Seen Any Good Designs Lately?

Along with a few other design figures — each of whom have much, much more impressive reputations than myself — I’ve been been invited by one of New York’s major art museums to help select pieces for inclusion in their permanent design collection. For now, I’m going to be a bit cagey about this and refrain from revealing the name of this museum. But suffice it to say that, to be selected for inclusion in this institution’s collection is a pretty prestigious affair, and I’m more than a little stunned that I was asked for my opinion.

That said, part of my responsibility in this matter is to submit a few possible candidates by, like, a few days ago. I’m late. I’ve been sitting on this for a good time now, and though I have some ideas I’m definitely a little stumped, so I thought I would open it up to my loyal readership.

Design for Design’s Sake

What I’m looking for are the best pieces of interactive design that you think deserve to be considered for inclusion into the museum’s collection. Please add your thoughts as a comment here below. Personally, I would prefer to nominate design samples that have some kind of real world application — I’m going to pass on designers’ portfolios and personal/non-commercial experiments in the online design medium for now.

It’s not that I think that sub-genre of design is unworthy of institutional recognition; it’s just that I think that there’s been a relatively abundant amount of attention paid to interaction design as fine art already, and relatively little paid to interaction design as practical art… at least from museums, that is. I’m willing to keep an open mind about this, so if you can make a great argument for something completely useless (joke), I’m all ears.

Looks Count

My only other major criteria would be that the design sample be aesthetically pleasing. I have a pretty wide definition of that concept, so I’m certainly not advocating a particular style or school of design of any sort. But I do think there’s a museum for the Alertboxes of the world somewhere out there, but I’m just pretty sure it’s not this particular one.

Anyway, if you have any ideas, I’d be most grateful. I promise to keep you posted on this process; I’ll reveal the name of the museum before too long. Thanks!

  1. I’ve always felt that Google’s interface should be winning design awards in magazines like How, CommArts, ID, etc. It’s not pretty enough for their glossy pages, but it has had a greater impact on design thinking in the technology and media worlds than the much-celebrated iPod.

    I’m also going to stick an oar in for blogs here. If there’s been a bigger triumph of function and form over aesthetics, I haven’t seen it. I have no idea how you could convey that with a selection or two that goes into a museum’s design collection, but that’s why they picked you. 🙂

  2. I think that if you pick any of the sites the British Hi-ReS! folk have done in the recent yours, you won’t make a mistake. They’ve taken interactivity on the web to another lavel and are great source for inpiration for me and I’m sure for many others around.

  3. Gmail’s stack-of-cards threading. You can open a handful of emails that you want to consult and leave the rest collapsed, and see it all in the same screen.

    I’d never seen anything like it, and I’d insist on having it if I switched clients.

  4. How about:

    It’s an exploration/study into a new means of interacting with sites, and designed with a certain amount aesthetics in mind.

    It’s practical application?
    The site is a large study and collector of statistical information, for now. The future applications however, could possibly give insight into how people can use and interact with websites if they were say, paralyzed and lacking click-ability. It’s just an idea I had, as I am unsure of what they plan to do with the research information. Either way, I wonder if it is museum worthy, but it is a suggestion nonetheless. If it were MoMA, its experimental angle would be fine. Other museums though, maybe not as much.

    Permanence is a funny thing, it makes the decision seem so… critical!

    I hope this helps… I’ve never contributed before. I would be interested in what you find and suggest though…

  5. What about Flickr?

    It’s nice to look at, practical, obviously successful, and probably most importantly, pioneering both conceptually and in terms of visual design. The Ajax-powered “click to edit” on title and description, the whole notion of tagging, the on-photo “notes” — all of these are big advances that have hugely influenced other web apps.

  6. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest the usual suspects:

    The 37signals apps. Yes, all of them. As a series. They are attracting a lot of negative energy lately and if they would be included it would not help, but they deserve it; they are really investigating what less is more in application design is. And they have a visual style that is very influential.

    Your, this, site. The most rigorous and best looking grid based site i’ve seen.

    CSS ZEN garden. Because it’s omnimorphous, the function has every form imaginable; a great experiment in design. Because it empowers people to communicate visually. Becuase it empowers people to communicate about the medium, in an interactive way and the design is so very much less is more form follow function.

    To me these all present the state of the web right now; not about a fixed design but about facilitating and empowering people. Experimenting with the medium in an open collaborative way.
    It would be good to preserve, they will change soon enough.

  7. This is a tough assignment Khoi and there understandably prone to procrastination.

    Interesting that most of the items suggested have been web sites. From my reading, they (and you) are asking for suggestions of INTERACTIVE DESIGN. Since the beginning of my interaction with the visual, intereactive web in 1994, I cannot for the life of me think of a web-site that has made a permanent impression. Based on the few suggested here, which are all very recent – if not new – sites, it seems that this is the case for others as well.

    And maybe that is the issue. What of the web has permanence? It is easier, faster, cheaper to make whole sale changes to web sites than to design produce, and deliver a new printed document to such a large audience. A simple example of this is found while strolling through the CSS Zen Garden.

    Now before my comments get twisted into a Print v. Digital dust-up, my energy is directed more toward the difficult nature of such a task as specifically finding worthy web work that is still available. So, with that cleared up, let’s move on.

    This difficulty is borne from this lack of permanence that I mentioned. If I sit and think about this, many of Nike’s valiant efforts should be considered. One of my most memorable sites was the one done for Nike Zoom Air in 1996 based on the print campaign art directed by Johnson & Wolverton for Wieden & Kennedy. But, alas… other than these screen shots it seems to have slipped into the ether. Unless of course Nike or W&K have it archived somewhere, Khoi.

    Aslo, continuing to use the 1997 CA Interactive Annual as an example, take a look at some of the sites from barely 10 years ago. Tidy Cat went from this, to this today. Again, I am not saying this is wrong, brands change and that is not the issue, the issue is a question of where is the historical record when it comes to the web? Where is the artifact? Permanent collections are based on just that.

    Before I go, I am proposing a more permanent example of INTERACTIVE DESIGN, something others seem to be overlooking. The design of DVD interfaces. Of which, I would choose The Platinum Series Edition of SE7EN.

  8. Seriously, Google is not design. Google’s ‘interface’ is a total accident, which the company’s own creator’s openly admit. You can’t enter something like that into a permanent collection of great design – save that for the ‘museum of suprisingly successful un-design’. Seriously.

    My suggestions:

    I’ve always loved the look of Acceptance Rock but really anything designed by Neubix is going to be stellar (IMO), including Faith Incubators, NYCPeach and of course The Big Noob.

    For best practical use of design on the web I’d vote for Netflix or NewsVine.

    And how can any collection of interactive design be complete without the wonderful whimsy that is Billy Harvey Music?

  9. It’s hard to deny that Apple’s iTunes/Store and iPod have been a historic triumph in interactive design. Although painfully obvious and acknowleged countless times already, you gotta give ’em their props.

  10. Rem Koolhaas’ AMO has done some decent stuff for the PRADA Epicenters, (the one in LA in particular). Might be worth checking out.

  11. Another, hopefully not too obvious idea — Google Maps. Drag-able maps? Hybrid satellite/map view? Genius!

    (I don’t know if Google was the first to do that… if not, the pioneer should be recognized.)

  12. I too agree with bone. It seems many people are confusing straight up websites with interactive experiences.

    Here are some companies that come to mind when I think “great interactive design on the web”.

    Chopping Block
    Big Spaceship
    We Fail

    DISCLAIMER: I am the Business Manager for the Chopping Block but I have to admit that I was a fan of their work for several years prior to joining the company.

  13. “It seems many people are confusing straight up websites with interactive experiences.”

    I think it’s more likely that people have different opinions on what “interactive experiences” are. To me, they’re engaging, meaningful interactions with people, reference information or editorial content.

    Sure, Flickr might not be Flash-based (it might even be a “straight up” web site), but it’s absolutely an interactive experience — just ask anyone who’s spent hours exploring photos and profiles of friends and strangers.

  14. Suggested for balance between impact and design:
    Palm OS
    Macintosh Finder (original OS)


  15. Daniel: I have to admit, I have a pretty fuzzy idea about how to define ‘interactive’ at the moment. To begin with, I’d probably use the term ‘interaction design’ instead, because I think it’s a little more specific. Second, I think that, at least for my purposes, I’m more interested in examples that further the art of design in general, both from a functional and an aesthetic viewpoint. So I might have to think hard about an example like Flickr or Google; both are functional breakthroughs, but their aesthetic progress is debatable. At this point, anyway, I’m pretty much open to hearing arguments for anything.

  16. Ryan: Thanks so much! I’m so glad you like it! The What Is A Print? piece was one of our first investigations into user experience and discovering what possibilities there were on the web and in a kiosk, for allowing the user to “do” rather than just “see”.

    Khoi: Thanks for clarifying Khoi!

    With the term “interaction design” as my guide, I immediately start to think of the various experiences on the web and in my daily life that have transformed my own thought processes or design thinking:

    I am specifically intrigued by this companies constant commitment to push the limits of user interface and usability in design. Their work for the movie Minority Report was beautiful – even if you didn’t like the movie, you definitely loved the interface that they used for the giant mainframe.

    Well known for their interface design for the MTA kiosks in NYC. Their site provides a deeper overview of the project and you can see other projects that are equal if not more exciting than this.

    I know that there are more that I’d like to suggest but I can not recall them at the moment. I’ll try to add them later this evening if time permits.

  17. As far as Google goes it would be Google Earth that I would nominate. Everyone I know has used it to look at their house and maybe a few other things.

    Another practacal choice may be the great

    My other picks would be and any of the Diesel sites are worth a mention Diesel has been a great suppoters of mixing interactive art and commerce. Some of the earlier sites were more fun but this site is top notch.

  18. Firstborn Multimedia has always been a contender for top honors in my eyes. Vas’ typography and motion design set the standard for Flash design and development.

    As for the Google debate, I agree that an engineering museum might be a more suitable place for their work.

    However, some of the sites that put a pretty and intuitive interface on Google might be worthy. Marcos Weskamp’s Newsmap comes to mind.

    And on a different but related note, 10 by 10 certainly turned many heads.

  19. Newsmap remains one of my all time favorites. I often devote a second monitor to it. Its genuinely useful and fun to look at, but I especially like the way that from time to time certain headlines get broken into multiple lines depending on item size, yielding entirely poetic meanings upon first glance… for example:

    We’ll bring killers
    to justice

    Fury at Milk
    and Wheat in
    French Fries

  20. I work in the casino industry which is just flooded with over the top gaudy design.
    That’s why I think that the Website for
    The Borgata
    in Atlantic City is a breath of fresh air.

  21. Generally not much of a Flash fan, but here is one of the most beautifully simple user interfaces I have ever encountered.


    And, such a great real world application.

  22. Many of these sites posted are beautiful in terms of navigation – but maybe great navigation is just a part of a great interactive experience. I would tend to view sites like the iTunes store, Netflix, flickr, wikipedia as ‘more’ interactive b/c they involve the user to contribute to the experience, and in some cases (wikipedia) this use is constantly changing the experience for other users on a global base.

    This sort of Darwinian evolution — one that constantly changes as a result of trial and error from an infinite inflow of user demands — seems like a unique product of the internet (well, mother nature’s been doing it for awhile, but…). A site like MySpace has exploded due to everyone being able to contribute to the whole. The simple design of some base tools has allowed millions to make it their own. It’s ugly as hell, but look how many people flock to it! Same with wikipedia. It’s satisfying to see your input affect the whole.

    And what about video games? This same user-defined structure is being exlpored in multiplayer universes, wi-fi handheld games where users team up, etc., even something like Grand Theft Auto — which, beyond its subject matter — is important step in that the general idea is that you can explore a world and do what you choose within it. As the technology improves, the amount of options available within these worlds might grow to Matrix-like proportions.

    For some reason I just remembered those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books – remember those? Very interactive. And with no computer, no hi-def, no broadband pipe.

  23. As I work for a design firm that develops museum experiences (including interactive design), please think beyond the computer interface.

    Experience design (interaction design, interactive design, immersive design, environmental design) can be low-tech. It could mean smelling, hearing, touching, seeing or tasting something as a way of delivering an idea or concept.

    Museums are always trying new things (some good, some bad) in terms of interacting with visitors. I’ve done lots of evaluation on the exhibits and the computer based interactives are rarely the most popular or most memorable with visitors. Visitors love visceral experiences (or watching someone else have a visceral experience). Just something to mull over. Good luck with the project. Sounds like fun!

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