Inspiring new forms of creative expression through mobile devices

Inspiring new forms of creative expression through mobile devices

As part of our ongoing series about improving user experience in that crucial moment when transitioning between a mode of consumption and a mode of creativity, we made separate investigations into both ‘Consume’ and ‘Create’ as distinct themes. This article focuses on the creativity behaviours, but for background there’s also the original essay entitled ‘How can UX improvements encourage users to pivot from consuming to creating?‘ and a piece on consumption behaviours entitled ‘Design principles for restoring focus to digital consumption‘.

The notion of ‘Inspiring new forms of creative expression through mobile devices’ was initiated at MEX in February 2011 and led to a joint exploration with design agency Idean. Idean co-founder Mikko Pekka-Hanski led a creative team at MEX9 in May 2011 tasked with suggesting experimental digital experiences for creativity, along with speaker sessions from Chris Browne (then of Fjord) and James Whatley (then of 1000heads, currently of Ogilvy).

We posed 5 questions in early 2011, which thankfully – with the benefit of hindsight – proved prescient:

  1. How does ubiquitous access to new sensors such as touchscreens, gestural input and location tracking change the expression of human creativity?
  2. What does artistic experimentation at the boundaries of digital technology teach us about mainstream user experience requirements of the future?
  3. How does mass person-to-person communications facilitate new creative experiences through co-operative working?
  4. Will person-to-person communications enriched with new channels, such as haptics, emerge as a new form of artistic expression in itself?
  5. Are the text-based ‘Status Updates’ espoused by Facebook and Twitter the zenith of emotional expression or can human moods be better expressed?

The talks and creative sessions resulted in the following summary points. Or download a PDF (10 Mb) of all the session notes here:

  1. The embedded person-to-person communication capabilities of wireless devices make them ideal tools for new forms of creativity reliant on shared interactions between multiple people.
  2. The proliferation of wireless devices is still being driven by their primary role as communications tools, but this is enabling new digital creative capabilities to filter into the mass market by stealth. Examples include capacitive touchscreens for digital painting, processors for music creation and cameras for digital photography and video. Users can experience new forms of creativity first through the generic capabilities of their mobile devices and are then more likely to buy specialist tools if they decide to pursue an activity further.
  3. New sensors are facilitating new forms of creative expression, including ambient light detectors, dual microphones, gyroscopes, digital compasses, GPS, thermometers and capacitive touchscreens and other surfaces. Once included in a device, developers often find additional uses for sensors beyond the manufacturer’s original intentions.
  4. Mobile devices allow creative activities to happen closer to the user’s source of inspiration, simply by virtue of the fact they are almost always nearby. Users can create a digital painting when they come across a beautiful landscape or record their dreams upon waking because their mobile device is always within reach.

  6. Creativity is innate. Interfaces which feel most natural and similar to the physical interactions we already have with other humans are most likely to facilitate creative experiences on digital devices. Haptics adds tactility, an essential element for natural interfaces.
  7. New forms of creativity can bring users closer to the old and familiar. For instance, input from motion sensors could be used to ‘age’ digital photographs in the same way a favourite photo in a wallet would develop a patina over time.
  8. The potential for new forms of creativity is limited by people’s tendency to categorise experiences according to their stage in life. Douglas Adams said: “Everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal; anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it; anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it, until it’s been around for about ten years, when it gradually turns out to be alright really.”
  9. Creativity is deeply personal. 10 people in the same room, equipped with the same tools and asked to draw the same thing will all produce different results.
  10. If you’re trying to encourage users to experiment with new forms of creativity, remember three rules: make it easy to find, simple to use and fun.

Amy Godsell, the visual note-taker at MEX in 2011, created this summary graphic capturing the participant’s collective response to the theme:

Visual summary of MEX Pathway #8: Inspiring new forms of creative expression through mobile devices (by Amy Godsell)

This is part of a series on the intersection between digital consumption and creativity by Alex Guest and Marek Pawlowski. To follow the forthcoming stream of articles, UI concepts and examples, track #uxintersection on Twitter, bookmark the ‘Intersection‘ category at or sign-up for the weekly email newsletter. More importantly, this is an invitation for you to get involved in the discussion – we’d love to hear your feedback and ideas for taking this topic forward.

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