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Close your eyes and touch your nose. How did you do it? How did you sense where your hand was, and direct it to the right point? You’re not using sight, hearing, taste, smell, or touch (except right at the end). Instead, you’re relying on proprioception: the sense of your body’s position in space, and the position of various parts of the body in relation to each other.

Proprioception—sometimes regarded as the sixth sense—helps us understand our orientation, coordinate our movements, and make sense of the world around us. It helps us turn space into place, turning an abstract set of dimensions into an environment that we understand and can manipulate accordingly.

Digital space, of course, doesn’t offer physical proprioception, so it falls to designers to provide cues about the user’s position. The most obvious way to do this is with explicit visual components. Throughout the web’s history, we’ve adopted many physical metaphors for these navigational building blocks: breadcrumbs, navigation menus, and homepages have become familiar to millions of users.

Unfortunately, these explicit navigational components are difficult to handle in the responsive era. They don’t fit well on small screens, and are falling out of favor as recent trends demand their deprecation in the interface.

To revitalize these components, enterprising designers have started to explore new small-screen navigation patterns. These are a useful start, but to help users navigate comfortably on small screens, it’s worth looking beyond pure signposting. We can bring the sense of proprioception into the digital world by focusing on the transitions between screens. Here are just a few examples.

Horizontal for hierarchy

By (largely unspoken) Western convention, right is the direction of horizontal progression–just think of the number line or written text. Left is subsequently seen as backward, even regressive. It’s no accident that the Latin for left–“sinistra”–found its home in the English language as “sinister.” This historical prejudice may upset my fellow lefties, but it offers a helpful convention for digital product designers.

Horizontal transitions are seen throughout smartphone operating systems. In this example from the iOS Music app, as content moves right to left, the user appears to move right, and thus down the hierarchy. He can then move left to return back up the tree. The iOS designers use directional indicators to back up these transitions. Controls that lead down the hierarchy are given right arrow shapes, and those that lead up (or “Back”) point left. Position further reinforces the concept, with right arrows placed on the right, and left arrows on the left.

The design works by offering users a mental origin—the home screen–then using transitions to establish a sense of displacement from that origin. Every step right takes the user farther from home, every step left brings them closer. This effect therefore needs a clear anchor or landmark against which the user can orient. The home screen of an app is usually at the top of the tree: the horizontal hierarchy effect isn’t so successful if the user is thrown straight into the middle of a complex hierarchy.

Perpendicular for modals

Not every action in an otherwise hierarchical structure sits within the hierarchy. Modal actions like warnings, “select account” disambiguation screens, or login flows need different treatment. It’s useful here to use perpendicular transitions that go against the horizontal flow.

Using the y-axis (i.e. vertical transitions) is the most common choice. The Twitter mobile app uses it, for example, for composing new tweets, an activity that breaks out of the timeline/detail view hierarchy.

The modal window slides into view from the bottom of the app. This doesn’t suggest progress within the hierarchy. Instead, it feels disruptive: the screen intrudes into the usual flow. Once the user has completed or dismissed the screen, it disappears from whence it came, and we return to horizontal business as usual.

Flip for configuration

An alternative for non-hierarchical interactions is a flip.

The physical metaphor of the flip gives it a slightly different feel. This isn’t interruption so much as configuration: reaching around the back of the screen to play with the wiring. As such, a flip is ideal for Settings screens, where the options chosen directly affect the initial view. In this clip, the Me screen flips to allow the user to choose their preferred account.

Card swap for entering a new hierarchy

In the card swap transition, the active screen moves aside and then behind another, like a deck of cards being cut.

This transition feels more absolute than the others. Just this simple piece of animation wipes the slate clean and tells the user she’s moved to a new structure, or even a new app. As such, it also feels less reversible. The user can’t simply press Back to undo this switch. The only way to reverse is to repeat the action, bringing the other screen back to the foreground.

These four transitions alone communicate significantly different navigational patterns; yet transitions are frequently overlooked in favor of bulkier on-screen components. Intelligent transitions could make a significant difference to your app’s user experience. If they support and confirm your app’s structure, your navigational model can fall into place more easily. However, if your transitions conflict with on-screen components, you may just stir up a vague feeling that something’s not quite right.

The rise of small screens rewards time spent on the small details. When on-screen territory is at a premium, the gaps between screens become far more interesting.

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Technology Assisted Reading Acquisition: Children Acquiring Literacy Naturally

Google Tech Talk 12/19/2012 Presented by Dom Massaro ABSTRACT Society faces increasing challenges in the ability to support the infrastructure of a literate world. Virtual teachers, the internet, and the ceaseless access to information hold promise. To date, however, these potential solutions do not consider research in cognitive science and the potential of the learning brain. This talk reviews our previous research, technology, and applications in speech perception using our computer-animated face, Baldi. It then offers the possibility of how universal literacy can be achieved with minimal cost, allowing a revolutionary new age that challenges the survival of our educational institutions and society as we know them. It questions the commonly held belief that written language requires formal instruction and schooling whereas spoken language is seamlessly acquired from birth onward by natural interactions with persons who talk. The objectives are to prototype physical systems that exploit developments in behavioral science and technology to a) automatically recognize speech and objects, and b) to display appropriate written descriptions. The goal is to create an interactive system TARA to allow infants, toddlers, and preschool children to acquire literacy naturally. Speaker Info Dom Massaro is currently a Research Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz and has had an extended career of innovative language research with preschool and school children as well <b>...</b>

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Movie poster colors, the evolution

We've seen a number of looks at movie poster cliches, but this is the first time I've seen how the color of movie posters have changed over time. Vijay Pandurangan downloaded 35,000 poster thumbnails from a movie site, counted the color pixels in each image, and then grouped them by year and sorted by hue.

Some thoughts from Pandurangan's designer friend Cheryle Cranbourne:

The movies whose posters I analysed "cover a good range of genres. Perhaps the colors say less about how movie posters' colors as a whole and color trends, than they do about how genres of movies have evolved. For example, there are more action/thriller/sci-fi [films] than there were 50-70 years ago, which might have something to do with the increase in darker, more 'masculine' shades.”

There's no mention of the blanked out 1924. That must've been a sad year. Oh wait, there were movies during that year, so there was either a massive ink shortage or it's just missing data.

[via @DataPointed]

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Resonate hopes to turn its gaze towards the unforeseen future of technology within the world of art, and if anyone’s standing alongside them it’s probably Field. Founded by Marcus Went and Vera-Maria Glahn, a duo in search of a “new digital aesthetic”, their artistic visions often take the shape of large scale installations, using digital imagery to coat a gallery space like paint on a wall (we loved their mega-immersive collaboration with Matt Pyke last year). They’ve also got a gift for making gorgeous animations inspired by nature, fluidity and movement. Vibrant and innovative, these guys make the kind of digital future we’d like to live in.

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Since 2003, Lise Sarfati has been traveling across the United States, particularly on the west coast, photographing adolescents and women against the vernacular of the American landscape. The exhibitions On Hollywood and She, opening Feb. 25 and March 31, respectively, at Rose Gallery in Los Angeles, juxtapose subjects against an allegorical landscape that shifts between the real and the fictional. On Hollywood focuses on Los Angeles, while She explores Oakland, but both touch on the notion of fluidity within feminine identity. “I wanted to represent a woman who is both vulnerable and strong, oscillating between promise and despair,” Sarfarti said of her inspirations. “I wanted to give these women a voice, or rather, an image.”

Created from 2009 to 2010, On Hollywood features young women against the backdrop of Hollywood—a fabled place that during its golden era represented the hopes and dreams of aspiring stars. The girls are often pictured in classic Hollywood spaces, dressed casually, but they appear as if caught in an off moment.  Sarfati is very precise about who she photographs. The girls juggle multiple jobs—most are dancers. “They are always in motion, and have a particularly difficult life where dependencies on men and drugs merge,” Sarfati says. “[They are] women at the mercy of a strange fate.”  The landscape of Hollywood is barren. The women appear lost, unaware of the viewer’s gaze and immersed in their own illusions of the Hollywood myth.

Sarfarti’s earlier series, She, created between 2005 and 2009, is an exploration of two sets of sisters: Christine and Gina, as well as Christine’s daughters, Sasha and Sloane. The series documents their relationships during a period of transition. At the time, Sasha and Sloane had moved from the conservatism of their grandparents’ home to an alternative lifestyle in their mother’s Oakland loft. In an period of re-invention and under the careful gaze of Sarfati’s lens, the girls try to find their identities—Sloane often changes her appearance and seems to enjoy being photographed whereas Sasha, when pictured, is pensive and almost melancholic. “The sisters are isolated, they are alone,” Sarfati says, “It’s the fusion of these four solitudes that creates the series and the story.”

The two older sisters, Christine and Gina, are also also searching. “The mother, Christine, as she appears in my photographs, is threatening, terrifying, but also mysterious and fascinating. She is no longer protective. She is strong. She is independent,” Sarfati says. The older pair of sisters change their hair styles and jobs. Christine is pictured gazing absently in a wedding dress—all four women are constantly in flux. “The women in She reflect one another until you can no longer tell them apart. The only gaze possible is the gaze of the images between themselves,” Sarfati said. “I don’t particularly like mises en scènes. I prefer the search for truth.”

Lise Sarfati is a French artist living and working in the United States. Her two new exhibitions On Hollywood and She open on Feb. 25 and March 31, respectively, at the Rose Gallery in Los Angeles.

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TEDxEmory - Josh Levs - Breaking the system to achieve the impossible

In thespirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

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