Messy is Neat

Posted in technology, work by johnsnavely on November 18, 2011

I published a few images from the Productivity Vision Video that I mentioned in my last post into my portfolio.

The videos have a complex set of criteria. On the one hand, they are used often by marketing folks to give a sense to customers of what we think the future might hold. On the other, we’re trying to inspire product groups within the company to take a fresh look at things. For the interfaces, we try and have a level a detail that is unusually well thought out for a video, but more like a sketch to those who work in interface design. Since we are not a product group, we have a delicate dance to do; we’re not showing the next version of the product and we can’t give away company secrets, but we still need to build something that’s actually relevant. It’s a lot to pack into 5-6 minutes.

I thought I’d give a little behind-the-scenes the thinking process that goes into a few seconds of the movie…

In the home scene, Shannon (the little girl) exits from her math homework and goes to her bake sale scrap book . The sequence takes about 5 seconds (4:50-4:55min on youtube). We thought of Shannon’s device as her digital notebook, a notebook that she took everywhere. There’s a lot of precedence for an “os” that uses the metaphor of books. Most notably Microsoft’s Courier device (in fact we studied some of the early design concepts for the device), but also the Amazon book store, and Apple’s book shelf and One Note for Office.

Most of these interfaces try to take the activity of reading and collecting books and organize it. Bookshelves can be beautiful and are great for displaying books, but when we’re actually working with open books, things look a little different. They might look like this:

Or this:

What would an interface look like that let me “spread out” all my books? What would the books be? How would I navigate it?

For all of Shannon’s digital content, we started to place everything we might traditionally think of as inside “apps” or “windows” as part of books instead. Social networking could be done in her yearbook, while instant messaging and SMS looks like a comic book (see the lower left). Search results are gathered into a book that she could save or dynamically filter. At the beginning of this scene, Shannon learns math from an bear-in-a-book who knows when she should take a break and work on a different project.

To contain all these books we thought a pan and zoom canvas would be ideal for the infinite space, much like the interface Blaise talks about in his TED talk on Deep Zoom & Photosynth. She could organize things spatially and build her own relationships between books– a story about Amelia Earhart sits next to a diagram of how a beetle flies, sits next to a page on how to fold an origami bird. (see the lower right).

As books are layered on and there’s quite a bit of them, however, you might forget where you’ve placed something. Touch and hold brings up a contextual menu. And touch and hold and speech can issue a command, like “Find my bake sale stuff” to search for that book.

There’s more little software secrets hidden in this scene and throughout the video. I wish we had more time to do a video on one of them at a time… I’d love to explore the interaction model we built for the phones, for example.


New Work

Posted in work by johnsnavely on November 5, 2011

Last week I finished up a big project: the latest Productivity Vision Video for Microsoft. It was released on YouTube and within a week generated nearly 2 million views. I was the Creative Director of the project, but it was a big team effort. I worked with awesome folks like Mason Nicoll, Hiroshi Endo and Ethan Keller and many more.

Here’s the video. It’s sparked some intense debates both positive and negative about the role of technology in our lives and that discussion is exciting to see.

Now that the project is finally finished, I’ve taken the opportunity to use my free weekends to updated my portfolio. The video isn’t in there yet, but I’ll be posting some screenshots there and hopefully a few here. There’s a lot of detail in the software and interface design that I’d like to share and hear what people think…

Books Every Futurist Must Read

Posted in books, culture, hobbies, technology by johnsnavely on November 2, 2011

I’m a big fan of science fiction. I read plenty of novels for pleasure, but I’m also constantly trying to find good ideas to steal from books. A few weeks ago, I was chatting with co-workers about which books we thought every futurist needed to read. That’s a pretty tall order, what came to mind were all the books that I’ve recently stolen ideas from. They’re not great literature necessarily, in fact some are rather pulpy (which I love), but all of them have some great concepts in them. Here’s a short list in no particular order.

via Alyssa B.

Old Man’s War
Scalzi is a fun and funny writer. I just finished Agent to the Stars one of his earlier novels. In this novel he imagines a future where the elderly leave earth and are given new bodies and amazing technology to fight an interstellar war. James Cameron must have read this before making Avatar. Some ideas I want to build: Brain Pal and Emotional Instant Messaging

Kiln People
Brin’s novel is a hard boiled detective story. It’s set in a world where people can make copies of themselves, with limited expiration dates and then inload the memories of those copies. The whole concept of parallel lives in this novel basically changed how I understood social networking. Now, when anyone says they want to add “Social” (ugz) to a project I wonder how I can make it more like this novel.

Diamond Age
This book was recommended by a friend. For some reason we were talking about how little cultural groups form and joking about a “Helvetica Tribe”. The Illlustrated Primer, a “magic” book, is artfully done. I keep returning to it as an example.

Gibson’s book has been at the top of many of my lists for a while. Almost everything he’s written about in the novel has come true in some form or other.

Ghost in the Shell (1,2, and 1.5)
These graphic novels are works of art. They’re like a Donna Hathaway’s gorgeous nightmare. Machines and people are melded seamlessly and you can never tell the difference between a robot and a human.

Mary Poppins (the movie is pretty good too)
A shout out to the Berg folks. I read all of these when I was very young. (As well as the whole Doctor Doolittle series.) In today’s world, you expect the newest gadget to do something amazing, these books which use magic bluntly applied to the everyday, without the slickness of technology. I’ve been coveting Mary Poppin’s mirror and her endless carpetbag.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
In Cory Doctorow’s book, nobody dies and a band of people lives and works in an abandoned DisneyLand. Also, there is no money, only reputation points called “Whuffie”– it’s an idea sort of stolen from eBay but it’s evolved into something better here. I’m trying to unify “Whuffie” and “BitCoin” in my brain.

This is one of Nicholson Baker’s early softcore novels. Many of his books dilate time in one way or another, but in this one it’s quite literal: the main character can stop time. The story is both sexually explicit and remarkably boring. Often when I’m thinking about new amazing technology, I’ll try and ask myself how the main character in this story would use it.

Currently, I’m reading “Super Sad True Love Story” which was recommended to me as a book that every futurist must read. Any other suggestions?

What’s a Building 4?

Posted in architecture by johnsnavely on November 1, 2011

A couple months ago I finished work on the new offices for team RED (Research Experimentation Design). The extended team is about 170 people… my team is a tiny 7 of that.

As part of the Workplace Advantage Program, Microsoft Real Estate and Facilities funded a project to refresh the interior of the building. O+A was the architect. It’s a nice building with lots of unexpected places to work.

There’s a somewhat embarrassing video of me walking through the building and highlighting some of its features. I’m not good on camera, but you can see what it’s like.

Here’s a few pictures.

More here