28 Jun, 2013

Converge to Inspire at Eyeo Festival 2013

Eyeo Festival is a three day event that explores art, interaction, information and the way all three interact and overlap. Packed with talks, demos, and labs, the festival’s tagline “Converge to Inspire” perfectly encapsulates the vibe. It seemed like this year’s festival had a parallel track of data visualization along with new media art. Topics ranged from talks about software as a relevant form of art to demos of video and text visualization mashups. Two talks in particular offered unique observations that relate directly to the types of multi-user, interactive projects we work on at Stimulant.

Amit Pitaru’s talk, Sharp Corners, focused on the forces that shape his work and specifically observations in how audiences approach interactive installations. Amit’s interest lies in solving problems that other companies don’t even realize are problems. He worked with FiftyThree, a company that builds tools for mobile creation, to develop Paper for iPad. They saw a glaring design problem: traditional software works with colors in ways that machines display colors, which is not intuitive to users. For instance, if you try to select a color between yellow and blue you should get green. It’s not rocket science but the result in graphic design programs is always gray. Paper for iPad is a simple, intuitive, touch-driven replacement to the color picker palette which previously existed unchanged since 1973. A simple concept emerged from this example that’s relatable to any UI designer: just because we’re accustomed to something that doesn’t meet our expectations, doesn’t mean there’s no room to change it.

With Amit’s experiences designing interactive installations, namely Sonic Wire Sculpture, he noticed that people are more comfortable approaching an interactive installation in a group. However, if three or more people are standing in a row it forms a line and people will naturally assume that they are waiting to interact with your device, even if this wasn’t the original intention. Understanding user behavior surrounding large scale, multi-user interactive experiences is something we design for at Stimulant. Using multiple attract loops, similar to what we designed for the Maxim Integrated touch wall, solves this issue.

In case it wasn’t obvious, we’re interested in exploring digital interaction in physical spaces, so it’s a no brainer that we were intrigued by Dr. Ivan Poupyrev’s talk, The World that Feels and Responds. Dr. Poupyrev is the Director of an Interaction Technology group in Disney Research’s Pittsburgh Lab. His research focuses on inventing new interactive technologies for the blending of digital and physical properties in devices, everyday objects, and living environments. Botanicus Interacticus, a technology for designing highly expressive interactive plants, is an example of this type of work. The instrument only requires a single wire placed anywhere in the plant soil. Botanicus Interacticus reacts to gestures such as sliding fingers on the stem, it detects touch and also tracks proximity between human and plant.

Dr. Poupyrev’s research centers around detecting changes in capacitance on different materials, thereby effectively making anything into a touch screen. The takeaway from this talk is for designers to refocus efforts from making devices more interactive and intelligent to making the world itself interactive.

There were a number of inspiring talks throughout the week. For such a young event, Eyeo has a lot to offer. Whether in the form of creative food for thought by witnessing some of the industry’s amazing artists talk about their works, or being part of a community of coders and designers who care about the impact of their work, not just on their own fields but on the world at large.

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