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Daniel C. Robbins


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For the past 20 years I have lived and breathed 3D user interface design – as a student, researcher, and artist. I have studied and worked in a university research group, moonlighted within a small game company, consulted with established multimedia companies, tenured within a corporate research lab, and used rapid-prototyping techniques to create personal sculptures.

My whole reason for getting into this field was very selfish. From the youngest age I drew rocket-ships, submarines, and fantastical worlds. When I saw the first computer graphics images (Tron!) I knew I wanted access to those tools so that I could make my own dream worlds real. So my first week in college I started what would become the first of many late nights in the Brown Computer Graphics Group. I very quickly discovered that the tools to create these wonderful images were at the same time both extremely primitive and technically obtuse. The tools weren’t good enough so I had to make the tools better, thus I evolved into an interface designer.

I spent eight years at the Brown Computer Graphics Group, with Andy van Dam, where as a designer-in-residence I had a hand in creating some of the first 3D widgets for scene construction and object manipulation. Today, these kinds of interfaces have become common, but in the early nineties we were pushing the envelope by creating 3D UI for workstations, virtual-reality environments, interactive illustrations, and scientific visualization. The people I encountered while at Brown (and beyond) included Mark Bolas, Henry Fuchs, John Hughes, Don Greenberg, and Fred Brooks.

From Brown it was a natural transition to Microsoft Research. For the past ten years I have worked with wonderful people such as George Roberston, Susan Dumais, Eric Horvitz, Mary Czerwinski, and Andy Wilson on everything in human-computer-interaction, from mobile search clients to 3D information visualization to 3D task management. Lately, as the rest of the company has started to re-discover 3D, I have leant my expertise to 3D maps from the product teams and the PhotoSynth spatialized photo browser from Microsoft Live Labs. My role in all of this has been as an expert in interface design and prototyping.

My preferred tools and creative environments continue to be my sketchbook, white-boards, the shower, Flash, 3D modeling and animation tools. Across my varied projects I have made rich interactive prototypes, linear slide-shows, detailed specs, and even the slick video or two – whatever it took to best convey interaction within the context of a specific user-scenario. I invite you to peruse my work and art projects: http://research.microsoft.com/~dcr.