Home Beyond the Box: The “Televisual Experience”

Beyond the Box: The “Televisual Experience”

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From mobile computing to multi-touch, user interfaces continue to evolve, becoming part of our daily lives. As a Web host, it’s with great interest that we’re also following the “10-foot user experience,” an idea that emerged a few years ago and has been much talked about since. But technology now seems to be catching up to this exciting concept, thanks to innovators like Frog Design and the MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group.

The term “10-foot” refers to the approximate distance of the viewer from a television set, flat-panel screen or other large display. More specifically, this concept is about the GUI (general user interface) — large menus, buttons, electronic program guides — that allows users to navigate channels and perform other functions using a handheld remote or similar device. By contrast, users interact with most desktop computers using a mouse and keyboard (a two-foot design), and with an iPhone or PDA with their fingers or stylus (a two-inch, or more, design).

Some amazing developments are underway in digital media convergence, what some call the ongoing migration from “old TV” to “new TV.” TiVo, AppleTV, and “over-the-top” Web video on PS3, Xbox, and other peripherals all offer at least a glimpse of what’s emerging. So does the gesture control of Nintendo’s Wii, the expanding capabilities of IPTV, and the introduction of IMS-enabled TV (IP multimedia sub-system). All of this points to more choice, more relevance, and more personalized content for consumers: the individual TV experience.

Yet what’s most fascinating to us as a Web hosting provider is the convergence of design for TV and the Web into UIs that have never been seen — or even needed — before: the creation of rich, dynamic, animated entertainment experiences, whether for your living room, your home theater, or public spaces. It is a new way to interact with media, something David Merkoski of Frog Design called “the televisual experience” in his presentation titled “The Future of Television: Super-Modality” (MP3 file) at SXSW 2006.

To give this more perspective, what does this mean for TV, video, the Web, and the new user interfaces for all three? Like the 10-foot experience itself, design for it is still emerging. UIs in development, for applications such as OpenTV and Windows Media Center, offer useful examples. The key is to design for distance (think of billboards, posters, even theater marquees): keep it large and simple. Most conventional Web design doesn’t view well from a distance.

Here are some additional design guidelines to consider:

  • Display: Design elements should be clean, with UI elements that are able to be seen easily from 10 feet.
  • Navigation: Keep it very simple (up, down, right, left), and limit tabs and scrolling.
  • Fonts and text: To increase readability, use anti-aliased serif fonts. Make them larger than 16 points, and limit the number of sizes.
  • Graphics and icons: Avoid fine detail, single-pixel horizontal lines, and static UI elements that would flicker on NTSC.
  • User input: Ensure that designs can support a standard remote control, so that users can easily navigate menus, zoom, etc.

Interested in learning more about designing for the 10-foot experience? Try these: “The Digital Home: Designing for the Ten-Foot User Interface” and “Introduction to the 10-Foot Experience for Windows Game Developers.”

Please comment! We’d love to hear your thoughts on what promises to be a new frontier in entertainment.

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