Games and Interaction design

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Physical desktop interface that works

As soon as 3D graphics became achievable on desktop PC's (and probably way before that) people have been drawn to creating 3d interfaces to visualise information and manipulate objects. Often its done clumsily. Mostly its done for the sake of it - because theres something so appealing of a whizzy 3D interface. But occasionally its done for all the right reasons, is well thought out and truly presents a progression and new ideas in the way that we manipulate and view objects and data.

This is the case with BumpTop - created by Anand Agarawala and Ravin Balakrishnan. At first glance I was pretty sceptical - it looks like many other "Physical desktop" interfaces that have cropped up before, with items physically represented by boxes that interact with each other according to rigid body dynamics. But what the BumpTop team have done here is to create a sophisticated gestural based vocabulary to manipulate these objects. This come in more obvious interactions, such as sorting piles and throwing objects around - to filtering objects, sorting into a grid and a wonderful technique to allow the insertion of items into a pile by flipping through adjecent items in turn. The team have really taken the time to think about the advantages of a standard tangible desktop and what people do with the items on their desks. This is really evident in the BumpTop's ability to fold over the corners of documents to mark them, or to leave them poking slightly out of the pile. They've also thought about what additional operations could be performed that wouldnt be possible in the real-world, such as the ability to scale individual items.

The number of different interactions working so well together is remarkable, and they have obviously taken inspiration from some outstanding existing interfaces such as Maya's marking menus to simplify the interface as much as possibly. The ability to perform such complex operations in a single drag as a real achievement (I LOVE the rounding off the tail operation to sort into a pile).

Anyway its well worth a watch. Cant wait to have a play with the beta.

Via Fun-Motion.


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