Since the beginning, people think of interaction design as a field input laden with mice, keyboards, and screens. They see our work floating in the ephemeral space between their screen and the information highway of the internet — like stars in galaxies or acquaintances misfiring in their Facebook feed. More and more though, the physical presence of this work is becoming more apparent. Whether it be that the work requires steps after the screen, in cooperation with one another on the screen, or in a completely separate interface that embraces our curiosity by giving quantitative data about our fitness routines like Nike’s Fuel Band. Here are some examples of playful interactions I’ve discovered in the past few months:
##SPACE TEAM There are lots of things that have happened to gaming in general, you could write a whole encyclopedia of them. In way the users have flipped this world on it’s head. Whereas it was once a solitary activity glowing in your parents basement. Now we are looking for more game-like interactions that happen with others, and I am not talking about your buddy on the end of a long ethernet wire in North Carolina, but your fiancé sitting across the dinner table from you. Recently one of the graduates of my current institution posted a link for a game called SPACETEAM. He commented that we should have a match before all strategy meetings. It’s a good cooperation buffer in that the game cannot be played alone, and when you interface with another persons iPhone or Tablet, it gives each of you a 8-bit looking screen full of buttons, dials, indicators, and switches that your team mates don’t have (or might have, or none has). On the top of the screen is an image of a spaceship flying through space. The game’s played by telling your cosmic-travel co-pilots (the other people playing) what buttons to hit or where to set the whammm bar. Also, all the triggers have funky names like “ooblooglad return” and “spelunker peddle”. About two minutes into the game we found ourselves screaming instructions over one another and fiddling to find a common group. I finally understood the stress of John Luke Picard. I suggest you play it with a new co-worker to gain an appreciation for not having to navigate the controls of a life and death space journey with them.
##FOLDIFY Foldify is a recently released iPad app for coloring and folding. I was so excited about this one I signed up for a notice when it was released about three months ago. And when I received said email, I immediately went and bought it (a whole $2.99), and started experimenting; by selecting a pre-made shape (that you print and fold later) and coloring it. It comes with eyes, ears, and mouths… the kinds of the things you’d expect to find in a Mr. Potato Head toy box. I felt like a child painting a paper shape that I would eventually print out and turn into a twelve-sided dice looking ball shape. The crafty work of painting on the iPad was easy and familiar (familiar in that preschool finger-paintingly way). But the labor of actually having to cut and fold the complex object after I printed it was meticulous and therefore gave the final creation more personal value. It was a good exercise in mixing my increasingly screen-based life back into a playful, hand working - finger curling kind of interaction. I could absolutely see this being used in a classroom as a creative and motor-skill building technique.
##D-Red - MyLearn D-Red is a company that is making all sorts of household items interface with our iPhones and iPads. They’ve created a remote-control helicopter that you can fly with your phone and a bathroom scale that keeps quantitative data on your weight fluctuation and reports it back to your device with comparison and analysis algorithms. MyLearn is a series of products D-Red presented at CES this year featuring an entire selection of iPad toy accessories for toddlers. One of the toys in the series features blocks that a child has to match upright with the words on the screen. Another is a toy piano, that way the young can learn how to express their inner Mozart. On the other side of the piano is a smaller, and rubbery keyboard. The kind you wouldn’t mind spilling your milk on, I’d guess.
There is a, though, terrible truth and danger about infants when thinking of them as a user. As consumers, they are dominate in their premature understanding of the world. Unruly and stoic in their choices of liking or disliking a given activity or object. I think MyLearn may be stepping out on a limb with the audience but the market is sure to continue to grow. According to the number I found in a completely legitimate 10 second Google search: the worldwide toy and games market grew in 2011 by 3 percent. So, there’s money to be made… But how many of these little dudes have iPads?
Well… According to another completely legitimate Google search: 52 percent of children under 8 in the US have access to a smartphone, iPad, or some other kinds of tablet device.
A lot of people (even the little dudes), now have access to smart media in a way that has rapidly eclipsed our expectations of where most of us thought we’d be in 2013. This could definitely be used to argue the importance of building attachments and accessories to these interfaces, weighing on the new tendency for user to not want to be in a solitary place with these devices. I believe this signals the next phase of our relationship with these objects. As if Maslow’s Hierarchy is enveloping itself in our relationship to the context of ‘smart’ devices. We seen the utility, we feel secure about using them, but where is the next step: Where do they belong? Where do they not belong?
I don’t think anyone back in 2000 thought half the phones we have in our pockets now was even possible in 20 or 30 years. I think we were excited about the internet and selling books online or our old Nintendo on eBay… (Most of us regret that, btw). If you’d have told me then that I would be writing about dinner table games interfacing with individual devices, tablet coloring >the< crafting activities, and infant developing tools that connect to touch screens, I’d laughed at you and reminded you of the HTML/CSS box model.