Puma e-catalog in the e-bathroom

Puma E-Catalog

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin define ‘remediation’ as “the formal logic by which new media refashion prior media forms.”

“Remediation frustration” (not their term) happens when new media insists on being old media. Thus, the new Puma e-catalog starts out with the oh-wow of completely simulating a paper catalog, which quickly (very quickly) devolves into a try-to-grab-the-corner-of-the-paper game. Once grabbed, the page can be “turned” in a sweeping drag of the mouse - although experimentation shows that a properly aimed click-drag from the upper corner will turn the whole page for you.

The catalog interface is a visual joke as the tile floor hints and the slowly extending legs confirm - your “avatar” is in the bathroom, and presumably has time for some reading. (Here the avatar IS the interface, in a way that reminds me of first person shooters - the arm leading back to “you” connects agency to the first person viewpoint. Are there better terms for avatar-interfaces already coined, say in Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan’s First Person?)

Remediated virtual paper interfaces are almost always novelty items, and most of us have probably seen a few before - the last one that springs to my mind right now is Zinio Magazine Reader, but there are others, and it would be interesting trying to assemble a list. I’d label them in two overlapping groups - “paper-like display” and “paper-like User Interface.”

“Paper-like display” is only a stylization, like faux wood paneling. Zinio Reader, for example, seems to use the page-turning transition effect more as a visual signature to remind users of the print industry. Here at Writer Response Theory, ongoing work on a signature theme for our blog has led us to consider a layout that references either print or terminal media - a notebook or a command line conceit. The extreme version of this would be something like the WordPress theme Taft, which departs from many of the rules of web design in its quest for verisimilitude. Of course, as a design, it is extremely cool - just not especially useable.

“Paper-like User Interfaces” generally cross the line where cool concept turns usability catastrophy. Like a child clutching awkwardly at a cardboard-paged primer, we can experience the joy of slowly and painfully learning by trail and error to operate each page of the Puma e-catalog. We wave our newly discovered arm in front of our own face in amazement, then fumblingly try to do something with our fingers. Working the fingers doesn’t go well at first, but hey, practice makes perfect, right?

It is interesting that, for many new media types I know, remediated paper strikes a nerve, and the objection often resembles the teachings of access and usability gurus: do what you do best, simply. But what if what the medium does best is frustrate? Can we frustrate well? (As in Flash poetry aesthetics of destruction, or the WEFAIL response to usability)

I’m thinking about interactive fiction when I say this. Is frustrating behavior indicative of poor design, or a novelty item? Or can there be an aesthetics of frustration? Something that differentiates learning how to simply move and speak in a text adventure game from learning to simply turn a page in a virtual bathroom?

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7 Responses to “Puma e-catalog in the e-bathroom”

  1. 1 Secret Weapon

    Hey there,

    Thanks for the positive comments on Taft. I created it and definitely agree with it not being especially useable - that word you use “validate” - what does it mean? ;-)

    Nonetheless, your writeup is on target and well articulated. We must be from the same school of thought … most especially since you used “verisimilitude” in mentioning Taft.

    Keep up the great work.

  2. 2 Christy Dena

    I love this sort of remediation of print. The Lycette Bros have a few works that play with this well, The Modern Compendium of Miniature Automata and Paper Machine for instance.

    On the issue of usability, I’ve written a couple of articles about this (’Bloody Thing Doesn’t Speak English: Bow Wow‘ and Learning not Meaning: House of Tomorrow‘). Frustration can be used for effect, but are you saying that computers or that certain software programs are better at frustration? There are plenty of works that are ‘analogue’ that are designed to frustrate. I’m thinking here of a book that you cannot open — I cannot recall who it was by. I guess the difference is that computers can have so many different types of interfaces and so one is guaranteed to have a frustrating experience, many times.

    Could you expand on what you mean?

  3. 3 Jeremy Douglass

    Thanks for stopping by! Taft is certainly a pleasure - and while following up on your comments thread I also discovered Dynamic Text Replacement, the older and more recent version of Image Headlines for Wordpress, and sIFR 2.0 (and various opinions on it and experiences with it).

    There’s a future post in all of this about the tension between our desire for pixel-perfect fonts and our desire for accessible, abstracted XHTML that degrades gracefully. That essay has been written many, many times over in design-land - I’m just not sure what the text-art angle is, yet….

  4. 4 Jeremy Douglass

    Great examples, Christy - The Modern Compendium of Miniature Automata and Paper Machine is to me a perfect example of paper-like display - the user interface uses a point-and-click method of turning ‘pages’, and the pages are marked at the corners with essentially forward and next buttons that have rollover highlights. The layout is paper-like, but the interface is web-like.

    By contrast, the Puma e-catalog has no rollovers or clearly defined turning regions - you have to guess in by ‘feel’ where the edge of the paper is, but you have no tactile feedback. It isn’t clear at first how the “hand” structure grabs - after lining things up by the thumb-pad or the curling fingers, you’ll discover that the pointer-finger stays still while the other fingers grasp around it. In retrospect, this is somewhat mouse-like - just nothing like how a real hand moves (try picking something up off your desk with thumb and pointer and notice how the thumb stays still). Finally, the required drag motion, which nonetheless results in a very cool display….

    I’ve just spent quite a while trying to expand on “better at frustration,” and it has grown so long I think I’d better just make it a followup post - which see. Thanks - your question helped me refine my thinking.

  1. 1 WRT: Writer Response Theory » Blog Archive » Remediated Books & Their Text
  2. 2 Puma e catalog in the e bathroom at WRT Writer Response Theory | Outdoor Ceiling Fans
  3. 3 Puma e catalog in the e bathroom at WRT Writer Response Theory | Outdoor Ceiling Fans

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