City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Matt Jones notes the efficacy of Flash Lite for prototyping – as recently demonstrated to him by the team at Fjord:

“If you don’t polish the visual aspects, keeping it at a ‘wireframe’-like level of detail – then you almost have an ‘animatic’ of the experience that you can put in the hands of a prospective end-user; which also you can quickly pull apart, reconfigure and test again. This should result in iterative improvements to the design which you can then take to the next level – coding.”

(And ta for the addition of ‘animatic’ to my vocabulary – useful. Welcome back, Mr Jones.)

Further, Matt notes that the need to situate the prototype on the device. Seems a basic point at first, but given that the prototyping tool (the PC) is not the eventual home of the application (the mobile), one can see the temptation to demonstrate applications on that laptop, rather than in situ.

“The handset is (a hand-borne) device that projects into your world, and the service you are designing with it, rather than the experience of even say a 12″ laptop, where you project yourself through the proscenium of the screen into that user-illusion. The interactions with the device, the UI and the service are both embodied and situated – whether it’s the embodied muscle memory one employs while thumbing frequently used commands on the device, the socially situated context of use of mobile devices or the plain fact that they are most often used while multitasking one’s way through a visually and aurally distracting world. These factors have a profound effect on our interactions with the device interface – in other words – it’s different when it’s in your hands.

One of the greatest things in London right now is the Herzog and De Meuron exhibition at Tate Modern, in which the firm cover tables with all the cruft and modelling built up throughout their design process. It’s a gloriously messy opening-up of multiple thought processes – and beautifully illustrates how often architects have to iterate models of their buildings – simulacra in cardboard, glass, resin, JPGs, MDF etc. It’s almost as if they try to dream the building into life by building thousands of approaches and approximations of it. Imagine the near-shattering sense of anticipation being realised that architects and clients get when finally walking into a building – they’re unable to physically experience exactly what their design has wrought until the damn thing is built. In fact, they can’t immerse themselves in the weight of actual experience at all until that point. Powerful minds can project incredibly rich suggestions of what it might feel like, but you don’t know. It’s not embodied.

In building digital experiences, we don’t have to remain too long in the abstracted modeling world – we can move to the situated, embodied world very quickly indeed. Rapidly getting prototypes on to the phone means evaluation and iteration can have a finer grain from the start. (This doesn’t quite articulate all the contexts of use that the device-application combo might inhabit, as the next challenge is to ‘dream into life’ all the possible contexts a mobile device might end up in – this is a Walking City!. But still, an aspect of ‘the building’ becomes genuinely tangible early on, and in a fluid medium which minimises the cost of incremental change.)

As soon as Matt started at Nokia, he was talking about the importance of physicality in the use of mobile devices – but now the work that Nokia and Fjord are doing suggest that that’s not just a mightily important factor for the end result, but about the power of getting ideas physically in situ as high up the design process as possible.

Blackbeltjones: Prototyping mobile applications with Flash Lite


One response to “Modelling embodied experience”

  1. Anne Avatar

    Along these lines, you might find this book interesting:
    The Origin of Things: Sketches, Models, Prototypes


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