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TED2007

Anand Agarawala: Rethink the desktop with BumpTop

March 3, 2007

Anand Agarawala presents BumpTop, a user interface that takes the usual desktop metaphor to a glorious, 3-D extreme, transforming file navigation into a freewheeling playground of crumpled documents and clipping-covered "walls."

Anand Agarawala - Interaction designer; software developer
Anand Agarawala is the creator of BumpTop, an irresistible new desktop interface with a satisfyingly three-dimensional physicality and a fresh approach to interactivity. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
So, I kind of believe that we're in like the "cave-painting" era of computer interfaces.
00:25
Like, they're very kind of -- they don't go as deep or as emotionally engaging as they possibly could be
00:30
and I'd like to change all that.
00:34
Hit me.
00:36
OK. So I mean, this is the kind of status quo interface, right?
00:39
It's very flat, kind of rigid.
00:42
And OK, so you could sex it up and like go to a much more lickable Mac,
00:44
you know, but really it's the kind of same old crap we've had for the last,
00:48
you know, 30 years.
00:52
(Laughter) (Applause)
00:54
Like I think we really put up with a lot of crap with our computers.
00:57
I mean it's point and click, it's like the menus, icons, it's all the kind of same thing.
01:00
And so one kind of information space that I take inspiration from is my real desk.
01:05
It's so much more subtle, so much more visceral
01:09
-- you know, what's visible, what's not.
01:13
And I'd like to bring that experience to the desktop.
01:15
So I kind of have a -- this is BumpTop.
01:18
It's kind of like a new approach to desktop computing.
01:22
So you can bump things -- they're all physically, you know, manipulable and stuff.
01:25
And instead of that point and click, it's like a push and pull,
01:32
things collide as you'd expect them. Just like on my real desk,
01:35
I can -- let me just grab these guys -- I can turn things into piles
01:39
instead of just the folders that we have.
01:42
And once things are in a pile I can browse them by throwing them into a grid,
01:48
or you know, flip through them like a book
01:52
or I can lay them out like a deck of cards.
01:55
When they're laid out, I can pull things to new locations or delete things
02:00
or just quickly sort a whole pile, you know, just immediately, right?
02:05
And then, it's all smoothly animated, instead of these jarring changes you see in today's interfaces.
02:10
Also, if I want to add something to a pile, well, how do I do that?
02:15
I just toss it to the pile, and it's added right to the top. It's a kind of nice way.
02:17
Also some of the stuff we can do is,
02:23
for these individual icons we thought -- I mean,
02:25
how can we play with the idea of an icon, and push that further?
02:27
And one of the things I can do is make it bigger
02:30
if I want to emphasize it and make it more important.
02:33
But what's really cool is that since there's a physics simulation running under this,
02:35
it's actually heavier. So the lighter stuff doesn't really move
02:39
but if I throw it at the lighter guys, right?
02:44
(Laughter)
02:48
So it's cute, but it's also like a subtle channel of conveying information, right?
02:51
This is heavy so it feels more important. So it's kind of cool.
02:56
Despite computers everywhere paper really hasn't disappeared,
02:59
because it has a lot of, I think, valuable properties.
03:02
And some of those we wanted to transfer to the icons in our system.
03:04
So one of the things you can do to our icons, just like paper, is crease them and fold them,
03:07
just like paper. Remember, you know, something for later.
03:11
Or if you want to be destructive, you can just crumple it up
03:15
and, you know, toss it to the corner.
03:18
Also just like paper, around our workspace
03:21
we'll pin things up to the wall to remember them later,
03:24
and I can do the same thing here,
03:26
and you know, you'll see post-it notes and things like that around people's offices.
03:29
And I can pull them off when I want to work with them.
03:32
So, one of the criticisms of this kind of approach to organization is that,
03:34
you know, "Okay, well my real desk is really messy. I don't want that mess on my computer."
03:39
So one thing we have for that is like a grid align,
03:43
kind of -- so you get that more traditional desktop. Things are kind of grid aligned.
03:46
More boring, but you still have that kind of colliding and bumping.
03:50
And you can still do fun things like make shelves on your desktop.
03:53
Let's just break this shelf. Okay, that shelf broke.
04:00
I think beyond the icons, I think another really cool domain for this software --
04:03
I think it applies to more than just icons and your desktop -- but browsing photographs.
04:08
I think you can really enrich the way we browse our photographs
04:14
and bring it to that kind of shoebox of, you know, photos with your family on the kitchen table kind of thing.
04:17
I can toss these things around. They're so much more tangible and touchable --
04:22
and you know I can double-click on something to take a look at it.
04:25
And I can do all that kind of same stuff I showed you before.
04:28
So I can pile things up, I can flip through it, I can, you know --
04:30
okay, let's move this photo to the back, let's delete this guy here,
04:33
and I think it's just a much more rich kind of way of interacting with your information.
04:39
And that's BumpTop. Thanks!
04:43

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Anand Agarawala - Interaction designer; software developer
Anand Agarawala is the creator of BumpTop, an irresistible new desktop interface with a satisfyingly three-dimensional physicality and a fresh approach to interactivity.

Why you should listen

Interface designer, software developer, inventor, and nerdcore hip-hopper Anand Agarawala brings a welcome sense of expressiveness to the dusty desktop interface. His BumpTop software applies a 3D metaphor and rough-and-tumble interactivity that delights anyone who sees it in action.

In addition to its raw play-with-me fun , BumpTop is also an inspiring example of unconventional thinking. The BumpTop world is a physical space, where traditional point-and-click movement is replaced with a more literal "push and pull" approach, and the icons each possess a weight that reflects their relative importance. Meanwhile, commands are executed via a novel set of pen/stylus shortcuts that go well beyond the limited click-and-drag way of doing things.

Even if you're not quite ready to trade your olde tyme desktop for the BumpTop experience, the interface's unexpected approach to problem-solving is sure to bump-start your thinking in new and unusual directions.

The original video is available on TED.com
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