On a busy morning before Omer has to go to work, Iohanna and I meet him over coffee and a mdf board to discuss and hear what he has to say about not only the airpiano but also his current work. Omer tells us that he wants to change how a product can be experienced by focusing on our ears instead of our eyes…and here is how it goes
Iohanna: With your new endeavors, what are you trying to push forward:
Omer: One of my main interests at the moment is the design of sonic interactions. I am basically focusing on improving the usability of complex interfaces through the use of sound. Interactions which involve large amounts of visual information may become overstraining to the user. Sound has the power to communicate information and emotionally affect the user, so the use of sonification methods in combination with sound design has the potential to introduce innovative solutions and unique user experiences. I am working a lot with multimodal interfaces, learning to recognize the advantages and disadvantages of each modality, and trying to achieve more balance in the distribution of visual, haptic and sonic information. Giving our sense of hearing as much importance as our sense of touch and sight really opened a new perspective for me as an interaction designer. Bringing all these modalities together in harmony is however a great challenge.
Iohanna:That’s an interesting comment, but could you tell us why the sonic modality is so important to showcase:
Omer: For the auditory modality to play bigger roles in common human-computer-interactions, an advanced sonic language must be developed. At the moment, we have a very limited one. We can recognize the difference between informative and warning signals, or maybe tell between an incoming message and an outgoing one, but more complex information is rarely delivered on the auditory channel. Sound can encode much more information, and mapping data to sound parameters can in many cases ease the process of understanding and offer a much more natural and intuitive interaction. For example, if data should describe the movement of an object in 3-D space, the sonification of such data through parameter mapping and surround sound techniques would take advantage of our omnidirectional hearing capabilities and would be much easier to perceive and understand than on a 2-D Display. Designers should explore and promote such ideas, define new functional sounds and make users learn their meaning. It might be a long learning process, and it might take some time until we reach an advanced lexicon, but i believe it will become more and more necessary in the future.
Iohanna: With the airpiano you take the touch away from the instrument, which creates another visual physical possibility:
Omer: This is one aspect of the airpiano. It creates for the user as well as the viewer a new experience. Actually I like to concentrate more on the user, so the side effect of how the performance looks, did not guide me through the development. It’s an interesting experimental device, it proposes something new. Every interface has its limitations of course, but because the airpiano has a very simple interface, the interaction is straight forward and fun. On the other hand it allows lots of control also for advanced user and you do need to practice playing it and be creative if you want to achieve more. There are no rules how to play it, you must develop your own technique.
Iohanna: Yeah it’s like with the Kinect, you emulate real motions but virtually interact, you don’t actually get to feel:
Omer: In most cases, interactions with the Kinect involve a display for user reference. What happens is that the user focuses on the display, which is basically a 2-D virtual space, in order to achieve orientation and move correctly in a completely different 3-D virtual space. This might work, but it’s nothing i would call natural interaction. The airpiano’s concept is quite different. You just have the instrument in front of you, as you would have a piano keyboard or a drum set or any other device. The virtual space is limited and it’s directly above the hardware. LEDs on board help in the orientation, so it’s really easy to learn and get a feeling for.
Alex: Jo hamilton is a musician who has used the airpiano, in this whole process there are a lot of different levels for collaborations. What is so interesting about that dialogue with the user?
Omer: It’s really interesting to see how musicians use the airpiano in very different ways. They have of course different aims and different needs. Such input is very essential for the development of my products as well as my personal development as a designer. Jo Hamilton really use the airpiano as a new instrument. She says playing the airpiano is dance-like and composing with it brings her to new musical ideas. Jo helped a lot along the development by reporting about her experiences with the airpiano, and she also gave the airpiano lots of publicity.
Alex: What is one of the first sounds you hear in the morning:
Omer: Usually it would be my small daughter, she’s either crying or shouting that I should bring her to my bed. It’s a nice sound to wake with.
Alex: What is a sound that you hate hearing or creates discomfort:
Omer: Interesting question….hum…I need to think about that
Interviewed by: Iohanna Nicenboim and Alexandra sebag