Jan 22

South by Southwest Interactive Speakers: Going Hollywood with Microsoft’s Chris Bernard

chris bernard photoDesign is taking a new direction as websites become less like entertainment and news and more like applications for people to use. At the forefront of this shift is Microsoft’s User Experience Evangelist Chris Bernard, who is speaking this year at South by Southwest Interactive. You can find Chris at the finals of Microsoft’s Phizzpop Challenge at their SxSW after party.

In your blog, http://chrisbernard.blogs.com, you write, “De Stijl,
Bauhaus, Futurism. The short history of design is filled with a lexicon of
terms and movements that inspire designers of today.” How can GeekAustin
designers use the design and cultural cues of the past to improve their
work everyday?

We traditionally think of Web design with a focus on typography and illustration,
which are important components of graphic design and are certainly important for the
Web. But symbolism and photography and the study of film and motion were an
important part of the classic design lexicon too. Take folks the Charles and Ray
Eames, they pioneered a lot of the design principles we use in the realm of Web and
software design today, but they also were product designers and adept at the use of
film and motion as a communications medium too. Symbolism was an important part of
their work when you examine both how they lived and how they structured and shaped
some of the iconic forms they are known for. Today we see all this disciplines
manifesting themselves in the current high-water mark of interaction design, which
is the iPhone. When we look at next general platforms such as Surface and
gesture-based computing designers that have knowledge of these disciplines will
become far more important.

But you don’t need to be inventing the future to embrace these disciplines. Firms
like Happy Cog and Coudal partners frequently apply their creative backgrounds in
photography, film and motion to their work and in applying how they solve problems.

Why will there be blood with Web 3.0?

The great promise of the Web, which I think has largely been delivered, is a common
standards-based way which we can all build against. Nicholas Carr equates the
ubiquity and power of the internet or network to be a breakthrough on the scale of
electricity and the electrical grid. If we agree with this I think we can say that
the Web browser in this equation is the light bulb. Everyone needs a light bulb, but
there are other things they want to plug into platform too, such as phones,
televisions, etc. What we’re going to see over time is a complementary merge of open
standards, de facto standards and proprietary standards. It’s going to be difficult
for enterprises or individuals to firmly ensconce themselves in one camp or the
other exclusively I think, but I also don’t think people will pay much attention to
it as market dynamics and sovereigns will exert significant presume on providers to
optimize experiences. We’re seeing that today with debates about data-portability
for example but we’re also seeing it with the browser itself. As marketers play a
larger role in subsidizer or creating much of the content we consume in the digital
realm there will be a strong urge to optimize across multiple platforms. So for
example, if you’re Sony Pictures, you might very well sell DVDs and Blu-Ray disks
but you’ll be developing your own digital distribution properties and establishing
agreements with proprietary parties that are de facto standards like iTunes.

Your SxSW Interactive speech is called “Hollywood and Design and
Literature: Just Who is Inspiring Who?” So, who is inspiring who?

Blade Runner just celebrated its 25th anniversary this last November. Talk to anyone
in advertising or interaction design and it’s hard not to find folks that draw
inspiration from movies like that or literature from the likes of William Gibson or
Neal Stephenson. More recently we’ve seen concepts that are real today
(gesture-based computing and multi-touch interfaces) shown in movies like Minority
Report, The Island and Children of men become reality. In fact some of the more
notable artists that create these visions, artists like Mark Coleran for example,
actual transcend both mediums, working in special effects and in software design. In
Microsoft’s Surface team for example we recruit very heavily from creative
disciplines that focus on animation, composition and motion design and it you look
at the new APIs that Windows users for UI, WPF, I think we’ll eventually see the
value of those disciplines start to be applied tom more mundane uses.

What are you looking forward to most at South by Southwest

The thing I’m most looking forward to at South by Southwest is a discussion around
the massive convergence we’re seeing in marketing, social media and (although it’s
not quite there yet) what I would call rich internet or rich interactive
experiences. I’ve also got a personal interest in what the convergence of the media
and internet means for film distribution, main independent film. SxSW is always a
good place to chat with folks about that.

GeekAustin is looking to do a site redesign. Any suggestions?

Hmmm, where to start. :) I think working a bit on the contrast might be a good a
good start. One of my favorite sites in terms of design and approachability is
www.designobserver.com. It’s simple, clean and the design doesn’t step on the
content. I think Web sites that work best are those that don’t get in the way of the
content. Much like a museum doesn’t get in the way of the artifacts it’s designed to

Please insert not so shameless plug here.

One of the things that I’m very excited about is that we get to continue an event we
started last year called the PhizzPop Design Challenge. In this event we structured a bit of a design ‘grand challenge’ (albeit a very short one) in which we got 36 design firms from
around the country (San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Austin, LA and Boston) to
compete against each other solving a variety of technology oriented design problems
that ranged from designing a hotel concierge system, to a better social media
platform and even an online independent film festival. All of the winners from those
events will be competing against each other at SxSW for the PhizzPop 2008
championship. For GeekAustin folks that will be at SxSW the PhizzPop Design
Challenge will be a great event to check out on Monday night, March 11th at Maggie