Intro to Physical Computing

Week 3: New York Hall of Science, Connected Worlds

While at MakerFaire this past weekend, I observed a piece of interactive technology at the New York Hall of Science called Connected Worlds.  Connected worlds “is a large scale immersive, interactive ecosystem” displayed on the walls of the Great Hall (1).  Figure 1 is a professional video taken from the New York Hall of Science website that highlights the piece and shows the types of interactions that it creates (2). 

Figure 1: New York Hall of Science, Connected Worlds Exhibit Promotional video (2)

Before entering the space, instructions are printed on the walls to show the types of gestures you can make (Figure 2A).  For example, to plant a seed in the ecosystem you  place your palm face up in front of the screen or to change the flow of the water, you move the location of the physical logs on the floor.  Figure 2B highlights some features of the ecosystem for the user to look out for.

Although, it is helpful to read these signs, I found the most of the people I observed actually entered the space without needing to read the signs and just observing what others were doing.  Since this is an installation in a museum, enough people cycle through the space at a time that the instruction is mostly created by the users.  I imagine the first couple people in the morning would have to read the instruction before entering.  However, once a few people are using it correctly, other users can follow their lead and not need to read these instructions.  While observing I noticed that the people interacting with the walls were of all ages.  Some were alone, others were in groups.  The people who interacted with the physical logs were mostly younger.  However, older individuals enjoyed watching while children moved the logs to change the flow of the water on the floor.  For the most part, this interaction was very easy for people to pick up and implement themselves after observing another person.  For those the read the sign, little to no difficulties occurred.  For those who did not read the sign, their first interaction sometimes created more difficulty than the ones following.  Because they were following what they observed a neighbor doing, their first interaction sometimes was not the right gesture.  For the most part once they observed and learned each gesture, people had an easy time repeating that gesture at different locations.  People were very fascinated in the discovery aspect of this installation.  As you observed your neighbors, you discover more gestures and thus discovered more that you could do with the ecosystem.  Thus, people stayed and interacted with this piece for anywhere from 1 minute to 10 minutes or more.  The individual interactions themselves ranged from a few seconds to about 20 seconds.  However, most people performed multiple interactions before leaving the space.  I think that the way this breaks up the attention of the user into short intervals keeps the user engaged for longer.  The longest part of the entire experience is taking the time to read the instructions and watch others.  Most people, however, don't even read the instructions so their experience is built on repeated 20 second interactions instead of one long interaction that requires greater focus.  I think this is the biggest success of the project.  The interactions engage the user to focus rather the user needing to focus first in order experience the interaction.  

While I was observing people in this installation, I considered Bret Victor’s article called “A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design.”  This article highlights the importance of creating designs that use your entire body and not just the swipe of your hand.  Because people are using new gestures that use different parts of their bodies, they want to stay longer and explore the experience.  The type of interaction that this creates, causes more meaningful interactions than swiping a screen of an iPad.  This is the most powerful aspect of the Connected Worlds exhibits.  It’s ability to grasp peoples attention and sustain it through the interaction it generates.  In Norman’s article called “Attractive Things Work Better,” he nots that pleasing things then to work better and are easier to use.  This concept is also apparent in this exhibit.  The exhibit is beautiful and creates a pleasing scene to look at and explore, and thus, it is what Norman qualifies as good design.




Eva PhilipsComment