Pressure Project 2: Transition Probe Kit

 

We are interested in viewing the College of Architecture and Urban Studies’s work habits, their definition of transition (time, space, thought, etc.), their perception of the world (as in all the places they may look during transitions), things that may (randomly) happen to these individuals, and the length of their transition periods. In viewing the recorded transitions, we hope that the viewer, either the participant or another person, will derive their own meaning about transitions and themselves.

We chose this group because they are an anomaly among the traditional lecture-test-project curriculums that most university students identify with. From our understanding, CAUS students regularly develop highly sophisticated proposals and implementations for designs that they have crafted, after which they are thoroughly critiqued by their peers and faculty. This not only requires an enormous amount of effort and creativity on their part, but also a ridiculous amount of time spent in the studio designing and refining their projects. We are speculating that CAUS students and faculty must view their productivity, time, and spaces differently than most out of necessity due to the nature of their work.

three-quarter.jpgoverhead.jpgKit

  • Materials
    • Discreet, wearable camera (Google Glass or pin camera)
    • Regular camera (smartphone)
    • Journal containing questions
  • Instructions
    • Record your transitions in your daily life using the wearable camera (up to the individual to define what a transition is)
    • Do not watch any specific recordings until instructed
    • Answer background questions before beginning
    • At the end of each week, answer the questions using the front-facing camera on the smartphone (read the questions into the recorder before answering them)
    • Participants will be compensated at a rate of $2/day given that they record at least once that day (note: the frequency that participants record is totally open-ended since their view of transitions is purely subjective)
  • Timeline
    • 1 month divided into 4 weekly phases
  • Method of distribution
    • Hand them the kit
  • Return
    • Take back the kit

 

Journal

  • Opening questions: background info
    • Name, Year, Student/Faculty (Week 1)
    • What superpower would you have and why? (Week 1)
  • Weekly reflections
    • Describe three sources` of inspiration. (Week 2)
    • Include some photographs of the space where you spend the most time (Week 3)
    • What was your most memorable transition this week? (Week 3)
    • Watch recording of this transition. What sort of events and/or behaviors do you notice now that you didn’t think you did then? (Week 3)
    • If you could describe this transition with a color, what would it be? (Week 3)

Participants are free to watch any of their transitions at this point

    • Did you get anything out of this project? If so, what? (Week 4)
    • What is your definition of a transition? (Week 4)

 

Materials

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Participants can opt to wear either the camera glasses or pin camera (preferably both) to record their transitions. We want to make sure that their experience recording transitions is both subtle and functionally easier than a traditional video camera so that they don’t have to think about documenting their daily occurrences beyond pressing a button. Wearing the glasses also allows us to see the participants’ perspective in the most literal first-person view, which gives us insight into the things that they tend to notice and look at. The pin camera also gives a first-person perspective of their transitions, but it’s a more objective recording of the events happening around them. When participants go back to view recordings captured by the pin camera or the camera glasses, they may start to notice the sights that they’re eyes gravitate towards or ones that they’re surprised they didn’t see.

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A journal will contain weekly questions for participants in order to get to know them. The first set of questions is targeted towards getting background information about the participants in order to both learn more about some of their individual details and avoid overwhelming them with questions that directly correlate to their recording activities. This also serves to disguise what the actual purpose of the probe kit is or what they might think it is. The second set of questions targets their creative and productivity drives. The third set of questions finally starts to spark their awareness for their personal definitions of transitions (spatial, temporal, task-oriented, and psychological components). At the end of the last week, after the participants are finished recording their transitions, the final set of questions encourages the participant to watch any of their transitions that they’ve recorded. Up to this point, the participant has been restricted from doing so to avoid persuading their unconscious perceptions of transitions and how they might unnaturally frame them after watching them. We are also curious what the participant thinks about a seemingly aimless experiment of passively recording moments that they aren’t usually thinking about.

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Participants will use their phone to record their responses to the reflection questions. This is so that we will have their verbal response as well as the included body language. If participants do not have a phone, they can simply place the glasses on a raised surface in front of them and use the glasses to record.

Personal Reflections

 

Peter Maurer

Right from the very start we had our idea set. We spent a lot of time discussing and refining it, as well as figuring out what exactly to include in our kit, but it was  clear from the start what we wanted our theme to be. I think that we worked well as a group, each of us asking questions when we didn’t fully understand something, and we had a very relaxed atmosphere as we worked. I really liked the redundancy in our kit, which provides the user multiple methods of recording everything that we are asking them to record. Overall I think that the probe process is an excellent way to get to know a community, and, when done well, produces good results.

Omavi Walker

Upon brainstorming our idea with the team, I had a clear vision of where I wanted to go with the project, as well as why.  However, it proved challenging to convey these thoughts to my peers.  Over the course of two days, I found myself refining and revamping my words to explain what I was thinking in the most accurate and precise way possible.  Through countless question exchanges with our team, we threw out any garbage that had us individually confused and molded our ideas into quite an interesting probe project.  I definitely enjoyed creating this project with my group.  The conversations that this process produced were quite intriguing.

The benefits of our kit are that we provide two cameras for each participant to use.  They can use the glasses camera or the pin camera if they would rather not wear glasses.  The participant could use  both to produce the most data possible.  A downside is that the kits would, most likely, come without a phone to record participant reflections on.  If the participant did not have a smartphone, they would be left to find another camera or use either the glasses or pin cameras included.

The probe process would be beneficial because participants would become more aware of the interactions and transitions that they experience on a daily basis.  Other viewers could always learn by “seeing through the eyes of another” or “walking a mile in another’s shoes.”  A viewer could pay attention to things such as where the participant looks when walking around or maybe how much conversation time the participant gives every friend that they run into on the street.  Anything could be reflected on by the participant or another person depending on what they were trying to get from this study.  The biggest disadvantage of this probe process is that all interactions would be affected by the participant knowing of the camera. We hope that the discreteness of the cameras would allow this worry to affect the wearer as little as possible.

 

Evan Merkel

To me, this probe kit is about different ways of thinking. Students and faculty in other majors and colleges lead completely different lives than other people, and the level of diversity is astounding. The architecture studio culture is a tightly knit community of creative thinkers and makers who often develop a microcosm of unique ways of seeing. How can we, as observers, gain insight into their world?

I think our kit is a good way to scratch the surface. It involves some unsubtle and direct methods, but I think it could help us see what they see, how they see it. Of course, the weakness is that some of the participants would realize that we are after raw footage of their lives, so they might doctor their interactions accordingly, thus skewing our results.

Sam Blissard

This Pressure Project was interesting to work through mainly because of the community that we chose as the target for our probe kit. Although the members of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies are close to me geographically, I couldn’t feel more isolated from them as a student. I have the utmost respect for their work ethic after hearing anecdotes about how much effort they put into their projects with successive all-nighters in their studios. Although CS has dealt me a few projects that seemed insurmountable at the time, I always got through it eventually, and in retrospect they never seemed to be even nearly as impossible as I initially imagined them to be. Hearing horror stories about CAUS students spending most of their waking hours slaving away on whatever project they’re working on the moment made me realize how they must have to view productivity and time differently than me. I’d also say it’s true that if you devote that much time to any one thing, it usually alters the way you think about that problem space. I would assume architecture students view the aesthetics and functionality of any building they encounter, whereas I usually don’t even take a moment to appreciate it. This notion of altering your perception when passionate about something led our group to focus on the spatial, temporal, and psychological transitions that happen in a CAUS student’s daily life.

One benefit that I think our kit has is the subtle, wearable component of it. Rather than creating an artifact that has to be actively engaged with, the camera requires minimal effort to operate but still gives the participant control over the transitions that they choose to capture, despite the fact that these are usually unplanned. I think providing something unobtrusive in a kit like a wearable device is a thoughtful accommodation to anyone’s schedule, but it’s probably especially true of CAUS members.

One weakness I think our kit has is a lack of variety in the materials. Because we chose to focus on transitions, a very subjective and abstract concept, I felt like I wasn’t able to think of a diverse set of ways we could gain insight into the community’s transition. This is probably a product of time restraints and our theoretical focus, but I wish I could have at least come up with some potential ideas for items that might gauge the user’s engagement in a particular moment.

I found this Pressure Project to be considerably more difficult than the first one for a couple of reasons. First, I think designing a probe kit that cleverly stimulates the way a certain individual works and thinks for a relatively unknown community is especially challenging. Rather than feeling sure about how our probe kit would be received by CAUS members, I couldn’t help but think that we were just designing for what our perception of them was which, as restricted by the project, was largely uninformed. While I have respect for CAUS members, I could never claim to fully understand how they think and how they perceive the world. Given more time and resources, more research into their backgrounds could have helped remedy this.

The second challenge we faced was determining how to incentivize use of our probe kit. On one hand, a probe kit should be innately interesting to use by our target audience. On the other hand, given our perception of CAUS students’ schedules, it’d be hard to convince them to isolate time to participate using the kit. To work around this, we tried to make the activities in our kit as unobtrusive and easily accessible as possible. Ideally, starting to record a transition should no more complicated than a press of a button on the camera(s), and the rest of the activity is passive and natural. Still, our group had doubts about justifying a month-long participation. When the idea of compensation was brought up, our members struggled to identify the balance between compensation and genuine participation. If money is the main incentive for participation, the participant’s perspective of using the kit to solely to gain rewards will skew the data they produce. Conversely, will absence of a compensation component promote a participant’s apathy towards the kit? I think this is a failing on our kit if it can’t fully justify itself, but given the values of the of our target audience, I believe we made our best effort.
Overall, I personally didn’t feel this project was an absolute success, but I thought it was an interesting approach to learning about a community nonetheless. With any design good process, iteration and refactoring is very important. I think the probing process would benefit most from creating small-scale prototypes, testing it on a subset of the target audience, and receiving feedback not only about the insights participants generated but the kit itself. Researching and surveying the community formally can only go so far in understanding a them.

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