How I Got My Interaction On

Think about interactivity as a way to combine digital technology with real-life experience to make the real world better. But the secret is to blur the boundary between the real and the virtual.

At Razorfish we used to say: “Everything that can be digital, will be!” We built a Web site for Charles Schwab that could execute stock transactions faster and better than your broker–and unlike selling physical widgets, adding customers didn’t cost Schwab anything! We predicted that digital technology would do almost anything faster, cheaper and better–an unbeatable combination–especially if “better” meant the user experience is better.


Bill Moggridge is attributed with coining the name “interaction design,” because, as he says, “designers of digital technology products no longer regard their job as designing a physical object–beautiful or utilitarian–but as designing our interactions with it.” Interaction design is also a lot nicer than what the engineers call it: “computer human interface.”

Digital technology makes inanimate things smarter and more intelligent when it’s interactive. Instead of only watching and embedding interactive media, the audience becomes an active player in its own experience. Video games are more compelling than plain passive movies–and are becoming a bigger industry! The NPA group reported that in September 2009 video-game hardware and software sales were almost $1.3 billion.


There are at least three levels of interactivity: 1) reactive, 2) interactive, and 3) co-active. Reactive is where the content reacts to the user–like those video projects in the subway that ripple when you walk by. It’s a simple level of two-way communication. Interactive refers to a more complex relationship with more subtle tracking and programming. Co-active is where the user becomes one of the authors, as in interactions among organisms within a biological community. Flash mobs and open source programming are interesting examples, but the ultimate is where the technology is invisible.

We want to bring the qualities of digital technology into our real life experience to make the real world better. The ideal is when the digital software and hardware become seamless components of the broader multimedia experience, using various kinds of sensors and programming blur the boundary between the real and the virtual into a new “realer” world. Working on an architectural scale, the edge is easier to disguise.

When we are successful the products act like our friends or pets and we have wondrous adventures in places that help us live better lives. But the ultimate is co-active experience, the kind that jumps out of the screen and runs across the room and plays with us in the street.


Read Tucker Viemeister’s blog What’s Cookin’?
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Tucker Viemeister leads the Lab at
Rockwell Group, an interactive technology design group combining
digital interaction design, modeling, and prototyping for hotels and
restaurants, casinos, packaging, and products. The LAB seeks to blur
the line between the physical and virtual, exploring and experimenting
with interactive digital technology in objects, environments, and
stories. Tucker also co-founded the collaborative Studio Red with David
Rockwell that was dedicated to innovation for Coca-Cola. Since joining
Rockwell Group in 2004, Tucker has been instrumental in the design and
development of JetBlue’s Marketplace at the JFK International Airport,
“Hall of Fragments,” an installation that opened the Corderie
dell’Arsenale at the 2008 Venice Biennale, a “living wall” for the
lobby of the Sheraton Toronto, the traveling Red Lounge for Coca-Cola,
and MGM City Centre in Las Vegas.


About the author

Tucker Viemeister is Lab Chief of Rockwell Group’s interactive technology design Lab combining digital interaction design, modeling and prototyping for hospitality, retail, packaging and products. The Lab experiments with interactive digital technology in objects, environments and stories - blurring the line between the physical and virtual