Saturday, August 13, 2011

Talk to Me

I went today to see the Talk to Me exhibit at MoMA. There was a lot of interesting content and commentary about the integration of technology into everyday life and how we interact with it. Ranging from concepts and predictions to widely used designs, most of the content of the show seemed to be a direct response to Anthony Dunne's Hertzian Tales. I thought I wrote about Hertzian Tales, but it seems that I didn't. It was about the need for empathy and philosophy in the design of electronics. Its a really interesting book - a bit dry, but you should read it.

Anyway, a lot of the content focused on the ability of electronic objects to alter perspectives, augment reality, and to create emotional responses. The subtitle of the show is "Design and communication between people and objects" which is, I guess, a good way of explaining the theme of the show. The general feeling that I got from it was that people just want to get personal with inanimate objects, whether that means artificial affection from an iPad app or pointing out the coldness of sending an email. We are human and we now expect experiences that are more human.

There were scannable codes on all of the museum tags, which makes me realize how amazingly innovative those guided tour headsets were when they first came out. Now we can scan so many things to get more info, but that idea seems to have originated in a gallery setting. A lot of the displays required headphones, which I don't like, so I only listened to some. Surrounded by so many interactive technologies, headphones hanging on hooks looked even less inviting than they usually do. There was so much to take in that I wouldn't have been able to listen to everything anyway.

The most interesting part of the exhibit was the interactions that people had with the displays.

The first piece in the show was a projection of an app called Talking Carl. There was an iPad where you could interact with the character on the touch screen. A little boy saw someone touching the screen and ran up to try it himself. His mother stopped him. She yelled "don't touch the exhibit." The boy said he saw someone else do it but she still said no. I went up to the screen, gestured the character to do a flip, and said "its interactive."  She let the boy play with the screen and thanked me, I don't know if she was being sincere. I think this experience shows the difference between generations and their reaction to technology. To someone who grew up without touchscreens everywhere, a screen in a museum still means "art, do not touch," but for someone who only knows a back lit rectangle as an icon of interactivity, they know what to do.

Another funny scene was the metro card vending machine, on display for the exhibit to show interface design at its finest. It was fully functional, dispensing cards and everything. People kept going up to it to see what it did. They would touch the screen and look confused when it did what it was expected to do. Some even asked the guard what it was for and whether it was part of the exhibit.  If good design is in fact invisible, congrats to the designer - not even the tourists found it noteworthy.

So, this review is getting really long. I will be going back to see the show again when I can spend more time. I will then write about it again with some more thoughtful and designey comments about the experience. Also next time I will show up with a charged phone for a more complete experience.

Yeah, if you go, charge your phone. And you should go.

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