Category Archives: Research Studio

Announcing Insight Journalism

Interact 2011

In September, Paul and Larissa from the research studio attended the Interact 2011 conference held in Lisbon. Larissa took part in the Doctoral Consortium and a full paper was presented by Paul as part of the user experience track titled Structuring the Collaboration of Multiple Novice Design Ethnographers: Towards a New User Research Approach. The presentation itself went well with some great follow-up questions highlighting things to address with the next iteration of  the approach.

Other stand out talks from the conference were:

Helmes, J. et al., 2011. Meerkat and Tuba: Design Alternatives for Randomness, Surprise and Serendipity in Reminiscing.

Presented by John Helmes, Microsoft Research Cambridge. Meerkat is a semi-autonomous robot that has 3 LCD screens on a robotic arm that pops up and shows combinations of photos from the user’s computer. Its behaviour appears agitated if it is ignored and conversely gets bored when it is used too much. Tuba is a flip up device that changes to random content each time it is rotated. This could be playing music, showing photos, Facebook statuses or just simple fun facts. A scraper sits on the user’s computer and gathers the content from a specified set of sources. Both projects provoked interesting questions around the relationships people have with devices in the home and types of content people are willing to have on semi-public display.

Smyth, M., Speed, C. & Brynskov, M., 2011. Critical Design :: Is It Just Designers Doing Ethnography or Does It Offer Something More for Interaction Design?

The panel was a little poorly attended due to bad location and lack of promotion from the organisers but the discussion that ensued was thought provoking nonetheless. Some interesting tensions arose between the approaches of critical design and participatory design for engaging the public in decision-making in relation to new planning projects. Many of the concepts critical design proposes are frequently inaccessible to anyone not literate in this highbrow language of understanding design. Also, participatory design seeks to involve people in the design process but this then somtimes leads to an obligation to pursue the ideas people have helped to generate.

Norman, D, 2011. Industrial Programme Secret Keynote

Don Norman gave an informal stand-up keynote without any slides in the alternative conference location at the Hotel Marquês de Sá. He spoke about the research-practice gap in relation to research groups within companies and their need to align themselves better with the product groups. He also spoke about the need for more HCI people with MBAs so that they have a much more powerful voice within companies in comparison to the marketing or engineers who can always justify their reasoning by focusing on cost.

Aliakseyeu, D., Du, J., et al., 2011. Exploring Interaction Strategies in the Context of Sleep.

Admittedly, this talk from Dzmitry of Philips Research did have a few people yawning but not due to a poor presentation. It was because the content dealt with the relatively unexplored area of sleep. This first covered the social, psychological and physiological aspects of sleep then went on to propose opportunities for interaction design in this space.

Greenberg, S., 2011. Opportunities for Proxemic Interactions in Ubicomp (Keynote).

The keynote from Saul Greenberg provided the most depth out of all the keynote speakers at the conference. He discussed a proxemic ecology (a term originally coined by Edward Hall) in relation to ubiquitous computing. This is a way of thinking about all of the devices people interact with and how their proximity to them should change the way those devices behave. Such ecology includes non-digital physical artifacts, portable media devices, people, large-display surfaces and information appliances. He closed his talk by discussing challenges including the HCI field’s ever-utopian ideals and lack of engagement with ethical issues. He used the example of looking back on the literature on hypertext and how it includes no references to porn, gambling, e-commerce or advertising.

Dalsgaard, P., Dindler, C. & Halskov, K., 2011. Understanding the Dynamics of Engaging Interaction in Public Spaces.

One of the best talks of the conference discussing 3 case studies – a Lego augmented reality app in a retail store, a ‘hydroscope’ interactive installation based in an aquarium and a media façade called Aarhus by Light. These studies were used to develop a framework for aspects of engagement for in public spaces, which were content, physical, social and cultural. More info available at

Introducing the Small Society Lab

Jute[bar], [Ideas] Jam, and Journalism – #productDundee finds its #MoJo

RFID Reader for the Oxfam Curiosity Shop

Over the last 6 weeks a team of us from ToTEm have been rapidly producing a set of three RFID readers for the Oxfam Curiosity Shop, a popup shop in Selfridges in London that opens today. This Oxfam shop is entirely stocked with celebrity donations and vintage items, and 35 of the items are tagged with RFID tags. Upon scanning the RFID tag with our Reader, a video tale pops up on screens in the shop, told by the person who donated the item.

This system was trialled prototypically at a previous Totem/Oxfam event with excellent results, so for this outing we took the existing hardware, streamlined and repackaged it and scaled up the software to deal with several readers and many more videos. Some pictures of the resulting reader device are here on my Flickr stream.

detail of the illuminated part of the reader

How it Works
The basic principal is that an RFID sensor detects the unique ID number of an RFID tag, which is sent via bluetooth (radio) to the video software running on a computer behind the scenes. Meanwhile a PIC (programmable integrated circuit) chip detects that the sensor has been activated and triggers the clear acrylic part of the reader to glow brightly as feedback for the user. The software (running in Quartz) receives the ID number and finds the video associated with it, sending it to the monitor for playback.

How we Worked
The project has been a real team effort with lecturer Pete Thomas and myself (Roy Shearer) working on the physical design and production, technician Willie Henderson machining the housings, research assistant Mike Shorter programming the interface behaviour, IMD technician Ali Napier and head of product design Jon Rogers working on the software and Angelina Karpovich producing the video content. In order to deal with the tight timescale and the fact that we all have various other responsibilities, we pioneered an entirely text email based Gantt chart system. This basically consisted of an ever-evolving to do list assigned to dates and people! I actually think this worked surprisingly well, as it was immediate and easy to refer to across all our phones and computers, regardless of software. I won’t pretend that things weren’t missed, but I still think these were fewer than if we had used a more involved organisational tool. Lo-fi methods win for nimbleness yet again, I’d say.

The readers are now in use by the staff in the Oxfam Curiosity Shop, not to mention Annie Lennox, so do go and have a go – you have until the 14th April. Stay tuned for some video hopefully and a bit of coverage from today’s opening.

Annie Lennox and the reader

Rameshwaram- Field study

Curiosity Reader with Oxfam in Selfridges

Product team design and install the Curiosity Reader for Oxfam’s pop up Curiosity Shop.

** WHAT IS IT? **
The Curiosity Reader plays stories of donated objects to Oxfam’s Curiosity Shop.

** WHY? **
In 2010 the TOTeM team trialled a simple RFID story telling system in one of Oxfam’s shops in Manchester. The project, called Remember Me!, tested how consumer habits were effected by playing back stories of the second hand items donated to the shop – the incredible result coming back that sales increased by over 50% during the time that Remember Me! was on. So this time around, we got designerly and put in place a new form designed and made by Pete Thomas and Roy Shearer, and a new behaviour. Here’s a small iPhone Movie of Michael Quigley giving a demo – and a cameo of me in the mirror….

The Curiosity Reader is an RFID reader that links through bluetooth – taken from an Instructable by Tamberg to a computer playing video stories on a screen in the shop. Ali Napier from Digital Interaction Design here in Dundee did a great job of coding the viedo controller using a mix of Java Script and Quartz Composer For the Curiosity Shop A-list celebrities donated items for sale in the shop and we tagged and linked items to stories – a bit like the one from Annie Lennox – shown in more detail here in a blog by Andy Hudson Smith. .

** WHEN? **
The team: Chris Speed, Andy Hudson-Smith, Angelina Karpovich and Maria Burke will be down at the Curiosity Shop until the 10th April – and you should go check it out if you do a fine line in vintage.

Plastic Fantasia exhibited in Naples’ Museum of Plastic

Plastic Fantasia sign

Last night was the sneak preview of Plastic Fantasia for the Italian press and art & design society in Napoli. Anna Clara Rendahl, Patrick Stevenson-Keating, Mike Shorter and Elio Caccavale (all from the Product Design course at the University of Dundee) have been working on the project comissioned by PLART, museum of plastics in Napoli since October, recently being joined by Mike Vanis (from Digital Interaction Design) in the last few weeks.

Plastic fantasia is a world of sinister delight, mysteries and curiosities. In the domestic environment, traditionally products live a contented life. However, in Plastic Fantasia, everything is not quite as it seems. In this world, the products have a life of their own, detached from normality. They are menacing and murderous. They scuttle and scurry, each product becoming a part of a larger horrifying story.

Plastic fantasia is a freak show where plastic design classics have been transformed into animated monsters, merging the ideas of a House of Horros and the classic Disney film “Fantasia” where inanimate objects come to life.

This project forms the focal point of the latest exhibition in the PLART museum, and is surrounded by other pieces from numerous Italian designers. Plastic Fantasia has been wonderfully received by the press, making it onto National TV and newspapers, and also by those people lucky enough to see the exhibition before its opening to the general public on Friday 1st April.

It has been a fantastic experience for the young designers to present this project to such a large audience, and to represent the University of Dundee as they will soon be graduating this June. We are now looking forward to enjoying the last few days in Napoli and everything it has to offer before the preview, and then heading back to Scotland on Sunday.

Plastic Fantasia

Plastic Fantasia

Plastic Fantasia

Digital Products For Communities

Tea with Richard Banks

Yesterday we had the pleasure to receive the visit of Richard Banks, who spent the day talking to the studio researchers and PhD students. Richard works as an interaction designer at the Socio-Digital Systems group of Microsoft Research Cambridge. Among others, his work analyzes the long-term impact of technology in our lives – how we can live with digital objects for decades, potentially passing them down through generations. His research vision and feedback was invaluable to all of us – thanks, Richard!