhibited our thesis projects. It was wonderful to see everyone’s hard work come to fruition. I was delighted to receive such positive feedback from viewers and to watch them physically

interact and play with the real models I had created. More details of the project is available here.



Inspiration: Bubblegum Sequencer

Bubblegum Sequencer is another inspirational tangible device allowing one to create drumloops by physically organizing gumballs a grid of holes.

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Interaction Model & Rapid Prototyping

I conducted further interviews focused on memory recording, organizing, and sharing. In one instance, my interviewee showed me all her memory devices – PDA, cellphone calendar, appointment book – but her problem was that she always forgot to consult

them to check for important dates/appointments. Thus, I realized that a reminder system is another important feature for these Baby Boomers.



An interaction model of the Memory Marbles system.


I did some rapid prototyping to communicate my interaction concept and to give a better idea of the forms and scale of the model/system. Marbles can be carried and transported around in a pouch. On the memory player, once the marbles are enclosed inside the dome, the information can be read from the marbles and transmitted from the dome.


Likewise, to record memories from the PC to marbles, placing a dome over top the marbles will activate a wireless communication between the computer and marbles.



Marble Interactions

Exploring marble games and contraptions and different forms for my Memory Marbles.

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Sketching out possible interactions with Memory Marbles.




Traveller Safety Net


Focusing our concept direction on the idea of the “safety net”, we provide the traveller a sense of security that they are connected back home and have medical records tracked and stored with him or her. This idea stems from insights acquired from interviews detailing situations where even the most adventurous traveller wanting to explore on his own can feel terrified in medical emergencies, particularly, when he has trouble communicating his situation or understanding his medical condition. I have personally found myself in this situation too in a foreign country and have felt the panic of not only trying to communicate with the local hospital staff, but also trying to connect with family back home.

Our direction will be exploring the idea of tracking the history of travel locations and medical/physiological data in order to address the health concerns of travellers while maintaining a connection with people back home.



Web Wednesday with Matt Mullenweg

Last night I attended Web Wednesday’s social mixer featuring Matt Mullenweg, the 25-year old founder of WordPress. Blogging is a very social method of communication. One interesting phenomenon that has emerged within the WordPress blogging sphere is a side community Club Penguin members, for exchanging cheats, items and trades. Matt’s team has a  project extending from simple blogging called BuddyPress thats builds a social networking platform on top of WordPress installations. Matt also discussed the direction of moving WordPress from allowing the user to simply be a content producer (writer) to content consumer (reader) by perhaps aggregating feeds onto the WP dashboard.

And what about the microblogging trend popularized by Twitter and Facebook? Does this mean a fundamental shift for the way we produce and consume content? In a way, yes, since many people who have never devoted the time to maintaining a blog can now easily blog short, random thoughts (quite perfect for celebrities, many of whom have jumped on the bandwagon!) News feeds can be updated by the minute, which have some Twitterers replacing their RSS with reading news tweets. That is not to say that blogs are being pushed by the wayside. They are much more rich in content and character still, and embodies the personality of the  writer.

Other interesting ideas Matt discussed was the future of centralizing means of distribution of content over the web.  Now with a slew of social networking applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Tumblr, Delicious, Twitter, just to name a few, in addition to personal blogs, it is quite a hassle to update the same information or post the same content over multiple platforms to reach your different networks. The concept of a “hub press”  will enable users to post and share content across multiple platforms from a central hub.  Ping.fm is one online service that makes it easier to update your social networks from one location. Online articles provide the ability for readers to share them with people in their networks, to the extent that we have so many outlets through which to re-post.


In addition to managing one’s various social networks, it’s also another task to manage one’s identities that vary across networks, not unlike the roles we take on in real life under different social settings. This concept of separating and aggregating profiles is an interesting area of discussion. Ben Metcalfe sums up his article about this topic by stating that although the most logical thing to do would be to centralize all our information and accounts, our social behaviours and they way we interact in social groups is very organic and dynamic -they way we present ourselves changes according to the social context.


iSerendipity Interactive Lounge

During my Embedded Interaction workshop with Michael Fox, we were immersed in a group project to design an interactive environment demonstrated with a kinetic model. My group came up with the concept of an ambient space called iSerendipity:

iSerendipity is an ambient lounge that enhances mood, sociability and interactivity among people. Organic-shaped pods float amongst each other through space and light up once a person steps on. These pods detect the activity levels of people on each pod and drift through space, either isolating people for contemplative reflection or clustering active groups to enable chance encounters – serendipity. Pod lights are time- and context- sensitive: initial activation of a pod stimulates a glow that intensifies over time and colour hues change according to activity levels. The exterior façade displays the harmonious movement and colour intensity of each pod as aesthetic visual information to passersby.



Videos of iSerendipity’s interaction points in motion

See the process blog here.