A great demo, a bad product Jason 04 May 2006

47 comments Latest by Anon the mouse

On our way to New York for the GEL Conference we ran into the Minority Report Screen at O’Hare.

It sure is a great demo. But it’s a bad product.

I know it’s only there for a demo, but it’s so clear that it’s just about the visuals and experience and not about the actual data. It’s a shame when something so tied to content isn’t about the content.

Here’s what happens. You walk up to it, you move your hands, touch the screen, things move around, data is exposed, etc. It’s cool. For 10 seconds. And then you realize that because the screen is so damn big, and because your arms are so much shorter relative to the screen size, that you are way too close to actually read anything you just selected. It’s like trying to watch a 50” TV from 1 foot away. It doesn’t work.

I wonder how much money was spent on developing this. And then I wonder how much time was spent actually thinking about how people would read the content that is exposed by the fancy animations, gestures, and wow-factor size and graphics.

The reason this “worked” in Minority Report was because Tom Cruise and company didn’t actually have to touch the screen. They were able to gesture from a comfortable distance away from the screen. The information was then presented at eye level in a reasonable resolution.

Lesson: Think about how people are going to actually use things. Don’t get caught up in the wow. Don’t confuse enthusiasm with priority.

47 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Luis 04 May 06

I would say just take that and run a HD signal through it and there you go. Now it’s somewhat better.

The only decision to make now is Blu-Ray, or HD-DVD.


sloan 04 May 06

The resolution is totally dependent on how you implement it. So while the underlying technology is flexible, that means you get BAD implementations that have crap DPIs in exchange for scale. And then, the actual content is always up for grabs. So again, it is a technology vs. implementation discussion.

Dave Churchville 04 May 06

Good post.

This is great example of being technology-driven instead of user-driven.

I wonder if anyone even asked the question “How would someone want to use this?” before the engineers started jumping over technical hurdles.

Having said that, it IS just a demo, and serves it’s “sizzle” purpose without being actually useful. As long as that was their goal.

James 04 May 06

Has anyone seen the new Nintendo Revolution controller? It looks just like a remote control but the user points at the screen with it and it can determine where on screen you are pointing.

I’ve heard it is surprisingly accurate and intuitive to use. Given it is styled like a remote it should be easy for even grandma to learn to use.

Such a “pointing” device could solve touch sceen issues like the one you mention. Nintendo may be betting it will.

Mark 04 May 06

So, given what your experience with this was and what you’ve written here, along with the general expectations typical of a demo, it really isn’t a great demo at all.

More realistically, it’s great “wow”, bad execution. All hype, no follow thru.

(former) Accenture minion 04 May 06

For what it’s worth, the Accenture Technology Labs is famous within Accenture for being all about hype and rebranding whatever is cool that day with an Accenture owned acronym.

While they champion HCI as one of their core assets, they consistently produce some of the most poorly designed user experiences. Worse, they don’t seem to care one bit. I used to cringe every time I saw one of their half-baked “demos” in the news (remember the “smart mirror” ?). Stuff like this gives Accenture an undeserved bad name.

Dave hits the nail on the head: The Tech Labs are absolutely technology-driven rather than user-driven. I suppose that’s inherrent in the name, but without the focus on the user, this “technology” is a waste of money.

Killian 04 May 06

IMO This wall was a typical Accenture Project- flashy, expensive, and basically useless. The best part is that it has been in ‘coming soon’ mode for a few months or so.
FYI it is located near the middle split in the American Airlines Terminal at O’Hare. [I think a McDonalds used to be there]

Kevin 04 May 06

So what if it’s a bad product? It’s not supposed to be a product, it’s a demo. It’s designed to be viewed at large distances and to demonstrate a technology… both of which it does very well. And really, it’s nothing more than an ad, it needs nothing more than 10 secs of someone’s time.

detroit 04 May 06

my kid and i had the opportunity to “tinker” with this screen.

he loved it. i was moderately impressed.

it’s a large touch screen with MACish widgets. it couldn’t have been too expensive.

the first wall of its kind that i’ve ever seen - outside of a sci-fi movie.. and your all here cutting it down because jason said so.

tech-driven rather than user-driven… blah, blah, blah… all hype… blah, blah, blah.

does anybody here have kids?

detroit 04 May 06

well put kevin.

Rahul 04 May 06

James - I’ve mentioned Revolution (Wii) a couple of times in comments here, but never got anyone interested. Which is strange, given DHH’s supposed background in games. Surely 37signals is aware of it, yet there have been no comments about it. Myself and others interested in game UI would love to hear what 37s have to say about it, anyway. But perhaps they’re just waiting to actually try it out first?

Edmundo 04 May 06

Nintendo tends to design for the player instead of throwing in a bunch of technology together, and yet at the same time they can be credited with all the major console inventions in the past 20 years (Gamepad, analog stick, shoulder pads, rumble pack, portable devices, touch screen). They know how to design tools for the player and how to take advantage of those tools.

That’s why their games are fun, no matter how silly their mario franchises get. A lot of people don’t get it, specially now that the Wii/Revolution has a lot less processing power than the other consoles. While everyone else will focus on cool and show with graphics and creepy uncanny valley replications of real actors, the ones developing for the new nintendo will be mostly focusing on the experience.

As for Accenture, they seem to just be stroking themselves instead of actually helping people get the information they need.

Kyle 04 May 06

Is this really meant to be used, or is it meant as a marketing piece for accenture (or whoever sponsors it)?

If the latter is true then I’d say the wall is doing its job. I’d never stop by a normal sized computer screen and say “wow, what is that?” I’d def walk by this thing and give it notice.

a scientist 04 May 06

From the wall.accenture.com site:

“The Accenture Technology Labs has developed an an architecture and a software system for intelligently splitting the execution of an application across multiple computers. Our C++ API enables the construction of very large applications, thousands or tens of thousands of pixels in dimension, that are fully interactive across their whole dimension, handling multiple simultaneous input streams. The fact that the application actually runs on a series of commodity PCs is mostly invisible the developer.”

Now that’s well and good, but if something is “mostly invisible” isn’t it actually somewhat visible? Anyhow, I’ve had enough Accenturization this week to last a lifetime…

Talal 04 May 06

In the Time Warner Building in NYC, outside the Samsung store, there is this tabletop display which better mimics the “Minority Report” features. You wave your hand on top of the display, not directly on it, and it moves a “cursor” over a map, then you can pick to get more info on certain places on the map.

I remember watching a video of something other technology besides the DataTiles, where there was amazing interaction with a display and hands… it’s definitely getting cooler in the future :)

shwen 04 May 06

I saw the equivalent of the “minority report” thing (NO screen touching whatsoever) done in a huge marketing booth by a big pharma company at a national psychiatry conference in 2004.

While that was really cool to watch as well, it was actually really difficult to use in reality because it lacked “feedback” when waving your hand through the air trying to click on links, etc.

I agree: Great concept. Bad execution.

dave bug 04 May 06

It seems to me that it could work very well in a teacher-student situation. Similar to how a chalkboard is mostly unreadable to the person writing on it, but the eventual effect is ease of display to people sitting 10 or more feet back.

Tomas Jogin 04 May 06

I’m hesistant to say that it actually “worked” in Minority Report either… it’s a movie.

Brandon Harvey 04 May 06

I’m one of the two people at the Accenture Technology Labs who developed this technology initially, so let me make a couple of clarifications for purposes of this discussion.

1. We created it from scratch, as UI researchers. No actual engineers involved. And if you saw the code, you would agree.

2. Direct touch was a conscious choice here, intending a technology that would scale to many venues. The public doesn’t carry 3D mice or DataTiles around with them.

3. When the content is scaled and positioned appropriately, and the resolution is high enough, there is plenty of information available at see-and-touch level. The software running at the airport now could be better designed along these lines. Also, you might be interested to know that the screens in O’Hare are actually not being used at anywhere near their full resolution currently. (About 1/3.)

4. Compromise happens on the way to version 1.0.

If you’re interested in the UI issues, both hardware and software, please refer to our research papers at wall.accenture.com

RS 04 May 06

Thanks for the insight Brandon.

That’s very cool to hear the demo is only at 1/3 resolution. I’d love to see a full rez application.

It’s exciting to imagine possibilities beyond the cramped world of Keyboard-Video-Mouse.

andrew hollister 04 May 06

“A great demo, a bad product”

that sums up my feelings about the video game industry.
this minority report stuff is just crap. no need to even stop and waste your time on it.

Travis 04 May 06

====== Copyright Infringement ======

I notice this happening ALL THE TIME on this blog.

It would be nice if you at least gave credit to the source of the image in this post.

In this case, it came directly from the front page of Accenture.com


====== Copyright Infringement ======

Sara 04 May 06


You apparently haven’t heard 37signals claim to fame slogan … “keep’n simple and real”.

Sometimes keeping it “simple” apparently means breaking the law. To me, it’s pure laziness (and illegal) for them not sourcing the image.

Chad 04 May 06

Unfornuately, image copyright infringement happens quite often on blogs. This still doesn’t make it legal, it’s just an unfornuate trend.


Jake Walker 04 May 06

The image on Accenture’s website are located as part of an ePress Kit… you know, for people in the press to use.


Jake Walker 04 May 06

Wrong link…

View the ePress Kit for more information on the Interactive Network launch at O�Hare International Airport in Chicago.

If that’s not an invitation to use the pictures, I don’t know what is.

clifyt 04 May 06

“This is great example of being technology-driven instead of user-driven.”

Without the ability to poke and prod at technology, sometimes we could never find ways to get it in the hands of users to make it something ultimately user driven.

I know in my field, I’ve had to design methods that didn’t have previous analogues and were user agnostic (almost user antagonistic) because I needed a specific outcome…and it was only through studying these methods were we able to find ways to actually involve the user in a more natual way — but generally the ‘natural’ ways were not something that could have been guessed before this. Luckily, most of my work involves psychological testing — so there isn’t any loss one way or the other (i.e., its all bullshit). Occasionally, I get to use some of my ideas outside of this realm and integrate them into something cool and unexpected that goes against popular logic but works.

So the demo isn’t very user oriented — if its clever enough, it will inspire others to expand their horizon of possibilities (and other trademarked buzzphrases). I could see a dozen possibilities for this as it stands.

But yeah, the idea of having to touch it IS a current killer, but its something that could be worked with — I could see this on something a lot wider than tall in a multiuser situation where you could throw objects to one another or maybe gesturally grab somethings without having to actively touch it — maybe a come-here gesture for things above or beside you. Hey you — no not you, your friend — yeah, come here.

Who knows — its a technology demo, not a user demo.

Justin Meyer 04 May 06

A lot of time was spent on how people are going to use the application. In fact it went through a complete redesign of the initial UI. The biggest problem is that the UI objects are too big to be easily used and seen from arms length. This was a trade off between marketing’s demands and engineering possibilities.
The system is built from an sdk that can produce images of any resolution and size. However, the sdk is unable to have full motion video over multiple machines (timing problems). It was of extreme importance to Accenture marketing to have the full motion videos play when no one uses the application. Therefore, we run the application from just one computer. This cuts the possible resolution almost in half. Therefore, we were unable to have a tighter UI that you will find in our demos.
To the products credit, the full motion videos that prevented us from going super high resolution haven�t been seen because of the application�s near continuous use. It’s gotten a lot more talk then another airport poster.

Shel 04 May 06

Wow! I would still keep it if it were given to me.

Maybe they could implement some kinda station/workspace idea… > like a men’s restroom

You walk up to it and use a specific area at the bottom that becomes your workspace/writeboard. Maybe you can pick items from above (lord knows we all can use some stretching after a flight or just in general) and bring them to your work area.

[!] And the Accenture video can still play in the upper area or background. [!]

I wonder if an untold “no peeking” rule would develop. haha!

“hey your workarea is bigger than…”

or maybe there could be some interaction (unlike a men’s restroom) between individuals and the data?

seems like a big space for just one person.

Jaydee 05 May 06

This is a great, if not, the best, alternative for burning down calories while coding/writing docs/surfing. I’m currently using a stationary bike as my “computer chair” but this is so much better since it can give me a full body workout. Great work guys! Keep it up!

Darrel 05 May 06

A much more useful ‘Minority Report’ interface:


iTodd 05 May 06


Sorry, off topic… but could you give us some insight on your stationary bike / desk??

8500 05 May 06

Holy crap! The body text on the wall.accenture.com site is in all caps. I haven’t seen a typographical mess like that in 5+ years. Very devo.

Jack Klugman 05 May 06

Interesting comments here:

“…maybe gesturally grab somethings without having to actively touch it � maybe a come-here gesture for things above or beside you…”

So… in an airport, you have a couple of seconds to attract the casual user and entertain or inform them before they scurry to their gate.

When do you train them on your set of gestures???

Several of the other comments are similarly shortsighted. You are addressing a crowd that don’t have nifty devices, you have zero time to train them, and they have a broad spectrum of cultural and educational levels. Furthermore, you have to serve the people who are at the wall and simultaneously attract secondary viewers. These are just some of the realities of a very public computing device.

So far, I haven’t seen much in the way of constructive criticism that actually addresses these factors.

clifyt 05 May 06

“So� in an airport, you have a couple of seconds to attract the casual user and entertain or inform them before they scurry to their gate.”

“When do you train them on your set of gestures???”

If you would have even read the sentence preceeding this quote, you would have understood that I was not talking about an airport multimedia poster, but using the technology beyond a ‘GeeWiz Ain’t That Neat’ effect. Everyone else was talking about how useless this tech demo was and how it was ‘tech-driven’ and opposed to ‘user-driven’ — and yeah, the demo looks to be simply a ‘tech-driven interface’ to get folks interested in the possibilities.

I read this blog because occasionally I find one comment that I completely agree with, but most of the time its like sifting through the trash to get to that comment. Sorry Jack — not referring to your post, I can see how you got lost with all the other snotty “I’m such a designer and anyone that isn’t real just isn’t getting it” attitude I see here.

Ok now my post is sounding snotty, for which I appologize. Again, not you, just the attitude this blog seems to embue all of us with :-) Just reread my original post — it wasn’t intended to be in the ‘shortsighted’ manner in which you took it.

Arnie McKinnis 05 May 06

Both the entry and the comments are great!! Now I’m going to throw in some reality — the people that worked on this project (every engineer, designer, marketer, etc.) cared about it being impressive, important, and cool. They probably didn’t ask if it had relevance to any single end-user group - it missed being on the list of the top 10 things to consider. But that’s the meglacorp for you - manage up the ladder, not down. I bet the executive in charge of the project thought it was “Super Cool” - and when working for the meglacorp, that’s really all that matters.

Roy 05 May 06


But the screen was meant to Wow. I believe that it doesn’t take an extensive usability testing for a major outfit like Accenture to figure out that it sucks usability-wise.
The purpose of it being there is branding, not for passers-by to check their flight schedule. Think of it as an interactive billboard.
>Don�t get caught up in the wow.

will 05 May 06

airport: very very large, many many people. An ATM machine isn’t going to get anyone’s attention. I’m with that. Thing that’s weird to me is that the info (in the photo anyway) is the same rote ‘rich information’ you can get on a toaster - or a 70 year old AM radio.

A much more impressive demo for me would be to just watch some one else work on one for a while. doing all manner of boring daily things, grandly. having 15 different word docs, 8 IM windows and a web browser open.

Even better would be to show me that which I can’t imagine: why having such a monster would make my life better.

a 20 foot yahoo widget is still a yahoo widget. Google maps might have been cool though. ;)

John R. 07 May 06

Maybe it’s more for the passerby than the one actually using it.

Ara Pehlivanian 08 May 06

The thing with projects like this is that when the problem in the design/interface is found, stopping it is like stopping an oil tanker. There’s too much “investment momentum” in terms of time and money.

Of course it could also be that they just didn’t notice it because they were caught up in the nifty graphics. Kinda like a coder coding for the sake of doing something and not noticing that what he’s doing isn’t really useful.

Peter Weber 19 May 06

I�ve tested this screen (http://www.displax.com) on CEBIT and it really impressed me. Good resolution, good image and an amazing fast interaction. I really think that accenture wall is very “small” compared to this guys from Portugal!!!

Anon the mouse 31 Aug 06

You should try buying this product. Accenture doesn’t have a price list for this “product” becuase it’s all custom. The closest number they could give us was in the $500K-$750K ball park!

Anon the mouse 31 Aug 06

You should try buying this product. Accenture doesn’t have a price list for this “product” becuase it’s all custom. The closest number they could give us was in the $500K-$750K ball park!