Day 155: Putting the ‘Fun’ Into ‘Functionality’

I won’t lie, the first three weeks back at University have been totally rubbish. I’ve been quite fortunate that it’s not an ongoing issue and is only happening so far down the line in the second semester, but I have gotten to that stage where I’m not sure what to do, and unfortunately I am running round in circles playing with ideas, falling in love with them, before ultimately falling out of love with them (and rinse and repeat).

Luckily – if you can say that – I have been in this position before, and there is only one, sure-fire remedy for the situation – showing your ideas to your user pool. This will help me test some of the assumptions that I’ve had about my ideas, and afterwards will help me realise what idea I need to begin really developing.

Initially, I chose four ideas that I think can really help solve the issue of raising awareness for the urban cyclist and decided to sketch them out properly, with a storyboard and a vague idea of what the product might look like. They are as follows:

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Bike AI:

This design revolves around the idea that councils and town planners are not truly aware of the needs of urban cyclists. In short, cyclists can record a pain-point on the road, such as a pothole or a narrow street, and send a mini-report off to the council. In doing this, the council can amass a large database of necessary improvements on the road, and highlight what areas of Dundee need improving to best accommodate the urban cyclist.

This data can also be used to ensure that the urban cyclist is more road aware on their own journeys. When a pothole appears that someone else has reported, they can make sure that they avoid it on the road ahead. By increasing cyclist awareness on specific problems on the road, cyclists can stay wary, consequently decreasing the amount of cyclist accidents in our city streets.

This concept is one that I have been playing around with in my head for quite some time, and for me, it could be a case of killing a darling idea. This is always a difficult thing to do, but other products already complete a similar function, and I am unsure of the benefits that this proposition has to offer in comparison to other devices on market. On one hand, I want to test it with my users to see what they make of it, on the other, a part of me doesn’t want to continue with it as I want to explore something that is more exclusively original.

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Interactive Signposting:

In contrast, I really enjoy this idea and could see a multitude of benefits for it. Whilst it is a pretty simple proposition, I like the idea that having an interactive signpost for cyclists could raise awareness of cycling, both for the cyclist in the format of signage and warnings, and awareness for potential cyclists by supplying them with information and routes. I could imagine these signposts being a non-disruptive vehicle with which cyclists can greater understand what is going on in the local community, generating a clearer conversation around the issues of cycling. At the end of the day, sometimes the most effective things are not the most glamorous.

I had the pleasure of presenting this idea at Make/Share last Wednesday (8th February) which let me test the waters in regards to how people receive the general concept. People loved the multi-functionality of the idea and the possibilities that were present just in a quick and dirty prototype. After talking to other attendees at the event, I have begun to think of this idea less as a simple signpost, and more as a way in which councils can develop a dialogue with underrepresented cyclists in the community.

One complaint I would have about this design is that it is a bit plain. It would be almost too easy to disregard the physical interface and look and feel of the product, instead trying to cram a lot of functionality into the object. I also don’t want to work on a screen based interface, for two primary reasons. Firstly, if I am making a sign with an iPad stuck to it, I might as well make a mobile phone application. If I wanted to do that, then there would be numerous new ideas open to me and I probably wouldn’t be making this concept. Secondly, the idea of sticking an iPad to a signpost feels a bit uninspired. The digital and physical don’t interact, they feel a bit removed from each other. In that case I would basically be undertaking a Digital Interaction Design project, with a Product Design project on top of that.

Following on from the idea of disregarding the actual function of the project, the feature I am most smitten with is the idea of being able to send a cycling route straight to your phone from the device – something a lot of cyclists and potential riders would find quite useful. Perhaps if I develop this design, this key insight would drive the core functionality of this product? In my 4th year working by myself, setting clearer constraints on what I want to do and focusing in on one specific problem rather than a whole host might be more effective than stretching myself. Quality over quantity, right?

In terms of actual interface design, Chris, my lecturer, showed me this awesome project by Special Projects after I told him about my concerns. It is basically a wall mounted Lego day planner that when photographed, links directly to the subsequent phone application. Playful design such as this is the kind of stuff that I aspire towards, and illustrated to me that a concept such as mine doesn’t need to be thought of in terms of boring old screen based interface design. This could be both a functional object and a playful one – a result that might actually encourage more people to interact with it and remember the message of the concept later.

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Discovery: 

This is where things start getting fun.

Since coming back to Dundee, I’ve started thinking about what happens after I leave University and enter the big bad world, and after a bit of thought, I’ve decided that I really want to pursue a Masters in Product Design here in Dundee. Many things convinced me of doing that, but most of all was the kind of work that Masters students do here. The design is very playful, and will provide a platform to make quite light, fun design that is powered by technology. The term ‘Creative Technologist’ has been bandied about a lot, and for me, it is the best summation of what I want to be when I ‘grow up’.

The reason I am discussing this is that the other day I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Jon Rogers who runs a module of the course. His one and only piece of advice was to really think about what you want to do when you ‘grow up’ and specifically, what kind of work it is you want to do. The work done here on the Masters course is the work that I want to do, and yet it is slightly different to what I’m doing right now. It’s more fun and delightful, you could argue that it takes itself less seriously than the work I’m doing (I mean that in only the most positive of ways).

After thinking about it a lot, I realised that yes, I am designing a product for my users and their problems and needs, but that doesn’t mean that the designed response can’t be fun or interesting. It requires a little bit of intervention from me as a designer, to really assert what the problem is and how it needs to be solved – a problem I think I tend to suffer from in my design process.

I wanted to employ some of the research that I completed back in the olden days of October in the form of  the ‘Fun Theory’ – the idea that the best motivator to change current behaviours is fun. What better way to respond to the lack of awareness around cycling and lack of people actually doing the activity by showing that it’s fun?

The idea behind this is simple – engage local businesses and ask them to offer prizes to people who cycle a specific route through Dundee. Users would have to register their location by taking a photo at a scenic place in Dundee as requested by the business, and scan it into a nearby machine. The concept would encourage more people to cycle and give them a clear incentive in doing so, and would also benefit local businesses by offering free marketing and interest in their services. Not only that, but the user would also form a sort of travelogue of their adventures around Dundee on a given day, seeing some of the lesser known sites that Dundee has to offer. With this idea, I want to test if an idea like this is actually viable for current cyclists, and I want to see if it would actually change their behaviour at all. Most importantly, I want to see if something like this would be fun, and if not, how could it be fun?

City Racer:

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I saved, what I feel, is the best till last.

This idea would bring a scoreboard to cycle paths, creating a fun competition on the morning commute, or even for families who were out for a ride on the bike. Something like this would establish a form of community between cyclists that wouldn’t be intrusive – the cyclists I’ve spoken to have agreed that cycling ‘clubs’ aren’t really for them. On the race, multiple sensors are placed through the path which detects which racers are currently on the path, and at the end, users can pay for a photo to remember the event. This is all aimed at generating the idea of fun for the users, and making racers consider continuing to cycle.

To achieve this, there may need to be development to help racers develop a long term understanding of cycling in the local area. This idea would be really fun to do in the short term, but could it work long term in engaging non-cyclists especially to maintain an interest in the activity?

Whatever the case, this idea really captured my imagination, and is one that I want to develop further. I can not only imagine it achieving my goal of raising the awareness of cycling, but doing that in a fun way that doesn’t feel forced. It feels like with this idea, I get to achieve my user’s goal, but on my own terms.

Despite this, it is not about me. It is about my users, and the whole point of showing my users these ideas (and consequent prototypes) is to understand which of these concepts truly targets their biggest painpoints. Fingers crossed it is the idea that I so selfishly want to continue with, but at the end of the day, I have 3 other ideas that I feel are worthy of their love.

Having this further brainstorm and getting some ideas into the air that I’m enthusiastic about has really helped me clear up my priorities and has brought an end to this three week rut that I’ve found myself in. Now, I get to start playing with the content that I have!

 

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