Sprint 7: Prototyping for Children Learning to Cook
For this sprint, I created a prototype to solve the research question of: how might we design a solution to remind children to turn off kitchen appliances or make sure that the appliances turn off automatically? The reason why I chose to try and solve this research question is because I personally have forgotten to turn off kitchen appliances before. This made the research question more interesting and relevant to me.
The user group that I focused on included children just learning to cook, as user research has shown that children often forget to turn off kitchen appliances after they are done cooking. This could potentially lead to fire hazards. After defining the research question and user group, I was able to build a scenario around a child baking cookies using the oven, and forgetting to turn off the oven after he was done baking.
The development of my prototype solution began with my first exposure to the littleBits kit. littleBits is a technology kit that is composed of various electronic building blocks. These building blocks can be used interchangeably to invent new solutions to design problems on a smaller scale. At the start of my studio session, I used a materials checklist to match every piece in my kit and become familiar with all of the tools that were accessible to me. I followed a brief tutorial in order to understand how the parts interacted with each other. For example, I followed the instructions on how to activate the LED light block, which allowed me to understand how to connect the power block and battery to my prototype.
After pondering different solutions to my initial research question, I began creating various prototypes. The first prototype I worked on used a temperature threshold and a buzzer block in order to try and solve the problem of leaving a kitchen appliance on. However, it quickly became clear to me that this prototype was not complex enough to be used practically in this situation. For example, I recognized that it would be very difficult to judge if a kitchen appliance was accidentally left on or not with just a temperature threshold. This led to the creation of my second prototype, which was similar to the first but included a timeout block. I learned that the timeout block could be set so that after a certain period of time, the entire circuit could be shut down. I thought that this would be practical in the case that the user completely forgot to turn off the kitchen appliance. My third prototype built off the ideas of my first two prototypes. However, I chose to exclude the temperature threshold because it would be too difficult to decide what temperature is appropriate for each kitchen appliance. For example, an oven may be heated to a higher temperature than a stovetop. This discrepancy in temperatures among various kitchen appliances made me scrap the idea of a temperature threshold altogether.
My third prototype was probably the most feasible and usable out of the three prototypes I designed. It would play music whenever a child would turn on a kitchen appliance, actively reminding the child that the kitchen appliance was still on. In the case that the child forgot to turn off the appliance, the prototype would automatically turn off the kitchen appliance. However, my prototype was still far from being perfect. I recognized that the prototype lacked in desirability, as most adults would probably not want an MP3 player to play music whenever a kitchen appliance was turned on.
After designing the prototype, I created a video in order to highlight the features of my design. I drew a blueprint of my littleBits pieces and included images in order to describe my prototype. I also made sure to discuss feasibility, usability, and desirability in the video. A link to the video can be found below.
Link to Video Submission: https://youtu.be/7EwpP7PTnjQ
So What? (B):
My favorite part about this project was working with the littleBits kits. I found it incredibly easy and straightforward to transform some of my ideas into real inventions. Additionally, it was interesting to learn about how each block interacted with each other. Finding new combinations to answer the research question also proved to be exciting and though provoking. I ultimately think that littleBits is a powerful tool when it comes to prototyping.
However, in this specific sprint I felt like the variety of blocks that I was given was fairly limited. I thought of other possible prototypes as well, but was unable to communicate the ideas due to the lack of blocks we had. I also found it difficult to have focus on improving my prototypes without an effective brainstorming process. If I had more time, I would continue experimenting with the littleBits pieces to find better solutions to the research question I chose.
Prototyping is an extremely useful tool when you have an idea that you want to pursue. Well thought out ideas lend themselves to approach of prototyping because there is a clear cut goal in what the prototype is trying to accomplish. Prototyping helps one determine the feasibility, desirability, and usability of a specific solution without fully committing to an idea. However, it is also very time consuming. Without a lack of direction, prototyping can become fairly difficult. I personally found it challenging to come up with my initial prototype, and even more frustrating to come up with different prototypes. Instead, my prototypes generally shared at least one or two characteristics with each other. After experiencing this sprint, I believe that prototyping would be much more effective when combined with a brainstorming process.
In the future, I could see myself applying this technique when designing an application or product that others would use. Creating a prototype would allow me to study how people interact (IxD) with something that I design. For example, in my second sprint, I designed a prototype for the mobile application TrailFix. Designing this prototype allowed me to study how a user interacted with my application, and where the application could use improvements. Overall, I think that prototyping should be used in a combination with other design concepts (such as brainstorming, interaction design, usability testing, etc.) in order to be used effectively.