Lost futures: Unconscious gestures?

Lamenting lost futures is not that productive, but it doesn’t stop me enjoying it. Whether it’s the pleasure of reading Ellis’s “Ministry of Space” and thinking “what if?” or looking through popculture futures past as in this Guardian article – it’s generally a sentimental, but thought-provoking activity.

Recently, though, I’ve been thinking about a temporarily lost future that’s closer to home in the realm of mobile UI design. That’s the future that’s been perhaps temporarily lost in the wake of the iPhone’s arrival.

A couple of caveats.

Up until June this year. I worked at Nokia in team that created prototype UIs for the Nseries devices, so this could be interpreted as sour-grapes, I suppose.. but I own an iPodTouch, that uses the same UI/OS more-or-less, and love it.

I spoke at SkillSwap Bristol in September (thanks to Laura for the invite) and up until the day I was travelling to Bristol, I didn’t know what I was going to say, but I’d been banging on at people in the pub (esp. Mr. Coates) about the iPhone’s possible impact on interface culture, so I thought I’d put together some of those half-formed thoughts for the evening’s debate.

The slides are on Slideshare
(no notes, yet) but the basic riff was that the iPhone is a beautiful, seductive but jealous mistress that craves your attention, and enslaves you to its jaw-dropping gorgeousness at the expense of the world around you.


This, of course, is not entirely true – but it makes for a good starting point for an argument! Of course, nearly all our mobile electronic gewgaws serve in some small way or other to take us away from the here and now.

But the flowing experience just beyond Johnny Ive’s proscenium chrome does have a hold more powerful than perhaps we’ve seen before. Not only over users, but over those deciding product roadmaps. We’re going to see a lot of attempts to vault the bar that Apple have undoubtedly raised.

Which, personally, I think is kind-of-a-shame.

First – a (slightly-bitter) side-note on the Touch UI peanut gallery.

In recent months we’ve seen Nokia and Sony Ericsson show demos of their touch UIs. To which the response on many tech blogs has been “It’s a copy of the iPhone”. In fact, even a Nokia executive responded that they had ‘copied with pride’.

That last remark made me spit with anger – and I almost posted something very intemperate as a result. The work that all the teams within Nokia had put into developing touch UI got discounted, just like that, with a half-thought-through response in a press conference. I wish that huge software engineering outfits like S60 could move fast enough to ‘copy with pride’.


Fact-of-the-matter is if you have roughly the same component pipeline, and you’re designing an interface used on-the-go by (human) fingers, you’re going to end up with a lot of the same UI principles.

But Apple executed first, and beautifully, and they win. They own it, culturally.

Thus ends the (slightly-bitter) side-note – back to the lost future.

Back in 2005, Chris and myself gave a talk at O’Reilly Etech based on the work we were doing on RFID and tangible, embodied interactions, with Janne Jalkanen and heavily influenced by the thinking of Paul Dourish in his book “Where the action is”, where he advances his argument for ’embodied interaction’:

“By embodiment, I don’t mean simply physical reality, but rather, the way that physical and social phenomena unfold in real time and real space as a part of the world in which we are situated, right alongside and around us.”

I was strongly convinced that this was a direction that could take us down a new path from recreating desktop computer UIs on smaller and smaller surfaces, and create an alternative future for mobile interaction design that would be more about ‘being in the world’ than being in the screen.

That seems very far away from here – and although development in sensors and other enablers continues, and efforts such as the interactive gestures wiki are inspiring – it’s likely that we’re locked into pursuing very conscious, very gorgeous, deliberate touch interfaces – touch-as-manipulate-objects-on-screen rather than touch-as-manipulate-objects-in-the-world for now.

But, to close, back to Nokia’s S60 touch plans.

Tom spotted it first. In their (fairly-cheesy) video demo, there’s a flash of something wonderful.

Away from the standard finger and stylus touch stuff there’s a moment where a girl is talking to a guy – and doesn’t break eye contact, doesn’t lose the thread of conversation; just flips her phone over to silence and reject a call. Without a thought.

Being in the world: s60 edition from blackbeltjones on Vimeo.

As Dourish would have it:

“interacting in the world, participating in it and acting through it, in the absorbed and unreflective manner of normal experience.”

I hope there’s a future in that.

Where next?

I’m sitting typing this the day after my last day at Nokia.

I’ve got about a week before I start back at the BBC, where I’ll be working in the “Vision” department with content creators and commissioners investigating and demonstrating (I hope) how better to use the internet to help deepen/broaden the stories being told and worlds being built.

I’ve worked at the BBC before – done a couple of tours in fact, but not worked with the storytellers before.

Exciting stuff.

That’s going to be four days a week and on the fifth day… Well, I’ve been working in my spare time since January on Dopplr with Mr. Biddulph and the other dopplristas and I’m very happy to be having some more time to spend whittling that with him.

After 12 years working on digital stuff for other people it feels amazing to do something so directly and get such direct feedback from people using something you helped make. Very stressful but highly-recommended. I’ll be writing more about Dopplr over at blog.dopplr.com.

Also, I’m hoping to get some other neglected things up-and-running again, like this place. More drawing and also I hope some teaching. By which, of course, I mean learning… as in, if you have to tell people what you think, you have to listen hard and think harder – which is learning!


If you see what I mean.

So if anyone has a gig teaching who would indulge me in coming along to crit/tutor/talk – let me know!

My last week at Nokia…

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Manifesto going in., originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

This was my manifesto going in.

It’s been three and a half years – which is longer than I thought, but maybe also shorter than I thought at the start of the year.

It’s a long story but maybe we’ll talk about it some time.

It involves beer, the ever-present draw of a spiritual home, and an offer I couldn’t refuse from a man I wanted to work for.

And on the other hand – a small, perfectly formed idea I really wanted to build – with people I wanted to build something with.

Oh, and listening to Will Wright.

On the high-faluttin’ fancy talk above – maybe a start has been made, maybe I’ll reconnect with them on the next Orbit (2012? Timewave-0! Singularity! SolarMax!)

The team at Nokia Design are smart, funny and like to cause trouble, so I wouldn’t bet against it, or them…

Geonerdery getting easier…

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Played for the first time this evening with the Nokia Sports Tracker app on the N95. I placed it in the front pouch of my Brompton bag and set off for the station from the office.

The GPS usually acquires satellites painfully slowly, but it got a fix fairly quickly – helped by being in the middle of semi-rural Hampshire, with the tallest thing for miles being a squat 3-storey technology company HQ…

There’s an “autopause” feature on the app which seems to notice when you’ve been at rest for a while, which is a nice touch – but the best thing was once I’d got home and discovered the ease at which you can export it to something like Google Earth.

It was a three-click operation to save and send the file to my Macbook, where I just double clicked it and swooped in on my little bike ride from orbit.


Touchy, Feely, 2012-ly.

Nokia Design: Explore Concept 2012 on VimeoConcept work here by the lovely people in our Calabasas studio illustrating what Nokia Nseries could do in 2012.

Just the device to have around for the end of the Mayan Calendar and the arrival of TimeWave-Zero/Barbelith/VALIS/The Solar Maximum/Whatever.

Our team was peripherally involved in brainstorming it with them, but they have put together a rather lovely thing here. There had to be a Welshman involved…

Three years at Nokia


Some self-indulgence (on a blog? NO!)
Today, November the 3rd, is three years to the day I started at Nokia.

Having been interviewed by Marko in the balmy, bright-blue-skied days of the Finnish summer, and having brought Foe for a recce in the brisk, equally-bright-blue-skied autumn, I turned up in the dour, downtrodded november streets of Ruoholahti and wondered what I’d let meself in for.

Still do sometimes – three years and I’m still learning. Today was spent in the snowbound forest for instance with the nice people who make the 770 internet tablet and the Maemo platform – who are all about a thousand times smarter than me. Fun.

The first two years were spent more in design research, notably (for me at least) working with Janne, Jyri, Marko, Jan and Chris amongst others on the early stages of NFC and thinking about interaction design for what was going to come down the line as the world got that little bit more spimey.

Also being able to spend about a year or so with Janne again, and Minh – thinking, doing, scribbling and playing with the nature of Play – the greatest human universal and endless source of fantastic insight.

I was a very lucky boy.

The last year (corresponding with the gradual decline of this blog) has seen me in a different role – about this time last year I moved to Nokia Design to work with the team designing the Nokia Nseries products, building the user-experience team and generally wrestling with the sometimes overwhelming job of helping to make the most powerful mobile devices – simpler, clearer and more delightful to use while not compromising the superpowers they can grant the owner.

Nothing on the shelves yet that I’ve been involved with – one thing for a mainly ex-web person to get used to is the lead times involved in combining bits and atoms – but there’s some awesome stuff coming in 2007 which our little team has contributed to.

This is the longest I’ve actually spent at one place (even the BBC) and I feel like I want to spend a lot longer here. My original boss, who became a good friend has moved on and this week has seen him make new (very interesting) waves, like Jyri having taken the startup route… but I’m facing the possibility myself that I’ve found what I want to do for now, and so I guess this blog will just keep getting worse for a few more years!

Jobs at Nokia Design

Thanks to everyone who got in touch. We’re closing the advertising now for the posts ‘IRL’, so I’ll do the same here.

This is the first time I’ve done such a thing (I think) and as far as I know it’s the first time we’ve done it at Nokia Design, but it seems to have worked for others in the past, so here goes…

We’re looking for a few mind-blowing people to join the team working on user-experience and interaction design for Nokia Nseries [warning – a lot of Flash] and other multimedia goodness.

There are two roles up for grabs at the moment:

Senior Design Specialist, User Experience Design
This is quite a senior role, and would suit someone with 8+ years of experience in UE design, 5+− years as UE creative lead.
It is both a ‘business-facing’ role and a team-building/growing role: excellent people and team working skills are a definite plus. It’s also a creative role, excellent concepting/vision-communication skills are needed. We’re working in an increasing multi-disciplinary and rapidly-prototyping manner, so both wide brains and deep skills are a must.


User-Experience Designer
This might suit someone who is a post-grad designer with 2-3 years industry experience under their belt – not necessarily directly mobile, but with a strong multi-platform, , multi-device, people-centred view of interaction design. This is much more of a hand-on, project-oriented role, but again it’s working in the same multi-disciplinary, rapidly-prototyping team environment. Excellent UE/UI/interaction prototyping skills are needed here (Flash, Illustrator, all the usuals etc – plus pens, post-its and polyboard!) to be able to evaulate concepts and designs quickly.

If you’re looking for what must be one of the most challenging jobs in mobile experience design, are interested and willing to work in Helsinki or London, or have any questions, then drop me a line at the usual email address matt (at) blackbeltjones.com and I can put you in touch with our recruitment people to get more detail job descriptions etc.

Future Platforms for play

I’ve got a big old post almost done on the project, but Tom has procrastinated slightly less and beaten me to it – writing about a prototype that Future Platforms built for me early in the year.

“We all like to play; whether we’re trainspotters, online gamers, old or young, we all take pleasure from playfulness. It can be solo activity, a social exercise, investigative, educational or just plain fun. In a mobile context, play is usually associated with simple downloadable arcade games – but this needn’t be the whole story.

So we built a mobile toy for Nokia, called Twitchr.”

Don’t know if Tom is going to talk about it tomorrow at MoMoLondon, as I think his talk will be concentrating on Flirtomatic. If you’re going to MoMoLo – see you there I hope.

» Tom Hume.org: Selling New Mobile Phone Features

Snakes on a phone

The new version of Python for s60 is available, and looks to have a metric shed-load of interesting new capabilities:

The new version includes support for the following new features:

* 2D Graphics, Images, and Full-screen applications
* Camera and Screenshot API
* Contacts and Calendar API
* Sound recording and playback
* Access to System info, such as IMEI number, disk space, free memory, etc.
* Rich text display (fonts, colors, styles)
* Support for Scalable UI
* Expanded key events
* Telephone dialing
* ZIP module

Version 1.2 continues to include features from the 1.0 release, such as:

* Networking support for GPRS and Bluetooth
* On-device and remote Python console
* Support for native GUI widgets
* SMS sending
* Application build tool for packaging stand-alone application installers
* Compatible with all Series 60 1st and 2nd Edition devices

Aside from being able to make nice UIs with it – now that you can make stand-alone application installers, hopefully we’ll see a lot more innovation on s60 using this.

“Napkin Sketch” Nokia ad

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"Napkin Sketch" Nokia ad, originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

Pleasantly surprised by these new adverts of ours.

Gone are the cheesy grinning yoof models gleefully living the ‘mobile lifestyle’, and instead we have a languidly expressive line sketching the form of the new phone.

It’s the archetypal ‘back of the envelope’ sketch that captures the essence of the design, communicates it to another with casual power.

I like that the ad is not covered with ‘features’, ‘benefits’, acronyms or tech specs either. It’s confident enough to say the clear, simple design of this object will sell it to you, or not.

The fact that this can now be the primary image in the advert also shows the iconic status of the clamshell as the shape of mobile telephony in the popular mind.

Which is going to be an interesting challenge for all the mobile device manufacturers when they want to innovate beyond that – not just Nokia.

p.s. I hate those pompous “disclosure” lines that people use when writing about companies they work for, but as you may know, I work for Nokia, and usually I hate their adverts, so was prompted to write this, the views here stated may not be those of my employers, yadda, yadda.