Design

2015 National Design Awards Gala Tonight

Oblong Industries CEO John Underkoffler to receive 2015 National Design Award for Interaction Design 

Tonight, John Underkoffler, co-founder & CEO of Oblong Industries, will receive the prestigious 2015 National Design Award for Interaction Design at a celebrity-studded gala honoring eleven American design luminaries. 

The National Design Awards were conceived by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum to honor lasting achievement in American design. First launched at the White House in 2000 as an official project of the White House Millennium Council, the annual awards program celebrates design as a vital humanistic tool in shaping the world, and seeks to increase national awareness of the impact of design through education initiatives. These awards are the highest honors for design achievement in the United States. The ceremony is scheduled to be live-streamed beginning at 8:10pm eastern. 

John’s work is recognized for its “excellence, innovation and enhancement of the quality of life”. This work insists that capabilities critical to humans living in a digital world can come only from sufficient evolution of the human-machine interface (HMI). For more than two decades he has built digital systems incorporating dextrous input, bidirectionally-expressive graphical elements, an aesthetics of constant dynamism, and the basic computational acknowledgment of physical space. 

At Oblong Industries, he leads development of the g-speak software platform, which enables the construction of distributed, collaborative, gesture-enabled, and spatially aware systems. Among these is Mezzanine, a workplace solution whose multi-surface environment is ideally suited to hyper-visual collaboration among co-located and distributed teams. Global business innovators like IBM, NTT, and Accenture use immersive Mezzanine environments for communicating complex information from multiple digital sources fluidly and visually, and for linking key decision makers and their content collectively in a shared workspace across multiple office locations.

John holds a PhD from the MIT Media Lab. His foundational work there included innovations in optical and electronic holography, real-time computer graphics systems, large-scale interactive visualization techniques, and the I/O Bulb and Luminous Room systems. He brought these ideas to Hollywood, serving as science and technology advisor to films including Minority Report, Hulk, Aeon Flux, and Iron Man, before founding Oblong Industries to develop real-world versions for the commercial market. Examples of his work are available in the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum online gallery hosted by Behance. 

At the gala tonight, John is joined by designers Stephen Burks, Roseanne Haggerty, Michael Graves, Jack Lenor Larsen, and leaders of Mos Architects, Coen & Partners, Commune, Heath Ceramics, Project Projects, and threeASFOUR in receiving honors. Full details are available at cooperhewitt.org.

Working with Watson

The goal of each Watson Experience Center—located in New York, San Francisco, and Cambridge—is to demystify AI and challenge visitor’s expectations through more tangible demonstrations of Watson technology. Visitors are guided through a series of narratives and data interfaces, each grounded in IBM’s current capabilities in machine learning and AI. These sit alongside a host of Mezzanine rooms where participants further collaborate to build solutions together.

The process for creating each experience begins with dynamic, collaborative research. Subject matter experts take members of the design and engineering teams through real-world scenarios—disaster response, financial crimes investigation, oil and gas management, product research, world news analysis—where we identify and test applicable data sets. From there, we move our ideas quickly to scale.

Accessibility to the immersive pixel canvas for everyone involved is key to the process. Designers must be able to see their ideas outside of the confines of 15″ laptops and prescriptive software. Utilizing tools tuned for rapid iteration at scale, our capable team of designers, data artists, and engineers work side-by-side to envision and define each experience. The result is more than a polished marketing narrative; it's an active interface that allows the exploration of data with accurate demonstrations of Watson’s capabilities—one that customers can see themselves in.

Under the Hood

Underlying the digital canvas is a robust spatial operating environment, g‑speak, which allows our team to position real data in a true spatial context. Every data point within the system, and even the UI itself, is defined in real world coordinates (measured in millimeters, not pixels). Gestures, directional pointing, and proximity to screens help us create interfaces that more closely understand user intent and more effectively humanize the UI.

This award-nominated collaboration with IBM is prototyped and developed at scale at Oblong’s headquarters in Los Angeles as well as IBM’s Immersive AI Lab in Austin. While these spaces are typically invite-only, IBM is increasingly open to sharing the content and the unique design ideas that drive its success with the public. This November, during Austin Design Week, IBM will host a tour of their Watson Immersive AI Lab, including live demonstrations of the work and a Q&A session with leaders from the creative team.

Can't make it to Austin? Contact our Solutions team for a glimpse of our vision of the future at our headquarters in the Arts District in Los Angeles.

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