A higher level of interactive development
It’s easy to just do things. I know from experience as someone who learned by doing. People are always telling you to just experiment with interactive development and try things. Nike says “Just do it.” We’re cultivating a culture around thinking after doing. We call it “iteration.” There’s merit to iteration and rapidly doing things. It’s led to quick learning paths and a high volume of interesting work.
But what are we missing? Is there another way to work? I hadn’t even questioned the thought until recently when I was sent a link to an old talk given by Bret Victor (link further down). Before that – some context.
In the strange way that life works, I was a few minutes into the video when I thought Bret’s name sounded familiar. I did a web search to find out what else he had done and found an article that was critical to my development.
I read this article by Bret Victor many years ago and I can’t stress how much it has influenced my aesthetic and design decisions. Up until I read this article, I was used to reading articles on how to improve certain development skills or tutorials on new techniques. This was the first article I had read that gave me an insight into a higher level of interactive development. The article is about how touch screens aren’t good tools when considering that our hands are good at feeling things and manipulating 3D objects. I recommend everyone in interactive development read it.
I was excited to continue watching the talk knowing that this person had influenced me before. And oh what a treat I was in for.
Bret can speak for himself so I won’t paraphrase much of Bret’s talk here. There are a few items that I thought were interesting to highlight to convince you to walk all of it.
1. Seeing through time
You can hear the whole audience’s jaw drop and people say “no way…….” at a specific time in the talk when Bret demos an unbelievable concept. The takeaway for me is that we should start to perceive time not as individual and uncontrollable slices running through our systems, but as something deterministic and predictable. You can almost imagine it like the movie Donnie Darko, where you can see the future in front of you. There are elements in immersive media and interactive development that are unpredictable in nature, but I think many of the things we’re working on have some level of deterministic logic to them. I thought of how easy it would be to work out bugs and kinks in interactive systems if we had a way to developing with time laid out like in this talk.
2. Develop and design at the same time
One of Bret’s main concepts is that we need to see immediate results for our actions. Working in a real-time environment like TouchDesigner lends itself to this concept and I found myself able to relate to the importance of this. During the talk, he shows an example of how a design concept came to fruition only because he was able to mess around with his code in real time. I thought this was interesting because we’ve been seeing shifts towards projects working in a design-develop-tweak cycle. An agency designs the piece, the developers make it real, then they tweak it together to fix little things.
I think Bret’s idea is great and where we all want to be, but I find budgeting and project structures recently at odds with this. I have more questions than answers but I find it hard to imagine these kinds of symbiotic designs happening with flat-fee budgets and the incredibly tight deadlines we’re used to.
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3. Work with purpose
The underlying message that Bret has is that you should work with a purpose. Our field of interactive media and immersive design can be draining and take a toll on you if there’s not something bigger that you’re working towards. The hours are long, I’ve lost track of the number of sleepless nights, and frustration is around every corner. Even though the money is good and you have lots of amazing things to talk about, it’s a tiring life that you’ll want no part of after a few years if something bigger isn’t driving you. That bigger thing may be an ideal or message you want to share/discover through art, design, or development, but you need something. Bret really tries to drive this home and I think people don’t talk about this enough. For most people, the art itself won’t be enough.
Without further delay – here’s the video of the talk.