#PhysicalApps India!

Live capture of the Product Research Studio trip to India

Invited by Praveen Nahar from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, we are here for two weeks to explore a range of digital economy projects – from exploring open learning with level 2 Product Design students – to testing workshops on our latest design/technology projects.

What follows is our blog as it happens in the NID studios.
Follow us on twitter at #productDundee and tell us what you think!

Friday 27th January 20:00

By Jon, Tom and Mike

It’s our final and show-time day. After two weeks of soldering, coding, sketching, prototyping, re-learning, making and a bit of talking we come to the deadlines. Four groups. Four Physical Apps. One idea – make the web physical.  For the students this was clearly crunch-time – putting into practice what they been playing with over the last two weeks. More importantly than putting into practice the technology (as this will happen anyway) it’s putting into practice the idea of playing with ideas to simplify them. Making things simple or SuperNormal – not in their form, but in their interaction.

We love these T-Pins – the epitome of SuperNormal

All of the final-four ideas fitted this brief – they all did one thing really well and were all based on an Indian internet. From a Uniform inspired Sweet Tweets machine when India wins at cricket, to a Martin Skelly (also at Uniform – erm, bit of a theme here!) inspired Indian Playlist Player radio.  We really liked the way that the students got the sense of making-it-work and keeping it simple in order to make-it-work. The result as you can see was a fanastic collection of Physical Apps India that are a demonstration of the process we used and maybe some of them will go on to live as products – but that’s not likely and not the point – it’s the learning  – the digital that we wanted the students to get – and they’ve got it!

So some final comments

A crit of the work

The three PhysicalApps delivered to the show first:

Local Playlist Radio The card model was great. We felt that more thought was needed for the experience of the interactions – if it’s physical, you have to make it a great physical experience – the dial was clunky/felt-flakey). Oh and WTF was going on with the aerial (for those of you not here – it was 25m long and went to the roof of NID.. luckily no lightening was forecast!)

Take home: Really – nice dials / switches / levers – we love them! Don’t skimp on these – it doesn’t take much. I rant a lot about this to my students back home…

Personal Stocks Great prototype! We love it! You got the tone just right. World – this is an exampler – you want to make a quick and dirty experience prototype using electronics – follow this. Simple. Easy to explain. Demonstrated the interaction. High 5!

Take home: Keeping it simple always works. Zoom out of the technology and think ‘what do people want to experience when they see/use this prototype/. Nice one!

Cricket Celebrator! Awesome thinking! So much of this was great – from the concept to the detail – fun, engaging and the show stopper! But, erm, so the electronics worked – but the mechanical interaction was ‘wide’ at the last over…  Come on – if you need a flat surface to make it work – make it on a flat surface! Check one stage at a time and stop adding stages when it stops working….

Take home: Go for it! Make inspiring exciting interactions. Design for a show if you’re showing at a show! But come on – check it works! It was amazing! But so close… can you feel the disappointment – it’s like being #2 in the world for cricket!

1)    Three out of the four projects pulled it off. Why didn’t the 4th? Quite simply – they didn’t listen. For some reason, and I don’t know why as they were a super-smart group that worked hard and had a great idea – they fell back in the ‘product trap’ – they were overdressing and over-engineering their sketch. Taking it away from being an experience prototype and trying to make it a product. The result being  that they pulled and pushed (both physically and mentally) the product until, well it just didn’t appear!

Take home: there’s a reason why we experience prototype with simple materials – it’s to communicate what it can do, not what it will be. Don’t turn up at the first date with a pram!

2)    Servo’s are the best motors to prototype experiences with! Alhtough simple motors are easy to turn on – they’re impossible to control. They sort of promise so much and deliver so little.

Take home: people like to make things move. Making things move is a defining characteristic of being physical.

For us and for digital economy research

To state the obvious, India is an incredible country. The challenges and opportunities are at times obvious as well as subtle and exciting. What strikes me is that it is a country that is a ‘cloud in waiting’ – while in the UK we are very much individuals struggling to form communities (hence all of the ‘big society’ and ‘connected communities’ rhetoric being slightly over-egged in the UK research communities) – in India it is very much crowd-based economy. It is a people based economy. It is an emerging digital economy – but a digital based on mobile and group-based problem solving. Socially and economically it is about crowds. Take a UK wedding – 100 is a lot of people. In India 1000 is not a lot of people. From restaurants to education – it is people on the ground that are working with you. Delays occur more from too much help than from too little! So you wait. What happens when, and I don’t know when this will be, when the Indian Nokia 3300 generation becomes the smart-phone generation – when the crowd connects to the cloud? All of the mistakes of the digital economy in the UK/US can be skipped. A digital ladder to an incredibly advanced socially led infrastructure could emerge that makes facebook look rather silly.  When India becomes the cloud. That’s a day I want to see.

Thank you NID!

Thank you to the students and staff of NID. You’ve been wonderful. Especially to Praveen Nahar and his wonderful family!

Thank you to our sponsors – to NCR for fully funding and directing our students (check out the parallel blog for http://productdesign.dundee.ac.uk/msc/) to conduct and commission a mobile insights study and report as part of their study with us. Thank you Mozilla for paying for Mike to conduct his PhD trials in PaperApps here. Thank you to Microsoft Research for funding Larissa’s Time and Space workshop. Thank you to DJCAD and the University of Dundee for paying for Tom and myself to be here.

PhysicalApps Brazil? Maybe….

Get in touch!

Mail me – j.rogers@dundee.ac.uk
Follow me – @ileddigital

Thursday 26th January 17:30

By Tom

So, deadlines are looming, the final exhibition at the forefront of everyone’s mind, the last 18hrs are here!

Tomorrow the student’s work will be displayed alongside some fantastic work from the NID Open Elective, so we’re all in for a great final day!

Not much more to say… Don’t want to show too much now – come back for the big reveal tomorrow, and if you’re on campus make sure you come and experience the exhibition.

NB – location tbc

Wednesday 25th January 20:00

By Jon

Jon and Mike take trip to the School of Design at the MITID Pune

Mike and I explored ideas on PhysicalApps India! with a new group of students at one of the private newer Indian Design schools. The students were really good – a group of 33 second year students who were super keen to work with us. It would have been great to get into technology, but for a 1-day session we wanted to keep it to ideas – about making the web physical.

It’s always good to give talks in new places – it helped me refine my thinking about why we are doing this…. and in the talk I put it this way – if product designers don’t start designing for the web, then who will? Will the web remain rectangular? You can imagine what the curriculum of a (post-industrial) product design course could look like in 10 years from now…

Week 1: Design a rectangle
Week 2: Make it shiny
Week 3: Graduation

OK so this is a huge over-exageration – more of an illustration than a prediction…. or rather more of a call to soldering irons to product designers to own the web. For Indian product designers to own the web.

Over breakfast scanning the PuneMirror I noticed this..

Which again shows the timeliness of our visit. I’m really excited to compare how India uses Twitter – particularly the natural comparison between Obama’s twitter-machine. @PMOIndia could have a billion followers…. that’s digital democracy. We sent him a welcome to twitter… just because we could.

The workshop followed a now standard path for our methodology – asking students to create 100 ideas to get on brief – using the ‘circle of selection’ to help students to navigate the difference between a ‘digital product’ in general and the more focussed ‘physical app’. Again, great to test this method – with the same rules coming up.

1. Does you ‘app’ connect to the internet – or does it need to connect to the internet
2. Does it do one thing
3. Is it an application

Again – initially students struggled on the difference between a more general platform that looked like a PhsyicalApp (e.g. a computer skinned to look like a first-aid box) – but the ‘circle’ worked that one through.

The day ended with some great examples of physicalApps India (pics to come).

A huge thank you to the faculty and students of MITID Pune!

And back over in NID…

By Tom

Today has been a long and productive day.  The students spent the entire day iterating their final idea through sketches and prototypes.  Towards the end, Arduinos and other tech were introduced, and the first experience prototypes took shape.  Throughout the day, the students were, in a way, left to manage their own time around 3 brief discussions – am, lunch, pm – and it was good to see that other side of their work..

Tomorrow is an Indian holiday, so hopefully at 3 – when Jon and Mike return to NID – we will be presented with good early stage experience prototypes and the basis of a Press Release.

Ideas look good so far – looking forward to seeing the prototypes!

Tuesday 24th January 18.30

By Tom

The mission for the students, which will continue first thing tomorrow, was to generate and iterate ideas and perhaps show their first physical sketch.  And they’re pushing on nicely, with well over 200 ideas being shown so far, they’re now in the process of narrowing them all down to one.

If they hadn’t already, they needed to break the brief down and really consider every aspect of it. Experience Prototype; PhysicalApp; Navigate, Space, Time, Information; India.  And from that, generate as many ideas as possible in the knowledge the great ideas will come, ‘quality from quantity’ (Jonism).

There were a number of phases of ideas that they needed to go through.  We had considered various idea generation models for when to generate, iterate, create ‘idea babies’ and when to synthesise and narrow to the ‘one’.  In the end we decided not to be too prescriptive, and used a simple process:

The ideas generated from this are looking good.  They’re currently in the middle of the big arrow (look above!) and they have really grasped the appropriateness of certain materials/processes at certain times of the design process and what type of sketching is appropriate when.  The other thing to mention is the different sizes of paper used at the different stages, it would seem that give the students an A4 sheet and they’ll create more considered and resolved drawings, but give them a sheet of A6. and they just bash the ideas out.. Both were exactly what we wanted!

So, we have given them a little longer at this idea stage to make sure the ideas have depth and are well considered. Tomorrow, they’re presenting their final ideas and early prototypes at 12pm.

So far, so good – really looking forward to what they present, I hope they keep it up!

(Mike may add further content later!)

Monday 23th January 19.30

By Mike

Today the students showed us what they had created over the weekend. There were some great projects which referenced their culture and local behaviours in very fun ways. For students that have never worked with technology before these guys have really got a great understanding of how to prototype with electronics.

First up is the Alien Communication Device. This device allows you to converse with aliens by emitting various frequencies. The circular patch works as a proximity sensor and controls the pitch. The semi circle is controlled by keeping your thumb on the small circle and sweeping your finger round. This controls the frequency.

Next up is the camera experience. These guys really wanted to combine bare conductive with origami. When turned on this device gives you an LED count down, and when stretched snaps open, exposing an LDR, and makes a camera shutter sound as well as a flash.

The bird poo hat. This hat plays an 80’s style computer game tune when pooed on (N.I.D. has severe bird poo issues between 6pm-7pm). What more can I say. These guys are keen on making a larger version, I’ll keep you updated on its progress.

This is the classic paper windmill, which are very common in India. Every time it turns a full cycle it beeps.

Then there was one more. Unfortunately I didnt take any photos of this one, I will stick one up tomorrow hopefully. These guys made some nice wind chimes. When strips of paper touched each other as they blow in the wind then play music.

After presenting their ideas the students were given the final big brief…

Create an experience prototype of a physical app, that pulls data from the internet, which allows you to navigate space, time and information within India.

We split the guys into 4 groups again and left them to generate (hopefully) hundredsof ideas, we’ll find out tomorrow. All of these idea generating workshops that have been happening over the last week have been developed to help our friends over at Mozilla find the perfect recipe for their up and coming idea jam events. Cheers for making it happen guys!

After delivering the brief Tom and I headed over to a famous paper mill where all the paper is hand made, seems relevent, and was really cool.

Friday 20th January 19.30

by Mike and Tom
[and Jon] today’s workshop was entirely run by Mike and Tom – but I’d like to give it a bit of a preamble… so bare with me…

Praveen’s shopping list for (and amazing) dinner we had with his family in the evening)

Paper is the most versitile platform for communication we have. It works across cultures, across communication forms and is both text based graphical. It’s universal and sustainable and after production requires no power to run. Add to this that it has changed the world many many times over, from interactions between individuals to global change. The cost-bandwidth is infinite – from worthless to priceless. And there is something beautifully simple about the content changing the value. I download a £16.99 App to my phone and is it worth £16.99 more? Yet the preciousness that is inherent in originality on paper is a thing to be both a little frightened of and to celebrate.

And when you start to layer it, bind it, print it, distribute it, fold, cut, scrunch, scrumble (that’s not a word – but I’d like it to be so), rip, tear, mark, draw on, scribble (which is a word and is the 2D version of scrumble), doodle, sketch, paint, collage, print render, glue, type and write on – you have a platform for everything and anything. And that’s why we love paper.


The thing is – we passionately believe that the internet is changing the world for ever and we love it – but we can’t connect it to paper and this that cuts…

Paper doesn’t connect to the internet

Until now – OK until about 5 years from now… but we can prototype that future right? With technology developed in the UK by two companies we love – Novalia and Bareconductive we can now start to prototype a simple new world of printing electronics onto paper – which we’re calling PaperApps.

In today’s workshop Mike and Tom delivered a day of paper-hacking and ideas jamming with our fantastic group of Products and with some new friends from Textiles.

So over to you Mike and Tom….

The brief: Interactive paper that can play music…..

We began the day by encouraging the students to really think about how we interact with paper. They started to sketch out as many uses and affordances of paper that they could think of. There were some really nice cultural uses as well as NID campus specific uses of paper. After all the different uses of paper had been sketched out we stuck them onto the windows of the studio to allow us to talk about some of the ideas. We went on to discuss the brief and asked the students to select which ideas they felt could make interesting interactive musical machines. To make the decision making process nice and quick the students voted on their top five ideas, and the idea with the most votes went forward.

The students then got back to the technology, this time with the added fun of using Bare Conductive! Bare Conductive allows the students to take the circuitry of the breadboards and onto the paper. Bare is a wonderful tool for allowing the students to find really playful ways of interacting with paper.

There were some great ideas coming out of the studio. A hat that plays music when birds poo on you. Here at NID between the hours of 6pm and 7pm milions of birds fly in for their toilet break, so bird poo is a hot topic here. We also have a paper camera taking shape. A paper windmill that plays music, also some paper wind chimes that play music in the wind.

We left the students to work away over the weekend, with the plan that we come back to some brilliant interactive paper music makers!

Thursday 19th January 17.22

By Tom

This morning was a continuation of yesterday’s electronics and programming.  We introduced ‘Analogue in’ and ‘Analogue out’ and now they’re all skilled up (Mike suggested, ‘Wired up’!) with Arduino..  As the afternoon arrived it was time to get off the computers and generate ideas around Indian physical apps.  There was a good discussion about the differences between digital products, gadgets, monitors, interfaces and what really constitutes a physical app.

They also began doing their own research into physical apps that currently exist, like ULAB’s Sweet Tweet, Berg’s Little Printer and our very own MSc students Physical App Store from Mozfest 2011.

As the evening stint begins, the enthusiasm continues!  A great level of progress has occurred in just over 3 days. The students have really managed to get their heads around all that we’re ‘bombarding’ them with.  And their enthusiastic work is being noticed right across NID which has lead to students from other courses joining in with the workshops – today animation students joined us and tomorrow a few textile students will join the ‘Paper Synth Workshop’

Wednesday 18th January at 18.15

By Mike

Today was all about exciting the students about code. We started the day by asking the students to write out their favourite recipe. In doing this we explained that cooking is like code, you have variables – temperatures/weights, constants are like equipment and loops are like cooking 10 rotis……. We were graced with another smashing Jonism:

We then moved onto Arduino, keeping it simple and teaching the hacking mentality. Not only is appropriate to hack objects , it is also very appropriate to hack code, especially with open source products. We emphasised how important it is to craft the behaviours of the inputs and outputs. We kept setting challenges throughout the day, including the classic logic/memory problem of recognising the change of state of a push button.

It was great to have the students start to figure out how to code themselves and help teach their peers, open source in action!

We kept encouraging the students to remember that they were designers, and to use design processes to figure out coding problems, basically remember to sketch things out on paper.

(over to Jon)

This thing about being a designer and remembering this is really really important. I had a fantastic email from the incredible MP Ranjan who we were privileged to have join our class for the afternoon- if you want to know social change read his Design For India blog, get in contact with him, get on the next plane to Ahmedabad and find him somewhere on the campus (having tea is best bet – but join the queue!)

Here’s Ranjan’s summary of the class

It was indeed thrilling to watch your class in action yesterday at NID and to see NID product design students, all undergraduate non engineers crack the electronics and software thinking abilities with a hands on approach to learning code and logic structures. This is a very important aspect of design learning that may have been ignored inmost design schools since these abilities are seen as core domains of engineering and left to geeks. Looking at the work that has been going on in your class and at the many diagrams on the walls of the classroom and the impromptu prototypes that “work” it seems to me that new design schools or at least new age design schools need to integrate such software skills and logic assignments into the very foundation programmes that have evolved as being the heart of a good design education.

Thank you Ranjan!

So tomorrow is a big day – we’re starting to drill down into a brief that extends our Wayfinding brief from our friends at Mozilla – to look in more general about information and wayfinding. So this means looking at not just how we find our way (mapping, locative technologies) but how we find our way in both physical and information spaces. Somewhere between MIT Media Lab’s Doppellab, the MSc Product Dundee’s Physical App Store and the Bespoke project’s Wayfinder….

Tuesday 17th January at 19.44

by Jon and Mike

Sketching verus experience (…and learning twitter!)

It’s the end of day two and most of the work in the class today has been done by Mike – re-inforcing the group’s view that I do money+enthusiasm…

Two main objectives were to wrap up the Fake Apps from yesterday and to use these to get the students thinking about their digital presence.

A quick divergence – students are asking me “what is a fake app” – and to back-track “what is a physical app”. Here’s a summary: PhysicalApp – n. A product that connects to the internet to do a single dedicated task. A great example of a PhysicalApp is Chris McNicholl’s Tweetingseat OR taking it further, our MSc Product Physical App Store for Mozilla Festival 2011 And by definition – a FakeApp is an Experience Prototype of PhysicalApp (it doesn’t actually connect to the internet… it just shows what would happen if it did). Thanks to @everythingiknow for as usual coming up with elegant people focussed resources for all of us mortals…

We had a bit of a discussion about the value of sketching Vs prototyping Vs experiences. Again like idea generation, students earlier in their career feel much more comfortable trying as hard as they can to make the most resolved finish to their prototypes – regardless of the stage they are prototyping. This is often a distraction – and Tom/Mike/Larissa commented that ambiguity is essential in prototyping. The more ambigous the more discussion and the wider the development of the idea into a product. Lock it down early with resolving a prototype’s visual language too much and you close discussions… And we want open at this stage.. .

I kind of came out with a bit of a Jon, er, classic…

Which I think worked! It’s about knowing/developing a visual style for how you or the world views your prototypes. White card symbols or icons do this well (yeah, I know some of you don’t agree… put a comment about it…).

Got into building. Ideas furthered and experience prototypes came together.. We pretty much left the students to get on with things while we went to iterate our hotel… (more for another in-the-pub-story when we get back)

So our first show of work from NID Product Design level 2


So now we get down to the reason we’re here. Let’s get prototyping and programming… starting that at 10.00 tomorrow morning… but first asked all of the students to bring me a recipe of their favourite local/home food… because if you can cook you can programme! Will be posting some of these tomorrow… mmmm

More tomorrow – I’m heading to meet the MSc Product students who have just arrived!

Monday 16th January at 18.03
by Jon

What a day!
Objective – get product students thinking from a single user, solution-lead, designs – to web based technology that mean multiple people (or communities), play-lead, prototypes.

So here’s a thing – a common approach of design is to think of a limited range of design ideas and test these against user needs and or technology viability. This is fine – but we like to do things a little differently. We don’t want students to pre-filter what makes a good idea. We think that every idea can lead to a great product. So we want students to create a 100 ideas – no wait – they did that – let’s go for 200 ideas – about what physical apps for India could be.

116 ideas on day 1 – Nice work NID!

Students played with simple electronics kits – water sensor, sound-to-light, wheel-of-fortune… building these up and then thinking of product ideas around them. We’re moving onto Arduino later in the week – but want to get thinking digital before the ‘wow!’ of programming blinking LEDs. This worked incredibly well and we’ve really started to see students moving from problem-solving to opportunity-finding.

Have a look at this game – it’s Minesweeper using a water sensor that kicks off an alarm when it hits water. This could easily be a product – think about having a roller to ‘paint’ a water maze. What if it was connected to the web? Online players? Too far? Get in touch if you want to help the students develop this….

More tomorrow – when we’ll be asking the students to make videos / blog and get their first prototypes out there.