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But not really. Much like taking a few aspirin or drinking Tabasco Sauce after a night of heavy drinking, we’re beginning to think clearly on an important topic that’s easy to forget about: interactive design. The Internet boom may have come and gone just as quickly—and as ingloriously—as bellbottoms and mood rings, but the notion of interactive design hasn’t as yet been explored as fully as need be. Certainly excessive flash intros are out of style, just like blinking text and rainbow-colored rules vanished from any serious web presence years ago. Having been referred to as multimedia, new media and web design in the past, the industry seems to have settled on the more amorphous, less specific term “interactive.” Which implies more of a mindset and an approach rather than purely focusing on the final produced format—in other words, its more than web sites. It’s also more than DVDs, CD-ROMs, and applications for palm pilots and cellphones.

Two years ago Fallon released BMW Films in conjunction with David Fincher and Anonymous Content—the premise was simple, just go to a web site, download the films and watch Sexy Brit Clive Owen do dastardly deeds in either a 5-series or Z4. Pretty cool. While the technical wizardry wasn’t supreme, the web design solid but not earth shattering, the concept was absolutely brilliant. It perfectly played off of how BMW drivers feel about driving, their cars, and gave them an outlet for their passion for German engineering. It got people to INTERACT with the brand in a way they had never considered previously, and until recently, would not have been able to do because of technological constraints.

In just the past year, Crispin Porter + Bogusky of Miami, FL won the $350 million Burger King account without a review, because the agency (of IKEA lamp fame, or MINI Cooper) established itself as coming up with outlandish, unexpected, but unusually relevant and effective ideas. They may be in advertising, but that doesn’t mean they sit around and come up with dippy TV concepts all day long and then blow loads of money producing 30 second crap that well-adjusted individuals loathe. No way. Instead, they came up with Subservient Chicken. Go to the site, and “ask” the “chicken” to do things…yes, its bizarre, but it figures in well with the “Have It Your Way” tagline that drives the Burger King brand. Technically, its brilliant, and its one of the more innovative ways of extending and expressing a brand that I’ve seen. If nothing else its more interesting and engaging than a brochure or spiffy new signs in a store.

Other examples of superlative interactive design include The International Herald Tribune, for its intuitive interface and effective method of handling copious amounts of information, and Plumb Design’s Visual Thesaurus, which through a flash interface allows you to discover relationships between nearly 140,000 words.

Design is more than putting words, colors, images, and shapes on sheets of paper; print isn’t dead, its not going to die, but interactive is “the future.” Why? Well, from a branding perspective you can accurately track interactive applications and gauge performance more effectively, which assigns more accountability to agencies. Interactive targets people in a refined fashion, allowing brands to talk to the right audiences, thus saving time and money. Its not as simple as saying that because interactive capabilities now exist they will therefore take over; they will play a significant role though, because they can work quite well. I think there’s always going to be an electronic component to anything interactive, even if its just on the back-end, but it need not only be electronic, there are surely ways to incorporate printed materials and other more traditional means of communication into the mix.

What are some of the more inspiring examples of interactive design that you’ve seen? What do you think of its role in our profession in the coming years?

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PUBLISHED ON Aug.31.2004 BY bradley
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Comments
Rick’s comment is:

Wow, Bradley, thanks for the interesting post.

Just a few scattered thoughts:

1) It got people to INTERACT with the brand in a way they had never considered previously

Actually, we interact with brands like that all the time. It just comes from a different perspective - we're so used to seeing product placement that it bounces off us. In fact, I can't speak for anyone else here, but I (think I) prefer to see a real product in a movie than a generic representation. I'd rather watch the hero drink a can of Pepsi while driving a Ford... I can understand these, and they add to the percieved authenticity. IN the case of a movie like The Italian Job, the brand kind of WAS the movie. (One exception: Kaboom cereal. Thank you, Tarantino).

What was revolutionary (?) about the BMW Films was that the brand wasn't shoehorned into a wonky placement, the brand WAS the content. They were nothing more than very cool, very long commercials. But the content was good enough that people wanted to watch. That was amazing, and smart ad people will take that lesson away. The others will keep on cranking out those, "Our Prices Are Insane!" commercials. Hello, Mr Whipple.

2) I think "interactive" is necessarily ethereal and transient. The very nature of this kind of media is so flash and fade - by the time my mom knows about the Subservient Chicken, I'm way over it. Unlike campaigns of the past (like, say, the Snuggle fabric softener bear, who seemed to never EVER die), the cutting edge interactive stuff vanishes as soon as it flares. Quick impact is the order of the day - it's like blitzkreig adverts.

3) Why does PRINT have an INTERACTIVE issue?

On Aug.31.2004 at 11:34 AM
Patrick C’s comment is:

The term "Interactive Design" raises many questions for me, far more than it answers. The majority of interactive design is barely interactive in that the user is not involved in the design process (which would truly be interactive design) nor can he make significant changes in the presentation that are not predetermined. In many cases the difference between the non-linear presentation of today's high-end flash sites and yesterday's low-end flash intros is nothing more than the occasional mouse click which allows the user to choose which parts of the "flash intro" he wishes to view and when. I don't know that this makes it more meaningful or useful, just easier to use.

A significant problem for me, and many of the people I know, is that advertising is usually seen as a disruption to the activity they are engaged in—advertisements during a television show or pages of fashion ads in the latest issue of a favourite magazine. Users seek to eliminate these distractions or, at the least, minimize them. Which leads to a strange situation in web land:

Why would I choose to go to a web site to watch what is essentially a commercial (and usually an overly long and annoying one)? Answer: I don't. And I'm a web designer! Most people I know (of all ages and backgrounds) usually make the same choice. I would have to see very good statistics to make me believe that any of this crap is really being visited for a meaningful length of time and converted into sales.

But all this matters not. More and more elaborate flash sites pop up every week and it is clearly the way forward in web land for major companies trying to promote their brand(s). As such the need will continue to grow and as the web continues to evolve the need to keep up will have an impact on the profession. Specifically how I don't know.

To give an example of a site done well I'll put forward this:

JC-The Store

What is interesting about this "interactive" site is that it is culled entirely from an existing commercial. It works because it is brief and simple. But the impact is all in the video, not the site design. What it makes clear, IMO, is that less is more at a time when most sites believe more is not enough.

On Aug.31.2004 at 11:48 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Good topic (we need more non-print discussion on here ;o)

Personally, I find all design interactive. Some more so than others. But debating what to call 'web design' isn't that much fun anymore, so I'll concede to the term ;o)

The most exciting interactive design projects these days are products that merge data into very meaningful, rewarding experiences.

I think the RIAA Radar is a great use of Amazon's Open API to do a little consumer activism.

Our county recently moved all property information online into a fully interactive map complete with aerial photography, plot maps and property owner information.

Firefox, and RSS feeds, are the most exciting web interfaces that have come along in a while IMHO. A great user experience all around.

Why does PRINT have an INTERACTIVE issue?

To collect entry fees.

On Aug.31.2004 at 01:05 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Oh...and iTunes, of course.

On Aug.31.2004 at 01:06 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

"The others will keep on cranking out those, "Our Prices Are Insane!" commercials. Hello, Mr Whipple."

Gawd, as an art director at an agency that's doing its damndest to get better, you'd be AMAZED at the difficulty in getting people beyond those attitudes. You can get so obsessed with "directly" selling your product that you, in the end, succeed in selling a whole bunch of jack shit.

What I was inclined to say originally with interactive was that it need not be digital or electronic necessarily--I vacillate on that, but the one thing I'm sure of is that pretty much anything can be interactive. It's not like most of the things people identify as good interfaces or innovative devices totally change the way we look at things. It can be a matter of getting people to realize something they always knew to be true, but had never articulated.

Essentially, "interactive" isn't a new idea--how long have companies run contests and other events that required people to participate in some manner? How long have cereal boxes had board games on the back panels? What interests me is leveraging existing technology to re-create these processes in a completely new way.

For awhile this sort of thinking was shoved under the category of "experience design," which I never completely bought into. When I worked with experience designers, it didn't strike me as that different from the way intelligent designers typically design. A lot of research, a lot of analysis, putting it all together and making a logical but distinct "leap" of logic to create a new solution.

There's not a whole lot "new" about new media. But there are a lot of new things to do, for sure.

On Aug.31.2004 at 04:59 PM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

The most inspiring example of interactive design, for me, has to be the automobile.

Mine is a 1989 BMW 320i. It has a pedal that when depressed makes the car go faster. Another one slows it down. The simple wheel interface is used to turn the car in whatever direction I choose. The care has room for five people, and the front seats are fully adjustable. Should I get hot I have the choice of windows, a cooling fan or a sunroof. All are very simple to operate. I can choose my own soundtrack for my "driving experience" from a number of national & local broadcasters or I can even provide my own playlist using a cd. The 360� view is constantly & automatically refreshed. Beyond all this simple functionality, it looks really, really good. (Your experience may differ.)

If all that wasn't enough, my car is connected to a network of roads & ferries that allows me to easily visit people & places & even transport people & things of limitless shape & function virtually anywhere in Europe in complete comfort & style - whenever I want to.

You might think that such a wondrously, flexibly interative device such as the automobile would be the preserve of the rich, but they are so affordable to buy & cheap to run that virtually every family in western world owns at least one.

That's my vote for just about the best piece of interactive design, and I doubt it will be topped for a long time.

On Aug.31.2004 at 05:28 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

A teacher of mine once said something that I've never forgotten:

'If websites are so great, how come I've never seen one that's made me cry?'

Having said this though, I do think that interactive design is the future. At the moment it's still in its infancy, and is just beginning to take its first faltering steps.

The criticisms of today's innovative websites are all valid - the technology isn't up to scratch yet. But the people who champion interacve design can see beyond these constraints to a fascinating world of possibility. It's just what we've been waiting for.

The people who disparage interacive design, I suspect, are frightened of it. Designers are control freaks by nature, and are terrified of losing control. Designing a page layout takes a great deal of skill and prescision, but this pales into insignificance when compared to designing an environment.

We should all be trying our hardest to learn new skills and to collaborate with as many people as possible, so that we can utilise the opportunities that are beginning to appear.

Courage, anyone?

On Aug.31.2004 at 05:59 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> how long have companies run contests and other events that required people to participate in some manner?

For a brand to be succesfully interactive it can't ask people to interact. It must happen naturally and seamlessly. In the terms that Bradley is placing this idea, the interactivity can't be forced. It's a fluid process and I think at times is unexpected, some things happen to get a hold of an audience and other people who want to "belong" to that audience will do their darndest to interact with it. I think the BMW Films is a good example… I doubt BMW or W+K ever thought it would be as extremely popular as it became.

Also, a clever slashed URL (www.buythis.com/sweetheart) at the end of a TV ad does not make it interactive. It makes it trackable and measurable but not interactive.

This is a good train of thought Bradley. I like.

On Aug.31.2004 at 06:41 PM
Rick’s comment is:

Actually, I've never seen an annual report that made me cry, either. Or a piece of direct mail. Or a logo. Or any one of a billion things that fall under our shared job description.

And that, to bring it back 'round to a conversation we've had a thousand time over, is why design ain't art.

On Aug.31.2004 at 06:43 PM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

Design for the web, for TV, for 'interactive' media has been around for a while now. It blows my mind that many print designers are oblivious to contemporary interactive design.

www.k10k.net

www.wellvetted.com

www.designiskinky.com

www.surfstation.lu

the list goes on…

On Aug.31.2004 at 11:48 PM
jarrett’s comment is:

As far as I'm concerned there are 2 reasons to be "interactive" in the normal sense of the word

First reason is because you can do something interesting (not an Amazon.com clone) by having navigation have some intersting integration into the layout. This one does either because they want to do something interesting with the layout or with the navigation, sometimes it isn't really both. Most designers consider "interesting" to be at least a somewhat valid goal since the other one tends to be "digestible information" (read as sell my product)

Second reason would be that the interactive lets you do something that is less convenient or impossible to do with print or video or whatever. To note a more stodgy BMW example, you can customize a car on the BMW site. Does anyone buy a BMW because of this feature? Probably not, but its not an involved application and its pertinent so its certainly worth having. I for one built a private label roommate locator for a large rental property and by golly people actually meet roommates on there. So that is useful interactive too even though it isn't really design related at all but just functional interactive.

I think we have pretty much established the model for what interactive designs are easiest for people to use but in 15 years when the average persons understanding of interactive is more fluent people will hopefully be able to make more interesting interfaces for sites and software on a day to day basis. I hope thats the case at least.

On Sep.01.2004 at 01:51 AM
Tom B’s comment is:

I think the Amazon.com, rather than being a stodgy old warehouse, is a very good example of an 'interactive' process. It may not be the prettiest of websites, but it certainly works.

People don't just go to Amazon to buy. They go there to learn about products, compare them, leave their opinion for others to read, compile lists of their favourites, and so on.

Amazon's success is largely due to this interactivity. They've realised that in order to sell online you need to concentrate on experience as much as on product, aesthetic, or brand.

When I said that designers are scared of interactive design, this is what I was getting at. It's an entirely different set of skills from those we feel comfortable with.

It is scary - certainly frightens me - but it's also incredibly exciting. And if we (the people who currently call ourselves designers) don't make this leap, someone else will.

p.s. If you're a brave, pioneering interactive designer who isn't remotely scared of this brave new world, three cheers to you!

(I suspect we're all a little bit scared, though)

On Sep.01.2004 at 04:45 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

OK, is this thread to debate the term 'interactive design' or to talk about interesting stuff out there on the web? I'm confused.

people will hopefully be able to make more interesting interfaces for sites and software on a day to day basis.

There have been all sorts of interesting interfaces made in the past several decades. Take a look at any modern computer game and you'll see all sorts of 'interesting' interfaces. But, on a day-to-day basis, 'interesting' doesn't always coincide with 'usable'.

I think Tom B.'s point is valide. There are designers who fear the interactive world due to the fact that the visual layout is no longer the core element. (granted, you could say the same about a lot of print design, so perhaps we're going in circles again...)

On Sep.01.2004 at 09:17 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> OK, is this thread to debate the term 'interactive design' or to talk about interesting stuff out there on the web?

I am slightly confused too… I was thinking of it all in terms of the "bigger picture" and of "interactive" as more than cool web interfaces.

> > www.k10k.net, www.wellvetted.com, www.designiskinky.com, www.surfstation.lu

Yeah… those sites are basically frowned upon around here. The reason Speak Up exists is because of those sites in response to their lack of undersanding that design is more than eye candy, in response to bad grammar and senseless slang, in response to providing more than links. It is sad that so many web designers "learned" about design through these "design" portals. They are purveyors of trends — good and bad ones, mostly useless ones. They are pretty too look at, but that's about all they really offer.

> It blows my mind that many print designers are oblivious to contemporary interactive design

It blows my mind that many contemporary interactive design are oblivious to the very basic principles of design.

On Sep.01.2004 at 10:12 AM
Levi’s comment is:

www.k10k.net, www.wellvetted.com, www.designiskinky.com, www.surfstation.lu

I remember when I was a young designer and first saw those sites I was really impressed. But after a while you realize that they're just hard to use, confusing to look at and basically immature design-wise.

I'd say sites like that are the equivilent of a glam rock solo. A million notes a second is cool when you first hear it but it's all the same after a while and really requires very little skill. Eric Clapton may be less impressive to the novice but he's the real master of the craft, not the guitarist for Whitesnake.

I don't really bother with those sites anymore. I usually view sites designed by non-interactive specialists for inspiration. It's always good to see how a design master approaches a medium from an un-baised perspective. Maybe they'll aviod the cliches of our industry. (IE: Incredibly small, fonts that no one can read.)

On Sep.01.2004 at 11:31 AM
Petter Ringbom’s comment is:

Yeah… those sites are basically frowned upon around here.

Oh, Armin, you know you love them. Beneath that frown, I see a man fighting his urges to join the feverish style orgy.

Anyway, seen any good print design lately? How about those Brown Bunny posters... nice. I also like this House Industry booklet I got in the mail.

On Sep.01.2004 at 11:52 AM
Valon’s comment is:

p.s. If you're a brave, pioneering interactive designer who isn't remotely scared of this brave new world, three cheers to you!

Insecure Yes! but not Scared.

The new issue of HOW has an article that mostly deals with retail stores, and environmental & experience design, which can't help but mention the influence of interactive/web design in designing retail stores.

I will quote the article~

HOW, October 24, 2004; "Designed to Sell," by Jenny Sullivan. Pages 30-36.

Page 33.

[Brave New World: No doubt the Internet has ignited an era of individual empowerment and has radically altered customers' expectations in retail equation. Savvy shoppers can use the Web to bypass store environments they find offensive...When Mazda partnered with the Dayton, OH-based creative consultancy Design Forum in 2002 to reinvigorate its dealership experience, the Web was a major factor in the store design. "Mazda embraced the fact that 70% of its customers were doing research online before coming to the dealership," says Design Forum president Bruce Dybvad. "They came in knowing exactly how much the car should cost, how much the dealership paid for the car, and how much they should have to pay for the trims and finishes they wanted. The customers knew more than the sales people." — Rather than fighting this trend, Mazda built a seamless connection between its URL and 12 showrooms resembling hip garage hangouts. The new store concept puts customers firmly in the driver's seat, offering an Internet cafe setting where they can build the cars they want online (or log on to access and negotiate for prototypes they've already created from home). Prospective buyers can also take sports cars for spin in virtual-reality video games, or test-drive live models on courses specified for different types of vehicles....]

...and the writing goes on & on.

I remember one of my graphic design teachers at school once said, "We [graphic designers] make garbage!" And that's true, everything we make — unless it ends up in a museum, or bookshelf — at some point it's thrown out and disposed. (If it ends up in a museum - Is Design Art at that point?)

Interactive design on the other side exsists in a virtual setting that requires time-specified attention and interaction.

I think Speak-Up is a perfect example of a great interactive experience that in no way resembles designiskinky or surfstation - where you go and click. If it wasn't for Speak-Up designers around the US, Europe, would have never been able to interact on these topic. To top it all off ~ Speak-Up is a sophisticated modest approach to interactive design that does not offer any flashy or tacky elements. Speak-Up does what it's supposed to do - and that's that.

On Sep.01.2004 at 12:01 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Enough talk. Post links!

On Sep.01.2004 at 01:09 PM
marian’s comment is:

It blows my mind that many contemporary interactive design are oblivious to the very basic principles of design.

I haven't worked in the so-called interactive media for a couple of years, and even then considered myself unqualified, having not kept up with the technology. But back then I did have an interesting experience. I was working with a former colleague on building a set of web tools for building database-driven sites. He was the programmer (and, I believe, a good one), and he was showing me the structure of the program, with his mocked-up interface, looking for feedback--not on the design, on the user experience. The tools (the program) worked, but the way he had it set up was so fucked up and so backward I could hardly believe it.

The problem was, he was a programmer, and he thought from his perspective, which was sortof inside out. In order to understand the navigation and choices you'd make to get from a to b, you'd have to understand how databases work and the relationships within them. I kept saying "But people don't think like this, all they want is to build a new page, and put it in this category." It's hard to describe, but we had many frustrating sessions where we just couldn't understand each other's logic. I was right, I have to say, and he eventually agreed I was, and implemented all my changes. This was before we got to graphics, it was all structure and clarity in choice and options.

So I think one of the really difficult things about interactive work is getting that kind of connection between logic, graphics and robust programming. I've been to countless sites built in many different programs where I can't figure out what to do next—and I'm web savvy and not dumb, so it ain't me. I always wonder "Whose fault is this? the designer? the programmer? the client?"

Anyway, we were supposed to say something positive, and I did have a designer's site that had the most beautiful, logical, wonderful interface I'd ever seen on a design website, but ... uh ... after hunting my various records for the past 15 minutes, I've lost it! Sorry!

This is ancient, but The Met site has always been one of my all-time favourites. Looks great, functions like a dream, and I could stay there for hours.

On Sep.01.2004 at 02:39 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

So I think one of the really difficult things about interactive work is getting that kind of connection between logic, graphics and robust programming.

It's all design. And it will fail, as you say, if everyone isn't able to contribute to the whole.

On Sep.01.2004 at 03:50 PM
Joe ’s comment is:

It is sad that so many web designers "learned" about design through these "design" portals

I learned that design can be filled with visual interest and complexity.

I learned that I don't have to make wine labels the rest of my life.

I learned that there are no rules.

These are concepts that they either do not know, or will not teach you in school.

So where else do you learn it?

I think it's a shame that personal style, and a development of your visual

vocabulary is an afterthought for a lot of designers. I love speakup for

the amazing discourse, but it is as equally lacking in raw imagery as the

other is in depth.

Personally, I like both, but lack off interest

from both sides seems a littleimmature.

On Sep.01.2004 at 04:26 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

I'm trying to think of some examples of good interactive design, and it's difficult. The problem is that in order to be inclusive, interface and navigation elements need to be predictable - the user should be able to work out what everything does instantly.

However, in order to achieve this predictability there needs to be a large degree of uniformity between different sites. Everybody will agree that hyperlinks presented in blue with an underline look ugly and tired, but everybody will recognise them as links.

We have a catch-22 where we need more experimentation in order to drive the medium forwards, and yet we need less experimentation for these experiments to work.

When presented with a new gadget, most people can work out how it works fairly easlily by examining it. But we can't do this with virtual systems - we have to rely on the metphors that the designer has chosen to use.

The Mac OS graphical user interface was a wonderful example of using metaphors to convey a sense of how something works. But these metaphors are becoming old and tired. In an age where computers outnumber filing cabinets, it's difficult to concieve of a metaphor that still holds. How do you reprasent something that is itself the thing reprasenting that something (what a peculiar sentence).

This is Kurt G�del's famous paradox, and it will not go away.

The only way around the paradox is to broaden our view of what it is we are trying to achieve. It isn't just about graphics, it isn't just about programming, it isn't just about computers (those silver monoliths that whir away under our desks).

It's about interaction, how one person affects another person. I think 'interactive' design is a very worthy name for a very serious issue, and one that affects everyone's lives.

On Sep.01.2004 at 04:27 PM
ben...’s comment is:

linkdup.com

a little dated, but it links you to many many cool interactive sites.

emo-design. i'm down with it.

On Sep.01.2004 at 09:37 PM
facelikedip’s comment is:

> > www.k10k.net, www.wellvetted.com, www.designiskinky.com, www.surfstation.lu

Yeah… those sites are basically frowned upon around here.

Several months ago I actually discovered Speak Up via a little post on the "Blurbs" area of Moluv, which I think may possibly be one of the sites that is "frowned upon." I will always have a soft spot for it for that reason, if no other. It hadn't occurred to me before I read these posts today, but I haven't been back there since, and I used to visit that and the other above-listed sites on a very regular basis. Today I poked around on a couple of them to see if I could find any interesting "interactive" work. My repeated pokes were rewarded with a site for a well-known premium beer which featured a ridiculously long, repulsive and tedious animation of an exploding beer bottle upon every mouse click, and a site on which all the content seemed to be hidden within a centralized "slash" element which turned slightly bulbous upon mouse rollover, but which ultimately proved impervious to all my attempts to access it, and then caused my computer to crash. Eventually I gave up and came back to the truly content-rich, easily navigable, and supremely readable wonder that is Speak Up.

'If websites are so great, how come I've never seen one that's made me cry?'

I am pretty sure I have seen a site that made me cry, but I can't remember which. However, I once cried over an American Express commercial, and not because I was appalled by it, so maybe I'm not the best person to be commenting.

On Sep.02.2004 at 01:11 AM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

Some links for Darrel and a little talk.

Signwave has some crazy applications. They'll mess with you and take over when they think you're not being creative enough. Meant as a parody, but I've made some useful things. The engagement is in exploring the app and trying to outsmart the interface. Kai Krause used to expound on apps that would reveal certain features only after a user proved his mettle. Same kind of thing.

Link

Jim Campbell has some astonishing interactive installations that work hard at getting away from the click, click, click. The human component he puts into these things really makes an emotional connection. And check out his formula for computer art.

Link

These are quite old, but Che Tamahori's early shockwave experiments are a great example of navigational play and relationships. Especially fun ways of dealing with 'focus' both literally and as an interface term. Great inspiration when I was looking for something different to do with Director Lingo.

Link

Link

Then there's antenna. More groovy installations.

Link

These kinds of things are where it's at for me. I just can't get too excited about the keyboard and mouse anymore for interactive design. Hard as one tries to make 'environments' and 'spaces' and 'experiences', the audience is still just sitting in front of a monitor clicking and typing. It's hard.

I'm often more impressed with fun and powerful apps like all the "i" stuff and the professional production suite from Apple. Great tools, great interface design. (I feel like such a Flintstone on the rare occasion I have to use OS9.)

On Sep.02.2004 at 08:57 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Tom B:

To contrast what you say, take a look at the auto industry. The interaction in an auto must be even more predictable than a web site. Gas here, brake there, round steering wheel, etc.

Yet there's plenty of room for exciting design in the auto industry (granted, there's plenty of crap too, but that's true of any industry).

I still recall the essay in in the brown phone-book AIGA annual where they tried to justify not including any interactive work. Sadly, that attitude is still pervasive in a lot of firms.

I do completely agree with your other comments on the paradox of metaphors in interactive design.

Nice links, Steve. I also agree with the latest apps from apple. They're pushing boundaries, but retaining a decent amount of interface standardization and best-practices. Doesn't always work, but there's some nice stuff coming from them.

Oh, and let's not forget the iPod...one of the nicest interactive experience I've seen in a while.

On Sep.02.2004 at 10:27 AM
Rob ’s comment is:

When I first read this my mind went back to the mid-90's and things like Apple's Hypercard, html writing embedded with links that could change the direction of the story depending on where they led, and even back to the 70's and 80's when television was going to be turned into an interactive medium.

The word itself, interactive, is really short-hand for life, is it not. Everyday we have interactions with people, objects, activities that make up who we are and what we are about. These things are what define us.

As far as interaction in terms of electronic media, I think the web for the most part has succeeded where televsion failed. Look at the examples already mentioned, like Amazon, BMW Films, MINI Cooper (one of my favorites) and others. Even Speak-Up, as someone mentioned, is an example of an interactive site that works. Another favorite is Sodaplay. And while these examples are all web based I'd argue that even a print brochure can be interactive. Someone is hopefully reading it and taking action on an issue or buying some product. So, I don't agree that interactive is limited to electronic media.

Interactivity has always existed (is it really a noun or am i taking creative license?) and now it's become more important as extending the brand has taken hold of the minds of marketers in finding more ways to capture their specific audience. IDEO is a perfefct example of a firm that has taken design to an interactive level in terms of the solutions they provide to their clients. It's not about just designing the company's brochure, but designing the experience the company want's the consumer/client to have. And doesn't that lead us right back to branding?

So, I guess I agree that 'interactive' is the future but I think it's more about extending what we've learned as designers into the bigger world outside the boxes on our desks and the printing presses that bring them to life.

On Sep.02.2004 at 12:05 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

there's plenty of room for exciting design in the auto industry

This is going to ruffle some feathers, but here goes:

Automobile design is possibly the least interesting, least exciting, least innovative field of design that I can think of.

People will like cars no matter what - they're big, shiny, maculine machines that go very fast. People like them just fine the way they are. There's absolutely no room for innovation. All cars are pretty much identical, with only a few cosmetic changes to hype up next year's model.

Any truly innovative ideas (such as alternative fuels, safety features or accessibility features) are laughed at as 'not really automobile design - just mentioned occasionally to keep the liberal weiners off our case'

Cars are big, noisy and lethal. They pump out chemicals that destroy our bodies and are destroying the environment that sustains us.

This could all be overcome, of course, if we set our minds to it (some genuine innovation). But it seems we don't want to.

On Sep.02.2004 at 05:23 PM
Keith Harper’s comment is:

Well, I am the one who posted a couple links earlier to k10k, wellvetted, etc. I find it incredibly elitist that you 'frown' upon those sites.

Are we subject to the same censorship of our current gov't in these postings? If so then this site isn't worth anything.

It blows my mind that many contemporary interactive design are oblivious to the very basic principles of design.

Hey, sometimes the truth isn't all peaches and cream. I do agree that there are way too many people who like to call themselves web designers because they learned how to make a beveled glowing button in photoshop. I guess it goes both ways. I just find it funny that this article is talking about interactive design like its something new…�people have just either ignored it or produced lots of crap for too long. It is a crucial part of the future of design, and it is definitely getting better as a whole.

Apparently this is the ONLY site that matters? Somehow I doubt it

On Sep.03.2004 at 01:11 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Tom B

Despite some the obvious bad things about automobiles (shininess, speed, people like them), and the fact that it is about time to come up with a truly affordable, enviroment-friendly engine, you are going to have a hard time convincing me that the car is not in the top 5 all-time great interactive designs.

I completely agree with you that if the will existed the pollution issue could be taken care of. But profit - usually short-term profit - always comes first.

But in the meantime:

Masculine? What's is remotely masculine about a Mazda Miata or Beetle cabriolet?

Big? That is mostly an American problem. Europe & Asia are full of tiny cars.

Lethal? Yeah. But drivers & passengers are safer than ever. And in Europe new laws have been passed to make cars safer for the pedestrians that they run down.

Noisy? Have you stood beside a new car recently? It's hard to tell if the engine is on or off.

Chemical pumping? Again, yeah. But fewer chamicals now than ever.

All the same? There is a ridiculous amout of badge engineering that goes on. But let's apply that statement to other areas of design: All clothes are pretty much identical. They are made of fibres and cover your body. All books & magazines are pretty much identical. They are made of paper bound together. All chairs are pretty much the same. They have a place to put your bum.

I think that your unawareness of difference comes from your lack of interest in automotive design. (Of course, it would not be good for me to completely disregard the design conservatism of the car industry as a whole.) I have very little interest in web design, and I could easily make the statement that all websites are pretty much identical. They have words & pictures & links & they show up on my computer screen. I don't think most web designers would disagree with me.

Thanks for the feather ruffling.

On Sep.03.2004 at 08:10 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

Watch out, Keith!

The Speak Up security team are coming after you. You will be detained, questioned, warned & then removed to a designated free-speech zone at least a mile from all current thconversations.

-

Actually, in my barely-a-designer experience with Speak Up, there is no censorship and the best way to deal with being frowned upon is to do a bit of thinking about why and then, if you feel the need, intelligently defend your statement.

Welcome to the Fray!

On Sep.03.2004 at 08:43 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> I find it incredibly elitist that you 'frown' upon those sites.

Fine.

> Are we subject to the same censorship of our current gov't in these postings? If so then this site isn't worth anything.

Oh, please, turn it down on the drama. There is no censorship. Your links are still there aren't they? You can link to whatever you want and I, or anyone else, can frown upon anything. If you believe in what you are linking or saying don't let my big, bad frown stop you.

> I just find it funny that this article is talking about interactive design like its something new…

You missed the point then. The article never talks about interactive like it's something new.

> Apparently this is the ONLY site that matters? Somehow I doubt it

I doubt it too, there are many sites that matter. People are free to choose which ones matter to them.

On Sep.03.2004 at 08:50 AM
ian’s comment is:

tokyo plastic

it is amazing the depth they create and the intergration with sound. the navigation is ingenious. there is nothing saying "click here," instead it makes you want to interact with it to see what will happen next.

On Sep.03.2004 at 09:25 AM
Bradley’s comment is:

"The word itself, interactive, is really short-hand for life, is it not. Everyday we have interactions with people, objects, activities that make up who we are and what we are about. These things are what define us."

I agree entirely--so in a way, everything folds into this giant umbrella of "interactive." What's interesting to me is that over the past, say, 10 years or so there's been a lot of talk about how "everything is changing, and changing FAST." Well...I'm not so sure. Some things are different, but the underlying factors, the motivating forces, those are largely the same. I believe that our level of consciousness can change, however, that we can begin seeing more and more and seeing things as they truly are. Maybe that's part of what's going on, maybe that's what makes some firms and designers more successful than others.

On Sep.03.2004 at 02:09 PM
Bradley Furnish’s comment is:

The discussion seems to have focused on what makes interactive design good. I think it's not too different from the centry-old question "What is good design?" While your answer may vary from person to person, I think we can all agree on one thing that must be true: good design comes from good content. Whether its print, interactive, or any media of your choice.

What makes BMW Films and Subservient Chicken so hot is their entertainment. BMW has great stories and the BK site gives you the perverse but enjoyable pleasure of bossing around a guy in a chicken suit.

The information sites like IHT or Visual Thesaurus have come up with clever ways of presenting tons of usable information. The Swiss grid did it for print. This is just a new medium delivering content in a different way. If the design stems from the content it's certainly on its way to being "good".

I don't think trashing design portals is the way to enlighten our design sensibilities. To hear Armin say "Yeah… those sites are basically frowned upon around here" pains me. It seems to be against the spirit and purpose of this site: to open up discussion and exploration of design in all of its wonderful and not so wonderful forms. Those sites do offer content. Whether its visual experimentation, links to sites, cultural jargon, or flame wars. To me, those sites are no different than browsing through weird magazines, reading design porn in some studio's book, or visiting an art exhibit for inspiration. This site certainly offers more intellectual release, but as visual people, I think we definitely need outlets like those portals. Sometimes I need entertainment over information.

Sure, there's tons of people getting an education in style and calling it design. Fine. There's plenty of designers that have a strong awareness of design as a discipline rather than an art. Somehow, I think their mileage in this profession will last much longer.

To follow my own advice and talk about something constructive, here's my nomination for one of the best interactive user experiences I've encountered:

newsmap

Great source of information, very visually pleasing, extremely inspiring and yes, I found it through a design portal.

On Sep.04.2004 at 04:10 PM
Bradley Furnish’s comment is:

oops, that should be newsmap

On Sep.04.2004 at 04:15 PM
Matt’s comment is:

Bradley...right on man. I wholeheartedly agree. I have seen a lot of beautiful work linked on those websites. I have also seen a lot of work that, as Rick first said, is just "flash and fade". They point out the trends, whats "cool", etc. Nothing wrong with that. So its a little superficial, big deal! We all enjoy a little entertainment and break from the expected...except for maybe Armin ;)

As for one of my favorite interactive pieces. The almighty Theban Mapping Project designed by Second Story out in Seattle. Lots and lots of data packed into a decent interface.

On Sep.04.2004 at 07:44 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

Glad I ruffled at least one feather.

To be pefectly honest I was playing Devil's Advocate to a large extent regarding Automobile design.

I just wanted to show how any area of design has an enormous weight of crap loaded into it that we all take for granted: A car must do A and look like B. A website must do X and look like Y.

When we try to look at things from a different perspective, and question why we take all the crap for granted, that's when interesting things begin to emerge.

This is what excites me about interactive design. It's more than just another narrow design discipline - it's an attempt to look at the bigger picture, how people interact with the things we create.

In this sense, yes, the car is a great example of interactive design - and so is the chair - and so is a succesful piece of direct mail - and so is this website - and so on.

'Interacive' design isn't really a new thing, it's what we've always been trying to do. All that's changed is what's possible.

On Sep.05.2004 at 03:18 PM
Tan’s comment is:

>it's an attempt to look at the bigger picture, how people interact with the things we create.

The thing about interactive design is that it's a solution looking for a problem. The need for web interaction is still largely utilitarian, nominal, and artificial. The truth is, you can still live without a web presence in your daily life. Billions of people do, and their quality of life and interactivity is just fine. It's still a luxury. That's why so many companies have legions of think-tanks all working to find ways to necessitate the plethora of web/interactive products and services into our daily lives. You may call it "looking at the bigger picture," Tom, but I see it differently.

Also, the experience gap between functional sites (online banking) and emotional/aspirational sites is actually a very narrow gap. There's fundamentally very little difference in interaction between an e-commerce site and an online information/service site (banking, travel reserv., etc.). But lots of people and companies are doing their best to convince the public otherwise — that there's more promise and complexity to the web than what currently exists or what people currently understand and use. So they divide up that small gap into even smaller niches, and justify the relatively small differences as new paradigms in web interactivity. And functionality. And usability. And dependancy.

You can't say that about cars or automotive design. People need automotive transportation. The technology of the automobile has defined parameters, infrastructure, history, even a culture. It's global, and serves a basic human need to interact with one another. Automotive design is a manifestation and reflection of all of that. It's incredibly more complex and mature as a discipline and industry. Sorry, but your analogy and assumptions are totally incorrect, Tom.

On Sep.06.2004 at 04:16 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

Don't get me wrong, I'm not blowing a fanfare for the worldwide web. My experience with the internet has been almost entirely frustrating, dull and pointless. Websites don't get me excited, but the idea that design can be more than just artifact does.

I'm not a web designer, and I don't really know much about the web. But I do see a glint of something fascinating hiding behind all the crap.

I wasn't trying to place automobile design and web design side-by-side to see which is best. I shouldn't have gone into a rant about the evils of cars - it really had little to do with the topic at hand. I was trying to show that a narrow-minded approach to design creates more of the same old stuff.

This discussion is about the term 'interactive' design. I stand by what I said - this is about the bigger picture.

To design with interaction in mind is to attempt to understand how people respond to the thing we are designing, how they use it, how they can benefit from it, how our clients can benefit from it.

In this sense, most of the stuff out there on the internet is very poor 'interactive design' - but that's beside the point.

What's exciting is that the pace of technology gives us all a kick up the backside and makes us think about new ways of talking to people.

As I said before, it's frightening, but it can only be a good thing.

On Sep.06.2004 at 05:03 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, I think I understand more of what you meant, and do agree that technology is changing what we think of as "interaction." Thanks for clarifying.

I'll also backstep and say that I think the web is an amazing thing that will fundamentally change things. It will redefine the difference between my generation and my children's. But currently, what's tantamount to web/interactive design is smoke and mirrors. No one's got any real answers to anything yet. So what we call it, is the least of its problems.

Here's a side story. I heard a tech story on NPR the other day about Wi-Fi and satellite coverage. Supposedly, in the not-to-distant future, satellites and tower networks will enable entire cities will become Wi-Fi capable. Then, entire regions, and eventually countries, continents, and world. You will be able to access everything (and therefore, be accessible yourself) from anywhere, in real time. I can't help but think of Star Trek (sorry, nerd moment) and the little communicator things they wear on their chest. Just one tap from anywhere, and you can access and communicate. Well, we're about to leapfrog that capability in just a matter of years. What will that mean?

On Sep.06.2004 at 05:37 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

I think that things will get very interesting very quickly. It's already becoming prohibitively expensive to keep pushing the speed of computer processors, and at the same time it's getting cheaper to produce the not-so-fast chips. Connectivitiy will come into play as the core of data crunching.

Schemes like [email protected] (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, which runs as a screen-saver while people aren't using their computer) have shown that a lot of not-so-fast computers linked together are much more effective and economical than one super-computer.

In the near future, I can imagine that it will be cheap and easy for anyone to have access to an incredibly powerful network of computational power, knowledge and communication.

This will radically alter our cultural environment from something quite amorphous and ethereal to something a lot more designed.

This does of course have a sinister side to it. Are we really in the position to design culure? Are we up to the challenge? Are we responsible enough?

I don't know. I'm sure there'll be some disastrous mistakes to come. But I'm also sure there'll be some opportunities to bring about genuine, positive change.

And isn't that what being a designer is all about!

On Sep.06.2004 at 06:16 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Supposedly, in the not-to-distant future, satellites and tower networks will enable entire cities will become Wi-Fi capable.

Chaska (of all places)--a distant suburb of the Twin Cities--has just Wi-Fi'd their entire city using a city-run ISP. $16 a month and you can roam anywhere your laptop goes. ;o)

I can't help but think of Star Trek (sorry, nerd moment) and the little communicator things they wear on their chest. Just one tap from anywhere, and you can access and communicate

Umm...like a camera/web/text enabled cell phone? (Speaking of interaction design, I'm a geek, and a designer, and I just despise these new cell phone interfaces. I just can't grasp them. ;o)

On Sep.07.2004 at 08:52 AM
Tan’s comment is:

>Umm...like a camera/web/text enabled cell phone?

Sure, but I guess what I'm saying is that Wi-Fi web/communications access is always on, and you just plug in. Cellular access is so much more archaic — you have to dial, get connected, transferred, etc. I have one of the fancy phones, and it drives me nuts everytime I access the web on that thing. Even for basic information like movie times, it's a chore.

I'd heard on NPR a few weeks back that Philadelphia (?) was implementing a city-wide Wi-Fi network as well.

On Sep.07.2004 at 09:53 AM