Sensor Walk

09Sep10

I’ve been walking around NYC for a week, looking for different kinds of sensors that can “read” my physical interaction. Sensors are all around us in our everyday lives. A sensor reads input from an event in the physical environment, and sends information about that event to the computer. The computer then interprets that information, and responds accordingly. Another way of describing this three-part process is to use this analogy: listening (input), thinking (processing), and speaking (output).

I noted a few interesting sensors in my neighborhood:

Inside a bathroom, I saw a hand-dryer that used a motion sensor to detect when a person has placed his/her hands underneath the dryer. (also good design and use of symbols by the way!)

hand dryer

When going to the ATM machine, I must swipe my bank card to enter the ATM lobby which requires a sensor to read the card, then the computer interprets that data, and responds with a green “go” light which unlocks the door or a red “stop” light which keeps the door locked.

ATM bank card reader

I ate dinner at an Asian restaurant, and each table top had a built-in push-button control to turn the heat on/off for cooking soup on a hot-plate at your table. Who doesn’t love their own remote at the dinner table!?

Also as part of this assignment, I read the first couple of chapters in Chris Crawford’s book “The Art of Interactive Design” wherein he puts forth a commonly accepted definition of interaction: a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak. He discusses the history of interaction design, and how it compares to similar fields, such as user interface design and human factors design. Crawford’s distinction between the definitions of user interface design and interactivity design is very interesting to me because I wasn’t aware that these fields were so different in many ways. He says that the interactivity designer considers both form and function of a computer and its software when creating a design, whereas the user interface designer focuses more on communication than on interactivity. I have many friends and colleagues who belong to the “HCI” and “CSCW” camps, so reading Crawford’s descriptions regarding the vast (or not so subtle) differences between the two fields of user interface design and interactivity design really surprised me. In sum, he states that interactivity is seen as a new paradigm, building on past studies in the human factors and user interface fields. Crawford also discusses the advantages and importance of interactivity in our lives, and I really agree with his statement that interactive expression has an unbeatable advantage — people identify more closely with it because they are emotionally right in the middle of it. I think this phenomenon is so true.


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