Self Reflection on Microsoft Design Expo Project

Part 2: From Week 9 to Week 16

Week 9: Choosing a Concept & Enactment

Okay, I have to admit that I was kind of lost after the mid-term presentation and I’m quite discoursed because I have a bunch of work experiences on evaluative researches. I think it’s because we have no particular concept/UI to show to our possible end users.

At this point I think the only evaluative research method we can use is concept speed dating. Each of us created 4 types of personas and sketched 3 storyboards for the each key concept.

Before asking other students, we walked through some scenarios and embodied the persona we had written (we each came up with one based on the four archetypes we had proposed: student, volunteer, businessperson, and traveler). From this activity I realized that the most painful moment for all types of personas would be after landing experience. Because humans don’t like uncertainty and lack of information, people often feel nervous and frustrated when they arrive in a new environment.

At the end of this week, we did concept speed dating with our classmates and asked their thoughts and feedback. Our intent for this speed dating exercise was simply to help us choose a concept to focus on for prototyping. We each presented our storyboards to three participants who gave us some quick feedback to guide our prototyping.

Looking at our insights from speed dating in conjunction with our design implications and target context, it became clear that our first concept (passive exposure) could be a useful feature but should not be a standalone concept. It begins to embody language and culture and build confidence with contextual practice, but it doesn’t address the other four implications.

We wanted to refocus on the social aspect of building relationships, as found in implication #2. Not only is that an essential way of learning and practicing language and culture, it can also serve as a motivator. For this reason, we decided to focus more on training users before leaving to the new environment so they can integrate themselves into the new culture better. By the end of the meeting, we decided to pursue our second concept with a focus on social learning: an immersive social learning environment.

However, I’m not really sure if it’s a good direction. Given that mixed reality is for interacting with the real world, I believe that providing conversation tips in real time would fit better. The idea of building relationship in distance sounds ideal but might be very challenging…that’s my concern.

Week 10: Bodystorming & Concept Refinement

This week, Irene, Austin & Paul taught us how to make augmented reality prototypes with Unity, Vuforia & Blippar. I really love learning about new tools because they expand my ability of making things. I was impressed in Paul’s session…he is a great lecturer. I’m pretty sure he will be a good instructor!

We also bodystormed about some technologies we talked over the classes. As we had gotten very close to our concepts, this exercise helped us step back and critically look at our ideas together as a team. The whole point of the exercise was to identify the loop holes and understand the value of MR in a language and cultural learning space. Played with a few features: captions, conversation prompts, vocabulary help, pronunciation.

I changed my mind after the bodystorming session, when I bodystormed the learner who use captions and prompts during the conversation. I learned that reading prompts hinders focusing on conversation itself, especially when chatting gets longer. Besides, the prompts didn’t help users improve their speaking ability. They are noting but one-time solutions.

It was super difficult to explain the possible scenarios and technologies by word, so we quickly made simple paper prototypes and simulate the important moments of the social networking mode. The most challenging parts of envision were how to introduce the learner to the 3rd person and how to see the learner at distance.

Enacting and embodying our personas and scenarios helped us have richer discussions about the technology we were addressing. It also helped us focus and narrow down our concepts further.

Week 11: Evaluative Workshops

Here comes another frustration; after the bodystorming, we got stuck again. The meetings were not productive because we didn’t know what to do next. I thought it is time to make a rough UI and evalutate the concept, so I prepared paper props and a protocol for evaluative research workshops.

Since we are envisioning the future technology-connecting people in distance-that no one has experienced, I drew some 2 identical scenes depicting what a learner and a host might see. Pairing those scenes with a narration made everything crystal clear. Probably it’s more effective than trying to embody the holograms, because we’ve had so much trouble talking about it for ourselves.

We conducted evaluative workshops with 5 participants. We used paper prototypes and sketches to walk our participants through the experience of using the system. We also used the “thinkaloud” method to understand their thoughts and probed them further. We asked for feedback on their immediate reactions to each scene, any hesitations they had about our concept in general or some parts of it and probed on them on some challenging questions such social boundaries and mixed reality visions of the future.

Conducting evaluative workshop not only helped us evaluate our concepts and the direction in which we are headed but helped our team align our concepts to the design implications thus grounding our design solution further. However, using those paper prototypes has clear pros and cons in a way that they limit interviewees thoughts. In fact we didn’t receive as diverse ideas as we anticipated. If I do the same workshop next time, I’d rather make them with lesser details.

Week 12: Presentation & Making things happen

We synthesized our key findings from the evaluative workshops and talked through what we’ve found so far and showed our concept in the form of storyboard and stills of of the concept to Irina and Kevin from Microsoft. We also did branding for our solution. We named it ‘babl’ after the mythological tower built for reaching to God.

The last phase is the most exciting period for me, because I love making stuff. In this making phase, we’ve mostly been making decisions about how a user could interact with our system and what that interface looks like. We started by playing with the Hololens to get an idea of what interactions exist now and what we’d have to consider. Because “tour mode” is such a prominent part of our concept, we also tried Skype between Hololens and a computer.

Allison gave my teammates a “tour” of our building and “introduced” them to Bruce and Molly while we were all on Skype and Facetime–Skype for the Hololens to show them to me and to capture, and Facetime to show my face and introduce them to others. Molly said it was weird for her to say hi to them without seeing them, but when she was able to see who she was talking to it was a lot smoother.

While all of us focusing on details, Allison and I started working with Unity for creating a prototype of the practice mode on Hololens.

Week 13: Designing Interactions

Before making the digital prototypes, we moved into paper prototyping for MR, eventually deciding on a tool “tray” that can be expanded and retracted into the bottom/side of your peripheral vision. The tray would contain tools like doodle, pin, stop sharing view, switch perspective, and end call.

While brainstorming about those features, we wondered how users might interact with them. We referred to the gesture interaction guide on Hololens developer community and learned that Hololens works with a combination of gaze and a couple of gestures. We wondered how many gestures can users remember, so we had a meeting with Austin.

Austin showed us a lot of resources and told us that the idea of connecting two different Hololens has never been explored even in Microsoft. He also mentioned that it’d be better not to use more than 4 gestures. Finally, he recommended us to connecting screen devices for annotation, because it is hard to write something with air doodling. His feedback was very useful.

Reflecting Austin’s advice, we decided to adopt the conventional screen experience for signup and annotation process.

Week 14–15: Making the Future Vision Video

The most challenging part of every design project is making the future vision video. Over the last 2 weeks we worked on the storyboard for the video and started shooting each scene with GoPro.

We struggled so much from shooting the video in a cafe because it was so hard for us to make people understand what we are doing. I felt really bad when the owner of the cafe felt unpleasant of recording him and refused to take extra videos. I even questioned myself about the validity of our concept. Would people actually be willing to being recorded for learners they’ve never seen before? Besides, we couldn’t use what we’ve taken in the cafe because of the bad quality, so we asked Chris to be our actor. However, it was also hard for us to ask his permission because he didn’t understand our concept at the beginning either.

And we had one more issue-none of us could work on Hololens prototyping. Seemed us all my teammates were overwhelmed in building the digital prototype and I also had technical issues with MS Visual Studio. We ended up giving up the live demo. What I’ve experienced over this week made me frustrated.

Week 16: Final Presentation & Post-project reflection

Our final presentation was succesful in some way. It might sounds quite contradictory, but we tried to show more on detailed interaction technique and our future vision. Our audience thought we were heading in a good direction in terms of what language and cultural learning could look like in mixed reality.

Although our problem space was really attractive and got a bunch of good feedback from other people, I’m not quite satisfied with the final deliverable in terms of detail. I think it’s because of my fault. I lost my attention at the end of the project and failed to convince my teammates.

However, I really proud of my team and our team dynamics were good. To be honest I was a little nervous at the beginning because of what I had heard from some of my peers about working with my teammates in the previous semester.

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