Candy Crush Kathak

User Interaction Design Through Dance

Shravani perfoming Kathak
Shravani perfoming Kathak

 

Her two graceful fingers point towards the sky. The rolling sounds of thunder envelope the lightening-dazzled valleys of Pune. Swaying in her balcony overlooking a verandah with a mango tree, Shravani suddenly widens her eyes, lifts her hands, and her wrists begin to tremble. With two fingers from each hand still pointing to the sky, she traces the path of rains descending on the hills in the distance.

As if on cue, the rain falls heavily on the thousands of thirsty leaves of the mango tree. The young and beautiful Shravani’s dance is expressing her joy at her gaining admission into the prestigious National Institute of Design (NID), a train-journey away in Ahmedabad. The daughter of a dear family friend, Shravani is at the threshold of her new life, sharing for the first time with me her love for design and for Kathak, which is a classical dance-form from India.

When the rain starts to abate her movements slow down, focussing all her energy to the forefinger of each hand tenderly tapping its thumb. Aha! The gentle pitter-patter of a drizzle. In simple, evocative dance moves, she wordlessly expresses the different moods of India’s majestic monsoons. From downpours to light drizzles, lushly lazy to dramatic, thunderous ones.

Her hands and gestures, known as mudras in Kathak, soon melt into evoking the stately poise of a proud peacock, the sudden alertness of a grazing deer, the determined hunt of a ferocious lion, the prowl of a fierce tiger. And finally of course, the dancing form of Shiva, the playfulness of Krishna, the longing of Sita, and the desperate search by a lovelorn Ram.

Hand Mudra Gestures in Kathak
Hand Mudra Gestures in Kathak

Design Is Non-Verbal

Like the first exhilarating chirp of a Koyal, or a nightingale, that bursts into song when the rain finishes, a fresh thought dawns into my mind. Through centuries in India, the essence of stories and myths have been expressed using the non-verbal. Elegantly, they cut across the barriers of different languages and our rich and intricate cultures. Generation-after-generation, the eternal truths encoded in our legends are literally danced through gestures and expressions.

We need to trace our steps back to thousands of years, when ancient tribes in India first discovered the art of storytelling through non-verbal communication. Indeed the word ‘Kathak’ is from Sanskrit that literally means ‘story’ and this art relies solely on the dancer’s expressions, gestures, mudras, stance and especially delicate eye movements to evoke emotions while unfolding the story.

When I then turn my gaze to the years just ahead of us, I see the same game at play. Today, the world is a multicultural, plural society. The internet embraces all, the literate and the non-literate. In the present moment, how do we design apps for smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, smart TV, Internet of Things (IoT) and even more that we have not imagined yet for this rich, diverse and global cauldron that bubbles on this planet.

 

The Womb of Verbs

Design philosophers of the twentieth century from the Bauhaus movement and its minimalism boldly proclaim: ‘Form Follows Function’. Yet I strongly feel that design is not made of just nouns and its associated forms. Design to me is forged from the womb of verbs, actions and interactions. The role of a designer therefore is to design interactions that emotionally touch and delight your customers while fulfilling specific, precise tasks. Exactly like a dance.

To me: ‘Verb Follows Function’ is the new design language of the century. From the flirtatious swipes of the Tinder app, the harmless pokes on Facebook, the pinch and zoom in photos, the flicking of cash in an e-wallet, the exploding and popping of sweets in Candy Crush Saga, all design has become verb follows function. We are transiting from pure user-interface design to user-interaction design.

In Interaction design, there is indeed a form of Kathak at play in your hands. The Natya Shastra, an ancient Indian text on classical arts, has this famous quotation:

“Where the hand is, the eyes follow
Where the eyes go, the mind follows
Where the mind is, there is the feeling
Where there is feeling, there is mood, flavour, sweetness.”

Shravani’s dancing points to a deeper truth: The most fundamental approach today is to design as if the world has turned non-literate.

The objective of design is to use playfulness to enhance usefulness.

Take a look at these stunning and inspiring examples of six second transitions and interactions here for web and smartphones: sixux.com
In the ‘Dive Into Interaction Design’ workshops, I cover a great deal more about every aspect of making the world more meaningful through interactions. Here, for example, are easing functions which choose not just the speed but also the mood of moving elements in a design: http://easings.net/  Each one conveys a mood and emotion in the interaction design. I call this ‘Motion with Emotion’.

Lots more is covered in the workshop, including for instance, finding inspiration from some great film-sequences and opening title sequences in movies. From these we gain insights in interaction design for apps and UI. Am also curating a special board on my Pinterest account, dedicated to great examples and inspirations of interactivity. I may currently be conducting other workshops on Design, so if you do wish me to conduct one on Interaction Design, just write to me, and will inform you of upcoming dates.
Meanwhile, the next time you have to hire a designer or developer, ask them what they understand about dance. Every button, every icon, and every relationship between elements jumps to life with interaction design, because dance is a celebration of life. Need some quick inspiration to dance? Here’s some trippy, groovy music I composed a few months ago for a colleague, ‘Think With Your Feet.’

So go ahead, dance like its raining. It might just help you understand design as definitely being more alive.

Kindle Under Your Nose

Using Design to Surpass My Experience of Reading A Book

Attention to detail. Carved out a notebook handcrafted in India, into an Amazon Kindle book-cover for myself.
Attention to detail. Carved out a notebook handcrafted in India, into an Amazon Kindle book-cover for myself.

You use your nose to read a book.

The faint smell of ink mixed with that sharp note of glue, and of course the woody smell of paper. Your fingers love the assuring texture and of paper as you unfurl your mind and curl up your body with your favourite book. When you finally close your droopy eyelids, you love the book resting on your chest, as if in a gentle embrace, while your imagination expands into your dreams with the fantastic worlds conjured by the living words of the book.

No such magic happens when you read an eBook.

The plasticy feel of the Amazon Kindle clutched in one hand is a barren, stark experience. Geeky perhaps. But shorn of the aesthetic breakthrough Gutenberg achieved with his first printed Bible in hot metal type. Even today, Gutenberg’s Bible is considered a marvel of design, typesetting, and illumination. So what is it that Jeff Bezos lacks with the Amazon Kindle?

Amazonian Jungle of Design

I carefully studied the user-interface design of the Amazon Kindle, now in its 7th incarnation with a touch-screen, 6-inch ink-display. The initial simplicity of design over this Linux-driven device peeks through. Just a screen with text typeset to the font and size of your liking, with margins you can choose, and with a single long-press to look-up the dictionary or a wikipedia-entry. Convenient and intuitive. A gentle tap on either side moves to the previous or the next page. However, with each new feature and extra option added over versions, the patchy, shoe-horned approach to design begins to show its signs. Even after three months of heavy use, I tend to get as lost and bewildered in the rabbit-hole of menus and options, as Alice in a Matrixed-wonderland.

Are You Experienced?

One evening, after the first session of one of my Design workshops, I sat alone, visualizing how I would overhaul the user-interface design of the Kindle for the third decade of the 21st century. Lots more can be achieved by not doing, and by leaving things out, in design. But is it all about the UI bass, no treble? Curious, I called some of my friends who use the Kindle. The response was universal. Each felt disappointed by eBooks and expressed something lacking with reading pixels. That may explain why sales of eBooks have suddenly plateaued across the world and printed books have rebound.

Aha! Here then, is where user-experience is the real bottleneck. I can’t fix the user-interface design of the Kindle as Amazon has locked it all away. But I can certainly fix the user-experience. All I need to do is to focus on the nose.

Hina Khan with the hand-crafted book-cover she made for me.
Hina Khan with the hand-crafted book-cover she made for me.

Notebook by A Student

I got in touch with Hina Khan, one of the students I have been mentoring in design since several years. In the past ten years, Hina has come to me every few years, just to sit and learn over several months, some aspect of design, color, photography, and more recently, typography. Hina is quite a versatile creative-professional, dabbling in many disciplines of art, design, and creativity. So when she ambled in one fine morning for her mentoring session on the complexities of free-culture, I gave her my DRM-ensnared and restrictive Kindle as a side-project.

The brief was simple. Let’s take a beautiful, handmade and organic notebook or diary which is made in India. Carve out the inside pages hollow and glue them, to form a cavity into which the Kindle tucks in. Hold it down with elastic or a thread or something. Embellish the design at will. And here, ladies and gentlemen, is how and what she crafted.

Diary of An Amazonian Madman
Diary of An Amazonian Madman

Hina caught the Delhi Metro to Chandni Chowk to deftly skip back in time by three centuries. She scoured the small by-lanes in search of a handmade notebook or diary of the required size and aesthetics. Surprised at not finding anything worthwhile, she did shop for a variety of exotic hand-made papers and art-supplies for her other various projects. Hina then searched the more artsy Khan Market  where at last she spotted just what she wanted. A notebook with screen-printed inscriptions in Hindi and Urdu, some quite incomprehensible, but nevertheless beautiful in its calligraphic style.

 

Don't judge this book by its cover
Don’t judge this book by its cover

She bought this silky azure ribbon and handed it to a tailor to carefully stitch it around the border.

 

Kindle Book-cover
Kindle Book-cover

From her collection of wood-block prints, Hina stamped a paisley design on front-side of the notebook, and then meticulously painted it in by hand.

 

Illustrated inside-cover of the Kindle book-cover
Illustrated inside-cover of the Kindle book-cover

Why tweet about a book when you can have a birdie in the inside front-cover? Yes! an original illustration by Hina drawn and traced onto that red paper, and then glued to the inside-front of the Kindle cover. The hollowed-out pages of the notebook were glued together and stuck into the inside-back, and then painted orange.

 

Opening an eBook, the organic way
Opening an eBook, the organic way

The final finish of the book-case, with the Kindle embedded.

Niyam Kindle
Niyam Kindle

Hina braided this cord, then punched two holes into the back of the book-cover and tied it in. We noticed the cord holding the Kindle in was a bit bulky as well as loose, causing the device to often fall out of its crevice.

 

Improved design of the Kindle cover
Improved design of the Kindle cover

So Hina promptly replaced it with two elastic bands in white.

 

Magnum opus of design for user-experience
Magnum opus of design for user-experience. Proud of the design and craftmanship of Hina Khan.

 

The New User-Experience of Kindle

Here at last was a Kindle with a spine. That was what was missing in the experience all along. The feel of a real and more importantly, organic, hardbound cover. The flourish of calligraphy with Indic scripts. The touch of silk. The smell of real paint-inks and not just printing inks. And the feel of handmade paper inside.

Now I find offset-printed books too mechanically perfect, machine-made and precisely trimmed. A product of an industrial age that dehumanizes, scales monstrously in the name of economy, and ravages the environment. A machine-made book is not compatible with the new value-systems of the more sensitive 21st century. Why sacrifice a tree for just one, and usually expensive and disposable book, when you can just make one hand-made book-cover, and read thousands of books-as-software inside. All this while enriching and enhancing the ‘real’ experience of reading a ‘real’ book.

 

Free Culture

Speaking of free-culture, should you wish to replicate the design of this ‘Kindle book-cover’, be happy to know it is published under a creative-commons license, specifically the cc0 license. The design of the original handbook may be subject to copyright by its author. What this means is that you may freely replicate this design, modify and adapt it, to make your own Kindle-cover or iPad cover, a book-case or a hide-out case or piggy-bank or anything else you can conjure up. You may choose your own colors and materials, improve upon this, use a different handbook or even a hardbound or paperback book, and kickstart a cottage industry around this. A few are already doing this around the world.

I’d be happy to see your designs. Please share them by posting them on my FaceBook page on design here: fb.com/niyamdive 

So get yourself a Kindle or any other eBook reader, and make this Earth into a lotus-paradise.

 

My Flight into Music

‘Flight’ is a music-track I composed, arranged, mixed and produced in 2007. The music emerged towards the end of an intense three years of active meditations. ‘Flight’ is authored using 100% Free and OpenSource Software (FOSS). More specifically, used a Linux-based OS, called UbuntuStudio.

Excerpts from ‘Flight’ were later used as background music for a short-film published from Los Angeles. Was even more thrilled when I also got paid for it. 🙂

You are encouraged to download, share, mix, re-mix, and have fun with ‘Flight’ for commercial or non-commercial purposes, provided you respect its copyright and creative-commons license, which is cc-by-sa-2.5 india. Here is a simple-to-understand version of this specific CreativeCommons license.

Taking Flight
In 2007, Was also invited to conduct a small workshop on ‘Digital Sound’ at a leading national FOSS event, called freed.in. You may view a blurry picture of UbuntuStudio with a sound software. Then in 2008, was invited to another National FOSS event, called FOSSMEET at NITC in Calicut, where I delivered a talk “How to design sound, compose music, and master your album.” Ended the talk with ‘Flight’ which received a huge ovation, and hours after the talk the participants lingered around and discussed all things from music to FOSS. That was quite an experience. You may view a photo of the audio, sound, and music talk at fossmeet here. Finally, on 28 March 2010, I released ‘Flight’ at the CreativeCommons Salon event held in Delhi. Discover more about this event on twitter using the id ‘ccsdel’.
Flight into Jamendo
‘Flight’ is published on Jamendo.org, a wonderful website for musicians and music-lovers who wish to share muft and mukt music. This is my first album published here. Within a few days will also publish another album of dance-music composed more recently. Discover my artist page at Niyam on Jamendo where I intend to publish even more tracks and albums over the coming months. You may also soon find me dabbling at ccmixter.org.
Soaring with Freedom
All the sounds you hear have been designed in a software-synth with quite a tongue-twister of a name: ZynAddSubFX. This software-synth was plugged into a software that handles virtually unlimited multi-track recording. Called ardour, it is more specifically, a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Even more interesting is how almost all the sound-based software plug into one another under UbuntuStudio. Mimicking the coils of cables, plugs, and connectors found in a real-world sound-studio, is a software sound-patch, called Jack Audio Connection Kit. A lot of sound-effects and the pre and post-processing of sound were handled using myriad sound-FX plug-ins, from LADSPA. You may find thousands of free sound-effects from LADSPA. The final and minor tweaks and exports were handled in the audio-editing software Audacity.

Surprisingly enough, did not use any of my other favourite free software for this project, especially Hydrogen: The Advanced Drum-Machine for Linux, as well as the music-sequencing software RoseGarden.

Earlier Sounds
In October 2006, also published an entire album of sound-field recordings made in the middle of the night and at dawn, in remote mountains while living in a stone-cottage next to a stream. Thousands of people have downloaded the audio-files from this album, a few have re-mixed these in their works, and some I know held a group-meditation based around the album. You may discover the sound-field recordings at Niyam on freesound.org. Plus, discover some drum-loops published around the same time creativedot though the site seems to go down every once in a while.

Stay tuned for more sound and music, especially since I love authoring in diverse genres.

Speaker-fee for Academia

Effective from 21 March 2014, please note my new conditions for delivering talks, and conducting seminars and workshops for academia within India:

  1. Speaker-fee within the National Capital Region (NCR): Rs 7,500 for each talk between 45 to 90 minutes.
  2. Speaker-fee beyond the NCR in India: Rs 15,000 for upto the first 180 minutes, per day. Each subsequent talk or time-slot of 45 to 90 minutes at Rs7,500.
  3. Please also kindly pay for the commute-expenses, on a per KM basis, as well as for toll taxes if any, within the NCR. I tend to drive down in my own car, as I might be coming in, or going directly to, a client’s project-site.
  4. For outstation: If I choose to drive down, kindly pay the commute and toll expenses incurred, and kindly provide me with clean, comfortable, and air-conditioned accommodations on a non-shared basis. I prefer staying on-campus. Some of the places I’ve stayed at have outstanding facilities, but a few other places have rather disappointed me, making me wish my hosts had rather checked me into a hotel. So please discuss this in detail before finalizing a program.
  5. Silent, peaceful environs are rather important for me, as I tend to meditate in my room. Nights especially have to be quiet, peaceful and undisturbed. Please.
  6. A room with dampness on the walls and/or with strong and stale odours must be avoided.
  7. For travel to longer distances (India is a sub-continent!) I only prefer air-travel. My airline of choice is Jet Airways. For destinations where Jet Airways does not fly, please discuss options before-hand.
  8. Do contact me at least 45 to 60 days in advance as my schedules are usually quite booked.
  9. Once in a while, the teaching-bug really bites me, and I end up working as a visiting faculty in a college or institution, while still continuing with my other professional projects. Should you wish me to work as a visiting faculty, the above rates may not be applicable.
  10. Finally, the most precious aspect of my life is my family, and given my schedules and travel, when possible, I tend to take them along.

The above rates are for academia only. Professional training projects and workshops for non-academia and corporate clients, are usually billed at between Rs 2,50,000 to Rs 3,50,000, with some going up to Rs 5,50,000. All other expenses and applicable taxes extra. The nature and scope of such professional workshops are significantly different from the work I do for academia. The professional fees quoted depend on three core factors: Scope; complexity; and existing competency.

Since 1998, I’ve been working and interacting with academia in India whenever I can. This has always implied my taking time out of my professional tasks, devoting my free and spare time, and even keeping myself away from my family as well as from my personal pursuits.

Why? I love to teach and to share, and to inspire young minds and hearts with new ideas, new insights, and new opportunities. I spend hours every day researching deeply, learning about new things in my various professional and personal disciples, and love to share these with those keen to learn.

The number of invitations I receive keeps going up, semester-after-semester. This delights me. However, my increased professional commitments, which have also become more demanding and challenging, no longer allow me that luxury of time and energy. I often have to carve time out of my professional schedules, and catch up with deadlines by working harder and at odd times through late in the night.

Should I just hang up my kohlapuris, and call it a day? Should I just draw comfort from some of the more fruitful interactions I’ve had over these 11 unbroken years? I don’t think I’m done yet, but I do need to be more focussed and careful in agreeing to invitations. Especially when I’ve startled myself to discover that the token honorarium-fee offered me is often woefully inadequate, or the travel and/or accommodation rather unsuitable.

Some of you may have seen me through the years make an open promise on-stage to come and interact with any college that invites me, provided our schedules match. Look up my flickr account  to see how I’ve delivered on this promise, even though I only started photo-blogging since 2007. According to my estimates, I have surpassed my initial objective of touching the lives and minds of 10,000 students and participants across India. Going forward, some of you from academia may find these speaker-fees rather steep and impossible to accept. My experience, however, indicates the education-sector in India can easily find funds and sponsors for any worthy initiative.

[ends]

Kiss Your TV Goodbye.

GISS.tv will transform India’s tv broadcasting and media. Forever.

Sarai is the perfect place for a kiss. Behind all the non-stop chatter and noise of television stations, I experienced a quiet revolution on a lazy, saturday afternoon in an almost-empty seminar room in Delhi’s leafy north campus. A revolution, that will eventually impact more than 500 million TV viewers in India, and reach out to the global population of the world far-ahead of conventional twentieth-century television. A revolution that will kiss your TV goodbye. Click on the photos below to discover more from the captions.

[flickr album=72157608313338533 num=5 size=Thumbnail]

The Hidden Dragon

The soft-spoken and unassuming Yves Degoyon, dressed in an old tee-shirt, bleary-eyed from his travels in India, commanded the stage. He walked the dozen participants in the room through his impressive giss.tv project. For ordinary mortals, giss.tv allows anyone, anywhere, armed with nothing more than a commodity laptop, to broadcast live video on their own internet-tv channel, and reach a global audience instantly. All for free, as in both free-of-cost, and more importantly, with freedom. Similarly, giss.tv also allows anyone anywhere to launch their own audio broadcasts instantly for the world.

The live broadcast is streamed into the web-browser of any viewer who tunes in, and does not require any proprietary plug-in like Adobe’s Flash, to run. The underlying technology is Java, which means it can run on any browser, on any device, smartphones, and who knows, you may soon have special devices that could tune-in as well.

This changes everything. In the spirit of freedom, all the software required to author, produce, capture live video and audio, and broadcast are also free and with-freedom, i.e. muft and mukt. Indeed, the impressive suite of software mimics everything that you may expect from professional tv production suites.

You can ticker-tape text at the bottom or anywhere on the screen, at any angle and direction. You can also record your final broadcasts concurrently to hard-disk for archives and for re-purposing. It can mix live video-broadcasts with pre-recorded segments. This is ideal for, say, a live TV news program that has to show video-footage on-cue. It can take multiple video-streams, fade and mix from one to the other, quite suitable for stringing in stories from correspondents or live-video from any geographical location. Yves does recommend it is easier to use a hardware video-mixer to spare current laptops and software the burden of processing, but still, it is a proof-of-concept that will soon become mainstream.

The Bliss of GISS
There are a few things that giss.tv can do, which I have not yet seen on any platform. For instance, unlike youtube or other video-sites, it works with live video, and uses absolutely no proprietary software or plug-in. That means, as stated earlier, everything is muft and mukt. GISS.tv also gives you, the author, complete copyright and ownership of your video, and encourages you to publish and broadcast using a copyleft or a creativecommons license. The server-space and all services are provided free. You can also design your own tv station and channel on the web-browser, and let viewers log-in and subscribe to your video-broadcasts. Unlike TV, giss.tv is also more interactive. Viewers can comment, blog, discuss, and interact, as they watch the video.You can also track viewers, and as each viewer tunes-in, you can lookup his or her location on a map, and the software and platform details of their machines.

Static Noise

What GISS.tv lacks currently, is a slick user-interface design and a bling-bling website. Indeed, it suffers from the looks of a typical, grown-at-home geeky project. Yves works almost effortlessly with his tools, but even the best nerds would quail at the sight of those intimidating software and tools that fill the screen. What the project needs acutely at this moment, is a complete re-do of their user-interface design, and a much more streamlined learning curve.

Nevertheless, I am so impressed with this project, that I have just authored an article in my FreedomYug column for the November 2008 of LinuxForYou magazine. Will publish a hyperlink to it once it gets published. [Update]: Here is the link: My TV Station.

Whether giss.tv eventually becomes successful, or whether it paves the way for a grander and significant paradigm-shift remains to be seen. No one can deny the time has come for twentieth-century broadcast-television, and especially the low-standards of news and tv-journalism we’re currently dished out, to be revamped. On this count, Yves hits the nail on the head. Read his raison d’etre for launching this project, his motivations for giss.tv.

To say it more simply: I am too sexy for TV.

So don’t talk, just giss….