Weekending 12102011

On my side (Nicolas), the week was split between consulting (a workshop about social gaming in France) and different teaching gigs. One of them, at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), is a year-long course about designer’ approaches and tactics for engineers. We address various methods ranging from user research to prototyping. Given that the course lasts 3 hours per week and that we have not access to any studio facility, we have to do things in a pretty low-fi way. It’s challenging but very intriguing at the same time. This week the course was about mock-ups in interaction design and the role paper could play in this. Inspired by the Post-it phone approach developed by Matt Cottam at CIID, the students had to produce a quick and dirty mock-up of their project. The idea was that they had to rely on the results of the previous courses (field research, brainstorming session).

It was actually the first time I ever tried this approach and it went rather good. Using paper like this was both fun and engaging, especially because I asked students to act out the use of the device; one student being the computer (making audio sounds to mimick the interface), another being the user. This role-play was important as it enabled a “critique” phase afterwards during which anyone of us had to write down the pros and cons of the proposed system and present this to the user and its “computer”. Back to the laboratory, this ideas got me into listing a whole set of workshop activities and tactics that we can deploy on projects.

Over on this side of the world (Julian) most of the work was focused on getting some bits of technology to play together for the Ear Freshener concept for Project Audio. There are some fiddily bits that mostly had to do with not having played with Atmel 8-bit microcontrollers for a long while and their AVR Studio 5 having gone to edition 5 from 4, which meant upgrading it, which meant upgrading the other thing, which meant upgrading that other thing, which meant upgrading that one other thing, which meant upgrading Windows, which meant upgrading the thing that one other thing that didn’t want to upgrade itself, which meant planting my face in both palms and cursing lots of things. I’m also using this new debugger device — the AVR JTAGICE 3 — which as best as I can tell is a smaller thing than the huge AVR JTAGICE that came before it but otherwise the same. That’s finicky, too — but the single wire debugWIRE protocol for debugging is quite nice, although it can get you stuck in debugWIRE unless you know about the one little buried menu item to force the DWEN fuse to reset. That was another thing. I’ll have to do a little action-item post about the process of working with these new tools, for the tool-y people out there.

The result? Thursday night we had a functioning Ear Freshener (or should I say — EarFreshener?) in prototype mode, which you see above. It has a proper continuous adjustment knob that you might think is volume, but you’d be wrong. We went with the microcontroller to control the audio channel selection rather than writing code for the other device, which we’re definitely less familiar with. The extra chip and such won’t make a difference in scale or fitting or anything like that. The goal for this week is to produce some more audio and get Ted or Nick or someone to sit alongside and think about more of the IxD for the thing.

That was good progress by Thursday evening so I gave myself the rest of the week off and went to the Salton Sea for the afternoon.

That’s it.