Bittersuite (Week 5) — Micro UX

After the mid-point review in front of our class, tutors and project partner Bittersuite, we needed to take the valuable feedback that we got and develop our project in the right direction. Last week, we learnt that we had designed a new, interesting space: the one between two people having a conversation. Our design still lacked depth in the experience that we created.

Designers: Kate Chernysheva, Ula Rodakowska, Sebastian Ervi

Developing last week’s concept further

While waiting for our next meeting, I tried to record the stethoscope on my own with a better microphone, which failed last week. Despite trying many ways, it just didn’t work as expected — probably because the sound coming from the stethoscope is a vibration that is hard to pick up digitally. I was thinking that replacing the provided earbuds might improve the received sound, which indeed worked surprisingly well when listening to body sounds, but didn’t improve the recordings.

Trying to record sound from the stethoscope with a t.bone microphone and a Behringer audio interface plugged in my desk computer. No luck!

I also wanted to organise a co-design session with other people, especially with my friends Ellen who works in healthcare and knows about the human body, and Max who has knowledge in music production. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a time to meet all together, but I still got the opportunity to discuss with Ellen, who shared how body sounds relate to her work.

Fresh ideas and new research

During our meeting, I shared my thoughts about last week’s prototype and my own personal research, which gave me the idea of commemorating relatives that have passed away through a sonic experience, taking inspiration from the Dia de los Muertos — the Day of the Dead — a latin american celebration that inspired the Pixar animation Coco released in 2017. The idea was judged interesting, but we all felt that the risk of cultural appropriation was high. I also shared some findings in papers that I had read over the week-end, especially how an imagined space can be represented through metaphors.

Coco by Pixar. Photo taken from fullhdpictures.com

Then, Ula shared how she thought about the personal space people have, which has unique characteristics. We all got excited thinking about personal space and we decided to learn more about it.

With our new focus being on the personal space, we all read The consideration of personal sound space: Toward a practical perspective on individualized auditory experience.” (Fluegge, 2011) and shared a survey with open-ended questions about different aspects of one’s personal space, from which we received over 30 responses.

Some survey results categorised by Ula Rodakowska.

As a result of this research, we especially learnt that the personal space is:

  • Subjective
  • Portable
  • Changing according to contexts
  • Often violated
  • Considered as a personal bubble or shield
  • Something that people don’t seem to be fully aware of — especially sonically

Thus, how to make people sonically aware of their own personal space?

However, I was a bit worried if the personal space still related to our brief. We were asked to “redesign the acoustic properties of a physical space”. Is the personal space a physical space?

Presentation of our work and feedback

We presented our findings and thoughts to our classmates through a new speed dating format that our tutors put in place, which allowed us to discuss with different teams and get ideas about potential designs to sonically represent personal spaces. For example, Catherine suggested us to explore the personal space using a blindfold through an embodied and sensory experience; Tatiana imagined a materialised personal space that participants could enter; and Sanjana shared us her idea of a maze to explore our own personal space through a database of pre-recorded sounds.

Research results presented to the class. By Kate Chernysheva and Ula Rodakowska.

The tutorial with our tutors John Fass and Alaistair Steele put words on what I was personally a bit afraid of: they noticed that even with only two weeks left on the project, we were still “picking up ingredients at the store” and not producing anything concrete. Both strongly encouraged us to now relate this new research with the prototype we presented last week — our intimate communication device between two people. John also shared with us an interesting project by Scott Snibbe (1998) Boundary Functions, which visually represents the expansion and the contraction of the personal space between people as they move around. This project was a big inspiration for me personally.

Boundary Functions by Scott Snibbe (1998)

Outcomes of the week

All in all, we heavily interested ourselves in people’s personal space and how it subjectively varies between contexts. We read theory about personal spaces and received a lot of external input. I wondered if the personal space is really a physical space, but no one questioned our new direction. We now have a theoretical basis that we will try to incorporate in a design that might be inspired by our output from last week. We have 2 weeks left until the final presentation of the project!

Bibliography

Adams, K., 2019. Navigating the spaces of children’s spiritual experiences: influences of tradition (s), multidisciplinarity and perceptions. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality, 24(1), pp.29–43.

Brynolf, D., Carpenter, V., Hobye, M. and Larsen, H.S., 2008. Bodily awareness: an exploration in critical design. People and Computers XXII Culture, Creativity, Interaction 22, pp.119–122.

Fluegge, E., 2011. The consideration of personal sound space: Toward a practical perspective on individualized auditory experience. Journal of Sonic Studies, 1(1), pp.1–16.

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Sebastian Ervi

Sebastian Ervi

MA User Experience Design - University of the Arts London