Various degrees of extrapolation

Academic 2009. In partnership with Ericsson and Ericsson Research.

Excerpt of the final video.

Excerpt of the final video.

As the last project of the 2008–2009 school year at UID, we had the chance to work with Ericsson (and Ericsson Research), one of the biggest corporations to emerge from Sweden. I say the chance because Ericsson came to us very open-minded and suggested an interesting topic for us to work on…

Location-based mobile services

And so, Ericsson wanted us to work on the (quite populated) subject of location-based mobile services, but as previously mentioned, in a very ‘open’ way. One would expect that working with Ericsson and studying interaction design, it would have to result in a mobile/phone/application/system of some sort. But no. We could do pretty much whatever we saw fit to satisfy the needs of project we wanted to make (or the problem we wanted to solve). Furthermore, the underlying theme, or rather research methods we were going to employ since we were designing a service more than, say, an interface for a mobile phone, were ones derived from ethnography. —To be more exact, we were going to conduct our research in an ethnographically-informed method.

Research

This project was of a total duration of 10 weeks; the first five were spent researching and the last five, developing the ideas that would emerge from the previous weeks.

We had to form teams for the research part of the project and since I was going to miss a full week of research because I had the chance of being selected to talk at the SIDeR 2009 conference to present my Visualizing strategy project. Quite luckily—and fittingly—two friends and classmates (Benjamín López and Amid Moradganjeh) of mine were also invited to talk at SIDeR so we formed a team and chose the topic of…travelling!

A short questionnaire about travelling (that will help 3 guys in IxD a lot)

We commenced our research by brainstorming very widely on the topic of travelling. We tried to look at the whole journey—from making reservations to exploring a particular place—and soon realized that what interested us most were the steps that ranged from the transportation phase (e.g. taking the plane or car) to wandering around and discovering an unknown city.

Since this project started in early April and that Easter vacations were approaching, if we wanted to get anything done before going to the Netherlands for a week, we had to act rapidly. So we put together a short questionnaire and gave it to about 10 people—students and staff members—from UID that were leaving Umeå for Easter’s break.

Second iteration of the questionnaire (and first of our toolkit). Beside the questionnaire is a package of emotional states written on papers.

Picture of ‘emotional state cards’ by fellow IxD student, Roberto Christen.

About the questionnaire

This questionnaire is part of the research that the first-year interaction design students are undertaking for their current 10-week project, which is divided in two parts.

The first part of the project is entirely devoted to conducting ethnographic research to give the students greater insight and direction on a specific subject (in our case, travelling). As for the second part of the project, it consists in designing location-based mobile services.

By providing answers to the following questions, you will be helping us learn more about your personal experiences during a trip. Rest assured that all the information that we collected from this questionnaire was only used in the context of this particular project and with the sole purpose of developing ideas around the topic.

brainstorm

First brainstorm session with Benjamín and Amid in the quite cryptic Green PC Holken room.

Interviews and observations in the Netherlands

Interviews on-the-fly (literally)

On the flight from Stockholm to Amsterdam, all three of us conducted an hour-long interview with the person that was sitting beside us. In retrospect, these interviews were in my opinion certainly not the most revelatory, but definitely the most inspirational. The link below show a transcript of the interview I conducted with the lady that was sitting beside me on the aircraft.

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Mikko

Since Mikko, a classmate studying in the second year of the interaction design MA program at UID;, was coming with us for the whole trip in the Netherlands (four days in Eindhoven at the SIDeR conference and 2 days in Amsterdam to visit). We were fortunate enough to have a person—and traveller!—with us to study and observe at all times.

mikko

Mikko Pitkänen

Observing Mikko, and to a larger extent, observing ourselves (Amid, Benjamín, Mikko, and myself) being a group of travellers/tourists in Amsterdam was for me the most interesting and by far the most inspiring part of the whole research phase of the project. The most inspiring because it is by observing the inner workings of a group of four guys that didn’t really know what to do, or had any plans at all for that matter. In other words, we—and particularly Mikko—were simply wandering around the city aimlessly, due to both our own ignorance of it, but also because (at least for me) we wanted to see where it would lead us.

Here’s a video showing various shots of Mikko taken during the trip.

Opportunities infographic

Look-up: a system of passive and random discovery

Below is a video animation that I have made to introduce the general, underlying ideas of my concept of a location-based mobile service.

An interesting thing about the Various degress of extrapolation project is that I had already tackled the topic of discovering a city with my bachelors degree thesis project, Textures de ville (Textures of the city). I had however done so in the perspective of a local citizen wanting to discover his own neighbourhood/city as opposed to the present project, which deals with a traveller wanting to discover a city in a perhaps more profound way than seeing and experiencing the usual, things-you-gotta-see when you are visiting a particular city. With the present project, the ‘user’ or type of person that I am aiming to design for are travellers (young adults mostly).

Early concepts

I wanted to create very simple and small, installation-like interventions in the city. I basically wanted to create indecision helpers, since indecision (e.g. “where should I go next?”, “are you hungry?”)—and we’ve experienced this constantly as a group while we were in Amsterdam.

Concept sketches/scenario(s).

The video below was a rapid sketch of a (somewhat) simple in situ installation.

Hacking a taxi ad sign

In essence, when deployed to the scale of a city or a neighbourhood (depending on the size of the city), this ‘system’ will collect location-based data from everyone using the Look up! application in a predefined area. The information would be displayed and fetched on taxis—more precisely on the ad signs that they all carry on the roof of the cars. With this collected data, our system acts more or less like a big randomizer, directing people towards different—and random—directions by redirecting their attention.

Even though I liked that concept quite a bit, I still did not find it satisfying enough, and more importantly, I felt like it could generate even more confusion for the travellers (and to a larger extent in the city).

The main concept: hacking cross-walk posts

Below are a few rules and criteria I gave myself

The city as a canvas.
Nothing should be fixed. Everything should be random to a certain degree.
Red pill, blue pill.
Serendipity.

The city as a canvas

My intent for this project is to use existing artifacts laying around in the city.

Nothing should be fixed

It has to do with the fact that perhaps too often people over-plan their trips and simply said, spend more time planning and worrying about diverse things rather than exploring.

Red pill, blue pill

Rest assured; I don’t want to re-create The Matrix. It’s simply a metaphor implying that I want to create an almost-discreet system, where you (always) have the choice between basically two options: go or no-go, easy or not easy, safe or less safe.

Serendipity

Ultimately, I want to direct people in non-typical places for travellers so that they have the opportunity to observe different (and not so different) things.

serendipity

A serendipitous image. Two very characteristic elements on this photograph that I took in Amsterdam: a bike and the ‘XXX’ logo (the city of Amsterdam’s emblem).

How it works

For this concept I decided to use crosswalk post—and more precisely the boxes on which there is a button that you can push in order to cross the road—as an artifact to ‘hack’. I chose this artifact mainly because they are so ubiquitous in a city and they can be found anywhere. They are hardly location-based.

As previously mentioned, our ‘user’ has a mobile device equipped with gps and wi-fi connectivity. This way, the ‘system’ knows the precise location of the person. In other words, the mobile device is almost solely a tracking device.

The person using this system is completely anonymous to it. there would be no ‘signing-up’ or tedious contact information to fill out before starting to use it. turn on the app and go. The objective is to enable people to discover a place or city, but to do so with their bare senses, and in a way, in a technologically-optimized manner. The resulting experience should hopefully be an impromptu, serendipitous and more ‘romantic’ experience.

The system creates a repertoire of certain places and stores that you can basically go spend money at. These places are distributed into larger areas akin to neighbourhoods. areas which of course communicate with each other. Simply said, the system is basically a dispatcher that distributes people more or less randomly in the city, according to the mode (mild, medium or hot) that they chose when they turned on their application.

In the system, some areas are predefined (touristic, too dangerous, etc.). however, the system should be an ‘intelligent’ one that bases its ‘randomness’ on statistics acquired from the service users journeys throughout the system’s history. The system, though random, encourages ‘collisions’ between fellow humans / users / travellers.

What’s it going to look like?

After thinking about it for a while, I quite rapidly came to the conclusion that this ‘thing’ had to look as generic as can be. No proper graphic identity. No glossy paper with bold type. And certainly anything else but Helvetica (even if Helvetica is generic).

It had to look like these little ‘transfer’ papers that we used to—and still do to this day—receive in Montréal (my hometown) when we take the metro. They’re printed on generic-as-can-be ‘newspaper’ type of paper stock with the expected mono-spaced Courier-like typeface.

post

Picking up a piece of paper from the Look up! system.

By definition this little piece of paper is ephemeral—it is (only) a transfer that is valid for an hour or so. People usually have two approaches with them: either they take them mechanically (like I used to do) and end-up with their pockets completely saturated with these little pieces of paper. The other approach, the one that the better organized people have, is to take one only if they need one and give it to the bus driver/clerk when they do transfer from one transportation service to another.

The only historical part of it—because (consciously) relating projects to History is, quite simply, as inevitable as it is essential—would be the physical aspect of the printed object.

Why not simply (and only) use a mobile phone?

For numerous perceptual reasons, but when it comes down to it, I find the idea of the printed object—it’s ‘souvenir’ aspect, the touch and feel of it, it’s discreteness—so much more compelling than the one of any mobile device. For a sample of possible messages that one would retrieve from the ‘posts’, click on the link below.

Show text.

The final video*

This video was shot on a Sunday afternoon in Umeå with the terrific Camille Ouellette. Many thanks to her (it wasn’t easy to randomly find interesting things to see/experience on such a calm day!).

*For your information, the message that Camille retrieves in the video reads: “After the 6th woman you see, take the first left”.