Showcasing the Invisible
When humans made sundials, hourglasses, and finally mechanical clocks, they were designing to illuminate time visually. Since then, weather patterns, index type information like stock markets, traffic information, and position mapping information have all been added to the list of things that people are interested in from moment to moment. Designers are responsible for the translation of this invisible data into the visible.
Obviously, many methods have already been explored. Computer programs are good for data when a user is in a learning mode; when they can focus their energy on taking a look at the data right now. For example, you are wondering about the weather for tomorrow. Checking the computer will give you a fairly in-depth amount of information, anything from the cloudiness/precipitation and temperature, to an actual map of the weather front. But all this information takes time to digest, and, while some users can get quite engrossed, it might be a little too much attention to pay. What if a more subtle interaction is desired?
Quite a few companies have recently tried to address this opportunity, with varying degrees of success. Ambient Devices makes the Ambient Orb color based visualizer and the Dashboard system, which give a little more quantitative feedback. Both devices give more of a gist of the information being displayed - sort of like sticking your hand out of the window to check the weather - you can tell lots of important stuff, like relative temperature and precipitation and the rate at which their changing, but not much exact information. Ambient devices is a product of the Tangible Bits group at the MIT media lab, which has some other concepts in their gallery.
Another angle taken by artists and designers is to use the sea of information that humanity swims in these days, and transform it into a visually informative, or at least interesting representation. One particularly interesting implementation is the Fashion Victims concept by Tal Drori. Cell phone signals cause colored ink to stain the cloth of bags and clothing whenever a person talks on the phone near you. If the whole permanence of the stain issue could be solved, T-shirts could turn into cell phone activity sensors. Hmmm....
Making the invisible visible is a major part of modern design, and giving it some thought should be really inspirational. So get out there and get thinkin'.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team