I’ve finally got round to jotting down some thoughts about the thing I made at Music Hackday. It’s taken a while partly as I’ve been busy and partly as I wanted to spend a bit more time thinking about what and why I made the thing I made.
Mixcloud has been one of the sites I’ve been interested in for a while. For starters it’s run by some friends and secondly I love the content. However as with many things there’s so much there that I don’t know where to begin. I sometimes don’t quite know how it fits in my life, however the content is great and it’s a perfect “fire-and-almost-forget” soundtrack to bits of life.
Another thing I’m not entirely sure of where it fits in my life is my iPad. This is largely as it’s a consumption rather than creative device. Often when I do find myself using it, it’s largely for recreation. This isn’t a bad thing at all. We’ve known for a while that computers are not the best way to read, watch films or listen to music. They can do it just fine, but there are in my opinion always distractions which keep us in a state of partial continual attention. Sometimes we need to sit back more, avoid alerts and relish in media and experiences for what they can be as unique continual total attention things.
One way I’ve found myself using my iPad is as an extra screen while it’s on charge, playing music from sites such as thesixtyone or Mixcloud. Its size means It doesn’t intrude too much, but the screen is still there to glance at. This interaction with thesixtyone in particular has made me think a lot about glanceable interfaces. If there’s music you like you can just glance over at it, it’s visually appealing to look at, but it’s also very clear if you just want some information. There is both richness and distillation towards sparcity in the information presented; a magical combination,
I strongly believe as more devices become more data and app aware, and at the same time screens get smaller and further away, glanceable interfaces will be of greater importance. Things like tablets, decreasing sized smartphones and media devices, and app playing TV boxes such as Google TV and the new AppleTV will change dramatically how we get content. Reading webpages on the TV has always been and my opinion will continue to be quite horrid. Making interfaces which really work with the content and information being presented and the form factor and use pattern of the device will become more and more important. It’s obvious somehow, but it gets lost. It’s harder to do versions for many different devices and formats, APIs change that though.
This is how I’ve set up my Nexus One and it’s this at a glance information which is making me like Android more and more. I can take it out of my pocket, unlock it and it can tell me how late or early I am for my next meeting. Something that a watch and a diary have always been able to do, but somehow is made harder sometimes in technological solutions.
(Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ogikubokei/ via Engadget)
Another thing which made me think a lot about glancing is this image. Watches are the perfect glanceable objects, they deliver a great deal of information in a very short amount of time.
But back to media consumption. I’m part of the generation who grew up on vinyl which has hard to read “glanceable information”. You can look to see where the track boundaries are on a record, and roughly how close you are to the beginning or end of a side from where the tonearm is, but on your first listen and when sitting with the sleeve and you really want to know exactly where you are you have to go over and visit the record player. The CD player’s big jump forward was in my opinion not the ability to skip to another track but that I could read the track number and even the elapsed time from the other side of the room where the best stereo field was.
Obviously things like iTunes give you more information, but not at a distance, and as such more is not necessarily better. Front Row comes close, but some of the information is not so easy to read at a long distance, such as the playhead location. There’s also extranous information in there which confuses and clutters the view. I don’t need to know what track number out of how many this is, even in shuffle mode.
And so it comes to Music Hackday. The nice folks at Mixcloud asked me to play with their API and kick the tyres. It seemed like an opportunity too good to miss. So I set about making an iPad app from Mixcloud’s top cloudcasts (mixes). One which was very visual and also tried to think about this concept of glanceable interfaces.
The home screen is very simple and is designed to give you an visual mode of navigation of the content. It’s deliberately not awash with information. Sometimes in browse mode there’s too much information, showing you the genre tags may make you only focus in on genres you already know and like, or may make you think there’s nothing there, sometimes the joy and magic comes from unexpected discoveries.
The mix views are designed to be glanceable, there’s a very subtle indication of playhead position, there’s elapsed time and duration. There are the tags and just a play/pause button, no scrubbing. There probably should be a volume control. There are buttons for previous/next cloudcast. It’s all about being able to just look over and see what is being played. It’s in no way a complete or definitive set of thoughts of this, and it’s far from a perfect realisation of the intent; these things take time and are out of the scope of a 24 hour hack.
The interface is designed to not be stark though. I’m not convinced that these things have to be minimal. The goal has to be, like watch design, beautiful but not at the expense of readability. Somewhere between Mondaine and Swatch. I’ve used ColorSuckr to give me the colour palette of the images to create a set of bars to decorate the interface.
These bars are randomly generated in height and opacity, they could be a short term playback indicator, growing as you progress through a segment of the mix with the playhead indicator showing you the long picture.
These are early thoughts, but it’s an interesting space in my opinion