Friday, May 07, 2010

the Radio Ball

-Technological “progression” has reduced what was a magical experience to a throw-away feature included in phones, computers, and coffee-makers as an afterthought. Radio has lost its position of distinction and become just another input. The richness of the original experience including analog knobs and hand tuned reception is poorly captured in digital reception and pre-programmed favorites. The intuitive interface and discovery between destinations are sorely lacking.

Tuning a traditional radio is a rich interaction.
By turning the dial, users hear little pieces of music, voices, rhythms, mood or even news… half a second, sometimes less, but the brain is fast enough to identify interesting content. Discovery is inevitable. Even repeating the same exact movement with the dial often gives the user a totally different experience. The fusion between user, content and interface elevates the radio above a mere audio source.

Tuning a Digital radio is a flat interaction.
Digital radio stations are displayed by name; location on the FM band is lost. Digital buffering creates a delay between channel selection and audio feedback. Breaking the immediate relation between action and reaction provides another barrier to exploration.
Is the transition from minimal, intuitive, and tangible to menus, icons, and bookmarks true progress? Must we trade high discovery for high definition?

If the user can affect the experience, then the experience is engaging. Improvisation creates interest and meaning. Products should provide engagement on many levels: Touch, Sound, Sight, Memory, and Discovery.
Our goal was to create an engaging interface that would allow users to navigate through content to a precise destination without sacrificing discovery of new content in the process. What if engagement and fun were the focus? What if we made an interface with a product in it, rather than a product with an interface on it?

As a result the radioball is an exploratory device that encourages discovery through rich spatial interaction.

Thinking back to the days of old analog radios, the magic of finding unexpected stations in the midst of fuzz was both enchanting and evocative. Compare that with today's digital-based interactions of screens and tact switches; they give us exactly what we want when we want it, but leave no room to stumble onto alternative choices.

Teague Radioball from ben collette on Vimeo.

The Radioball prototype was built in short time and is meant as a starting point for conversation about the need for richer, more spatial interactions. All 3D files, schematics, code, and documentation is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 (Attribution, Share-alike, and Remix) and is free for you to download, try out, and improve upon. Enjoy!

Ben Collette
Adam Kumpf

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