Interactivity at the London Design Festival

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On September 24th, as part of London Design Week, the i-Design Conference will contemplate the future of interactivity.

Malcolm Garrett is the Creative Director of the graphic design consultancy Applied Information Group (AIG) and, an online forum for the interactive design industry, and is the i-Design conference director.

Babelfish, Orientation for visually impaired people, from AIG

Alex McDowell is a Production Designer (Fight Club, Minority Report, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Watchmen) and the Co-Director of 5D: The Future of Immersive Design Conference.

Minority Report, Alex McDowell

In anticipation of the i-Design event (where I'll be speaking), I invited Garrett and McDowell to chat about how interfaces are changing our relationships to technology and the world.

MG: I'm very interested at the moment in 'physical' space, and the way interactivity is entering ordinary people's lives. After a lot of talk about how virtual and real might interact, and much conjecture in literature over the last couple of decades, I like the way the virtual world is augmenting the real in quite a natural way. The idea for i-Design is to explore as many aspects of this as possible.

Augmented Reality, Glasses Direct

Wii and iPhone have made radical inroads into people accepting technology as physical aspects of daily life, without people really stopping to think about the implications. It changes the whole notion of what interactivity means, because in many regards we no longer think about it - we simply do 'interact'.

AM: Certainly, convergent media is increasingly driven by the potential of true interactivity, and as interactivity becomes more real in a cross-media sense then it transforms the landscape. Single-player opens to multi-player possibilities, and a 'player' becomes 'user', 'audience', participant'. Our interest is in the membrane between the virtual and the real, and how to transcend it.

5D Conference : New Television Pt 4 - Kevin Slavin from Dave Blass on Vimeo.

MG: Things are almost pointing towards what we might have called 'bionic' back in the 70's. Motion sensors and multi-touch screens are a seamless link to the power of computing.

AM: Our children will no longer even see a difference - augmented reality will become another reality for them. It's interesting that at the moment the discussion of virtual and real has to revolve around interface but in a few short years (maybe not even) those interfaces will be embedded as a natural extension of our creative and everyday activity, and they will have become invisible.
Bins and Benches, Greyworld; Five bins and four benches have been injected with life so that they can break free from their staid and fixed positions to roam free in a public square in Cambridge

MG: It's a fact that interface is no longer flat, but responds to your physical location in space. The interface moves towards where you are rather than vice versa.
AM: This is where we have to talk about IMMERSION because flat, as you say, is not where it's at and flat is not immersive. Immersive can only exist viscerally in 3D space, both virtual and real. The technology only takes hold when the public neither has nor needs any awareness of the tech in their machines. The world cares only about the DO (especially when it THINKS), not the WHY. It's the outcome, the effect of the technology and what it enables, not the technology itself that matters. Our job is to identify and refine the NEED, and make our demands on the technology so that the interface can get in line and satisfy the demand.
Kodak Theater, engineered by The Performing Arts group at Arup, lead by David Taylor

MG: People instinctively see a solution to a NEED, even when they haven't previously identified that NEED. The NEED is a kind of abstract. There's a iterative relationship where new needs that have never previously experienced spring out of new capabilities. Many new Apps appear to exist simply because they can, whilst others wonders how we survived without them.

AM: Yes. The capabilities of creating the iPhone have been there for a while, but it's only relevant when the iPhone goes into popular use, and when we realize that it was actually not a phone but a conveyor of Apps that we needed!

MG: This conversation is really about the man in the street. It is MOST important that we recognize real progress is made with satisfying needs for people everywhere in all walks of life. When we are presented with something 'obvious' that 'works' for a wide section of the public we see rapid adoption in technology.

AM: In other words, we who hold the power of curating and manipulating the imagination are capable of kick-starting the revolution, and the revelation. But we also have to pay careful attention to the needs in our fingertips (and of those around us) in order to properly manipulate the imagination to an effective outcome. That's why these conversations are so important. That is 5D...

MG: So the 'wow' bit was that I can touch the screen, but actually in some ways it is the functionality that made the touch screen a practical solution to so many new NEEDS being satisfied. That's 5D at i-Design.

AM: The creator is curious, the user needy.

MG: ...And curiosity is the mother of invention....I love that no new technology ultimately ever gets to be used only in the pre-imagined ways.

AM: We are limited by our individual imagination and when the single solution gets into the collaborative user stream, anything can happen - this is where the excitement lies. What is placing the designer in such a pivotal role now is that we know how to collaborate at the richest level in the blended space between art and science.
G-speak gestural interface, Oblong Industries, John Underkoffler

MG: The 'interface' is now more human, and therefore more relevant to more and more people in lots of non-technological ways.... Holding the technology in your hand in the street or leisure space is more 'human'...

AM: The immersive experience will continue to be driven by our human functions and instincts, and when we understand that we need to solve human needs, we start to design an interface with the soul of a human.
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