Interface: what a weird word. But all it really means is "a means of letting you do something." When you come home, you don't "interface with your house," you open the door. When you want to curl up with a novel, you don't "access your home library interface," you peruse the bookshelf. Why can't personal data be like that -- part of an intuitive, explorable world, rather than abstract layers of "interface"? A company called Bloom thinks it can be like that, and is building the tools to make it so.
Planetary is really a prototype of Bloom's vision for the future of UIs.
Bloom's first major product, an iTunes visualizer called Planetary, probably looked like mere eye candy to casual observers. But it's really a prototype of Bloom's vision for the future of UIs in general. "We're heading into a new baseline paradigm for how we get stuff done with computers," says Ben Cerveny, Bloom's president. "That's what we're building: bite-sized apps that present playful, dynamic engaging metaphors for all the data you're already immersed in. We call them instruments: lightweight and performance-based like musical instruments, but also analytic, like a microscope."
In a world of PCs, a handful of window-based applications was enough to handle our information-interaction needs. But as "computers" spawned smartphones, tablets, tables, and everything else -- and the Internet birthed "the cloud" -- the wealth of data has outstripped the interfaces' ability to keep pace. "[Our information] is hugely complex and rich, and the tools we have for interacting with it are still static and limited," Cerveny says. "Even after Web 2.0, the way it was presented was limited to list views. But that doesn't give you a sense of the overall landscape and the patterns and rhythms over time. Those are things that we're built to understand as humans, and Bloom's interfaces are meant to exploit that."
The wealth of data has outstripped our UIs.
In this world, "complexity" won't be a dirty word anymore: By taking advantage of our built-in sensory and pattern-matching abilities, Bloom's "instruments" can display complicated datasets in a highly intuitive way. "Given the right tools, people can understand complexity. That's our philsophy, which goes against this urge to make everything into one giant likable button," Cerveny asserts. "People already have a certain amount of literacy in interacting with dynamic systems and data. Facebook displays 35 messages about what's happening at any given moment you log in, and when you're done with those, 150 more events have happened. But in total, it's all bigger than what we have the tools to perceive, and people are frustrated with these 'shards' of this experience. How do you 'zoom out'? That's what we're exploring."
In Cerveny's eyes, there's a huge unserved need in between the "undesigned" cloud products and the fetishistically physical (and closed) hardware creations. "We slot into the space between Google and Apple," he explains. "Google's the most powerful functional toolset ever, but they have no idea about design. Apple is the best example of 'design culture' in the commercial world now, but they have no idea how to use the network. We're at the intersection of that growth: We like to think we're bringing Apple-like design values to the network, and an awareness of the beauty of computation to the Googles of the world."