The underused potential of full-body interaction
December 9, 1968. Douglas Engelbart demonstrates the first computer mouse along with other elements of modern personal computing. This presentation becomes known as “The Mother of All Demos”.
Fast forward 43 years to 2011. Touchscreen devices are on a popularity surge. Microsoft has just launched its Productivity Vision. Where the handheld devices resemble the full-view display phones available now in 2020. However, just like nine years back, today the world is still interacting with computers by using just a finger. As Brett Victor highlights in his rant about the future of interaction design, “the vision from an interaction perspective, is not visionary. It’s a timid increment from the status quo, and the status quo, from an interaction perspective, is terrible”.
While changes are relatively incremental in the field, I sometimes enjoy speculating on what radical innovations may come in the future. The inspiration comes from IT Visions classes during my design studies. Where we’d watch science fiction movies and discuss topics related to the future of societal elements. Be it gene engineering (Gattaca), artificial intelligence (Blade Runner), simulations (Dark City) and others.
I’ve always enjoyed seeing how far the limit of human imagination can reach. And one of the litmus tests for me is the depiction of something humans that have never experienced — the extraterrestrial concepts. And particularly — how and with what they interact. Sadly, but most concepts depict something that closely resembles something that has evolved on planet earth.
However, there some thought-provoking attempts.
In this movie the mysterious creatures interact with a window-like structure to communicate through signs. It provokes thoughts on what would technology be like if the world communicated only through signs. How far humanity could advance the sign language?
So-called “engineer” — the lifeforms responsible “engineering” the human race according to the plot, activating its space ship’s controls by playing the flute.
The locals of a fictional planet Pandora seem to be in a suspiciously close resemblance to humans. However, they have one peculiar feature. It’s the hair they seem to be used as an interface to connect to other living beings. It seems to be a metaphor for what we know as the Internet.
… and others
Countless movies provoke thoughts on how else we may interact with technology.
In our strive for efficiency and productivity, let’s not lose sight of what’s possible. There seems to be no limit to how far we can stretch our creative muscles. Providing we have the right circumstances.
Now it’s mostly our fingers. The interfaces are evolving and according to Dennis Wixon, there’s a tendency to decrease the level of abstraction and thus — make the interfaces intuitive. While we are still interacting with the technology with (well and badly designed) Graphical User Interfaces, it’s just a matter of time when we continue facing better and better Natural User Interfaces (NUIs) that provide unmediated and context-sensitive experiences.
Bill Buxton, a principal researcher at Microsoft defines NUIs as interfaces “that exploit skills that we have acquired through a lifetime of living in the world, which minimizes the cognitive load and therefore minimizes the distraction”. And that “NUIs should always be designed with the use context in mind.”
Perhaps at some point, humans will be freed from the small-sized two-dimensional screens. And will have access to technology that allows for more interaction through human common and domain-specific skills.
So, let’s not be afraid to dream bigger.