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Blog posts tagged as 'screens'

Asleep and Awake

screens turned off

These two objects are asleep. They’re not in use; they’re waiting to be used. You approach them, touch a button, stroke a switch, and they wake up.

screens turned on

The iPad bursts into life, its backlight on, the blinking “slide to unlock” label hinting at the direction of the motion it wants you to make. That rich, vibrant screen craves attention.

The Kindle blinks – as if it’s remembering where it was – and then displays a screen that’s usually composed of text. The content of the screen changes, but the quality of it doesn’t. There’s no sudden change in brightness or contrast, no backlight. If you hadn’t witnessed the change, you might not think there was anything to pay attention to there.


It’s glowing rectangles all the way down: those backlit screens that suck your attention. Matt J described it nicely a few years ago:

the iPhone is a beautiful, seductive but jealous mistress that craves your attention, and enslaves you to its jaw-dropping gorgeousness at the expense of the world around you.

When the iPad wakes up, everything else in the room disappears; your attention’s been stolen by that burst of light.

This metaphor has percolated right into mainstream understanding. Look at this Microsoft advert: they’re making a virtue of a phone that, ideally, you have to look at less.

But, of course, when you look at the phone, it lights up and steals your attention.

Attention-seeking is something we often do when we’re uncomfortable, though – when we need to remind the world we’re still there. And the strongest feeling I get from my recently-acquired Kindle is that it’s comfortable in the world.


That matte, paper-like e-ink screen feels familiar, calm – as opposed to the glowing screens of so many devices that have no natural equivalents. The iPad seems natural enough when it’s off – it has a pleasant glass and metal aesthetic. But hit that home button and that glow reveals its alien insides.

Perhaps the Kindle’s comfort is down to its single-use nature. After all, it knows it already has your attention – when you come to it, you pick it up with the act of reading already in mind.

That comfort is important to the Kindle’s intended purpose, though. As I wrote on Flickr:

“…this is a device that always seems content with itself. Just sitting there, not caring if you pick it up or not. Like a book.”

If this device is to replace, for many people, a book, it needs to manifest some of those qualities: safe, nonthreatening, no more distracting than a few hundred of pages of text intend to be. It needs a quiet confidence to make you trust it more.

I took this photograph the other weekend because, reading some short stories in a coffee shop, the reader looked perfectly at home with wood, and paper, and clocks, and illustration. To paraphrase Sesame Street: some of these things are like the others. It was strange to see an electronic device so at home in the physical realm (mainly thanks to that uncanny screen) – and yet the Kindle looks somehow out of place next to more “active” devices such as my laptop, phone, or TV.

That “quiet confidence” runs both ways, too: the Kindle’s sleeping state is practically identical to its “awake” state, and it’s equally comfortable in both. By contrast, I don’t think the iPad is comfortable when it’s asleep: it just turns its backlight off entirely. Nothing to see here, carry on.

If Mujicomp is all about devices we’re comfortable inviting into our homes, shouldn’t we be inviting in devices that will be comfortable in those environments? Not awkward, seeking attention through flashing lights or occasional, violent bursts into life, but well-appointed, content devices. Devices that are as happy “asleep” as “awake”, that don’t crave attention with bright screens, but earn it through modest usefulness, and good companionship. House-trained products.

The Kindle, much like a paperback book, is just as happy “asleep” as it is in use. It’s a reminder that the design of genuinely ubiquitous devices and products is not just about what they are like in use; it is also about what they are like when they are just present.

Media Surfaces: The Journey

Following iPad light painting, we’ve made two films of alternative futures for media. These continue our collaboration with Dentsu London and Timo Arnall. We look at the near future, a universe next door in which media travels freely onto surfaces in everyday life. A world of media that speaks more often, and more quietly.

“The Journey” is the second ‘video sketch’ in the pair with ‘Incidental Media’ – this time looking at the panoply of screens and media surfaces in a train station, and the opportunities that could come from looking at them slightly differently.

The Journey

The other film can be seen here.

There’s no real new technology at play in any of these ideas, just different connections and flows of information being made in the background – quietly, gradually changing how screens, bits of print ephemera such as train tickets, and objects in the world can inter-relate to make someone’s journey that bit less stressful, that bit more delightful.

There’s a lot in there – so I wanted to unpack a few of the moments in the film in this (rather long!) blog post and examine them a bit.

The film can be divided into two halves – our time in the station, and our time on the train.

The train journey itself is of course the thing at the centre of it all – and we’re examining how what we know about the journey – and the train itself, in some cases – can pervade the media surfaces involved in ways that are at once a little less ‘utilitarian’ and a little more, well, ‘useful’…

The first group of interventions could be characterised as the station wrapping around you, helping you get to your seat, on your train, for your journey, with the least stress.

Let’s start at the ticket machine.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: ticket vending

The screen supposes two things – that it knows where it is (it doesn’t move around much) and it knows where your train (in this case, “Arthur” – trains are people too!) is leaving from, and when. So why not do a simple bit of reassurance here? It’s twenty minutes to Arthur’s departure and it’s a 3 minute walk.

You’ve got 17 minutes to play with! Get a sandwich? A coffee? Or go and find your seat…

Before we do that I just want to point our something about the ticket machine itself…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: ticket machines that calm down the queue

There’s the screen we’ve been interacting with to get our ticket, but there’s also a LED scroller above that.

As you can see in the concept sketch below, we’ve supposed that the scroller could give reassurance to the people in the queue behind you – maybe displaying the average turn-around-time of serving tickets to travellers, so if there is a queue, you’ll know how quickly it might move.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Screens for the queue & you

I think when I was drawing this I had in mind the awesome-but-as-yet-unrealised scheme by Lisa Strausfeld and Pentagram NYC for a videowall in Penn Station.

I think I first saw this presented by Lisa Strausfeld at a conference some 8 or so years ago now, but it’s still wonderful. The large video wall has loads of different layers of information kind of interpolated and displayed all at once, at different ‘resolutions’.

So that if you’re approaching the station from down the street you read some overall information about the running of the station that day, and the time, and as you get closer you see news and stock prices, then closer again and you actually see the train times when you get close enough to crane your neck up at them.

Really clever, and a huge influence on us. The notion of several ‘reads’ of the information being presented on the same surface – if handled well, as in the Pentagram proposal – can be very powerful.

We’ve taken a much less high-tech approach, using the multitude of existing screens in the station, but staging the information they present intelligently in a similar way as you approach the platform and your train itself.

For instance, little messages on concourse screens about how busy the station is overall that morning…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Stations that talk to you

As we get to our platform we get the message that the train is going to pretty full but the station systems know where the bulk of reserved seats are, and can give us a little timely advice about where to hunt for a free place to sit…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Platforms that talk to you

We’ve hinted in this image at a little bit of nice speculative quiet new technology that could be placed by the station workers: magnetically-backed e-ink signs – again displaying reassuring information about where the busy portions of the train will be.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Expectation-Setting

These little inventions have hopefully got you to your train (Arthur, remember?) on time, and in a more of a relaxed state of mind. So, as we board the train we might have time to note that this is Arthur’s favourite route…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Arthur's favourite journey

If not, it doesn’t matter. It’s not a functional improvement to your journey but these touches lead to an appreciation of the service’s scale or reach and, if you are a regular traveller, inject a bit of recognition and delight into the otherwise routine.

Once onboard, we continue to explore opportunities for these incidental, different reads of information to both inform and delight.

In the first film ‘Incidental Media’, we introduce the concept of “Print can be quick” – looking at all the printed ephemera around us and how it can be treated as a media surface for more personalised, contextualised or rapidly-updated information.

After all, most of the printed matter associated with a train journey is truly print-on-demand: your tickets, your receipts and, as in this example, the printed reservation stub placed on the seat by the train attendants.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Can I sit here?

Here we wanted to look to the reassurances and reads that one takes of the reservation stubs as you move down the carriage – either with a reserved seat to find, or perhaps without a reservation on a busy train, opportunistically looking for an unoccupied seat that might be reserved for a latter portion of the train’s total journey.

In one of our concept sketches below we’re exploring that first case – could your ticket be the missing jigsaw piece to the reservation stub?

A bit Willy Wonka magic ticket!

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Reservations sketch

Privacy would be preserved by just using your first initial – printed large with salutations, attracting your eye easily to zero in on your seat as perhaps you struggle down the aisle with your baggage.

The final version used in the film takes this on board, but balances it a little more with the second use-case, that of the opportunistic search for a free seat by someone without a reservation. To answer that case, the portion of the journey that the seat is occupied for is clearly legible, whereas the initials of the traveller are only visible on scrutiny.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Reservations sketch

If it is indeed your reserved seat, on closer scrutiny you’ll also notice the weather forecast for your destination…

Again – worth noting brilliant past work in this area that’s an influence on this idea. Our friend Brian Suda’s redesign of an airline boarding pass that uses typographical hierarchy of the printed object to reassure and delight.

Here you can see that the time of your flight is clearly visible even if your boarding pass is on the floor.

Lovely stuff.

Finally, some pure whimsy!

We wanted again to examine the idea that print can be nimble and quick and delightful – creating new forms of post-digital ephemera for collecting or talking about.

First of all, using the ticket to introduce you again to Arthur, your train, and perhaps extending that to recognising the last time you travelled together.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Train factoids

But let’s go further.

We know that we’re going to be passing certain places at certain times, to some accuracy, during our journey.

The burgeoning amount of geo-located data about our environment means we could look to provide snippets from Wikipedia perhaps, with timings based on how they intersect with your predicted journey time – alerting you to interesting sights just as they pass by your window.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: paper-based AR

These tiny, personalised, collectable paper-spimes provide a kind of papernet augmented-reality – giving a routine journey an extra layer of wonder and interest.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: paper-based AR

As with “Incidental Media”, we’ve tried in “The Journey” to illustrate ‘polite media’ tightly bound to and complimenting one’s context. Media that lives and thrives usefully in the interstices and intervals of everyday routine and technology – indeed ‘making future magic’ instead of the attention arms race that the near-future of urban screens and media could potentially devolve into.

The Journey is brought to you by Dentsu London and BERG. Beeker has written about the films here.

Thank you to Beeker Northam (Dentsu London), and Timo Arnall, Campbell Orme, Matt Brown, and Jack Schulze!

Media Surfaces: Incidental Media

Following iPad light painting, we’ve made two films of alternative futures for media. These continue our collaboration with Dentsu London and Timo Arnall. We look at the near future, a universe next door in which media travels freely onto surfaces in everyday life. A world of media that speaks more often, and more quietly.

Incidental Media is the first of two films.

The other film can be seen here.

Each of the ideas in the film treat the surface as a focus, rather than the channel or the content delivered. Here, media includes messages from friends and social services, like foursquare or Twitter, and also more functional messages from companies or services like banks or airlines alongside large traditional big ‘M’ Media (like broadcast or news publishing).

All surfaces have access to connectivity. All surfaces are displays responsive to people, context, and timing. If any surface could show anything, would the loudest or the most polite win? Surfaces which show the smartest most relevant material in any given context will be the most warmly received.

Unbelievably efficient

I recently encountered this mixing in surfaces. An airline computer spoke to me through SMS. This space is normally reserved for awkwardly typed highly personal messages from friends. Not a conversational interface with a computer. But now, those pixels no longer differentiate between friends, companies and services.

Mixing Media

How would it feel if the news ticker we see as a common theme in broadcast news programmes begun to contain news from services or social media?

Media Surfaces mixed media

I like the look of it. The dominance of linear channel based screens is distorted as it shares unpredictable pixels and a graphic language with other services and systems.

Ambient listening

This screen listens to its environment and runs an image search against some of the words it hears. I’ve long wanted to see what happens if the subtitles feed from BBC television broadcast content was tied to an image search.

Media Surfaces ambient listening

It feels quite strange to have a machine ambiently listening to words uttered even if the result is private and relatively anodyne. Maybe it’s a bit creepy.

Print can be quick

This sequence shows a common receipt from a coffee shop and explores what happens when we treat print as a highly flexible, context-sensitive, connected surface, and super quick by contrast to say video in broadcast.

Media Surfaces print can be quick 01

The receipt includes a mayorship notification from foursquare and three breaking headlines from the Guardian news feed. It turns the world of ticket machines, cash registers and chip-and-pin machines into a massive super-local, personalised system of print-on-demand machines. The receipt remains as insignificant and peripheral as it always has, unless you choose to read it.

Computer vision

The large shop front shows a pair of sprites who lurk at the edges of the window frames. As pedestrians pass by or stand close, the pair steal colours from their clothes. The sketch assumes a camera to read passers-by and feed back their colour and position to the display.

Media Surfaces computer vision 01

Computer vision installations present interesting opportunities. Many installations demand high levels of attention or participation. These can often be witty and poetic, as shown here by Matt Jones in a point of sale around Lego.

We’ve drawn from great work from the likes of Chris O’Shea and his Hand from Above project to sketch something peripheral and ignorable, but still at scale. The installation could be played with by those having their colours stolen, but it doesn’t demand interaction. In fact I suspect it would succeed far more effectively for those viewing from afar with no agency over the system at all.

In contrast to a Minority Report future of aggressive messages competing for a conspicuously finite attention, these sketches show a landscape of ignorable surfaces capitalising on their context, timing and your history to quietly play and present in the corners of our lives.

Incidental Media is brought to you by Dentsu London and BERG. Beeker has written about the films here.

Thank you to Beeker Northam (Dentsu London), and Timo Arnall, Campbell Orme, Matt Brown, and Matt Jones!

Multiple Screens

Earlier in the week, Matt W asked if there were any games that took advantage of outputting on more than one screen. Not necessarily the usage of side-by-side screens to increase the field of view, either – but different screens that perform totally different functions.

I pointed out that there was some precedent – although not a lot – and what began as a conversation quickly became a list that was worth sharing and explaining a bit.


This isn’t the kind of thing Matt meant. Whilst it’s definitely a part of this conversation, the Forza Motorsport series’ use of multiple monitors to increase the field of view is the kind of thing that’s not actually very interesting. It doesn’t alter the game in any significant way. It’s also a brute force solution: each screen is rendered by its own Xbox, and all the consoles are slaved together over a local network.

I think what Matt meant was separate screens performing different functions.

At the very simplest level, second screens can act as contextual displays – parts of the HUD or interface broken out to their own display.


The strategy game Supreme Commander allows players to use a second monitor for a zoomed-out tactical map. Rather than reducing the map to the corner of the screen (as many strategy games do), or forcing the player to constantly zoom in and out, the second screen provides a permanent context for what’s going on the primary screen.


A similar type of contextual screen can be seen on the Sega Dreamcast. The VMU memory unit was designed as a miniature console itself, with a screen and set of controls. When docked with the joypad, it acted as a second screen in the player’s hands.

The VMU was not used as effectively in the role of “second screen” as it might have been, although there were exceptions. Resident Evil: Code Veronica, for instance, used the VMU to display the player character’s health (which was otherwise only visible in the status menu).


Of course, there’s a limit to how many secondary screens are sensible; shortly after the announcement of the Nintendo DS, the above spoof was widely circulated. It’s a good point: lots of little screens right next to each other aren’t very different from one big screen.

The most interesting usage of multiple screens is in their capacity to affect gameplay itself. What sort of games would you design when players can have different viewports onto the world?


Pac-Man VS is my favourite answer to that question so far. It’s four-player Pac-Man, on the Nintendo Gamecube. Three players play ghosts: they play on the TV, with Gamecube pads.They have a 3D-ish view of a limited part of the map, and a radar in the bottom-right to know where each other is.

The fourth player is Pac-Man; they don’t use a Gamecube joypad. Instead, they play on a Gameboy Advance, plugged into the Gameube with a connection lead:


The Gameboy screen shows the Pac-Man player the entire map. Pac-man’s superpower over the ghosts is context; he has knowledge of the whole map. The ghosts are more powerful, but can’t see nearly so much.

Here’s a nice video of it all playing out, the Gameboy screen on the left, the TV on the right.

It’s marvellous: fun, social, and utterly ingenious. There were a few other games for the linkup cable designed around players having their own screens – Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles and Zelda: Four Swords are the obvious examples – but Pac-Man VS remains the stand-out, for me.


One recent example of this sort of approach is Scrabble on the iPad, which lets you use the pad as a board, and other iOS devices for each player to hide their tiles. But it feels so unimaginative: the secondary screens feel like they’ve been used simply because it was possible; they’re no more than direct analogues for real-world objects. (It’s also an absurdly expensive way to play Scrabble.)

Nintendo’s DS focused on the usage of a secondary screen as context and extra information – but in a parallel universe, I’m sure there’s a DS that looks much like this:


This imaginary affords all manner of games based on hidden knowledge and incomplete views of the world. And, just like a tandem, it looks wrong without someone else playing with you; it indicates how it wants to be used, inviting a second player.

My imaginary console is entirely symmetrical in its design. It’d be a shame to only encourage games that gave symmetrical abilities for both players, in the same way as games like Guess Who? or Battleships. Asymmetric games – where players have very different abilities, or viewpoints, much like Pac Man VS above – are, for me, a more interesting notion to explore with multiple screens. Imagine games where players may have not only very different abilities or tasks to one another, but also might be played on totally different types of screen from one another.

Super Mario Galaxy demonstrated a co-operative approach to asymmetric play. Rather than being another avatar in the world alongside Mario, a second player could use their Wiimote to scoop up star bits as they passed. They did nothing else, and could drop in and out when they liked; theirs was a purely additive role. It allows a player with different capabilites – or attention – to drop in and out of the game, always helping, but not being critical to Mario’s success.

To extend that idea to screens: what are the gameplay modes for a friend with a touchscreen tablet, whilst I’m playing on a console attached to the TV? Mechanic to my racing driver? Coach to my football team? Evil overlord planting traps in the dungeon I’m exploring?

I don’t know yet. This at least feels like the start of a useful catalogue of multiple-screen play. And as screens become smarter, and “screen” and “device” increasingly become synonyms for one another, the world of multiple-screen play feels like an exciting, and ripe area to explore.

Friday Links: Screens In The World

For this Friday, a selection of links from around the studio about screens-in-the-world.

This video is the output of the TAT Open Innovation project – an exploration of the future of screen technology. Of course, more than ever, “screen” is becoming interchangeable with “device”, as this video explores the actions and interactions made possible by new kinds of device, both mobile and static.

And here’s Freescale Semiconductor’s vision of a screen-driven future. Smart mirrors and see-through tablets are increasingly popular tropes of the future right now.



Two more examples of transparent screens – one portable, one embedded in the environment – from Perception’s work on the visual effects for Iron Man 2. Such tropes aren’t just limited to concept videos; they’re also a part of popular culture.

Chris O’Shea’s Hand From Above makes a playful use of giant, public screens. These screens are so often passive, broadcasting devices. It’s strange and jarring – in an exciting way – to see them interacting with us. It’s like they can see.

Keiichi Matsuda’s Domestic Robocop envisages an augmented-reality future where the augmentation outweighs the reality. Practically every surface in Matsuda’s imagined kitchen has the capacity to become a screen – most of which end up displaying advertising, generating income for the homeowner.

There’s an overlap I’m beginning to see here: between “screens everywhere“, and “everything being a screen” and what we’re currently calling augmented reality. Thinking on that, I can’t help but return to this lovely video from our friend and collaborator Timo Arnall. It doesn’t matter how the map appears on the street. For the woman on the bench, the ground in front of her is the most sensible place for the map to appear. Large pieces of information can make good use of large spaces. Why not, then, make the “screen” as big as possible, and use the environment itself?

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