Sep 06, 2011

A Trip to the Bookstore

In preparation for an iPad app sketching session, and with no fresh ideas coming to me as I sat at my desk, I grabbed my Canon PowerShot, switched it into video mode, and made a trip to the bookstore.

The trip in itself was revealing—thinking about what I was going to shoot made me focus on what was really important in the bookstore, and helped me search out and notice things that I might not have paid attention to before. I encountered a number of rich ways that the bookstore curates and presents packages of data (books!) that invite us to explore and interact with them.

Watching the footage after upload, I uncovered some small, but very interesting details that escaped my notice during filming. Take, for example, the shot of the woman in blue removing and replacing books from the shelf (1:08). After she puts a book back, she gives it a little extra pat to knock it to the back of the shelf.

One high-level takeaway that I got from watching the results of my trip were the importance of touch and sound. Technology theorist Marshall McLuhan rued the advent of the television (and later, even went as far back as the printing press) as a technology that shifted civilization from a highly auditory and tactile world, that incorporated all of the senses more or less equally, to a one-dimensional world in which the visual drowned out all else.

Designing for screens necessitates the favoring of visual elements over the other senses—the visual captures the strongest and most immediate reaction. But, with the iPhone, iPad, and other tablet and touch devices, we now have the capability to use more of our body than our mouse finger, and incorporate our other senses back into our interactions with complex sets of data.

Browsing an iPad has yet to match the richness of browsing through a real bookstore (at least for me), but we are closer than we have ever been before. Judging from McLuhan’s tone, he no doubt saw our whirlwind of technology as leading only toward some sort of devastating, emotionless, cyborg future where we are all chained to our couches and desks, staring blankly at brightly lit screens. While it still remains to be seen what effect Google Search is having on our cognitive functionality, it’s nice to imagine that whatever tech direction we as designers direct the world toward, it can be one in which all of our senses are intact.