Bar culture has been a bit ruined by phones. Whereas we used to have the “sports bar” designation for drinking establishments filled with screens, the iPhone has made every bar into an email bar, a Twitter bar, an Instagram bar, and a “pretend you’re playing on your phone rather than talking to a stranger” bar.
One fantastic social hack was the Offline Glass, which spilled your beer if you picked up your phone. Now there’s an app that takes the idea in a more nuanced direction. BlinkDrink, a side project by Ideo’s Brad Simpson, uses the iPhone screen to make your glass glow with any color you choose, blinking to the rhythm of ambient sound.
“It’s a cool experiment because it makes the experience about more than people touching their screens,” Simpson tells Co.Design. “You put it on a bar for 30 seconds and people are like, ‘How the hell is that glass glowing?’”
Indeed, BlinkDrink has that “why didn’t I think of it first?” appeal, coupled with an academically fascinating kicker: It moves the 2-D screen into the 3-D space, but in a seemingly improvised way. There are no special cases or funny mirrors. The end solution is satisfyingly Macgyveresque, which is an extreme rarity in the highly regimented world of digital industrial design.
Simpson is the first to admit there’s no intended deeper functionality to BlinkDrink–it’s not the new social network for bars or something–but that doesn’t stop his mind from considering a few hyperbolic use cases. For instance, BlinkDrink could function like a visual Chirp, a sort of Morse code with an added data layer of color, with the capability of sweeping messages across concerts like a wave of pixels. Or with a bit of sci-fi-level tech, BlinkDrink could calculate the refraction index of the ice in your drink, then project a scattered image that would actually appear crisp, like a high-resolution 3-D screen swimming in your gin and tonic.
But just as soon as he gets riled up over the possibilities, he steps back and appreciates his weekend-coded app as what it’s really intended to be: a conversation starter, for high-minded designs and drunken bars patrons alike.
“It’s still one of those fun ‘no shit’ moments,” Simpson says. “It’s such an obvious thing. The response is like, ‘Oh man, of course!’ It’s fun to see that brought to life, I guess.”