2007 Annual Design Review: Interactive

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Best of Category TELLME SEARCH For anyone who’s been trapped in an endless phone tree shouting the same voice prompt over and over again, Tellme Search is intensely gratifying. You simply announce the city and state where you’re looking for a business, then the business name, and the phone gives you a map, directions, an address, and a phone number. If you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, you can name a category—say, “bookstores”—and receive a list of choices. It’s what voice-activated software was always supposed to be: Just murmur a few words and get what you need. Mok noted that a problem with past voice-activated technologies was that users had to tutor them. “The fact that Tellme got what I was looking for on the first try was remarkable,” he said.

Doubly impressive is that Tellme’s graphical interface is just as intuitive as its voice-recognition software; the path to information is quick and obvious. “There’s good interaction logic mapped into it,” Mok said. “They’ve done a very good job distilling the essence of what the features and functions are.”

“It’s the simplicity that wins me over,” agreed Peretti, who noted that he usually dislikes phone applications. “It’s kind of Google-like. You do so little and you get a lot back.”

Wishart took more convincing. She put the service to the test by asking it to find Soy, a favorite Japanese restaurant on New York’s Lower East Side, and sure enough, Tellme hiccupped. “It’s gotten me a pet store!” Wishart exclaimed. But when she entered the restaurant’s name manually, she got what she was looking for. The presence of this fail-safe made the jury comfortable in selecting Tellme as Best of Category, because even if the technology wasn’t yet perfect, it represented the future of interface design. “It was one of the only ‘a-ha moments’ we had all day,” observed Mok.

Apparently Microsoft agreed—in an unrelated move, the company announced the purchase of Tellme Networks for an undisclosed sum shortly after the jury dispersed.

Design Distinctions NIKE+ www.nike.com/nikeplus The jurors found R/GA’s online experience for last year’s partnership between Nike and Apple to be one of the most robust and inventive web entries. The site takes a potentially esoteric concept—a pair of Nike running shoes beaming personal workout data to the web via an iPod Nano and iTunes—and makes it intelligible, manageable, and enjoyable. The site includes a suite of features allowing users to measure distance, pace, and calories burned; set motivational goals for themselves; and perhaps most interestingly, plug into a global network of exercisers, turning an individual interest in personal health into a shared social pursuit. Peretti, generally the juror most antagonistic toward big corporate websites, said, “It’s cool that they give you tools for your workout.” Mok agreed: “I like that you can do your own profile, set up your own training routine, compare with your friends, use social networking,” he said. “That’s pretty smart.”

DRAWN Barcelona-based artist Zachary Lieberman describes “Drawn” as “an installation for hands and ink,” which he originally developed for use in live audiovisual performance. Early on, he discovered that audiences had an overwhelming desire to play with the device, and soon “Drawn” became more of a social experience. The installation allows users to sketch with pen and ink onto a podium-mounted screen while a rear-projection system displays the work. They can then animate the shapes with their fingers, making them bob and dance. While “Drawn” is mostly about fun, it’s also been used as a tool in arts education. “It’s obviously a delightful interactive method,” said Wishart. Ever the pragmatist, Mok asked, “But what is it for?” “It’s for wide-eyed wonder,” Peretti replied.

JETBLUE.COM www.jetblue.com Part of JetBlue’s appeal is its simplicity; in redesigning the airline’s consumer website, New York studio Huge needed to make it productive without sacrificing that pleasing bare-bones quality. The designers created an area for vacation package offerings, rejiggered the frequent-flier section, and added a CEO blog to communicate the airline’s trademark personal touch. Peretti was nostalgic for the greater minimalism of the old JetBlue site, but Wishart liked that Jetblue.com still felt comfortable, with no extraneous elements. “I like how easily you can see where they fly,” she said, referring to the site’s interactive flight map. “They have more features, but they’ve kept it simple,” Mok agreed.

BEING NOT TRUTHFUL WORKS AGAINST ME “It’s wicked,” said Wishart after watching a video of visitors interacting with Stefan Sagmeister and Ralph Amer’s installation for the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York. The work is a screen projection of a large, delicate spider web with the title woven into its center; when a viewer’s shadow passes over it, the web rips apart, then reconstructs itself once the shadow is gone. Mok questioned the value of “art for art’s sake” in a design competition but agreed with his fellow jurors that the piece’s visual impact was powerful. Like the other winning entries, “Being Not Truthful” executed a relatively basic form of interaction effectively, but it did so on the level of poetry rather than commerce.