Archive for the ‘thoughts’ Category

Peek: less skimming, more reading

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

I read a lot, but not really. Everyday I scan tenths of articles on the web – blog posts, news articles, essays. I may read word-by-word only 1 out of 100, if any. I find myself skipping full paragraphs and scanning for words in articles, specially in long ones. Is not that I’m not interested, it feels more like I don’t know how to read properly anymore.

The same happened with books. I started many last year, I only finished two. I try hard, but I lose focus and my mind starts wandering. I stare at the book and my eyes follow the lines and send stuff to my brain, and my brain is like “sorry I’m busy.” And then I turn the page and I realize I didn’t get anything about what just happened in the story. I look smart in the subway though.

I was curious to know why this is happening, and what to do with it. I found some answers by reading (!) a fantastic book, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. Nicholas explains how the human brain has been reconfiguring itself, optimizing to the types of input it receives. When books became popular the human brain adjusted to a calm, linear type of input. With internet, our brain is rewiring for a fast, short, sometimes overlapping bits of information. As he puts it:

“I realized my brain wasn’t just drifting. It was hungry. It was demanding to be fed the way the Net fed it”

And not only hungry, our brain is also optimized for problem solving and being time efficient, also when reading. This is the consequence of our brain being trained everyday to navigate the web; finding the right keywords to search for specific information from a vast repository or scanning and filtering our social feed when we have one minute to spare.

There is another interesting article on how users read on the web. It starts with a summary: “They don’t”, and provides recommendations to design your text on the web according to the new readers’ abilities. In general, it suggests the use of ‘scannable text’, and somehow editorial platforms on the web like Medium provide formatting tools that are aligned with this directions. Having the reading time at the beginning of an article is already a good step towards calming down our brain, setting the expectations.

One of my hypotheses about why I scan articles instead of read them is that I’m not sure if I’m interested in the article, thus I don’t want to spend time reading it word-by-word to find out. Because you know, there are a few other articles to read on the web.

I posed myself a question: Is there a way I can better select what I read, without having to scan the articles? Trying to answer this question I sketched a concept for a reader, or maybe it’s just a feature for a reader. I called it Peek – a mobile reader that helps you filter what you read.



Peek gather articles from selected sources and presents them with peeks, 3 to 5 relevant excerpts. It’s your decision to dive into the long read, or fly over the next article. Peek eliminates skimming – long or short, you’re always reading.

In the main screen, a list of articles from different sources:

By swiping left on an article you reveal the peeks for that article, the most relevant* single sentences of that article. If a peek catches your attention, you can tap to access the full article, right where the excerpt is from. This way you can also read the part that is related to that peek that caught your attention without having to go through the whole piece.

The tool has also a highlighting feature, to mark interesting passages of an article, similar to the way you can highlight content on a Kindle. To highlight a sentence simply double tap:

*The highlighting feature has the double function of generating the peeks, by aggregating the highlights from multiple users and selecting the most relevant ones.

There is risk in relying on user’s input to create the peeks, the core of the concept. However, it seems proven that people use this feature on other platforms such as the Kindle, using a more arduous way of highlighting than a double tap. There may be other ways of defining crowdsourced ‘heat maps’ of interest in long pieces of content on the web (articles, talks, etc.) by looking at other parameters, such as comments – I sometimes use that in Medium to see what’s hot on an article.

I’m not planning to develop this in the near future, but still curious if a tool like this could help me read more, and better.

Slow light

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

A couple of years ago in a Q&A for The Creators Project they asked me:

What fantasy piece of technology would you like to see invented?

I said:

A simple knob that connects to any source of light, so it slows down the speed of the light. Even down to zero, like a lightsaber.

I always dreamed about the endless possibilities if such a magical thing was ever feasible. And I recently discovered that it is happening! In the last story of this podcast from Radiolab (min. 45),



Danish physicist Lene Hau explains how she has been able to slow down a beam of light, passing it through an ultra-cold cloud of sodium atoms. She has also been able to transform the form of light into matter, recording the shape of the light pulse with a laser. This light copy (or light metadata) can be stored, and the light form re-created in another place and time.

Collection of sunsets

Cold-cloud photo camera

An article and a video about Lene’s research.

Data forecast

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Our data today:

The forecast for the time to come:

_ manipulation

_ monopoly

_ hacks

_ leaks

_ data not found

_ restart

( s o u r c e s )

Flaps: fast and contextual browsing

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Web browsing is probably the main activity we use computers for today. Tabs have been a universal standard in web browsers, helping a wide range of users to navigate the web. Tabs provide a visual representation of the active webpages, waiting to be processed: either read them, discard them, keep them for later, or archive. Lately I’ve been trying to question if tabs are the best way to navigate web content.

The way tabs are sorted is a combination of time (new tabs open at the right end of the tabs bar) and source (new tabs from links coming from a specific webpage will sit next to that webpage’s tab). This two sorting strategies combined with the flat visual representation of the tabs doesn’t help navigating them, specially when the tab bar is cluttered and web titles and/or icons are hidden.

If we take the tabs metaphor back to its origin, while organising paper documents we used to write names on the folders, use coloured folders or use different drawers. Tabs on the browser are ethereal and don’t require such a structure, although they could potentially organise themselves understanding the typology of webpage they host. Tabs could be organised by type of content (media, personal, social, etc.) or use (in focus / in background, one time / frequent access, etc.)

Tabs are designed for ‘point and click’ in order to navigate through them. Pointing at things requires shifting the focus of attention and it usually slows down the interaction.

In order to understand how browsing could be improved, I analysed some of the behaviours I have developed while browsing (I use Chrome):

– I usually don’t look at the address bar when launching websites or performing searches. The shortcut to open a new page (Alt+T), Chrome’s omnibox, and the autocomplete converted the bar to an invisible interface. I think about reading the news and the news website appears on screen, putting zero effort on thinking how to get there.

Also I have noticed that I normally don’t keep open those webpages I visit frecuently. I normally create a new tab and launch the webpage, do what I need to do and I close it right after to come back where I was. One of the reasons I unconsciously develop this behaviour is that it’s faster and less disrupting to create a new tab (alt+T, type first character, Enter – 0.25sec max) than activate a tab that is already open (find the tab, point, click, refresh – 1sec + change of visual focus + potential procrastination). Switching between tabs follows the same reasoning.

– I pause/resume the music streaming many times a day and it still takes two or three steps to do so each time. Likewise it takes many steps to save an image either to my local or remote repository. Or browse webpages I previously bookmarked. There are many frequent operations that are performed using a generic interface.

– While looking for a specific tab on the tab bar, I sometimes end up checking the news on the way, or my email, or articles that I left open. Having the tabs always and all visible can distract me, although I embrace it and I like it somehow.

Based on the behaviours described above, there are some principles I’d like a browser’s interface to follow:

– Maximise the possibilities for psychomotor automation.

– Mutually adapt with the user and disappear with time.

– Minimise the ‘point & click’ and encourage fast navigation with the keyboard.

– Provide dedicated interactions for operations I perform frequently.

– Provide an adaptive interface that helps to focus, but doesn’t kill procrastination.

Trying to imagine a browser that follows those principles, I sketched Flaps, a full-screen browser with a minimum visual infrastructure, an interface for contextual navigation and dedicated interactions for optimising frequent actions. (play full screen)



Bits of the interface:

– main interface:

– contextual interface, after opening links from a webpage. When possible, webpage titles are formatted to increase its meaning:

– extended interface, with automatic grouping:

– repository / bookmarks / ‘read it later’ interface:

– example of predefined searches:

– examples of actions over the active website:

Flaps is just a video prototype for now – I’d be curious to let people try it and see how their browsing behaviours would evolve. There are a few aspects that haven’t been tackled in this prototype, that should be taken into account while implementing an interactive prototype (loading progress feedback, history overview, need for full length URL’s, optimise position of the interface for different webpages and screen ratios/resolutions, compatibility with existing keyboard shortcuts, etc.)

Any feedback on the concept, as well as input about personal behaviours and workflows while browsing, is very welcome!

Interaction Design Awards 2013, enter your work!

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Seven months have passed since I was invited to the Interaction Awards ceremony to receive an award for the project Pas a Pas. It was a true honour to participate in the event and to be recognised alongside all of the great designers I had the chance to share the experience with.

The award ceremony was part of Interaction’12, a conference fueled by a community of passionate designers that represent where and how Interaction Design is practiced today – from well-established design companies to emergent studios, from large technology firms to research centres, from professors to students. The various levels of experience and wealth of knowledge was acknowledged by the first edition of the Interaction Awards, which recognise work in numerous categories that represent how broad our discipline is.

Spending those three days in Dublin was a great opportunity to learn and be inspired by outstanding keynotes, to connect and debate with designers from around the globe, and contribute to a very active community. It was lots of fun too!

With just a few days left to submit new work for the next edition of the Interaction Awards, I would encourage all students that have been taking part in an Interaction Design education to submit your best work and take part in this great experience. For those who are planning to submit projects I’d like to share a couple of aspects that I feel are important when creating a strong project profile.

1. Frame your project.

A school project differs in many aspects from a professional project. While clients, budgets, technology roadmaps, deadlines are constraints for design companies or departments, student projects are often driven by other aspects – a theme or topic as brief, personal motivation or interests, the pursuit of a specific skill, the opportunity to collaborate with a company or social collective, etc. It’s important that those constraints, motivations and aspirations are reflected in the application to help the jury understand your initial playground.

2. Describe your journey.

Besides experiencing a new product or service first-hand, there is nothing more exciting for us, designers, than understanding what happens behind-the-scenes. Walk people through the steps on your project, describe the key moments of your process and how they had an impact on the outcome. This is where the jury can sense your passion, recognise your ability to take the right decisions, and discover your intention for each of your prototype’s iterations.

3. Evaluate the outcome.

In opposition to the previous point, it can also be valuable to detach ourselves from the process and the passion we’ve put into the project – that’s important when evaluating where we are in the process and how far we are from the initial expectations.

Whether it’s a ready-to-market product, a concept for a large scale service or a stepping stone that opens new opportunities, there is always a way to validate the concept, a scale to evaluate its impact, and a path to pursue it’s highest potential.

Besides writing about it, there is nothing more powerful and honest than a video showing people trying out your concept in a real environment. Show enough to let the concept shine by itself, let the audience identify with the people in the video and envision the potential of your idea.

I’m very looking forward to see this year’s entries for the Interaction Awards. Good luck with your submissions and hope to see everybody next January in Toronto!

Robot readable brontosaurus

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

Natural interactions with spatially aware devices

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

This weekend I wanted to transfer some articles I had in my web browser to my Kindle, to read them later. Just thinking about all the necessary procedures made me rule out the idea.

Despite how well virtually connected our devices are (iCloud, Dropbox, …), they still lack a tangible connection. A (representation of a) physical connection of those devices would facilitate a more intuitive interaction built on traditional mental models from the physical world. That’s one of the main reasons why kids interact with iPad so naturally, because it uses interfaces based on natural, tangible interactions.

I tried to imagine how a more intuitive interaction would be while transferring media between devices, sketching it in a short video*:



The interaction feels natural, and provides a seamless transition while consuming media – in this case, listening to music from being in front of the computer to going mobile. It’s a more intuitive way to synchronize media across devices, and the ‘cloud’ would take care of the data transferring in the background (high res files, music that is not existing in your device yet, etc.)

Portable devices can locate other devices quite precisely on a large scale (using GPS, wifi triangulation, etc.) but in small spaces they only ‘sense’ the existence of other devices (bluetooth, local network) – neither the absolute nor relative position of other devices are being measured with precision enough to enable a physical connection beyond the cable.

Some platforms use a physical connection using the device itself to create more intuitive ways to interact with them. Sifteo cubes use IrDA transceivers to detect other cubes nearby (<1cm). Microsoft Surface is using near-infrared light and cameras to detect objects sitting on the table. Last versions of Surface use PixelSense technology, being able to detect the object using micro sensors embedded on the screen pixel array.


Microsoft Surface

It seems that desktop and tablets are converging into a personal touch-screen device. Incorporating the technologies mentioned above on these devices would create a new canvas for exploring more natural ways of engaging with media on the tangible realm across multiple devices.


*The video sketch was done in a a few hours using the following tools:

– Keynote for the animations.

– Screenium for screencasting.

– iMovie for video editing.

– for the sound fx.

I have a vision

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I watched the Microsoft’s future vision video, showing ‘How people will get things done at work, at home, and on the go, in 5-10 years’. Well, I hope they’re wrong because I don’t quite like what this future looks like. The whole video is an extrapolation of the power of technology to the future, brutally forced into everyday moments.

I’ve been working on projects that required making a video to show how a product or service would integrate on a future context. Sometimes is challenging to convey ideas without bending some of the features in order to make them understandable for everybody, using just audio and video. But there are ways to do it. In Microsoft’s video I don’t feel neither the concepts nor the representation of them are exactly on track.

I picked three moments that called my attention:

1. Is she using her glasses to translate the audio? I don’t think glasses are the best product to integrate such a feature. Solving an audio problem by putting a piece glass in front of your eyes when you don’t need it doesn’t sound appropriate. Wouldn’t be the phone a better option?

If the reason behind it is to make it discreet for other people and integrated in an object people usually wears, then I don’t understand the shining “translating” on the glasses arm which is seen only by people surrounding the user.

2. It scares me the amount of screens that will be surrounding people. Or people surrounding screens… But it feels the relationship between users, screens and context (which is what I’d like to know about the future) remains unclear. It’s even more confusing. Is all the information (work-related, personal, confidential) available from every screen? How is it filtered? By location, by people around the screen? Maybe it’s too risky to answer some of these questions on a visionary video.

Also I’m not sure why information is not confined within the screen frame anymore, and expands on walls and tables.

3. Do you really need to check the content of your fridge on a screen? Is it too much effort to just open the fridge?


Anyway. This July I spent some days in California. One afternoon I was sitting with my friend Eric on a campsite near Yosemite. It was a place with great views, nice weather,  and the right time to open a bottle of wine. The cork popping sound is kind of iconic, and always helps celebrate a memorable event.

Then we imagined the cork was able to capture that moment. *Of course* technology would make it possible – this technology that will be everywhere, that will be very small, and very intelligent. With a pinch of irony, we imagined another example of what we might find around us in the future, specially if we follow certain future visions.

Take it lightly :)

Presenting… the e-Cork.