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We now have the tools and technology to create just about any interactive system imaginable. But how can we ensure that our designs are engaging? Engagement is essential to any interactive project’s success. Without engaged participants, there is no interaction, and no experience.

"Dynamic Systems of Engagement" illuminates how dynamic, interactive, computationally based systems offer new opportunities for engagement with participants and third-party observers. It is full of valuable insights for artists and designers seeking to create engaging and meaningful interactive work, yet the book is written in a friendly, non-technical tone accessible to anyone with an interest in design and digital arts.

Filled with hundreds of images of original data visualizations and interactive experiences, this book documents my projects and research conducted over three years in the MFA program in Design at the Dynamic Media Institute in Boston.

From the abstract:

Through numerous case studies, I explore three core themes of data visualization, dynamic systems, and engagement.

I consider data visualization broadly as a process of interpreting and expressing data of all kinds, not just numbers and text. I explore principles of systems design to illustrate how dynamic systems differ from works of static, pre-composed media, like painting, film, and television. Finally, I connect these themes to methods of interaction and engagement.

My past projects illustrate a range of design possibilities grounded in these ideas. From Gesture Project, which responds to physical gestures with patterns of rotating, color-changing discs, to the ASCII Photo Booth, a high-tech, low-fi interpretation of a traditional photo booth, these interactive studies illuminate nontraditional uses of data visualization, systems design, and interface concepts.

Although the concepts are valuable, more important is how real people respond to the designs. That is, what is the experience like? I conduct extensive user research with each project, the findings of which are used to refine the designs and inform future projects.

I adopt a framework of challenge and reward for sustaining engagement, which I then employ for two primary thesis projects, Practice and Cheeky. Although each project has its own distinct content and approach, both elicit engagement by employing visual mirroring, establishing tension and ambiguity, and finally resolving that ambiguity, providing closure to the experience. Both projects address the questions: How can we challenge someone while keeping them engaged, and how can we incentivize participants to overcome the discomfort of the challenge?

Practice is a new interactive video piece that employs metaphors of stillness (physical and psychological) and reflection (visual and personal). While most interactive video installations reward motion, Practice rewards stillness, and in so doing tests participants’ tolerance for physical discomfort and emotional ambiguity.

Practice employs computer vision methods of face detection and face tracking to identify participants’ presence and level of engagement, so that mere visual stillness, without engaged users, elicits no reward. Visual and aural cues incentivize users to overcome the discomfort of the challenge, by establishing anticipation of the rewards to come. And through it all, the system collects data on participation, which is analyzed and visualized.

Cheeky, a second interactive video piece, is introduced and shown to apply the same principles of experience design to engaging and humorous ends.

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About the Author

Scott Murray
alignedleft San Francisco, CA

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