I aim to shape products, interfaces and services that mediate meaningful dialogues between people, systems and their environments within everyday life.

Posts tagged ‘social’


Simulated Realities

The past month kept me occupied with building a couple of interactive installations: Layered City urban planning game and an augmented reality topographic sandbox. It all finally came together this past weekend.

I collaborated with the Seattle Design Nerds to create two interactive installations for the American Planning Association (APA) conference. The first was a physical community building game made up of five plexiglass panels/layers arranged in such a manner that when viewed from one end then form an entire city. Each panel corresponds to a “layer” of planning: public works, private works, landmarks, transportation, and land use. When participants approach the installation they draw a game card that directs the participant within one of the “layers” to add an individual element of the city (bus, house, bridge, etc.) with a stencil. By using washable window crayons, participants fill in the stencil within the context of its surroundings on the panel and spatially relating the element through other layers. Participants are also invited to created their own cards for each layer with their own directions to others to accommodate items, situations or concepts that we may have missed. In this way the game and installation evolves over the conference.

Our second installation was a digital SimSandbox, an augmented reality topographic simulation using a Kinect and projector. The display is based on the software designed by Oliver Kreylos. By moving around the sand you can create mountain and valley terrains. You can add water by holding your hand up high above the terrain and watch the water flow through the terrain. In this way the system could be used to illustrate topographic changes, erosion, flooding, as well as the effect of sea level rise on world cities.



The Strategic Arc of Interaction Design: Moving Towards Holistic System Design

I came across a great article talking about interaction design as a high-level problem solving process that can take on a strategic role in organizations and society. Designing interactions has gone beyond simple input/output interfaces; it engages in holistic system design in which the individuals, organizations and technology involved are understood and considered.

Designing the interactions people have with other people, with organizations, and with systems is both a simple and a complex undertaking. Simple in that the mechanics of an individual interaction can be well-defined and articulated. The problem, and the solution, can be narrowed down significantly. Indeed, so simple can interaction design seem at times that the discipline is often collapsed to a plane of request-response interfaces that sit between the participants—the design of a web form; the layout of an ATM machine; or a ticketing booth for a public bicycle share scheme […]

This simplistic view of interactions and their design, is not the only view, nor the most appropriate. When designers apply their more holistic lens to the design of interactions it becomes clear that the practice is a much more complex and deeper undertaking […]

As designers of interactions broaden their perspective and take a higher level view of the problem, they simultaneously make another transition: they stop solving interaction design problems and begin solving problems with design. And it is in taking this step that designers—of all types—begin to play a more strategic role in the organisations and societies for which they work.

Source: Core 77


CASCON 2009: Day 1

Today was my first day at IBM’s CASCON conference featuring talks and workshops from industry leaders and academic researchers.

Computing for a Smarter Planet


conference was kick-started with a keynote session by Martin Wildberger from IBM Canada speaking about Computing for a Smarter Planet. As the world becomes smaller, flatter and globally integrated, companies are adjusting their business processes to fit into this transforming ecosystem. As a result, technological solutions are providing businesses innovative and strategic ways for social change.

Wildberger describes our world as becoming instrumented through RFID and ubiquitous technologies, interconnected by networks, process chains and horizontal integration, and intelligent as we collect more data and information. The more data available can provide new insights and thus new intelligence to spur a process of innovation for smarter work, smarter food, or smarter telecom to name a few.

An interesting example discussed was the idea of smarter cities, in which we can incorporate sensor technologies through the infrastructure to make cities cleaner, safer and more efficient. The use of ubiquitous technology can effectively change social behaviours: traffic congestion and pollution in Stockholm was greatly reduced by automatic charges based on flow and time of day, acoustic sensors and recorders in Chicago allow police to triangulate the source of a gunshot, and drivers looking for parking in New York City can be immediately notified of the location of a free parking spot.

Notification Design in Collaborative and Social Networking Environments

This workshop looked at technology as interruption in our daily lives. Joanna McGrenere from UBC presented her research on notification design in the Jazz collaborative development environment before we broke into small groups to examine and discuss instances of notifications in technology, systems and devices. Phone rings, emails, and calendar reminders are obvious examples of notifications as are less noticeable forms such as seat belt signs, PA systems, traffic lights, microwave beeps and elevator floor signs to annoying examples like fire alarms and alarm clocks.

So when does notification become interruption and when are interruptions considered disruptive? We determined that notifications interrupt when they make us stop one activity to attend to the notification. Phone calls and alarm clocks are interrupters while seat belt signs and traffic lights are not.

In terms of the level of disruption that these interruptions cause, it depends on the context of the situation in which we find ourselves, the content of the interruption and how valuable it is to us, how much control we have over the situation, and the frequency and duration of the signal. A false fire alarm is then considered a huge disruptor as it has no value to us, forces us to evacuate a building, and continually signals off loudly for an extended period of time. Another big disruptor occurs when software/OS updates take full control of our system and we are left twiddling our thumbs in front of the screen until it has completed.

The subject of the new Google Wave came up in regards to its playback concept, in which the non-linear collaborative discussion can be played back see how the conversation unfolded in context.This could be an interesting platform in which notifications can be eliminated; rather than receive notifications every time an update has been made and by whom, users can now simply access the conversation whenever they want and still remain in the know.


A Phone That’s More Than a Phone

photobooth1The culture of cute is rampant in Japan, especially with the youth. O

ne trend that remains ever so popular, and to which I myself have succumbed in my youthful days, is taking silly/cute/glamourous pictures with friends in pod-like photo booths. Back in the day, these pictures were printed out on wallet-sized cards or a page of stickers, but this time around I observed an interesting phenomenon of downloading the images to cellphones.

Considering the ubiquity and high-tech functions of the cellphone in Japan, it seems like a natural evolution of the “sticker booth” past time. Rather than printing out physical copies of pictures, you can now simply put your cellphone up to a screen at the side of the booth, and voilà, the images are available on your phone ready to be used as wallpaper or mass-mailed to your 100 closest friends.



Tokyo Morning Commute

Experiencing a morning rush hour commute on Tokyo’s metro is a fascinating, albeit overwhelming ride. In a car stuffed with crushing bodies, just when I don’t think I can physically get any closer to a perfect stranger, more people take the plunge

in at each new station stop.


In a city as dense as Tokyo, these cramped commutes are a daily fact of life. Imagine not even having the room to lift up your arm to hold on to a pole yet in the end not making any  difference since the mass of bodies squishing against you seem to keep you in balance from falling.


A subway etiquette I appreciate over all of Japan is the restricted use of cell phones, which makes the ride unbelievably quiet. Unlike in Hong Kong, where everyone chats loudly on their mobiles, Japanese  subways are filled with people busily texting or playing games on their cellphones. Just a tiny glimpse of everyday life in Japan.



Traveller Safety Net


Focusing our concept direction on the idea of the “safety net”, we provide the traveller a sense of security that they are connected back home and have medical records tracked and stored with him or her. This idea stems from insights acquired from interviews detailing situations where even the most adventurous traveller wanting to explore on his own can feel terrified in medical emergencies, particularly, when he has trouble communicating his situation or understanding his medical condition. I have personally found myself in this situation too in a foreign country and have felt the panic of not only trying to communicate with the local hospital staff, but also trying to connect with family back home.

Our direction will be exploring the idea of tracking the history of travel locations and medical/physiological data in order to address the health concerns of travellers while maintaining a connection with people back home.



Web Wednesday with Matt Mullenweg

Last night I attended Web Wednesday’s social mixer featuring Matt Mullenweg, the 25-year old founder of WordPress. Blogging is a very social method of communication. One interesting phenomenon that has emerged within the WordPress blogging sphere is a side community Club Penguin members, for exchanging cheats, items and trades. Matt’s team has a  project extending from simple blogging called BuddyPress thats builds a social networking platform on top of WordPress installations. Matt also discussed the direction of moving WordPress from allowing the user to simply be a content producer (writer) to content consumer (reader) by perhaps aggregating feeds onto the WP dashboard.

And what about the microblogging trend popularized by Twitter and Facebook? Does this mean a fundamental shift for the way we produce and consume content? In a way, yes, since many people who have never devoted the time to maintaining a blog can now easily blog short, random thoughts (quite perfect for celebrities, many of whom have jumped on the bandwagon!) News feeds can be updated by the minute, which have some Twitterers replacing their RSS with reading news tweets. That is not to say that blogs are being pushed by the wayside. They are much more rich in content and character still, and embodies the personality of the  writer.

Other interesting ideas Matt discussed was the future of centralizing means of distribution of content over the web.  Now with a slew of social networking applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Tumblr, Delicious, Twitter, just to name a few, in addition to personal blogs, it is quite a hassle to update the same information or post the same content over multiple platforms to reach your different networks. The concept of a “hub press”  will enable users to post and share content across multiple platforms from a central hub.  Ping.fm is one online service that makes it easier to update your social networks from one location. Online articles provide the ability for readers to share them with people in their networks, to the extent that we have so many outlets through which to re-post.


In addition to managing one’s various social networks, it’s also another task to manage one’s identities that vary across networks, not unlike the roles we take on in real life under different social settings. This concept of separating and aggregating profiles is an interesting area of discussion. Ben Metcalfe sums up his article about this topic by stating that although the most logical thing to do would be to centralize all our information and accounts, our social behaviours and they way we interact in social groups is very organic and dynamic -they way we present ourselves changes according to the social context.


iSerendipity Interactive Lounge

During my Embedded Interaction workshop with Michael Fox, we were immersed in a group project to design an interactive environment demonstrated with a kinetic model. My group came up with the concept of an ambient space called iSerendipity:

iSerendipity is an ambient lounge that enhances mood, sociability and interactivity among people. Organic-shaped pods float amongst each other through space and light up once a person steps on. These pods detect the activity levels of people on each pod and drift through space, either isolating people for contemplative reflection or clustering active groups to enable chance encounters – serendipity. Pod lights are time- and context- sensitive: initial activation of a pod stimulates a glow that intensifies over time and colour hues change according to activity levels. The exterior façade displays the harmonious movement and colour intensity of each pod as aesthetic visual information to passersby.



Videos of iSerendipity’s interaction points in motion

See the process blog here.


Sociable Robot Toys

My Introduction to Sociable Robots course is taught by Cory Kidd, an energetic lecturer from MIT’s Media Lab.  It’s quite an enjoyable and interesting course so far, covering topics of psychology, sociology and HCI in the context of Human-Robot Interaction. During one class, we had fun watching a few videos of robot toys and discussed whether they were 1) sociable, 2) robots, and 3) fun. A quick survey from the class showed that everyone had different opinions about these factors, especially when evaluating the fun factor of the toy.

A sociable robot then is a robot that can communicate and engage with humans in a sociable way to fulfill a certain goal.

Although technology has come a long way to create impressive robots, some toys are too focused on technological features thus compromising the ease of interaction and play value.  One example is the FemiSapien, which has many features such as learning dance moves, striking fashion poses, and delivering business cards, but to memorize the gesture sequences to activate a function (hand swipe, tilt head up/down, multiple hand presses, etc.) is cumbersome and not intuitive. RobotPanda, on the other hand, is a playful and enjoyable companion that can engage kids over a long period: with different modes available, the panda’s body parts light up to the touch, laughs when it’s flying, and can become a storyteller. It is easy to interact with this toy because it talks you through what parts of the body to touch to perform the various functions and access different modes.

Eventually, we’ll be creating our own sociable robot for our final project focusing on the interaction that people can have with the robot. One important thing that I would like to keep in mind is how to sustain a meaningful long-term relationship with a user after the initial novelty wears off.