Archive for the ‘Case Study’ Category
Maxim Integrated asked Stimulant to create a large scale interactive wall in the lobby of their new corporate headquarters. Our challenge was to create a fun, engaging and brand relevant way to introduce the new brand and inform guests about the company. Challenge accepted!
The resulting experience is designed to embody the three elements set forth in Maxim’s brand redesign; inventive, bold and grounded. The interface, presented on six 55-inch displays with a multitouch overlay, is a playful interactive brand extension married with a high-level, media-rich company overview. The wall is one of the largest physical Silverlight deployments to date.
To stay on our tight schedule, we exposed dozens of variables that affected the visual system (speed, density, behaviors) in a custom control panel. This let us dial in the “feel” of the piece with the client in real time, expediting communication and saving many days of back and forth on revisions. This proved so successful that it has become a regular part of our development process.
Foghorn asked us to create the interactive component for Intel’s booth at CES 2012. The result was the Intel Connect to Life Experience, the world’s largest interactive, multi-user, real-time-3D virtual life simulation.
Spanning the entirety of Intel’s booth, conference attendees could use any of six custom-made stations around the perimeter of the booth to create a shape using their hands, phone, keys — pretty much anything — and the silhouette of that object was used to generate a unique bioluminescent lifeform on the massive projection surface overhead. The animated lifeforms interact with each other in playful ways, dancing with one another or chasing other lifeforms around the ecosystem.
The system rendered approximately 30 billion triangles per second to deliver a 17.6 megapixel image at 60 frames per second, all powered by Intel Core i7 technology. This system’s 16,800-pixel-wide output was displayed over a 2200 square-foot, non-uniform, projection-mapped surface using 24 projectors.
Our interactive piece was just one part of the Connect to Life Experience, made possible through a tight collaboration with Foghorn, Intel, and other supremely talented firms. It was an honor to work with such creative partners as 2LK, WorldStage, Stage Light Design, LeadDog, and The Taylor Group.
We designed and developed the software portion of the exhibits, aimed at children and adults alike, collaborating with the Taylor Group for cladding and enclosures and with Intel on content and concept. The exhibits featured 2D and real-time 3D interfaces, covering topics as diverse as Intel’s history, animated illustrations of Moore’s Law, the future of silicon photonics, exactly how small a nanometer is, and much more. We powered each of our exhibits with a single Intel® 2nd Generation Core processor-based PC, with no additional video hardware or GPU, granting us higher-than-video framerates at HD frame sizes.
Microsoft had planned to only ship one application on the new Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft PixelSense platform, and they came to Stimulant to help design and develop it. Stimulant collaborated with the Microsoft Surface team to conceive and implement exciting new ways to let multiple people collaboratively search for images and locations, while intuitive clustering algorithms make maintaining context easy.
Tagged objects can store searches for frequent and easy execution, and Microsoft Tag lets users take media, business info and directions with them on their personal device.
UPDATE: LoopLoop wins “Best in Category, Expressing” and “Best in Show” at the inaugural Interaction Design Awards! Read the full press release here.
Our work at Stimulant ranges from massive interactive wall-sized installations to small handheld devices. Our friends at Sifteo gave us an amazing opportunity to work on our smallest device yet.
Designing for “Inch-Scale” Computers
Sifteo cubes, originally featured in 2009 at TED, are sturdy 1.5-inch-square devices with 1-inch screens, not unlike a child’s building block. They have an amazing tactile quality and fit well in hands of all sizes and ages. Sifteo cubes are aware of their own orientation, tilt, direction, and proximity to other Sifteo cubes. A single button is embedded underneath each cube’s 128-pixel-wide screen. They are controlled wirelessly by a nearby computer and come in packs of three (expandable up to six) cubes.
Sifteo asked us to contribute to their launch portfolio of games that focus on kinesthetic learning, spatial reasoning, and collaboration. We whittled dozens of concepts down to a project we’d all love to work on: a multitrack music toy that was more exploratory than goal-based, and would leverage the minimalist and modular nature of the cubes themselves.
Passion, Prototyping and Playtesting
We all love music at Stimulant. Many of us have been DJs or musicians at some point in our lives. Combining this love with our penchant for interactive, playful experiences is part of what makes coming into work so rewarding, so it wasn’t a surprise when we after much deliberation we decided to go down the path of making music.
The design team started prototyping the interaction design while our developers researched the technical constraints and possibilities of the Sifteo cubes themselves. The design began on paper, with lots of little doodles of possible screen states, and talking through the interactions between each Sifteo cube. We even used existing, physical game pieces to playtest the application without writing a line of code, and used even verbal beatboxing in lieu of actual audio output.
Bringing LoopLoop to Life
With the interaction model prototyped on paper, we began the process of laying down the technical framework and exploring our visual and audio design options. Sifteo’s development team was extremely supportive of our efforts, modifying their SDK framework and sharing our passion for what LoopLoop could become.
We opted for a visual style that would mimic the inferred emotional attributes of the Sifteo cubes themselves: cute, minimal, quirky, with surprising complexity revealed over time. This look and feel influenced the sound palette and naming of the application, which is a nod both to the onomatopoeia of the patterns, as well as the nature of how the tracks repeat themselves.
The Stimulant team aggressively stuck to a “less is more” ethic when it came to features, scope, and priorities. We focused on doing fewer things, and doing them better. Iteration and fine-tuning of the technical, interactive, visual, and aural aspects of the project led us towards something that we felt was fun, engaging, and a joy to play with.
Because we’re always intrigued by opportunities to visualize real-time data in engaging ways, Microsoft’s Surface team got our attention when they asked us to create an updated version of Event Live, their event-based social media visualizer. Our fully redesigned and rebranded Social Stream application aggregates live Tweets, images from Flickr, and news stories into a multi-directional animated “stream,” creating a real-time display of relevant social content. Multiple users can simultaneously read, rotate, and explore all of the live data on the selected topics, and can even “scrub” the stream itself backwards and forwards.
One exciting feature showcased in Live Stream is the addition of Microsoft Tags. Users can flip over any item in the stream to reveal a Microsoft Tag. When photographed with a mobile device running a tag recognition application, the tag is translated into a hyperlink that immediately takes the user to that URL in their mobile browser. It’s a quick and easy way to snapshot content that you want to save for later.
As with most of Stimulant’s projects, Social Stream has a complexity far beyond its simple end-user interface. A hidden administrative control panel can be launched by placing any object on Surface with a specific Surface byte tag attached to it. This control panel then gives an administrator the ability to adjust volume, stream speed and direction, diagnose connectivity, and ban specific topics or users from the stream (which then updates in real-time). The administrator can also enable a profanity filter and determine whether the stream populates chronologically or randomly. These advanced options are all available without having to interrupt the experience or leave the application.
Social Stream premiered at Worldwide Partner Conference where visitors to the Microsoft booth were able to watch the live chatter about the conference float by in real-time on Microsoft Surface. Participants enjoyed the new and engaging multi-user experience that highlighted immediately relevant content. Stimulant also enjoyed our first chance to create an application using Microsoft’s bold, typography-oriented Metro design language on Surface.
Best of all, the Social Stream source code is available on github. Re-skinning the interface and customizing the branding elements are simple tasks, and adjusting the feed items merely requires basic editing. Stimulant is proud to have this code become publicly available, and we look forward to the creative ways in which this application will be repurposed.
We typically spend our time in managed code, such as Silverlight, WPF, and XNA, because these technologies let us design high-performance experiences that have reach. Recently, however, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 browser caught our eye by promising a thoroughly hardware-accelerated browsing experience, especially around the new rich-media capabilities of HTML5.
Microsoft, preparing for the upcoming beta release of IE9, asked us if we’d be interested in developing an HTML5 site that would allow us to flex our design chops in a browser-based context. We’ve developed a reputation for creating digital experiences that push modern computer hardware to its limits, and this was a great opportunity to see if IE9 could live up to our expectations.
In collaboration with Microsoft and Seattle radio station KEXP, Stimulant created WebVizBench.com, an animated and interactive radio playlist visualization and benchmarking application written entirely in HTML5, optimized for Microsoft IE9, and tweaked to harness the power of GPU-enhanced Web browsing.
We were incredibly fortunate to get access to an astounding historical data set from KEXP, the world-renowned independent and non-profit radio station in Seattle, Washington. The KEXP data set represents nearly 10 years of radio playlists. The data included over 700,000 tracks with album art, the date and time each song was played, and DJ names. With this rich dataset in hand, our goal was to find a visually compelling way to allow for exploration, while simultaneously seeing how far we could push the IE9 rendering engine. We decided to work backwards from the HTML5 rendering features that IE9 supported (and the list is quite comprehensive) in order to generate some objective, empirical data around IE9’s performance on various platforms. We knew that we wanted to generate a “performance score,” but we wanted that score to be based on a more “real-world” browsing experience, not a particular sub-feature of a rendering engine.
The resulting site, WebVizBench.com, offers the ability to browse through all tracks played on KEXP for almost the entire past decade. You can sort by time, artist, popularity, or even album color. A display options panel lets you toggle which HTML5 features are used to render the visualization, and you can see the frame rate change based on your system’s CPU (and GPU, if you’ve got one) power. Running the benchmark takes your system through an elaborate script of manipulating all the KEXP data, using different combinations of rendering options in an attempt to push your system to the limit and generate an objective performance score.
Speaking of numbers, we did some testing in our development and found that IE9 really does take full advantage of the GPU when present. IE9 limits rendering at 60 frames per second (fps), since most screens don’t refresh at higher than 60Hz. Therefore, we designed our benchmark so that even today’s highest-end machines wouldn’t hit this upper frame rate limit. Your results may vary, but here are our initial frame-rate findings for different graphics cards in the same computer (with a Core i3 530 CPU).
- 12.43fps with no GPU, built-in graphics
- 13.04fps with GeForce 210
- 21.88fps with Radeon 5750
- 23.51fps with GeForce GTS 450
- 22.03fps with Radeon 5770
- 24.20fps with GeForce GTX 460
- 24.59fps with GeForce GTX 480
You can learn more about IE9 and its features at BeautyOfTheWeb.com.
SAP software runs many of the world’s largest enterprises. SAP’s founder, Hasso Platner, envisioned a “boardroom of the future” that would make executive-level meetings and decision making far more immediate and flexible, bolstered with at-your-fingertips data that is as current as possible. He posited: “What if you could ask any question of your business and get an answer immediately?” SAP reached out to Stimulant, Cisco and Microsoft to help them realize an answer to this question. The result was InSite Studio, unveiled at the SAPPHIRE NOW conference in Orlando.
We created a multi-touch remote collaboration interface that integrated into a Cisco CTS3000 Telepresence Suite, in support of SAP’s own Co-Innovation Team. InSite Studio allows meeting participants to queue up content and literally throw applications, websites, and other documents onto one of three massive shared screens. Content can be easily adjusted with intuitive gestural UI throughout the experience. This enables a seamless mixture of HD teleconferencing and freeform screen sharing between up to twelve concurrent meeting participants.
Every user experience decision supported the streamlining of decision-making between remote collaborators, removing as much “cognitive friction” as possible from the software experience. Stimulant created an intuitive and satisfying gestural UI experience, building in the ability to “flick” or “throw” content to a desired display and to remove it just as easily with a dragging gesture. The software interface also features a curved queue of content, to make scrubbing through content physically comfortable in smooth, sweeping gestures. Applications and content are queued up before the meeting, and can be edited before being shared. Another gesture gives users the shortcut ability to reopen a previously shared application by revealing and navigating a list specific to each display.
InSite Studio showcases two different types of telepresence units. One unit features three HD multi-touch workstations built into the main telepresence suite, each usable by one or two concurrent users while seated. Above these workstations, three large monitors offer HD displays of any applications the users chooses to share, as well as live video from the remote conference location. The second has only one multi-touch workstation and three large monitors, simulating a geographically distant collaborator with less hardware. By having both of these suites available in different locations at SAPPHIRE NOW, SAP was able to demonstrate the interaction of two remote offices and highlight the powerful aspects of the “boardroom of the future.”
Stimulant used a variety of technologies to create the user interface. Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) was used for the main interface, including some of the just-released touch features in .NET 4 and the Surface Toolkit for Windows Touch. WCF was used to communicate between instances of the application, low-level Win32 calls were used to manage running applications, and raw sockets were used to communicate with SAP’s custom-designed hardware. Stimulant provided an end-to-end set of services on the front end, including interaction design and visual design, hardware prototyping, qualification and integration, and development and quality assurance on the software side.
Engaging with a variety of innovative hardware and getting each piece to effectively communicate with the entire system was a satisfying challenge for Stimulant and SAP. Each multi-touch workstation was powered by a computer running Windows 7. The multi-touch workstations were 32″ Samsung LED displays paired with PQ Labs Multi-Touch G3 multi-touch overlays, surrounded by SAP-designed custom enclosures. The modular setup of the hardware was part of the success of InSite Studio, keeping the experience cost-effective and reproducible.
Stimulant, in partnership with Trapeze, helped WIND Mobile extend their core brand philosophy of “The Power of Conversation” to the in-store experience with a Microsoft Surface-based assisted sales application. Surface lives in the heart of the store in most WIND Mobile retail locations, providing delightfully simple access to key product information and facilitating two-way conversation between employees and customers.
As a consultative tool, the Surface table allows customers to compare devices and plans side-by-side, helping to identify the options that work best for them. Information is made available quickly, clearly and in one layer of engagement. Stimulant worked closely with Trapeze to bring the WIND Mobile brand alive on Microsoft Surface, leveraging custom sound design, playful 2D physics and object recognition, all carefully blended into a seamless and engaging experience. The application leverages Stimulant’s proprietary product comparison engine, as well as a custom content management system to enable easy updating across all stores. Like all of our projects, extra care was taken to ensure scalability and stability for years to come.
Subsequent versions of the application will focus on the customization of services and devices directly from Surface.
Kodak, a stalwart exhibitor at the annual Print tradeshow, did something different in 2009. They bucked the industry practice of bringing truly massive commercial printing presses to the show. Instead decided to attract attendee interest with final printed samples, and use a nearly all-digital environment to tell the story of the Kodak technology used to bring these printed materials to life.
Working with Kodak’s marketing firm Partners + Napier, exhibit design firm Mirrorshow, and our old friends Obscura Digital, Stimulant created software for Microsoft Surface that allowed trade show attendees to simply pick up a printed sample or object, place it on Surface, and have Surface reveal details on that object’s printing methods and what Kodak products were used in its manufacture. We created a byte tag recognition system that’s more robust than is typical, so that even large objects could be only partially placed on Surface but still be recognized by the system. Traditional “attract modes” were replaced with local “attract messages” to entice attendees to use the table even when another user was already doing so, leveraging the inherent multi-user capabilities of Surface. Our team also externalized all content so that the client could manage all content themselves, even after the trade show doors opened.
Hundreds of trade show attendees and booth personnel used six Surface units in the Kodak booth without a hiccup during the entire show. Sales personnel found it invaluable to have such information at their fingertips without requiring printed collateral, and trade show attendees could follow along or even acquire knowledge on their own, given the utter simplicity of Stimulant’s nearly-invisible interface, based on their own interests and needs.
Creating interaction beyond the computer.
From desktop to device, multi-touch to gestural and portable to permanent, Stimulant crafts magical experiences for computers that don't look like computers.