Monday, February 16, 2009

Understanding Interactivity



”This new ‘metamedium’ is active...
We think the implications are vast and compelling.”
Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg, 19771.
On most popular personal computer platforms, a variety of multi-media tools are currently
available for doing interaction design. These are easy to use, require little or no skill in
programming, and range from editors for pixel graphics and animation, to tools like
MacroMedia Director for integrating the different media resources. Most of the tools provide
excellent support for graphics, sound, and video. The problems arise when designers want to
be creative concerning interactivity. If a designer wants to create interactive solutions that
were not imagined by the tool makers, he or she has to make use of a scripting language like
Lingo, or even leave the tools all together and do programming in traditional programming
languages like C++ or Java.
Most designers do not have training as programmers, and for these users programming
becomes a barrier that cannot be crossed without detailed help from a professional
programmer. If such help is not available, the designer has hit the wall and has to settle for
solutions with less interactivity. As the potential for interactivity is the most powerful feature
of the computer compared to other media, this is a very unfortunate situation.
In "Drawing and Programming" Laursen and Andersen (1993) describe the problems they
had with the design and implementation of a multimedia system about the Scandinavian
Bronze Age. To illustrate how a landscape was experienced by people in the Bronze Age,
they introduced the concept of Interactive Texture. The idea was quite simple:
"In the Bronze Age, the geography had a very different meaning from nowadays.
While we now see water as a hindrance to locomotion, and firm ground as a help, the
situation was to some extent the opposite at that time when water united (because of
boats) and land divided (because of large forests and moors). We can let the user
experience this through his fingers by making the cursor move differently in different
areas. If the spot is on land, it travels slowly, while it goes quickly if it is on sea." (p.

1 (Kay and Goldberg, 1977, p.254)

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