The ‘Strangers Project’ was an assignment in my Design Studio at school to understand the interaction between strangers in public spaces and understand the value of failure within an iterative process. We had to build low-fidelity prototypes and present our findings on the success and failures of them. My contributions were at every step of the project along with another team-mate, with observing, documenting, research and prototyping. I continued working on this, to develop a high-fidelity prototype and it’s a work in progress.

Discipline: Interaction Design
Timeline: 3 weeks | September-October 2017 (and ongoing)
Technology: Office and craft supplies, Arduino and its add-on components
Association: Parsons School of Design, Major Studio

Problem
Working in groups of two, design an intervention for a space that enables strangers to interact, without prompts of text, voice, human help and only using the installation.

Context
This was a school project to help understand users, the interaction between them, how strangers communicate and the collective use of spaces.
Time of Observance: Weekday 5pm -7pm and Weekends 12pm – 2pm
Location: Washington Square Park, NYC

Constraints
•   Simplicity and avoiding high fidelity prototypes

•   Focussing only on time of the day, in the week

Criteria
Have any two strangers look, smile, talk or gesture at each other because of the product or while interacting with the product

Precedents

Alamo, also known as the Astor Place Cube or simply The Cube, is an outdoor sculpture by Bernard Rosenthal, located on Astor Place, in the East Village, Manhattan, New York City. It takes the form of a black steel cube. The Cube rotates around a hidden pole in the center. As the heavy Cube takes more than one person to rotate, it has become a way for friends and strangers to bond.

Research

We draw our main principles for this research from Don Norman and Edward T.

Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding. …
Discoverability results from… affordances, signifiers, constraints, mappings, feedback and the conceptual model of the system. – Don Norman

There is a direct correlation between social standings and physical distances between people. – Edward T

Observations

We ended up towards the wooden and stone benches that encircle the arch area as you can see above and focussed our project there. We ran a few visits overall, during weekday evenings towards dusk and weekend afternoon time.

Population vs Time vs Type-of-Visitors

Users 

Stone bench users – Active/positive body language;  Talked more;  Sharing space; lesser personal distance.
Wooden bench users – Self-involved; Passive/laid-back body language; Within single-space

 

How can we create an interaction between the strangers, specifically between the stone and wooden benches so that they engage in any form of gesture, using the product?

 

Prototype 1: Simple Telephone

 

Takeaways

  • We missed the factor of placement vs kind of person. Ex: The old lady did not reach out the cup placed on the tree right behind her. The young man probably would have.
  • Almost everyone knows how to use it and this can be a reason to ignore it too.

Iteration

  • Expand the mind map to include, scale, invitation and enhanced current factors.
  • Curiosity should be met with immediate feedback.
  • Give control to the user

Prototype 2: Paper Wars

I tested using a prototype indoors, on my school floor, at PlayTech (an open forum where all games, installations were being tested), at our Design Studio floor, D12, Parsons School of Design.  [Work in progress: User reactions to be collected now from the park loaction.]

 

Prototype 3: ‘Hello’ween

This is a parallel in-progress high-fidelity idea, breaking away from the constraint of simplicity.

  • On pressing any one button only one part of the Halloween jack-o-lantern face glows.
  • On pressing two eyes, the nose glows, and only on pressing all three, the entire face glows.
  • With each glow, a small evil laugh is emitted and when all are pressed simultaneously, a major evil laugh is heard from inside the pumpkin.
  • Keeping Halloween, as the flavor of the season in mind, the wires, the entire apparatus may seem safe for the people and might not scare them away, as far as security is concerned.

Prototyping the Interface: Buttons

  • The safety perception for the user is an assumption and tests are required.
  • The pumpkin face may throw the factor of ‘safety’ and ‘trust’ since its familiar to most NYC users.
  • Buttons are rubber dummies or soft buttons with neoprene fabric.

The idea is to connect all these elements with electroluminescent wire, which will add to the attraction, and will not expose regular wires which may seem threatening to users. Once the button prototyping is done, tested and user reactions are noted down, only then I shall proceed with the final installation. The lights, sound, and synchronization are controlled by an Arduino, placed inside the pumpkin, along with the speaker.

I could not get security clearance for placing this at the Washington Square Park, because unfortunately, there was also a terror attack in NYC on October 31st, 2017. I tested using a prototype indoors, on my school floor, at PlayTech (an open forum where all games, installations were being tested), at our Design Studio floor, D12, Parsons School of Design. Below is a quick summary of the reactions.

I intended to test the Attraction, Curiosity, Invitation and Participation factors, not of the entire system taken together, but just the interface itself – the split buttons. This, in particular, was a success.

Click here for a summation and understanding of the intended experience online, of the entire installation. You might need three people/hands to try this out and play/interact with it.

[Work in Progress: Two more prototype iterations to follow – one fully functional prototype within a familiar/easy space like my school, and the other in the targeted space at the Park. Hopefully, I will get the necessary clearances and I intend to switch the ‘Pumpkin-Halloween’ theme to ‘Santa-Christmas’ theme, else it may repel users after October.]

Identifying Design Patterns: Multiplicity of Interface and ‘Play’

Stock Images: Simple telephone depiction, bubble-suit children and in Washington Square Park gif.