Bowyer is a new company by Vadik Marmeladov, Sergey Filippov, a man known as “The Client”, and Ilya Kolganov. In this interview we talk through their first collaborations, philosophy, process, commercial projects, and future plans.
“Craftmanship is attention to details. Luxury is attention to unnecessary details.”
Typical phone games and apps retain a certain average appearance with a target on mass-market appeal. Design is usually not a priority, and as a result, often mediocre. Unlike the fashion industry, for instance, app development is young enough that nichés have not yet developed fully. Seeing this gap in the industry, Bowyer wished to target luxury markets.
“About 2 years ago while working on a commercial website we came up with a simple app for a luxury brand,” Vadik explained. The screen would be completely black, and through in-app purchases, individual diamonds could be bought and populated on the screen. The concept would be a reflection of physical diamonds: holding no real value other than the inherent scarcity and cost of ownership.
“Later we got a job to create an app for a fashion exhibition in Moscow. We decided to go much further then just an ‘exhibition app’. We came up with an idea of creating a periodic magazine. Each issue would be a new level or a new stage in a game.”
Funware — is the use of game mechanics in non-game contexts to encourage desired user actions and generate customer loyalty. Funware typically employs game mechanics such as points, leaderboards, badges, challenges and levels.
“This was our first step in research of this phenomenon,” Vadik explained. “As of now, the project is still on hold, but we still looking forward to returning to the project, but before doing so we have to find an editor-in-chief. We need someone who will think not in spreads and articles, but by levels, scores achievements and other mechanics.”
“How do we attract, let’s say, ‘fancy’ people? How do we make them want to play?”
“So we came up with this symbolical story called Samara. Samara is the woman behind the app, the voice, the soul. She has random emotions and we even put her quotes there. The first ‘issue’ is Dreams of Samara, and OBVIOUSLY, [laughing] you solving her dreams. They are weird, but inspired by real emotions that she experienced during the exhibition. Every level is based on an actual piece, but a bit mutated,” Vadik explained.
The app begins almost entirely locked away. Only through succeeding in each of the games is the corresponding artwork finally revealed. Inspiration came from games such as the one below. In this case, porn photos would slowly reveal itself as the player progressed through the game.
“Creating these games around art provoked subliminal meanings. For example, the pictures from the designers are not THAT great, but we made people kind of fight for them. In a way it was reflective of the fashion marketing industry.”
If it is the first-ever fashion game then it should look like a first-ever game:
• Ritual, meditation
• Such a beautiful device and such an ugly content.
• Device as a Friend
“Imagine reading a magazine that connected to Apple’s GameCenter. Imagine your ‘experience’ or ‘skills’ affect the magazine itself. It becomes personal and even more fancy! The fashion world already overuses Facebook and iPhone (their primary gaming device) but still ignore games themselves because most of them are uglyyyy.”
“Visionaire was one of our top inspirations. Imagine game levels designed by top designers.. or not even a game — like Hedi Slimane designs a ‘Find My Friends’ app.”
Working with the client, Bowyer approached the app using techniques common in agile development. Each stage would be designed, presented to the client, then after several development iterations, the level would be signed off. Vadik explained, “We would be sitting together at one desk, thinking together, experimenting together. Sometimes a scene was determined before design even began, [laughs].” This was repeated for each level. With this method the client always knew how the app was progressing, and exactly what the product was looking like. He continued: “It was 2 weeks of preparation and client talks, then 2 weeks of actual building. I guess only under these conditions can you can implement soul and magic into the project.”
Sergey, the primary developer for the project explained his tools: “We used Box2D Engine for physic simulation, Cocos2D framework to deal with OpenGL and of course Cocoa frameworks for the rest. Timing was not the biggest challenge. For example, we did the Wood level for Chalayan in 2 hours. However, one challenge was to achieve symbiosis between Cocoa and OpenGL ES worlds– to make the border between them invisible.”
“Even Apple attempts to simulate ‘craftsmanship’ in their interfaces, but what we want is real craft.”
Lately Apple has caught a lot of flak over the emulation of texture in their apps. From the torn pages in Calendar, the artificial book thickness in iBooks, and now to the faux leather in Find My Friends “the result is a fake, chinese knockoff rather than a beautiful piece. Apple wants to create luxury in their apps, but without certain knowledge and traditions– it has failed.”
“We think we have the right combination of fashion, art, and cultural connection that would help us create a sense of luxury in the interaction. This could be achieved by adding attention to detail: 3d, physics, etc.” A close parallel would be the elastic effect when scrolling to the top of a page on an iPhone. It’s not a necessary action, but provides an extra level of interaction that makes the experience richer and more responsive. Originally these ideas began as part of the Road Inc. project, but were ultimately cut due to time constraints. However, after the project’s completion, Sergey and Vadik continued development.
Layouts could be designed to have physical relationships between elements. Scrolling, pulling, sliding over the surface would have ripple-like effects over the design. Or, in the case below, each element could be linked to a diagonal grid with the physical properties of a fish net.
See the interface in motion:
“It has become a general trend in our industry that mainstream digital design can’t express emotion or craftsmanship. We believe this thinking to be false. The device is also a tool, and has a direct relationship to craftsmanship, materials, skills, sources, perfect taste and even traditions in some way. Instead of hand made paper and ink, let’s create a new way of storytelling using interactive illustrations and text which interacts with your voice and device position. Instead of a high-end tourbillon lets use geo-location and augmented reality etc… It’s definitely not a replacement, but it’s a tool that brings craftsmanship to the next level. This is nothing new, just evolution, and at some point they have to start to use and understand it. I bet they want this goal, but have no idea how to execute it. Even Apple attempts to simulate ‘craftsmanship,’ but what we really want is craft.”
“The task was clear — make all of this info accessible and playful.”
For a year Vadik and Sergey worked together on the now critically acclaimed Road Inc. The app features fifty 3D “reconsitutions” of classic cars, soundtracks, fact sheets, photographs, press cuttings, sketches, etc. Pyrolia, the publisher, proclaims it as the “first digital object dedicated to the automobile.”
“First of all we have to say that client was very brave and passionate, because this is indeed enormous amount of content, all of which was held by the client and their in-house team. They personally scanned all the books, collected all the videos from the right companies, and even contacted rare car owners. On the team we had three editors as well as a car expert preparing content.”
“How do we target these guys? What are their preferences in terms of digital environment?”
Vadik explains that the current trend in digital publishing is simply the regeneration of existing web content– basically PDFs with videos thrown in. “The new direction will be the reinvention of storytelling and information curation. It is a bit tricky, content should be adapted for the ‘touch’ and ‘swipe’ rather than ‘click’– which is a big difference.”
Some beliefs behind the interface:
• No buttons — super intuitive and easy to use. There should be no tutorial or “help”
• Do not compete with cars design
• Play with user’s familiar experiences
• Easy to update
• Play with Apple UI guidelines, so you can create a totally crazy interface, but it will be familiar to people because it repeats default behaviours.
Rather than solve this problem with each client, Vadik explains Bowyer’s approach for future projects: “We want to try to implement a university approach. We research and develop a tool that clients can buy and apply to their needs (among other clients) or just license the whole thing the become an exclusive owner. This sounds easy in the electronics industry, but how can you apply it to design or art? this we going to challenge.”
What is Bowyer?
More information about Bowyer can be found at http://bowyerworldwide.com
- A Prism for Interface Design [Theory] There appear to be a few paths and trends appearing within the interface designs for mobile devices like the iPhone, and I would like to open a discussion amongst those of us in a position to help steer, or at the very least influence the course of progress in this field. For the sake of this argument, I have identified three broad categories into which most interfaces can fall: UNIVERSAL Any interface built entirely with the provided assets and components common to the platform. Â In the case of the iPhone, these are all of the elements from within the Interface Builder framework. COSTUMED Any interface that attempts to recreate a non-digital experience or environment with photo-realistic graphics and controls that mimic actions and movements not physically possible in a 2-dimensional screen interface. NAKED Any interface that is tailored to its purpose and medium without attempting to mimic another purpose, reality or dimension. Universal interfaces are by far the most commonâ€“they make up the bulk of the more than 35,000 (and growing) apps on the Apple App Store, and for good reason. Â Part of the spirit behind the Apple SDK was an openness to individuals and teams who might otherwise not have been unable to design, develop and produce an application, let alone an appropriate interface. Â In doing so, Apple provided a framework for most of the basic actions and interactions so that ideas could be brought to market with less friction. Â Itâ€™s no surprise that this â€œstandardâ€ interface is consistent with Appleâ€™s overall interface style which dates back to the introduction of Aqua with OS X. Â Although highly evolved since Aqua, the iPhone interface still embraces a pseudo-3D environment characterized by stylized/realistic icons plus buttons and bars with implied depth set within a â€œstudioâ€ environment lit by the perfect imaginary light-box. Â All together, the Universal Apple iPhone interface is wonderfully designed and intuitive to use. Â However it, and almost all other system interfaces like it, suffers from itâ€™s own ubiquity. Â By striving to work in every situation for every type of interaction, a Universal interface almost always lacks the nuance and depth needed to adapt to situations where the interface can and should be more than a tool. In contrast with the Universal interfaces, Costumed ones take their adapting and customization to an entirely different level. Â These specially designed interfaces hold nothing back when attempting to recreate an existing physicality or fabricate a hypothetical one based on elements of reality. What a Universal interface lacks in personality, a Costumed one gushes forth without apology. Â With the level of realism possible in 3D rendering and the fine resolution of modern display technology, it is possible to recreate the precision machining of an industrial control pad or the subtle nuance of a wood carved toy. Â In either situation, however, the user is expected (required) to suspend reality to imagine the touch and feel of actions and movements that are supposedly taking place behind or withinâ€“while the screen acts as some sort of planar barrier between the reality outside and the implied reality within. Done correctly, a Costumed interface can honestly draw in the user such that the mind may willingly suspend the disbelief to allow the pleasure of interacting with this other world to overtake wholly. Â Executed poorly, an interface attempting to set a new reality stage often presents only a caricature of that space not unlike a high school stage productionâ€“no one is fooled and the entire production suffers because of it. Thirdly, the area of interface design that I believe has the most untapped potential and an important role in the ongoing evolution of digital interactions: Naked interfaces. Â Simply put, a Naked interface succeeds through its pure honesty and unadorned nature. Â It is an interface that pretends to be nothing other than itself and offers an unencumbered connection between the user and the device or application. Â The strength of this approach lies in the immediacy of the communication. Â Naked interfaces do away with most of the ancillary decoration and symbology common in other styles and cut to the chase. Â Where other interfaces might illustrate a link to the home screen with the common image of a pitched roof house, a Naked interface eliminates the interpretation step needed for a user to read a graphic, mentally translated it and then understand it. Â Simply using the word HOME offers the shortest connection to the intended message. One can argue that the symbology common to modern interfaces (gears icons for â€œsettingsâ€, a filmstrip icon for â€œmoviesâ€, etc.) offer a more universal or internationally accessible connection, but I think we should question this. Â In most cases, these icons are accompanied by a label (Settings, Movies) which somewhat defeat their purpose or at the very least acknowledge their limitation. Â Furthermore, the presumptive nature of the icon is in no way universal (How many people in India or Japan live in a home similar to the common peaked roof icon?) or antiquated (Has a modern teenager ever seen a piece of 8mm film with sprocket holes in real life?) to the point where they become caricatures of the idea in much the same way the politically (in?)correct man and woman stick figures of restroom signs represent the safest solution vs. the most clear or interesting one. At the end of the day, my own preference for Naked interface designs comes back to a central idea that too often gets lost in the process of design: the interface is there primarily to serve the function and content, and should therefore not draw attention to itself. Â In my own work, I generally strive for a minimum ratio of 100:1 in favor of the content (the content should be at least 100 x the scale or impact of the navigation and controls necessary to access it.) Â This may not always be possible, but it is a good rule of thumb to guide design decisions. Returning to the iPhone specifically, another benefit that the Naked interfaces seem to have is the ability to get the attention of users through their sheer unexpected simplicity. Â When an App strays from the norm of the Universal Apple iPhone interface, it immediately takes on a personality that distinguishes it from being just another off-the-shelf app. Â In my own apps (KERN, EYE vs. EYE and PRESS CHECK, all designed specifically for creatives) one of my personal mandates was to avoid the use of any Universal components. Â Other titles like Eliss and Edge have been even more successful at leveraging their unique minimalist and Naked interfaces to focus the entire experience on the gameplay itself, a true accomplishment. Â While these may be eccentric titles in the sea of Universal and Costumed apps on the market, we shouldnâ€™t forget that a truly engaging game does not need any adornment to be deeply enjoyable. Â Think for a moment about the Rubikâ€™s cube, Sudoko, or a a game of chess, and it becomes clear that anything other than a Naked interface for these classics only works against their ability to engage. I believe that Naked interfaces can and will continue to capture the imagination of users as more and more â€œdesignedâ€ apps reach out to the design-centric niches. Â As these interfaces make their way into larger markets and larger audiences, we will have the ability to expose more users to their strengths and ultimately steer the design language toward a more highly refined nature of thought and purpose. Jason Franzen is a founding partner of FORMation, a multi-disciplined design firm based in Dallas, […]
- The Sketchbook of Susan Kare [News] How did we get from command line to computer interfaces we know today? PlosBlogs's NeuroTribes offers an insight into the sketchbook of Susan Kare, the Artist who's high-school friend Andy Hertzfeld, the lead software architect for the Macintosh operating system, offered a job to design fonts for the Mac. Inspired by the collaborative intelligence of her fellow software designers, Kare stayed on at Apple to craft the navigational elements for Mac’s GUI. Because an application for designing icons on screen hadn’t been coded yet, she went to the University Art supply store in Palo Alto and picked up a $2.50 sketchbook so she could begin playing around with forms and ideas. In the pages of this sketchbook, which hardly anyone but Kare has seen before now*, she created the casual prototypes of a new, radically user-friendly face of computing — each square of graph paper representing a pixel on the screen. Read more on http://blogs.plos.org Kare’s work gave the Mac a visual lexicon that was universally inviting and intuitive. Instead of thinking of each image as a tiny illustration of a real object, she aimed to design icons that were as instantly comprehensible as traffic […]
- Pocketball [iPhone, Games] Pocketball is a themed UI physics puzzle game by Big Bucket Software just released in the AppStore. Your goal is to guide the colored balls into their corresponding pockets. By drawing ropes between pegs, you navigate the balls around boosters, gravity wells, pesky nukes and more. The game includes 30 stages, all wrapped in a wood themed interface with wonderful subtle animations. I have played a few levels and can see myself spending hours. For now, only full version is available but I have no doubt a demo (lite) will follow pretty soon. Features: • Auto-saves so that returning to a game feels like you never left. • Want to start over? Simply shake to remove all ropes and try again. • Full stereo sound. For more info + screens, see bigbucketsoftware.com/pocketball/ Platform: iPhone Version: 1.0 Cost: $1.99 Developer: […]
- Mediated Cityscapes 01: Four Statements About Urban Computing [screen captures from IBM's "Planning for Smarter Cities" commercial / 2010] Conversations about ubiquitous computing and the city often get anchored to specific paradigms: urban informatics, discussions of 'smartphone urbanism', open data drumbeating and any number of other stock frames of reference are usually engaged before more primary topics like civic engagement, class and our moment-to-moment experience of the city are broached. This is not entirely surprising as cities are monstrously complex assemblages – it is difficult to wrap our heads around the scale of the infrastructures, ideological forces and the flows of capital that shape the urban realm. If one were to unflinchingly subscribe to the claims made by advertisements like that pictured above, they'd be inclined to believe that we are on the threshold of a fundamental shift in the way we represent and 'operate' our cities. However, on closer consideration it is clear that we are merely at the end of a very long arc of developments that has seen the increasing deployment of scientific management principles and information technology directly into the urban fabric. What we're really experiencing right now is an exponentially greater data yield from and increasing interoperability between systems that we previously considered insular. While the density of sensors and access to civic data may be increasing, this rationalization of the landscape has been underway since at least the early nineteenth century – Molly Wright Steenson has astutely identified the origin of these phenomena as the intercity railroad and electrical telegraph, technologies that "annihilated both space and time" and "transmitted intelligence".(1) This text is the first of a series entitled Mediated Cityscapes, which will provide a cursory introduction to how emerging technologies interface with the city. The goal of this endeavour is to deliver an overview of current thought in this field, a selection of related case studies and to identify and consider several key historical precedents. There is a breadth of opinion and a lot of moving parts within this discourse, so rather than produce catch-all manifestos this series will be delivered as speculative, topical vignettes. This first post provides four general statements regarding urban computing and information culture more broadly. [Berlin Wall 3D screencaptures / images: layar] Statement one: smartphones are only a means to an end Some of the wildest writing on 'smartphone urbanism' can be found in Benjamin Bratton's 2008 essay "iPhone City", which offers a thorough and mildly psychotropic consideration of the seemingly boundless domain of iDevices. Bratton reads the sensor-laden handsets as altering the use of space so that it is "less about geography and more about opportunity" and acknowledges the pervasive 'appification' of various urban functions: "Phone+city is a composite read-write medium, allowing for realtime communication through multiple modes, now and in situ, and represents, in combination, an important infrastructure of any emergent global democratic society. It can do this not only because it enables physical, communicative and thereby social mobility, but because it dramatically reinserts specific location into digital space and does so by making location gestural." This dramatic reading of the remediated city speaks to a seamless intersection of representational and lived space. While alluring at a conceptual level, we've seen little evidence of a mobile interface or platform that perfectly dovetails with 'waking life' – a case study in the limitations of an existing augmented reality (AR) application will drive this point home. The above screen captures are of Berlin Wall 3D, an AR application released last year by two German developers (Hoppala and Superimpose) for the AR platform Layar. Like other AR apps, the software capitalizes on the built-in camera, accelerometer, magnetometer and gyroscope sensors of contemporary smartphones to provide real time information overlays to allow a mobile handset to function as an 'urban viewfinder'. Launching Berlin Wall 3D in Berlin allows users access to an overlay of a 3D model of the infamous concrete barrier that divided the city—and two worldviews—between 1961 and 1989. Users of the app become atemporal tourists that are granted an inkling of the scale and quality of this massive social partition and can freely move about the present-day city with their attention firmly anchored in the past. The project reveals both the possibilities and limitations of AR served through handheld devices. While these representations are convincing, they are also experienced alone and a user must at least partially withdraw into a state of 'eyes glued to the screen' introversion to access the digital shadow of this ominous historical landmark. Current high-end handsets are clumsy, over-branded accessories that we bring into our lives long enough to tether ourselves to exorbitant data plans before shipping them to the landfill. Perhaps the necessary counterpoint to Bratton's enthusiasm regarding "gestural location" can be found in the hunched, incandescent figures that populate Chris Ware's 2009 New Yorker cover – a scene where fantasy is inseparable from isolation. To look wildly towards the future: note the protagonists in Keiichi Matsuda's Augmented City 3D, where 'interfacing' is unconstrained by gadgetry. When can we skip forward to this kind of effortless computing? My advice is to keep tabs on DIY gestural interfaces, smart surfaces and the wearable technology scene for cues as to how we'll unlock ourselves from our present reliance on mass-market vanity electronics. Be sceptical of anyone who tells you the smartphone is an 'elegant urban interface'—they have either never read Calvino or are in location-based marketing—the devices are merely placeholders for cheaper technologies that will more gracefully engage the body. [Data Collection - ID #01 / 2009] Statement two: the quantified self demands due diligence In her brilliant 2004 essay "Intimations of Everyday Life: Ubiquitous Computing and the city" [PDF], Anne Galloway considers a nuanced vocabulary for thinking about emerging technology and the modern metropolis. Galloway argues that 'the everyday' revolves around "spatialization, temporalization, embodiment and performativity" and that these are the frames of reference through which we should scrutinize ubiquitous computing. Identifying and tracking events across time and space, the graceful execution of computation 'in the world' and engendering action – if our tools can facilitate these goals we'll surely be better off for it, right? Well, while essentially correct this thesis wavers somewhat when you start to consider some of the implications of our increasingly networked identities. The above image is from the Canadian artist Dave Kemp's Data Collection, a photography project that created identification card 'portraits' of approximately one hundred subjects. Each participant had the final say as to which cards were included in their photograph so—as evidenced by the example above—perhaps student and membership cards were suitable exhibit fodder while bank, credit cards and social insurance information remained concealed. The point of this endeavour was to force individuals to make conscious decisions about what information they share and what remains concealed – generally speaking, this mindfulness associated with this exercise is largely lacking on the social web. If Facebook is representative of the digital commons that the masses want (and perhaps deserve) it is very likely that we will see the same kind of market-driven dataveillance associated with this 600 million-strong social network play out in the networked city. In order to meaningfully translate the minutiae of city life—let alone civic engagement—into machine-readable data, we have to be able to critically engage the significance of sharing personal information. As below, so above: if we cannot develop agency in defining our personal transparency, can we meaningfully develop open governance and institutions? Although describing the fragile post-Wikileaks state of global superpowers, comments made by activist Rop Gonggrijp in his keynote speech at the 27th Chaos Computer Club Congress this past December are quite relevant a the municipal level: "As we enter uncharted terrain, we are the first generation in a long time to see our leaders in a state of more or less complete helplessness. Most of today’s politicians realize that nobody in their ministry or any of their expensive consultants can tell them what is going on anymore. They have a steering wheel in their hands without a clue what—if anything—it is connected to." This is the ground-zero moment for DIY citizenship and there is definitely a wealth of opportunity available for individuals that are able to capitalize on this leadership vacuum. The tech-savvy and fiercely imaginative are charged with making sense of big (civic) data, assessing and reimagining crumbling infrastructure, building prototypes, finding business models and inviting themselves into the free-for-all of policy-making. To quote Adam Greenfield's "Elements of Networked Urbanism", we need to shift from being "consumers to constituents" – who would have thought an ethics of interaction design could be the rallying cry for a generation? [Trash Track electronics and diagram / photo: SENSEable City Laboratory] Statement three: there is no truth but in things The SENSEable City Lab's Trash Track is an inspiring example of how 'everyday' computing can cultivate our understanding of fundamental urban processes. Prompted by the simple question "why do we know so much about the supply chain and so little about the removal chain?", the project employs electronics-laden refuse to gain insight into waste management. Produced for the 2009 exhibit Toward the Sentient City(2), the project visualizes the path of waste by by attaching custom designed radio transmitting tags to discarded objects and then tracks their journey to various storage and processing facilities while en route to the landfill or recycling depot. Decrepit consumer electronics, bagged garbage and disposable coffee cups are transformed into geolocated nodes that generate analytics to assess these previously opaque 'migrations' within the life cycle of waste. This data provides a 'bottom up' reading of these processes and could reveal inefficiencies and redundancies in the management of garbage. As a proof of concept prototype, the undertaking is also extremely valuable in generating a more nuanced awareness of our waste footprint and allowing us to trace the journey of an object that we handled or had a personal connection with. Aside from prompting dialogue regarding the implications of consumer culture, Trash Track is important because it clearly illustrates how embedding sensors on everyday objects can generate data that can used to fine-tune municipal services and protocols. We take it for granted that citizens can act as sensors by alerting municipal authorities about deficiencies (potholes, broken streetlights, etc.) so—as it becomes more feasible—it only follows that we should equip the fixtures that populate the city with the means to 'report' as well. Tremendous effort has been expended to transform the smartphone into a robust mobile sensor platform – we will benefit greatly once we start directing some of this energy into outfitting public space with similar capabilities.(3) [Concept diagrams for Chromaroma visualizations / photo: Chromaroma blog] Statement four: territories > maps The above images are a series of concept diagrams for the visualizations at the heart of Chromaroma, a social game that allows users of the London Underground and the Cycle Hire bike sharing service to track their movements through the city while engaging in friendly competition. Players of the public beta of the service register their underground Oyster Card (RFID ID) and bike sharing accounts and log trips and achievements through a related social network. Every subway trip a user makes scores them points, teams compete to capture stations and the network randomly assigns 'missions' that reward bonuses and multipliers for travelling to various destinations throughout the city. The incentives and achievements offered to players borrow heavily from the location-based game Foursquare, but while the latter service (essentially) reduces the city to a banal matrix of commercial establishments, Chromaroma piggybacks on the user experience of a public asset. Harry Beck's 1931 Tube Map is one of the most iconic images in 20th century graphic design and the clarity of that schematic essentialized the representation of a key piece of urban infrastructure and promoted the diagrammatic style of thinking that underpins contemporary information visualization. While the so-called gamification phenomenon(4) is generally quite suspect, Chromaroma achieves a remarkable feat in seamlessly superimposing game mechanics on everyday civic actions of hopping on the subway or utilizing the bike share program – players are quite literally invited into the representational space of the ubiquitous 'subway diagram' and are able to replace a top-down system map with an interactive visualization that charts their engagement with public transit. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Chromaroma creator Toby Barnes described the goal for working with game systems as promoting exploration, facilitating collaborative construction and instilling participants with a "sense of achievement". The social game is slated to expand to incorporate bus, tram and boat transit and when the service moves out of beta it will be very interesting to see if they can build a (presumably advertising-based) business model around promoting the use of public transit. Two decades ago, in an article entitled "The Computer for the 21st Century", ubiquitous computing founder Mark Weiser argued against virtual reality (VR) by highlighting the fact that VR environments "were only maps, not territories" – given that were in the midst of an era that celebrates a constant stream of nonsensical information graphics, we should heap praise on any visualization project that simultaneously promotes exploration of the world and positive civic action. The next post in this series will deal with Memory and the City. Notes: (1) See Steenson's essay “Urban Software: The Long View” published in the catalogue [PDF] essay for last year's HABITAR exhibition at LABoral. (2) Toward the Sentient City is essential – I highly recommend spending a few hours on the exhibit site perusing the work that was produced and the "responses" that were commissioned. (3) Beyond Trash Track, Combing through the SENSEable City Lab's archives reveals a body of work rife with provocative experiments that call into question how we represent and experience the city – the work done by this group will prove foundational for the myriad of applications that will be produced with open data. (4) There is no shortage of perspectives being offered regarding gamification at the moment, if you are unfamiliar with the term Jesse Schell's DICE 2010 presentation "Design Outside the Box" is as good a place to start as any. – About the Author: Greg J. Smith a Toronto-based designer and researcher with interests in media theory and digital culture. Extending from a background in architecture, his research considers how contemporary information paradigms affect representational and spatial systems. Greg is a designer at Mission Specialist, blogs at Serial Consign, writes a column on emerging technology for Current Intelligence and is a managing editor of the digital arts publication Vague Terrain. He currently teaches in the CCIT program (University of Toronto/Sheridan College) and at OCAD […]
- Minimal Designer [Flash, Scripts] Keith has just posted this UI components library for Flex/FlashBuilder on hisÂ BIT-101 blog. Minimal design, clean look, and whilst still in development should make implementation as easy as drag and drop.Â As far as code generation, it just generates a list of the components with constructors and sets any properties (right now only width and height, as needed). The source will be available shortly. You can see the demo below + full screen here // bit-101.com/MinimalDesigner/ BIT-101 Flash […]
- Designing Programs [Theory] (This essay was commissioned by Centre national des arts plastiques for Graphisme en France 2012) - Edited by Casey Reas and Chandler McWilliams - Technical mastery and innovation are part of the rich history of visual design. The printing press is the quintessential example of how a shift in design technology can ripple through society. In the Twenty-First Century, innovation in design often means pushing the role of computers within the visual arts in new directions. Writing software is something that's not typically associated with the work of a visual designer, but there's a growing number of designers who write custom software as a component of their work. Over the last decade, through personal experience, We've learned many of the benefits and pitfalls of writing code as a component of a visual arts practice, but our experience doesn't cover the full spectrum. Custom software is changing typography, photography, and composition and is the foundation for new categories of design practice that includes design for networked media (web browsers, mobile phones, tablets) and interactive installations. Most importantly, designers writing software are pushing design thinking into new areas. To cut to the core of the matter, we asked a group of exceptional designers two deceptively simple questions: 1. Why do you write your own software rather than only use existing software tools? 2. How does writing your own software affect your design process and also the visual qualities of the final work? The answers reflect the individuality of the designers and their process, but some ideas are persistent. The most consistent answer is that custom software is written because it gives more control. This control is often expressed as individual freedom. Another thread is writing custom software to create a precise realization for a precise idea. To put it another way, writing custom code is one way to move away from generic solutions; new tools can create new opportunities. Experienced designers know that off-the-shelf, general software tools obscure the potential of software as a medium for expression and communication. Writing custom, unique tools with software opens new potentials for creative authorship. LUST / lust.nl In our studio, form is a result of an idea, which is the result of a process. When approaching a project we try to be as open as possible. Through research and analysis we let the idea emerge from something already embedded in the project itself. Something that was perhaps already present, but that needed to be highlighted. From there we look for the best way to execute that idea, and in doing so develop the form and concept further. Because we approach projects in this way, existing software/tools are often insufficient to properly execute an idea. We also tend to arrive at ideas that require new ways of thinking about how to deal with everything from typography to data to interactivity. In these cases the development of custom software and tools is a natural extension of the process, and can be instrumental in the development of the idea. While designing in code is quite different from ‘traditional’ design methods, these kinds of processes have always been present in our work. Since we started our studio 15 years ago, we have adhered to a process-based methodology in which an analytical process leads eventually to an end-product that designs itself. This coincides very well with the idea of writing your own code and building your own tools. The transition to these kinds of working methods from more traditional approaches was a very natural one. At a certain moment you realize that there is no other way to execute an idea than to build it yourself from the ground up. This frees you from the constraints of pre-packed software and allows you to maintain a closeness to your ideas that wouldn’t be otherwise possible. While any medium will have an impact on the visual outcome of a project, we feel that building your own project-specific tools gives you back the opportunity to control and manipulate the inherent visual qualities of the tools your using. In the end, the visual quality of a work should be relevant to the project itself, rather than rooted in a particular approach or technique - the outcome should speak for itself. LUST's cover for the book Form+Code in Design, Art, and Architecture is generated from frames taken from the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey. Together with the back cover and front matter of the book, the circle is revealed as an O, spelling FORM+CODE. Nicholas Felton / feltron.com A few years ago my work became almost exclusively data-driven and my design process became increasingly centered on a rules-based approach. I developed a set of processes for creating maps and charts that were effective, yet laborious and time consuming. It soon became apparent that in order to produce more and to tackle larger data sets, I would need to find a way to automate the routines I relied on. With Processing, I have been able to design applications that channel my methods, instead of bending my approach to work with existing software. These applications are accountable, so that if the output doesn't match my expectations I am able to audit the code and find the issue. They are also inherently malleable, allowing me to mold the code to fit each project. When I first began writing software, the programs I designed simply allowed me to do more of the same work in a shorter period of time and in a more flexible manner. As a result, the final product was not impacted by the use of software. With more practice and familiarity with the tools, I have started to produce work that would have been unfeasible or impractical using manual methods. I have experimented with maps that rely on difficult algorithms and developed tools that allow me to test a range of variables before outputting a final visualization. Spread from the 2010 Feltron Annual Report, designed by Nicholas Felton. The 2010 Annual Report catalogs the life of Felton's father, who passed away earlier in the year, Amanda Cox (The New York Times) / nytimes.com Mad Libs is a game where key words in a short story have been replaced with blanks. Players fill in the blanks with designated parts of speech ("noun", "adverb") or types of words ("body part", "type of liquid"), without seeing the rest of the story. Occasionally, hilarity ensues, but no one really believes that this is an effective method for generating great literature. In the same way, fill-in-the-blank templates rarely generate great news graphics. Admittedly, generic solutions work perfectly well in some cases. For example: "The _______ (stock index) has fallen _______ (adverb) since _______ (year). [Line chart]." But these are rarely the sorts of graphics that reveal anything unexpected or inspire new ways of looking at the world. Instead, some of the most compelling news graphics exploit structure that is unique to a particular data set. This may require more control than a prepackaged solution, as the same form applied to a different topic would reveal nothing of interest. But if you are nimble enough with points and lines and text, you can do pretty much whatever you want. And this means you get to spend your time exploring and dreaming and wondering "what if" and instead of trying to override the default choices in a software program. If you get lucky, it might even infuse the work with a sense of wonder. This news graphic by The New York Times shows discontent with the political party in power. Nearly all districts voted more Republican (red arrows) in 2010 than they did in 2008. Erik van Blokland (LettError) / letterror.com When I started developing my own tools, I became more critical of existing tools. I had less patience for limitations imposed by others. Building tools offers a powerful perspective on design: the code is there to serve the idea, not the other way round. It means fewer compromises, and when there are compromises to make, at least they are mine and easier to live with. I don't think I am a purist, I will happily use existing tools if they are fit to the task (with wildly varying criteria). But the idea, the direction of a design, should lead the process, not the arbitrary limitations imposed by existing tools. When something can't be done with a specific tool, one should try to improve it or build a better one, but not necessarily compromise the idea. Good ideas are rare, we need to patiently farm millions of them to find one. Killing them before they grow is wasteful. In some of my projects the code gets to touch the shapes. Like filters that synthesize detail or generate patterns or texture. Complex things can be generated (relatively) quickly and evaluated. Doing such things "by hand", even while using a computer could take much longer, forcing me to commit to a set of parameters without realizing the full implications. These kinds of projects are very specific, personal and close to the design. Write, generate. Evaluate. Tweak (code, parameters or both), generate again, repeat. Design iterations are code iterations, the code is as open ended as the design. But often though my code seems to be behind the screen, not touching the shapes directly, enabling directions, whole trees of trees of designs. For instance libraries that standardize objects representing specific data, or an open, documented file format to replace a proprietary and undocumented "industry standard." These abstractions makes it a bit harder (sometimes) to find the energy to build, but the tools that grow on them are very powerful. Here structure and collaboration are important. At which level are the things we agree on and can share, and where are we going to go our own way? These are very interesting questions. Difficult to answer, but part of a very interesting discourse about creative work (design, art, more code) about the methods we have (and the ones we'd like). The top letters are from typefaces that have been designed and generated with Erik van Blokland's tools: Trixie HD, Eames, Federal. The images below are Robot fonts created with Just van Rossum, the Superpolator color field and the roboFab object model. onformative / onformative.com Existing software often restricts implementation possibilities and can even predetermine solutions by dictating what can be done with these possibilities. By writing our own software we break through such barriers and simultaneously create new ways of working with the design process. This process, in which the tool grows and develops with the design, is what excites us. Of course, we also use existing software when it makes sense to do so, because we believe the skillful combination of existing software and our own software is the most effective way to reach the best results. Ultimately, one rarely writes everything anew but rather builds on existing components, or takes elements from the libraries or code snippets of others. One combines the existing with the new, and, through this combination, creates new results based on one’s own ideas. This is possible thanks to the active exchange in communities like the processing.org forum. The design process is no longer divided into concept, design, and production, but rather the design process blends with the production process and the product is created in many small iteration steps in which idea, design, and programming are always closely entwined. When writing one's own software, the creative work and the implementation of these are mutually dependent, and the separation of design and production is abolished. Because one has very different insight into the working methods and detailed processes of one’s own software, there is far more room for experimentation at one’s disposal, which has a direct effect on the quality of the work. “Fragments of RGB” by onformative is a disintegration of an LED screen as an interactive installation and a series of photographs of the transformation. Catalogtree / catalogtree.net You are what you eat. We write our own software mainly to automate repetitive tasks but it is also important to us as a part of our ongoing attempts at experimental tool-making. Choosing a production technique is an important design decision to us and building tools, hardware or software, is a way of avoiding obvious choices. But this process is uncertain, tinkering really. We are amateurs at it by choice. So not all tools find their way into commissioned work: we still have no direct use for our iPod controlled carrousel slide-projector, a fairly accurate push pin firing device for moving targets, a 3D scanner, water rockets or a swarm of vibrobots to draw on a printing screen. But what is important is the belief that the most beautiful sites are just outside the reservation. Programming is the process. Some time ago, we spend a year working on separate locations. Daniel worked in an office building in Rotterdam (great view), and Joris was working from a studio in his backyard (whistling birds). We designed by talking on the phone. Though it was not ideal at all, it wasn’t completely unnatural to us either. We have our own vocabulary when we discuss projects and sketch by describing designs to each other. This means that most of our designs are language-based and finished before becoming visual. Over the phone, it is of no use to describe every single page of a book, every margin, every adjustment to the kerning of a headline. But to describe a system that generates from the smallest information unit in the content a possible flock of birds, can take five seconds. In swarm systems, the behavior of one unit does not predict the behavior of the swarm as a whole. We aim at designs that have some swarming capacity, where we know what the smallest information unit should do but not what the final design might look like. To us, a good design is more that the sum of its parts. However, good design also means picking the right pink and the right typeface. We will not follow an algorithm in a dogmatic way if it generates the wrong results. It is not in the first place about what the rules are, it is about what you do when you end up in a place not covered by those rules. There is room for a cherry on top. Catalogtree building a crystal radio beneath the gaze of their Thomas Castro woodcut portrait. Boris Müller / esono.com It is quite intriguing that most of the software tools we use in our everyday life resemble a specific activity from the analog world - or even the analog past. Even creative, visual work on the computer is still based on manual input. The designer uses software tools to manually produce a formal output. But creativity is not only about manual work - it is also about ideas. And in terms of ideas, software is a vast space. Like any other language, programming languages are about expressing ideas. They allow one to create enormous complexities that remain consistent and stable. So instead of manually crafting an image, I generate an idea in a formal language and turn this idea into any number of images. Beautiful ideas do not necessarily generate beautiful images. In the design process, I have to work on two different levels. The first one is about turning the idea into an abstract system. The second one is for the translation of the system into a visual form. The translation process is not deterministic. Sometimes it is obvious and strongly related to the abstract system - but very often I have to make a lot of design decisions that are purely based on the quality of the visual outcome. Turning an abstract idea into a meaningful image still needs the mind of a designer. Generative visualization of the poem “Nr. 12” by Eugene Ostashevsky Jonathan Puckey / jonathanpuckey.com I love the feeling of being immersed in the functioning of a visual language of my own making. I put on my developer hat and think about the features and limitations I need as a user. Balancing the authorship I embed through the conceptualization and engineering of the software and the authorship I or others can create by using the software in different ways. When I use my tools, I want to forget about the underlying complexity of their functioning and focus purely on mastering they way my input sparks an output. It splits up the process of design into two. I design the tool and then use it to design with. Often I am able to catch the concept of the project I am working on in the functioning of the tool, making it malleable and explorable while designing with it. I consider my tool based works successful when the viewer is able to visually recognize the collaboration (or even struggle) that is happening between the simplicity of the tool and the complexity of its input. There is No Thirteenth Step designed using Lettering Tool, a Scriptographer typography tool by Jonathan Puckey in 2005. Marcus Wendt (FIELD) / field.io As a student I loved the new aesthetics of modern painting and architecture. I wanted to combine elegant and minimalist structures with complexity and emotional richness – as if bringing together Zaha Hadid with Gerhard Richter. It took many attempts to realize that writing code could play a significant role in getting onto this route. Traditional design tools are following the aging metaphor of a single artist working tediously at his desk creating static images with high manual labour. The more I learned to code I realized how immensely dynamic working with these new tools can be — you can create living digital creatures; films that look different every time you watch, and design tools making 10,000 digital paintings in a day. Writing code follows a bottom-up architectural approach and therefor emphasizes the process over the final result. Instead of working towards a single image, you start to think in the possibilities of a system. Designing a process rather than the end result forces you to be open for and work with unexpected results, and sometimes surprisedly embrace the outcome. It's hard to cheat when you're working with code – before you can write something down, you have to clarify your ideas. It's a bit like planning and building a house – with the major difference that once you're done you can go back and change your foundation to get a dramatically different result. Communion is a site-specific generative installation designed and coded by FIELD, with creative direction by Universal Everything and sound by Freefarm. Image courtesy James Medcraft. Sosolimited / sosolimited.com Programming is a lot like cooking. When you learn how to do it yourself, you derive great pleasure from combining ingredients of your choosing and tasting the resulting dish. After a while, it becomes second nature and you no longer have to rely on processed foods for nutrition. Another similarity between cooking and programming is that they are both powerful instruments of seduction. MIT was instrumental in teaching us this way of thinking. If your tire gets a flat, why buy a new one when you can re-invent the wheel? We were not taught explicitly how to use off the shelf programs. Come to think of it, they didn’t even teach us how to use computers. The attitude was: build whatever it takes to do what you want to do, but use technology to do it. So naturally, when it comes time to design, we write software. When you’re writing your own software, the design is never set in stone. It is a constant improvisation. We don’t always know how our changes will propagate, but a deep trust in the process and a willingness to play often lead to wildly unexpected and pleasing results. It’s like handing your child a marker, writing down a list of things he can and can’t do, and letting him loose in your living room. The visual qualities of our work reflect the structures, iterations, recursions, and limitations of code running on a computer. If we are looking to create an organic visual, we might actively work to hide the digital origin. If we are trying to reveal structures in a stream of information, we might embrace and amplify these same coded qualities. No matter what though, the final work looks the way it does because it is a continuous extension of the thinking machines that made it. Prime Numerics by Sosolimited was a live remix of the final UK Prime Ministerial Debate on 29 April 2010. Trafik / lavitrinedetrafik.fr Graphics and programming are at the very heart of so many of our projects and this association has been the founding basis of Trafik (since 1997). Right from the beginning, we have believed that programming could be used for creative purposes, even if programming languages have essentially been devised to make tools. When we write a program, we are faced with technical issues which we have to address: to resolve the code in order to guarantee the running of the program. However, by studying the generated esthetic results and by making our own visual choices, we have thus adopted an artistic approach. To apply programming to graphic design is an unusual approach by its very nature. In reality, the code, used as the base material, is abstract and disconnected from the generated forms. To write a code, to compile it, and to see it generate itself into tangible shapes, creates a sensitive rapport with programming. Used in such a way in graphic design, it enables us to develop artistic objects which outmatch existing tools. However to constrain ourselves to produce our own instruments is an empirical method which gives correct, precise and adapted results but which also sometimes provokes unexpected results. Thus, the code, by the complexity and diversity of what it can produce, manages to surprise us and to go beyond what we imagined at the outset. For example, the code often generates a unique esthetic which produces a sort of visual radicalism devoid of any sophistication. By using programming, the creative process seems to us to be more complete: when producing visuals, installations or animations, we work first on the functioning of the program, on its “life”. The project builds itself throughout the development, through a permanent exchange between suggestions from the graphic designer and those of the programmer. These two professions and their interactions inspire all of our creations and produce specific and precise objects of art. Pierre Rodière, Graphic Designer / Joël Rodière, Programmer Casey Reas is a professor in the Department of Design Media Arts at UCLA and a graduate of the MIT Media Laboratory. Reas’ software has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions at museums and galleries in the United States, Europe, and Asia. With Ben Fry, he co-founded Processing in 2001. He is the author of Process Compendium 2004-2010 and co-author of Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists (MIT Press) and Getting Started with Processing (O’Reilly). http://reas.com http://users.dma.ucla.edu/~reas/ Chandler McWilliams is a writer, artist, and programmer. He has studied film, photography, and political science; and completed graduate work in philosophy at The New School For Social Research in New York City. He lives in Los Angeles where he teaches in the department of Design Media Arts at the UCLA School of the Arts. His current work focuses on themes of affect, repetition, computation, and […]
- Best iPhone and iPad Projects of 2011 Another year of iPhone/iPad development but there haven't been many apps that have caught our eye as there have been in the past. Nevertheless few that stood above the rest, both in their conception and how they make us think about technology. As an increasing number of apps saturate the AppStore, now in their 100s of thousands, we'd like to remain optimistic that this platform will continue to grow and not just by large development studios and those that reiterate but rather as an exciting, creative and above all - "innovative" place to push ideas to. 10. Composite [iPad, openFrameworks] Inspired by the neo-dadaist collages of Robert Rauschenberg, James Alliban's Composite allows you to remix your surroundings to create graphic compositions. Users can paint pictures using live video stream by simply pointing their iPad towards your subject drawing over it. Pixels are captured and transfered onto canvas. A different way of looking at painting. -- 9. Photo/Nykto [iPad, openFrameworks, Games] Photo/Nykto is an experimental game conceived by Annelore Schneider and Douglas Edric Stanley as part of the “Unterplay” project at the Master Media Design —HEAD, Genève. Edric describes at as a game for nyktophobes and photophobes. It is played by switching on and off the lights in order to avoid reaching the edge of the screen. Photo/Nykto is one of the few apps that explores interaction with the device beyond the device itself. We like to think of it as "spatial interface" one that allows iPad to become an aggregator of physical activity. Soon in the AppStore -- 8. Planetary [Cinder, iPad] Created by the collective consisting of Ben Cerveny, Tom Carden, Jesper Sparre Andersen and Robert Hodgin, Planetary by Bloom is a way to explore your music collection using planetary system. Application, created using Cinder framework allows you to navigate dynamically created by information about the music on your iPad. Fly thorough the stars that represent your favourite artists, visit planets (albums) or listen to the moons (tracks). -- 7. Windosill [iPad, Games] Previously available for Mac and Windows, we are glad to see Windosill by Patrick Smith (Vectorpark.com) finally make it's way to the iOS. An adventure puzzle game filled with peculiar objects, your task is to resolve abstract but yet logical puzzles to progress from room to room. For fans of the original, this is not just a simple port. The Windosill for the iPad was built as a native iOS app and customized the behavior of every element to the iPad’s touch interface. Bonus features include a sketchbook gallery of concept and development artwork, the option to instantly skip to any room you’ve already completed and two special settings, unlocked when you complete Windosill: Complex Gravity, which allows you to manipulate objects by tipping your iPad, and See-Thru Mode, which makes everything translucent (giving you a sneak-peek into how Windosill is put together). Fantastic addition to the AppStore. -- 6. OscilloScoop [iPhone, iPad, Sound] Created by Scott Snibbe and Graham McDermott and originally designed by Lukas Girling, “OscilloScoop” is a culmination of about 15 years’ effort trying to create musical creation tools that is more like a video game. The process began back in the 90′s at a research lab when Scott Snibbe and Lukas Girling worked briefly with Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson on some of the concepts. The app, playfully called OscilloScoop, presents a trio of brightly colored stacked spinning crowns. Touching a crown trims or builds up its edge, like a spinning disk of clay. As you carve into this disc, the music changes, and you effortlessly produce hip hop, techno, electro, and other recognisable forms of music. Scott Snibble describes the process much like a DJ spinning records, but you create original music of your own, rather than merely cutting between tracks. -- 5. The Infinite Adventure Machine [MaxMSP, iPad] The Infinite Adventure Machine by David Benqué is a computer program which generates fairy-tale plots. Based on the work of Vladimir Propp, who reduced the structure of russian folk-tales to 31 basic functions, the project addresses the difficulties of automatic story generation which David explains remain an unsolved problem for computer science. Not available - Prototype -- 4. field [iPhone, iPad, openFrameworks, Sound] Created by Rainer Kohlberger with sound by Wilm Thoben, field is an abstract audiovisual app that uses realtime camera feed as input. Brightness, saturation and color are interpreted, and translated into a constructed grid. The realtime image triggers different sounds as you pan around. Included are five different modes which you can switch through by double tapping the screen. Very addictive and playful take on live video as medium to generate both visual and sound patterns. -- 3. Last Clock [iPad] Originally created in 2002 by Jussi Ängeslevä and Ross Cooper when at the Royal College of Arts in London and developed for the iOS by NewMediology (Danqing Shi), Last clock is a clock app that uses popular slit scan technique to keep you in factual time, human time and remote time. Just like any other analog clock, the app has three hands: one for seconds, minutes and hours. The hands, however, are made of a slice of live video that gets scanned to the clockface. With different refresh rate for the three hands, the three time circles reflect the rhythms of the space at different temporal resolutions. The app also allows you to stream the last clock camera feed over the internet. -- 2. Sword & Sworcery EP [Games, iPhone, iPad] The long awaited “21st century interpretation of the archetypical old school videogame adventure” by Superbrothers finally hit the AppStore this year. The response was amazing quickly became one of the most popular games of the year. If you haven't had a chance to play with it, xmas break seems like a perfect opportunity. Easily the best iOS game this year. -- 1. Björk – Biophilia [iPhone, iPad, Sound] Having seen many apps over the last few years, I don't think anyone expected Biophilia. If you don't know about it, is an iPhone/iPad release of Björk’s latest album created in collaboration with Scott Snibbe and her longtime design collaborators M/M (Paris). Comprising a suite of musical pieces and interactive artworks, Biophilia is a unique experience where different elements are weaved together with both sensitivity and precision. The experience is unified, building on different layers of visuals and sound. It's a simple must! (Read also our special Making-of […]
- The HyperCard Legacy [Theory, Mac] In 1963, my dad was looking for a job. Born in England and raised in Africa, he ended up in London after a few years of travel by ship and train. In those pre-pre-Craigslist days, people still searched for employment in newspapers, and an unusual listing in a London Newspaper caught his eye: a listing looking for computer operators. For my father, the listing raised two immediate questions: What is a computer? And how do you operate it? (A similar reaction would have come from job listings for auto mechanics in 1914 or web designers in 1994). Responding to that listing turned out to be a life-changing decision for my dad, who has spent the last 40 years working with computers and technology. A very similar directional moment came for me 24 years later, in 1987, when my dad arrived home from work with a Macintosh SE computer HyperCard, Revisited The Mac SE was actually not as important to my life (and career) as was the software that came with it for free - in particular, an unusual and innovative application called HyperCard. HyperCard was a tool for making tools - Mac users could use Hypercard to build their own mini-programs to balance their taxes, manage sports statistics, make music - all kinds of individualized software that would be useful (or fun) for individual users. These little programs were called stacks, and were built as a system of cards that could be hyperlinked together. Building a HyperCard stack was remarkably easy, and the application quickly developed a devoted following. HyperCard was the brain child of Bill Atkinson, one of Apple's earliest employees, and the software engineer responsible for (among other things) the drop-down menu, the selection tool, and tabbed navigation. Bill played a big role in making the Mac what the Mac was - a personal computer that made the whole process of computing easy for the general public. HyperCard represented perhaps the bravest part of this 'computing for the people' philosophy, as it enabled users to go past the pre-built software that came on the machines, and to program and build software of their own. Assuming that a typical computer would and could learn how to may program seem like a mad idea, but its one that has a long legacy. When personal computers were first envisioned in the 1960s, scenarios included the owners of these machines making their own software. The small group of people who were working in computing probably couldn't imagine why anyone would want a computer if they didn't know how to program it! With HyperCard, the learning process was facilitated by pre-built UI elements, and a simple drag & drop interface. Maybe most important, though, was HyperCard's unique, innovative, and very easy to use programming language, HyperTalk. Say That again, in English? Reading programming instructions written in some languages can be confusing. Statements in HyperTalk, on the other hand, tend to read like sentences in English. For example, if I wanted to create a variable called â€˜nameâ€™ with the string 'bob dole' in it, I would write this: put 'bob dole' into name If I wanted to put the last name into a list of last names that I had already created, I could do this: put the second word of name into last_names And if I wanted to display the name on screen, I would simply write: put name into field 'name_display' This type of plain-language programming makes sense, particularly in an application that was designed specifically for non-programmers. I have been teaching programming to designers and artists for nearly a decade, and I find the largest concern for learners to be not with the conceptual hurdles involved in writing a program, but with obscure and confusing syntax requirements. I would love to be able to teach HyperTalk to my students, as a smooth on-road to more complex languages like Java or ActionScript. HyperTalk wasn't just easy, it was also fairly powerful. Complex object structures could be built to handle complicated tasks, and the base language could be expanded by a variety of available externdal commands and functions (XCMDs and XFCNs, respectively), which were precursors to the modern plug-in. Programming for the People This combination of ease of use and power resonated with the HyperCard user base, who developed and shared thousands of unique stacks (all in a time before the web). A visit to a BBS in the late 80s and early 90s could give a modem-owner access to thousands of unique, often home-made tools and applications. Stacks were made to record basketball statistics, to teach music theory, and to build complex databases. The revolutionary non-linear game Myst first appeared as a HyperCard stack, and the Beatles even got into the scene, with an official stack A Hard Days Night. During the same time, developers made hundreds of extensions. Some let HyperCard stacks talk to other applications on your computer (opening the door to the first computer virus, 'Concept', in 1993). Other let you communicate to the outside world - BeeHive Technology's ADB I/) box was a kind of â€˜Arduino for the 80's, and let stack-makers connect to sensors and send commands to electronics. A large community formed around HyperCard, providing tips & resources as well as a distribution channel for home-brew software makers. The HyperCard Legacy Over the last few years, we've seen many exciting projects that work in the spirit of HyperCard - projects that offer free and simple ways to create custom software tools. Replace the word 'HyperCard' in the paragraphs above with 'Processing' and the word 'stack' with the word'sketch', and many of the innovations and advantages described can be moved 20 years into the future without much of a re-write. HyperCard was the first real hyper-media program, paving the way for the web, and everything that came with it. It was used by thousands of people, and by most accounts, seemed to have been a fairly successful piece of software. Which, of course, begs the question: What happened to HyperCard? A small project in the larger suite of Mac software, HyperCard never really saw the type of development commitment that it would need to remain current as the Mac OS advanced. The small, black-and white application looked more and more antiquated as screens got bigger and more colorful. To compound matters, the project was shuffled back and forth between Mac and its software subsidiary Claris and seemed never to get any kind of sure footing. Though a second version of Hypercard was released in 1990, the project had made few advances since its release five years earlier. Ultimately, HyperCard would disappear from Mac computers by the mid-nineties, eclipsed by web browsers and other applications which it had itself inspired. The last copy of HyperCard was sold by Apple in 2004. The Importance of Middle Ground In new media, practitioners are often identified with the specific tools that they use. I started out as a 'Flash guy' and over the last few years have been connected more and more with the open source software project Processing. Though I originally came to Processing to escape the Flash Player's then sluggish performance, I value the platform as much for its ease of use and its teachability as I do for its ability to quickly add floating point numbers. Lately, I've been asked the same question, over and over again: 'Why don't you move to OpenFrameworks? It's much faster!' It is true that projects built in OF run faster than those built in Processing. This question, though, seems to be missing a key point: faster does not always equal better. Does every pianist want to play the pipe organ because it has more keys? Is a car better than a bicycle? In my case, choosing a platform to work with involves as much consideration to simplicity as it does to complexity. I am an educator, and when I work on a project I am always thinking about how the things that are learned in the process can be packaged and shared with my students and with the public. Which brings us to the broader concept of accessibility. HyperCard effectively disappeared a decade a go, making way for supposedly bigger and better things. But in my mind, the end of HyperCard left a huge gap that desperately needs to be filled - a space for an easy to use, intuitive tool that will once again let average computer users make their own tools. Such a project would have huge benefits for all of us, wether we are artists, educators, entrepreneurs, or enthusiasts. HyperCard, Revisited Over the years, there have been several attempts to revive HyperCard, most recently on the web. TileStack is HyperCard for a social media world, a site in which users can build their own stacks, program them with HyperTalk, and share them with friends. It's a bit of a time capsule, with many classic HyperCard stacks available to satisfy any nostalgic cravings for B&W pixel art you may be harbouring. Unfortunately, HyperCard, as much as we might love it, is 25 years old. These big initiatives to revive it directly end up looking and feeling antiquated. I could imagine a new version of HyperCard being built from the ground up around its core functional properties: HyperTalk, easy to use UI elements, and a framework for extensions. It's the kind of open source project that could happen, but with so much investment already existing in other initiatives such as Processing and OpenFrameworks, it might not be the best use of resources. So, let's forget for now about a resurrection. Instead of thinking bigger, let's think smaller. HyperCard for the iPhone? It might not be as crazy as you think. Imagine having a single, meta app that could be used to make smaller ones. This 'App-Builder App', like HyperCard, could combine easy to use, draggable user interface elements with an intuitive, plain language scripting language. As a quick visit to the App Store will show you, many or most of the apps available today could be built without complex coding. You don't need Objective C to make a stock ticker, or a unit converter, or a fart machine. These home-made apps could be shared and adapted, cross-bred and mutated to create generation after generation of useful (and not so useful programs). By putting the tools of creation into the hands of the broader userbase, we would allow for the creation of ultra-specific personalized apps that, aside from a few exceptions, don't exist today. We'd also get access to a vastly larger creative pool. There are undoubtedly many excellent and innovative ideas out there, in the heads of people who don't (yet) have the programming skills to realize them. The next Myst is waiting to be built, along with countless other novel tools and applications. With the developer restrictions and extreme proprietism of the iPhone App Store, it's hard to remember the Apple of the 80s. Steve Jobs, Bill Atkinson and their team had a vision to not only bring computers to the people, but also to bring computer programming to the public - to make makers out of the masses. At Apple, this philosophy, along with HyperCard seems to have mostly been lost. In the open source community, though, this ideal is alive and well - it may be that by reviving some ideas from the past we might be able to create a HyperCard for the […]
Posted on: 27/01/2012
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