Exploring the concepts

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One of the phenomena of designing is that a very open assignment gives you a lot of freedom to work with. However, this freedom comes at a price because more freedom of design you have, the harder it gets to find a firm grasp on your project. After somewhat of a slow start and one of our team members being in Switzerland for a week, we finally got the ball rolling.

We used our teacher (Jouke Verlinden)’s input to use a type of designing tool named a “Morphological chart”. For those unfamiliar with it, this is a method of splitting a big design task up into its functions. Once we listed all things the product needs to be able to do, we can find multiple ways to realise each of these individual functions, without looking at the whole product. When all these functions and possible solutions get listed in a table, we can combine those solutions and out pops an idea for further investigation.

We felt that for this assignment, the system I learned at Mechanical Engineering of finding criteria and numerically rating each solution would be insufficient. Seeing how both user and designer have a very subjective experience with the exhibit, we looked at how certain solutions would synergise with one another to devise ideas, and then check those for viability regarding the technology and time we can use.

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Comment – Some ideas did not make the chart. For instance: the use of accelerometers, smell and the tools used in the Mesopotamian kitchen weren’t deemed good enough solutions.

From this, five preliminary concepts emerged, of which three made the viability check. Before we reveal our ideas in a next blogpost, it might be interesting to discuss the ideas that did not make the check.

One of the ideas was to have the user not know the action they performed to make certain parts of the exhibit spring to life. This would be combined with a projector to give context to the tablet, so several large images would seem to emerge from the small tablet, sending the message that such a small tablet can contain a lot more information than meets the eye. We dismissed this concept due to its distracting nature. The tablet would just be a peripheral to the images, rather than the other way around, plus the fact that triggering unknown actions with a larger group of people might cause somewhat of a chaos.

Another idea was the use of an accelerometer, so the audience can pick the tablet up, and have it spring to life when the user makes certain gestures. The core idea of this is that an audience that can pick an exhibit up, will try to move it around to inspect it from up close on a lot of angles. We felt that this method would put this experience on-rails, therefore taking away its power by making the user focus on the gesture rather than the tablet and its text. Added to this was the fact that we could not come up with a meaningful method to add something extra to the experience of the user.

One that I personally was very excited about was creating a replica that would light up and narrate the translation as you would move your finger over it. Accurately tracking touch is quite tough however. Even with an optic/software approach such as Kinect or Leap Motion, it would be very difficult to accurately track this with the required resolution, even with a 2:1 scale. On top of this would be the lighting rig, which will require a lot of work on the details and mounting. Should we use a lot of LEDs, a simple microcontroller won’t be enough processing power so a more advanced device like an FPGA should be used. Too little LEDs will reduce the experience while requiring the same resolution in touch tracking. All of this make other obstacles like the power supply of the system look like a trivial problem. Sadly, there is no way for us to increase our programming skills so drastically and to find the hundreds of euros required for such a rig, even though we all agreed that it would be really cool if at all possible.

From the morphological chart and our three concept ideas that did seem viable, we will now set out to test several things, creating prototypes for the midterm next Tuesday. We might write about this process over the weekend and reveal the ideas early next week. Stay tuned!

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words by: samir den haan

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