Running Experience

Running shoes with gel technology have completely changed how I experience running. On one of my visits to the chiropractor, we started having a conversation about the importance of posture and balance for spine health. The chiropractor, an avid runner, shared his excellent experience with his new gel shoes and suggested that it might be a direction worth exploring.

After initial hesitance due to the priceyness, I gave it a shot and there has been absolutely no looking back. Little did I know that so much thought and research goes into understanding the running experience and tailoring technology to help improve the experience. Having had an exposure to a cargo-cult mockup would definitely not have convinced me. I would have doubted the claims made by a gel insertions and stretchable fabric no matter how well explained. Even the gizmodo video below would have had a hard time convincing me –

http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2015/04/2-technologies-you-didnt-know-existed-in-running-shoes/

 

It is only after actually experiencing it for myself did I realize how it felt when gel absorbed and dispersed the energy from the shock and prevented it from transmitting up to my back. As a result, I do not feel tired after long walk and runs.

In this context, Blauvelt’s Strangely Familiar: Design and Everyday Life resonated with me the most out of all the readings. It is very true in the case of my gel shoes that “design is both invisible and conspicuous, familiar and strange. It surrounds us while fading from view, becoming second nature and yet seemingly unknowable.”  

My back had improved a lot and I wear my Asics Gel Running shoes every single day and cannot imagine my long walks and runs without them. If I could have it my way, I would have this technology in all my shoes. 

 

IKEA EXPEDIT Shelf

One of my favorite industrial designed artifacts is IKEA’s EXPEDIT (a new model is called KALLAX) shelf. Blauvelt wrote in his article, “multifunctionality has long been a characteristic of furniture design, particularly in circumstances where space is at a premium”. I had an IKEA’s 4 by 4 EXPEDIT shelf in my small studio when I lived in DC. I loved its simplicity and versatility: it was composed of 16 square shelves that were suitable for storing and organizing anything: it was a room divider, a book shelf, a clutter organizer, and a shoe rack. The multifunction of the shelf allowed me to maximize the utility of my space, and the simple and clean design also added style to my tiny room.

It is also worth mentioning that the shelf units come in different sizes, making it adaptable to different room sizes and layouts if the owner moves to a new apartment (sadly I sold mine as I moved to California). Users can also purchase inserted drawers or doors to add to the shelf to make it even more customized.

The simple design of the EXPEDIT shelf opens up a lot of possible utilities for the users to figure out.  Just as Blauvelt said, the design “allows for some sort of uncertainty to take place in terms of the final product by centralizing the user as an active and creative participant.” The creativity is handed over to the user’s hands, making me think about my living space differently.

image from web

(image from web)

Experiencing Target’s Open House

Last year, Target had an Open House set up in its downtown San Francisco city store. The Open House was a very early stage prototype of what a smart home might look like. The coffee maker talked to the baby monitor, which talked to the lights, to the curtains, to your cell phone, etc. Everything in your home was smart, connected, and could communicate with each other. So, for example, the baby monitor would hear your baby cry in the morning, which would signal to the coffee maker to start brewing, which would signal to your alarm clock to wake you up. We’ve seen this type of functionality in movies, but Target was prototyping a physical space for potential users to explore. Instead of us, the users, seeing a video or a movie, we got to explore and experience the environment first hand.

 

One thing aspect of the smart home I was surprised by was these text bubbles that were projected on the walls with the conversations that were being passed from baby monitor to coffee maker to alarm clock. The texts were peripheral information for the human in the scene to pay attention to if they so choose, but their main purpose was to inform the user of what was going on and that devices were in motion/action. The text bubbles gave the illusion that the human was writing the messages themselves delegating and giving orders to the devices. While I didn’t like the text bubbles on the wall because I found them unaesthetic and distracting, it did make me think about what types of information I would want to know about when devices are fully connected such that they can truly act as full personal assistants. Having a personal assistant that tells me everything they are doing is almost more distracting than me just doing all of the actions myself. But, having no visibility into actions that are going on between devices could potentially be dangerous or concerning depending on the device/situation. Of course, these thresholds of how much information would like to know/not know varies for each user. But, I thought this was such a great way to “provoke insights into important functional and emotional issues and inspire thoughts about how to deal with them” (Experience Prototyping, pg. 426). I don’t think I would have had such a strong reaction and thoughts on the idea if I hadn’t experienced it for myself.

RR05: Hobonichi Techo Daily Planner

I tried to transition to planning my days in a digital calendar; however, I found my experience lackluster, and soon found myself not tracking my days at all. The lack of a customizable experience — to the extent that I felt like it was easily identified as my planner and not anyone else’s — pulled me back to paper planners. But, my former Moleskine planners were ill designed for sufficient, flexible realestate on a page. I looked into creating my own bullet journal, but lack the time to make one completely to my liking.

So, I did some research and found myself purchasing a Hobonichi Techo Daily Planner. It’s a daily planner that is made in Japan that is rather compact, with Tomoe River paper (which before I ordered the planner meant absolutely nothing to me, because I had never experienced writing on it before), and bound in a way such that it lays flat. I was very nervous with this purchase, having gone from store to local store hunting for a copy for me to touch, maybe run a pen over. I am very particular about how my notebooks feel as I use them, and how much of a struggle it is to write close to the binding. My previous planners did not hold ink very well, or forced a structure that did not suit my lifestyle. These things you unfortunately do not realize until after attempting to use the planner for a while.

Immediately, when the journal arrived, I ran my fingers over the cover, the Tomoe river paper, and tested the paper with a fountain pen. To my pleasant surprise, the ink did not feather nor bleed through onto the next page. I was thrilled to find a resilient and compact planner with just enough printed structure that would suit my commuter life, and I have to say I am sold for life.

Truly Experiencing “Noise Cancelling”

Noise cancelling headphones have changed my life for the better and at this juncture, there’s no turning back. However, when I was first introduced to them, I thought they were outrageously priced, not worth the investment, and that they, quite frankly, looked very strange. I even tried on a pair to try to better understand what their benefit was and why anyone would want to invest in them. Even after that, I wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t until I borrowed a pair to use on a cross-country, red-eye flight that I realized their utility. By being able to eliminate a majority of the noise around me on the plane (the engine, nearby conversations, loud children, the loudspeaker), I was able to sleep more deeply and I was also less distracted by the commotion around me. As a result, my red-eye flight was no longer a completely draining experience. I was actually able to enjoy my flight and once I landed, I felt more awake and I was more productive.

The efficacy of these headphones changed the way that I view products that I may not initially understand. For example, if someone had presented me with a cargo cult mock-up of noise cancelling headphones, I would not have understood their utility nor would I have ever thought about buying them. By showing me a representation of the headphones, I would not have been able to understand what kind of noise they eliminate and to what extent. What’s more, because I had no prior knowledge of the power of noise cancelling headphones, I would have doubted their ability to function in the way they promised. In my case, I had to actually experience them in order to fully understand their functionality.

Headphones are ubiquitous in modern day culture. Whether they’re Apple’s signature in-ear white buds, Beats by Dre’s over-ear noise cancelling headphones, or on-ear types, we see them everywhere we go. The fact that I’m able to describe a large variety of headphones indicates that philosopher Jean Baudrillard was right. This product, like many others, has a “sign value” (Blauvelt, 16) and was largely impacted by growth and changes to the design field. These products are no longer used just for listening to music or to mute airplane engines; They also indicate status, brand loyalty, or not wanting to be disturbed.

As our world continues to grow and change, I believe that proper design will play a critical role in improving how we communicate with others and interact with our world. As Andrew Blauvelt said, “Without this ability to integrate objects into our environment, the world would seem a daunting place – an ever-changing visual cacophony” (Blauvelt, 15).

RR05 Roombas

A few years back, my family adopted a second pet: a Roomba. This pet was going to take on the quotidian task of cleaning for us, whirring around the room to the commands of some invisible algorithm. With just a touch of a button, it made the familiar action of sweeping and vacuuming hands-free and completely unfamiliar.

I experienced Roomba in its highly polished, end product form, but I wonder how the designers iterated to create that circular animated bot. I wonder what their prototypes could have looked like, what generators (bio-inspiration perhaps?) led to their design direction, and how they utilized the principles of experience design to inform their next decisions, especially considering the fact that the point of a Roomba is to not disturb you. Did they insert their half-finished Roombas into their own homes and role-play a normal Sunday in, observing how it interacted with them?

With the Roomba, we generally presume that it cleans every spot or that it has traversed most of the room. However, often when it hits a corner and blindly continues to collide against things, we just shake our heads and forfeit that our technology isn’t smart enough. Doesn’t that just show our gullible acceptance to the claims of consumer products? For all I know, the Roomba could only clean 40% of my floor and qualify as a “cargo culture” prototype, but I would never know, because I’m not the designer, and I could never peek inside the blackbox.

At any rate, the Roomba shifted my perspective, because for the first time, I saw a robot taking the ease off of my household’s workload. Also, though it is just a modular element of our home, it introduced for the concept and possibilities of a “smart home”.

roomba

Kaleidoscape

The first thing that came to mind about an industrial design artifact that changed the way I normally look at things was Kaleidoscape – an interactive modular public seating system at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. If you have not had the pleasure of interacting with it, it is a series of different size seating blocks that can be moved around to create new patterns and arrangements.
kaleidoscape

The size, shape, and color of the pieces are extremely inviting to manipulate, evoking the “strangely familiar” principle from Blauvelt, and “design for experiencing” and “participatory culture” from Sanders. The size is slightly larger than normal public seating systems, making the user feel small like a child, and the colors are bright like children’s toys, and this taps into how users interact with these objects: playing with them like in their childhood. The structures are also portable, multifunctional (facilitate multiple social or solo activities), and extraordinary design that change the entire space of the BAMPFA.

Since there are many components to the seating sculpture, it is also allows for users to feel like they are creating a new pattern and contributing to the space – which is “participatory culture” as defined by Sanders. Additionally, since there are many components, every user has an opportunity to contribute and participate.

When I first interacted with the piece, it was an extremely social and fun experience. My friends and I could create a new space with strangers, an experience we would never have had on a traditional public bench or other seating system. The piece invites conversation and interaction, but can also be broken into smaller pieces to create private spaces for conversation. It makes me wish that more participatory sculptures existed in public spaces, or that public seating could be rearranged – it would be strange to move a bench in Wheeler Hall to the window, but it is totally acceptable – in fact, encouraged – to do it at the BAMPFA.

URL to video on Kaleidoscape: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kcRN5OL5cI

the everyday at large (changing scale)

At first I wasn’t sure if this was an example of industrial design, but Blauvelt includes the Airborne Snotty Vases and Buildings of Disaster as examples, so I figured it was worth thinking about. Growing up, our local frozen custard and burger place (it’s the Midwest…) featured a sculpture of a giant spoon and giant cherry (first image below). Though it was not the designer’s (or at least restaurant’s) intention, all the kids wanted to climb on the cherry and slide down the spoon (hence it was roped off). I remember liking it because it was a normal thing, but made really big and somehow that was fascinating, which I think is what Blauvelt’s “transforming the everyday” is about.

I remember feeling a similar fascination at a mundane thing made big when I saw the giant safety pin sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen at SF’s de Young museum (second image below). While also meant as an art piece, it reminded me of the spoon and cherry and made me think how “regular sized” objects could take on new functions if they were made bigger or smaller (the spoon could be a slide, the safety pin could be a lamp post). What function might an X serve if it was made really big/small, other than being an X for giant/ants? Some examples already exist: dinner forks and pitchforks, knives and swords, sewing pins and stakes/posts. It was interesting to note the common function of these tools, even if their use contexts are quite different.

giant-spoon-and-cherry giant-safety-pin

Feeling VR

This summer I worked at YouTube. As a result, I was able to test out some up and coming products. One of these was the next version of the VR headset. I had never tried VR before, and was frankly skeptical. After seeing videos of VR, I thought the quality was crude and therefore unable to create a realistic rendition or illicit any real emotion. This summer proved me wrong. 

Though the view wasn’t always entirely realistic (at times, it was choppy looking side to side), the feelings were entirely real. I tried going on a roller coaster, and felt scared. In the pit of the my stomach scared. Walking away from this experience made me see emotions and experiences entirely differently. If I can feel something just by seeing it rather than actually experiencing it, are feelings like that of fear or motion sickness just mental? It left me thinking I could possibly take more control over my emotional state than I realized – probably with the help of systems like the one I had tried. 

Thinking back to the Holmquist article, this possibility of training ones’ emotions via a virtual simulation feels quite like a cargo cult design. You are entering a space that creates the semblance of an experience, to which you may react as you normally would, but it does not actually create that experience. The user can potentially walk away from such an experience thinking they now know how they will react in that actual experience.

Take my roller coaster example – after trying it out in VR, I may now think that this is how I will react on an actual roller coaster. However, the simulation is only somewhat reflective of a real experience. I may enjoy it less in real life because there novelty of using the VR device is missing. I may feel less queasy in my stomach because the cold wind is refreshing my face. But, because I had an emotional reaction to the simulation, my mind thinks I have just experienced a roller coaster. Per Homlquist’s warning, it is important here for the developer/ designer to indicate to the user how much they should take away from their VR experience.