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The Wall

Slow progress today – the ball is definitely rolling though.Beth and I went to the QMB to speak to some older folks about the possibility of holding a focus group next Tuesday when there are people in the drop in session. I was surprised that they were quite receptive to our offer – they come to these sessions to socialise and get some fairly unobtrusive help with IT, so I worried that they wouldn’t be too bothered to be sidetracked for half an hour or so.I got chatting to a nice man named B.D. He told me that he would want to use services such as these to conduct his shopping but he simply can’t. Another woman we spoke to didn’t seem keen to talk to us, saying, “why should I help? I don’t use it?” Obviously that is even more beneficial for us, but to our subjects its maybe not too clear what we’re doing, or what their involvement is. That’s not a problem however – these issues will sort themselves out in due course.So that’s that done. With a bit more time before next Tuesday, we can refine the focus group and get writing the report a bit more in advance. Now for the fun stuff. Today I assembled my wall and began analysing the key themes from it. A lot of what I extracted was quite specific information on how to design inclusively, so I was more concerned with analysing the information that could lead to some definitive insights around loneliness and the mental health of the elderly. For those that aren’t sure what I’m actually doing, I’m investigating how tangible technologies can be used to connect older adults to the digital world, developing almost a handle into the intangible. This collides with my interest in loneliness and social isolation, and possibly how digital technologies can assist people in taking control of their social and mental health problems. A few things that I found out were that older adults absolutely love gaming. My aunt used to send me invites to FarmVille on a daily basis. My Dad’s side of the family arguably loved the Nintendo Wii more than I did when I got it. And it turns out that my family aren’t the only ones. Around 1/4 of older adults play video games in some form of another, whether that be on computer, iPad, or phone. Gaming is a social experience, and it is the fastest growing entertainment sector. Once simple side-scrollers for kids, blockbuster releases like Call of Duty and FIFA are arguably more hotly anticipated each year than cultural phenomena such as Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. I don’t really know why, but I linked the ideas of gaming and socialisation and my own previous experiences with building and maintaining virtual relationships with the problem that I’m looking at – especially in regard to it’s current pertinence with older people. Also interesting and totally sad is the research I’ve done into loneliness itself. Never before have I come so close to tears doing research – there is so many harrowing and heartwarming videos online of older adults who have loved and lost, some struggling, some overcoming. Reading up on facts is one thing, but actually seeing these people discuss their issues, seeing them so visibly upset almost brings a tear to your eye.Once all of my research was arranged, I split the wall up into 4 themes – “Social Isolation and Loneliness”, “Digital Inclusivity”, “Tangible User Interfaces” and “Gaming” – and jotted down key points on sticky notes and compiled them together. From there, I split them up into ideas, eliminating but obviously saving stickies for later that I thought were more secondary sources of information (facts and stuff). From these curated key points, I began to construct 5 key insights and consequent challenges, which go a little something like this. – There is a disparity in the online identities between young and old. How can a product be designed in order for it to be a level playing field of interest? – Gaming and Digital Technologies need to have some semblance in the real world. Just like it’s unhealthy for young people to be holed up playing video games 24/7, it is unhealthy for older generations too. The activity of social play needs to meet real life action. – Tangible Interfaces and Digital Technologies, especially when gamified, are a focal point for conversation starting and create a basis for storytelling. How can these technologies act as a gateway out of social isolation by helping people express themselves? – Tangible Interfaces can act as a reminder and connection to our friends and family. How can Tangible Interfaces act as a method of awareness for the needs of our loved ones? – Gaming can be used as a vehicle for expressive communication, especially when words can sometimes fail. This can be vital for older adults, who may still maintain a stigma around opening up and talking about their mental health.These are pretty cool challenges, and it is important that I decide cleverly what my next moves are. I want to sit down with some older people and discuss their experiences with loneliness – this however, may be quite difficult to do. Preferably, I would break the research into 3 segments – getting to know my users properly, then responding to their issues with simple ideas and prototypes, and then testing a fully formed prototype with them later on. My job now is to go seek them out, and find out who those users are!

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The Monday to End All Mondays

Today I decided that I hate Mondays.

Like, obviously they’re not the best day of the week, but today I realised that I’m past the age of going out and milking the weekend for all of the Buckfast and beer in the world. I mean, I’m going to be 22 at the end of the month. My best years are behind me, it’s all going downhill from here.

Despite having a whole day of recuperation from a good night out on Saturday, I came into University, late at 10:30, and there was little happening in the old cranium. We started the morning discussing our group project. We are aiming to go down to the Queen Mother Building and scope out an opportunity of holding a focus group around our project. Looking at the Tesco Online Shopping experience, we want to investigate how it could be improved for an older population, giving people a greater independence from services such as Meals on Wheels whilst also bridging the digital divide between varied populations.

It’s a tricky subject, simply because the Tesco service is quite expansive and we have a lot to focus on, meaning that we quickly need to distil what it is we want to learn. I’m quite wary about making the report captivating, and really contextualising what it is we’re doing and why. For instance, we could write a report about how the UI sucks ass (it does), but why is that important bearing in mind that a lot of UI design is not inclusive for older adults with arthritic hands or poor vision? Why is it important that we design online services to be accessible anyway, and what is the digital divide and why is it so important?

Today, I want to leave that imprint upon my teammates, however I feel I struggled to do that. In this group, I feel that it is sometimes a struggle to get a word in, and it is important that we take time to shine the spotlight on other people’s point of view. Everyone in the group is eager and want to contribute, but sometimes it is difficult with more assertive voices in the group. Everyone has a way of doing things, and there is something to be learned from everybody – so what we need to do more is ensure that we don’t continue to follow the train of thought of individuals, and instead move forward with everyone having an equal share of the direction of this project.

That was thankfully out of the way in the morning, and I began to feel human once again after a rubbish canteen burger with chips and a can of IRN-BRU – the perfect combination to cure the blues.

I began to assemble a CSI wall, a tip learned from my previous Creative Technologies module, and I have a lot of content to get through and assemble. From about 1-5, I spent my time cutting and printing, with sellotaping left to do. It didn’t help that there was a fire alarm called during that time – the 30 minutes spent in the freezing rain was at least a bit of wake up call. So, it’s been a bit of a sprawling black hole of a day, but I’m determined to make up for it with a bit of after dinner work to get the ball rolling properly for tomorrow. We go again tomorrow.

How to Design a Proper Poo

Wednesday was quite interesting, having visited an Independent Living Equipment Centre in Dundee, one of only 3 in Scotland. The woman guiding us through the centre (I forgot her name, sorry!!!) was so informative and made what could be a bit of a beige experience into something very insightful.

The centre basically sells equipment for the elderly and those living with disabilities in order to help them live a more independent life. It’s not like a shop, however; the centre has contextualised the equipment quite well, with a properly set up kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and fake living room to give potential buyers (as well as a group of Master’s students) a proper understanding of how these things would be used in their own homes.


There were quite a lot of takeaways, which I’ll bullet-point below because I could write a couple of thousand words about what I learned this morning.

  • The equipment for the most part, quite frankly, looked totally shite. Our guide was fully aware that everything looked a bit sad too – it’s not as if the people supplying these products think that they’re cutting edge. Why does everything literally have to be beige? During my time here, a big theme I thought about was self-identity and how nobody on planet earth could possibly have any form of sentimentality with the stairlift that looks like a NES that has gathered dust in your attic for 20 years.
  • Maybe it was just me, but everything looked a bit unusable. What I mean by that, is that I felt very wary of taking a seat, or playing with a lot of the stuff as I was genuinely worried I would just break it.
  • This leads nicely onto another point. Our guide told us that people are in fact getting bigger (both horizontally and vertically). A lot of the products on sale don’t make the necessary affordances for a society of larger proportions.
  • This relates to the toiletries, but a lot of the products here really need to be used independently, and can’t really get in the way of partners who don’t need to use these products. For instance, special fittings on a toilet shouldn’t disrupt your partner’s toilet experience, which can cause friction (and even ill health) in a relationship. On top of that, you don’t want to have your partner helping you every time you need to use the loo.
  • How do our products work when other people come over to our homes? Why do a lot of the products give off the idea that they are only for those with impairments? Why can’t we just design better products? (Case in point, light switch with a stick attached to it, it just looks naff)
  • The inner design nerd is talking here, but there was the most beautiful tin opener, that looked more like an abstract structure. How can I create something that’s simply just a beautiful thing, or maybe even converts the idea of how we complete simple interactions? (Thinking of Studio PSK’s tea machine that I learned more about on Monday past).
  • Our guide showed us these foam tubings that could be taken around in your pocket. You’d basically shove cutlery into the hole on top, but how could a modular “handle” be used for multiple needs and products? A simple foam tube could solve so many problems.
  • At the same time, you don’t want to be known as the guy with pockets lined with foam tubes. Design for the emotional needs as well as the usability.
  • Did you know you should actually raise your feet, almost like a foetus, when you poo? Yep, and because we tend to sit on the toilet like an armchair, we’re actually more inclined to get bowel cancer. We’ve been pooing wrong all this time, and it’s giving our elderly major problems. What opportunities are there in existing products? How could I design a proper poo?

I think I’ve scraped my mind for now, but after today I realised I need to start getting agile and just go after something and begin researching. The idea of handles was still frustrating me, and it was in part due to my own prerogatives, but at the same time I realise I just need a half decent starting point and the madness can follow suit. 
There are 4 areas that I want to properly investigate. The first is identity, and how products can say something about you as an individual. With the products on display being so drab, why don’t we have products and services that capture the identity of elderly and impaired people both through visuals and interactions? If I had to be surrounded by that junk for the rest of my life, the emotional burden would just weigh down on any presiding physical problems.

I’m also interested in moving away from handles in the sense of door handles, bike handles, etc, etc, and moving nearer towards the core principle of interaction, more specifically along the lines of digital products. I have a real passion for making the digital become physical, and I love products that do this – even when it’s not necessary. Despite it being against the core ideology of the user centred designer, I love stuff that takes a very subjective viewpoint on design, and exists simply to delight and entertain. So, say for instance, how can social media become more accessible through physical products, or “handles”? We see products that do this already – The Goodnight Lamp, or, as I like to call it “Every 4th Year Honours Project Ever”, lets people turn a light on in their house, which consequently turns a light on in the house of a friend or relative. This is dead simple – but it’s the emotional meaning behind it that is so powerful. Yet the general concept of “I do action X which lights up an LED in location Y” is soooooo rehashed and almost as uninspired as some of the furniture I saw today. So what more is there in that area?
Area numero 3 is the one I’ve thought least about – monitoring. I was thinking about the last project – how voice could potentially indicate that somebody is suffering from depression based on their emotional tone. So, how could touch or feel do a similar job? And how could it be done in a way that is both ingrained in social routine, but one that assists users and helps maintain a healthy lifestyle. This idea is maybe a bit too focused already, and I could probably just take a step back and think about general health and well-being as a realistic starting point.
The final one draws upon my own fears – something that I covered in yesterday’s post – which is the idea of loneliness, and maybe the mental health attributes of being an older adult. I’m not going to delve into much detail, but how could one get a metaphorical handle and greater control over their headspace in their later years.
It’s time for a big CSI wall, and apart from that, there’s nothing I can really offer now. The goal is to come in on Thursday with a greater idea of what I want to follow and who I want to talk to. Again, it’s just a slow process…
But wait! I’ve got a report to do! Fantastic!
It’s actually not going too bad. We have split up into individual research around the idea of online grocery shopping – I’m looking at how elderly people interact with digital technology and what barriers there are in this area, Tytus is looking at the on and offline shopping experience as a whole between supermarkets and what could be improved for elderly people, Beth is looking at inclusive design in order to get us a greater collective knowledge around the themes there, as well as what the elderly cooking experience is like (like, do older people cook a lot? Is that a thing?). Finally, Rebecca is looking at the target market a bit more – what are the needs of the elderly, what are their ambitions, what do they need from products and services? Couple that with how they in particular shop and I think by tomorrow we will cover a lot of basic ground to set us up for the rest of the report.
We are going to meet tomorrow at 9:30AM, and I think it is important there to really build an idea of what it is we are writing about in particular. Fair enough, online shopping for the elderly is a good start, but what is the catch? Are we comparing it with meals on wheels, are we looking at how Tesco and ASDA facilitate elderly people and help them to cook? God knows, only time will tell. 
On a finishing note, I realise this is my second project THIS SEMESTER about Tesco. What is my obsession there? I need some more original ideas. 

Slow Starts

Today I pinned down (sort of) what I want to do with my next four weeks, both in my individual brief and our group report. For my individual project, I was really struggling to wrap my head around the idea of designing a handle, but thankfully I had a quick chat with Chris at the end of the day that cleared some stuff up for me. 

Chris advised me to keep whatever I make quite simple, and not to overthink too much what I want to make. The biggest things that he wants me to learn in this brief are prototyping and user centred research to revolve around the prototypes that I make. Therefore, I don’t need to read too much into the story of my product, like the lessons I had learned in the previous project.

Yet just because I don’t have to, does that mean I shouldn’t do it?

I want to challenge myself, and I want an enthralling story to be based around my project. However, unlike the Creative Technology module, this story has to be a bit less sci-fi, and a bit more sci-non-fi. A good example of this was when I probed Chris about how far I could go down the rabbit hole. He said a good example of someone who subverted the idea of the brief around handles last year was a girl who investigated how colour blind people handle their sunburns. So, the word handle is very vague there, and could be replaced by manage, maintain or something else. I think the trivial wording of the brief is clouding my judgment. 

Now I need to assess what it is I’m interested in here.

Two areas pop to mind – the very literal idea of handles, and more designery than that, how you can facilitate interactions with products in a more inclusive manner. What interests me inside of this is possibly the interaction between people and digital products – almost a phobia of the elderly. Secondly, I thought of what properly frightens me as an ageing person. Obviously, I’m nowhere near that stage, I’m only 21, but the idea of being a lonely old man, with no family or friends puts the fear of god into me. Grim thinking, I know, but how could I exploit that genuine emotion to build an empathetic project upon?

I’ll need to explore further, but there is at least a bit more leeway in regard to the group report. After having had about an hour together, we quickly identified two general products we were interested in investigating further. These were Skype, and online grocery shopping.

The reasoning for Skype was that we had the opportunity to visit an elderly drop in meeting at the Queen Mother Computing Building this morning. It was quite curious to learn that the elderly people at the session would visit weekly to use Skype to talk with their children who lived across the globe. Obviously, to me, Skyping someone is a very straightforward task. But why do these people feel the need to get assistance from more experienced people? It’s an interesting project, from both the aspect of the actual workings of a computer and software, to the emotional catch point, and what that might mean for the interaction around the service.


We have chosen to explore the online shopping experience however, with possibilities around how it could be compared to an in store shopping experience and maybe even a variation across supermarket chains and initiatives such as Meals on Wheels. There’s a lot of content in this area and it would be really interesting to scope out a valid viewpoint on the topic and complete a really focused report. Despite it being a report, we have to treat it as a design task, and rather than something that could be quite dull, we can actually make it quite playful and interesting through the use of graphic design and the scope of our investigation and recommendations.

It feels like a slow start to the project, however I’m beginning to learn that having 2 nights to gather my thoughts and take it slow isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. It’s safe to say I’m looking forward to how this is shaping together.

Heed’s Fried (or, Can I Handle It?)

Day 1 of the Changing Populations and my head is totally fried. We were in from 9:30 – 5, which is obviously standard, but after the hand-in last Friday it felt like there was a general malaise in the studio. Nevertheless, it was a very interesting start to the project.

Let’s start with the (kind of) bad news.

We have to write a report. In a group. If that doesn’t sound hellish, what does? Group work is obviously welcome, but writing an essay in a team just feels unnatural. However, on the bright side, it seems quite design focused, and there will be a lot of room to get experimental and build something around it – not just a bog-standard essay writing scenario. Great!

Now for the (kind of) good news.

We have a meaty design project to get into! This really does feel like a culture shock, because – and I’ve just realised right now – we’ve never really had two briefs handed out in rapid fire like this before. I say this in the best of ways – one of my weaknesses is getting too far down the road with a project, and after 2 months into something I just want to set the product (and possibly even myself) on fire.

The design project is especially meaty from the perspective from the fact that the brief is possibly the vaguest that I have ever been given. I’m also having trouble wrapping my fried wee heed around it, so I’m going to print it here for safe keeping…

The ageing process brings about a decline in muscle strength and range of movement which affects mobility, endurance an stability. Coupled with the loss of sensation and sight, actions such as grasping or standing up from a seated position can be difficult.

  • Handle (noun): the part of an object or thing for holding, controlling, moving or carrying
  • Handle (verb): to touch, feel, hold or manipulate it with your hands

The word handle is both a noun and verb. As a physical thing, a handle is a point of connection between products and people. It invites human grasp and its what cognitive psychologists calls affordance which is the features of an object or environment that triggers the possibility of an action or behaviour intuitively. A thoughtfully designed and crafted handle feels right in the hand whilst a poorly designed one causes discomfort and even pain. Your design brief is to explore handle(s) as an embodied exchange between human and object, in relation to a specific task and for a particular context. Your design will be rooted in people and it could involve an individual or a group of individuals. People will be invited to touch, hold, grasp, squeeze, push, pull, feel or otherwise implement the object to achieve it’s goals.

Like, what? I don’t even have a clue, which is good, however I’m wondering whether or not to try and follow this brief down the rabbit hole and get really weird with it, or simply take it at face value and treat it more like a re-design project. Even writing it down, I know which one is the most appealing (it’s the former, by the way).

But how do you get weird with such a mundane brief? Initial thoughts stem from the idea of a handle being “a point of connection between products and people”, and this interests me for two reasons. One, it subverts the idea of a handle as a bit of plastic sticking out of an object into a blank canvas for any interaction. There is a project there around interaction and exploring the core idea of a handle. For instance, what if a door handle was a button, or a wheel, or a bit of string? How could that become really playful?

Secondly, it goes back to something Chris said today about the difference between accessibility and usability. There is a clear difference between the two – I might be able to access a steering wheel in a car, but unless I’ve had driving lessons, I wouldn’t know how to use it. Conversely, I might know how to use a chair, but if my bones are too brittle to sit down in it then it’s not very accessible. It’s a weird concept, and at least this is how I think it works, so I’ll need to do some more reading into the subject.

The point is, I’ve seen videos before about people making really well designed handles which work for everybody, and you know what, that’s fantastic, but that’s not why I’ve come back here for another year. I’m here to play with technology, and consequently I need to assess what it is I want to make more usable or more accessible very quickly, and follow my interests pronto.

You see, my heed’s fried because of this extremely mundane brief, but also because I need to assess what my prerogatives are here and how this project fits into that. This feeling of being completely lost was strengthened by the brilliantly inspiring talk this evening by Patrick Stevenson-Keating (the late hour adding to tiredness). Patrick runs Studio PSK, and he uses technology as a storytelling device for brands and businesses.

Patricks projects were just so damn cool. His Honours Project was a device that supposedly looked into other dimensions, and gave users feedback about what their alternative-dimension-self was currently doing. It’s so bloody dumb, but it’s meant to be.

It’s the kind of dumb, playful stuff that I want to be making, and I know there’s a way here to make my very normal brief into something that is as fun and playful as this. It’s delightful and silly, and the best thing is that the project was about Quantum Physics. And if this guy can make a brilliant project about Quantum bloody Physics, then I can get something as interesting out of handles for changing populations. Right?

 

Meet Bicker: The Future of Voice in the City

The internet is one of our most important open resources. It is a landscape that fosters innovation, creativity and inclusion, yet just like any other community, the internet finds itself endangered by negative forces.

From fake news to a lack of equality on our open web, the health of the internet is being continuously tested, and with the rise in use of technologies such as voice controlled AI’s, we will soon face new challenges in the preservation of this valued resource. But what are the problems that we could face through voice controlled technologies, and how can we create products and solutions that promote a healthy internet?

Bicker takes a critical standpoint on how voice controlled technologies could operate in the city. The product is based in Dundee – a city that is slowly developing in Scotland’s cultural hub with the backing of a £1 billion development scheme on it’s Waterfront, with other accolades such as being named in Wall Street Journal’s top 10 places to visit in 2018.

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Yet some might argue that this regeneration isn’t what is truly needed for the city. How can a city with such a varied populous juggle the diverse needs of many? With a quarter of Dundee’s population living in poverty and a serious divide between the poor and rich in the city, there needs to be avenues within which the disadvantaged can tell their story and share their vision for the city with others.

If the internet is a platform for inclusivity, then voice controlled technologies could be used as a vehicle within which Dundonians can tell their story and create a dialogue in the city. Bicker achieves this in a delightful way with a lot of personality, cheekily arguing around situations and talking points with users, attempting to present a new way of thinking to them in it’s own individual voice.

Yet my product also deals with a flip side to these positive attributes, and how a product such as this could negatively impact the privacy of the people of Dundee. Engaging in a dialogue with Bicker feeds information back to the city council – information with which they can create positive change within the city. But what are the implications of listening to all information? Are these technologies that we really want and need within the city, and if so, how should they be designed in order to maintain a healthy internet?

With Bicker, I hope to raise numerous arguments around the consequences of voice technology, and what that might mean not only for the internet, but for us as a society – the people that use the internet everyday. Not only that, but I wanted to achieve this with argument and debate through a machine. The goal of Bicker is to gather data around key issues in the city, but also examine people’s true feelings and tendencies and extract them in their purest forms.

For further information about the project, please check out my website: http://www.jacktmitchell.com/blog. Alternatively, please contact me at j@ckmitchell.com

Critical Reflection – Creative Technology

It’s mad to think that we’ve already completed two briefs on our Masters course. I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the main things that Ive learned on this module, and how they will shape the work I do in future – both on this Masters but also in my future career as a designer.

One big lesson for me has been around the idea of storytelling, and using technology not simply functionally but as a device to build conversation around and even simply to have fun with. Admittedly, I have struggled with it, both from the perspective that I sometimes haven’t been quite sure why I am actually doing this and also not knowing what I’m even doing in general. However, it’s added something to my arsenal. I want to create functional products that solve problems for my user, but I also want to do them in a fun and meaningful way. This brief has given me a perfect opportunity to practise the latter part of product designing.

Leading on from this idea of fun and playfulness, the conditions of this brief have fostered a mindset that moves away from a lot of the work I’ve previously done. I usually tend to put the user first in a project, completing interviews and working with research methods to identify needs and wants. However, desk research has been my main go-to method for understanding my own work in this project, and consequently it’s given me a bit more free reign to let go and kind of realise what I want to get out of a project – not just what the user wants.

One critical lesson this module has taught me is the essence of time and agile making. I’m a very slow person by nature. I generally dislike getting my hands dirty, yet when I do something, I let it take up all my time, in what is an immersive and sometimes laborious process. But having come back from MozFest at the weekend with a whole product needing to be made, I had to act fast, and I loved it. Usually, with such a tight deadline, the world will collapse around me and it will all go terribly, however the creation of this product has actually been a total joy, and I believe I’ve happily towed the line between speed and quality. What I realised most, however, is that a year ago, doing this would’ve taken me at least a week, as opposed to 3 full days work. I’m feeling more confident and in control from brief to brief.

Finally, this project has given me a really great insight into the world of creative technology. I feel that instead of my usual approach with problem solving, I am beginning to problem find – an important yet slight variation on my usual ways. This project has given me the courage to approach a problem or even vague idea and quickly find a compelling hook to catch onto. Because of the speed of this process – from utter cluelessness to carefully considered design solution – I want to dip my foot in the water more and experience more of the world of creative technology.

The design of Bicker

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My product has been fabricated using two main parts – a wooden plinth and a 3D printed component. The wooden plinth was originally from the art school, which gave me a constraint to build a product around. With this understanding of how a plinth would be the basis for my product, I began to think about what would sit on top and how.

I began to sketch ideas out and experiment with form factors. I really liked the idea of a form that actively encouraged listening and conversing with, so opted for one that looked not to dissimilar to a megaphone. I chose to have this 3D printed, to give an air of authenticity, but also as I was inspired by the “Our Friends Electric” videos created by Loraine and Martin in association with Mozilla.

I created the 3D printed component with a view to fit the electronics in. I had experimented with ideas such as nodding and head shaking previously, however decided there was a lot more information to be conveyed with NeoPixels. With these, I could depict emotion, visualise speech and even add visual representation to information, through pie charts and count-downs.

The NeoPixels sit in the base of the unit, shining through a translucent piece of acrylic plastic. By shining through, this gives a hint of emotion around what the machine is conveying in it’s speech. The wiring is pulled through the legs of the 3D printed component, and wired through the back of the top of the plinth. I wanted the wires to carry down through the bottom of the plinth, but unfortunately the NeoPixels didn’t like a long wire carrying the data signal from Arduino to pixel, so had to scrap that.

There is no voice interaction in the product, however the lights are designed to show specific emotion. For instance, in the video where the machine calls over the pedestrian, they excitedly spring to life to show that activity. Where the machine argues about the impact of the V&A in Dundee, the lights form a ring of only 25% of the possible amount, backing up the fact that around a quarter of Dundonians live in poverty.

I am quite proud of what I’ve achieved with this product – especially considering I had none of these components assembled before heading off to MozFest. I’d be interested to see how I would develop this product with more time – perhaps I would try to get that nodding effect into it somehow… Only time will tell if this is a product for future experiment!

Interview with PAN Studio

I was lucky enough to have an interview with Tiernan from PAN Studio the other day to talk about my project. PAN Studio worked on Hello Lamppost, a project I’ve spoken about on this blog before, and has been a huge inspiration for me in designing my own project.

From Tiernan, I wanted to find out more about how Hello Lamppost facilitated a conversation between user and city. Firstly, I didn’t realise that the installation is being demonstrated in different cities worldwide at the behest of governments, art councils and other institutions. The reason that these cities request the services of PAN Studio is for two main reasons. Institutions want to encourage fun within the city, and the playfulness of Hello Lamppost is the perfect platform with which people can have a playful interaction with their city – something they may not be used to.

The other main reason for Hello Lamppost is the extraction of data – something I was very interested in regards to my project. There are goals that vary from each city, and what Hello Lamppost is really effective at is drilling down and getting to specifics around what is good and bad around the city through natural dialogue. Think of it as a questionnaire embedded playfully into the city – but better than normal questionnaires (which kind of suck) because they use dialogue and emotion instead of one word answers and multiple choice selection.

Austin, for instance, wanted to raise the profile of the city and encourage culture within the city, whilst Malmo in Sweden wanted to focus upon sustainability through their infrastructure dialogues. If my product revolves around the idea of gentrification and city development, then I will need to think about what my specific niche is, and what questions my product will end up asking people.

Another aspect of the conversation I found interesting was this idea of trust and feeling comfortable speaking with a machine. I was curious to learn how PAN engage in dialogue with users – something they prioritised as one of the most important aspects of their product experience. Typically, it will involve a series of starter questions to ease the conversation – PAN didn’t want the interaction to feel like a machine was accosting users for data and information. Whilst there are business goals involved, people simply wouldn’t engage with the product if it wasn’t playful and enjoyable for them.

One way PAN interestingly facilitate this idea of trust and comfort is by consciously not asking users their age and gender. In doing so, Tiernan states that the process feels less laborious but also less personal, less intrusive. I need to identify what kind of relationship I wish to build with my users and what emotions I want to convey through my own work, just like in Hello Lamppost.

The chat with Tiernan was very insightful, and it was a pleasure to speak with someone involved in a project that has inspired me for a while now. I’m really looking forward to finishing this project up in order to send across my video to Tiernan and get some feedback, straight from somebody involved at the forefront of brilliant Smart City design.

 

Bus back from MozFest

On the way back from Mozfest, on that fantastic 12 hour bus journey that wasn’t cramped at all, I drew out some renders for my project – half to test out my ideas in a higher fidelity, half because I wanted to give my new iPad Pro a proper whirl.

I experimented with the general form of the megaphone shape, and settled on a cubic cone. I feel that this is quite easy to print out and wouldn’t cause too much hassle to operate into the design of the product. One thing I’ve been quite conscious about is the constraint of the cubic plinth. I feel that a cubic shape would operate better with this design language in mind. Here are the sketches that I’ve completed (bear in mind I’m still trying to improve with the iPad!)

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