Here in NYC we've got a billionaire mayor, and you've probably heard of the device that made him rich, the Bloomberg Terminal. For those of you that haven't, it's an integrated computer system and service feed offering real-time financial data and trading.
For finance peeps, Bloomberg Terminals are like potato chips, in that you can't have just one. Your average user rocks a two-, four- or six-monitor set-up....
Color me impressed! I figured the next generation of designer-relevant input devices would come from Apple or Wacom, but surprise—it's Adobe. The software giant is venturing into hardware, and their resultant Project Mighty looks pretty damn wicked so far.
The Adobe Mighty Pen is designed for sketching on tablets, and it's got at least two brilliant features integrated with their drawing app: Since the screen can distinguish between the pen's nib and your mitts, you can draw with the pen, then erase with your finger. No more having to click a submenu to change the tool. And when you do need a submenu, you click a button on the pen itself to make it appear on-screen.
The truly awesome device, however, is the pen's Napoleon Ruler. Adobe's VP of Product Experience Michael Gough was trained as an architect, and wanted to bring the efficacy of sketching with a secondary guiding tool--like we all once did with our assortment of plastic triangles, French curves and the like--to the tablet experience. What the Napoleon does is so simple and brilliant, you've just got to see it for yourself:
Presumably they're still working out the kinks, as the release date is TBD.
This mind-boggling interface design from MIT Media Lab's Fluid Interfaces Group essentially adds another layer of interactivity over your physical life. What I mean by that is: Right now, in real life, you look at your desk and see a bunch of objects. With the F.I.G's "Smarter Objects" system, you pick up a tablet, look at the objects on your desk "through" your tablet, as if through a window, and the tablet's screen shows you virtual overlays on the very real objects on your desk. You can then alter the functionality of these wi-fi enabled "smarter objects" on the screen, then go back to manipulating them in the real world. Tricky to explain in print, but you'll grasp it right away by watching their demo video:
The work was done by researchers Valentin Heun, Shunichi Kasahara, and Pattie Maes, and as they point out, none of the things in the demo video are the result of effects added in post; everything you see is working and happening in real time.
One commenter on the video suggested this interface design be adapted to Google Glass, but I think the tablet is a necessary intermediary, as you can tap, drag and slide your fingers across it. Your thoughts?
I send text messages less frequently with my iPhone than I did in the T9 days. I get so frustrated trying to tap out a text that I often wait until I get to a computer to switch to e-mail and a proper keyboard. The interface just sucks, and I cannot remember the last time I was able to send a text without backspacing repeatedly.
One part of the problem is the tiny buttons. Another part of the problem might be the QWERTY layout itself. Ideally what you want is "two-thumb tapping," where the keyboard's letters are divided in such a way that you're alternating between right- and left-thumbs for each keystroke; a group of international researchers reckons this increases efficiency and reduces errors. With that in mind they've created KALQ, a split keyboard with a new layout.
KALQ is a split keyboard for touchscreen devices. The position of the keyboard on the display and the assignment of letters to keyslots were informed by a series of studies conducted with the aim of maximizing typing performance. KALQ is used by gripping the device from its corners. Trained users achieved an entry rate of 37 wpm (5% error rate). This is an improvement of 34% over their baseline performance with a standard touch-QWERTY system. This rate is the highest ever reported for two-thumb typing on a touchscreen device.
Tokyo is futuristic, but maybe not this futuristic... yet.
I spent a little time in and around Roppongi neighborhood during my first trip to Tokyo last June, but (as is the case with most work-related travel), I didn't have much time to explore the city on my own. Given the diverse texture of the city and the overflowing stimuli of a new and different urban setting, it didn't occur to me that Roppongi Hills is a relatively new construction, some $4 billion and three years in the making. Centered on the 54-story, Kohn Pedersen Fox-design Mori Tower—named after the developer behind the entire project—the 27-acre megaplex opened its doors in April 2003... which means that this week marks its tenth anniversary.
To commemorate the milestone, Mori Building Co., Ltd., has commissioned Creative Director Tsubasa Oyagi to create a digital experience, the very first project for his new boutique SIX. Working with a team of media production all-stars, Oyagi created "TOKYO CITY SYMPHONY," an interactive web app that combines projection mapping with a simple music composition engine to create user-generated ditties with brilliant visuals.
"TOKYO CITY SYMPHONY" is an interactive website, in which users can experience playing with 3D projection mapping on a 1:1000 miniature model of the city of Tokyo. The handcrafted model is an exact replica of the cityscape of Tokyo in every detail.
Three visual motifs are projected onto the city in sync with music: "FUTURE CITY," conjuring futuristic images; "ROCK CITY" that playfully transforms Roppongi Hills into colorful musical instruments and monsters; and "EDO CITY," or "Traditional Tokyo," which portrays beautiful Japanese images. Users could play a complex, yet exquisitely beautiful harmony on the city by pressing the keys on the computer keyboard. Each key plays a different beat along with various visual motifs, creating over one hundred different sound and visual combinations. Each user is assigned a symphony score of eight seconds, of which could be shared via Facebook, twitter, and Google+. The numerous symphony scores submitted by the users are put together online to create an infinite symphony.
Cyclepedia on-the-go! (NB: Mounting an iPad with a Turtle Claw is not advised.)
We covered Michael Embacher's Cyclepedia back in 2011, when it made its debut in print, and the Viennese architect/designer's enviable bicycle collection was exhibited behind glass, so to speak, shortly thereafter. Although the iPad app—developed by Heuristic Media for publisher Thames & Hudson—originally came out in December 2011, they've since launched a new version on the occasion of the 2012 Tour de France, with substantially more content beyond the 26 new bikes that bring the total to 126.
The bikes themselves are indexed by Year, Type, Make and Name, Country of Origin, Materials and (perhaps most interestingly) Weight, for which the thumbnails neatly arrange themselves around the circular dial of a scale. Different users will find the different options more useful than others, though the small size of the thumbnails makes it difficult to differentiate between about 75% of the bikes, which are distinguished by more fine-grained details. (The lack of search feature is also a missed opportunity, IMHO.)
That said, the photography is uniformly excellent—the 360° views alone are composed of over 50 images each, as evidenced by the lighting on the chrome Raleigh Tourist—and the detail shots are consistently drool-worthy. Each bike has been polished to perfection for the photo shoot, yet the perfectly in-focus photos also capture telltale signs of age—minor dings, paint chips and peeling decals that suggest that the bicycle has been put to good use. (The rather gratuitous bike porn is accompanied by descriptions that are just the right length for casual browsing, as well as technical details such as date, weight and componentry.)
I've simplistically assumed we would advance from "dumb" paper with things printed on it to some smarter variant, where every sheet of paper is an iPad. But as researchers at Fujitsu Laboratories demonstrate here, there's still plenty of room to design new interfaces that are between those two extremes.
By combining an ordinary webcam, a computer and an off-the-shelf projector, Fujitsu's "FingerLink Interaction System" provides a new user interface that effectively turns a "dumb" piece of paper, and the table it's sitting on, into a touchscreen. Check out how they did it, and peep the CAD demo starting around 2:43:
As Google Glass gets closer to its launch date, the search giant has released specs on what users can expect from the production models. The onboard camera will record 720p video and be able to shoot 5MP stills; audio will be piped into your dome via bone conduction; it will have Bluetooth and 802.11b/g WiFi; you'll have 12GB of storage; and the battery will reportedly last for "one full day of typical use." The 640×360 resolution of the video is claimed to be "the equivalent of a 25 inch high definition screen from eight feet away," but we'll need to see that in action.
Which we will, if we head out to San Francisco or Los Angeles. Word on the street (and by "street," we mean Buzzfeed) is that Google will be opening up their own retail stores, starting with California's big city. The physical storefronts will be meant to push not only Glass, but Android- and Chromebook-related products as well. There's no word on what the stores will look like or who will be designing them, but given that Apple's got the likes of Norman Foster on their stores/HQ and Facebook's got Gehry on "Facebook West," we'd be surprised if Google didn't go with a big-ticket architect/designer for the prestige.
During the end of their lifetimes as useful interfaces, no one threw a party for the rotary dial, the skeleton key or the crank people once used to manually start their Model T's. But Amsterdam-based design firm Studio Moniker, certain that we're "nearing the end of the humble computer cursor" presumably due to touchscreens, is celebrating the little left-leaning arrow with an interactive video project.
This is a little tricky to describe, but what they're doing is creating a crowdsourced interactive experience. You click on a link and are presented with a screen featuring not only your cursor, but the cursors of users all around the world that have been recently recorded by them doing exactly what you are—which is following a series of onscreen prompts to guide your cursor in specific directions.
It's a lot more fun than it sounds like, and we highly recommend you try it out by clicking here (NSFW). Your cursor's movements will then be recorded and integrated into future iterations of the video that new people will click on and experience.
The website Creative Applications has more info on the project here.
The bulkiest parts are the battery riding on the right ear and the projector, though these things will presumably shrink over time. (On the battery front, have a look at LG Chem's wire-like battery tech and UCLA's developments in supercapacitors.) The image is bounced off of a prism and focused directly onto the wearer's retina. Interestingly, the fine-tuning of the focus is apparently achieved in a primitive way: By physically adjusting the distance of the prism from the eye.
"The biggest challenge for Google will now be to make the Google Glass also usable for people with normal glasses," writes Missfeldt. That's no trivial matter, as by his reckoning that's more than 50% of the population in some countries; by your correspondent's observation, countries like South Korea and cities like Hong Kong have an insanely high percentage of children wearing eyeglasses.
"In this case the Google Glass has to be placed ahead of normal glasses—which doesn't [work well]. Or Google has to manufactor [sic] individual customized prisms, but this would be considerably more expensive than the standard production."
Could games like Papa Sangre pave the way for other mobile audio experiences?
The tech lovers at last week's MEX Mobile User Experience conference in London were treated to all manner of fantastical visions of our further mobile empowered futures; big data, connected cars, smart homes, Internet of Things, gestural interfaces, personal mini-drones—the lot.
Few presentation this year will be complete without at least passing reference to the game changing nature or dystopian social implications of soon-to-be-unleashed Google Glass. Surprisingly, however, a couple of jaw-dropping demonstrations were enough to leave many of those attending wondering whether we might be missing a slightly quieter revolution taking hold. Could immersive audio be about to come of age in mobile user experience?
Having played second fiddle to the visual interface for decades, being so often the reserve of experimental art installations or niche concepts for the blind, audio has yet to find mass interaction application outside of alarms, alerts, ringtones and the occasional novelty bottle opener. All of this, however, could be set to change, if the two fields of binaural sound and dynamic music can find their way into the repertoire of interaction designers.
Binaural Audio Spatializes Interaction
Hardly a new phenomenon (though not always well known), Papa Sangre is regarded as the 'best video game with no video ever made.' Since it's release back in 2011, the audio app game for iOS has been a hit with both the visually impaired and fully sighted. The game plunges players into a dark, monster-infested fantasy with only their ears to navigate the three dimensional underworld and rescue the damsel in distress. The incredible 3D sound effects are achieved with headphones and binaural audio—an effect that replicates the experience of hearing a sound-wave originating from a certain direction, hitting one ear before the other. Use of the screen is disconcertingly limited to only a rudimentary compass-like dial (determining the player's virtual direction of movement) and two feet buttons, pressed to take steps into the darkness. Never has a computer game monster been so terrifying than when you can't actually see it.
In the dark: screenshot of immersive audio game PapaSangre
The creators, London-based SomethinElse, developed the game by first mapping out the experiences of sound from hundreds of directions using a binaural microphone—a stereo mic the exact shape and density of a human head with pick-ups for ear drums. The algorithmic engine this produced could then be put to work transforming any ordinary mono audio into a spacialised, stereo output for listeners wearing headphones (with a fair dose of clever coding, of course).
Binaural microphone with exact dimension and density as human head
A couple months ago, I posted about "Curious Rituals," a research project by a team of designers at the Art Center College of Design, which I discovered on Hyperallergic. In his post, editor Kyle Chayka also drew a connection to another project concerning touchscreen gestures IRL, "Multi-Touch Gestures" by Gabriele Meldaikyte, who is currently working towards her Master's in Product Design at RCA.
Where Richard Clarkson's "Rotary Smartphone" concept incorporated an outdated dialing concept into a contemporary mobile phone, Meldaikyte explores interaction design by effectively inverts this approach to achieve an equally thought-provoking result. The five objects are somehow intuitive and opaque (despite their transparent components) at the same time, transcribing the supposedly 'natural' gestures to mechanical media.
There are five multi-touch gestures forming the language we use between our fingers and iPhone screens. This is the way we communicate, navigate and give commands to our iPhones.
Nowadays, finger gestures like tap / scroll / flick / swipe / pinch are considered to be 'signatures' of the Apple iPhone. I believe that in ten years or so these gestures will completely change. Therefore, my aim is to perpetuate them so they become accessible for future generations.
I have translated this interface language of communication into 3D objects which mimic every multi-touch gesture. My project is an interactive experience, where visitors can play, learn and be part of the exhibition.
Specifically, Minuum improves on the concept of a linear arrangement of letters: screen-based UI and predictive text allows for a QWERTY layout to be transposed into a single line of letters. (It's worth noting that index typewriters were initially developed as a less expensive, more portable alternative to keyboard-based typewriters, though they were reportedly slower than handwriting in most instances.)
Minuum is a tiny, one-dimensional keyboard that frees up screen space while allowing fast, accurate typing. Current technology assumes that sticking a full typewriter into a touchscreen device is the best way to enter text, giving us keyboards that are error-prone and cover up half the usable screen space (or more) on most smartphones and tablets.
Minuum, on the other hand, eliminates the visual clutter of archaic mobile keyboards by adapting the keyboard to a single dimension. What enables this minimalism is our specialized auto-correction algorithm that allows highly imprecise typing. This algorithm interprets in real time the difference between what you type and what you mean, getting it right even if you miss every single letter.
The video is, as they say, a must-see:
Yes, the last bit is cool, but nota bene: it's currently an alpha-stage prototype, and Will Walmsley & co. are currently seeking funding on IndieGoGo. Suffice it to say that we'll be keeping an eye on this one... if all of the hypothetical wearable implementations become a reality, we could see the emergence of a new set of curious rituals.
Why would a company that creates baby products have robotocists on staff? Well, check out what 4Moms' Origami stroller can do:
How awesome is that? In addition to the physical feature it has—the onboard storage and the peekaboo window that I'd imagine are de rigueur—it's the technical aspects that most impress me. Having a generator in the wheel that automatically charges your cell phone seems particularly brilliant.
Then there's the LCD dashboard, which sounds gimmicky at first, but useful on closer inspection: While you might be able to do without the speedometer, an odometer tells you how far you've traveled and the current ambient temperature is displayed, helping you decide whether you ought throw another layer on your tyke.
And of course, there's that crazy power folding/unfolding operation. (And yes, it's got baby sensors, so it cannot accidentally be activated while the child is onboard.)
Now that the "Who owns the glass rectangle" smartphone wars are thankfully fading into the background of the news cycle, competition in interaction designs is coming to the forefront. Apple arguably kicked it off in '11 by integrating Siri, introducing voice control; as we saw yesterday, Google may push into backside touch; and now Samsung is introducing a host of different interaction designs with their latest model.
Unveiled last night, Samsung's new Galaxy S4 has "Smart Pause," which stops and starts videos depending on whether your eyes are looking at the screen (they are presumably tracked by the camera). "Smart Scroll" advances screen content when the user tilts the phone to one side or the other. "Air Gesture" allows users to manipulate the phone without actually touching it, but rather by hovering a finger over the screen, or using a broader gesture like a hand wave to advance photographs. (And it works while wearing gloves.) Lastly, "S Translator" enables you to speak one language into the phone, and have the phone speak back a translation into a different language.
While none of these features are a magic bullet that will instantly win the smartphone war, that's not the relevant point, to us. What we're glad of is that heated competition is producing a range of experimental ways that we can interact with devices. Apple's steady, measured development process is very different from Samsung's "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" approach, with Google somewhere in the middle, and we can't say which methodolody is superior; but either way it's an exciting time for interaction design, and it is the end user who stands to win from all of these companies duking it out.
'Dare We Do It Real Time' by body>data>space (photo by Jean-Paul Berthoin)
Over an intensive two days at the end the month, 100 delegates at MEX 2013—the international forum for mobile user experience, in its 12th iteration this year—will gather in central London to discuss and attempt to envision the development and future impact of mobile technology.
With speakers at last year's forum including Dale Herigstad, four-time Emmy award winning creator of the iconic Minority Report conceptual user interfaces, as well as connected car experts from Car Design Research, this year's event boasts inspiring input from the likes of content strategist at Facebook Melody Quintana, UX research guru of WhatUsersDo Lee Duddell and Ghislaine Boddington creative director at experimental connected performance outfit, body>data>space.
Insight - How should we improve understanding of user behaviour and enhance how that drives design decisions? Diffusion - What are the principles of multiple touch-point design and the new, diffused digital experiences? Context - How can designers provide relevant experiences, respect privacy and adapt to preferences? Sensation - What techniques are there for enhancing digital experience with audible and tactile elements? Form - How can change in shapes, materials or the abandonment of physical form be used to excite users? Sustainability - How can we enable sustainable expression in digital product choices? Can we harness digital design to promote sustainable living?
Sam Dunne, Design Strategist at Plan and Core77 UK Correspondent, will be reporting live from the event.
MEX, Mobile User Experience
Walllacespace St. Pancras
22 Duke's Road
London, WC1H 9PN
March 26–27, 2013
Way back in '07, we learned Apple had patented touchscreens with interactive backs, meaning you could perform on-screen manipulations while keeping your finger out of the way. By 2010 we were calling it "backtouch" and (incorrectly) predicting the iPad would have it. Now that we'd given up hope on this UI technology ever hitting the market, Google is bringing our hopes up once more (even though we're afraid to love again).
We thought the whole point of a patent was that they're not awarded to duplicate technologies, but apparently there's something in Google's secret sauce that makes it different. From a user standpoint though, the benefits appear the same: You tap the back of your phone or tablet, and that registers a hit on-screen, enabling you to manipulate apps or perhaps type.
We're curious as to how ergonomically sound this is, as the opposable thumbs my dog always complains about not having seem more agile than the fingers we'd use to access the back of a device. I just picked up my phone and spent a few minutes pretending to type on the back versus actually typing on the front, and while the former feels a little awkward, I already suck at the latter. (One sure benefit though, backtouch would leave less fingerprints on the glass.) Try it yourself, assuming you're not out in public and don't want to look like a tool, and let us know if you think backtouch has got legs.
When we last looked in on interaction designer Jinha Lee, he was developing the See-Through 3D Desktop for the Microsoft Applied Sciences Group. Last week Lee, who's pursuing a doctorate at MIT Media Lab's Tangible Media Group, posted a video showing a potential retail application for the set-up: Called WYCIWYW, for "What You Click is What You Wear," the interface would allow the user to virtually try on wristwatches and jewelry.
Apple notoriously applies for tons of patents, very few of which will make it into actual products. This one is interesting from a UI perspective.
You could argue either way, but let's say it's an ergonomic necessity to have an easy-to-locate Home button, as now exists on the iPhone. That button cuts into screen real estate. Is there a way for Apple to get rid of it, growing the screen, while still somehow offering the Home button's functionality?
The answer may lie in a patent Apple has secured involving the measuring of electrical capacitance of the body of a product. As an example, if this were incorporated in an all-screen iPhone, the user could simply squeeze the phone's housing as a means of input. That doesn't mean the body of the phone itself would have to deform; it just means that the phone's body would register the change in capacitance coming from a squeeze, and would turn that into some sort of command. Software would sort out whether the squeeze was purposeful or accidental.
Apple Insider is speculating that the technology mentioned in the patent, which was granted several years ago, may pop up in the forthcoming iWatch.
Well folks, looks like 2013 is shaping up to be the year gesture control finally becomes available to the masses.
First up, the Leap motion controller that caused such a blog stir (we covered it here and here) will start shipping on May 13th, just about a year after they began taking pre-orders.
Hot on their heels—or forearms, I should say—is the Myo controller pictured above, an arm bracelet that you wear well above your wrist but below the elbow. Why the weird position? The Myo actually reads the electrical activity in your muscles, rather than relying on a camera.
This seems like a pretty smart approach, as the Myo can decipher complex finger gestures, flicks and rotations without requiring line-of-sight. That suddenly opens up a new world of interactivity that doesn't require the user be sitting in front of a camera-equipped computer, or dancing around in front of a Kinect. Peep this:
Looks amazing, no? If it works as advertised, it will have a much broader range of applications than the stationary Leap, and the Myo's price reflects that: The Leap's going for $80, while the Myo will run you $150. It's up for pre-order now and they're claiming it will ship later this year.
Jeroen van Geel was invited to participate in the Redux at Interaction 13 in Toronto. Speakers were invited to reflect upon the conference content on the last day of the conference. This is part of his reflection, combined with some after thoughts.
Interaction design is a young field. At least, that's what we as interaction designers keep telling ourselves. And of course, in comparison to many other fields we are relatively young. But I get the feeling that we use it more as an excuse to permit ourselves to have an unclear definition of who we are—and who we aren't.
At this year's Interaction Design Association (IxDA) conference, Interaction 13, you got a good overview of the topics that are of interest to interaction designers. And I can tell you that, as long as it has something to do with human behaviour, it seems of interest. In four days time there were talks and discussions around data, food design, social, health, gaming, personas, storytelling, lean, business and even changing the world. The topics ranged from the very specific task of creation of attributes to having an impact on a global scale. It shows that interaction designers have a great curiosity and want to understand many aspects of life. When we think we have an understanding of how things work, we have the feeling that we can impact everything. Of course this is great and we all know that curiosity should be stimulated, but at the same time this energy and endless search for knowledge can be a curse. Before we know it we become the jack of all trades, master of none. Interaction designers already have a lot of difficulty explaining their exact value. But where does it end? I don't know the answer, because I myself understand this endless curiosity and see how it helps me to improve my skills. Maybe the question is: are we becoming more a belief than a field?
The theme of Interaction 13 was 'social innovation with impact.' From this topic there were several presentations that focused on the role of interaction designers making the world a better place. Almost all designers in general, but every interaction designer specifically, wants to have this kind of impact. Over the last few years I've seen quite a few presentations at 'User Experience' conferences where a speaker enthusiastically puts his fist in the air and proclaimed that the time has come for the interaction designer to make the world more livable. Everybody cheered, interaction designers rallied up with their sharpies and thought they could solve every possible wicked problem. They enthusiastically went back to their huge corporation or agency in the hope that the next day they would finally get this world-changing assignment from their boss. But of course it didn't work that way.
As Google's Project Glass moves closer to completion, they're making a two-pronged push to draw eyeballs, both figuratively and literally. For the former, they've released a video with actual footage captured through actual Glass prototypes:
It's funny how quickly I've become accustomed to the fineness of GoPro's smooth footage; Google's comparatively primitive video quality leaves no doubt that the footage is real.
Viewing the footage, we see Google pushing several applications:
1. Exciting athletic or action-packed POV footage, à la GoPro.
2. Voyeuristic or "memory-making" POV footage, as with the ballerina about to hit the stage, folks playing with their children and dogs.
3. Practical real-time referencing, as with the ice sculptor pulling up images of his subject.
4. Hands-free photography.
5. Real-time sharing, à la Facetime, as with the man sharing footage of a snake with (presumably) his wife and child.
6. Real-time navigation.
7. Real-time translation (though I think choosing tone-based Asian languages like Chinese and Thai will present some implementation challenges).
What's interesting is that Glass promises such a broad range of applications—quite a different tack from Apple's approach of making their devices do a few things well. For us designers, the video raises questions of interface design: Glass presumably taps into Wi-Fi, how do we access the network and enter passwords? Will the voice control work on a crowded sidewalk or a noisy train station? How fine is the camera's voice-prompted shutter timing? How, and how often, do users charge the device? And how do users get footage off of the device?
While it doesn't appear to be an outright Apple-Chevrolet partnership, Chevy has announced that their new Sonic and Spark models will offer integration with Apple's Siri. Called "Eyes Free Integration," Chevy's system will enable iPhone-toting drivers to initiate and answer phone calls, interact with their calendars, play music, hear transcriptions of incoming text messages, and compose outgoing text messages all by voice.
As per the context in which it's meant to be used, one of the system's touches purposely violates a cardinal rule of user interface design: Visual feedback. With Eyes Free, the phone avoids lighting up when interacted with, instead remaining dark to prevent your tendency to look at things that suddenly illuminate, so that you'll keep your peepers on the road.
Two Eyes-Free-compatible apps/hacks we'd like to see:
1. The KITT voice mod, which continually refers to you as "Michael" no matter what your name is.
2. An app that enables you to call out the license plate of the car in front of you that just cut you off. It automatically dials that driver's phone, and you can tell them exactly what you think of them without needing to roll the window down to yell it.
When I grew up in the '70s, all of New York City had the same area code; I could call from Queens to Manhattan, or vice versa, without having to dial "212" first. When "718" was finally assigned to the outerboroughs, there was a sort of bizarre pride that people took in having a "212" area code, which we from the outerboroughs of course thought was silly.
Interestingly enough, the number sequence "212" wasn't chosen randomly, but was a direct result of the design of the input device of the time: The rotary dial.
Touch-tone phones may have debuted in the early '60s due to John E. Karlin, but I grew up in a house that used rotary phones all the way into the '80s. It was only after we got our first touch-tone phone that I realized how slow the dial was—numbers with an 9 or 0 in them seemed to take forever, and maybe one out of ten times you'd screw the dialing up and have to start over. But "212" was always easy to dial.
As you can guess, when the North American Numbering Plan of the 1940s went about assigning area codes, "212" was assigned to New York City because it was a center of business, and businesspeople are by definition busy, and "212" is the fastest possible area code to dial; due to the way the switching equipment worked, the first and third digits could not be a "1," and the second digit had to be a "1" or a "0." So "212," at a total of five clicks on the dial, was the fastest.
Of course, after the addition of "718," it was only us in the outerboroughs that enjoyed the speed of "212"—you Manhattanites had to wait for the "7" and "8" to go all the way around the dial. Suckers!
You may not know his name, but you know his work. John E. Karlin, who passed away in late January, essentially invented the touch-tone keypad. We take that ubiquitous input device for granted—it's on everything from cell phones to alarm systems to microwave ovens—but there was a time when that interface didn't exist, and no one knew what the "correct" design for quickly inputting numbers ought to be.
An industrial psychologist, Karlin was working for Bell Labs (AT&T's R&D department) in the 1940s when he convinced them to start a dedicated human factors department. By 1951 he himself was the director of Human Factors Engineering. In the late 1950s they sought a faster alternative to rotary dialing, and Karlin and his group developed the configuration we know so well today.
During the process they examined different options, of course. Aren't you glad we didn't wind up with this?
You might think Karlin simply took the calculator keypad and placed the smaller numbers up top. Nope—take a look at what calculators looked like at the time:
We've all seen it: the teenagers with one earbud in, feigning interest in conversation; iPad users brandishing the device like a radiation barrier to snap a photo; the veritable hypnosis of the "cell trance." In fact, maybe you're reading these very words on your smartphone, killing time in line while you wait for the next express train or your double-shot skinny latte. No shame in that—we all do it.
These behaviors and over 20 other digital gestures are duly catalogued in a research project conducted at the Art Center College of Design by Nicolas Nova, Katherine Miyake, Nancy Kwon and Walton Chiu, in July and August of last year. The four published their findings on our gadget-enabled society in an ongoing blog and a book [PDF] as of last September. "Curious Rituals" is nothing short of brilliant, a comprehensive index of the gestures, tics and related epiphenomena organized into seven categories of vaguely anthropological rigor. (The authors also extrapolated their findings in a short film of several hypothetical not-so-distant future scenarios, which I found rather less compelling than the book.)
While the blog illustrates their process—along with related videos and imagery—the final report, published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License, offers an incisive examination of "gestures, postures and digital rituals that typically emerged with the use of digital technologies."
Regarding digital technologies, [this endeavor shows] how the use of such devices is a joint construction between designers and users. Some of the gestures we describe here indeed emerged from people's everyday practices, either from a naïve perspective (lifting up one's ï¬nger in a cell phone conversation to have better signal) or because they're simply more practical (watching a movie in bed with the laptop shifted). Even the ones that have been "created" by designers (pinching, taps, swipes, clicks) did not come out from the blue; they have been transferred from existing habits using other objects. The description of these postures, gestures and rituals can then be seen as a way to reveal the way users domesticate new technologies.
Dan Hill of City of Sound sets the stage with a number of own observations in his fluent introductory essay. The designer/urbanist/technologist sets the stage by taking a casual inventory of gestures from the "wake-up wiggle" (impatiently jostling a mouse to awaken a sleeping computer) to iPad photography (which "feels awkward and transitional") and instant-classic iPhone compass calibrator (later referred to as the "angry monkey"). I'd add that this last gesture looks something like twirling an invisible baton or fire dancing—or, incidentally, 'skippable rope' from Art Hack Day.