My fourth-year journey started way back in May 2016. All throughout the summer season, I was consumed with finding a concept and prepare for the year ahead. I was a bit lost about the direction I wanted to take so I decided to set some goals:
Make a physical-digital product that involves light in some way. I became very interested in generating physical-digital products last year during the module Interaction Design: Physical-Digital Products. I knew then, I wanted to integrate my interest in physical designing as well as the use of light into my 4th-year project.
Not make an app. This was a definitive point of my exploration. This project began for me after I decided that I did not want to build a solely mobile application. I felt as though human interaction in the millennial age has distanced people from each other, especially since screen-based applications have been introduced in every area of the human experience. I therefore came to the conclusion that in my fourth-year project, I would not render myself as a designer and innovator who provides consumers with even more screen time than they already have in a day.
Conduct an in-depth user research. In 3rd year I was told that my project lacked the research so I wanted to avoid making the same mistake again, and lastly
Create a product for High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). One of my personal passions is gym training. I began to explore the idea of creating a tool for this environment and in particular for the activity of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
Almost a year later, looking back at the start of my process I am happy to say I achieved all of these goals across the year. My project aim from the beginning of the year had been to craft a controlled environment to perform HIIT and help users fully immerse themselves in their workout, without the aid of a smartphone. This is how everything unfolded:
Returning to university in September, I had come up with a very initial idea - an exercise mat embedded with LEDs that would define the intensity of a HIIT workout. I did not know where my product would be used if it would be targeted for group or personal use, what type of exercises it would be suitable for, how it would work etc. Gradually all my questions were answered by delving deep into the research phase. I now realise that the people factor has been the most integral part of my project and the one I enjoyed the most. My research was continuous all throughout the year; it did not restrict to the first semester. In the first stage of my research, I held multiple interviews with professionals in the fitness industry to uncover as much as I could about HIIT, the secret for effective workouts and what people do wrong according to their observations. The second objective was to find out what people do at the gym and their habits. Lastly, I held a lot of user testing sessions both in the first and second semester.
Users were at the heart of this project; whenever I had a new theory on what my product could potentially do, I would quickly prototype my idea and invite people to try it out. This was by far one of the best practices, as it truly helped my project to take form. Overall, people's feedback and insights have been invaluable to my research and product development and I certainly would not have come this far without their help.
I've always been confident in my design skills so this particular aspect was never something I worried about. My objective was to create an elegant and fun product, designed for the gym environment. My main concern was to ensure consistency between the floor and wall element of my product and create fluid light interactions. Moving forward, I would make the light appearance even better but overall, as a design, it delivers successfully the intended experience.
For this project I had to use a range of technology such as 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutter, electronics, and app prototyping software, to name a few.
I found 3D printing to be one of the most challenging tasks, as I didn't have any previous experience. First of all, I had to learn how to use Rhino from scratch. I spent the first 2 weeks of March learning the software, attempting to print my models and constantly failing. After a lot of tests, I found the best way to achieve what I wanted. What I can say with confidence, after this experience, is that I developed 3D printing thinking. 3D printing can take many hours and if it turns out wrong, you can't simply press Ctrl+Z to undo it. I learned to plan my models carefully, take everything into consideration and to not act on impulse.
The use of neopixels has been a choice I partly regret. Although neopixels have been great for creating intricate light motions to deliver the message intended, they also required most of my time when it came to wiring. I have spent more time than I'd like to admit just on wiring them and at this point, I have lost track how many times I've done it. The challenge with neopixels was that the connections would constantly break, which in return disabled me from moving on to the next step. To draw a picture: I would wire them, they would work fine, then I'd go back to my laptop to work on the code and neopixel number 5 would stop working. So I'd have to re-wire it. And then number 8 would go red for no reason. So I'd have to go back and re-wire it. This was happening literally every day. I've lost so much time just on this painstaking activity that pushed back the progress of my project.
Finally, Proto.io was the prototyping tool I used to make my app and since it was my first time using it I thought it was a great tool. DISCLAIMER: By making an app, I am perfectly aware I contradict goal no 2 - Not Make An App. In reality, this app is more of a controller and is only a fraction of the whole project. It is by no means the main element to motivate people to work out.
Technology-wise, this year has been very diverse. One thing I noticed was how my attitude towards learning new software, in particular, had changed. I moved way out of my comfort zone and developed skills in a range of tools; I didn't just stick to the software I was comfortable in using.
Overall I am very pleased with the development of my project as well as my personal development as a designer. I know I've tried my hardest and I am looking forward to taking my product further. Looking back now, it feels unreal how it all started from a very rough idea and unfolded to what Vima is today.