Mutable Maps for Many Apps

May 10th, 2011

Rivers of Southeast Asia

Rivers of Southeast Asia

Maps present us limitless layers of different data–physical, cultural or ecological. In addition to aiding us with the everyday tasks such as getting ourselves from one place to another, maps help us understand our relationship to the physical earth as well as other humans, and our connection to a dizzying array of physical, cultural, political systems and networks. So it comes as no surprise that at some point in every designer’s career, one project or another relies heavily on maps.

Maps are so ubiquitous that we sometimes ignore the craft involved in clearly presenting this enormous quantity of information. To succeed, maps must clearly describe the data they are presenting, fit it into a surrounding design language, and be readable at a variety of different scales, sizes and presentation modes.

How is a designer to tackle these challenges? What follows is a rundown of a few tools that can make the task of designing, deploying or just visualizing a map a little bit easier.
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Three Ways Anyone Can Make a Smart Phone App

April 19th, 2011

A referee signal quiz app made with AppInventor

Designers are tinkerers. We like to be able to nudge, tuck, trim and finally throw away our creations and start from scratch. But what about designing for the explosively-growing field of mobile apps?

Increasingly, free tools are becoming available that allow designers to prototype and test rich applications for mobile devices without developing fully-realized apps. In this post I give an overview of an example for each of the three major platforms.

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Printer printing printer parts

November 10th, 2010

3D Printers are becoming cheaper every day.

3D Printers are becoming cheaper every day.

Nate Anderson at Ars Technica reports an interesting claim in this article about the legal and IP issues surrounding 3D printing technology. The makers of RepRap, an open-source 3D printing platform, claim that there are now more open-source 3D printers in operation now than there are commercial 3D printers. While the claim isn’t independently verified, it raises an interesting question: Will greater availability of inexpensive hardware create the critical mass of users that allow 3D printing to become a part of regular peoples lives? A lesson may be drawn from a similar revolution just ten years ago.
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No-glue paper creations

June 22nd, 2010

MakeDo structureFollowing up on my post about no-code iPhone UI prototypes, I thought I should share something for making tangible stuff. This blog isn’t just about software or electronics, it is about discussing and sharing tools that lower the barrier to creative communication, and bring it within the reach of anyone with imagination. With that in mind I present MakeDo, a system for um.. building things.

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Code-free iPhone interaction prototype

June 17th, 2010

TouchOSC screenshotHave you ever found yourself wanting to prototype a simple, realtime interaction between an iPhone and another piece of hardware, but don’t have time to learn iPhone programming? TouchOSC provides a simple solution to this challenge. An iPhone app that communicates over wifi using Open Sound Control, TouchOSC allows you to control any kind of application that accepts OSC messages.

TouchOSC also includes a companion layout editor. This free desktop application allows you to define custom screen layouts of UI elements and then upload them to your iPhone. Unfortunately there are only a limited number of UI widgets, and because the software was designed to control realtime sound apps, they naturally tend toward realtime control- knobs, faders and toggles as opposed to forms, dropdowns and checkboxes of more rich interfaces. Still, if all you need is a few buttons and a slider to control an interactive system and you aren’t able to develop a native iPhone app, TouchOSC offers some enticing potential. See below the jump for some examples of unexpected uses.
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Pictionaire – A Visual Worksurface

February 23rd, 2010

A collaboration between researchers at UC Berkeley and Microsoft Research, Pictionaire is a tabletop interactive collaboration system that “enables multiple designers to fluidly move imagery from the physical to the digital realm; work with found, drawn and captured imagery; organize items into functional collections; and record meeting histories.” It accomplishes this through us of a rear-projected display surface, gestural touch interactions with the novel addition of a digital camera mounted above the tabletop surface. With it, users can easily move images from printed media or even physical objects back and forth from the tabletop to a stored database of images.

(video, links and observations after the jump.)

Research that aims to explore methods of facilitating group collaborative processes form an entire subset of HCI research, but after watching Pictionaire’s project video, a few features jumped out at me right away. The basic image capture is much like an electronic whiteboard, where users can save and retrieve the contents of a reading surface. However, it’s interesting to see what opportunities open up when the collaboration surface is laid flat and is able to be combined with scanned images or objects.
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