Multi-touch is just the beginning… revisited

As I wrote earlier, I think the success of the iPhone had a lot to do with the ease and speed with which users could understand and use the mutli-touch screen. They didn’t have to learn any special new ways to interact like was necessary with other technologies. Think about how much effort was required to learn how to use a remote to program the VCR, or a keypad to set a microwave, or even the scroll wheel to navigate content on an iPod.

Touch screen didn’t require users to learn how to use the iPhone’s input device. We already possesses the only device we need to interact with it–our fingers. There was no need to push around a device that moved an icon on the screen that represented our touch–an abstraction 3 levels deep of our intentions. With multi-touch, users are no longer required to create an abstract mental link between their hand and the screen. They can just touch it, and make things happen. Additionally, users can now interact with the content itself, rather than interacting with an abstraction the content–like the file/folder structure of the computers. The multi-touch screen allowed us to touch, and move the content itself. To tap a movie, and just play it.

As evidence of how natural this new kind of interaction is, check out these amazing toys for toddlers from Totoya that use the iPhone and iPod:

And I still wonder, what’s next for multi-touch? How can we make it easier to use? How can we make it more natural? More real? As I noted in my earlier post, haptic feedback is one way, another could be the system sensing more than just the fingertip on the screen, but also the shape of the hand.

And here’s another… what happens when you can interact directly with the screen itself by bending it, twisting it, and applying pressure?

What kinds of new interactions does this evolution of multi-touch enable? What will we interaction designers be able to do next? I can’t wait to find out.

Multi-touch is just the beginning…

All it takes is the one killer app to transition a new technology from the cutting edge to the public consciousness mainstream.

A large part of the iPhone’s success was because of the fact that it offered an elegant, intuitive new way for users to interact with their devices–the multi-touch screen. It felt almost revolutionary at the time. The ability to launch an app with a finger, or to navigate a map by pinching, and dragging. But touch interfaces had been around for a long time. ATM machines and kiosks introduced touch interaction to a mainstream audience years before the iPhone was launched. But they were always seen as novelties, or worse, shoddy, and frustrating.

Apple’s innovation–aside from a deep understanding of user expectations from everything to how fast a list would scroll based on how quickly a user flicked their finger, to how quickly an app needed to launch after it was tapped–was the user’s ability to utilize more than one finger to perform actions–a multi-touch screen. Sensing how many fingers were touching the screen, and changing the type of action a user performed based on this information, opened up whole new ways for users to navigate, and interact. They could scale, rotate, and move photos, rather than just opening them, tap and swipe their way through maps, and lists, and interact directly with content such as music or movie, by simply touching it.

It’s amazing to me how quickly these new ways of interacting have become old hat. This is partially due to the fact that Apple designed the interface so well, but I think, mostly due to the fact that multi-touch is inherently intuitive, like finger painting, and removes an artificial barrier in the form of a button or control that stands between a user and the content they interact with. Who needs a button when you can just touch something? The speed with which babies and toddlers learn how to use an iPad is testament to this.

So, what’s next for touch interfaces? What other real world behaviors can we interface designers leverage to continue to make our interfaces disappear, and let users continue to finger paint their way through the applications we design?

These new technologies give hints as to what may be next:

developed by disney research in collaboration with carnegie mellon university, ‘touché’ is an innovative system of touch recognition that can sense not only whether a user is touching an object but also in what way and with what body parts (s)he is doing so, using only a single wire and sensor.
- Designboom

Senseg turns touch screens into Feel Screens. With Senseg touch screens come alive with textures, contours and edges that users can feel. Using Senseg technology, makers of tablet computers, smart phones, and any touch interface device can deliver revolutionary user experiences with high fidelity tactile sensations.

What new kinds of interactions can we design when we have access to a user’s body and movements? How does an interface change when it has texture, or can touch you back?

How much is too much?

You’ve no doubt been hearing a lot about “The Cloud” lately. Basically, it means you can now store all of your media on the internet, accessing it as you need it – no more, no less. In fact, you can also use the power of the cloud for processing power, but that’s another post, altogether.

Now, with cloud-based everything, it’s easy to think that we want it all – all shows, all music, all everything, all the time. Actually, maybe there’s something to that…..

But as storage becomes cheaper, we’re looking at an increasing need for curation. With so many choices, we need content providers to help us divide it up. I’m not saying I really want to be limited to what iTunes thinks are the best songs. Or what Comcast thinks are the best movies or what Barnes & Noble thinks are the best books, of course.

What I’m looking for are systems that aid me in narrowing things down to a manageable level. My DVR is a good example. I can only store 20-25 shows without cleaning it out. It makes me more judicious about the shows I record. The same goes for nearly anything I consume.

I don’t want to be told what to consume, but I need help setting boundaries. We all need some discipline, right?

Power to the creators!

Ayah Bdeir, an engineer and artist, is the creator of littlebits, which are basically legofied electronic components that enable you to quickly build complex circuits that can do everything from light up, to move, to play sounds, and so much more.

She does a great job of explaining what’s so cool about them in this TED talk:

littlebits continues a trend that is near and dear to the our hearts at SMXL–the democratization of technologies and information that have traditionally been only available to “experts” at high cost. From prosumer video cameras, to open source software platforms, to publishing platforms like YouTube, and Tumblr, to development platforms like Game Salad, to sites like Patients Like Me–there are sooo many examples–the late 20th, and early 21st centuries have been all about empowering the (digitally connected) masses. And as more and more of us are becoming digitally connected every day through new internet enabled devices such as cellphones, it is easy to see that the revolution is underway. Innovation is no longer coming solely from the secretive, and heavily funded R&D labs of big business (Bell Labs) or the government (DARPA). It’s happening all around us. From entrepreneurs in Africa like William Kamkwamba who built a windmill to power his family’s house, to teenager Taylor Wilson who built a fusion reactor when he was 14.

Most excitingly, this trend of the democratization of tools, technologies, information, and publishing is just beginning to bear fruit. With products like littlebits broadening the reach of the basic technological building blocks of modern society to make them available to our children as toys, well, let’s just say we at SMXL are excited to play with and use the  cool new stuff  those kids create.

Routehappy public beta launches

Routehappy will change how you book air travel. Like Yelp for airlines, airports, routes, and flights, Routehappy’s goal is to make air travel better by giving flyers a voice through reviews, and ratings.

Last year around this time SMXL partner, Jason Nunes, spent several weeks of intense consulting time with Routehappy’s CEO refining and clarifying their UX vision, and brand identity.

Storytelling Your Way to Brand Success

Pixar’s Andrew Stanton’s TED talk about storytelling is a great tool to help brands focus on how to communicate their attributes, why a consumer should buy into their brand promise. I found enormous inspiration in it as a writer and a director but for today we will stick to brands.

In order to really connect to your customer, your community, align your brand with a good story that makes sense for your brand. Stanton says, “Capture a truth from your experience. Express values you personally feel deep down in your core.” Figure out your most important brand attributes and how to communicate them. As a consumer I love the move away from product placement towards brand affiliation. I enjoy watching a great video that’s supported by a brand. It allows the creator to tell a wonderful story while connecting the brand organically, rather than shoehorned in with an artificial feeling product placement. (It doesn’t always feels artificial, of course.)

One of Stanton’s big rules is to make the audience care. Find a way to connect with your audience. Stanton encourages us to promise the viewer that the story will lead somewhere we want to follow. It will be worth embarking on the journey. His simplest example is beginning a story with, “Once Upon A Time.” I think he also means to establish credibility with the audience, let them know we will be an experienced guide in their journey.

Wall-E, Written & Directed by Andrew Stanton

Stanton says, “We’re born problem solvers… It’s this well organized absence of information that draws us in.” He talks about the “Unifying Theory of 2 + 2”.  “Make the audience put things together. Don’t give them 4. Give them 2+2.” Let your audience do some work. They want to do it.

He was talking about how you tell your story but this also speaks to extending the story across multiple platforms. Successful transmedia campaigns provide the audience with all the pieces they need to learn about the world of the story and the blueprint to put it together but empower them to solve the puzzle themselves. We are drawn to treasure maps. We want to figure things out and get the gold at the end of the hunt.

Toy Story, written by Andrew Stanton

Lastly, there is wonder.  Stanton: “Hold them still just for a brief moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder.” Yes! I live for telling those kinds of stories.

What kinds of stories invoke that sense of wonder for you? What is most important for your brand? My partners and I are storytelling junkies. We’d love to hear what you have to say.

Oh, and check out the rest of the TED talk. I didn’t tell you everything…

What’s great about living in Brooklyn…

(or Austin, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, or anywhere packs of creative people congregate, and cross pollinate.)

I just walked into Joyce Bakeshop, one of my local coffee shops, and ran into three young creative hotshots having a confab.

Saad Alayyoubi, a digital product designer who makes amazing 3D printed objects like this award winning project:

Marie Park, an architect, and ui/ux designer who’s done some fascinating work, including this exploration:

And Alisa Stern an animator, designer, and puppet and prop maker, whose stuff is just so much fun to watch:

It is inspiring to live in a place where writers, designers, artists, filmmakers, actors, chefs, and other creative folks live, work, and form communities and collectives. That kind of cross-pollination produces delicious mashups. It’s what inspired the five of us to create Small Media Extra Large–to cross-pollinate interactive design with video creation and production. It brings to mind the Algonquin Roundtable, the Lost Generation, the Beats, or any other number of times when creative folks gathered to explore, converse, push boundaries, and have fun. I sometimes lose touch with the fact that we digerati are in the midst of our own version of the above–a great, on-going collective conversation about the meaning of life, art, and the act of creation. Ours is different of course, because we are enabled by technology, and are not limited by the need for proximity. That said, there’s still magic in sitting around a table with fellow explorers, and talking animatedly over a cup of coffee, or a good stiff drink.


An animation studio in my pocket

Between apps like Studio Neat’s Frames:

And my new iPhone case complete with tripod mount and fisheye, wide angle/macro, and 2x telephoto lenses:

The iPhone Rangefinder

…there’s nothing to stop me from realizing my childhood dream of becoming an animation mogul. Look out Disney, Klasky Csupo, and Williams Street, here I come!

OK, so my first test shot was no “AAAHH!!! Real Monsters” or “Robot Chicken”, but it’s a start:

Facebook Timeline for Brands

By now, we’ve all heard that Facebook is moving over their Brand Pages to the oft-maligned Timeline format. So what do we all think of that?

For my personal use, I resisted it. It seemed like just another thing that I was going to have to update in order to keep up with yet another new social media platform’s agenda. I met it with a resounding “blah.”

For brands, though, it’s a big deal – an actual positive step in the direction of presenting story and engagement in a stronger fashion.

First off, the new layout is more visually oriented. That means HD video and photography can bubble to the top, which is awesome. This is content that can more easily be shared across other platforms (microsites, Youtube, Tumblr, even Twitter) and can therefore be more multi-use. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t tailor your content to individual platforms, but it opens the doors to cross-posting in a way that possible, but not encouraged, before.

Second, the Timeline concept is more about an overall story and personality. It’s less about “right now, right this minute” and more about an overall narrative. More background means customers can get a deeper understanding of what brands are about, rather than a single campaign or promotion. This does mean, of course, that campaigns and promotions over time will need to be more consistent, but that’s always been recommended.

These both combine to make the brand pages on Facebook more interesting to users. Historically, consumers have spent a huge portion of their time in their newsfeed, rarely going to brand pages. Deeper video and photographic content and an overall story are both ways to pull people out of their feeds and onto pages.

Or at least that’s the theory. As Facebook’s overall makeup changes (both from a layout standpoint and also a demographic one), we’ll see how people actually interact.


Can Branded Entertainment be as fun as television and not feel like an ad?
Wait, maybe I should say be more fun than television, as television seems to be going a bit downhill these days…
The answer:  Yes, yes it can!

I recently came across the web series, “Dating Rules from My Future Self.”
It claims to be branded entertainment, but I would argue that we could simply call it entertainment.  Yes, it’s sponsored by brands, but no I don’t feel that it’s one long commercial for biore or ford the way that the original branded entertainment felt like a fancy celebrity and action packed commercial for a car.

I decided to do a google search for branded entertainment. It yielded results that ranged from a terrible show with huge hollywood backing to a decent show with network backing, but with a minute and a half ad roll to a celebrity scavenger hunt / cooking show.

These series lack the quality in storytelling that Dating Rules has. The other branded series that I’ve come across are mainly broad comedy and over the top acting or reality tv.  And there is way more than enough of reality tv and awful sitcoms on television for me already.

Dating Rules is the exact opposite of these shows and the reason why I love it so much.
It’s quality filmmaking, storytelling and acting and they accomplished this in a limited amount of time and on a small budget.  Yes it still has a modicum of celebrity – these are not unknown actors – and it does have a budget, but it’s not a tv budget even though the producers come from a tv background.

I think networks, web content providers and brands should take a long hard look at Dating Rules and if they want eyeballs and dollars, start making and investing in content that looks and feels like that series.

People are using DVR, netflix, hulu, youtube and other internet channels much more to watch their shows and can can just zip past commercials.

Is branded entertainment the way to go?
I think yes, if it’s done the new and innovative way that Dating Rules has accomplished.

Dating Rutes is a great series, better than any recent sitcom I’ve seen. The characters are all unique and lovable, the story is high concept and fun and I couldn’t stop watching it.

The product placement was not intrusive at all and I only really noticed it when I was looking for it.  I was drawn to the show, the plot, the characters and would watch season after season of this.  There is a 5 second ad pre roll incorporated in the beginning of each episode, but it has been art directed and looks like part of the show as opposed to just another pre roll.  Someone took the time to make it go with the show and work with it instead of standing out against it.

So yes, I noticed that each episode was sponsored by a brand and I can tell you the products that are featured in the shows. I also have a bit more respect for these brands and now think they are more innovative than others.

I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t tell you all the brands that have ads during an episode of Grey’s Anatomy — I fast forward through all that.

Watch the first episode and just try not to love it. I bet you won’t be able to!