Picture a valley amongst the hills. It’s green. Birds are singing overhead.
Through the valley runs a river. In the river float plastic things. Pink plastic things. They are dolls. Baby dolls. Scary lifelike babydolls. Further down the river there seems to be floating….. a prostetic arm. And what’s that bobbing along…is that… a zombie?!
You have entered Uncanny Valley.
Uncanny Valley is the name of a theory. It shows how people are fascinated by things that look like humans. Untill they look too much like humans, then they are deeply resented. (there’s the valley in the chart)
The valley is even deeper when the (un)dead thing can move!
The ideas why humans have this reaction are interesting too. (see it’s entry over at wikipedia)
my own valley is deep and wide: I resent mannequins in a shop, I scowl at Punch and Judy and frankly, I think stick on googly eyes should be forbidden.
I do love simple shaped stuffed animals and tree bark that resembles a face though.
So, in my perfect world, robotics and animatronics do not try to resemble a human as close as possible, instead it tries to imitate …..Groover?
The ideal prostetic limb could be a fuzzy teddy paw or one of those grabby things that fool you at the carnival. Complete with little lights and music beeps!
It’s why I love the carbon foot-appendage used in fast running. The flex-foot from the company Össur. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not, it shows exactly what it is and what it can do and I marvel at it!
I also quite like that it’s pure mechanical, it hosts no computer. Most of their other prosthetics are computer aided. This one relies solely on design and material characteristics.
On a related note, there’s this idea in designing (or perhaps more in marketing) that ‘the costumer’ does not like new things. “You have to ease him into it.” That’s why you should slowly innovate your products. That’s why digital camera’s for the longest time looked like the well known non-digital ones. It’s called skeuomorphism.
It’s when you’re watching a movie and we’re all waiting while some computer performs a task: it bleeps and whirrs. That’s movie code for ‘computer at work!’. Because real computer stopped bleeping and whirring somewhere back in the ’80s.
pft! Scary designers. Stupid marketing people.
People love new stuff! as long as it’s functionality is clear just by looking at it. Designers call this the ‘intuitive approach’. People know how to handle stuff. So offer stuff that handles self explanatory. A switch demands to be switched. Do not offer a switch like thingie if it cannot be switched.
On a related related note, there’s a way of designing that specifically builds on how we used to use stuff. The physical interaction with it. Like the old fashioned phone that you could hold in your hand with one piece against your ear and the other near your mouth.
When you lack a phone you could hold a banana just like that and make pretend it’s a phone.
Well, there are designers that seek to project computing on that banana and as soon as you use it as if it where a phone, they will make it work like a phone! That is called ‘invoking computing’.
It builds on the ingrained ways of using objects.
My objection is that people who handled phones as big as bananas are growing old quickly. Pretty soon nobody remembers these phones.