Design challenge #1: bulding a product for a fictional world

This is a recap on my design fiction journey posts that documents my process of creating a protective camouflage jewelry for the Na’vi people.

The challenge:

Our design class was tasked with creating a product for a fictious world from a sci-fi movie, for my group it was Avatar movie. The goal is to design a product that is desirable, viable and buildable for the users of that world. The task was done by taking a human-centered design approach and employing design fiction and design thinking process. Thus, helping us stretch our imagination and think about users other than us when building a product.

The process:

My design process was done in a multistep and cyclical approach that is similar to a lean UX. It first started with building empathy for the users by using research and sacrificial concepts, which enabled me to gain profound understanding of the world. Then world rules were built and user needs defined and organized. Next it was the ideation process, which involved open brainstorming to generate as many ideas as possible and then selecting the most feasible ones. Finally, the prototyping and evaluation stage which involved many multiple iterations to produce the final product.


The final product

Concept

The idea was to design a wearable jewelry for the Na’vi to act as a protection for their children from sky people and predators.

The idea is to make the jewelry a comouflage piece that helps protect Na’vi children and teens from danger. Similar concept is found in insects such as butterflies who mimic other predators appearance by using colour and shape to scare off attackers. I decided to follow the same concept by focusing on elements from the most ferocious animal on Pandora, the Thanator, and incorporate that in the design.

Pandora also have a very distinct environment and bioluminescent forest, so I wanted to use that in my design. My first sketches involved using the thanator teeth and plant installation sprayed with glow paint to mimic Pandora environment and predator.

Sketches for the comouflage jewelry with the plant instillation idea

Paper prototype

Built paper prototype to see how things fit and work together

Plant installation

Na’vi are all about connection to the nature, so I thought of incorporating that organic element into the piece. I thought of using burlap, sew it into necklace base shape and plant it with seeds then spray it with glow paint.

Experiment 1 testing the seeds growth and burlap idea

Figuring out which plant is the best choice for the next step

Next step, sewing the burlap necklace piece and planting the seeds.

Complete failure! the seeds didn’t grow like in the first experiment, which made my plant installation idea unfeasible. I had to scratch that idea and come up with a new one.

Resin and clay experiment

My challenge was designing an innovative piece of jewelry that the Na’vi would accept. I had to think of a way of making it acceptable to them, yet innovative at the same time. Based on that I decided to focus on making my design more related to Na’vi aesthetic and nature, using elements borrowed from the Na’vi existing jewelry.

analyzing the Na’vi jewelry (material used, resources and its meaning), on the right a sketch for the study process and new jewelry concept

It was hard finding the similar bead to what the the Na’vi have in their world, so I decided to create beads similar in shape and colour to the ones in their world. Then I used clay to create silicon molds for both the eyes and the teeth for the resin casting.

From left, preparing thanator teeth for molds, on right melting wax to form the eye mold
Resin cast failure

It was challenging working with the resin. Although it requires 72hrs to solidify, the process took longer and the result was not satisfying. I only got 2 good pair of eyes out of 10. You can read more extensively about the resin challenge in my iteration process II.

Necklace formation

Next stop was threading the rope for the necklace. For this process, I decided to live the Na’vi experience and choose a thread and knot based on their possible method of threading and available materials.

Before assembling, a test for the pain and the weight of the teeth on the thread.

Glow in the dark testing

Testing the paint and different design orientations to check most feasible ones for the weight on the thread

Assembling the pieces and finalizing the necklace

The companion document

For the companion document I created a diary lab manual, in which an anthropologist notes the customs and jewlery used by the Na’vi. At the same time, narrate the Na’vi process of the camouflage jewelry making, the material used and the piece value to the Na’vi. The name of the labnote is Atan, which means light in the Na’vi language.

Lessons learned

To tell the truth this design challenge was quite a ride for me. It was filled with new techniques and concepts that opened my eyes on new ways and approaches for design thinking. Some of my biggest take aways:

  1. Design fiction as a design method, enabled me to think outside the box by removing constrains on creative thinking. This helped me forsee and undestand users and their community, at large, before thinking about a product or a solution.
  2. It enabled me to cultivate empathy for the users. Understand their needs, and how the product can solve those needs.
  3. It helped understand the value of continuous iteration through the design and prototyping process. always trying to find different ways and anges to tackle issues. Without the critique and evaluation sessions I would not have reach my final product.

I can say the journey was interesting and fun :) can’t wait for design challenge 2 to start.

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