HCDE 451: Video Prototyping

Anna Schmitz
Nov 12, 2019 · 4 min read

We started a new type of project in HCDE 451 this week, involving video. Many students know of video prototypes in the form of project pitches and demonstrations, mainly to impress stakeholders or clients. In classes thus far, we’ve seen plenty of professional pitches such as these, from Google to Boeing. It wasn’t often that we had to do so ourselves — after all, we are students without companies yet, and we only need to explain our projects well enough for our instructors. Instead, in class this week, we took on that challenge for ourselves, imagining attempting to catch the eye of a stakeholder.

The guidelines specified that this video needed to describe an existing mobile application. In particular, we chose from a list of various free health apps, spanning nutrition, activity, sleep, mental health, and other various forms of health. I selected Calm, an app for meditation and mental health.

From Calm

We needed to primarily describe how the app works — hence the title of the assignment as a video prototype. The audience could be assumed to be a person who might invest in this app but doesn’t know anything about it yet. Most importantly, it needed to be compelling as a realistic scenario. People and their motivations needed to make sense, the interactions obvious, and the benefit undeniable.

To begin, I thought about the act of meditation in itself — what Calm is supposed to help people learn to do. People meditate when they experience stress or pressure to bring them mentally “back to center”. Some of the benefits are improved mood, improved focus, better sleep, better relationships, a higher sense of gratitude, spiritual connection, and so on. I know I meditate on my own for the same reasons. Succinctly, it really does keep a person calm.

My video needed to describe that “returning to center” in action. I thought about beginning with a person in a stressed-out state, perhaps returning home after a day of class or work. I’d describe how they feel when they walk in the door, carrying that negative baggage with them. Then I’d introduce Calm, showing how someone would start a guided meditation using it. I’d show the person in the meditative state, then describe how they feel afterwards, relieved of their stress. All of this is visually described in my planning diagram below.

Visual diagram of video planning

I stayed true to this plan while producing the video. I added scenes that I thought dramatized the scenario, playing with depth and low lighting. In the end, I needed to omit several scenes to get the point across in under one minute. Overall, I’m pleased with the result and how clearly it demonstrates the benefit of Calm, especially for someone who hasn’t used video in prototyping at all. View the video below.

Final video prototype

During this project, I used a Nikon digital camera from the HCDE department — one of the first and only times I’ve used a DSLR camera . I didn’t know any of the fancy tricks one could do with it, but I had basic knowledge, including how to put things in focus, set timers, zoom in and out, and other things. But, I couldn’t discover how to use the tripod included in the camera’s kit, so I ended up balancing it on textbooks, pillows, coasters, and even on a teacup at one point. In the future, I’d love to explore all of the other bells and whistles of such a nice camera (and actually learn how to use a tripod).

One issue that I’d keep in mind for the future is how long it takes to move video snippets around. My laptop doesn’t have an SD port and I needed the help of my roommate and her laptop, which did have an SD port. I spent a long while just waiting for a moment when she was around and not busy for me to transfer my files from the SD card to a flash drive. I’d like to find some other way to do that which doesn’t require me relying on others’ help.

All in all, I felt my video was simple, clear, and presented a good storyline. Some changes I’d make are to shorten some of the scenes, especially those of me arriving at home. One omitted scene I wanted to include showed me looking stressed and flipping through a textbook on the couch, though I left it out because it was long and seemed cliche. Still, I’d like to find a similar way to describe stress that doesn’t included me making several “theatrically stressed” expressions.

I walked away with a new understanding of how useful video can be for a product. It can sell what you’ve made before you’ve even made it. You only need a concept and a few clever techniques to demonstrate the value of something in a clear but semi-staged way. This could be useful for my career when I need to show a product in action, in the form of something other than a drawn-out storyboard. Videos are captivating, shareable, and compelling when done right.

    Written by

    Human-Centered Design + Engineering at University of Washington. A relentless creator, musician, and reinvisioner of a better world.

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