PCOMP – Week 1: Reflections on Interaction

This week’s readings include the first two chapters of Chris Crawford’s book The Art of Interactive Design and an article “A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design” by Bret Victor. Both of them are insightful and thought-provoking pieces, and they led me to take an introspective look at my understanding about interaction and my working trajectories about interactivity. I’ll start with Crawford’s book first.

 

The Interactivity Formula

According to Crawford’s definition, interactivity is “a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak”, and it has two implications: the Degrees of Interactivity, and what contributes to a high degree of interactivity.

The notion of Degrees of Interactivity reveals that it is “a continuous variable with relative measures”, rather than a “blank or white” conclusion. Upon reading about the refrigerator light example, I immediately thought about the mirror, especially the wooden mirror at the door front of ITP.

Personally, I love this mirror so much that I played with it for nearly 15 minutes on my first day at ITP. It is interactive by definition mentioned above, but at what degree? Since the quality of interactivity is gauged by the combined quality of the actors’ listening, thinking and speaking performance, is it at a somewhat lower-level interactivity since the mirror’s “thinking” was to merely reflect the my physical image regardless of however I move? And if it is, what can I do to increase its interactivity? A few things that came to my mind includes:

  1. Using a camera with higher-definition CMOS to capture detailed movements of my body (i.e. to listen better)
  2. Using a different algorithm to flip the wooden tiles, e.g. for ladies it would reflect a light image on top of a dark background, and for gentlemen it would do it reversely, or all tiles flip triple times if I raise my arms? (i.e. to think better)
  3. Using different flipping patterns (i.e. to speak better)

In terms of the examples of dancing and performance arts, I believe AI is really a good tool to boost up the interactivity. It can be used in areas such as allowing machines to generate music according to the dance (to enhance the “think” & “speak”), or providing a generalization of a large audiences’ responses for performing artists (to enhance the “listen”).

In a word, this is indeed a good framework for us to discuss about, think of, and design around interactivity. Now, let’s turn to Bret’s article.

 

The Spiritual and Physical Ramification of Interaction Design

Bret’s article is centered around two utterly amazing things that we mostly ignore in our designs – “Hands feel things, and hands manipulate things.” This is true, and it had led to the prevalence of Pictures Under Glass designs nowadays.

My thinking is that although Pictures Under Glass, as a transition technology, is indeed inept for physical interaction in terms of lacking tactile responses, it is however a cornerstone in guiding our “spiritual” interaction, or in other words, the sort of interaction that functions mostly at pure information-exchange level. One of its ultimate form I believe, will be implants into our eyes so that such “pictures” are rendered real-time in our vision and the interaction is triggered by our thoughts, or brainwaves. Just image I can check tomorrow’s weather by simply reading aloud “weather tomorrow” in my mind and see the weather image right in front of my vision. This should still be easier and more efficient than getting a response from a hand-held device which vibrates one time for sunny days and two times for rainy days, right?

Hands are invaluable for physical interactions. But we shouldn’t neglect the implications of Pictures Under Glass designs in guiding our spiritual interactions as well.

And these are my thoughts of the two readings.

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