The Feeling of Space

We have a new website.  If you take a look at it, you will see metal and cloth.

But it is what you will feel when you see it that I want to talk about.

About fifteen years ago, we brought home a computer that could run Windows 3.1, and that was the first time I came into contact with the ‘desktop metaphor’.  It was on that day that the desktop became a big part of my life.  (To all the Mac fans out there, I’m sorry, but I never saw a Mac in my life till I landed in North Carolina in the year 2000).

I spend most of my time from 9 to 5 looking at a two dimensional space decorated with the tools and artifacts of my trade (software).  These tools and the desktop are now so deeply burnt into my consciousness that I believe the slider in my screen to be real.  Any time I see a slider or a button, my mind believes that it can be touched and manipulated, even if it is only a projection on a wall.  I might not believe that you (dear reader) exist.  But I have no doubts whatsoever about the existence of the slider on the edge and I know it will scroll just so.

This is not an experience of reality that is uniquely mine.  Anyone who spends all their waking hours before a computer screen would be just too familiar with the feeling.

One day, I started working on building a three dimensional user interface based on the ‘real’ world.  I designed it with my files stored in a folder in a cabinet against the back wall of the room, and planned to add in user avatars that would walk across and talk to you.  I gave up a few years later.  I just wasn’t good enough at graphics to be able to build such a UI.  I remember having read somewhere that either Apple or MS did build such a system, but that it didn’t take off.  Virtual worlds that seamlessly incorporate your desktop are difficult to do.  The closest I have seen someone come to it is Coverflow, up until now.

The Wikipedia has this to say about Coverflow: ‘Cover Flow is an animated, three dimensional graphical user interface integrated within iTunes, the Macintosh Finder, and other Apple Inc.products for visually flipping through snapshots of documents, website bookmarks, album artwork, or photographs.

Cover Flow was conceived by artist Andrew Coulter Enright and originally implemented by an independent Macintosh developer, Jonathan del Strother. Enright later named the interaction style fliptych to distinguish it from the particular Cover Flow implementation.

Cover Flow was purchased by Apple Inc. in 2006, and its technology was integrated into its music application, iTunes 7.0, which was released September 12, 2006.  The name was previously “CoverFlow” without a space.’

Our website now tries to create a 3D UI metaphor.

If you take a look at our website, you will see metal and cloth.

You will see a thick edge of heavy brushed metal.  It is a protective metal enclosure.

The cloth is inside the metal enclosure, but you can touch it.

Scroll to the bottom of the scroll of cloth and click on “Publications”.

A translucent and crunchy acrylic card pops up with information for you on it.

That is all that it takes to give you the feeling of space.

Because now you are looking into a box.  A box contains 3D space.

It is a feeling of space that we programmers probably all yearn for with or without our knowing.

Significance

Metal and cloth both indicate passion.  Steel is associated with bravery, strength and conquest (with a soldier).  A ‘man of the cloth’ on the other hand is a man who embarks on the path of religion, who goes on a quest to understand how and why we exist, and what is right and wrong.  AI is in many ways nothing but a quest to build machines that can learn and think (that can live).  It is a quest to conquer knowledge and create life.

Acknowledgement

The craftsman is a gentleman by the name of Venkatesh.  The thing that struck us all about Venkatesh’s work was how easily he could communicate a sense of brooding moodiness through a design.  That touched a chord.  I mean, India is all about a certain moodiness.  Look around you.  One moment it rains.  The next, it is dry.  The cycle of seasons goes from the burning yellow heat of summer in March to the grey thunder and rain of June to the cool blue silence of winter in November, and then back to summer again, if all goes well.  The designer put in the grey of the Indian monsoon, the shocking yellow of the summer (and the red gulmohur trees), and some winter blue (just a little).

Visit the Aiaioo Labs website to see a lot of Indian grey, some slices of yellow, and those healing touches of blue.

Postscript:  A friend pointed out that this style of design might be said to tend towards Skeuomorphism (and there’s a lot of debate about it) http://tobiasahlin.com/blog/skeumorphism-and-storytelling/.  Skeuomorphism is relevant to what we’ve done and it was fun reading about it.  However, there’s more to this design than the facade, lines, colours, and semblances.  What we’re doing is creating more dimensions that a 2D screen really has, and capturing a mood in the process.

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