John Underkoffler Wins National Design Award

We at Oblong Industries are beyond pleased, honored, and thrilled to announce that our CEO John Underkoffler has won the 2015 Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in the category of Interaction Design. In working with him on a daily basis we always knew he was exceptional, but there’s nothing like a little external validation to really make your day. As this is indeed the nation’s highest honor recognizing design excellence, we couldn’t be more proud. 

The National Design Awards were conceived by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum to acknowledge lasting achievement in American design, and are "bestowed in recognition of excellence, innovation, and enhancement of the quality of life". 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.

We join this program with absolute enthusiasm -- design currents run deep at Oblong Industries. Our work builds on John's conviction that the most powerful digital systems in the 21st century will emerge from a vigorous design-centered evolution of the human-machine interface (HMI), a theme he's been pursuing for twenty-five years. Of course, actually getting there requires hard and sustained effort, a real commitment to human-first design, and an ardor for working at the boundaries of the built environment, both physical and digital. Customers engaging with our Client Solutions team on custom g-speak projects, along with those whose collaborative work practices are supercharged by our flagship product Mezzanine, experience first hand John’s leadership in next-gen HMI thinking. 

It's our mission to "provision the world with new computing forms of genuine value and durable worth, forms profoundly capable, human, beautiful and exhilarating". We're delighted that our co-founder and CEO has been recognized for his body of work in interaction design and computer science.

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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