The Interface Is The Message: Inside The Mind of Media Designer Dale Herigstad

For people who don't dwell in its world, design can sometimes be an esoteric concept. As consumers and businesspeople, we all understand when a media design works for us, or even more noticeably when it doesn't. But to really understand the thinking that went into it, you have to crawl inside the head of a media designer and experience the world through his or her eyes, ears, and fingertips.

Thanks to an unusual program created by Ball State University's Center for Media Design, we got to do just that. The program taps some of the media industry's leading designers as research fellows to teach the next generation of media professionals how they should think about media: not just its content and technology, but its form and function too. On a recent visit, we got an opportunity to speak to one of the school's research fellows, Dale Herigstad, creative director and cofounder of Schematic, a Los Angeles-based design firm, about media design.

Herigstad even offered up some futuristic theories of media design. He was the design consultant on Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's "Minority Report," and came up with the concept of "gestural navigation," or the hand gestures Tom Cruise's character used to interface with a computer screen. While the technology of computer and TV screens hasn't yet evolved to that point, Herigstad is already incorporating similar concepts into his designs for Turner Broadcasting's new GameTap Web site and enhanced programming content in Sci Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica." Instead of simply navigating from left to right or up and down, Herigstad's interfaces enable users to navigate on all axes simultaneously -- not just on a linear plane, but zooming in and out, or even rotating on the screen's axes.

Such designs aren't simply gimmicks but are part of a fusion Herigstad believes is taking place between television, Web/computer, and game system platforms into a new kind of interface that is shifting away from linear channel- or page-based clicks. "The old way is when you have a remote control, or you move a cursor up and down and click a page and it generates another page. It's what I call the page model," Herigstad says. "I think that is beginning to change.

Once you have animation capabilities, you can move graphical objects around on the screen. The new television isn't just a linear box. There's content floating around there that you can do things with. The content itself becomes interactive."

So if Publicis Chief Innovation Officer Rishad Tobaccowala is right when he says that either TV is becoming the Internet or the Internet is becoming TV, it is designers like Herigstad who will help figure out how it looks and functions. But it's not just a TV or PC screen. It's all the screens that video content is beginning to appear on.

While many media professionals think about media in terms of time and space, Herigstad has begun thinking of it in terms of linear feet. The 1-foot screen (handhelds such as an iPod or a video cell phone); the 2-foot screen (the PC); the 10-foot screen (the huge flat-screen TV in the living room); the 25-foot screen (place-based media like signs and billboards); and the 200-foot screen (digital outdoor billboards and wallscapes).

"The whole conversation about broadband and Internet TV is really the '2-foot experience,' which will perhaps be transitory in the future," predicts Herigstad, who believes new digital media centers, such as Microsoft's Windows Media Center, will ultimately ensure that the "10-foot" screen remains the primary way people interface with video content.

The biggest mistake the media industry and Madison Avenue make when they think about media design, Herigstad maintains, is looking at the experience through their own eyes, as opposed to consumers'.

"Consumers are there to consume the programming. They're not there for advertising," he explains, adding, "But the business model is the opposite perspective. The programming is really just a vehicle to get eyeballs for commercials and sponsorship. That model has to be reconceived and readapted for these new, interactive spaces."

Herigstad is currently evaluating an interface he created for merchandising branded content and advertising messages embedded in programming. When viewers see a product or commercial content on the screen that interests them, they simply click on the item and store it in a bar at the bottom of the screen to be viewed later. That way they won't be interrupting the programming they set out to watch in the first place.

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