Welcome back peoples! Hope all was merry last week. Over the next few days, I’m going to present a series of notebooks that discuss some of the ideas I’ve started collecting and digesting about interface design. Just some interesting things to think about when you start planning your next great idea for an application in the new year.

One of the best experiences I’ve ever had with an application came from a game released at the peak of the CD-ROM 90s called YOU DON’T KNOW JACK. Developed by Jellyvision, the game recreated a unique trivia game show experience on your computer that felt surprisingly interactive thanks to well-scripted banter and excellent voice-over work. If you think about it, the AI in the game isn’t incredibly complicated, just well-varied and well-placed. The key to their game was keeping the interactive choices simple (limited options at any point) and making the responses casual and appropriate.

Jellyvision’s approach to creating artificial intelligence comes not from computer science, but from filmmaking. They describe the kind of software they create as “Interactive Conversation Interfaces” (or iCi).

>AI depends on the insight of the scientist to create algorithms (complex rule sets) to simulate the workings of the human brain. iCi counts on the insight of writers and actors to determine, for every choice a user makes, an intelligent response for a prerecorded character. If the writers and actors do their jobs well, the user will experience what we all experience when we go to see a good movie: the willing suspension of disbelief. The user knows the iCi character isn’t real, but happily forgets about it; he allows himself to feel that the machine is talking to him.

>iCi Design

Now, the company that created YDKJ is still around and are actually hiring for some new projects they’re working on for, I believe, education. They’ve even created some spectacular iCi Design Demos that show how their principles can be applied to a multitude of customer service situations like selling a computer, giving investment advice, or even telling the news.

To read more about Jellyvision’s ideas on how they create this type of interactivity, check out their manifesto, The Jack Principles. In it they detail how successful iCi design maintains pacing, creates the illusion of awareness and then maintains this illusion of awareness.

Implications for Web 2.0 and the new year? All the elements needed to create these kinds of casual, yet intelligent interactions are available to the web right now. Broadband, Flash and Ajax are the tools and all someone needs to do is divert some of their podcasting recording know-how to integrating it with software. I think the great appeal and potential of iCi is that it makes software accessible to much wider audiences. If the casual voice works for technical writing, then it should have no problems working for technical implementation. My grandmother can’t begin to understand Backpack yet, but she sure can play YDKJ on the first go.

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Kevin Hale

Interface Design Redux : Part 1 by Kevin Hale

This entry was posted 5 years ago and was filed under Notebooks.
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  1. Dan Ridley · 5 years ago

    God, I loved YDKJ. My single favorite bit: if you were running in a higher resolution mode than the game, it would come up in the center of the screen, they’d start the banter, and then someone would say “okay, let’s lose the desktop!” before it went full screen.

  2. PJ Hyett · 5 years ago

    I also have fond memories of that game. I think our family has 4 or 5 versions of it.

  3. Heiko · 5 years ago

    Kevin let’s start with your notebook series. Nice example, “YOU DON’T KNOW JACK” was really cool ;o) I hope the ParticleTree Team had had nice merry X-Mas days.

  4. Fernando Lins · 5 years ago

    Nice article!