Critical Blog Post
After 3 years of studying Interaction Design, it was time to take it to the final project of the course, the honours project. As it is a personal project throughout the entire process, it facilitated a disintegration of the manifested group routine, leaving me and my fellow students in the sole responsibility for their individually chosen projects. Before I knew which project I am going to do, I already had set up for myself a few personal goals to achieve over the year. For the most important, I wanted not only to create an app, it was important for me to work with smart objects. The war amongst apps regarding the temporary attention of the person, is leading to a degradation of the quality of apps. With the additional addiction to the smartphone screen, the entire app experience is only fascinating for 5 minutes. Truly memorable experiences happen off the screen. Like this, the general outline scope was set, and I was ready to begin.
The decision to take my personal project into the mobility department, is based on my upbringing as well as my personal aim to reduce the number of cars which are currently on the road. Growing up in Munich, the automotive industry was always part of my surrounding, and as many of my friends are now working in this industry, it is a subject which comes up often as a part of the dialogue. I personally have an ambivalent view on cars: on one hand they are a great support in daily lives and they enable us to go out, be sociable and experience live. On the other hand, cars are a legitimate problem of our society. They are polluting the environment through exhaust and noise, paved roads are cutting through the nature and fuel is based on a limited resource, of which we will have stripped of the earth soon enough. Therefore, it is my aim, also in the future, to keep on investigating and supporting the future of mobilities, especially without cars. This project gave me access to investigate into the ‘war’ between cars and bikes, the motivation on both sides and possible solutions. Furthermore, I was able to get a deep insight into the world of cyclists and their way of living, influenced simply by cycling instead of driving.
Knowing the area out of your own expertise, does not qualify you to have the perfect solution. Through interviewing, desk research and questionnaires, I tried to gain as many insights as possible, to make a problem-solving product. Only after speaking with the Gurus, I realised that instead of solving a problem, I need to engage people in a positive way to achieve a change in their daily habits. For this project, I wanted not to focus on the needs of one human being but design an object for a general user group of people between 20 and 30. As you can imagine, making decisions based on a general user group is not making it any easier. Creating personas helped to keep the product user focused.
The outcome of the 9 months I worked on Berggeist, has ultimately been an app and a product. But in reality, it hasn’t just been that. The design process is always messy, and in the end, I had about 48 screens with different design styles, about 10 different designs for the handlebars, and I don’t know how many initial ideas. Why it ended up the project it is now, is due to mostly a logical decision, but sometimes just to a gut feeling. The entire process made me realise that when working on your own, you will second guess decisions a lot. It took me quite a while to develop an attitude for decision making, which in the end is trusting my gut. Even if the gut speaks against earlier believes. I was convinced from the start, that the project is not going to be a navigation object with a vibration as a tactile feedback. But after interviews, user tests and getting feedback of several people, it is important to just let these opinions go to make space for something more refined and user friendly. Nonetheless it is still a process. To get to a final state, there simply need to be many iterations, either sketched or prototyped, to get the things out of the system before you reach a design, which “just clicks”. This is genuinely my main realisation of this project, as working mostly in teams before, decisions were rapidly made as a group. Surprisingly, I was already aware during doing a sketch, that this is not going to be the final idea, but nonetheless, it was necessary to draw it in order to make room for the next idea. It needed to go through this long and time-consuming process, to be where it is now. It is not visible in the final product itself, but for me personally it is the achievement of this project. In the other projects, we mainly had time to realise the third developed design at the latest.
The realisation of the project naturally involved learning new skills. For the app, I started to investigate micro animations possible with the prototyping tool proto.io. For the realisation of the handlebar, I finally was able to try out tools, which I was looking forward to acquiring. Through support from Jonathan Maclean and the staff of wood workshop and metal workshop, I learned a lot about Fusion Autodesk, 3D printing and wood working. The making process is the one I was and still am most uncomfortable with. In group works, I stayed within my assigned role for design, research and concept making. The actual hands on making process was pushing me out of my comfort zone in the best way possible. Choosing materials, form and the way of engineering and realising an entire product was a scary by its irremediable process. For product design, every decision must be made beforehand, the design needs to be unquestionable finished and one moment without attention can lead to a cut into your product, starting all over again. The very fast iteration process, made possible by various design software, is humbled by the effort and stamina which is needed to make anything out of wood, ceramics or metal.
This contrast to the app design process confirmed my decision to take in an actual product as well. Many skills I learned through the actual making process, will be put to a good use also for app design. Thinking through every design element, its position, size, colour/material, puts me in a place of seeing design not as a routine, but a carefully made decision.
It surprised me more than anything how me presenting skills improved over the last four years. With that, I am not saying that I actually got better, just the nervousness to present in front of my class mates has decreased a lot. While I got more comfortable with my fellow students and now friends I also realised that I will always make mistakes talking in a foreign language. But now I have the confidence to shrug it off and carry on with the presentation. For the VIVA presentation coming up, it will be difficult to organise the thoughts and developments of 9 months into 10 minutes. It gives me a chance to strip it down to very essential of Berggeist, a project I have become very proud of.
In conclusion, this project has been a rollercoaster, but as it is with rollercoasters, by the end you are so proud of being brave enough to do it. This is exactly how I feel, not just about my honours project, but also about the 4 years I lived in Scotland. It was scary, exciting and absolutely awesome, and I am proud of doing it. I was lucky to meet awesome human beings who I can call my friends, to fight back Scottish weather and too many seagulls. It was great to be part of Social Digital 18 and learning in the last 4 years about human centred design, empathy and how to make your ideas work (at least with a lot of glue). During this last year in particular, I’ve realised how this course has unconciously taught me skills like human centred design thinking, and unexpectedly, to be brave enough to walk up to a person and ask for their tutoring. After many enjoyable group projects, this project has showed me that I am able to achieve just as much on my own, and for that I am proud. I wouldn’t go as far as to call myself a designer, because that would suggest I don’t need to learn any more. Within a field as huge as design, I don’t think I will ever stop learning, and I look forward to whatever’s around the corner.
What is there else to say?
Last but not least I want to take this opportunity to thank my friends. Without their constant feedback, support and shared coffees, I do not think this project would have turned out the way it is. Thank you, guys.
Also in particular I would like to thank Finlay Clark and Jonathan Maclean for organising and building an amazing degree show space. Definetly woth a visit, it opens at the 18th of May until the 27th of May. You can find more information on our website sd18.co.uk.