Redesigning The Indic Keyboard

 

I have always found it hard to learn and use the InScript keyboard (standardized keyboard layout for Indian scripts), and even before I could start learning it, the transliteration keyboard (Google Input Tools) was what helped me bridge the gap and type in Hindi using the English alphabet. This is one of the ways I text my family, we represent the two different approaches to typing in our language – where one has become accustomed to the visually cluttered Indic keyboard as they had the chance to start afresh, while the other was brought up communicating in Hindi using the English alphabet, and all Google had to do was to recognize those words and replace them with their Hindi equivalents.

InScript Keyboard:

If we look at the InScript keyboard, (which is a layout that rides on top of the QWERTY keyboard layout) one can appreciate the effort put into condensing so many characters into a limited space, but that also makes us question whether this layout really was really ‘designed’.

The decision to cluster the vowels to the left of the keyboard is a wise one, but then having the consonants span the alphabet, number and symbol keys is counter to this effort.

For a key offering multiple inputs, there are two ways to access the secondary or tertiary character it allows for, which is by either pressing the Shift or the Ctrl key before the desired key. Thus, there are additional steps introduced to access the alternate key-space which has regularly used characters in it, which is otherwise reserved for the lesser-occurring capital characters for English.

The vowels offer their corresponding diacritics separately for conjunction with consonants in this alternate input space – using up more retail space in the process.

Also, certain commonly occurring consonant-consonant conjunction diacritics are given their own key inputs, while certain common conjunctions have their own keys.

For someone who is trained in using these keyboards, I am sure that it is effortless to input text in Hindi or any other Indic language – the muscle memory would definitely make a few additional Shift keys pressed insignificant – but thinking of the versatility of the design, it fails in the digital space – which does offer countless infinite and alternate layouts to be added to the same area in line with the Inscript layout, but then it also clamps down on the very strengths and capabilities of the intangible medium. Also, I see it to be very difficult to learn from an accessibility perspective for users with low-vision, where a single key has multiple character input options with numbers and symbols sharing space with regular characters.

 

Other Solutions:

There has been a huge improvement over these drawbacks when it comes to intangible input interfaces – these on-screen keyboards, some of which have tried to bypass the problems of layout with excessive characters and extra key inputs to generate a single character, are discussed below:

The Google Indic Keyboard removes the clutter by arranging all the vowels in a single row at the top – these change based on the consonant selected, after which they display that consonant with the vowel diacritic. The numbers, characters and symbols are each given their own alternate layout space.

The Swarachakra keyboard also decreases the number of taps by offering the alternate characters and their corresponding conjunctions with a long tap on a particular key.

I also came across the research done on physical keyboard layouts such as Keylekh and Barakhadi series, both of which are derived from user study data. However, if a keyboard becomes too different in its layout from the norm which is QWERTY, its manufacturing and, ultimately, ubiquity become a concern.

After looking at all of the solutions, I saw potential in a layout that can work for both intangible as well as tangible interfaces. There have, of course, been some designs suggested to improve the input rate (the word per minute typing speeds for Indic languages are way lower than that for English, more so for digital interfaces). The reality is that designing a keyboard absolutely separate from what is the norm is an uphill battle, thus, sticking to the QWERTY format is a practical and an important constraint.

The Concept:

This concept improves the layout and interaction of a Hindi/Devanagari input keyboard (but can be applied to any other Indic script).

– Like in the existing InScript layout, the vowels are grouped to the left and the consonants to the right.

– As there is no uppercase, characters accessible with a Shift press are the ones with a lower occurrence within that key pair (overall needs to be better optimized and rearranged based on character-use frequency data).

– Removed separate keys for the maatraa or vowel diacritics, which are now added by their corresponding vowel keys when pressed after a consonant input.

– If the vowel follows a consonant as a separate character, a special dis-connector key is pressed in between the two inputs. This interaction is inverse to the conjunction key which is usually pressed in other designs.

– Consonant conjunctions occur the same way as in existing designs.

Further Work:

I will try to create a digital prototype to get more feedback on this idea.

This layout works on a standard QWERTY keyboard layout and can even be tested/demonstrated physically by reassigning the Unicode values for the keys.

An extension of this exercise would be to look at a keyboard which enables physical micro-interactions, at the key-level, that would change the character diacritic (suggested by Shiveesh).

Folder and File Tree Navigation

Anyone who knows me well is also aware of the unhealthy obsession I have with backing up my data, manually. People who relate to that also understand the importance of keeping a track of one’s selections deep inside a folder chain, especially when one is working with large amounts of data. I have come across various ways in which some sort of a signifier is added to an element in a tree-list to convey its selection state and respective parent-child relationships that it may have. These range from the standard node connections used in the classic Microsoft Windows UI (now replaced with indentations) to common motifs in the icons which act like colored tags (as in the body and feature trees of some CAD modelling UI) .

This method of information display is the most familiar one across UIs whenever large file and folder chains are to be visually represented in a limited retail space; compared to an actual visual representation of the tree, it only makes a limited section of the list visible to the user – this, too, is displayed sequentially via scrolling action. Thus, it becomes easy to lose one’s location in a large folder tree, also, navigating out of it and in between the parent folders adds to the clicks and the scrolls unnecessarily.

To address some of these issues, I decided to work with a hypothetical file tree which would have two kinds of elements at every node, these would be the folders (expandable and collapsible elements) and files (nodes with a dead-end). Then constraining myself to not use anything similar to a line, to show the hierarchies, I decided to go with a very Gestalt approach to make this visible.

I also made use of a very wise solution noticed in the Visual Studio UI which highlights changes, additions and removals in the lines of code in a file in the scroll bar itself.

Also having the parent entities have an always-present representation for quick access made sense against scrolling all the way to the top to find the parent element.

I spent two nights just sketching the visually different concepts and seeing how they fare against the scenarios I had imagined in this hypothetical file tree. It was surprising how much a shift or spacing by a single character could make such a big difference in the overall interaction capabilities for such a UI component. Once finalized, spent a night creating the assets and animating them on Adobe After Effects.

The proposed concept takes into account multiple use-case interactions with a file and folder tree.

  • The subdued gray dots convey the hierarchy between the list elements, these darken right from the top of the folder chain, when hovered over.
  • Selections are marked blue and their appropriate node connections remain visible, a colored-dash signifier also appears in the scroll bar conveying the global location of the selections in the list.
  • Once an expanded parent folder gets obscured, as it is scrolled out of the view window, an abstract element takes its place (this will be at the top as the file-folder lists are sequential and top-down) which can still convey the selection or hover state with a change of color. Hovering over this displays the name of the obscured parent folder and clicking on it snaps the view back to this element at the top.

Devneogari

The craving for home nowadays, without the distractions of ‘normal’ life, grows even stronger and ends up manifesting in small actions I often catch myself doing. I realized how long had it been since I wrote in my own language (the last attempt was over a year back when I started signing my name in Hindi) and on a whim this time, I started scribbling the alphabet. I must now admit that I am ashamed of having forgotten the order of the varnamala of my own mother tongue. That ranks pretty high in the stages of de-racination – which is a war I have been fighting with myself lately. 

As someone interested in languages, I started thinking of the influences Sanskrit had on the Eastern Asiatic Languages and wondered if the former’s script could borrow from the aesthetics of the latter – say, Hangul or Japanese. Also considered the scenarios where Devanagari could be written vertically, which would be possible if there wasn’t the connecting upper line for words (called a shirorekha).

As I started writing line after line without the shirorekha, I felt that a lot of the curves could be reduced to straight lines and angles – the upper line also served the purpose of aesthetically balancing all the curves and lines binding them into one complex shape, which was the word. This shape is not only was the word but its exact pronunciation. The script now looked different yet familiar, but the words were difficult to partition so I introduced forward-slashes after every word as separators where sentences would end with a double forward-slash. Filled a couple of pages with Kabir’s couplets, which did briefly take me back to the Hindi classes in school.

20200504_200136

While I was at it, I could not help but think of Blade Runner 2049, which is an amazing movie to watch for anyone who is in the creative line of work – the movie is entirely a visual and aural inspiration board (will write a separate post about the it sometime). It featured Hindi in multiple shots, shown as one of the many languages of the society of the future – which does make sense given how much it is neglected despite being one of the largest spoken languages in the world. The representation was fair, not over-compensating as it shared an equal footing with other languages of the world, and most importantly, it was correct – because the worst thing to see, when non-European languages are being represented in western entertainment, is a cringe-worthy mistake, where you know that someone did not bother to run a check on the content after translating it on Google.

And so, I envisioned this script to be something of the future, in the brightly lit signs dotting a dystopian megapolis, where every important street would look like Paharganj on steroids.

Observations/Feedback:

My roommate could read it right away with some confusion in certain characters I had taken too much creative liberty with, other friends mentioned that connecting characters without the upper line was difficult for them. I also noticed that the character sizes looked really odd, their differences now accentuated by the absence of the upper connector line, and this definitely needed a touch of a typographer – someone who knew their kerning etc.

I spent three hours on the phone with Shiveesh the next day – an intense discussion about culture and languages of India. He made an interesting remark about Devanagari and why ridding it of its upper connector-line does not make sense to him, something which I do partly agree with – ‘the organic shapes..meaning curves and all.. give a unique characteristic look to Devanagari because it was developed on leaves as a medium, and the typography needed a structure that had visual contrast as it cuts against the grain.’

True. But this also brings up the question, which is – should the script also evolve with the medium that carries it, or should it remain true to its original medium and continue unchanged?

Could Devanagari take on a new skin for seven-segment displays and/or machined/laser-etching applications?

Conclusion:

I think this style of writing, though more difficult to decipher compared to the existing script, has its benefits – in signage limited to a word or two, vertically writing in Hindi, and etching of Devanagari by machines where curved toolpaths add to cost and time of finishing a part. There might also be benefits to the volume of ink saved in paperwork against dense Devanagari script (again, a new medium) with its curves and shirorekha – the latter could be literally looked at as striking-through each word.

But since this was just another weekend design exercise, yet again overthought, it definitely needs to be more legible with the right touch of a typographer – because what is the use of even a hundred the benefits when most people cannot read it.

Neuomorphic As An Interaction State

I came across a video explaining the hype around neumorphism – something fresh in these times of absolutely flat UI. This visual style serves the middle ground between the flatland and the realm of skeuomorphism.

Working on this little project over the weekend, I decided to make neumorphism function more as a micro-interaction state in regular flat UIs, i.e. it was to happen to or ‘bring up’ the element only when it was hovered over. This was inspired from futuristic physical interfaces which break the flat plane and take the form of physical buttons and switches when the user approaches them – though making this happen in the real life is not easy, the digital medium allows for just that.

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper

I had been putting off my tribute to this machine for quite some time. Also had to do something serious with Autodesk Sketchbook on the Samsung Galaxy Tab I had purchased over Thanksgiving. While I have managed to get a lot of minor design work done on it (storyboards and edits), I had not really sat down with it to do some solid non-stop sketching and rendering. It was part under-confidence and part procrastination which was causing this delay, but I guess today was the Sunday when this had to happen. The absence of masks does make rendering difficult in Sketchbook but there are workarounds – mine being not the correct one, for sure. It was a fun total of two hours nonetheless.

Driftwood Polystyrene

When the oceans rise and the floodwaters come rushing into your big cities, I am optimistic that the plastic in the oceans, what we passionately unify and outrage over, will be what keeps us afloat.

I am confident that the last man alive will sail to the higher grounds on the ark he made from Starbucks straws.

03 – The Side Table

Once I cut through the block of pine that I had used for my shape optimization tests. I think I got in the groove where I wanted to make more tables. In the last two weeks before my departure for home, I built a small side table with a walnut top and pine legs.

It is a simple design inspired from the form of a temple gate or torana. Lightweight and portable, it can be placed in a corner or along a wall and can find use as a nightstand or as a surface on which prayer items could be placed, or even just as a decorative piece by itself.

I decided that this handcrafted piece would make a great gift for my friend who would be getting married by the time I reached India. The table fit perfectly in my luggage in between the rolls of clothes and safely completed its journey of a bus ride and two international flights. I am glad that it was received well and now occupies a corner as one of the first furniture pieces in their new home.

Post-Sensory

They have managed to nail computer vision, and the abilities of machines discern sounds and create speech are better than ever. Presently, the focus has been on the sense of touch – and the interfaces are focusing on the tactile, trying to refine it and give it the quantity (and at times quality) so that a machine may experience it the same way. But taste is what I want them to define next to a machine.

Computer Taste. Taste Recognition. As absurd as it sounds.

Vision and sound have probably been the easiest of sensory experiences for us to mechanize and digitize.  Taste, I feel, shall probably be the last and the most difficult of all senses to replicate. Even with the most refined of present sensor-tech we have created that can detect and quantify a change in the natural world, taste is something at a higher level, it is a combination of the other senses. It is where the touch, smell and vision come into play together. Even with combinations of individual sensor-values affecting brain activity for each item tasted, what we would be able to create further from a model trained on this would only give us the brain activity equivalent, and it would not be replicating the sensation itself.

But maybe it will be possible one day, when the total sensory input gets strong enough to surpass taste, where taste is not necessary as a more powerful sensory dimension would exist in its place and be much more useful to an artificial super-intelligence. It would be like tasting one’s food by just by the sight or smell of it, like how we do countless times in passing.

That sensory dimension sounds a lot like desire.

Seat Frame: Shape Optimization Test

I wanted to put Autodesk Fusion360‘s Simulation feature to work. I decided to create a block that supports the three legs of a stool and ran the space optimization study over it. Using a plastic like ABS in the simulation and MDF for the legs, I could get an estimate of the stress-contours (best among woods and plastics). I used these as templates to remove excess material and decided to 3D print a piece, a slide in joint/frame for my seat.

Now this is the step which is not the right way to go about testing a part for strength – since plastic has a non-linear Young’s modulus and 3D printed parts are neither really solid nor with uniformity among the layers, FDM is definitely not the way to obtain a test piece (however SLA printed parts fare better in this). But I did it anyway, to see how much this shape could take with a ten percent infill just with the defining walls on the outside making up this part – would anyway be a good indicator.

Surprisingly, everything fit well and the seat was able to take my weight, but because of the lack of joinery, it would wobble and slide out of the fixtures with any movement. So, as a way to keep this piece serving some purpose, I just applied some wood glue to the dowels and jammed them between the legs and the top.

For future, this frame could incorporate a clever locking mechanism for the legs and maybe have a smoother, more organic surface without the very much visible fillets.

All Day I Dream About Sukhoi

 

Quick Build: Piezo-Pickup Casing

Months ago, when my roommate managed to buy a sweet Fender acoustic guitar from a student who was moving out, I mentioned that he get a piezo-electric pickup. We found the cheapest one on Amazon for about ten dollars, and after receiving it, we realized that we had no way to secure it to the guitar maybe apart from drilling a hole through its body for the output jack. So, the project lay dormant until yesterday. I love small projects like these where excess material can find some purpose.

Sunday – just pulled out a block of pine from my box of materials and took some measurements of the pickup’s components.

 

Monday – managed to cut a casing with just those measurements (without the pickup as the reference) only to return home and find that some of my estimates were way off.

Tuesday – tried to make this casing again from scratch, having the pickup with me for reference helped cut down the time considerably. Upon coming home, I attached the casing on the guitar with velcro and then decided to utilize the previously failed piece as an extension to it (so that it has more area to stick to and is easier to remove and attach). I plugged in the pickup to my processor and it sounded pretty damn good across most patches. Also reinforced the original wire by wrapping it with really loud “Chenille Stems”.

Wednesday – Glued the previously failed piece to the new casing, sanded down the faces and put some wax to make it shine. Invited my friends to try it out on Friday.

 

Flood Protection For Automobiles

The changing global climate shows up every year with its stronger than ever hurricanes and floods. A major section of the world population resides along the coasts or such major water bodies, and it is common to see a flood happening somewhere in the world at any given time of the year. What I saw among that property damage were the perfectly good vehicles, sometimes new ones still in the dealership lot, that have been ruined and will probably end up in a scrap sale or clearance auction.

This is a design for protection of vehicles against floodwaters. It is an inflatable device which is first spread under the vehicle like a mat and then is inflated to keep the automobile above the water level. Material must be chosen to make it last the longest duration of floods. These floating devices are ribbed under the surface to provide protection and strength. Other than their primary use, they can also be used as boats to transport goods, people and rescue material. There could even be a mechanism which inflates these via the car’s exhaust system. As it can be deflated and stored in the trunk or in the garage – it is an easy to store and quick to deploy system.

No, There Need Not Be An App for That

In this post, I would like to talk about applications for digital devices, or anything on a screen for that matter. This topic does not really require an introduction like how it did ten years back, and most of this has been mentioned in places elsewhere but I will ramble because I must. Applications have managed to become a part of almost everyone’s lives, whether they wanted it or not – even the ones who were once very anti-tech find themselves staring at a screen for hours everyday (my mother who once used to blame the computer to be the source of all evil now cannot get by without YouTube and WhatsApp). Since our relationship with technology has changed, so must the degree at which we analyze and criticize it.

For Users:
Privacy –
Our devices have a good number of apps; and apart from the two or three which are essential to going about our lives, most of them are what we did not use after that one time we needed a discount code, or because everyone else was using it and we did not want to feel left out. It is not possible to use all the applications on your phone and function as a normal productive human being, as often promised by their developers. There is more to this compromise – these applications linger on with their bloating updates, keeping an eye over what we are doing till we either uninstall them ourselves or lose/break our phones. Enough has been discussed on this and I would not drag this along further but, in short, – the service never really ends with the transaction.
Attention –
Even if we can view more of what is going on in our screens than ever before, our focus on tasks is diminishing – more tabs and more sources of notifications lead to a complete saturation of our senses and attention. And then, there are apps for improving productivity and focus as well, or that is what they claim. Some have even crossed over on to keeping one enriched through audio while we are doing some other task – I am not really sure how much of that content is retained in our minds compared to sitting down and, say, reading an actual book. All of this seems to perfectly complement a population that is getting increasingly dependent on focus enhancing medication. This only gets worse when expensive smart e-learning packages are sold to institutions – these are nothing but more applications, each with its own set of distractions aimed at the youngest of our populations.
Life-
With that, we have come to a point where the interactions of our existence, directly or indirectly, rely on a digital application of some sort – whether the goal is achieved by downloading an app for a particular task, or is realized by going through multiple layers of digital media to achieve a goal (an example would be – turning your computer on, dealing with its interface and then pulling up a browser that leads you to the website delivering the solution/information required). In this flood, our modern and smart living experience is nothing but us looking at one screen and then moving onto another. The real world just doesn’t have room in our lives anymore and it is just not us who is to blame but also the creators who see an app as an end, or at least a supplementary essential, rather than as a means. People have often talked about how real conversations do not exist when everyone is looking at their phones, but I wish to prod this along even further – do real conversations even exist nowadays without phones? Do most conversations not eventually spiral towards someone pulling out a phone to look up something that would make things more interesting? And when the conversation is in an exciting scenario or leads to a great moment, the need to capture it through photos becomes essential (the real world interaction leads to a great experience which must now be put into and validated through the application realm). The phone gets pulled out regardless. Not to forget that the phone and its make also influences how we are perceived.

For Designers:
To designers and product developers, apps seem like an intelligent & quick solution to what were previously insurmountable problems. The evaluation of a product’s worth is mostly centered around the digital experiences it has to provide, even when that isn’t primarily the focus of that service. The seamlessness of its interaction with the real world and its changing dynamics is one of the key barometers to make this said experience great. This seamlessness also involves the success of that application to keep the user absorbed/pulled in within its ecosystem, away from other ecosystems (which also includes the real world). This competition for attention is a deadly game we are playing with our society and is not really expected when every other design group uses feel-good words like ‘social responsibility’ etc.
I feel, this is something we are not talking about as a community, maybe because of how much it has simplified our living and has achieved a status where it need not be questioned. Also, not to forget, that a lot has been built upon this and a huge industry with its numerous specialized jobs depends on the screens which keep us distracted and unsatiated. For every young designer, having visualized apps and interactions to some extent has become almost like a rite-of-passage. User interface/experience and visual communication design, fields with immense opportunities for research, have somehow gotten fixated for too long in this trap of the app – everyone is focusing on ‘crafting’ these experiences and great products in the form of phone or tablet applications. It is almost as if these designers, by their own will, have forced themselves and the experiences they seek into the guidelines set by the corporate giants. But, if at the end of the day, one is held hostage by a leading device platform developer, and if that is where most of the bread and butter is at, how can one really solve problems beyond the screen? This is an honest question – in a walled garden with a limited number of playing blocks provided (to which the platform developer regularly adds or removes), can you really innovate for the real world beyond a certain point?
If the ever-present and unquestioned goal is to push for a digital product that solves real problems, all the research and the decorative post-its are, thus, useless.

Businesses & Products:
New and old businesses alike, whether big or small, fall prey to the app trap. The reasons are many: it might be because of their desire to try out a new technology without a huge investment or risk, or a push to keep up with the times, or just finding the app-marketplace to be a level ground when competing against big players. The last one probably is stemmed in the overnight successes of independent app developers that became multi-billion dollar corporations. Even within the established digital services domain, some businesses have already ditched their online websites completely for apps while others are slowly phasing them out or are downgrading their capabilities. The reasons for these are both economical and socio-technological, and hence the snowball of applications only gets bigger with every passing year.
One does not need apps to control or manage light-bulbs, shower-heads or keys – these objects serve their own purpose by themselves. A device with apps for that is the intangible equivalent of a purse with all the keys to your home, your passport, your bank account info, your nail cutter, hair trimmer and your toolbox – all of it, in one place, all the time. You have to carry it around and take these objects out every time you need them, must have it all in there regardless. Losing your purse also gives away all of these to someone who finds them, or at least takes them away from your reach, even if the loss is temporary and recoverable. Just because there is no physical weight to it does not mean there is no weight to it.
Apps also encourage obsolescence – while physical parts might be, to some extent, easier to source and create (or at least replace) – code is difficult to break into for repairs by an average user. Open source alternatives completely depend on how impactful the product was during its run and they too might stop once the interest of the community dies out or the overall use of this gets absorbed and closed off as a small feature by the larger fish (discussed below). This effect magnifies if you have a physical product that relies on an app to run. Imagine having a perfectly functioning ‘smart’ light-bulb which cannot function anymore because the application is out of development; or the application now only serves a newer line of products; or it works only on newer operating systems for your devices. To turn that damn bulb back on again, what would you throw and what would you replace?
Apps should be replaced by relevant interfaces that only become salient to the product’s scenario of use and context. And there need not be an app for everything. Even in situations where an application or a digital experience seems to be the absolute necessary for a product or a service, it need not be so at all. All the designer needs to do is step back and look at things through a new perspective.

The Unified Interface & Its Coming:
Usually, there would be a software capable of performing a given set of tasks, anything that would expand its capabilities would be done through a plugin or another software that would use the application in a certain manner. These handy plugins or widgets are suicidal by nature in these times, because once they gather enough user-base, they are rapidly absorbed by the system they rely on or work within. Things which are the USP of these smaller products get picked up and added as extra features to the main apps they rely on. Take for example Maps, you can now call for a cab, lookup places to eat through this single application on your device – sure it might rely on another installed app for this feature to be available, but once enough people start to use these features on this ‘mother’ app, the economic incentives of piggybacking for these food and taxi aggregators become high enough for them to discontinue their standalone applications. Right now, these things happen slowly within an ecosystem or in between applications that work with each other, but soon this will expand into entire operating systems. What we are headed towards is an experience where independent (not independent in the development sense) software would not exist – it would be the part of the operating system where it shows up only when needed.
The focus of the industry is also on VR or personal home assistants, but the song remains the same for this new medium. In fact, it only gets murkier with this – the simple action of whipping out a phone will be completely replaced by the presence which is actually beyond one’s control, we would be incapable to really turn it off. It will soon extend itself to the devices we will interact with or shall be present through someone else we interact with (asking people to put down their phones nowadays is an escalated situation by itself, imagine asking someone to turn off their personal assistant or such entities). The user will become an extension of the interface. The strings of control just became tighter – good luck coming up with socially responsible designs for that.


So simply put, things look bad and will only get worse. And I am not really big on changing this, because there is no other way either – it is just that we can only be cautious and know about the consequences of what has us smitten. The signs of it already show up indirectly through the court hearings, political conspiracies and corporate leaks we frequently read about. Such is progress and it does not come without sacrifices. Behind all disappointment is a hype, behind all utopias is absolute control.

Interactive Art: False Color

This is an idea for an interactive art installation where both the spectators and the performers participate through observation and creation, respectively.  It consists of a booth, like a darkroom used for developing photographs, with a counter has four colors which render as black to the subject in the saturated red light from overhead. The subject uses these four colors to paint a blank canvas in front of him/her. In the end, the piece is given back to the subject – for them to validate against their imagination.  There are one way glass windows on the sides of the canvas through which the spectators on the outside can look inside this booth but only see the canvas’ reflection on the wall behind the performer (not shown in the image).

This piece seeks to initiate conversations and thoughts about the subjectivity of vision, our perception of colors, reality and light.

falsecolor-01

Space Force Marine Equipment Concept

 

The announcement of a US Space Force is an exciting one – refreshes the entire stage for concept artists and designers alike.

This is a collection of imaginary equipment that a Space Marine might have to carry.  GAU-Photon is my favorite.

The Experience Design of Ragas

For most people, vibe is important. Ambiance is another term some like to use. But overall, people enjoy and pay more for an immersive experience. This has been central to the new improvements in the entertainment and media industry. The design industry has also found itself talking more and more about experience of using and interacting with a product or a service. People now have things which communicate with sight, sounds, touch and smells and almost everyone is exploring ways to set the perfect mood for an experience – whether it is for long lasting emotional design or planned obsolescence, all are aiming for an experience that goes beyond the product/service itself.  At its core, it is about making things more immersive. New fronts are emerging as we find relationships between sensations, sensors and technologies. But the number of augmentations really do not determine the quality of experience, this is often neglected and misunderstood. This is the reason why we often hear things like, ‘bad sound’,  ‘bad lighting’, ‘three dead in a pyrotechnic accident’; or we see a restaurant with lighting that makes the food look like crap and a lounge where social interaction is expected but the music prevents it.

For music, what was once a simple equalizer dancing within the confines of a screen (initially a utility of monitoring sound levels for different frequencies) has now mapped to low-cost smart lights in one’s living room for the parties. Up the budget for a concert and you have something grand yet similar, but it is tailored for the venue and the performer (smoke, confetti, water cannons, flames etc.). Things are also changing with VR, where listening to a song could also mean being the protagonist in its music video.

With all that said, I want to talk about something old.

I cannot help but think of Hindustani classical music in the context of experience design, and more specifically the concept of ragas. Even though there is lots to discuss about the rituals, instruction and hierarchies, all of which I know nothing about, there is something about the entire system which is very organic and sophisticated. The people who framed these rules knew that it was not just about the music (product/service – depends on how one looks at it) but the entire experience. Ragas are, by design, an immersive experience rather than a simple set of notes to improvise along with. Traditionally, ragas are to be performed at a particular time of the day and even have appropriate seasons designated for their performance. This is probably an early example of where entertainment was designed with the environment in the mind. It had to reflect back, through music, what the environment presented; and given the absence of technology at that time, a master performing a raga at the correct time and season would have yielded a mood that is really difficult to recreate with all our screens, smoke, flames, sprays and amplification. Among these, amplification is an interesting tool as its presence or absence also raises questions like – should an audience beyond a certain number really witness this performance? Would architecture across the world evolve differently if we had access to modern amplification methods? Would that have also affected the instruments we have today?

As Western music took the main seat in the world, the ambiance of entertainment was now sourced in the replication of concert halls which was only made more colorful with open air stages etc. The music too has distanced from the nature worshiping pagan traditions, and is now a projection from man on to his environment (the western approach where man is at the center of his reality – a closed-in approach which I feel was guided more by the climate than philosophy or religion) – it became important to create and impose the vibe rather than let it come in from the outside. Even the western instruments had to eventually mic into modern amplification to cater beyond what they could deliver by themselves and the spatial acoustics. And with all the tech, attempts are rigorous to subconsciously guess at and recreate the conditions that might best complement a song. The right answer perhaps will come when we open our senses to the world before applying our sensors to it.

1984 Maruti 800

 

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Finally started playing with Sketchbook. This is a 1984 Maruti 800 (based on Suzuki Fronte SS80), a landmark for the Indian automobile industry, which brought cars within the reach of the common people. It truly captures the spirit of the Indian middle class in the 80s-90s along with two wheelers like Bajaj Chetak. The legacy still lives on through various descendants in the market today but spotting the original one, though a rare opportunity, can bring a smile with a flood of memories to anyone. Reference photo credit: @motorbeam @autodesk @autodeskuniversity @autodesksketchbook @adobe @adobestudents @ritart_design @rit_id #autodesk #sketchbook #suzuki #marutisuzuki #maruti800 #indiancars #japanesecars #india #art #automobile #vintagecars #india #nostalgic #industrialdesigner

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Finally started playing with Sketchbook but primarily worked on this in Illustrator.

This is a 1984 Maruti 800 (based on Suzuki Fronte SS80), a landmark for the Indian automobile industry, which brought cars within the reach of the common people. It truly captures the spirit of the Indian middle class in the 80s-90s along with two wheelers like Bajaj Chetak. The legacy still lives on through various descendants in the market today but spotting the original one, though a rare opportunity, can bring a smile with a flood of memories to anyone.

Cliché – ‘Feel Good’ Business Terms

Whenever my job search takes me to a website of a company, there are a few words I absolutely expect to see – the careers section is, of course, the one I am looking for but then it comes with the others, sometimes nested within and sometimes they sit right around it. Businesses trying to put on a human face is an old and overused act, but since these words span the size, business ethics, industry and ideology of the business it is something worth mentioning. That said, these terms are unavoidable in these times where almost every one is projecting their virtue but my reason for writing this, as a designer, is that we can do perfectly well without any of it – it is an unnecessary practice.

Diversity and Inclusion – Usually shows a person of color or someone in an ethnic attire (or wearing some part of it) standing in a corporate boardroom surrounded by people in suits or business casuals. This has almost become an icon for diversity for websites of businesses. It reveals a fantasy of the inclusion and the ratios to which it is desired. Never have I come across such a photo of one white guy in a room full of, say for example, Indians – I am sure some of these big companies have offices in Mumbai where expats work. Is this inclusion only based on the race or the sexual orientation of a person (the latter only when it is very much visible in a photo)? Why do they miss out on the countless people who have a disability but still are a part of the workforce?

Sustainability – Any human activity, whether it is the production of goods or service, is unsustainable towards the environment. Sustainability is just a word for lean production practices where costs are saved while also avoiding penalties from the EPA or its equivalent. Yet, places where these regulatory authorities are missing, things are very different. The only thing that is being sustained are the profits, nothing else. It only gets worse as the businesses scale up in size. I think a better and more honest alternative for sustainability should be ‘damage control’.

Corporate Social Responsibility – This is an old one and most people know about it – photos of kids from a third world country in a school equal tax breaks.

It is often tempting as someone creating content to be carried away by these terms. Though no casual client or applicant would check whether the statements made are true or not, but this practice does add to the overall redundant and ever-growing clutter that most information on the internet comes with. And it gets all the more painful when some really sophisticated design firms can be seen doing this.

Rendered Errors

Spent a few hours tonight playing around with Fusion360’s rendering service on the lattice I have been trying to create (and print). The results were impressive, especially with all of the reflective surfaces and the ever repeating geometries. One of the renders did fail. It left me mid-way, after an hour’s wait, with something that was incomplete yet cool – straight out of a high school NCERT Physics or Math book!

I will try to post more updates on the project as well.

Printing That Shit

‘Are you friggin’ kidding me?’

This was the usual response of friends and teachers to one of the main ideas I was considering for my thesis. And I cannot blame them either, because the concern was legit – shit was involved, literally. After many discussions, I finally told myself that additive manufacturing with human feces would be a project I must save for another lifetime. In retrospection though, I too agree that it would have been a bit too much – I saw myself, a year from then, clutching at whatever little that remains of my hair staring at a brutally hacked filament extruder which was either: a. unable to extrude the material (aka constipation) OR b. extruding it at undesirable rates (aka diarrhea). Either one of that happening, and that too at a graduate thesis exhibition show in a crowded art gallery, would make it the perfect disaster.

‘Dude, as if shitting on the streets for you guys (Indians) was not enough..’

Though the highly sanitized modern societies manage to project the image of the penultimate pristine very well by pushing the excrement under the rug (or the streets), the problem is not really gone and it re-surfaces every now and then in every corner of the world (usually happens when it rains a lot). The attitudes towards management and handling waste vary but all in all, it is looked at as a thing that must be immediately gotten rid of. The truth is, all of our civilization and us are covered in filth – of our own excretions and those of others. Come to think of it, societies are the best way to come into direct and indirect contact with the excrement of others. What was once limited to probably the animals and the family on the farm now extends to everyone who sat on that toilet seat or touched the door knob of that high-society lounge you and I might wish to visit. With that at their core, societies strive for ‘cleanliness’. Over hundreds of years, we have solved certain problems and introduced practices that positively transformed health and hygiene at a global level, but with that attitude we are also flushing the baby out with the bathwater.

Building Material Of The Future – Here and Beyond

Used as a fertilizer, fuel and a construction material regardless of time and place – it is only sensible to see it as the next big problem as well as the answer to the mounting pile of humans and their excreta. A few efforts have briefly brought some attention to the potential of feces as a construction material but the stigma is an understandably great one to overcome. This also prevents further work towards solutions that will help, and the reactions I experienced, ranging from understandingly disagreeing to extreme mockery, were a good example of that. The common concern of biological hazard and odors has been addressed long ago and the only thing that requires work is our perception. Think of it – an abundantly available ecologically friendly material that can and has been used to create strong composites!

As we are expanding our reaches into the space, talks about colonizing Mars are getting serious with every passing day. Dealing with humans and their waste will thus be more important than ever. Since energy efficiency is of utmost importance in space missions, researchers are exploring ways to fully utilize this space poop (as an energy source), which would otherwise be stored and hauled back to earth. They have been doing that with urine and astronauts already get enough questions on that. Also, no matter how tempting it sounds, we cannot just let packets of frozen human feces drift for a millennia until they land on a planet wiping out an alien life (or even birthing it). So, the solution will be simple for us – we will have to figure out a way to use our own feces to construct these new worlds. And when it is 3D printed (ie. if my hypothetical extruder works by then in Mars’ gravity, I am also fine with throwing lasers at sewage sludge blended with a photo-polymer if that looks cooler) and setup by an army of robots, the possibilities can be endless. All humans would need to do would be to wake up from their deep sleep upon their arrival and move into their new Martian homes made out of waste collected from the previous missions. As they live, they shall also contribute their bit for the future occupants of that community. Will be just like the stories where the filth off one’s body was used to create heroes and their armor.

Suggested Links:

https://www.economist.com/prospero/2016/05/09/merdacotta-domestic-objects-made-from-dung
https://www.citylab.com/design/2013/04/sustainable-furniture-line-made-agricultural-waste/5270/
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2007/dec/04/art
https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/18/president-trump-directs-pentagon-defense-department-to-immediately-being-the-process-of-establishing-space-force-as-sixth-military-branch.html
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/11/elon-musk-colonise-mars-third-world-war
https://www.nasa.gov/feature/winners-of-space-poop-challenge-receive-30000
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/06/08/nasa-chief-says-2018-budget-ensures-mars-mission-still-track-2033/102642420/
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221455241730041X
https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2018/04/02/288746.full.pdf

Laying Eggs

With access to FDM 3D printers for a class I was the teaching assistant for, I started with a few quick projects of my own to learn more about this technology. The opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time as I was also taking an engineering course on 3D printing, so there were lots of ideas that I wanted to try.

Nature uses many methods to create which could be classified, in human context, into three types – Additive, subtractive and transformative. All of these are also used in varying degrees by humans, themselves a part of nature, to create new things – we have mostly been using subtractive and transformative methods (like turning a tree log into a chair and making bread and iron) for a very long time in manufacturing; but additive manufacturing is relatively, at least as what it means now, a new process. We have borrowed a lot of ideas from nature in our subtractive processes and have pretty much augmented nature for our transformative processes. Thus, driving the additive methods back to how nature uses them only makes sense.

So, I wanted to 3D print an egg – something absolutely unnecessary, yes. But there is much more to an egg than there is to the generic nuts and bolts or pikachus that get printed as test pieces all the time. Through additive manufacturing, I wanted to study and imitate this structure as it is created in nature, ie. without internal or external supports.

The ovoid is an interesting shape and its properties of strength and stability also make it the subject of many studies and applications. While reading up about eggs (do not ask why), I got to know more about how evolution, local resources and thermodynamics play a key role in determining their shape. The way by which an egg is created within the bird is an interesting process by itself, the tube of the oviduct creates and shapes its shell it as it passes through – an additive process which we might try to replicate in the future as an assembly line which is way more compact and efficient.

Using the thinnest wall thickness possible, I first printed a chicken egg (closest to an ovoid) in PLA which came out just fine, but the slicer put an internal singular support column running through its central axis. I had missed out on enforcing the no support setting so the entire curvature was unsupported except for the top and the bottom. Even with that, it turned out to be super strong and one could throw it at the floor with as much force as possible and the thing would just randomly bounce off in another direction. Interesting.

Next, I printed the same egg but with a meshed or a voronated surface. Voronoi partitioning of a surface finds use in modelling bone architecture, cells, scaffoldings for growing specimens; and it also simply looks cool. This is also probably the closest one can get to generative design like forms without actually using a generative algorithm. These very alien looking eggs took a longer time to print, even with lesser material, because of the discontinuity in deposition and the very gradual and varying slopes which bound each voronoi curve. This too printed without much problems, except for one, which was by my own lack of patience. It printed with a base to which it was attached, I hastily pulled the whole piece without judging its sensitivity and it broke at the bottom. This structure, also printed at minimum wall thickness, was actually very interesting – it flexed and yielded like a sponge but maintained its original geometry. This spongy egg, did manage to give me ideas for another class project I was working on (scaffolding for silicone prostheses).


Now that I was successfully able to 3D print eggs without any (or at least minimal) structural support, both with the solid shell and a voronated one, I can safely say that the this natural shape also accommodates for the slope angles within which a man-made filament extruder works. I am now thinking how this idea would hold if I print these with the stereolithographic process – ie. how does the surface tension of the photopolymer and the vaccuum that it might create for this egg shell affect the results. I feel it might work, but I have to test that.

 

Some interesting info on eggs:
http://science.sciencemag.org/content/356/6344/1249http://vis.sciencemag.org/eggs/

Click to access egg.pdf


https://web.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/Eggs.html
https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/06/bird-eggs-shapes-flight-evolution/
 

Concept: Automobile Climate Control Interface

 

For one of our course assignments, we were asked to choose and redesign a widget we frequently interact with. I picked the climate control dials in our cars,  which vary with different cars and take up unnecessary space on the dashboard.

 

This concept for the new widget consists of concentric dials, each of which control a parameter of the automobile’s indoor climate – the center is a scrolling sphere through which air direction mode and even vent settings in-between two modes can be chosen.

This was a quick build and I kept the explanation at its simplest with three concepts – one being the framework I started with, the other a widget made of physical dials and the third one specific to touch interfaces.

Explaining the concentric dials (outer to inner):

  • Temperature : Air conditioner/Heater/Fan
  • Fan Speed : 0 to 10, controllable from both clockwise and counterclockwise rotation
  • Air Intake Control
  • Air Direction Vent Control Trackball

Intergalactic Locomotive

au_drawing_loco

I did a re-submission (to improve my grade) of my final for 2D Design & Visualization course over the winter break – the colored rendering is too bad to share over here but I am really happy with how the line drawing turned out.

This is a concept for an intergalactic sleigh meant to pull train-cars full of mail and goods. The idea came to me while I was locked in during the winter break, amidst all the snow through my very solitary first Christmas in America.

 

Circular Issues

I made my second attempt at the National Institute of Design entrance exam today and more than anything else in that paper, I actually had fun while answering this particular question. The question was meant to see the candidate’s creativity as well as the ability to spot and solve problems, I decided to make it a chain of problems and solutions to keep things interesting. I think I haven’t come up with a better impromptu story ever so I will share it here.

“The circle wakes up one day to find the triangle as his neighbour.
Give three problems that arise from this situation and also their respective solutions.”

Problem: The circle has never shared his space with anyone else in his lifetime. With the triangle next to him now, he will have to deal with his pointy vertices regularly or otherwise he will have to give in, shrink and live within the bounds of the triangle.

Solution: The only viable thing to do is to engulf the triangle. It is very easy to engulf a low lying polygon which is no match in front of the circle’s infinite greatness. The triangle will also provide stability from the inside and act as a support.

Problem: Contrary to circle’s plan, the triangle is causing problems. The vertices point out into his circumference and he suffers from three cyclic pains throughout the day.

Solution: He decides to ease the pain by increasing the vertices within, at least it would be more bearable and distributed. He invites the octagon for tea and engulfs him as well. Now he feels better but must make sure that no one gets to know about it.

Problem: The triangle and the octagon were famous social polys in the town of Second Dimension. All other shapes have started looking for them and the circle must do something before the matter gets reported to the higher dimensions.

Solution: At night, the circle decides to go on a killing spree. He has come to terms with his condition and knows that he is a serial killer and beyond help. He engulfs every other shape in the city but knows that there is a polygon that matches him. He must end this madness with the highest and most complex polygon – himself.

Say Chairs

The idea to write this came the moment I sat on a chair which was returned to my household after many years by someone who had needed it, this chair used to be my favorite lounging spot when I was a young and filthy pubescent boy. Sinking back into it, I was transported to the times I had spent on it studying and playing (with myself) – sometimes masterfully executing both the tasks at the same time. Only on that chair could this be possible and so today, I have decided to write this in honor of that chair.

People spend their entire lives sitting on chairs and yet so little is said or thought about them. Most people look at chairs seeking immediate comfort while others have a humbler ‘usable/non-usable’ approach to them. It is sad that such an important object with which we interact on a regular basis is pushed away from serious discussion except in design journals and coffee table books that themselves cost more than what most chairs do. Chairs are like people. A good chair means a lot and can be felt like a lover’s arms when he/she embraces you from behind and yes, as weird as that might sound, it is true. You might not be aware of it but you too have a special one in your house or are already parked on it right now as you read this.

You get to know them by sitting on them. The longer you sit, the better you know if they suit your actions and demands or not. Some are old good friends in distant places – meeting them after years would still feel as if you had met only last weekend, some gratify your tired back and bottom in an instant (highly utilitarian) while others are neutral as if no one sat on them ever and are so easy to forget unless frequently visited. The special ones get highly personalised, shaped and accustomed to the person whom they belong to. A new chair would not tell much, fresh out of the shop it has not seen the world, but old chairs have a lot to say about the people and places they have seen.

I remember spending time alone (not playing with myself) in this isolated area of our school where discarded furniture used to gather dust. Some chairs were probably as old as the school itself, the layers of paint could never cover up the classes they had attended.  A few injuries here and there, a chipped side and probably a replaced wooden backrest which was taken from another chair at some point only fortified their character. Both poor and bright students had sat on them for considerable times but the chairs showed no personal inclination towards any single individual, even the names scribbled or etched couldn’t do that. Apart from the spirit of the school they had nothing to show or say. In contrast to this are the chairs which one resorts to in thoughtful times or in reclusion, the thinking chairs. What makes these particular chairs special? Think about it and comfort would soon become an auxiliary factor. Only when we stop for a while to become aware of and appreciate these relics we sit on as we rush about our lives shall we learn how an object affects us more than we can really imagine.
Here is a great narrative on chairs as a strong visual tool that can decide the impact of a scene or even a great story in cinema. I assure you that this video will change the way you look at chairs.