ideation iteration illumination

Continuing with this thinking of how Smart Phones and their apps have paved the way for user expectations, we’ll explore how the active nature of television and the multi-user environment necessitate a shift in design thinking when creating apps for the Smart TV, but first a bit more history. Since its introduction, the television has enjoyed its place at the center of the family unit. Following in the footsteps of radio, the television has been the household hub of entertainment, news, and information. A glowing portal through which we observe the world around us. Traditionally this information was broadcast and regulated by those with access to the equipment and financial means to do so (ex. networks, advertisers and the government). The power of the consumer was in deciding what to watch within a relatively narrow set of available programming, not necessarily how or when. Today’s internet and Smart Phone savvy consumers have a far greater sense of control and empowerment as numerous sources of content such as DVRs, DVDs, On-Demand, Pay-Per-View, Over-the-Top streaming, and web based video compete for attention. These examples aren’t taking into account the wealth of user generated and secondary source content now dominating the entertainment online. We not only have control of what we watch but we can control when we want to watch it, how and from whom.

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At the convergence of improved lightweight operating systems, lower cost yet higher powered hardware, high quality streaming media and consumer hunger for content based technology, more and more televisions are turning into “Smart TVs.” We designers are constantly in the spotlight walking the tightrope of good user experience. One end of the rope is tied to the project inception and the other to post launch feedback and as the gravity of competing priorities pulls ever harder, we teeter, sway, and stumble along trying to balance the best interactive experience across the span. In this emergent phase of Smart TV technology, we must take well considered steps forward lest we carelessly and overconfidently miss the rope, lose our balance and tumble, head over heels, toward the unforgiving ground below.

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About a month ago I started ranting on my issues with App-madness and today I see that YouTube was listening.

Ok, so I can’t take the credit but I feel so very vindicated that Google/YouTube is doing some of the right thinking. The new mobile version of YouTube is great and there is nothing that app offers that would make me want to have it instead.

Ars Technica has done a review with some screen caps. Here’s to a whole new era of thinking with the hopes that we’ll be seeing more of such implementations soon and less of useless web appropriate apps.

The frame is a powerful tool that has been utilized by artists, illustrators, photographers, directors and, of course, designers. There are many kinds of frames and framing, both real and artificial as well as temporary and permanent. While designing experiences that transcend single frame types and contexts I’ve been thinking more and more about the spaces between the frames.

The frame has probably seen the most dramatic shift from formalistic device to expressive canvass with maturation of the comic book artists who have harnessed the frame and the space around it to create dramatic and compelling visual narratives. Scott McCloud did a thoughtful analysis of comic book’s frame and gutter back in his 1993 groundbreaker Understanding Comics. I’ve read the book a few times since ’93 and this notion of the space between the frames has hit me as an obvious antecedent to “away times” of digital content experiences that shift in time, context, and form.

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For a while now, I’ve been going back and forth on the current App-madness that continues to rage in the emerging tech space. It has infected everything. First phones, then tablets and now TVs. Professionally speaking, I’m squarely situated in the center of it and have worked on them (who hasn’t at this point?) as well as downloaded, used, enjoyed and hated them on multiple platforms. Ever since Apple created enough object fetishism and cultural esteem in their products, the masses are overwhelmingly accepting of Apple’s heavy handed control of any and everything that can ‘legally’ be put on their device. The only loophole, the single beam of hopeful light is the browser’s ability to access the web. Fortunately, the internet is still not under Apple’s Machiavellian ‘guidance’ but I’ll say that in a low whisper in case big brother is listening.

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Personas are useless. OK there I’ve said it. I’ve made a strong, dare I say “controversial”, statement. How useless are they? Well that’s another matter. There is a modicum of utility to them if a designer never gives much thought to who’s on the other side of the of the screen when creating new products. After all, human understanding is the currency we deal in. It is empathy we need, that is what connects us as humans, one to another. Personas are not a necessary means to empathy and can quite often be the heavy mallet that shatters the fragile subtitles that enrich human experience.

Personas are so very correctly referred to as a tool. Some tools prove useful and stand the test of time and some tools turn out not to live up to their promise and should be discarded. The endemic problem is not the personas themselves but rather it’s the designer wielding them. See, we humans are pretty clever and despite the old saying that you “can’t fit a square peg into a round hole”, we can. We can as long as we have the right tool.

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Big news with the announcement of Google TV at Google I/O. This is a huge leap forward and actually brings the term interactive television closer to the expectation of it’s namesake. For a long time “interactive” with regard to television has been limited to basic playback controls, content streams, advertisements, SMS votes and other lower level transactions that pass for interaction, but really don’t make it “interactive” in the sense we’ve long had the appetite and aptitude for.

Armed with Googles massive library of API’s and android’s extensive open source penetration, this thing is gonna take the world by storm. Integration with phones, offers the opportunity to split the same TV ‘event’ experience across multiple users within a single context (ex. the living room). I with my phone, you with yours, in the same room can dually mediate a shared experience. Not augmented via telepresence like parallel play but colocation, actual you-me-now socializing. More like a video game, but entirely different. Most often, video games provide agency within a narrative. A compelling method, no doubt, but Google TV is poised to offer a different sort of communal screen based activity, more group collaboration.

Read more… just launched a 10ft UI version of their aggregation service and I’ve had the time to give it a spin so I thought I would pass on my initial reactions. I realize that it’s in ‘beta’ (the infernal excuse for not doing it right) but there were quite a few points of friction for me.

First things first, this is fast! Wow. It’s an HTML 5 front end that really moves but unfortunately it seems a bit for show (or at least premature) since all of the actual content is served by non-HTML 5 providers (will return to this topic). Despite that, I’m willing to give them credit on this point and will chalk it up to ‘looking ahead’. Its UDLR (Up/Down/Left/Right on a keyboard or remote) optimized interface is swift and agile. Even after using it for an extended time I was still impressed by the performance.

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An interesting topic came up today that I’ve had pause to consider on a number of occasions, but one I’ve never done a deep dive on. I’m not sure how deep this dive will be either, but wanted to at least lay the groundwork for some future thinking.

The topic focuses on virtual versus physical media ownership, and specifically the newer streaming model of consumption. Media like photos, music, movies, and video games are all available digitally without the need to occupy actual three dimensional space, on a desks, a shelf, or a living/work spaces. Traditionally all of these items have had a physical component the most recent of which has been the Digital Disk (CD/DVD) complete with jewel case, printed cover art, and bonus added features.

The shift from CDs to MP3s (probably one of the more accepted means of digital ownership) allowed for the transfiguration of physical artifacts into digital ones, thus expanding the physical space allocation of owned content. What was once on CD is now also on a hard drive. The digital version is then capable of being further duplicated onto various devices in an ever expanding footprint of ownership. DVDs have this ability as well, but the DRM (digital rights management) and space requirements often make this a far less likely outcome. The pure MP3 download (i.e. without a CD) has become ubiquitous thanks to iTunes and Amazon MP3 but even then a footprint is felt, occupying a bit of real world hardware space.

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