Ash at CIID

Ashwin Rajan's blog while at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.

Archive for the ‘Design Research and Process’ Category

Remote user research – Intel industry project

leave a comment »

Here are further notes on generating insights from user research to inspire design concepts for the CIID-Intel industry project titled ‘The Social Collective as an Agent of Behavioral Change’. Doing background research on the concept of the smart grid, my teammate Mimi and I found ourselves in an fascinating conversation about how urban residents in our native countries South Korea and India seemed to perceive the idea of sustainable and energy efficient housing. We thought this was a very interesting target audience to explore further and design for.

Given a very short period of time (less than a week) to conduct user research to inspire us in our solutions, we decided to conduct online interviews with people we could reach in South Korea and India. The exercise was simple: address the issue of energy efficiency in urban residential apartment complexes and try to understand how aware people were of the concern, how they associated it with in their daily lives, and if they actually participated in making any sustainable energy choices.

In order to set the context, we used simple videos available from publicly available content online. The subjects were asked to watch a video (like the one shown below, made by one of my favorite design firms Xplane) and then take an open, informal online interview on Skype. Using an online tool like Skype helped tremendously as it was easy to work in multiple modes, exchanging links or references and text, while also speaking freely at length.

After setting the context for sustainability in general and energy efficiency in particular, we were able to dive in further with specific questions like:

  • Do you know the concept of a ‘green building’ or ‘sustainable construction’ ?
  • Do you know anyone who owns or lives in a ‘sustainable’ home or construction?
  • What are the points that are most energy-intensive in your apartment block or society?
  • What are the points that are least energy-intensive in your apartment block or society?
  • Are there energy costs that you think you can share with your fellow apartment or society residents?
  • How much do you think you can save on energy by changing the design of your apartment and the materials in it?
  • Which gadgets in your home do you think consume the most power?
  • Which gadgets in your home do you consider most dispensable?
  • Which gadgets in your home do you consider least dispensable?
Advertisements

Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 16, 2009 at 10:25 am

Desert ‘Kites’ – Ancient strategic design genius

leave a comment »

I was awed by this example of strategic design from over 5000 years ago.

The ‘kites’ – so called because of their kite-like appearance to British pilots flying over the area in the early 1900s – resemble walls stretching over hundreds of meters of desert, meeting at angles with rounded trenches at the intersections.

Scientists have found that these structures were made by ancient desert people over 5,000 years ago as mass hunting apparatuses. Found across the deserts of Jordan, Syria, Israel and the Sinai, scientist teams concluded that the kites were constructed specifically to direct wild animals along the walls and convey them toward the trenches, where they could be hunted with ease. The extensive study also exposed the thinking processes that were invested in planning each trap. “The traps were places in locations where animals migration routes were concentrated into bottlenecks. There is no doubt that the prehistoric inhabitants of the desert had a lot of knowledge: they knew the cattle migration routes very well and knew where to each of the traps very efficiently.” the study by an interdisciplinary group funded by the National Geographic said.

The walls of a kite leading to enclosures for trapping animals. From http://www.megalithic.co.uk.

The walls of a kite leading to enclosures for trapping animals. From http://www.megalithic.co.uk.

The kites were designed so that the wild animals’ migration routes would converge into the hidden trenches. According to data gathered at the sites, the kite “branches” spanned over 200 meters in length, some even surpassing a few kilometers. The walls of these branches were quite broad in both height and depth, leading researchers to conclude that kites were used to hunt large hoofed animals. Some kites were constructed with elevated stages that probably served to conceal the large trenches below and heighten the leaping wall.

But the part that’s totally intriguing to me – sketches on stones nearby reveal detailed drawings of shapes and use of the kites. This raises a whole bunch of questions. Were these ancient designers sketching out their ideas, probably even iterating designs and refining solutions – an ancient prototyping effort – as part of the process of kite construction? What ‘process’ did they use and was sketching an important part of it? How successful was this method compared to traditional building processes?

Drawings on stones in the heart of the kites location. From http://www.megalithic.co.uk/

Drawings on stones in the heart of the kites location. From http://www.megalithic.co.uk/

Ancient kite drawings from the sites where kites are found. From http://www.megalithic.co.uk/

Ancient kite drawings from the sites where kites are found. From http://www.megalithic.co.uk/

Sources for this blog post:
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1235898328320&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull
http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=2146412866
http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=16284
http://www.yannarthusbertrand2.org/index.php?option=com_datsogallery&Itemid=27&func=detail&catid=52&id=2058&p=1&l=1280


Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 13, 2009 at 11:12 am

Smart and Clever – from Kicker Studio

leave a comment »

A new presentation from Dan Saffer’s Kicker Studio. I always like Dan’s practical, no-nonsense advice on just getting the job done right. And this one is one of the best. I look forward to applying these ideas and rules-of-thumb in my practical work.

Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 2, 2009 at 11:26 am

Intel Project – The Social Collective as an Agent of Behavioral Change

leave a comment »

Working with Intel design researcher Jay Mellican (of Intel’s Digital Home group) and CIID faculty Vinay Venkatraman, we explored the role of the social collective in achieving sustainable behaviors towards the effective management of energy.  Here I will discuss the context of the project, and go into our process and solutions in future posts.

The focus for Intel was the emerging “smart grid” – the efforts promoted by many governments and utilities to modernize, from the bottom up, the integrated system by which energy is collected and distributed. In bringing the energy grids of yesteryear into the digital age, many of the technologies and standards that will make up the “smart grid” are yet to be defined, and the implications they will have on our patterns of daily living, as well as their likely success, will depend heavily on how they are defined.

The idea of the “smart grid” is a really interesting one. Here is a really nice video that covers the main aspects of the concept well:

Its hard to discuss the “smart grid” for long today without running into GE’s efforts in that space. As part of GE’s ecomagination campaign, the company has created this engaging augmented reality web object, as shown in the video below:

The virtual energy farm object can be accessed here. Nice website too.

Amongst others, Google has been working to bring visibility of energy use to the notice of individual customers; check out its Power Meter tool.

Given all that, in trying to envision scenarios and solutions for behavioral change for this emerging and very complex space, my team (classmate Mimi and I) quickly realized that the problem of visibility of use was a crucial one. According to the Environment Change Institute, for instance, “most householders have only a vague idea of how much energy they are using for different purposes, hence the importance of making energy flows more visible and controllable. There is a lot of interest in the potential for better feedback using improved (‘smart’) metering, more informative billing and direct display panels.”

As my team’s interest was in understanding the behaviors and influence of the “social collective” – networks of people connected by social technologies – in the context of smart energy use, we decided to explore the space beyond the use of individual control devices such as energy meters, and look at “visibility of use” aspects for groups of people. More on our contextual research and enquiry in posts to come.

CIID Microsites go live!

leave a comment »

CIID Mircosites – Browse CIID projects by module or student in:

– Tangible User Interface
– Toy View
– Crafting Interactive Spaces
– Interactive Data Visualization
– Graphical User Interface
– User Research
– Interaction Design Theory
– Physical computing
– Video Prototyping
– Computational Design

Phew! 🙂

Written by Ashwin Rajan

February 9, 2009 at 9:03 am

Frontline gloves – concepts and prototypes

with 2 comments

I posted a short note on our recent project in Tangible User Interfaces where we decided to work on wearables for firefighters. Here are some photos of initial sketches and prototypes. More about the actual features of the glove in posts ahead.

Rapidly created scenarios helped us better understand how technology-enhanced gloves could answer critical needs of firefighters in real fire situations.

Rapidly created scenarios helped us better understand how technology-enhanced gloves could answer critical needs of firefighters in real fire situations.

Because we were working with a set of four or five critical user needs (finalized from researching papers and ongoing projects in wearables for firefighting), the first concept of our product became loaded with features – a classic case of ‘featuritis’.

An all-inclusive first version of the glove.

An all-inclusive first version of the glove.

Exploring possibilites and uses of gesture recognition in the gloves.

Exploring possibilites and uses of gesture recognition in the gloves.

Constant visual and verbal feedback from teachers helped iterate issues around form, function, interaction, physical limitations and user interface.

In feedback sessions from teachers - drawing by Alex Wiethoff.

In feedback sessions from teachers - drawing by Alex Wiethoff.

In feedback sessions from teachers - drawing by Christopher Scales.

In feedback sessions from teachers - drawing by Christopher Scales.

Bend sensors came up as a great option for adding gestural recognition possibilities in a prototype.

Bend sensors came up as a great option for adding gestural recognition possibilities in a prototype.

Soon we made the leap to testing and working with an actual prototypical glove.

Experimenting with a real glove helped explore issues of viability of gestures, user interface details, etc.

Experimenting with a real glove helped explore issues of viability of gestures, user interface details, etc.

Screen-based solutions for eldercare -process and concepts

leave a comment »

The Project:
We worked on this project during Graphical User Interfaces class; here are some notes on the core objectives of the project:

‘The course project will focus less on generic WIMP (windows, icon, menu, pointer) type of GUIs familiar to most people today (e.g. Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X) and more on the highly tailored, contextual interfaces for vertical markets like mobile phones, medical devices.”

“Why Eldercare?
Creating a concept with an application specific GUI for an eldercare context with multiple user groups (patients, doctors, nurses and visitors) with their respective information needs represents an interesting basis to create highly tailored and relevant interfaces for a demanding target group. The goal will be to develop, design and prototype tools and experiences that have impact and show empathy towards the different user groups needs and contexts.”

An elderly resident in the hallway of one of the homes.

An elderly resident in the hallway of one of the homes.

The brief:
Create and develop a concept for a application-specific GUI that offers value in the eldercare space, based on the insights that were gained as a result of user reseach in elderly homes.

Our Approach:
By analyzing the data from contextual inquiry, observation and interview techniques with the elderly (discussed in my earlier post ‘User Research in Elderly Homes in Copenhagen’), we had concluded on the following key needs among the target user groups: dignity, pride, ownership, identity, autonomy. Working within the broad context of a chosen few themes, we further refined our design challenges down to problem statements that took the form ‘How Might We…’. Some of the statements that helped direct efforts towards specific solutions with high value were:

  • How might we facilitate the sharing of identities via screen based applications and devices?
  • How might we leverage pubic spaces within elderly homes to foster beneficial social interaction among the target groups?
  • How might we facilitate the creation of positive feedback loops between the elderly and supportive user groups like a)families of the elderly residents and b) carers?
  • How might we leverage the existing knowledge among the elderly about use of devices such as mobile phones, dvd players or television?
  • How might we leverage existing mental models of (digital and traditional) artifacts to create metaphorical interfaces for the user groups?
carersaremajorpartofelderlyslives02

Carer involvement is a critical determinant of life quality of the elderly.

Snapshots of prototypes with notes:

The fable cloth concept: a surface computing idea to help the elderly literally ‘carry and share’ memories and virtual personal objects in the form of this multi-touch foldable device.

a surface-based multi-touch device concept

'Fable Cloth': a surface-based multi-touch device concept

Physical health and well-being is of critical importance in elderly care. Some of concepts drew inspiration from what we saw (and missed) in in-house gyms:

Using visualization-based feedback to motivate the elderly to sustain fitness regimes.

Using visualization-based feedback to motivate the elderly to sustain fitness regimes.

The final concept we decided to refine into a full-fledged idea began as a networked photo-frame device that hung on a  The storyboard below helped consolidate our ideas around the concept, and envision its behavior in a usage scenario.

Storyboard depicting how elderly user interacts with the digital photo frame.

Storyboard depicting how elderly user interacts with the digital photo frame.

We went back to the elderly homes with low-resolution prototypes to get first-impression feedback from the elderly. This helped us to use combine aspects from the various prototypes into what became the final solution (discussed in a my next post).

anne_edited1

Annie, an elderly resident we had modelled a persona on, 'interacting' with a low-res prototype.



Written by Ashwin Rajan

December 28, 2008 at 8:20 pm