Interface Hall of Fame

Ground Control to Major Tom...

Ever wonder what it was like to ride aboard a mighty Saturn V rocket? Well, with Reentry: An Orbital Simulator you can now take on the role of a mission commander and master the procedures followed by those that pioneered spaceflight. Explore the intricate details of famous space craft interfaces and the ingenious approaches to controlling them that worked within the constraints of technologies available at the time of launch.

New York Times Budget Puzzle

Sometimes I find myself noting something as interesting but it takes a while to really appreciate it to its fullest. That was the case with the New York Times Budget Puzzle which came out last November.

NYT Budget Puzzle

While in an information visualization brainstorm today, this came back to me as a great example of how to empower users to relate to a very abstract concept...our federal budget deficit. Its minimalistic approach and small details like representing 1 billion dollars with small blue squares that tally up in real time depending upon decisions users make is a nice touch. 

Great Revelations: Checking out Apple's Checkout Accordian Fold Interface

From Luke Wroblewski on A List Apart and thanks to Arjun for passing this one along. Wanted to get this on the Bivouac in the Interface Hall of Fame as an outstanding example of reducing percieved complexity and how, through great design, we can help pull users through transactions that can otherwise seem overwhelming.

By stripping away the form elements as each section of the form is completed, Apple helps reinforce a sense that users are making progress through the check out process. Along the way, should users leave a required field of information blank, a yellow prompting box appears right next to the field letting them know it is needed to continue. Stratification of information in clear zones serve as landscape "mile markers", letting users intuitively sense where they are in terms of completing their task.

Painting a Richer Picture of a Brand Offering

Focus is a key factor in bringing compelling products to market. But when products deliver on functional and emotional levels, doors are opened to more powerful experiences.

Take the launch of the 2009 BMW Z4 for example. BMW once again couples the qualities of luxury and performance that have long been associated with the brand. But for this launch, they also tap into the company's rich history of merging art and vehicle design. this combination allows users to literally paint their own richer picture of the offering.

The "Expression of Joy" theme and event associated with the vehicle's launch elegantly compliments the Freude am Fahren or Sheer Driving Pleasure themes associated with BMW. The nature of the launch provides BMW with a broader canvas upon which to cast the value of their offering, avoiding tiresome comparisons of performance statistics alone. No mundane comparisons of 0-60 mph times here, and cornering capabilities are conveyed in a colorful new way to be sure.

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The impact of this launch approach becomes immediately apparent when one compares the BMW Z4 and Audi's A4 iPhone applications that accompanied the launch of each vehicle. Both do a nice job of allowing users to visualize the respective vehicles. The Audi iPhone application explores the "performance angle", allowing users to cleverly tilt the iPhone to navigate an A4 through a slalom course of traffic cones. Ironically, through stressing the performance angle in this way, one finds that the application, though novel to start, is a bit difficult to master. This is not necessarily an impression one wants to leave aspiring A4 drivers with.


By contrast, the BMW Z4 iPhone application allows users to instantly experience a bit of what it must have felt like to have one's hands at the controls of a "300 horse power paint brush". The joy and free form nature of the event translates well through the small device screen. One is unencumbered by the confines of the interface...given literally a blank canvas to work with and, delightfully, to save as well. There is nothing overly grandiose here but the experience does represent a nice instance of design thinking. The content and technical capabilities of the iPhone itself are clearly considered and aligned well with features of the application to maximize emotional impression. Rather than forcing users to master the application, it empowers and frees them to be creative, even if for a brief few moments. Now, that's an impression worth leaving, and downloading for that matter.

Audi's tagline for the A4 launch was "The category changing A4. Progress is beautiful." The A4 is a beautiful vehicle to be sure. But when you see a company like BMW balancing artful expression and design so well, not to mention creating a football field-sized canvas for expression, one is left with the feeling that they are categorically changing the way they dialog with potential customers. Progress is beautiful indeed.

Let's Tango!

The Tango!, an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device created by Blink Twice, helps children who are speech or hearing impaired with communication and self-expression. Users create and customize sentences using touch screen pictograms and text. The device then reads them aloud. Vocabulary can be built upon through the use of a built in camera. The device is also useful as a tool for teaching English.

The device also has a USB connection for expanded functionality, CompactFlash, and SD, with the option to use a keyboard. Cellular conectivity is planned for later models. Current princes for the units are still very high at approximately $6899. Blink Twice hopes to get prices more accessible through meeting quantity orders in the future.


BumpTop Prototype

This stylus based interface prototype allows users to browse, group, and manipulate file tiles in novel ways. One wonders how well the interface would actually stack up against current graphical user interfaces when more description file icon images, instead of things like generic PDF icons, were used. Still, the clever use of implied physics that the tiles have and the fluidity of the impressive prototype bring the BumpTop prototype towards the top of the pile in the bivouac interface hall of fame.


Now That Takes Me Back

Ever find yourself feeling nostalgic about something you saw long ago on the web? Well, thanks to the folks at the Internet Archive you may be travel back in time with "The Way Back" tool. You can visit many cached versions of sites dating back more than a decade in some cases. With millions of new pages coming on line every day, thankfully, someone is writing all this internet stuff down...or at least backing it up on servers somewhere.


Special thanks to the "Way Back Machine" for the trip down memory lane. While you are there, why not take a peek at what Yahoo! was up to back in 1996? Greatgooglymoogly!

Old School in the New Schools: Sim City 2000


During a recent trip to Los Angeles, I was reminded of all the hours I once spent creating and learning with Sim City 2000. These memories are timely given that this month's Wired Magazine special edition entitled "The New World of Games" is Guest Edited by Sim City's creator Will Wright.

There will always be a special place in my heart for the Sim City 2000 release. While the game title has evolved over the years, the particular release with its meticulously detailed, pixel-pushed, dimetric city views gained my respect from the moment that I first launched the game. Although Sim City 2000 may now be considered “old school”, I sometimes wonder about the benefits it could offer to the “new school” students of today.

While we continue to debate the merits and potential negative effects of gaming particularly on our youth, the Sim City series serves as a beacon indicating where we should be focusing more of our “gaming” development efforts. Through using Sim City 2000 in classes, students could learn by building something rather than destroying, which is all too often the focus of too many gaming titles these days. They could explore cause and effect relationships and do so quickly, thereby reducing the repressive effects associated with the fear of failure. By resolving infrastructure tensions that arise as new commercial zones require larger power plants or underground pipe systems need to be modified to accommodate underground subway stations, students build something else. Something which is particularly important in today’s “who shall we blame next” society. That something which they build is empathy for those in civic service.

After recent events like the Katrina disaster and the California power crisis, developing empathy for the scores of government workers who are indeed doing a good job is sorely needed. By allowing students to experience even a small part of what it is like to build and manage a functional city, we are training through play. Bonds must be passed to balance the books. Citizens must be placated through the addition of green belts and amusement parks and other services as cities grow. Weighing decisions like inviting military bases (a potential source of income) to a city must be carefully considered. For those who find it most engaging, perhaps a spark will be ignited drawing them into public service. And there is something magical in that process. Aligning youth with the skills and interest to serve is key to recovering faith in our public institutions. It gets those who are passionate and skilled into positions that can make a difference. And who would have thought this could all begin with a simple game.

As I looked down during the approach to LAX, I smiled inside as I wondered what the city beneath the city really looked like. Knowing it was there and thinking about all the small and large decisions that have gotten the city to where it is today is something I have to thank Will Wright for. It is so easy to question why things are the way they are but reflecting upon the cities I built reminds me that urban planning is tough business, even in the virtual world. I can only hope that Los Angeles Version X.X is on its way to being incrementally better and stronger than the current version…just like each successive Sim City I built turned out to be.



A Classic Educational Software Experience

Thinking about the classic Broderbund title "Just Grandma and Me" reminds one of the simpler days of interactive media. Hypercard-like in its simplicity, this clever and engaging title leverages delightful animations and sounds which encourage kids to explore all of the nuances and details in the interactive illustrations. The written text of the story is interactive as well. Sentences can be read to children or they can click on those tricky words to have them sounded out individually.

There are many learning websites for kids today to be sure. However, this title, produced in the days before SpongeBob Squarepants and the like, is notable for paving the way for all that have followed while keeping the quality bar high. There is little doubt that even Grandma would approve of this one.


Apple iSight

This entry makes it into the Interface Hall of Fame on the merits of its physical interface. The front ring of the camera can be rotated to close a white shutter. This clearly indicates to users the status of the camera, assuring them of privacy at a glance.