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Out of the Rut

After a great hour spent chatting chatting with Rachel and Victor about our projects, I felt a bit more confident to start formulating my ideas and creating stories around them. I spent time having a brain dump where I came out with a few ideas, with the plan from there to start extracting the themes from them and developing the best points and stories.

I was wary of coming up with a solid idea straight off the bat, or one that I was too invested in, as I know that can hinder my foresight. As is the case with any designer, I didn’t want to be forced into decisions that maybe weren’t correct.


5 of my best ideas mainly focused around the two topics of ‘gentrification’ and ‘culture’. They’re pretty much two sides of the same coin – looking at the development of Dundee through two kinds of eyes. Ideas ranged from a listening machine, that gathered information about people’s thoughts on local landmarks, forming an AI that gave a true reflection of society’s opinions on places and people. Other ideas involved a game that would send people on a sort of treasure hunt around Dundee, solving riddles or something like that. I liked that idea because it was quite vague, and also because the idea of gamification yields better data and insights than simply asking people “what do you think of X?”


The story that I am going to develop, however, is through the eyes of those impoverished in the city. Recently, I’ve becoming totally intrigued by the idea that the quarter of Dundee’s population living within poverty won’t really feel the immediate benefits of a billion pound construction project. I discovered that a big way to fight this lack of empathy is through storytelling and explaining other people’s points of view – a humanistic function perfect for voice controlled AI’s. I think this is especially poignant in the era of fake news and smartphone ubiquity, where people can get stuck in the bubble of their Facebook feed, without getting a true sense of external problems in their communities and countries.

I used Dan Harmon’s storytelling structure, mentioned in yesterday’s post

So it’s settled – how can we use storytelling to create empathy for Dundee’s impoverished? The topic is there, and now the really fun, yet hard bit starts. My goals for the rest of the week are to play, make and talk. I want to start creating prototypes and experiences that visualise what this story might look like – how it might solve problems for people in Dundee, how it might connect people in order to help others. Other bits I want to learn are how the AI itself might operate – where will it live, what will it sound like?

By creating a rough draft story I’ve began to visualise what I might work on, but as I said, it’s important to not get too invested in that idea. I need to now think divergently through making and human centred research and begin building this idea for the ground up. It feels like progress is being made!

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Designing a Story

For the first time in the Masters, I’ve felt well and truly stumped for what I’m meant to be doing. I’m surprised this feeling hasn’t come sooner considering we’re probably just under halfway through the first semester, but here it is, the familiar feeling is back again. Hello, old friend, how I’ve missed you.

My confusion stems from that moment of displacement in the design process, where you forget who you are and what you are meant to be doing with this strange product. We are being challenged to create a STORY – repeat, STORY, not PRODUCT – which is kind of bamboozling me. Even saying it aloud, it sounds quite simple – tell a story about voice controlled AI by designing a product that is the main vehicle in said story. And after pondering the task for an evening (unfortunately without much work getting done) it is beginning to make a bit of sense to me… I think.

I need to tell a story about one of two things – examining Dundee’s culture and giving viewpoints on the gentrification of the city, or creating a dialogue in the city. The latter option is not really resolved, if anything at the moment. More desk research is needed, however it feels kind of unnatural dipping back into the desk research to establish possible stories within this category – alas it must be done.

After talking with other folk on the course, I’m feeling a bit happier now, and the full levity of this task has kind of hit me. This isn’t a design task. This is a task in holistic design thinking.

This isn’t “how can we design x to create a solution for y?” This is “what the hell is x, and how might it impact y?” This slight deviation is actually such a huge learning curve for me – and probably the rest of the class too. Past design experience has revolved around problem finding and problem solving. Yet this brief feels more like a lesson in opportunity finding, and opportunity response. With opportunity finding, there is so much more room for creativity, so much more room to experiment and come up with something fantastic. But there’s so much more searching and critical thinking, so much more emphasis on problems greater than the standard faced by a typical designer. It’s what I’m here to do, and what I’m here to learn and despite what may be a daunting challenge, I’m excited to find out how I can try and solve it.

Whilst work has gone slow today, there has been some very interesting developments in the idea of storytelling. I began to think about how I would tell a story – after all, with a video hand-in, this is a golden opportunity for me to discover my inner Steven Spielberg and make my directorial debut. How can I tell a story that not only encapsulates my design beliefs and products, but shows how I think? How can I make something inherently me?

I’m a huge fan of sci-fi and animation. I also like quite poignant stuff – something with a clear perspective that they want to communicate with the viewer. I began thinking about storytellers that I find really inspiring, and how they manage to weave something serious into something thats actually quite playful and fun, and perhaps glean something that I could use in my work.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year or so, then you’ve probably heard of the smash hit animated show ‘Rick and Morty’. It’s all about Rick and Morty (duh), a man and his grandson who are really just a crude, half baked replica of Doc and Marty from Back to the Future. The pair go on loads of adventures around the multiverse, battling aliens and the like – there’s worse ways to spend 25 minutes. And no, this post isn’t turning into a review for a tv show, just follow me here – this has something to do with design.

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What I was really interested in was Dan Harmon, the co-creator of Rick and Morty. Harmon has coined a formula for great storytelling, a model which he believes most stories follow in one way or another. It’s a circle, that has 8 points on it, named ‘You’, ‘Need’, ‘Go’, ‘Search’, ‘Find’, ‘Take’, ‘Return’ and ‘Change’. Even the words themselves sum up the general process of a story, but it essentially means this:

  • You: Protagonist is introduced
  • Need: Protagonist needs something
  • Go: Protagonist goes to achieve that something
  • Search: Protagonist is on the search for that something
  • Find: Protagonist finds thing they were searching for
  • Take: Protagonist takes said thing, with negative or positive consequences. Maybe both.
  • Return: Protagonist returns to their situation previously
  • Change: After events, protagonist has changed in some way

That is almost every story ever – it can be applied to Star Wars, it can be applied to a crappy rom-com, it can be applied to almost any event in your life. What makes it interesting, in relation to my project however, is that it takes a very holistic approach to describing the idea around a product.

By telling a story around a product, you don’t simply tell people what it does. You explain why it does it, and at what time in particular. Harmon’s guidelines will really enable my end product – the video I film – however it will also help me envision my product working in an actual setting.

I will go on to write up scripts and drafts around possible stories, and think about this task not just on the detail of a product, but in the sense of a holistic experience.

Detective Mitchell

Yesterday was spent assembling a big CSI style research wall to document and curate my thinking around my research question, ‘what does a public voice activated AI look like?’ This was a really useful exercise because it got me past that typical feeling of getting too precious over my research, but also having all of the ideas I had created in one space. I also looked like an evil genius, which is quite a nice thought to spur you on.


I separated my research into four segments, which were ‘voice activated technology’, ‘smart city technology’, ‘Dundee and it’s culture’ and ‘what makes a healthy internet?’ The two most fruitful research areas were around smart cities and the people of Dundee, with voice technologies and healthy internet supporting the information that I found in these areas. Below, I will focus upon the challenges I have extracted from the first three areas.

Smart cities


This research focused around what I studied for my honours project last year at DJCAD. Key insights going into the research included the idea that smart cities are not very humanistic and people centric. As described in the book ‘The Gameful World’ published by MIT Press, smart cities focus greatly on functionality and efficiency, but they largely ignore the needs of the people living in them. This conflict of interests may stem from local councils trying to install smart street lamps that track weather and light data to conserve energy and costs, whereas pedestrians may need smarter street lighting that improves safety on notorious streets. There is a real disparity here between councils and citizens, and the role of the designer is well positioned to deal with that burgeoning need.

Civic change needs to be put into the hands of the people, and initiatives in co-designing and a real DIY ethos would really enable citizens to craft better smart cities. For example, Future Cities Glasgow, a smart city demonstrator run in… well, Glasgow, showed how technology could be ingrained into the city’s way of life. However, what it done quite well was engage citizens, through events such as a roaming bus tour that helped people get hands on with the team and their work in different parts of Glasgow. Hackathons were conducted in the city to produce more left-brain design solutions and training workshops were hosted to teach people vital digital literacy skills. It is up to the government and local councils to facilitate this shared learning and development experience – the results can only be more effective and empathetic.

One final idea that my research touched upon – and arguably one of the most important thoughts – was that around gamification and humanistic technology. Mentioned previously, the intention around smart cities are not very people-focused. One way to build outward upon that is by gamifying experiences or at least thinking about people’s behaviour quite playfully. 

One fantastic example of this is Volkswagen’s ‘Fun Theory’ – a project I’m a huge advocate of. They designed a set of musical stairs coloured like a piano keyboard, and course, when you walked upon them, they played notes. This is all fair and well, but once you realise the project was all about changing behaviours and encouraging people to take the stairs, and not the escalator, then the beauty of design thinking within the project really hits home. One way in which gamification can work is through behavioural change – a component of nudge theory. Nudge theory works on the premise that you can encourage people – or nudge – to do things for a basic reward, usually in regard to an action that is deemed unpleasant or unnecessary. The escalator project is a perfect example of this, however nudge has a sister theory that is also interesting to research. 


Think theory is a component of nudge theory that is more time consuming to implement, yet has more long term value. Instead of providing a basic reward, think theory utilises reflection and understanding to shape behaviour. For instance, Fairtrade coffee may shape behaviours due to its awareness methods around ethical farming and fair pay for farmers in developing countries. A great example of this in terms of gamification in the city is ‘Hello LampPost’, a project based in Bristol that hacks into current infrastructure to allow citizens to text their lampposts, postboxes and other equipment and talk to these inanimate objects. The conversations with these objects are actually taken from past users who leave messages behind in the city, so for instance, someone can inform other users about the history of the city. A product such as this can develop a shared knowledge of the city and an inclusive game that engages different demographics.

Gamification can enhance inclusivity but it can also enhance the process of data collection. Whilst smart cities need to be human centred, they are only viable when councils can collect and shape data. Gamification and good humanistic design is very effective in harvesting data, but also in ensuring that users are more truthful with their responses. This can be vital in shaping a process that has concerns over privacy and security.

Dundee and it’s citizens 


My second biggest area of research focused on Dundee and the culture around the city. Because I want to tell a story that is quite positive and playful, I began to focus on the opportunities around Dundee’s current rich culture, which largely focuses upon its creative scene. With the V&A and groups such as Creative Dundee in the city, we are currently living in a cultural hotbed that is growing and growing. The city therefore, is a blank canvas to present how design is shaping the city and create something that really ties into the culture of this city. One area that I liked inside this was Dundee’s City of Culture 2023 bid. For this, the council want people to tell their stories of the city in order to raise awareness for why the city deserves this title. I wonder if there is an opportunity for voice controlled technologies to be used here in a thoughtful, meaningful way?

I couldn’t help but wonder, however, what are the real problems in Dundee? If smart cities aren’t focusing enough on the actual needs of the city, then would designing for the burgeoning creative scene in Dundee be the most effective research route to pursue? Dundee, after all, is one of the most deprived cities in Scotland, with one in four people living in poverty in the city. An effective design solution would aim to solve these problems – but then again, how can that be achieved with voice technologies? These constraints are what makes a project exciting – juggling all these requirements and needs from stakeholders and users. 

With major developments happening within the city, one could argue that there is a conflict in interests between people in the city in what Dundee needs. The city is at risk of being gentrified with a lack of concern for the quarter of the city’s population that goes to bed hungry at night – so how can this development of the city be used ethically to solve problems for our disadvantaged populous? The V&A and waterfront development is creating jobs, both in its build and execution, as well as the money that all that tourism brings into the city. Bar the economic benefits that comes alongside this, the V&A is also being used as an educational institution, which will provide free workshops and insight into the world of design, benefiting local residents within the city.


This won’t solve all of Dundee’s problems. But it’s a step in the right direction, and people will begin to see the benefits of this regeneration, whether or not it’s obvious instantly. Otherwise, how could we design to break down the barriers for the impoverished within the city? In the Dundee Fairness Report, one of the main topics that it touches upon is the idea of stigmatisation around the poor, and how most people simply believe that people are poor because they are lazy and unmotivated to do anything about it. However, one way we can tackle this and build a conversation around the issues of the poor is through storytelling. By helping people tell their stories, we can generate empathy and work as a community to create opportunities for disadvantaged people in the city.

This could be a perfect opportunity for voice technologies. In my other research, I looked at voice technology and internet health – however I thought that this research was more of an introduction to these concepts, and was something that I generated a lot of base learning in. One thing I did want to consider is the idea of finding a specific touch point in the area of voice control. The example I found in my research was that of home voice assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. These devices offer so much functionality – but at the very core of them, they’re basically the same products, locked into different services. Think, then, about Apple’s HomePod due to be released in December, and how instead of pitching itself as a voice assistant, it is instead branded as a smart music speaker. This shift of perspective onto music makes sense – Apple is synonymous with iTunes, and the iPod is the product which enabled millions to connect with music in a new way in the early 00’s. A service focused on music whilst providing all the benefits of the others instantly feels more buyable, more determined to create a real impact in that area.

What I’m saying, therefore, is that whatever I design and what I try to make a statement about, should at all times have a specific goal in mind. I don’t want to focus on doing everything all at once – obviously a voice controlled AI in public would probably do the thing that you’d think of first, giving information around local sights and places. But how can it zone in on the real problems – how can that story be compelling and human? I’m finding out, and I’m so excited to get to work.


Under Pressure

After a morning of lectures around Smart Cities, we were challenged to work on a two hour pressure project where we would challenge ourselves to examine our painpoints when it came to working with Arduino. I teamed up with Victor, and we decided to focus on making a hammer shot game (I don’t know what you would call them) with Arduino, just as you find in an arcade or at the shows.

The time constraint on this project meant that stuff such as physical form and the looks of the product were slightly ignored in place of ensuring that the technology works. We found an Instructable that gave the schematics and code for a sensor that we could adapt for our own needs.

This was fun and we managed to set the above schematic up quite quickly and test it, however the interaction and reading on the screen was focused primarily around measuring pressure. The reading obviously needed to be adapted to a game, but what would it say? Victor and I quite liked the playful interaction of hitting the sensor, and we began to think about who we could hit.

We settled on the obvious choice – the man in the White House himself – Donald J. Trump. So we began assembling the case for the product, aiming to also include lights using the Arduino’s ‘if’ function, so that you would reach a score based on how hard you hit the device, i.e a scale of “he’s weak on immigration, and he’s weak on punching!” to “it’s gunna be hyuuuuuuge!”

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Unfortunately we couldn’t completely finish off the short project, but all the component parts were there, and I was impressed by what we had actually accomplished over two short hours!

I got two main takeaways from this activity today. Firstly, it’s important to work in an agile manner at the prototyping stage. Obviously we weren’t delivering a fully polished project, and an example such as this would be a beneficial lesson for getting an idea out there into the wild, but I remember at one point trying to solder wires when I realised that it would have been a much quicker and easier to stick in jumper cables (yes, I know, that’s stupid).

When Ali, who was co-ordinating the activity, said to reflect on what you’re poor at in regards to this type of work and focus on that, I realised that for me, it may not be any coding or schematics in particular, as I’m confident/naive enough to try and at least give anything a shot, but instead it might just be to get my common sense head on which I sometimes lack. I would save so much time and pain sometimes by just doing things like a normal person, and that’s something I can improve on, in my design process as a whole.

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Secondly, and more relevant to this project, is the idea of ‘story’. What is the story behind this project? When quizzed about it, Victor and I mustered the answer “because it’s funny”. And it is. But I think there’s something important within that, to be able to laugh in the face of something actually quite dreadful.

I read a quote a while ago, saying that as a society today, we are trying to be tolerant of everything, every ideology and every way of thinking. Of course, that’s a good thing. But there is one thing that a successful society needs to be intolerant of, and that is intolerance itself. So I guess this product is the embodiment of that idea or story.

I’m not sure if that’s what is meant by the story behind a product, but I reckon it’s not a bad way of thinking about it. In the next couple of weeks, Victor and I hope to develop the idea a bit further and at least make a working version of it. Maybe even add in some sound effects – that would be hilarious.

As for now, I need to identify further what the story is around the project that I’m working on in class, and dig into some really focused research to find what that is!

What does a Public AI look like?

Yesterday morning we were sent by Loraine to conduct some field research, observing people and places in Dundee that could help us in striking some inspiration for our project. For me, this was extremely beneficial – I was quite shaky on the whole idea of developing a voice activated AI to be used in public, but if anything, the journey yesterday morning consolidated this.

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I started by going to the DCA, in order to think about things such as city culture, and how the arts could inform or inspire my project. Whilst that trip didn’t provide much in the way of insights, it was in Groucho’s that I hatched an idea. Truth be told, I partly popped into the shop because it’s probably the best record store in Scotland, ingrained into the culture of Dundee, but also partly because I wanted to quickly see if they had a record I’d been looking for for ages (Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’ – they actually had it! Also Bowie’s single ‘Sound and Vision’, how fitting).

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However it was here that I began to think about the sensations I feel when I go into Groucho’s. I go to have a look, yes, but usually the music is absolutely fantastic. What if my product wasn’t just about voice, but ambient noise, or birds chirping, or multiple conversations happening at once when walking down the street? Most of the things you hear on the street is just one segment of a greater soundscape, and Groucho’s was a great example of one of the wonderful components of that stramash that you can find tucked away in Dundee. Despite (sort of) using this opportunity for my own selfish advantage, I had accidentally stumbled upon a fantastic initial observation.

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Next, I went walked to the Caird Hall. With people walking around idly, going about their days, there was a murmur of conversation and the usual groaning of car engines and tyres on tarmac. What I was interested in here, however, was two things. Firstly, Fast Eddie, the madman harmonica player who is synonymous with Dundee, was not there, instead replaced by the young man who sometimes plays the bagpipes outside Boots. Itwas weird not to see Eddie there – he’s part of the scenery, and after only thinking about it at that moment, it seemed quite strange not to hear his tooting and jubilant dancing. So yes, whilst the scenery is important in forming our ideas of a landscape and place, so is sound and voice.

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Also, it was obvious that Caird Hall and the space outside of is the focal point of Dundee.But how does it achieve this? I remember reading a great book about this last year – The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces by William H Whyte – and he talked about how the use of plazas form a natural sitting and relaxing spot for people in the city. The open space of Caird Hall forms a feeling of focus in the city, and alongside this, it contains famous local landmarks such as the Desperate Dan statue, the dragon upon which kids play, and the smaller plaza tucked into the indent in the Overgate. Also featured in the space is functional amenities, such as bins, disused telephone booths and signposts giving people indication on where to go.

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There is a lot of infrastructure in the city to use to my advantage in the project, and whatever I make, I’m sure it will be easy to be inspired. One final spot that influenced my thinking amongst others was the Sensory Garden in Slessor Gardens, co-designed with students from Craigie High School. This blew me away – there were wooden blocks with rubber drumsticks that you could play music with, and pipes that when spoken through made noises on the other side of the garden. The playful interactions of the park and the beautiful design of it’s features had me running around the place like a child. Also, as I was playing with the drumsticks, the only man walking past gave me a cheery “gaun yersel!” It made me think about how the interactivity of such a design encouraged a community spirit and culture that some technology simply doesn’t. This pleasant aspect of design – something that engages people over a relatively simple experience – is something that I want to design.

I want to put a positive spin on the idea of voice activated technology. I don’t want to look at something negative, like how the data appropriation of eavesdropping in public could be used negatively. Obviously, these themes will need to be explored regardless, but whatever the end result, I want it to be quite delightful, quite useful.

Talking of the end result, I’ve compiled a list of points that I wish to explore further. These points will help me investigate my subject area and build the foundations of my research, as well as who I will go on to conduct some research with in the weeks to come.

  • What problems and opportunities are present within cities?
  • What is the potential of voice controlled technology?
  • What are some examples of creative Smart City projects and how could I be inspired by them to develop a voice controlled product?
  • What is a healthy internet, and how do we design around it?

From here, I will conduct my own desk research and build a solid understanding around these four areas, with the goal in mind of finding some fascinating insights as well a compelling story to build a product around.

Creative Technology

Yesterday was day one of our second module, Creative Technology with Jon Rogers and Loraine Clarke, and there was no messing around at all in getting started in the design process. The big day began with taking a look at the brief and having a look over what the module holds, which ensured an exciting start to the month ahead…

This module, we will be investigating the future of voice controlled technology, designing a product around the potential uses of a voice-controlled internet – but why? With products such as Amazon Alexa and Siri slowly becoming more and more popular and the organisations that own them leveraging their propositions to use this data for their own benefit, there will be a lot of discussion around the privacy concerns around voice controlled technologies.

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Mozilla’s new bi-annual magazine – Ding

The brief is a simple one. We need to tell a story around the health of the internet and how voice controlled technologies can influence it’s state. Sometimes though, simple briefs are more difficult than those that initially sound quite difficult. For instance, as someone relatively new to the ideas of internet health and being a creative technologist, this is a lot of new theories to juggle all at one time.

I wasn’t truly aware that a creative technologist is somebody who tells stories through technology. Even saying it sounds a bit dumb, maybe even a bit vague. Surely technology should be used in functional ways – after all, that’s what I have learned over the past four years. Yet as weird a concept as it sounds, it makes sense. A great example of this was shown to us by Jon and Loraine this morning, in a session well positioned to get us thinking about what a voice controlled internet looks like.

‘Our Friends Electric’ is a short film published by Mozilla – the company with which Jon works – which gives three examples of potential products that revolve around the voice-controlled internet. These three examples gave us an insight into the potential for voice controlled technologies – for instance, artificial intelligences that learn from your actions like a young child, or machines that mimic voices and ways of speaking.

This primer was an effective way to kickstart the module for two reasons. Firstly, it was great to see the standard of video shooting and design that we will have to complete for our own hand-in. We are required to shoot a short film that tells the narrative around the product we have designed. This is especially useful due to the fact that it opens up the possibilities with what we end up designing. Any tricky or impossible to conceive functionalities – for instance an AI that replicates your voice in ‘Our Friends Electric’ – can be staged through the video. This places the emphasis of the project on telling a story, a facet of this project that in this introduction I further began to understand through this tutorial.

The second reason this was screening was useful was that it helped the class generate their own ideas on where they wanted to take their own projects. There was some excellent ideas produced by the class, and the open exchange of knowledge and skills that Jon and Loraine are creating in the studio is ensuring that people are feeling inspired, even by the end of day one.

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Ideas shared throughout the class included how AI could be used to enhance inclusion – for instance, developing workplace equality between race and gender, to debates behind the advantages between a centralised and decentralised internet. It was here that I began to assess my own prerogatives for this project, fuelled by Jon’s prompting of the question, “what do you want to be when you’re older?”

I loved the critical viewpoint of ‘Our Friends Electric’, whilst providing real functionality in a playful way. The question of whether this functionality can be achieved is by the by – this is a real opportunity to show my conceptual thinking and storytelling around a product. Initial themes that have really inspired me have been how artificial intelligence could be used in the city-scape, maybe by a large community of people, maybe even passively, without them knowing. Alongside this, I was inspired by culture and how that could possibly impact AI. I also liked the ideas of an AI that is shaped alongside it’s user – developing the relationship between user and machine, as well as what other noises could be used in a voice-controlled internet.

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The most important idea that I want to probe is how a voice-controlled product can shape the internet of things for the better. What is the story I want to tell, and how do I want to do it? The answers to these questions will unravel over the next week and month. For now, I just want to grasp on to a compelling point to investigate further, one that illustrates my viewpoint on how a voice controlled internet could work.

Week 1: Bonus Round/A Ramble

After a 4th and (supposed) final year of University that truly epitomised all of the learning and work that I had been building towards throughout my time in Dundee, I spent a long summer reflecting on what went well, what could’ve been better, and most importantly, what is next.

New Designers was the boiling point where all of this pondering came to the fore. It was as emotionally draining as it was exciting – probably not helped by the fact that my project collapsed into smithereens with a day to go before the opening. However, walking around and seeing what other people have created, and inevitably comparing myself with other designers there, I still felt that I had a lot to learn about the big bad world of design. That’s why – despite the death of my project – I was more excited than ever to get back to Dundee and make a start on my Masters, learning and improving as much as possible.

I had decided a couple of months before to undertake the Masters, and even the PTSD of completing a 9 month solo design project wasn’t stopping me. Things I felt that I did well last year was immersing myself in the subject matter, getting hands on in terms of events and designing my project with and around the needs of my users. Obviously, things could be improved (they always can), but I felt going into very detailed research really shaped the product I made and consequently, fuelled my interest in what I was doing. It is because of this desire to learn more about research methods and design thinking that the Masters here in Dundee seemed like the right move.

Bearing that in mind, what possibly could the Masters help me expand in that I personally think I am quite bad at? Well, for one, I really struggle with the whole “conceiving a final prototype” thing. The research is good, the prototyping is good, but bringing it all together in one gorgeous package? I’m a bit flakey. I know that sounds dumb as a Product Designer, to be a bit sub par at actually making something, but it’s true. Yet so far, being here on the Masters has made me realise that that’s okay – the role of the designer is much greater than being a good craftsman. In fact, it completely transcends that.

Week one of the Masters has already validated my ideas of what a designer is and what it can be. In lectures learning about co-designing and design thinking, the role of the designer is constantly changing – from that in the 80’s of a last minute operative who makes things shiny and sellable, to the creative thinker that drives the entire philosophy and output of a project, whether that be tangible or intangible. These are ideas that I have established myself over the 4 years already, however revising this understanding has helped me define what it is I want to get out of this final, all important year.

In short, I want to truly explore the power of design thinking, and how it can develop from my preconceived ideas of what it already is. Even after simply reflecting on my final year project and where I went wrong throughout the process, I know what I would now change. With a year of quick fire, immersive projects, I will be able to almost rapidly iterate my own design process, and begin to find out how best to practise this co-designing ethos that I began to adopt in my 4th year.

Refining my design process and engagement with people is one thing, yet conversely, I also believe that I need to take some of the designing into my own hands. One thing that I realised that I was doing last year is that I was trying to make the research do too much of the work for me. Despite design being a participatory process, it is important to remember that you are there as an intermediator: the best solution does not just magically appear on your lap. You need to step in and challenge the insights gathered throughout the process, and to use the creative skills in your arsenal to design a solution to the problem that is both delightful and functional.

This was meant to be a blog post about what I learned on my first week. I realise I’ve not really covered any precise lectures or experiences – but that’s because so far, the biggest thing I’ve taken away from my first week back is not practical lessons, after all, a lot of things have been covered in previous years and through individual readings. What these lectures have done, however, is further cement what my idea of design is and how I want to do it – a necessary self-awareness as I tackle the year ahead. With our briefs in the fledgling stages of initial inspiration (I shall expand on that next week), I feel absolutely driven to make the most of this year. Bring it on.

Deliverables

My hero image, video, 100 words and journey map!

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Cycling has a multitude of benefits which impacts both the individual and the community through health, the environment and even economically. Despite this, Dundee registers the worst cycling statistics out of any Scottish city. How can these behaviours be changed for the better? My product aims to inspire the people of Dundee to get out on their bikes by generating awareness to the potential that the city has to offer through physical and digital means.

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Day 229: Critical Review

The summer prior to my fourth and final year at University provided a lot of time for me to reflect on the kind of designer I wanted to be. Completing a summer internship with Made by Many – a company specialising in screen-based interaction design – I realised that whilst I enjoyed working with the technological elements of design, I wanted to embed these ideals more into the physical product design that I already had a background in.

This project, therefore, provided me with an opportunity to embody my philosophy into a product that truly represented me as a designer. Unlike other projects I had undertaken in the past where I would focus entirely upon the ‘people’ aspect of Social Digital’s PDT triangle at the outset, I started this project by examining technologies that I was interested in working with throughout the year. This lead me to researching Smart Cities, which I believed was an ideal beginning point, as it combined both a technological opportunity with a multitude of real world issues inside the area.

Working with cyclists seemed like a logical option for me – a lot of my desk research revolved around how Smart City technology can influence issues such as transport, infrastructure, pollution and other socioeconomic issues. By making lives easier for cyclists and encouraging more people to cycle, I can assist in solving parts of these problems. The end goal of my product was to create a product that could exist in the real world and truly make a difference to the lives of cyclists within Dundee.

People – (45%)

I was fortunate to work with a large group of people throughout my project and investigate the subject matter in ways that were unusual to my standard way of working. I amassed an initial group of 12 cyclists and with each cyclist I completed a one-on-one interview to obtain a clearer understanding of the issues that are most prevalent to them. After this set of interviews, I selected 4 participants who I felt closely aligned with the direction that I wanted to head in – to develop a greater awareness for cycling in the local area of Dundee, and make it easier for existing cyclists and potential riders to get on their bike.

These four cyclists continued to help me throughout the entire process, having frequent meet ups to run through the ideas that I had generated and test the prototypes which I had developed. In doing so, I managed to pinpoint the main insights and observations that helped drive my final outcome, and achieved it all with the assistance and input from the people that it matters most to.

I identified that most Smart City projects are predominantly “top-down”, focusing on what city planners think people need, and not stemming from a “bottom-up” grassroots level, where the people manage to take the affirmative action. Whilst it was therefore important to place the end-user at the forefront of the design process, I also needed to consult the people who could make my project a reality.

I spoke with people from Dundee City Council, who took the time to talk over my ideas with me. The biggest insight I gained from this experience was what a woman involved in the meeting described as a “chicken and an egg” situation. She acknowledged that people don’t cycle not because they are adverse to it, but instead because they simply don’t think about it. Unfortunately, Dundee City Council can’t expand current infrastructures without major demand by citizens, and people will be put off cycling because the facilities on offer aren’t safe or suitable enough. This echoed sentiments from my users that the situation seemed to be a Catch-22, and from thereon I strived to solve this issue – by generating more interest in cycling within Dundee.

On top of these important user interviews, I was fortunate enough to speak to various officials from Sustrans and Cycling Scotland, and even participate in events hosted by Cycling Scotland in the Tayside area. I tried to implement unconventional methods of research into my human-centred design process, ultimately travelling to Copenhagen to learn more about it’s cycling infrastructure, joining a cycling activism group named ‘Critical Mass’ for a night touring Glasgow and even meeting world-record breaking cyclist Mark Beaumont and rector of the University for a chat about my project over coffee.

One of the best experiences of the year was speaking about my project at Make/Share, which gave me the opportunity to gather insights from people who are not associated with the cycling scene in Dundee, and even find more people to speak to for my research – both through user personas and people working in industry. All of these experiences – going out of my way to talk to people – taught me to be brave and persistent in my research process, and always try something new. Without stepping up and attempting new, uncomfortable things, I wouldn’t have benefitted and received the amount of research that I did.

Technology – (30%)

Technology was the initial inspiration for my project, beginning with Smart Cities and the Internet of Things and investigating how these concepts can be delivered to people through empathetic and thoughtful experiences.

There are two forms in which technology takes in the development of my product – the ‘conceptual’ and the ‘realised’. The conceptual took the form of desk research and interviews with experts in the field of Smart Cities and urban design to explore the limitations and potential of digital technologies embedded into the city. One of my favourite interviews was with Michael Smyth, co-ordinator of UrbanIxD and an interaction design lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University. Michael spoke about how his projects are inspired by Critical Design, and with UrbanIxD he wanted to envision how technology could be embedded into the city to demonstrate alternative futures and the possibilities that the city could have to offer as a blank canvas for technology. This interview showed that I should always be reflecting on the technology I use in a critical way, and I should always strive to be imaginative and creative in my handling of it.

In terms of realising the technology in my project, I prototyped extensively with Arduino and Raspberry Pi to demonstrate potential functionalities and interactions with the product. I feel that by trialling the possibilities of the product by using these technologies, I have enhanced my skillset and confidence when approaching a project that relies heavily on the technology behind it.

Design (25%)

With the design of my project, I tried to bring my ideas to life instead of confining them to pen and paper. Prototyping through cardboard helped me not only understand my product in the sense of form and physicality, but provided me with a springboard to explore finer details such as interaction touch points and even use them as a discussion point to produce insights from my users.

Design philosophies such as Supernormal design helped me in creating a visual style for the design and developing interactions that are both easily understandable for my user and pleasurable to use. A big learning curve for me in terms of design this year was to make my product both fun and functional. I wanted to create something that was not simply inspired by people, but felt human itself. Through prototyping my product’s development, I feel that I have created an experience that does not only serve a worthy purpose, but adds a bit of joy to my user’s life.

Final Thoughts

Whilst I have come to the end of my time at University, this isn’t the end of my learning experience as a designer. After four years, I have positioned myself in an area of design where I feel most excited and driven to push myself to learn and improve. This year has been fundamental for me in developing that understanding and knowing how to build from here. After my Honours year, I intend on completing a Masters here at DJCAD, learning more about technologies such as the Internet of Things, and how they can be delivered through physical products that delight and serve my users.

As for my project, #cycular, I intend on exploring the possibility of developing it into a real product. Over the coming weeks I will work with John Berry, cycling co-ordinator of Dundee, to enter my product into a governmental funding scheme for products that encourage cycling and walking in Britain. Having constantly designed this product with great consideration for the impact that it might have in a real-world scenario, this could be a step closer to making that dream a reality.

Day 227: Introducing #cycular

With the finish line in sight, obviously everything is feeling like it’s going a bit Pete Tong. There is a lot to smile about – however it feels slightly overshadowed by the awkward little details that are currently in the way of finishing.

Cycular

So let’s start off with the good news. Firstly, I’ve found a name for my product! After thinking of names such as #Deescovery, #TayCycle and #Deerection (a portmanteau of Dundee and direction, do I need to explain why I didn’t choose it?), I chose #cycular, a combination of Circular and Cycle. The reason for this choice of name is the mix of the Green Circular route, upon which my signposts lay, and ‘cycle’, for obvious reasons.

There are a couple of reasons for which I like this name. Firstly, it’s not actually a word, making it quite unique to this product. It’s not a word with clear connotations, and it’s not some rubbishy Latin word for my product – something that I’d usually do towards the end of a project. The other reason I quite like it is because I was attempting to create a name that inhibits feelings of spreading awareness for cycling. I was looking at words like ‘eureka’ and ‘aha’ but that all seemed a bit too corny and derivative. However, a name like ‘Cycular’ is quite memorable and playful. The problem that people are having is that they are not aware of the cycling routes in Dundee. ‘Green Circular’ doesn’t really roll off the tongue, and is just a bit plain. Therefore, the idea of imbuing awareness into the name comes in a different form – not by literally implying memorability, but instead essentially changing the name of the cycling route upon which the signpost lies.

I’ve also progressed with the code, with it at the stage of being able to select each print with the potentiometer. Once the button is coded in, then it will essentially work perfectly! Then it’s details such as inserting more refined copy, and even creating my own graphics to put in the forms to liven them up a bit. There is only one hitch with the code so far, and that is the servo motor.

Raspberry Pi doesn’t like analog outputs because it doesn’t have PWM pins like an Arduino. This can be solved with an MCP3008 Analog to Digital Converter, which is currently running the potentiometer. The problem, however, is that there is no clear guide online on how to run the servo. Martin Skelly, a Product Design tutor told me to prototype it simply as a fading LED works (which I have the code for). This seems a bit too good to be true, and I will therefore have to test it – however, there could be a slightly tricky solution.

I’ve prepared for the very real possibility of adding a supplementary Arduino into the main unit. This would mean bonding a potentiometer onto the top of the one operating the Raspberry Pi, which could be a bit of a pain. I already have the code to do this, the only challenge being the physical space and security inside the device. This is certainly an extremely unwanted problem with only a week to go, however it all remains to be seen whether I will have to go with this roundabout way of building that interaction. Silly me for presuming that the simplest bit of the coding would actually be the most unfeasible…

Other things coming together is 3D printing. With pretty much all the parts completed, it’s all about sanding, priming and painting. I’ve even managed to 3D print my logo out, which will be primed and ready to sit securely onto my sign head