From Mundane to Smart: Exploring Interactions with ‘Smart' Design Objects

From Mundane to Smart: Exploring Interactions with ‘Smart' Design Objects

Dhaval Vyas (Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane, Australia), Alexander Kröner (Technische Hochschule Nürnberg Georg Simon Ohm, Nürnberg, Germany), and Anton Nijholt (Faculty EEMCS, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/IJMHCI.2016010103
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In addition to functional and technological features, the role of augmented objects should also be seen in terms of how effectively they fit into the everyday practices of users and how they enhance users' experiences. In this article, the authors introduce a low-tech, internet-of-things technology called CAM (Cooperative Artefact Memory) that is used as a collaborative tool in design studio environments. CAM works as an object memory technology and allows industrial and product designers to collaboratively store relevant information onto their physical design objects, such as sketches, collages, storyboards, and physical mock-ups in the form of messages, annotations and external web links. In the context of this study, CAM serves as an important probing device to understand designers' interaction and experiences with augmented design objects, in their natural environment. The authors carried out a small-scale field trial of CAM in an academic design studio, over three student design projects. In this article, they discuss the findings of their field trial and show how CAM was used by the participants, how it was integrated into the design process and how it was appropriated for different purposes. The authors also found that CAM supported coordination and awareness within the design teams, yet its serendipitous and asynchronous nature facilitated creative and playful interactions between team members. In general, the results show how CAM transformed mundane design objects into “smart” objects that made the creative and playful side of cooperative design visible.
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1. Introduction

Following the vision of Mark Weiser (1991), several researchers (Streitz et al. 2005; Dillenbourg et al. 2008; Arias et al. 2000; Maldonado et al. 2006; Hornecker, 2005; Brave et al. 1998) have pursued a particular design theme: computationally augmenting everyday objects and workspaces in order to facilitate and enhance more natural interactions for users. Interactive furniture, tabletop displays, and other types of smart objects have been realized in recent times. In such a vision, the computer disappears and objects take advantage of computational capabilities to support new usage scenarios. In this article, we follow this theme and study the use of smart objects in the design studio culture.

The design studio culture has been central to the education and practice of design disciplines such as architecture and industrial design for several decades. Typically, design studios have a high visual and material character, where studio walls and other less permanent vertical surfaces are full of design objects such as sketches, posters, collages, storyboards and magazine clips for sharing ideas and inspirations. This ecological richness of design studios stimulates creativity in a manner that is useful and relevant to the ongoing design tasks (Blevis et al., 2005). This kind of organization of design studios is not coincidental. In fact, it is deeply rooted into design practices. Lawson (Lawson, 1979) suggests that designers use ‘synthesis’ when it comes to problem-solving, whereas traditional scientists use ‘analysis’. In other words, designers’ way of thinking focuses on quickly developing a set of satisfactory solutions, rather than, producing prolonged analysis of a problem (Cross, 2006). As a result, designers frequently use and produce a relatively high number of representations such as, design sketches, drawings, story-boards, and collages. The studio organization is also important for supporting and inviting design critiques (Uluoglu, 2000) as is the strongly embedded designerly practice of showing work and eliciting feedback early and often (Cross, 2006). Such practices also encourage discourse and reflection during the design process (Schön, 1983). Designers’ everyday collaborations go well beyond conversations and talks and involve communication of expressions, feelings and artistic reflections through design related objects such as sketches, physical models, prototypes, and so on.

Bringing a ubicomp technology into design studio environments would require a much deeper understanding of design practices that are undertaken in these settings. Using ethnographic methods, we studied academic and professional design studios over a period of eight months (Vyas et al., 2009a; Vyas et al., 2009b; Vyas et al., 2013) and developed a set of design implications (discussed briefly in this paper). Using these design implications, we developed a low-tech, mobile-tagging based messaging system called CAM (Cooperative Artefact Memory). CAM allows designers to collaboratively store relevant information onto their physical design objects, such as sketches, collages, storyboards, and physical mock-ups in the form of messages, annotations and external web links. In a sense, CAM allows design objects to have an individual digital profile on the Internet where relevant information can be added, updated or changed collaboratively by designers. Our current prototype of CAM integrates WiFi enabled camera phones with Microsoft TagReader clients; a set of 2D barcodes generated using Microsoft Tag’s online services; and a JAVA web server application that uses the Twitter API.

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