May 10, 2011

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Reflections on OPEN IxD

Last Thursday marked the completion of my graduate degree work. I’m in a moment of limbo until Thursday when I am handed my diploma and given my official MFA in Interaction Design.

OPEN IxD turned out to be a terrific event, despite our skepticism at calling it a “festival.” The night before the event, we all came together as a class for one final night of work. We assembled tables and placed power strips and iMacs according to our classmate (and system administrator) Jeff’s detailed plans. It was perfectly executed. A bunch of us created an assembly line to tack Clint’s 3D glasses on every chair in the auditorium.

The day of the festival was full of nervous excitement. We were all amazed when people we had never met showed up to the event. And there were just as many folks watching our LiveStream and following along on twitter.

My presentation was midday and I spent most of the morning in a hyper-anxious state. I was excited for the day but knew that I would soon be nervous, too. When I got up on stage all my nerves went away with my first couple deep breaths. I pumped some enthusiasm into my talk, and I was finished seven and a half minutes later!

The best part of getting up and sharing my ideas was the connection I made afterward. It was a great reflective activity to share the thoughts that have been floating around my brain for the past nine months with a new set of listeners. I discovered a few people I knew already who had been thinking in the same space. We shared a moment of excited knowing after the talk.

The rest of the day was a blur: eating, drinking, and sharing the last day with all my classmates together. I will remember the day because of the spaces around the festival. Like so many things we create as interaction designers, the talks themselves were a catalyst for a larger conversation that enabled us to connect with each other and understand the magnitude of our accomplishments over the last two years.

March 6, 2010

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Sharing IxD Education in Local Schools

We’re working on a little project to develop a design curriculum in after-school programs in NYC schools.

Along with my classmates Derek Chan and Carmen Dukes, I’ve spent the last couple months immersed in learning about education in New York City.

We’re taking an interaction design approach to develop a curriculum that reaches kids in the environments where they already have knowledge. We’re going to teach them to think of themselves as creators, to challenge, question and think creatively about the world around them, and to prototype, iterate and explore ways to enact change.

So far the experience has been amazing. We’ve interviewed a whole slew of interesting and inspiring people, and everyone we’ve met with has encouraged us to pursue this endeavor.

We’re in the final week of our research and discovery phase. We’ve spent the last two months collecting everything we can about local schools, after-school programs, teaching resources, how to engage students, and how to simply communicate ideas about design to rambunctious teenagers who may not yet understand the complex tools and themes we use in interaction design.

Stay tuned for more!

February 8, 2010

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Researching the MTA Arts for Transit Program

The assigment for my final project in Communicating Design was to think of a problem involving wayfinding in the New York City transit system and solve it.

When I looked around underground on my daily commute I had no trouble finding plenty of problems with the ways in which people use the subway. I saw hundreds of possible topics for my project.

City Beautiful whiteboard


When I was headed home through the 14th St – Union Square station on the L train I saw a crowd of folks had gathered around a performer, and they were dancing along and talking to him and to one another. The instantly familiar human connection struck a chord with me. I knew the MTA had a program in place to faciliate the placement of musicians and artists in the subway stations, and I started to do more research into that aspect of the subway experience. I learned that the Arts for Transit program’s mission came to life out of the City Beautiful movement, and that its goal is to enhance riders’ experiences during transit.

Through informal surveys and interviews I learned that many subway riders recognize artwork and know where they’ve seen it.

Without knowing the names of any of the artwork, people were using it as a kind of wayfinding system.

In response to that behavior, I included a keyword for each piece of artwork that is easier for riders to recall.

I considered ways that the interaction between riders and musicians and artists could be enriched. There is no wifi or cell phone service available in the subway, so I thought about using a bar code or a background application that could automatically send data when a passenger ended his or her trip above ground. But there was a problem with all of the smart phone solutions I came up with: the majority of NYC subway riders are not iPhone users. I decided to use a simple SMS interaction that could reach all riders using any mobile device.


New Signage

The new signage I designed for each piece shows its keyword at the bottom. When a rider sends a text message containing a keyword to the specified five-digit number, he or she will receive a quick response with additional information and a link to the new Arts for Transit website that I designed as a companion piece in the project

January 5, 2010

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Designing an interFACE

The interFACE began as a project that attempted to capture individual and group mood. In our first semester of graduate school, we all find it to be an odd experience to spend all of our days and nights in and out of class with the same set of 18 people.

When one person is down it’s not a big deal, but the group seems to move as a mass, and when several people are tired or stressed it begins to affect the entire bunch.
Our Studio


Taking this idea, we began our research by trying to understand methods of mood capture. We started with geurilla approach. I asked people directly “how do you feel” and wrote down their responses. Carmen sent around an email questionnaire multiple times throughout the day, and Kristin captured and analyzed tweets from our studiomates during the day.

Our findings were diverse. I found mostly that people are resistant to giving up their personal mood status when I asked them point blank. Carmen had much better luck learning how people feel when they submitted answers privately and anonymously. Kristin’s twitter capture provided a good counter to what we had learned.

From this we decided to create a device that would capture an individual’s mood and aggregate it with the other responses in the group. We went back and forth and around several times, trying to decided how this thing could function.
Colleen with Face


When Clint and Evinn joined the group we started talking about building something using a potentiometer and a face on screen. Our first prototype consisted of a small face on screen with a question about mood.

The prototype got a few favorable reactions, but most people couldn’t figure out the purpose or outcome of choosing a response here.


The real breakthrough in our project came when we realized the concept of pareidolia. After reading an article from Berg about this phenomenon we started thinking about using an actual face as our input for people’s moods.
First interFACE
We headed to the hardware store to look for materials and found a piece of plumbing insulation that was flexible and could be used as a mouth. We found a couple other interesting pieces to act as eyes and brought them back to start construction.

Our first big prototype took the form of a console and interface. We had user’s approach the face and answer some questions about their mood. They could use the knob to select a question and the big yellow eye to press and submit their answer. Each answer is added to the group’s mood and a visualization is shown to that effect.

We were able to demo this video at our department’s open house and received a lot of useful feedback. We performed some user testing with paper prototypes to better understand the value of the interaction, and ended up with pretty big revision.
Final Prototype


After our critique we made a few small changes, including some fairly significant visual design changes. We found that many users had trouble using the eyes as a rotate and press function so we altered the eyes to be static blue plates instead of controls. This led to some inspiration for the graphic design of the interface. We brightened the whole thing up and included a simpler progression of interaction with the device.

A Happy Ending

Final Start Screen
Overall the prototype was well received. Most people enjoyed the smiling faces, and even in the end the flexibility of the mouth and the visual response of seeing the digital mouth move was a thrill to many users. After our critique, our group agreed that more work could be done to make this a really useful tool, but that we need a bit of time to reflect before that can be a meaningful iteration.

November 2, 2007

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Undergraduate Thesis: What makes a monument significant?

As a child on family vacation I was dragged to all the major monuments and battlefields, and I remembered how much of an impact they had on me.

I began my senior thesis project wanting to research and design a book that would reflect my own experiences, but through exploration the project evolved to focus on the variation in experiences between different individuals at a single location.
Vacation Boredom
After a broad investigation of the topic I narrowed my project on individuals’ experiences at American national monuments. I was curious how people from different backgrounds and places would reflect on their visits to these monoliths.

When I began interviewing others I asked three basic questions:

Me at Mount Rushmore
I received a good number of responses from my interviews and learned that even though the monuments themselves do not change, everyone who visits has a slightly different memory of them. I complemented my ethnographic research with the factual and visual history of each monument, collecting first-hand accounts, souvenirs and travel memorabilia as part of my research. The spreads in the book combine this information with the images and words of the individuals I interviewed.