Three days ago, I packed all my earthly…

Three days ago, I packed all my earthly possessions into my car and moved to California. Most of the packing was books and papers; the amount of student debt I hold exceeds the monetary value of these objects by at least two orders of magnitude. That debt and these books are the remains of almost a decade of study and teaching in Illinois.

I left my teaching position at Illinois State at the end of the spring semester to do human-cyborg relations full time. I have big plans for stepping up my blogging and engagement, and I'm excited about a major educational project I'll be announcing shortly. I'm not entirely settled in and it will be a few more days before I can return to normal blogging schedule, but things will start popping soon.

Until I return, here's something to tide you over. I left the comment below on +Jonathan Langdale's post, while at a rest stop outside Vegas during my drive out west. It describes a method of visualizing the attention economy in a way that might be instructive or useful for others looking to do the same. It was something of a derail for the original thread; maybe it can find better resonance here.

In any case, you are definitely keying in on a developing hurdle to UI design, which is figuring out how to inform users without distracting them from doing other things, including just moving around. A lot of AR concept designs have data displayed as huge, intrusive graphical text overlays which usually require some reading and processing to benefit from. That processing time is time not spent processing other data. If this overlay is on your windshield as you are driving, this difference could be a matter of life and death.

Designing UIs for active, moving, multitasking users will be a huge paradigm shift in design; in the case of mobile, it is an shift that has waited long enough. Your insights in this thread are instructive; in the same spirit, here's an insight of my own.

Culture finds its material expression in habits, and one of the oldest and simplest habits for expressing culture is the use of clothes and jewelry and other kinds of adornments to signify information about social status. Wearing some garment (say, a leather jacket patched with band logos) immediately informs your surrounding communities with a huge amount of information concerning your cultural background and dispositions. Some of that information may involve caricature or stereotype; nevertheless, even small signs carry huge informational value. Being responsive to these kinds of subtle cultural signifiers is important to environments in which our brains evolved.

We might be able to coopt such neural dispositions in designing UIs that convey lots of information in subtle ways that can be easily grasped at a glance. We can do this not by overlaying text and graphics that are independently informative, but instead by "dressing objects" in subtle signifiers that have conventional meaning that is easy to interpret.

I'm not a designer, and I have difficulty conveying my ideas in words. But here's how I'm imagining it:

Imagine objects "glow" in patterns of waves of the sort in the simulations above. Subtle differences in patterns of wave emanation are understood conventionally to indicate something about the objects themselves. How resource intensive they are, maybe, or whether they are dangerous, or who owns them, or whatever.

Recognizing the subtle differences between the way different objects glow might immediately inform me about how to treat them (should I recycle it? Douse it in water? Toss it to my dog?) If a UI involves just overlaying objects with these glowing patterns, you wouldn't need distracting text and graphics, because the presentation of the object itself contains all the necessary information.

So here's the big thing, and +Jonathan Langdale maybe your superior design skills can help in conveying the idea to others. You can mark up objects like this with an AR overlay, but you can do the same with people. Imagine people "glow" data in this way, and that data conveys relevant information about their position in the network. Just glancing at a person might tell me if they are famous, or if they are a master carpenter, or if they are malnourished and need medical attention.

There isn't a word for the thing I'm describing here, but it is something like an inverse avatar. An avatar is an individual's digital representation of themselves. These glowing indicators are inverse avatars: they don't say something about how the individual expresses themselves, but instead expresses how the network sees the individual. Again, this is the kind of information that will be immediately informative for how to engage with the person, without distracting and cluttering up my UI with needless text.


I would love to see a short animation or video that shows a bunch of agents interacting in various ways, each radiating these glowing waves, where the glow of the wave is obvious and directly in proportion to the circumstances the agents find themselves in.

RADIATOR | Radio Wave Visualisation Generator

RADIATOR is a generative design application to visualize your own imagination of radio radiation.

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