Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Struggles in Seminar

I'm taking a 600-level Art seminar class, mainly because I have experience with the Surface, and my boss is in charge of it, and the professor I'm doing my other Surface project with is teaching it. We're in week 9 and we haven't really started coding yet...this makes me extremely nervous, since I'm taking 2 other classes on top of doing a 699. The crux of our problems have been this stupid GUI design...how do you design a cool, interactive GUI for a piece of hardware that is relatively new, and all the other applications for it are photo viewers, for an art museum that doesn't just want a photo viewer, because the photos would just be showing the stuff they have hanging on their walls? Answer: very carefully (ba-boom-ching!)

But seriously, this Surface may be intended for "collaboration", but the reality is far from that. The problem of designing a deep, interesting interface for what essentially amounts to a huge table that sees your fingers is no trivial task...and it hasn't been studied for years like a traditional GUI. It's really difficult to communicate the nuances, but here goes:

1) The Surface is both smaller than you'd expect, has less RAM than you'd like, and is rectangle, which, not matter how collaborative your app is, will force certain people into a driving position and others into a watching position. The Surface can only comfortably be surrounded by, maybe, 6 people total, but that's not nearly enough room for everyone to have their own "interaction space". Plus, it gets really cluttered REALLY REALLY fast.

2) You have two options: design the GUI in a way that allows for each person to have their own, isolated interactions, or somehow try to design it in a way that everyone can interact together. Each approach has it's own problem; the isolated interactions can be much deeper, but it's not collaborative, while the collaborative design can only be so deep, otherwise one person can ruin it for everyone.

Honestly, I would just love to see a design that can have the cake and eat it too...be both deeply immersive for everyone involved while still being collaborative. I don't know if this is just due to my own brain being used to a specific way of doing things, but I feel like this is an impossible task for computers...they are necessarily a single-person experience. The fantastic thing about online games is that they can simulate a deep, collaborative experience, but you're still interacting with it through a single-user machine.

This brings up an interesting point though...in many multi-player games, collaboration is necessary to complete a task. Sure, two people aren't controlling the same character, but their collaboration facilitates the common goal...that collaboration is always extremely deep and nuanced. Unfortunately, I can't figure out a great way to apply this to the Surface without involving multiple terminals attached to it, or by making a ridiculously complex game. This thought has really intrigued me, though, so I may follow up later.

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