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Interaction

It had been a while since I had done my last little Quick & Dirty exercise and the Housing Designathon could not have come at a better time.
24 hours, 8 teams, 1 floor. And what came out was sheer brilliance! The 24 hours of BOLT, as it was called, felt nothing less than a reality TV script customised for design consumption.Taking away from the shroud of serious nerdiness were surprise twists and turns every hour and a game of rock-paper-scissors thrown in for extra effect. But yes, the scoring was rather strict which made us designers scramble across the floor every time the Boss, Suvonil pealed the bells.
The brief – a digital product at the end of 24 hours that could challenge or upstage any available product at present. What worked best was the open ended brief that restricted the imagination to no bounds. Products ranging from fantasy real estate forums, future home automation to local empowerment found its way into the Housing design studio.

The result: An extremely fun design-marathon that not only tested our stamina (surviving on coffee is no mean feat!) but also tricked our brains into thinking intemperance is but a placebo. Surprised by our own inherent skills of natural selection, some of us jumped head first into the world of prototyping. Whatever inhibitions one might have had before, about coding or coffeescript had to be squashed with immediate effect. It was time to act! In a designathon like this, what matters the most is perhaps the planning. It all comes down to hard working vs. smart working.

I was lucky to be a part of an eclectic bunch of travel enthusiasts who at every thought of having a few hours to spare, plot and plan their next trip. Stemming from this love of travelling, of exploring the unknown, rose COMPASS. A unique experience seeking application that not only connects you to the local cultural activities but also lets you live like one. A perfect antidote to cultural dilution. COMPASS is for a group of people and individuals, who see themselves as a collective or a community, who share and work to preserve experiences, customs and traits unique to the site. Not for the feeble hearted (with their set plans and ‘glamping’ gear), the idea of Compass thrives on enabling the provincial community with opportunities that best benefit them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could experience a place just as the locals do? Eat their food, live like them perhaps? Compass celebrates the idea of discovery. Of the joys of coming across something previously unseen, of finding that new spot that you want to tell your friends about, share with your peers. Of interacting with the local community. It thrives to empower the travelling community to be more participatory in shaping their journeys than placing trust on middlemen with business goals. The question it poses, what can we do for the locals?

Many a travel apps have made their way into the market since Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor. The competition is steep and the users spoilt for choices. But how many of us want the same itinerary as the rest of the world? The fun of going off-road and uncovering something new has a greater pull. But then again there are two kinds of travelers. Ones who travel to check things off their list and the ones who travel to add to life experiences. The destination holds little importance to them. What the destination offers has more value. Compass provides a unique platform to explore a certain location via either discovery or experience. Targeted mainly at weekend travellers, it enlists destinations within the range of 500kms from the chosen city. Once the point of interest has been established it details out the geography and cultural interests of the place. You could browse through a directory of local hosts and guides, home-stays and unique culinary experiences. Details of which could be either uploaded by the parties hosting or by the travelers themselves.

Compass

As fun as it was working on this, we are working towards making this a reality soon. Watch this space for more …

Written in Sand is a project enthused by the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life. Millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform over a period of time to form a ‘sand mandala’, only to be deconstructed shortly after their completion. Inspired by these intricate ‘sand mandalas’, whose creation and destruction is intended as a reminder of the impermanence of life, the project aims to initiate a debate on the subjectivity of this transience. When applying the philosophy to modern society, one could argue that the cultural implication of a creation probably outlives its physical structure. Case in point, religion is more permanent than the temple where it is practiced. Our creations are both precious and poignant and yet unmindful of its concerns. Using the metaphor of ‘sand mandala’Written in Sand is constructed as a vehicle to generate a dialogue, to realize the impermanence of digital reality perhaps, one that we consider is archived beyond our living years.

Having Transient London as the theme, the installation aims to demonstrate that nothing exists longer than an instant, except the thing that we hold in memory. It creates several instances of this memory, in the form of sand drawing, a postcard as well as a digital feed and critically questions the permanency of these media. To generate a debate that challenges the current accepted immortality of digital archives when pitted against the perceived permanence of physical infrastructures.

Here are a few snippets from the exhibition at Nursery Gallery, London.

Relational design practice touted as the third phase in modern design history, is contextual and conditional design. Relational design deals with design’s effects, extending beyond the form of the design object to its meanings and cultural symbolism. It seeks systematic methodologies, as a way of countering the excessive subjectivity of most design decision-making. Relational design values experiential and participatory nature of design and often blurs the distinctions between production and consumption.
In Andrew Blauvelt’s words
“We might chart the movement of these three phases of design, in linguistic terms, as moving from syntax to semantics to pragmatics. This outward expansion of ideas moves (…) from the formal logic of the designed object, to the symbolic or cultural logic of the meanings such forms evoke, and finally to the programmatic logic of both design’s production and the sites of its consumption — the messy reality of its ultimate context.”

‘Addicted Products’, a project by Simone Rebaudengo, TU Delft / Haque Design Research raises questions about what our relationships might look like with products of tomorrow. The winning entry, Best in Category – Engaging and Best in Show at Interaction Awards 2014 stemmed from the question what if the smart household objects of the future aren’t just smart, but also potentially emotional? What if, connected to and benchmarked against their peers, their relationships with each other start to inform their relationships with us?
Brad (the toaster), the central character to the narrative is concerned with performance or use and not in some natural intended functionality. If he’s not being used as much as his ‘friends’, Brad gets upset. He seeks your attention, begging you to make some toast or at least to give him a reassuring pat. Ignoring him for long could result in him packing up in search for potential owners and find a new home. Brad has no single owner and is governed by social sharing and network culture. Addicted Products is thus a great critique on how immediate human desires and algorithmic efficiency could shape better design experiences. While the internet of things advocates effortless efficiency, devices misunderstanding each other or intervening into our wasteful or harmful habits creates a new narrative.

#rmt5

The words ‘global traveller’ paints the picture of an extremely busy globe trotting person in my head. A persona for whom the whole world is a non place. ‘Place’ is then technology induced; simulacra (Baudrillard, 1981) of the physical space. For example, an iPod creates a ‘place’ only known to the listener whereas to the others it is just a device. A part of it also related to the concept of ‘hyperreality’ (Baudrillard, 1981). Simulated reality, that could be impossible to separate from ‘true’ reality. As Marshall McLuhan (1964) puts it, every extension of mankind, especially technological extensions, have the effect of amputating or modifying some other extension. Playing on this idea as well as on ‘psychogeography’ (Debord, 1955), our project was mainly concerned with understanding how emotions color the perceptions and experiences of a physical space. Being a speculative design project, we foresaw a future when human social contact could be reduced to bare minimum or be absolutely absent. In this day of virtual reality it’s already happening. Given the circumstances, there could soon be a day when physiological exchanges become alien and are induced only by external sources. Though the world is brimming with technology, the age of pure electronics is gone. Society as a whole is craving for some human perspective. On reflection, it seems that the idea of critical design (Dunne, 1999), of thought provoking use of technology could have been further explored. One important point that emerged during the critique was the fact that technology can very easily be misused. I think taking that into consideration, there could be some inbuilt mechanism in the device to prevent this misuse.

banker-study

The chosen persona for this project was that of a busy investment banker. People who work 18 hours a day, thrive on less than 3 hours of sleep, are compulsive travelers, arguably have minimal social contact outside of work. Sleep deprivation and stress are the two main outcomes. For such high stress individuals with immense responsibilities, composure and mental vigor are of utmost importance. To speculate on a future when one’s mental state could be regulated by external stimuli seemed like an exciting challenge. ‘In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false’ (Debord, 1955). Using bio-engineering, produce a piece of wearable technology which combats the psychological and physical effects of stress thereby empowering the individual with longer periods of ‘peace’. I think the challenge lay in not creating a cyborg. The product as an extension of the human physiology.

Many ideas later, we decided on a watch as the visible manifestation of our idea because we wanted something that seamlessly integrated itself into the life of the user. We did not want to create another gadget or device that the user had to carry/own. The Bluetooth integration to a mobile phone was simplified, over the course of the project, to a simple key-in registration. An extra layer of intelligence was later added to the device where it would gather information from various sources that could have an impact on the mental health of the user. In this case we took into consideration situations like market crash, meetings, traffic jams, flight delays. To develop the physical form and interface, sketches and paper prototypes were created. Research and findings led to the decision about the form and materials of the watch.

ease-concept-watch

Honestly, the initial ideas for the project dealt with beating jetlag. So, a lot of research and brainstorming went into using light as a solution since circadian rhythms are mainly affected by the presence or absence of light. When the idea of creating a device to combat stress arose, the first idea was to devise an app that would monitor your blood pressure, heartbeat and flash push notifications on the mobile phone. Another approach to the same idea was to release calming scents in case of stress, via a device. But as mentioned before the solution needed to be discreet and convenient without disturbing the immediate environment of the user. Finally, we agreed on a watch, playing on the concept of ‘timing is everything’ for a banker. Since the right timing and being the in the right frame of mind played an important part in the career path of a banker, a no hassle watch monitor was devised. Initially a mobile app was developed to key in location, time zone, traffic information that could then be to pushed onto the watch. A watch being a rather small device, we did not want to display many things on it. The app was then modified to be used as a syncing mechanism with the mobile phone and use GPS co-ordinates to draw other data.

app-watch-sync

The project was mainly concerned with creating an emotional ‘place’ for busy bankers. A sphere of calm in the whirlwind of a workday. The interface, the watch, worked in such a manner that it would monitor the physical conditions of the user and based on ‘symptoms’ of stress, such as high blood pressure, increased heart rate, release a bodily hormone into the bloodstream of the user. Oxytocin, commonly known as ‘cuddle hormone’ is produced in the body during human contact and is responsible for the ‘feeling’ of calmness or happiness one experiences during a hug. Oxytocin is incidentally the same hormone released to combat the effects of Cortisol, a hormone released during high stress situations. One could term it as a ‘calming drug’ administering mechanism. Documentation for the project mainly took place in the form of a website outlining the main features of the device.

ease-concept-watch-details

Thinking back, the watch might have come across a medical device as opposed to being viewed as an everyday gadget. The micro needles administer the hormone only when the watch gives a tight squeeze on the wrist. Since they are pressure sensitive, it is important to make sure oxytocin is not administered wrongly. To combat excess chemical in the bloodstream, maybe it needed a feedback mechanism that checks the level of oxytocin in the system. This could also check the misuse of the device against addiction.

The Great Bed of Ware ::  An exercise in Interactive Narrative

Haunted Bed

The main challenge in this project lay in converting a primary story telling piece, the museum artifact, into an engaging community conversation. While I read the text provided to us before the project, one part that caught my eye was, what Lewis Mumford (1960) said about artifacts. ‘From late Neolithic times in the Near East, right down to our own day, two technologies have recurrently existed side by side: one authoritarian, the other democratic’. Most items in a museum come laden with rich history and cultural significance that maybe obsolete now. This sense of alienation (in time and culture) is heightened by further encasing the artifacts in glass boxes. Thereby creating distance between the observer and the object. To induce an interaction stemmed from the narrative of the object was an exciting prospect. The main question was how do we make the visitors curious about the object. Curiosity has been recognized as a critical motive that influences human behavior (Loewenstein, 1994). Playing on this idea and the idea of Gestalt psychology, we devised an interaction that was based not only on curiosity of the person but also on his/her beliefs. The artifact that we chose was the Great Bed of Ware. Bed as a concept borderlines between the realms of the physical and the spiritual. A sort of plane of transference between two states of being.
‘Symbolic Anthropology’  was a term that I came across while researching on ghosts and why people believe in ghosts or spirits. It views culture as an independent system of meaning deciphered by interpreting key symbols and rituals (Spencer, 1996). The major premises governing symbolic anthropology is that ‘beliefs, however unintelligible, become comprehensible when understood as part of a cultural system of meaning’. As Roland Barthes (1957) puts it, myth is a metalanguage. It turns language into a means to speak about itself. We used technology as a metalanguage for the construction of our narrative. The interaction takes place in the ambiguous space of real and hyper real and uses the observers’ personal experience as an interface to gauge the success of the interaction. Thinking back, I don’t suppose I would change anything about the designed interaction. It was a perfect blend of technology and spiritual beliefs. An extension of it though, could have been a deeper study of semiotics and symbols that were found on the bed. Not only was the bed marred with carvings and amulet stamps from its various users, the wooden ornamentation suggested the origins and the aspirations of its maker. It would have been interesting to study the four-poster bed as a concept of private space within four walls of a room.

The bed with its illustrious past had played host to many a party of men and women spending the night on the bed at one time. Stories of the secret life of the bed immersed, as a host for orgies and sexcapades. During the initial brainstorming and research for the project, we came across a very interesting story about the bed devoid of any such sensual connotation. It was believed that when the maker of the Great bed of Ware presented the bed to King Edward IV, he was so impressed that he blessed the artisan with a lifetime of compensation. But soon after the death of the maker, the bed found itself in traveling through inns. So enraged was he, that his masterpiece (meant for the royals) was now being used by lowly commoners, that his ghost would haunt the sleepers of the bed. Users complained of being thrown off the bed, tickling and waking up with scratch marks all over them. Though not much truth can be found about this story, we really liked the idea of this historic piece being haunted. It is a sort of expectation that you have about old items.
The bed has been a celebrated piece within the museum (Victoria & Albert Museum, London) because of its grandeur and stature. We noticed, many tourists taking pictures of themselves with the bed as a souvenir of their travels. Taking our idea of the unexplained forward, we decided to use a camera lens as an extension of the human eye. Photography as a mode of documentation. A simple image clicked in front of the bed reveals more than what is visible to the naked eye. A photograph is always invisible; it is not it that we see (Barthes, 1980).

The bed as a metaphor for Twilight zone

Through our project, we wanted to question the idea of technology as an extension of the human body. By McLuhan’s (1964) theory, pencil becomes an extension for the hand, wheel becomes the extension of the legs, and the camera becomes an extension of the human eye. To challenge the idea we took to physics. Scientifically, the human eye can see a negligible portion of the light spectrum, between 390 – 700 nm. Light frequencies that are either too high or too low for humans to see are ultraviolet and infrared, located just past the red portion of the visible light spectrum. CCD cameras, on the other hand, are able to ‘see’ outside of the human visible spectrum. Using this phenomenon we devised a method by which a shadow is cast onto the bed using infrared light. To passers by this light and the subsequent shadow remain invisible; devoid of any interaction. But as soon as the user takes a picture or views the object through the camera lens, a shadow appears on the bed. What we hoped to achieve through this was this feeling of surprise, of momentary confusion, of awe. For observers who believed in spiritual existence, it was a sighting and for people who didn’t, this was a way of dismissing the theory. We really wanted the element of playfulness to be present in the interaction. The unexplained intrigues people and humor is a good way of diluting the seriousness of the matter. Documentation of the project happened mainly though photographs taken via mobile devices and tablets. A part of the simulation was created via animation. Documentation of the creative processes took place in the form of paper prototypes and experiments with lights of different intensities.

Since the main idea of the project (that of ghost imaging) remained the same, different approaches were explored for concept representation. Playing on the belief that, looking at oneself in the mirror right out of bed leads to the soul exiting the body, we planned to devise an interface which, when a person took a ‘selfie’ in front of the bed, would produce an inverted image of the person’s face into the picture. This was to be done via a positioning sensor and face substitution. But this seemed a far stretch from the actual narrative of the Bed of Ware. The other approach was to have infrared projections onto the bed simulating the existence of the spirit. But, since projectors do not project infrared light we resorted to looking at other sources. The development of this idea had its humble beginnings with 2 5W infrared LEDs borrowed from Nicolas. The light given out by them was negligible. We realized we needed an infrared bulb of high intensity and thus began our weeklong search of an infrared light source. Though the production of infrared light is not uncommon, its main usage is as a heat producing, pain-relieving device, in the medical field. Many online purchases and returns later, we decided to use a CCTV camera with night vision as our source of infrared light. Equipped with a dark room, a night vision CCTV camera, a paper stencil of an Edwardian male face, a mock up of the bed in super white glossy paper (we realized the shadow cast on any other surface was faint; the light was being absorbed by the surface), we began our experiments with invisible light. After some initial hiccups of gauging the right distance between the light, stencil and the bed, we were able to achieve a middle ground.

Paper prototype of the great bed experiments with invisible lights

The intention behind this narrative project was an organic interaction that compelled the users to look at the artifact in new light (and literally so!). Though for this project augmented reality would have been a good approach, we wanted to produce a piece of work that was achievable given the time frame and expertise. Early on, the idea of weaving the infrared LEDs into the fabric of the sheets, hiding the electrical circuit was discussed and later dismissed, since it over complicated the project. We also debated having the light source dangle oscillate under the canopy of the bed so that when captured as a still image it would not have distinct outlines but be a cloudy blur just as how ghosts are generally perceived to be. The brief called for the use of a tablet device in front of the artifact. We wanted the interaction to be as organic and spontaneous as possible. Though a tablet fixed in front of the artifact warrants an immediate curiosity from the observer, (plaques and information boards are a common phenomenon in museums) it could result in the drop of the ‘wow’ factor. The audience would then expect for something to happen. The idea was to keep the interaction as organic as possible by concealing technology and have the spiritual beliefs of individuals play as a layer of interface.

The major setback of our project was the unavailability of infrared light bulbs. When looking for the bulb in stores around London yielded no result, we ordered a 250 W (which we’d presumed to be strong enough) bulb from the Lightbulb Company but that turned out to be an infrared heat bulb. We then got a CCTV camera with night visibility up to 8 meters. Unfortunately the LEDs were not strong enough to produce clear images. Some research and consultation later we found a CCTV camera with 48 LEDs that had visibility up to 40 meters. This was the strongest source of light found. Though this solved the problem partially, the light emitted needed to be collected and concentrated to achieve maximum result. With our lo-fi approach to the whole project, this was prototyped with a piece of mirror. A convex lens or a Fresnel lens would have been the ideal solution. Given the progress and constant setbacks in the project, we debated going back to the initial idea of using a Max patch to create mirror ghost images of the users. But the idea of using infrared light and creating this ambiguity between existence and non-existence (technology induced twilight state), seemed like the better idea. Using science to draw a fine line between representation and abstraction. As Gary Davis described John Smith’s work, ‘Smith signals a chiefly associational system, which deftly manipulates the path of our expectations.’ Quintessentially, the same reaction we’d hope from our audience.

The first points of references were Ectoplasm (Richet, 1923) photos and Pepper’s Ghost. John Henry Pepper (17 June 1821 – 25 March 1900), who popularized the effect of creating a ghostly image in a 3D space using Pelxi-glass and lighting, was a good starting point. Ectoplasm is said to be a substance or spiritual energy ‘exteriorized’ by physical mediums. Though the existence of genuine cases is debated, this sort of photo-manipulation served as an early idea and influence. The Image Fulgurator by Julius Von Bismarck was an excellent study for this project.  It intervenes when a photo is being taken, without the photographer being able to detect anything. The manipulation is only visible on the photo afterwards. Though the idea was almost similar the technology suggested/used was different. Audun Mathias Øygard’s experiments in real-time face substitution were another body of work that influenced the outcome of this project. Works of Hellicar and Lewis, who make the audience an active part of the interaction greatly, intrigued me. Their projects like the ‘Hello Cube’ and ‘Night Lights’ have a curiosity inducing playfulness. This makes the outcome more engaging. Created by Thyra Hilden and Pio Diaz, ‘Forms of Nature‘ chandelier is a beautifully designed bundle of white tangled branches, casting shadows on the walls that look like forest trees.

If there were anything I could change about the project, it would be to trigger the infrared shadow just as the picture is taken, much like the Image Fulgurator (Von Bismarck, 2008). Not have the intervention be seen via the camera lens but only after the picture taken. That would have added another layer of ambiguity to the project. There is certain romanticism about finding something hidden in a photograph, something you hadn’t seen before. Another change that can take this project a few notches up is the use of augmented reality. Use the tablet device to allow a digitally enhanced view/perspective of the artifact.

How much information is enough information?

We’ve long toiled with the question as designers. We’ve also been accused of dumbing the user. Today in class we had a long discussion about affordance and interfaces [mainly revolving around a door] but what struck me most was the fact that sometimes we behave with a certain object quite intuitively. Never realized there existed a scientific term for it. Excess information or the lack of it can make or break a design. And standing the middle ground is Affordance – the right amount of information for an excellent interaction.

Dexter

The term affordance refers to the perceived and actual properties of a thing. The word ‘affordance’ was invented by the perceptual psychologist J. J. Gibson to refer to the actionable properties between the world and an actor/user. To Gibson, affordances are relationships. They exist naturally; they do not have to be visible, known, or desirable. You see a button and instinctively you want to press it. Therefore, the button includes affordance, users know how to interact with it just by looking.

Don Norman lists seven stages of action: one for goal, three for execution and three for evaluation.
– Forming the goal
– Forming the intention
– Specifying an action
– Executing the action
– Perceiving the state of outcome
– Interpreting the state of outcome
– Evaluating the outcome

Design and affordance share a close relation with interface. Affordance lets users form a concept model in mind and simulates its operation. A good interface facilitates the action and design provides the information about what action has been done to/by the user. Affordance then, merely specifies the range of possible activities, but a good design makes it visible to the users.