Interactive and Interaction

Interactive Services - Corning Concept Video

There has been something bothering me recently, something niggling away under the skin. I haven’t been sure what it is but I’ve known its there. This week it’s been brought to the surface by a fascinating book I’ve been reading called You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier.

For months now I’ve been researching new technologies, platforms, interfaces and interactivity. A lot of this research has focussed on gesture driven interfaces whether it be through human touch or the great work through kinect hacks and similar technologies. I have to state at this stage I am a huge fan and champion of such platforms and interfaces as a lot of posts in this blog will reflect.

I love to find and watch ‘visions of the future’ videos produced by companies and agencies to see how they predict how every surface will be transformed into a technical marvel. Some are plain fantasy whilst others in some ways are turning science fiction into science fact.

Corning Concept Video: Please Use More Glass Touchscreens! Please!
(They make the Gorilla Glass for iPhone)

EXOPC EXOdesk first look,concept for a transparent touch-screen workspace.
Apparently it ships this year!

I have fallen for the iPad in a big way and much to my surprise it is become an integral part of my working day as much as the desktop machine. But there has been something missing. Have I convinced myself I like this new interactivity more than I really do?

According to good old Wikipedia “In the context of communication between a human and an artifact, interactivity refers to the artifact’s interactive behaviour as experienced by the human user. This is different from other aspects of the artifact such as its visual appearance, its internal working, and the meaning of the signs it might mediate. For example, the interactivity of an iPod is not its physical shape and colour (its so-called “design”), its ability to play music, or its storage capacity—it is the behaviour of its user interface as experienced by its user”

In a nutshell I have come to realise it’s the physical interaction I am missing.

I don’t want to say it’s a problem at all, technology is progressing both at a fantastic rate and in fascinating directions. I just miss touching, moving, pressing physical objects. I really don’t need or want a life that revolves around interactive flat surfaces.

Maybe this has been accentuated by my design history? I still love getting my nose in a new book to smell the print, to feel the range of stocks and paper weights. It’s the same with cd’s, I much prefer the digipack format rather than the crappy jewel cases. I have examples produced by ME Company for Bjork that are works of art.

Next to my desk I still have a separate cd player and amp, aside from the music quality from cd’s being far better than a compressed mp3 file I still love the ritual of changing over cd’s, the slight resistance on the volume dial and the assured press and click of the buttons.

I was over at a friends house recently playing around with his iPad controlled Sonos system, as much as I marvelled at the level of control just moving small sliders up and down within the interface felt very devoid of any interaction experience. Again something was missing. Surely this could and should be better, after all this may be the only way you will engage with that brand.

I still get very excited however when I see agencies like BERG London exploring and converging techniques to produce lovely playful interactions.They have used cinematic techniques including depth of field, focus and exposure to allow the user using simple swipes to explore the qualities of a product. Read the full blog post over at

Glass manufacturers are now exploring flexible and textured surfaces to enhance the gesture driven experience and in the next few years we will no doubt be introduced to incredible advancements in technology.

And when I watch programmes like the Gadget show taking on hugely innovative challenges such as building the Ultimate Battlefield 3 Simulator well this blows my mind and illustrates that when you converge both physical and digital technologies you can blur the boundaries of reality. Ultimate Battlefield 3 Simulator – Build & Test.

I really hope that in our pursuit of the perfect interactive experience we don’t eliminate all physical interaction, the world would be a very dull place.

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