The Future of Design Tools

One of the most memorable parts of the recent Iron Man movies was the interactive holographic tool Tony uses to design his armor (if you have not seen the movie, watch this). This level of motion-based computing has become a sci-fi staple, and it is easy to understand why. How great would it be to design buildings the same way painters and sculptors create art?

Now watch this:

The researchers are using a motion-detecting video game console, which many still dismiss as "toys", to control a game so complex that it normally requires specialized keyboards and mouses. The complexity of World of Warcraft controls is equivalent to the complexity of BIM design tools: a set library of functions that can be performed on selectable objects in an interactive, changeable environment. Granted, the controls are rough and hardly ready for "serious players", but that is just a matter of refinement.

Consumer Product Analyst James McQuivey has this to say about the Kinect:
...Kinect for Xbox 360 will usher us into a new era Forrester has entitled the Era of Experience. This is an era in which we will revolutionize the digital home and everything that goes along with it: TV, internet, interactivity, apps, communication. It will affect just about everything you do in your home. Yes, that, too.

I've just completed a very in-depth report for Forrester that explains in detail why Kinect represents the shape of things to come. I show that Kinect is to multitouch user interfaces what the mouse was to DOS. It is a transformative change in the user experience, the interposition of a new and dramatically natural way to interact -- not just with TV, not just with computers -- but with every machine that we will conceive of in the future. This permits us entry to the Era of Experience, the next phase of human economic development.

Meanwhile, IBM is working on Star Wars-style holographic phone calls. They predict that within 5 years the technology will be compact enough to fit in a cell phone. Desktop versions of the technology should easily handle BIM; the models are already designed for simple computer rendering, and are generally more static than a talking human face.

In other words, it might not be long before we can design buildings with a few waves of the hand. McQuivey points out that manufacturers will need to join the Era of Experience too. Designers will want to handle virtual models of your product, fit them together to build fantastical structures, and see what happens when they fall down. The companies that succeed in this era will be those that can provide that experience.

As a closing thought, the "Era of Experience" idea extends beyond sales tools and computers. The idea of the "Experience Economy" has been around since the mid-90's; I first encountered it as an explanation of why coffee costs so much more at Starbucks than at Denny's. Even deeper than that, though, is the understanding that the experience your clients have with you is part of their experience with your product. Providing a positive experience, which is something above and beyond just providing good customer service, is more important than even the coolest high-tech design tools.

UPDATE: Check out this page for a gallery of amazing Kinect hacks:

[H/T ReadWriteWeb]