Figure 1. FEEK pebble lights by
Karim Rashid [ 7].
have any organic shape, for example, curved like the
light fixtures in Figure 1. There are clear advantages to
the use of such displays, such as when working with
curved data sets, like 3D models or geographical information. Another missing property is deformability.
While fashion designers like Yves Saint Laurent take
deformability for granted, it is not at all common in
human-computer interactions. Yet deformability
eases many real-world
tasks, like storing things, or
reading this magazine article, for example. The page
flip is, in fact, a wonderfully effective way of navigating documents. Its
affordance and ability to
open a document at a random location is not easily
mirrored by a mouse click.
Deformability also allows
tools to adapt their func-
tionality to different contexts: a newspaper can
serve information equally Figure 2. (a) Chandelier
well as fish. Clearly, this with jelly morphology (C. Roux, circa 1907); (b) Concept moldable
kind of shape-shifting flex- mouse with jelly anatomy
ibility is not found in your (Lite-On, 2007).
average e-book reader.
But might it one day be? New materials, such as E-Ink and Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays by Polymer Vision and Sony not only mimick
the high contrast but also the deformability of paper,
potentially making flatland interfaces a thing of the
past. Interaction designers and researchers around the
world are starting to work alternate, virtually analog,
degrees of input. This design stream aims to develop
computers that can take on any shape or form: from
an aluminum can to a Lumalive jacket.
ORGANIC DESIGN: NATURAL MORPHOLOGIES AS
INSPIRATION FOR INDUSTRIAL DESIGN
With displays in any form will come a wealth of
interactive blobjects that literally shape
their own functionality. E-book readers
that page down upon a flick of the computing substrate. Beverage cans with
browsers displaying RSS feeds and
movie trailers. When pondering
the design space of such future
blobject computers, the
anatomies and morphologies
of biological organisms form an
interesting source of inspira-
tion. Natural organisms almost exclusively rely on
flexible materials and non-planar shapes. For example, the leaves of plants form resilient solar panels
that bend rather than break when challenged. They
are not just flexible to adapt to their environment,
they also grow and adjust shape to maximize solar
efficiency. Computers may one day do just that.
Haeckel’s Art Forms in Nature [ 1] was one of the first
catalogues to celebrate organic morphologies. The
book, which came out in 1904, was an instant hit
with designers protesting modern industrialist art.
Art Nouveau designer Constant Roux even used one
of Haeckel’s plates on invertibrate morphologies as
an inspiration for a chandelier (see Figure 2a).
ORGANIC ARCHITECTURE: BALANCING
INDUSTRIAL WITH NATURAL DESIGN
Haeckel’s radiolarians also inspired Art Nouveau
architect René Binet’s entrance gate to the 1900
Paris World Expo. But within 10 years, the forces of