Elaine Froehlich, MFA Thesis, MassArt 2010
Motion for Interface: a taxonomy
Motion for Interface: a taxonomy
I’m studying motion in order to understand and use it as a component in the design of digital interfaces. New computing environments need new strategies for interaction, including motion. My research explores motion into a taxonomy that describes motion within a screen, resulting in a language for motion in interface.
Faculty Advisors: Jan Kubasiewicz – Coordinator; Brian Lucid, Gunta Kaza, Joe Quackenbush – Professors; Heather Shaw, Colin Owens, Mike Golembousky – Adjunct Professors; Dynamic Media Institute, Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Personal Advisors: Sharon Delucca – Professor, Graphic Design, Roger-Williams-University; Roberta Adams – Assistant Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Roger Williams University. Concept and research contributors: Simon Bae – Experience Designer, Adobe Systems; Jason Bailey – Marketing Manager, Viridity Software; Kat Take – User Experience Interaction Designer – Huge; Audry Fu, Kent Milard, David Tames, (fellow MassArt – DMI students).
The jury valued the great amount of experimentation in this entry that provides rich material for future application. We cherished the challenging research conducted with intellectual rigor and cultural depth. The output document is highly articulated and enjoyable.
Motion for Interface: a taxonomy
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
Motion in interface is programmed performance. I’m studying motion in order to understand and use it as a component in the design of digital interfaces. My research explores motion from several perspectives with the goal of understanding fundamental qualities of motion, resulting in a taxonomy to describe motion as it is used in the 2-dimensional, framed space of a screen. The history of the origins of the elements we now call interface function as an entrance point to the research to set context for the ideas. Initially I studied the human visual cortex and found that it has an area that specifically registers motion, adjacent to the area that registers color. Very short videos of movements taken from nature created a taxonomy for organizing motion into useable categories. An investigation motion as an interface to the flowing data of time completes the visual research. These ideas are described at length in the document.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
As a designer for User Interfaces I have often been confronted with communication design problems where motion was one way of dealing with lagging response speeds in products. Rather than having the motion mask what engineers deem poor performance, motion could be used to define the personality of a product. The iPhone has become a stellar example of that principle in action. As software becomes more ubiquitous in products, brand differentiation will get more and more challenging. Motion can be used to create the experience of the personality of the interactions we engage in.
Often the motion one finds in dynamic animations are precisely the ones that are easily programmed. Programming languages that create motions have wide ranging vocabularies. The motions of life use the same vocabulary but the details of the variety possible are enormously complex. Motion exists in every environment and while some can be distracting, certain kinds of motion are soothing and relaxing. My intention was to find a way to translate motion as it is experienced in life into a symbolic language that can be used to communicate.
This research project is only beginning. The result of the research is a taxonomy for the 2 dimensional motion of a screen. No application work has been to apply the results into moving interfaces. Using both video studies from nature and animations, as well as reading on the topics of interface, motion, time as a concept and the ways time and motion are integrated in compiling the results.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
This document, along with a formal defense presentation, fulfilled the final requirements for a MFA from the Dynamic Media Institute at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. The required audience for the document is the faculty and reviewers charged with awarding degrees at the school. After that, a variety of audiences were considered. The naturally first tier audience is fellow students at the school who are engaged in their own research. Since this project looks at very fundamental properties, it can be useful in numerous kinds of more applied work. This version is very fundamental and not widely accessible at the moment, but I believe in future iterations the research will be of interest to many UI designers, motion designers, and designers working with dynamic data.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
This project began with a review of interface motion in existing applications, web sites and other media, cataloged by the trigger for the motion: the computer, the user, software context and flowing data; and 5 messages that might be encoded in the motion: show, tell, orient, warn, acquaint. The videos tend to be short, discrete gestures taken from natural occurrences of a few to several seconds in length. Longer segments start to become too complex to explain or think about. Motion created through programming using Actionscript tweening in Flash was compared to the video taken from life as a way of interpreting lifelike feeling into programmed motion. Finally, I investigated motion as an interface to time, creating animations that use motion to count and compare intervals. Those projects were used to create a taxonomy for motion by screen position, by direction or vector, by principles similar to basic graphic design principles, by attributes of the motion, things like change of size, change of speed, relative noticeability. The final part of the taxonomy identifies behaviors out of the previous categories like jump and slide and wiggle; behaviors that can be used to create motion language within an interface.
This document is great for organizing ideas and sequencing the research but motion research deserves to be shown in motion. The video research and the time animations would be of great benefit if they were accessible online, as well as an accessible database that can be viewed and added to. All of the time studies are simple animations done in After Effects. They were meant as studies to inform the programming of more extensive examples using Actionscript or Processing that has not yet been started.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
Always in the collecting and organizing of this work, I envisioned it as a stepping stone across the river of design for interfaces that could help other designers think about motion as a symbolic language for communicating. As a trained graphic designer I understand visual languages but motion was foreign to me. Film makers and dancers understand motion well as story-telling media. Creating a way to bridge the gap using this research became my goal from the beginning, for myself as well as for anyone else interested in the area of design that includes interface and visualization of information for data. As a beginning of my own investigation or source material for someone else's research, my thesis starts a conversation with designers interested in understanding motion.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
Much ink has been dedicated to declaring that excessive motion on a screen becomes confusing. From the beginning I had hoped to include examples of motion in interfaces in ways that might shed some light on ways motion can be used and prove that it does not necessarily have to be the nuisance everyone anticipates. Most computer applications had a static nature to their design where added motion might be distracting.
As human animals, our brains have motion centers that are tuned to organic motion. The way motion becomes articulated within an environment will determine how well it integrates. Newer interfaces, particularly but not limited to interfaces that allow multiple people to work within the same space will need to solve issues spawned by ambient motions. In the process new ways of thinking about interface will be discovered. Streaming data becomes more understandable when shown in motion.
In the research portion of the project I collected a wide range of information, much of which was not included here. Integrating more of that information in better ways would be of value to the project. There is much research happening in the fields of neuroscience and perception that comes to bear on the topic that isn't included. Designers of the early 20th century focused much attention on motion, often when their work was 2-D painting and design. Incorporating more ideas from those sources would enrich the research.