Crazy UIs


Generated Crazy

I started the day reading a fascinating article on generative interfaces, “Can Algorithms Help Design the Ultimate Gestural Interface?

At first I thought it was about generating, algorithmically, user interfaces — something I’d love to see. What would a UI that was designed by a computer be like?! (I searched, but closest to this was work on robots generating their own spoken language.)

But that wasn’t the case. Instead the article was about a group in Poland that…

Using statistical analysis and a motion capture glove, the authors mathematically distilled 22 common hand gestures (including “A-OK,” “thumbs up,” “crazy,” “walking,” and “cutting”) into so-called “eigengestures”: the pure essence, if you will, of these movements that are common across most instances.

The result was a set of generalized, and potentially universal, gestures that would be comfortable to everybody. These gesture could then form the basis of a new standard building-blocks from which interfaces designers could use. Unfortunately, the resulting gestures are pretty cryptic — not something people would feel very natural doing. And the response hasn’t been very enthusiastic.

Gestures Suck

Not exactly. But an interesting report (via Small Surfaces) from Donald A. Norman and Jakob Nielsen argues that today’s gestural user interfaces are a nightmare. They really don’t like the inconsistency of current interfaces. And give examples of how, if you don’t know a feature is there, it can be pretty non-intuitive to discover. They’re probably right, but I that’s part of the fun of our era — it’s all still being invented.

A Crazy Interface

When I first saw this I wanted to do an entire post on it. It’s really awesome. But I’m including it here because it relates — it’s about non-traditional interfaces, and how users learn can to use them…

“Excitebike,” part of Matt Ruby’s ALT CTRL (link via CreativeApplications), replaces a video game’s handheld controller with a helmet-based microphone. The player controls the game with the pitch and volume of the sounds they make. From the video, it looks like it’s pretty hard to figure out an intuitive way to play the game. But the idea of someone shouting to control a game is amazing. And, although it’s not the point of the project, it could be interesting to see if the game could learn what sounds that players are make are most natural, and then adjust the interface accordingly. (Is this a form of synesthesia?)

Historical Crazy

Ok – maybe crazy isn’t the right term for this, but Microsoft recently launched a great site: Bill Buxton’s collection of computing devices (and their interfaces) from the last 35 years. The Buxton Collection not only includes interfaces that have become mainstream, but also includes less successful watches, gloves, pedals, and chord keyboards…

I never used a chord keyboard but can’t even imagine how crazy one must feel. They’ve been around since Sketchpad in 1963, but, getting people to learn something as radically new seems like a fantasy. At the time, though, some really did think it could happen.

The site features a beautifully optimistic quote from Bill:

“Look at the collection and then try and convince me that our slow rate of progress is due to a lack of technology rather than a lack of imagination.”

Let the chaos continue!