If the moon were only one pixel: the power of interactivity

This interactive model of our solar system perfectly and simply demonstrates the power of interactivity as a form of communication.

Great design work. You should check it out.
Great design work. You should check it out.

Interactivity is a powerful way to transmit understanding. By getting people to do something, rather than just watch or read something, you can get them to understand things they never would have otherwise.

If the moon were only one pixel is a great and simple example of this power, well-designed and well-applied.

It’s a truism that space is big. It’s so big that it’s difficult to understand just how big it is. The only place I’ve ever seen this explained well is the Scales of the Universe exhibit in the Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Well, that was the only place I’d seen it done well, until now.

As a piece of interactive communication, If the moon were only one pixel works, and it does so by implementing the three principles of interactive communication: Challenge, Motivation and Feedback.

Challenge

OK, the challenge level on this interactive is pretty low: just keep scrolling to the right, and you’ll get there. But there’s more to it than the simple mechanic of moving your mouse. Firstly, it’s a game of patience. Few of us will have the patience to scroll straight through the whole experience. There’s a temptation to jump to the planets directly,  instead. But then you miss all the commentary – the text that Josh Worth has woven into the work. If you want to find those, you have to look and scroll manually. It’s the same game mechanic as Grand Theft Auto, but expressed in one dimension. Here the challenge is exploration and discovery, finding all those easter eggs.

And when you’re looking for those little flickers of signal in the darkness of space, you see just how much emptiness there is to cover. This is where the experience draws its communicative power.

Motivation

Like in any good interactive, when you start this experience, your motivation is clear. Move to the right. It’s explained right there, even with an arrow in the text. Since the challenge involved is an exploration challenge, this is all you really need. Any more direction, and it would rob the challenge of its appeal (especially since it’s in one dimension).

Feedback

Of course, the entire experience is a bit like a progress bar filling in, so you know exactly where you are and how far you have left to go. But it’s Worth’s text, and the unexpected highlight of finding planets, that is the real feedback here. At first the text consists simply of factual observations on how empty it is, but it soon evolves. Before you know it, you’re reading an essay on emptiness and whether our minds are configured to really understand it. There’s more to it than that, and I don’t want to spoil it. The effect is a little like setting out to watch a dumb comedy, only to realise at the end that the comedy was based on a surprisingly complex look at human behaviour.

Worth writes that he set out to create this piece after a discussion with his daughter. It certainly does the trick. If the moon were only one pixel elegantly demonstrates how interactivity can convey a point far more effectively than words or pictures on their own.

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