Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Brainstorming Waiting in Line ideas

So HPU has very kindly given me permission to take my Mobile Design & Programming class public. I haven't been promoting it as I think it's not ready for 100's of learners, but it's great opportunity to allow HPU and non-HPU students to mix, and also just to expose all of the class internals to broader inspection.  If you'd like to sign up do get in touch.

Anyhow, the key week 2 assignment is about Human Centered Design based with permission on one of Scott Klemmer's great assignments from his CS147 HCI Class at Stanford.  And to put my money where my mouth is, and to give my students an example of a complete submission, here's my own submission.  The assignment is to brainstorm ideas to help improve the experience of waiting in line, and choose two, quickly prototype them on paper, then test them out with real people waiting in a line.

First up, my brainstorming of 20 ideas for waiting in line activities
  1. talking to jokebot - an app that chats with you and tries to make you laugh
  2. reminders to take your vitamins - kudos to previous mobile design students who had this idea
  3. browsing coupons for the supermarket
  4. crosswords, sudoku -games
  5. hyperlocal news - an app or map layer that shows you wants going within 500 yards
  6. help you wait calmly - calming music?
  7. connect with friends - I guess we have fb already
  8. yoga, posture exercises
  9. teeth - teeth cleaning exercise
  10. Buddhist sutra of the day
  11. Game exploring Jomon period lifestyle in neolithic Japan
  12. App to show you what your current location looked like at different points in history
  13. Imagining different points in your life - how does now compare to when you were 5? will likely be when you are 70?
  14. listen to invigorating music to get you pumped up for the day
  15. meditate on a spot within your field of vision
  16. wonder what it means for a color to be a color - what actually is green?
  17. start a conversation with the person next to you on the weather
  18. ask the person next to you "what's the meaning of life"
  19. flex your abs/pecs exercises
  20. plan the remaining part of your day
So quite a few of the above just end up being things you could do while waiting and don't necessarily require any scaffolding whatsoever, although one could imagine mobile apps for many of them, and in many cases they already exist.  Makes me think that one could have a "waiting in line" app that gave you a random suggestion of things to do. Of course the critical thing with brainstorming is just get ideas out, however goofy they are and worry about tidying them up afterwards :-) 

Anyhow, my two favorites are 

1. hyperlocal news - an app or map layer that shows you wants going within 500 yards
2. talking to jokebot - an app that chats with you and tries to make you laugh

Which are actually things I've kind of been working on in the background of my life on and off for a while now.  That's perhaps a bit sneaky, but hey I think you need to link assignments up to things you are interested in :-)

So some more explanation on these two ideas, is that I'm fascinated by humor, and the idea that computers might be able to simulate it.  So much so that I started the Funniest Computer Ever contest. Also the idea of hyperlocal geotagged news is something I've worked on in the past.  I'd love to get news chunks displayed on a local map, showing me just where thinks happening close to home are going on.

So here's a couple of really fast paper prototypes of the concepts, using sharpies on a set of 3x5 cards with a tiny single ring binder to hold them together:

1. HyperLocal News

2. JokeBot - jokes from the internet joke database

And here's videos of the user testing:

So I've diverged slightly from the assignment here in that rather than photos I've gone with videos.  I wussed out slightly in that I didn't go up to complete random strangers, but I did recruit people who I had never previously met at an Interactive Narrative event in London.

Immediate feedback was need for "back buttons" on the hyperlocal news app.  Using my trusty Sharpie I quickly added back buttons for the HyperLocal News app.

Overall I was probably talking to much, although I wanted to simulate audio for the jokes, which I would imagine being on the actual device.  Although that's something I need to keep working on, i.e. as Scott Klemmer points out, a bit of silence is golden.  I'm terrible at it - ideally I'd be behind a glass screen unable to tell people what it is they are seeing.

It was interesting that everyone clicked on the dirty jokes option and then animals.  One person said they were uninstalling the joke app.  Another person said the dirty joke button would be selected because it was in the middle.

Another observer mentioned wanting to be able to skim all the news stories without having to jump back and forward, so to enumerate my insights from this round of testing:

1. Navigation critical, must have back buttons or other obvious means of navigating data
2. Could we provide swipe based navigation to completely avoid jumps?
3. I'm assuming jokes really need audio ..., but do they?  I didn't allow myself to find out
4. People like dirty jokes ...?
5. Everyone asked about the practicality of the hyperlocal news app.  One person mentioned the Open Data Institute as a resource, and there is an RSS news feed for my local area, but the RSS elements are not geotagged

Also I wonder if rather than saying, "imagine this is a touch screen phone", it would be better to put photos of the cards on real phone that would allow simple swiping ...

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