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Nasa's Visual Universe (withgoogle.com)
167 points by ArtWomb 15 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments



Hundreds of NASA photos. Arranged in a new and unique way. Never before you had to wait so many seconds watching sliding animations to view the next picture. Am I missing something?

Random link shows just a gray background under firefox then I have to wait 30 seconds to watch the initial animation again (ok, I can skip it down to 10 seconds).

I don't know what did they use machine learning for. What's good about having small bubbles as links instead of a clear list of albums?

I'll drink coffee just in case but I think that's not the problem here.


This is what happens when the designer works on it for too long - imagine flipping the pages back and forth but with only lorem ipsum on them, you would optimize for the experience of sitting there and flipping the pages back and forth instead of the experience of browsing content.

One big thing you have to watch out for in design is the difference in experiences between you while activating the transition animation for the 1,000,000th time versus the user seeing it for the first time.


> One big thing you have to watch out for in design is the difference in experiences between you while activating the transition animation for the 1,000,000th time versus the user seeing it for the first time.

This. 100% this!!

It's sometimes hard to not want to make pretty user interfaces - in fact why shouldn't we have pretty user interfaces?! But the problem I find some designers suffer from is they're so focused on an initial short term wow that they completely forget (or simply don't care?) about any longer term usage.

They say first impressions count but so does long term exposure.


Good designers work from the content out, not the page in.


There is a fundamental lack of understanding what user want. Just like those crappy catalogue viewers with flipping animations - just let me fucking download the pdf file.

This is not good design no matter how you put it. Imagine if this page was built using simple HTML without JavaScript. Just a list of albums as you said, that load in less than 100ms and you scroll through using your mouse wheel.

The world is full of superfluous display of design in the form of decoration and a middle finger to the user. It’s sad and I don’t know what these designers are taught in their colleges. It is infuriating. Of course there are exceptions in good design but boy it makes me sad that the world is filled with vaneers on shitboxes.


These are Art Experiments -- it's a playground for design -- it's what artists do. Playing with design and ideas is how you think new thoughts and jump the curve -- discover subtle aspects -- elements that work that you can combine and overtime as it comes together the bigger picture emerges into something new.


It’s about the content and if the designer wants to add flair - that takes away from the content by slowing down my browser to a crawl.

I can understand if this is a UX/UI art experiment. But it’s not. It’s about NASA images that are collected and grouped together using machine learning.

Edit: I’m not against the experiment. I’m against how it’s presented in the browser window.


So you understand the essence of art, and you're saying experimenting with machine learning as an artistic tool should play no part -- it's out of scope?

Have you read the book Hackers & Painters [1]? http://www.paulgraham.com/hp.html

Do any of these other Arts & Culture Experiments speak to you? https://experiments.withgoogle.com/collection/arts-culture

[1] https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0596006624


I’m being misunderstood. I do think that machine learning can be an artistic tool. I do think that experimental art is important.

The crux of my argument isn’t about the experiment itself. It is how Google chooses to present it that gets in the way of contemplating, understanding and enjoying the experiment.

About the books: I shall check them out, appreciate the insight.


> I can understand if this is a UX/UI art experiment. But it’s not.

https:// ____ARTSEXPERIMENTS____ .withgoogle.com/nasasvisualuniverse


I understand but I think I wasn’t clear. Let me make an analogy to be clear.

We are here to see the painting. Not the frame design and not the museum. If the frame has a cloudy glass with fancy ways to open it, with flower patterns stained on it, it takes considerable strength to unveil it, and it makes you mad when opening it - it gets in the way of enjoying the painting.

UX/UI presents the content. In this case : Google’s art experiment is about using ML to discover new insights about NASA’s programs. That’s the content part. That’s the painting.


Your separation of content/form is reductive. In art, the framing (here the UX/UI) can most definitely be a part of the content.


There's nothing sexual at all about this


Ironically, they had a caption “scared of heights? Imagine going for a spacewalk” and when you click that you see a bunch of images of people in suits. Why get creative leaving me to believe I will look at actual spacewalks then just show astronauts. Sure they are about to go out but it’s not the same.

Also, art sex experiments? Am I the only one seeing that? Nice choice of urls.

Over designed, otherwise nice images. Loved the auroras - probably the coolest thing.


> What's good about having small bubbles as links instead of clear list of albums?

The idea is to spatially cluster related categories of image together, I believe.


Not being able to click through the images quickly gave me temporal space to think. Slowing down and appreciating the amazing things the images depict. The teamwork, engineering, bravery that went into making the images boggled my mind once I stopped seeing them as just more lolcats. It made me conscious of the clickclickclick way I ordinarily view images. It made me uncomfortable with the way I treat the world. What more could I ask than to have my mental habits questioned and my awe of the universe brought fore.


Really appreciated reading your comment. I had a similar realization about the way I consume internet media in the past and your post brought it back into my consciousness.

It really is awe-inspiring what NASA has accomplished. They are still doing amazing work, but I'm not sure anything in my lifetime will have the mystique of the first man walking on the moon.


Bad. Wait 5 seconds between clicks to see a photo with everything whizzing about the screen giving you motion sickness. It's technically slick, but the number of people who will use it actually view lots of photos is basically zero, because the user-interface is so bad. Maybe that's not the point, maybe this is just a technical demo.


That initial animation induced motion sickness for me and very rarely get motion sickness from video games, VR, movies, driving, flying, etc.


I really enjoyed the presentation of the content. The transitions were very cool (maybe a tad long but nothing worth complaining about in my opinion). Plus the transitions probably acted as a filler for loading time instead of having a traditional loading spinner.

Really impressed with how polished, smooth, and immersive the whole experience is.

How content is presented is just as important as content itself in many cases. I welcome and appreciate creative explorations like this.


I usually prefer simple and efficient, but the complaints against this intentionally-artsy website really remind me of people who don't see movies as a valid art form.


Once you get past the fluff and into a gallery, it’s just a themed gallery. I habitually use screen zoom to make up for weak cision. The gallery carousel breaks, becoming inctrollable or blank once zoom (on mobile Safari) is engaged.


They've obviously put a lot of work on this, but the drawn out long transitions are horrible and really take away from the images that should be the focus of the experience.


I don't think so.

It's just a cloud word with photos associated that have captions which is kind of lame.

Found "Mates" which is a weird clicked on it and the related photos are when in the description the word "mates" appears, as in, "John and crew mates were picked up by a chopper".

This seems to be just a AI buzzword abuse.


I expected some kind of map of the visible universe. NASA got my feelings hurt


Breaking news: artsy website with animations - HN doesn't like it.

People over here have such a hard-on for efficiency and speed. I'll give it to you, transitions are on the long side - I wouldn't mind the transitions taking half the time they do now, or the image descriptions taking less time to darken. However, if the idea was just to be a simple image gallery they'd just give us a .zip file. It's obviously meant to be a laid back and slow experience. IMHO here it's definitely too slow, but people over here seem to hate everything that's not a blank site with 0 animations.

I work back-end dev, I used to think everything flashy on the frontend was a waste of time. I then worked in a web agency, I've seen the thought process - usually, with _good_ designers and UX specialists, the overall experience is tailored to whatever feel they want the site to have. I worked on a virtual expo site with a museum once, it was _meant_ to be contemplative and slow. You guys would have immediately hated it, while if you took two seconds of your life to just let yourself be immersed, the whole thing was a great experience.

People over here also love to rave how this is anti-user, but you people are misunderstanding the average user. Power users like you are the minority. Most people don't mind the animations, and a lot of them actually enjoy it.


I couldn’t disagree with you more except the complaining usually takes over the HN thread.

It’s not that nerds, geeks and technology-savvy audience of HN wants something for the “power user”. It’s that we want simplicity in design. We want to get rid of decoration and get to the essence of what is being presented. Animations, fancy loaders, etc get in the way of enjoying the content.

“Chill out, this is supposed to be a relaxing experience” is not the answer. It’s condescending and out of touch with reality. How can the user “Chill out” if the browser comes to a crawl, phone heats up and is confused about what is going on.

Do you remember Apple’s “Cover flow” where you can scroll through album covers? This website reminds of how designers get carried away by fancy, novel ideas. It was a massive failure, everyone used album lists, it was slow as hell and Apple finally killed it in one of the recent MacOS releases. It’s not about “power users”.


> It’s not that nerds, geeks and technology-savvy audience of HN wants something for the “power user”. It’s that we want simplicity in design. We want to get rid of decoration and get to the essence of what is being presented. Animations, fancy loaders, etc get in the way of enjoying the content.

My whole point was that "decoration" can be enjoyable.

> “Chill out, this is supposed to be a relaxing experience” is not the answer. It’s condescending and out of touch with reality. You haven’t put forth a compelling argument besides taking an anti-cliche stance.

You're assuming all users have this stance, and that's what's actually condescending and out of touch to me. You haven't really put forward any compelling argument that doesn't fit my description of HN users assuming what they are looking for in a website is in any way representative of what the average user wants. It's the same thing as the tech crowd getting shouting at phone manufacturers because they're removing the headphone jack: surprise surprise, the average user doesn't care enough about plugging in an adapter that they won't buy the phone.

> Do you remember Apple’s “Cover flow” where you can scroll through album covers? This website reminds of how designers get carried away by fancy, novel ideas. It was a massive failure, everyone used album lists, it was slow as hell and Apple finally killed it in one of the recent MacOS releases. It’s not about “power users”.

Cover Flow was a failure as part of a music organisation software. This is part of Google's "Arts Experiments". It's _meant_ to be pretty and flashy.


I am not assuming.

I spent several years working in A/B testing. Based on behavior, none of the artistic branding made any difference to whether users got engaged in sites. Make the site fast. Put your action items in prominent places on the page. Make them big and obvious. Make the site usable. Make it easy for people to get to what they want. Those things mattered again and again. But pretty aesthetics? Never once have I seen it matter.

Want to piss off a designer? Subject the designs to an A/B test. Want to really piss off a designer? Show the resulting null result to the designer afterwards.

As far as I am concerned, anyone focused on the look and feel of webpages serves the purpose of making the people who own and run the site happy. If they talk about what the users want, I have to ask what testing they have done with actual users. If they can't produce tests, then I conclude that they are spouting BS.

If this does not sound possible to you, I would suggest that you explain the enduring popularity of minimalist websites like craigslist, plentyoffish and google.


I think we are both arguing in a healthy manner - I realized and I edited my post.

Continuing: “Cover Flow was a failure as part of a music organisation software.” - I feel like we should separate presentation from art. There are exceptions such as experiential art, performance art, where presentation is the art.

Just the way cover flow gets in the way of enjoying music, animated websites get in the way of the content (the experiment). Experiment is fine, its presentation is flawed.

I strongly and vehemently oppose anything that gets in the way of the content. Imagine if Rothko’s paintings were displayed in a gold plated frame with LEDs flashing - I’m taking it to an extreme to make a point that designers should do as little as possible and allow the content to speak for itself. It doesn’t mean that we should get rid of designers and hand over a .zip file of the images. It means that don’t make the experience frustrating. Don’t add your own flair.


> representative of what the average user wants

The use of the word “average” implies measurement. I’d be interested in seeing quantified data showing what the average user wanted from this user interface. Surely the designer measured everything and produced an optimal product. How many milliseconds is the correct transition time for each animation? What particular transparency fraction is most pleasing and to what extent did different transparency values detract? Plot the function.

I say this mostly in jest because when I was a software engineer working with designers I’d rarely see any measurement or study. I have seen design decisions made after extensive user study but not always. Sometimes there’s just a pronouncement: This is “pleasing” and that is not—because it is so. If I wanted to change the search algorithm I’d have to show with measurement that the new one was better. If a designer wants to change the color of a button or the text on a label, no such measurement hurdle exists.

It’s entirely possible I’m wrong and the designers of this site have pages of data showing this particular interface to be more effective than alternatives. Not sure I’d bet on it in general though.


You think HN has a unified view? And does that "we" include me and you? Or is there a chance there might be levels of perspective and the point of this project has gone way over you?


I think when I was writing the post, I was rebuking the GP post about how HN always complains about the website design. In that sense, I was referring to “we” as HN.

Indeed, the reason I joined HN after being a silent viewer for a while was because I enjoy the arguments, the back and forth, essentially exploring levels of perspectives.


If "we" wanted to get rid of decoration then why are so many posts so long and full of extra language that doesn't really help get to the point?

It could be that "we" isn't the correct term to use.


I for one love this website. So clean and aesthetically pleasing. People who aren't devs would love the attention to detail, the high-res images and the animations. Well done!

PS: You can press your arrow keys to move forwards and backwards through each slide, removing the delay between the slides.


This site reminds me a bit of how the web used to be and I like that occasionally. It forces me to slow down and explore, not funneled through a proscribed experience.


[in the year 2000]

Conan: our modems will no longer be slow, so we'll fake the slow, client-side.


Artisian Internet


I started my career as a designer and I agree with you in principle, but this site was really frustrating to browse. I closed it after looking at one photo because I didn't want to wait to see more.


Yes, as I said this one's particularly slow, most transitions should be sped up. However most of them make sense, they're just way too slow.


The UI was slow as a trickle of cold honey on my machine. Because it was asking my machine to do more than it was capable of. Normally this isn't a problem. I use this machine to work on CAD models and while not a speed monster, it is doing just fine.

Heck, I can even run Slack on it.

Above a certain response time threshold a UI goes from being "slow" to being "unusable" or simply "broken". This isn't a matter of opinion, it is a reality. And I'm afraid that you will have to be a lot more charming and persuasive to make me forget reality :-)

UX specialists that do not take sluggishness seriously simply aren't UX specialists in any meaningful sense of the word. I'm sorry, but life doesn't hand out medals for mere participation.

(As for the site: I clicked around a bit, but the sluggishness of the site made me lose interest before really grasping what cleverness I was supposed to experience)


yeah I agree with this strongly. My experience with HN is that HN comments are essentially that HN users view non power users with contempt and dislike everything that can't be expressed through logical axioms.

It's almost like it's a holistic experience whose entire design criteria is not "get information into people's heads as fast as possible". The duplicates are pretty annoying though.

and besides, if you swipe the images left and right, the interface is plenty fast.


I don't mind artsy websites and animations if the topic is artsy. I hate them when they're supposed to show information and they present it as if using an eye dropper.

When eye-candy is needlessly drawn out, it feels sluggish and unresponsive. I don't know a lot about general users, but I know the users I work with and they foremost want FLUID INTERFACES. They don't always have them, but they always want them.


I strongly disagree that the topic should have anything to do in limiting the form used to present it. This site is a google art experiment. In art, form is usually pretty much just as important as content.


Interesting, but the site made my computer crawl almost to a halt. Computer which is used for (and good at it) advanced rendering and simulations. A 12 core machine with two modern GPUs inside. Modern Web, and chrome, is a travesty.


What drivers are you using?

I'm running Chrome 72 at 4K on a 50" monitor via KDE Plasma and Fedora 29 on Kernel 4.20, using only an AMD Ryzen 5 2400g ASIC, and it runs just fine (so it does work on the desktop in at least that configuration). I did however manually build the latest ROCm [1] and Vulkan [2]. I would check your flags and check your settings to make sure you have the right optimizations.

  chrome://flags  chrome://chrome-urls
BTW: For whatever reason, in certain builds under some combination of settings, the times I've experienced Chrome running at a crawl, it's usually been an issue with GPU rasterization. These are the settings I have disabled (everything else is set to hardware accelerated or enabled)...

  chrome://gpu

  Out-of-process Rasterization: Disabled
  Hardware Protected Video Decode: Hardware accelerated
  Rasterization: Software only. Hardware acceleration disabled
  Skia Deferred Display List: Disabled
  Skia Renderer: Disabled
  Surface Control: Disabled
Here's my full Command Line:

  /usr/bin/google-chrome-stable --disable-gpu-driver-bug-workarounds --enable-native-gpu-memory-buffers --force-device-scale-factor=1 --enable-accelerated-video --enable-accelerated-mjpeg-decode --flag-switches-begin --enable-audio-focus --enable-experimental-web-platform-features --enable-google-branded-context-menu --enable-oop-rasterization --enable-quic --enable-zero-copy --ignore-gpu-blacklist --enable-lcd-text --load-media-router-component-extension=1 --enable-hardware-overlays=single-fullscreen,single-on-top,underlay --enable-features=DrawOcclusion,ExperimentalProductivityFeatures,FontCacheScaling,InfiniteSessionRestore,LayeredAPI,NetworkService,OverlayScrollbar,OverlayScrollbarFlashAfterAnyScrollUpdate,OverlayScrollbarFlashWhenMouseEnter,PageAlmostIdle,ProactiveTabFreezeAndDiscard,SharedArrayBuffer,SiteCharacteristicsDatabase,UseSurfaceLayerForVideo,V8Orinoco,V8VmFuture,VizDisplayCompositor,VizHitTestDrawQuad,WebAssemblyBaseline,WebAssemblyThreads,WebRTC-H264WithOpenH264FFmpeg,enable-pixel-canvas-recording --flag-switches-end
[1] https://github.com/RadeonOpenCompute/ROCm

[2] https://github.com/GPUOpen-Drivers/AMDVLK


Must be something weird with your browser configuration. My phone doesn't break a sweat at 60fps.


Interestingly runs fine for me on Safari 12.0.3 on a midrange 2017 MacBook Pro 15".


Same here on a late 2013 bog standard 21" iMac


Works just fine on my crappy corporate Windows computer with Chrome.


Works fine in Safari on my four year old iPad Mini.


I understand the UI is not to everyone's taste, but I think the idea of using machine learning to create an engaging "window" into large sets of public-domain images is a good one. It would be interesting to read more about the process used to tag and organize the content for this project.

There are lots of other repositories of high-quality free content (museum archives, Flickr, Wikimedia Commons, etc) that could benefit from this kind of machine-aided presentation.


The bad thing about this way of presentation, is that the circle bubbles are dispersed, at any level. So I need to pan around just to read the text on each, which is very annoying.


Odd to see so much complaining when the page works beautifully on mobile.


I have not seen such lags for a long time. NASA could try better.


There's a "rust" category


The transitions are extremely annoying.


pointless forest


Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News?


^ "The Humorless One"



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