The Nike+ FuelBand is a rare gadget icon. While not nearly as popular or well-known as the iPhone v1, its LED-infused dot matrix display can draw a crowd in the exact same way. Really. I’m almost shy to check my FuelBand in a small space, knowing someone will inevitably ask me about it.
So it’s almost a natural fit that Nike and Dazed teamed up with electronic music producer Nosaj Thing, and design / technology collective FAIR, LA, led by designer Julia Tsao (see her past work here and here) to create Field, an interactive FuelBand music video, for a complete lack of a better term. It’s a music, light experience coded in HTML-5, an experience not so distant from the work of Tetsuya Mizuguchi (who has created interactive music games like Rez, Lumines and Every Extend Extra).
“We’re so used to watching TV on the Internet, but the browser is such a rich tool, we can do almost anything now,” Tsao tells Co.Design. “I’d love for people to get into the experience and not be afraid of playing with something that’s new and different and experimental.”
It’s definitely an experimental experience. A beat plays on its own, but you can induce different sounds through mouse clicks and keyboard presses. A through Z controls the drums. Holding a number augments the audio layer. Left-right arrows switch scenes. But ultimately, even a hot-key cheat sheet won’t leave you in a feeling of full control, with every response seeming novel (and ever-so unpredictable). As you mash inputs, the entire engine will respond with more light and tempo, adding a whole other layer of user influence to the experience–the digital equivalent to an echo chamber, or the wake of a boat.
“My favorite part is to let it get to total chaos, then leave it alone and watch it slowly go back to its idle pulse state,” writes Tsao. “Once you stop interacting with it, the system stops as well. And that’s actually really beautiful to see. It’s interesting to see such a technological system behave so organically.”
I asked Tsao if she’d considered taking the Fuelband integration one step further and actually visualizing a day’s workout when a user syncs. (Because how great would it be to see a swim visualized one way and a job visualized another? What if this video could even stream to you real time during your workout, making your exercise into your in-exercise entertainment?)
“We actually pitched that in our original treatment,” Tsao admits, “but it wasn’t something we were able to make happen in the end.
“It’s totally possible to create rad digital projects without being a microsite or banner ad! We’ve only begun scratching the surface with interactive, and we need to explore new processes and take risks to innovate and move things forward.”
Interactive isn’t just a way to gain new customers, either, but to constantly engage those already acquired. Field may give me just a few minutes of entertainment, but that’s serious engagement, and it makes my core Nike product all the more endearing. It’s rare that someone can say the same thing about a boring old banner ad.