"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." - William Morris

Ambient Feedback – Re-inventing the Feedback Wheel

Posted: March 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Interaction Design, Technology | Tags: , , | No Comments »

A few years back an American company, Ambient Devices, came up with an idea. They thought to themselves that if people could see how much electricity they were using, they would know when they are using a lot of it and then decide to turn off a few hair dryers, etc to cut down. Hmm.. but how to let people see how much magical, invisible energy they are using? Surely we just can’t know these days because so many things just use electricity in a non-obvious way, such as being on standby!


Ambient Devices’s answer? The Energy Orb, a small sphere that sits someone in your house, and glows different colours depending on your energy consumption. Using a lot of juice? The orb glows red and you know to cut back. Even with all the lights off you may be surprised to see how much the sphere still indicates you’re using, and that is its genius – it takes an invisible, dynamic system and presents it to you in an easily accessible manner.

This is all a very clever and engaging use of modern technology. Bright colours. Saves money on your electricity bills, and consequently the environment. Now a few more companies have jumped on the band wagon, producing more functional devices that give you up to the second energy usage in a manner that’s easy to absorb without really having to look for it.

Ambient Feedback is a great concept, and one that’s close to my heart, but is it actually new? Not really, it’s just a necessary evolution as we move further from the physical world to the less visible world of the internet and micro-electronics. In the days of my youth we already had a feedback mechanism that told us we were using too much electricity.. it was called the electricity meter. We knew immediately how much energy was being used by how many precious 50 pence pieces were going into the slot, and how empty the 50p bowl next to the meter had gotten since we last topped it up. Simple, and very easy to understand!

Of course there were times when this mechanism failed as no 50 pence pieces could be found anywhere in the house in the middle of the night, so I’m certainly not suggesting we move away from the wonders of Direct Debit, but it’s worth remembering how these things used to naturally be represented to us in a way that we never appreciated at the time. Then this knowledge can be used to make better, more relevant and useful interfaces to solve problems in our modern lives.

The Zen of Jobs

Posted: October 27th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Interaction Design | Tags: | No Comments »

This is an old article, but interesting in its comparison of Steve Jobs presentation style compared to Bill Gates. Sleek, minimal & to the point are the slides of Jobs, cluttered, confusing and visually painful are those of Gates. Partially I find this interesting because Jobs has not really changed his presentation style since the time of the article a year ago. Less is more.

[Thanks to digg]

Launchy – Speed up your life

Posted: October 9th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Interaction Design | Tags: | No Comments »

Launchy is a simple little Windows app that lets you start up applications in an auto-complete, command line idiom – rather than searching through menus or scrambling around your desktop. Once installed and started, you simply press Alt and space together and a window pops up over the top of your screen into which you can immediately start typing the name of a program. Launchy then gives you the best match for the program and, once you have the right one, you just press ‘return’ to launch it. Simple and effective, plus beautifully designed.

Shot of Launchy in Action

[Thanks to Just Use It! for the tip]

Adddress at gmail

Posted: September 27th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Interaction Design | Tags: | No Comments »

Gmail, or ‘Googlemail‘ as it’s known in the British isles, has offered up another of it’s clever features to me today. Not only is it by far the cleanest, most usable web email out there but they also let you do weird and whacky things with your mail address.

First up – periods/full stops are ignored on inbound emails. For the longest time I thought that someone else had grabbed ‘‘ and I wanted it, turns out I already had it because I’d grabbed ‘‘. How stupid did I feel when I found that out? Yes, pretty stupid. So what does this mean, other than I can now have a better formatted email address? Well it means you can register at websites multiple times from the same email address for one thing, which means next time I build a user management component I have to think about filtering Gmail addresses differently. On the flipside it means you can register for sites you think might be annoying by using a variant of your name with random dots in (‘‘ anyone?)

Secondly you can add tags to your username, for example ‘+note@gmail.com’ and then you cna create a filter inside your mail to keep everything neat and tidy. Although apparently many mail servers don’t handle this as well as they should.

What’s really interesting about this is that it reminds us that email is just a related set of protocols that we happen to use in a certain way. There’s no reason why sending an email shouldn’t control something, or behave totally unexpectedly – we’re just used to the end result being an email in someone’s inbox.

That said Google’s mail is sometimes annoying. Emails are all grouped together in a conversation thread when you talk back and forth, so sometimes you can’t immediately see an email you know should be there because it’s been ‘hidden’ underneath a newer mail in the thread. In the old days you could turn this off to have a traditional mail view, but now apparently not – to which the obvious question is.. why not any more?

How long is a piece of meat?

Posted: September 25th, 2006 | Author: | Filed under: Interaction Design | Tags: | No Comments »

This morning, as I prepared to burn my usual morning cheese & ham on toast, I was struck by how important appearence is to how much you enjoy something. This line of thought was triggered by the ham, thinly sliced from my local deli and nicely wrapped in a plastic sheet. Originally these ten thing slices existed in a large rounded lump, I presume, reconstituted and reformed from smaller lumps of meat as I’m pretty sure pigs don’t grow in that shape. Now if I had to eat directly from that lump, cutting off mouth sized pieces, then I would probably feel a vague sense of nausea. Worse still the thought of biting directly into the bulbous ham lump makes me feel sick to the stomach. Luckily I’ve already eaten my breakfast as I write.

So then what happened? The lovely lady at my local deli took this lump and sliced it thinly, about 1mm thick, then put it into greased paper. The ham is still the same ham, but now I can happily go into my fridge, grab a slice and put it between a couple of slices of bread to make a sandwich that can really be enjoyed. Definately not the same as eating the large gelatinous lump. That simple transition in terms of presentation and also volume, means that I now have something I really want.

Then there’s a third stage – the slices of ham are a bit too large for me to make cheese and ham on toast without the ham hanging over the edge of the bread. So to rectify this situation a slice of ham is taken, ripped raggedly into strips and then placed on the bread before a slice of cheese is added. This simple action creates ham that is emotionally beautiful, more natural and, yes it’s true, tastes better. There’s a fine line though, if a strip is pulled off that isn’t of the same proportion as a wide piece of bacon then it starts to feel more like that earlier lump of ham again. Unnatural and less tasty, even once it can’t be seen through the melted cheese.

So what have I learnt from this? Well aside from never to enter a ham eating contest if they require you to eat it straight from the package, it also demonstrates the importance of presentation. The first bite is with the eye, literally in this case. Taking something basic and packaging it in the right way can make all the difference. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the personal hygiene products market, no longer can you buy just a simple block of soap coloured peach or pink and wrapped in clear plastic. Now, probably the same block of soap, but coloured clear or a murky translucent brown, will be wrapped in thick brown paper tied with a simple, modern bow and have be labelled with retro print block style type. This simple addition of a few cheap ‘ingredients’ will transform the soap from 50c to $3 with no problems, and probably more if you sell it in the right boutique. Plus they make great birthday gifts.