Amphibious Trilogies

Website design #1

An interview between Jon Olav Eikenes, interaction designer and Amphibious Trilogies’ Andrew Morrison.

Andrew Morrison (AM): Hello Jon Olav. And thanks for taking time to reflect back on design work in shaping the interface for the Amphibious Trilogies project.

You have been working with interface and web design for quite some time now and I was fortunate to be a small part of this in supporting your PhD in Interaction Design at AHO. Could you tell us what the title term ‘Navimation’ means? What is it about the term and its activities in an interface that works as a design material and as a means to augment the mediation of different forms and modes of information, data and content.

Jon Olav Eikenes (JOE): websites and apps increasingly include various types of movement, ranging from animated icons to smooth transitions and visual changes that happen when scrolling. Navimation is a concept that describes the intertwining of the activity of navigation (for example on a web page) with the appearance of visual motion in the interface. The basic idea is that movement can be used to explain what is happening as well as create something unexpected and playful as the user is navigating the digital space. In my experience, describing the phenomenon and analysing different types of navimation made it available as a design material.

AM: When we first approached you about developing an interface for the practice based arts project Amphibious Trilogies and the focus on movement in the world, what sorts of associations and ideas came to mind about a possible project interface?

JOE: To be honest it was a bit hard to grasp what the project was all about in the beginning. One thing was clear – this was not a traditional web design project. Normally I start projects by focusing on user needs and goals, but in this project the process was more centred around metaphors, connotations and visual expression. What really helped us to get started was to look at various existing dynamic interfaces and websites, and discuss what worked, didn’t work, and why. When I showed you (Andrew and Amanda) an example from a specific digital Virtual Reality tool, you felt that the digital space it presented matched well with what you were looking for. That was an important moment, and the tool became a central reference for the rest of the project.

AM: Could you please tell us a little about how you went about developing the interface. As your reply may interest others than the project team, perhaps you could comment on how you arrived at the specific forms of motion and the modes of communicating them, graphically and kinetically?

JOE: The use of movement in this interface is primarily connected to navigation – zooming, panning and “flying” around in the virtual interface space. As such the movement is very much directly connected to the user’s actions and follows common conventions for navigation in 3D space. I was able to make a prototype quite early in the process by using the before-mentioned VR tool. This made the process a lot easier than it otherwise would have been. In addition, I made traditional sketches, experimenting with layout, colours and typography. As usual, the design process becomes much easier when including sketches and material examples rather than only thinking and talking about what the artefact might become.

AM: Part of your making the site was to work with our Canadian web site developer Boris Kourtoukov. What did you each bring to the development process and outcome? Could you please comment on the relationships to the platform and programming and the motional and graphic design of the interface. 

JOE: Boris had experience from developing dynamic websites before, and he implemented the solution, which in itself is impressive. In addition, he brought fresh ideas and artistic perspectives to the process. When developing highly kinetic interfaces it can be hard to envision how the end result will feel like based on static sketches. Therefore, it is necessary to work iteratively, and went back and forth several times testing various aspects of the interface. Another challenge with such interfaces is that the technological solution is quite complex, and it can be hard to make it work well across all kinds of browsers and devices. I am positively surprised by how well it works!

AM: In our view, as people who have worked with the design and entered content, the site is working very well. Do you have some favourite elements or features? 

JOE: I’m glad to hear that! I really like the colours and the overall visual style of it. And the “fly to post” transition is quite neat.

AM: Now that you see the site with material – relating to concepts such as amphibiousness and the three themes island, pond, passage – how satisfied are you with the dynamics of your interface? 

JOE: This was a small project with very limited resources, and still we managed to pull off something that is quite unique and intriguing. There are things here and there I would like to improve, but in general I am satisfied with the result.

AM: Work on Interaction Design for some has a tendency to steer away from Art. Do you have any thoughts, having done this project, on the relationship between the two in terms of practice based inquiry? 

JOE:  The consequence of bad (interface) design has real world implications, ranging from unhappy users to large accidents. There is a huge need for digital products and services that are useful, safe, easy to use and enjoyable. Seen from that perspective, I would say it is a good thing that interaction designers are most often concerned with solving real-world problems for people in their daily lives. That is also the type of interaction design I am most comfortable working with, as I believe the largest impact I can have as a designer is to help solve some of those problems. However, that doesn’t mean that such design solutions can’t also be enjoyable and playful. In any case – once in a while I find it refreshing to do something that is a bit different, where there is room for more exploration, ambiguity and playfulness. I believe that there is much to learn and bring across diverse types of projects, and this experience makes me a better designer overall.

AM:  Thanks for your frank and informative replies Jon Olav. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

JOE: Thank you for the opportunity to work on this projects, and good luck with your seminar!

Navigation:

Click & Drag: Rotate the view.
Right Click & Drag: Pan the view.