I have been working as a Researcher at New York University MakerSpace. It is a place for students to innovate and collaborate using the resources available. These resources include machines like 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC, Otter Mill for prototyping student projects. After 7 months of research including ethnographic observations, stakeholder interviews and quantitative research, our team wanted to know more about the behavior of the students and the usage of machines. Our idea is to encourage people to interact with each other and build a maker community around the space.
Based on our past findings, we realized the methods used by us previously had some limitations. These limitations included not being able to track the usage of machines, the time people spent in the space and what exactly they were doing if they were not using the machines. The research found that a lot of people spent a lot of time in the MakerSpace to study, meet teams and work on class projects. There was also some behavior research could not capture, since the researchers could not be present at the MakerSpace throughout the day. It is then we found out about a Parisian Fablab that built an interactive tool called Cairn to study interactions. Cairn is an interactive apparatus that enables data collection, visualization and analysis.
Originally, a cairn is a human-made pile (or stack) of stones. It comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn (plural càirn). They have been used for variety of purposes, from prehistoric times to the present. In modern times, cairns are often erected as landmarks. We decided to introduce Cairn at the New York University MakerSpace to track data and usage, while making it fun and interactive for the visitors. The table was not only a good tool to collect data but a was complying strongly with the ethos of the NYU MakerSpace of collaborative community and making things.
The Cairn we built - shown in the picture below - is actually a board game like table, on which visitors create their own Cairn based on what they are doing at the MakerSpace and how much time they spend in the space.
The design of the table underwent several iterations. To make the table more intuitive we decided to laser cut it in the shape of the floor plan of the space. We sketched it out on paper before building the actual prototype.
Apart from deciding on the shape of the table it was necessary for us to decide on the data that we wanted to record and based. From our previous research and keeping its limitations in mind we had some ideas on what we wanted to track and that helped us come up with the categories we wanted to add for the Cairn pieces.
Here is how visitors create their own CAIRN in a simple way by taking one small rod and piling pieces that describe their activity on that particular day. Then they place their Cairn on the table in the area where they worked along the line that describes the number of hours spent.
Currently we are in the process of laser cutting the final version of the table and coming up with methods to analyze data. I will be writing more posts in this series — one to explain how the table was prototyped and iterated, second on how we are going to record and analyze data.