This semester we were being asked to design an:
“internet-enabled information appliance that gives a householder a specific and appropriate piece of information as they leave their home at the beginning of their day” (Pullin. G. 2012)
It was approached with a different attitude to anything we had been given before. We were working with Product design, and were going from completing research on our own, prototyping in a team then coming back to completing this report on our own. This combination of new things made me anxious, third year was definetly going to be something different and I wasn’t sure how i was going to handle it.
There was going to be a much larger focus on research, spending the first four weeks of the semester looking at different angles to approach this brief from. We were looking at two clear ideas, designing for disability lead by Graham Pullin and design ethnography led by Kate Saunders. We began with ethnography, looking at the Busy Families//Busy Cities research, completed by three Design Ethnography Masters students for NCR last year. You can read more about the project on Lena Corinna’s blog, one of the students who undertook this project. We were to unfold this research and over two day workshops, gather insights and eventually developing ideas from all the information we were given. This is something I definitely struggled to get my head round, there was so much information I had no idea where to start. During this process we completed many of the small tasks in groups (Fig.1), this made the information easier to comprehend and meant we could get through it taking different areas each, gaining a clearer picture of the research.
On reflection this was something I found incredibly difficult but reaching the end I can see benefits to working this way, it allows you to understand your user more thoroughly. I have learned techniques for deciphering large quantities of information, something that will definetly help in future. It was fulfilling having a task that seriously challenged my thinking.
The following week we were given the disability perspective from Amar Latif, a blind entrepreneur that came in to the studio to work with us. We had great conversations surrounding his life, business and feelings about being blind. I was inspired by his drive to change things for the better. A great example of this is his travel company, Traveleyes. We had small chats with Amar where we got the chance to ask him questions related to our own thoughts on the brief, gaining an insight into his daily routines and ways, as designers, we could aid it. That was a moment that I thought was going to influence my project. Amar spoke about how visual he was and the idea of visually stimulating him with words or sounds sparked my first real idea. However when it came to deciphering the vast amount of information I learned about him, I began to struggle finding content which I remained as inspired about.
The next few weeks of the project were dedicated to concept development. There were many elements to this, from talks by Andrew Cook about interactions, thinking about the end product to technical talks from Ali Napier, opening up the possibilities of Arduino and it’s friends.
However I want to focus on my own process in this section. This was the part of the project where I felt most uncomfortable in myself, and my work. I had an initial concept focusing on Amar and ways he could hear the news headlines in the morning without needing to mess with anything. Unfortunately I lost all the initial excitement I had over Amar feeling my concept was lacking something. Why would Amar or anyone else be interested in using something I had no excitement for?
We were being grouped on our ideas in a few days and I didn’t want to tell anyone mine, let alone fight for it. This was the point where I had to sit my self down and ask what was I interested in through this project? Maybe it wasn’t the concept but something else that inspired me. I realised the combination of helping someone, creating an appropriate interaction and making something which slotted seamlessly into the user’s home were the things I wanted to focus on. I had recently read, “Thoughtless Acts” by Jane Fulton Suri & IDEO, one line I knew would stick with me as a theme throughout this project:
“curiosity will reveal meaning behind these non-spectacular interactions that take place around us all the time”(Suri. J. F & IDEO 2005)
Secondly from reading ”Kids Design” by Eva Minguet, , the visuals (Fig.2) raised the thought that kids design can also be appealing to adults. Creating something that fits naturally into the parents home while being stimulating for children is a design challenge I was excited by. So i went into this grouping exercise, not with the focus on my concept but on those elements of design which I felt I could bring to a more exciting concept.
This worked out well, Our group formed with Madeleine Wilson and Eve Bramley. Madeleine had an amazing concept to teach children in Busy cities about nature through something that was fun for them to use. This filled Eve and I with the excitement we had been lacking before. So we sat down and pulled what we felt were the important factors in each of our concepts and began to find links. It became clear that we had different things we each felt were exciting and they could knit together very well. Between us the themes we focused on became designing for children, playful interactions, convenience and teaching. In the end our concept became a plant which a child would water and it would give them a short story from a farm. Although the output has changed throughout, our aim to allow children to feel a connection with the great outdoors has remained constant.
I have enjoyed the process of refining the concept through prototyping, with three different models made (Fig.3) to gain a good understanding of how it could actually come together.
With each prototype we have learned what is and is not possible. After this exploration we made our final product out of clay and resin, learning from the previous models the best way to form our PotCast (Fig.4). Personally through these I have been able to really key in to some of my early design focuses. Firstly having it inspire children, thinking about “The space occupied by children at home, as not just their playground, but something far more complex, it’s their kingdom, where they spend most of their leisure rest and study time, hence the importance of decorating these places” (E. Minguet 2010) Also keeping a hold on the simple interaction that is appropriate for the product, the user and the information that is being used.
When it came to the making, I was mainly tackling code as this is a strength of mine however I have become much more inspired by making. It has been great seeing how Madeleine works with materials from cardboard through to clay and plastic resin. The exploration of these have fascinated me and having the chance to work with some my self has taught me skills that I can take forward into my fourth year. The idea of prototyping your ideas is an attitude I will continue into future projects. Getting hands on can help you understand and work through your ideas.
To Sum up
This semester I found new strengths and struggled with things i never thought would be an issue. It has reinforced my interest in designing for children, something I had enjoyed in previous modules. And as challenging as it was, I feel it was inspiring moving away from the screen. I have learned to dedicate more time to research and to prototype my ideas from the start. These are skills and interests I have gained this semester that I will be able to take on into my fourth year.
Pullin. G (2012) ‘DJ31035 handbook briefing pages’ . Pg. 2.
Suri, J F. & IDEO (2005). ‘Thoughtless acts?’ .Chronicle Books.
Minguet, E (2010). ‘Kids Design’. Intro Pg.9. Instituto Monsa de ediciones.
Fig.2 Minguet, E (2010). ‘Kids Design’. Pg.164,192, 215. Instituto Monsa de ediciones.