The Antirom collective was formed in 1994 by a group of Londoners as a protest against "ill-conceived point-and-click 3D interfaces" grafted onto re-purposed old content - video, text, images, audio and so on - and repackaged as multimedia. The members of Antirom felt they could do better than this multi-mediocrity, or at least no worse.
The idea was to explore interactivity and try to understand what made an interactive experience engaging, a simple question but one that proved difficult to resolve. Inspired by Gerald Van Der Kaap's BlindRom, Antirom's eponymous first CD-ROM was a collection of small interactive pieces that were playful, fun, often silly and usually explored only one interactive idea at a time.
The group developed hundreds of small interactive pieces or so-called 'toys'. Each toy was highly playful, without the complexity or competitiveness of a game, and in which the pleasure comes from the playing, not the winning a very English approach.
Crucially, many of these toys were produced rapidly, with prototypes passed around the studio and each member of Antirom adding or changing their version. This iterative design process produced a plethora of versions, many of which were blind alleys, but some of which survived to evolve into finished versions.
The original Antirom CD-ROM was self-published and funded by a grant from the Arts Council of Great Britain. 1,000 CDs were pressed and given away free. Tomato contributed graphically to the Antirom CD-ROM and the then underground trance dance trio, Underworld, let them use some of their music.
Long before Nike and Sony created their online experimental galleries of Nikelab and The Third Place. Levi Strauss and Co. Ltd. understood the resonance that interactive media had with their customers. In 1995 Levi's approached Antirom to re-design their interactive in-store kiosk.
The Levi Strauss in-store kiosk series offered customers a range of interactive toys - some based on the product, some not. The first version had a 'People' toy with hundreds of vox pop interviews shot in Soho, which the user could re-edit in realtime by clicking on the video.
Later the Levi Strauss kiosk became host to a range of interactive sound mixing toys, VJ engines, interactive cable TV spoofs, 3D sequencers and webcam toys. As ISDN began to roll out Antirom created a network webcam game between Levi stores in London and Berlin, loosely based on the Neoprint photo sticker craze.
Keen to get away from the basic computer interfaces of mouse and keyboard, Antirom started to experiment with external sensors to trigger elements on screen. This led to the creation of an interactive shop window for Levi's. Using touch sensors that can be activated through glass and a large plasma screen in the shop window, Antirom developed a selection of interactive toys that would work with a grid of nine sensors stuck to the window. These toys included sound mixers and simple drum machines that foreshadowed the popular Namco Drum Mania and Dance Dance Revolution arcade games. The simplicity of the interactive toys combined with an interface that was triggered by such simple actions as slapping the window was a popular hit. Passers by would stop and play with the interactive window whether the store was open or not. The plate glass windows were bulletproof so that even the most vigorous late-night attempts at playing the toys were safe.
Antirom disbanded as a commercial entity in 1999 and its members have gone on to be part of companies such as Tomato, Romandson, Underworld, The Big Space, PokeLondon, Animal Logic and institutions such as the University of Westminster (where many of them studied) and the Royal College of Art in London, The University of New South Wales in Australia, Fabrica in Italy and the Kunsthochschule in Kassel, Germany.
Antirom has been featured in several books on new media and interactive deisgn including IdN's Art of Experimental Interaction Design. The original Antirom CD-ROM is no longer available, though many universities have copies in their libraries.