Friday, December 30, 2005

A New Theory of Surfaces?

I have been thinking about my ideas for a new theory of surfaces in interior design and I believe I can at last make some comments that are reasonably cogent.

To begin, we should define terms. By Theory of Surfaces I do not refer to the mathematical study of 2 manifolds, but rather to the study of how people use surfaces in a building and what they need from those surfaces. A new theory will deal not just with the aesthetics and the orientation of those surfaces (from horizontal to fully vertical) but with their utility in the light of the 21st century and the way our use of space and surface is changing.

To explore that a little bit, let's consider the future needs for a horizontal surface such as an end table or coffee table. Assuming people will be placing items on the tables including remote controls and computer monitors or keyboards. The fact that these types of devices will be placed on a table changes the requirements for the surface. for example, the coefficient of friction of the tabletop needs to be tuned to allow for smooth operation of keyboards (which tend to be moved quite a lot) while at the same time not being so slick that devices may slide off with just a gentle nudge.

The issue of how surfaces will be used as our lives become more and more technological has to be taken into account when designers are creating new designs and manufactureres are choosing materials. Wood finishes as used in decades ast may not be appropriate for tables that will be used for computers, remotes, video phones, video monitors, dvds and other high tech gadgetry.

Such finishes may not be approrpiate for use by people who will be involved deeply in interactions with computer games, interactive TV, or immersive virtual reality systems. However, new formulations for wood finishes, that protect the wood from scratches, marks, water, and nicks could be used to improve those surfaces for the uses modern dwellings will call upon them to support. Tilting surfaces are an issue as well. Typically, in the past, we have not needed much in the way of tilting surfaces.

Horizontal surfaces have been sufficient as holders of things to be seen, displayed, placed and removed. Vertical surfaces have been sufficient for art anf decoration. But in recent years more and more applicances and utilitarian devices have emerged which benefit from varable angle surfaces; either by resting on them or by creating them. As an example consider the television screen. When it was relativley small and had low resolution, the most important thing about its surface was that it be positioned close to the viewer.

Now with high definition screens that are 42 to 100 inches in diagonal measure the angle of inclination of a screen can add or subtract significantly to or from its functionality. Tilting mounts for tv screens are becoming common since viewing at various angles can improve the reflectivity and glare qualities of some screens. In addition, with the rise of home theater furniture that reclines more fully than traditional recliners, we see a greater need for screen surfaces that can modulate their viewing angles.

Surfaces that accomodate these changes can emerge so that artwork, information displays, and even storage will accomodate varying degrees of slant off the true vertical. By formulating a formal theory of surfaces that takes into account the specific needs of peole to use surfaces in the 21st century, we will have a tool that provides opportunities for designing and developing whole new designs and concepts for furnishings.

These are just some of the ways in which a new theory of surfaces can be useful to designers and developers. Next I'll look at the ways surfaces can augment technologies we are expecting emerge in the next few years.

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