MuDiCu Wireless Report: The wireless Demos
Laboratorio de Estética y Nuevos Medios
Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona.
The main aim of this report is to present the reasons for the design and technology implementations behind the wireless demo released under the MuDiCu project. Here we want to show how we implemented all the theoretical findings described in the former report "Mudicu Wireless Report: digital culture and mobile technologies".
The report includes two main sections, the first is devoted to the PDA demo and describes the main decisions and methodology, and the second one analyses the decisions and methodology behind the mobile phone demo.
In this section we describe the main reasons involved between key decisions about the technology, the content and the interface design related to this demo.
Our final decision was to use plain HTML which could be viewed by any browser. These are the main reasons for that decision:
No matter if you are using Windows CE, Palm OS or even a Linux-based PDA, HTML is an standard supported by all of them, so our page can be viewed by any of them. In a computer world so full of incompatible standards this is alone a good reason to move to HTML.
Most of the experts do coincide with Raymondís point of view in The Cathedral and the Bazaar in the fact that being an open code has been key to the success of the Internet. Because of the open nature of HTML, people could study each otherís code and learn from that. Variations rapidly appear and the WWW rapidly explodes. We can get a similar success in the wireless world if we stick to open code instead of developing propietary systems which are not easily replicable.
As stated in our former report "Mudicu Wireless Report: digital culture and mobile technologies" because of the fact that wireless is quite a new technology, it is very important to use familiar concepts and objects which the user can grasp easily. The basic facts of clicking, browsing and scrolling of HTML are known by heart to every web user, so it is wise to use the same language when moving to wireless.
If a Museum, local goverment, organisation... already have an www version of the info, it is a lot easier to adapt it to a wireless HTML than to rewrite it completely to some propietary language or system. This fact will clearly in the future be key to invite such organisations to put their content in a wireless format.
As argued in "Mudicu Wireless Report: digital culture and mobile technologies" mobility has to be the main concern while developing a wireless application. Our three main subdemos under the PDA demo show that clearly. The first one acts as an on-line guide of Art Futura: a digital art exhibition in Barcelona. Users can come to the exhibition with the guide already downloaded in their PDAs or even get it beamed from the organisers. That way the user gets a portable multimedia guide which can carry with him/her all the times and decide very fast what to see and what not. In small exhibitions just a flyer can be enough to arrange our visit, but in big events like Art Futura ,with dozens of artists and projects, a PDA with a proper interface is a lot more helpful than a one hundred pages heavy paper catalogue. Moreover, it is also cheaper for the organisers and more ecological.
The second subdemo, Sonar, works as a real multimedia guide of this famous electronic music festival in Barcelona. It presents the main concerts but it also includes a sample of sounds so the public can actually listen to the music. Half a minute of sound is indeed better than a thousand words to get a general idea of a musical event, and thatís something you can certainly not put on a paper guide!
The sound part, however, will only work in a PDA which has some sort of multimedia player included. Simpler version of PalmOS devices or Linux PDAs do not have it, but users of those devices can access to the text as the pictures as easily as other users with more sophisticated PDAs.
The third subdemo, nightclubbing, is an on-line guide of dance music clubs in Barcelona. Here we are thinking mostly in a tourist, just arrived to Barcelona, who is interested in digital culture and music, but finds it difficult, being a foreigner, to decide where to go exactly. Because of lack of permissions, we couldnít add samples of the music played in those clubs, but there is no technical difficulty behind it. It could easily work as the Sonar demo and offer music. Moreover, thanks to that system, clubs could put new info everyday if they wanted. And what is more important for future developments of MuDiCu, the text could be adapted to every language and culture, giving hints of what they would prefer or dislike.
These are the main reasons involved in the design interface:
As we argued in "Mudicu Wireless Report: digital culture and mobile technologies" because of its new nature, it is not still a good idea to develop wireless interfaces which offer lots of variations depending on the language and culture. This will make the interface to look menacing and difficult to understand. Instead, we defend a universal approach were all the items can be readily understood by any culture. There will be enough time in the future to add variations once users are familiar with the basics of wireless technologies.
As stated before, it is key to have familiar devices. For this project, the designers involved opted for a simple interface which everybody will understand: a library card. Information is clearly exposed in the center of the card and the borders are used to put all the navigational elements. Everybody knows and is familiar with that sort of cards, so our demo is very easy to use.
However the interface looks better in colour, it is true that not everybody has a PDA with a colour display. A big deal of users still have greyscale or even black and white plus textures screens. Colours were carefully chosen so as to they can still be distinguishable in those screens. However, to avoid any problems, colours only act as a secondary way to transmit meaning. That way, even if the screen is not good enough to show the difference between colours, or the user is daltonic or colourblind he/she will be able to use the interface without problems.
In new devices sometimes it is difficult for the public to distinguish among navigational tools, content and mere ornaments. For the wireless demo we decided to put all the navigational items in the borders of the card and the content inside. That way it is easier to find your way. There is one exception, thought. We wanted to add sound to some of the pages, but not all Ėotherwise the service would be to heavy to carry in a PDA- and also give the opportunity to the user to access the whole text when it is very long or just continue browsing. Therefore, we use them in this demo for two main purposes: a) to expand the text window so the user interesting in reading the whole text Ėwhen it is longer- can do so, and b) in the Sonar service, to hear to a music sample when this is possible. That way the user knows that they are content related icons, that are icons related to an specific page, and not all, and that some pages have sounds and others donít.
As we said, the are not in the borders of the card, as the other navigational instruments mainly because: it is not used to move to other sections of the guide, but to give extra information directly related,and it doesnít have an intrisic meaning, but it is more like an icon holder, which can have several different functions depending on the context.
-Movement and people.
So far, some wireless devices can show video, but this video can not be combined with HTML or any other comprehensive system of information presentation and video is very costly both in terms of battery and memory so it is not a good idea to put video in them. This is way, to give a more dynamic look to the web, among the pictures displayed, the great majority include some sort of movement: people dancing or walking, a DJ performing, a turntable spinning... That way, people can add the movement mentally, even if it not really there, and get a more active grasp of the project.
Also most of the pictures involve people. From cognitive psychology we know that peopleís faces and even bodys are one of the best formulae to turn more familiar a new media. This was proven in the seminal work The Media Equation by Reeves and Nass has become almost a plattitude in todayís new media analysis.
Because, as stated earlier, we are looking for exactly that, to make new media more familiar, a great deal of our pictures involve real people in real places instead of machines or abstract computer graphics. That way people look at the interface in a more sympathetic manner, and find it easier and more friendly to use..
We tested the main public domain typographies available and found out that Tahoma looks is the one more easily readable, so that why we use it here. Nevertheless, we plan to study this further in a possible continuation of MuDiCu and even consider the possibility to construct new typographics specifically created for small wireless displays.
This demo presents the mobile phone version of the third subdemo from the PDA section, that is the wireless club guide. We believe that this is a service which makes sense in a mobile phone, specially for tourists which are traveling to Barcelona and want to get a fast grasp of whatís going on tonight.
These are the main reasons behind the design
We choose WAP for the very reasons we selected HTML in the PDA demo. In fact, it would be a lot better if mobile phones in Europe were able to use HTML instead of WAP, like I-mode in Japan. Why HTML is a far better solution than WAP is explained in the former report "Mudicu Wireless Report: digital culture and mobile technologies". We are looking forward for the development of I-mode technology in Europe. But meanwhile there is only WAP, and have the same characteristics we enjoyed in the PDA demo with HTML. Namely: multiplattform, open code and familiarity with the user, so that was our choice instead of new technologies like J2ME which turn out the work a lot more difficult an doesnít give any chance for open code or multiplattform.
Mobile screens are pretty small. Therefore one needs to optimize the things said, and to give always a very clear navigational system. Thatís why we decided to use mostly icons, which can convey more info with less space. Also icon based navigation makes a lot easier to find the right places to click and to understand better how navigation has to be pursued.
When looking for a club, most time people are looking for a specific style of music. This is very easy when browsing a magazine or newspaper, but may be very slow and clumsy through WAP. Thatís why we created an specific style menu and special icons to give a hint of the style in a moment, so localizing a techno or a breakbeat club in Barcelona is a lot easier, and you donít have to read the whole text of all the clubs to decide where do you want to go tonight.
After several experiments with WAP users we decided to go for faces to identify the main styles related to electronic music. These are the main reasons:
As stated several times, if we want a new technology to expand among users, they need to be comfortable with it, it has to look familiar. The faces used are both funny and familiar and remove all the high-tech look of most wireless devices nowadays which may turn menacing to the new user.