Human beings are a race of developers. We make all kinds of things that enhance or amplify our innate capabilities. We made computers that allow us to do all kinds of tasks we could have never done by ourselves. We made the light-bulb that allows us to instantly fill a room with light, without having to light a bunch of candles each time we want to brighten up the space. We created an infrastructure to connect our lives digitally. And we made televisions that give us the opportunity to see what is going on at another place in the world at this point in time, with a simple touch of a fingertip. That’s awesome.
But in the midst of all these exiting technological developments, one important element might not have gotten the attention it deserves: the simple fact that technologies are made for and controlled by humans. And that the way we interact with technology is crucial for the value we derive from this technology.
Let’s illustrate this statement by providing two simple everyday examples.
Everyday human-technology interaction
Let’s take a very basic example: the alarm clock. The majority of people uses an alarm clock every day. Either in the form of a stand-alone (somewhat old-fashioned) physical one or one that is a smart phone application. One of the alarm clock’s functionalities, is snoozing alarms. The idea is very simple: if you want to snooze, you hit the snooze button, and the alarm will sound again (usually) somewhere around 5 or 9 minutes from that moment.
But this interaction with ‘snooze-time’ is actually quite limited. Because what if your alarm rings, and you know you want to snooze for 15 minutes? How do you communicate this to your alarm clock? You could of course snooze 3 times for 5 minutes each, but that does not seem preferable early in the morning, does it? After all, you already know that you want snooze for 15 minutes. So why not communicate this directly? And what if you want to snooze for 7 minutes, or 12 minutes? It is fundamentally impossible with current alarm clocks to communicate variations on snooze-time with a single touch. Why? Because these alarm clocks are designed in such a way that you can only communicate in binary: either one snoozes, or doesn’t. That is one of the reasons people create work-arounds such as pre-setting a variety of subsequent alarms every morning.
Re-imagening interaction with snooze-time
Now imagine an alarm clock that allows you to express in one movement — just like with a regular alarm clock — that you want to snooze AND how long you want to snooze. It is designed in such a way that if you hit the clock hard, you will snooze long. However, when touched gently, you will snooze briefly. And everything in between of course. Then through the same interaction (a simple touch), you can convey more information, hence allowing for richer communication.
It is this idea — of designing products for optimal use by humans — that lies at the heart of the work of Tumble Labs. And the idea described here, about the alarm clock, paints a picture on the premise of our Tumble Clock, which also shows that functional- and elegant design can go hand in hand.
We think that the design of a product is not only important because it allows humans to communicate more information. Design can also allow you to get more from your technology. Many technologies (smart light-bulbs, for example) have various options (such as adjusting the brightness of your light-bulb) that have many possible values (on, off and everything in between).
In other words: the way interactive products allow you to manipulate their parameters, determines not only their experience in use, but also how valuable the products can be to you.
A simple on/off light-switch, for example, recognizes only two possible values: ‘on’ and ‘off’. But if you have a lever or some sort of pedal, you can access the numerous values in between, setting the brightness or colour to the exact level you want, using a similar input (pushing). Accessing the numerous values between ‘on’ or ‘off’, however, requires a controller that is designed to recognize the distinction.
This idea is fundamental to us at Tumble Labs, and our smart-home controller Tumble Pulse in particular — but more the Tumble Pulse and tangible interaction with Smart Home Environments in a later article.
Because we can talk for ages about interaction, design and all the cool things we think they have to offer, but we’ll do that in other posts.
For now: welcome to Tumble Labs, and we hope you want to join us on the exiting journey we hope to make.
The Tumble Team
You can visit us at www.tumblelabs.com