Thesis Wrap

Hi

It actually hasn’t been as long as I thought, I mean it’s been two months, but it feels like much longer than that. Since it’s now all over and done with, I’m going to skip the Phase/Part structure and just do a summary write up of the thesis build. To be honest I would probably just let it slide and go back to the pre-thesis days of whinging about my hair and Project Runway, but I feel like I owe the Raspberry Pi foundation something for following me almost all the way through the Instagram countdown. Plus I haven’t been able to watch any Project Runway in months.

 

So I built two things, a website and a dress.

 

Mocksite2a     

I went over the connection of these things in the Design post.

I built the website using my old reliable WordPress. Starting with the Twenty Fourteen theme I made some adjustments to match it up with the Indesign mocks. Nothing too complicated, the “Spots” and “Shop” pages are fairly face-value mocks with very little available interaction. The home and profile pages are both internally scrollable lists of divs populated with info from SQL databases. The sidebar is filled with a variety of completely non-functioning, but lovely looking, widgets.

mocksiteq14

The dress runs off a Raspberry Pi, which hosts the SQL databases used by the website and runs the python program that makes everything work. As an immediate feedback some fibre optics light up when the dress is touched, a colour for different body parts (waist=purple, hip=green, hand=blue, etc.). At the same time the dress registers when and where it was touched to a database to be displayed on the user profile, as well as adding a certain number of points to the user total. The user total determines their place on the homepage leader board. The sensor used is a capacitive one, specifically this one, from Adafruit. Its used with conductive thread to pick up human contact all over the dress. The illumination is provided by the Pimoroni Blinkt, which provides some unbelievably bright and pretty colour effects for such a small (and cheap) piece of tech. It saved me having to wire and code a bunch of LEDs individually. Absolutely adore it.

img_20160822_163611

This first prototype fit my function, but sticking to my vision of designing something that was actually wearable, didn’t make for a great exhibition piece. So I made another one, one that was a little flashier and simplified the interaction right down to its basics. More fibre optics, less fabric. Because there aren’t different sections in the second dress, the lights run through a rainbow (code for which was stolen directly from the Blinkt example library) for as long as it’s touched.

 

This has been a very brief description of how I spent the last 2 months, but I’m so very over this whole thesis thing now, and I still have to proof read it. The blog will be back to semi-regular for the next while, I have actually managed to do the whole “productive member of society” thing and get a job, but I don’t start until January. I will get into that in my next post, but for the time being, I’ve got a lot of free time on my hands.

Featured In/On:
MagPi Issue 53

Best Raspberry Pi Projects

Adafruit Blog

Thesis Phase 2: Design

Design got really, really big, so I split it into three parts. This first one is about the over all interaction without going into detail about the visual and functional design of the wearable or the website. I say interaction, I mean the algorithm that runs the whole thing. I’m just going to describe what it is really, rather than “The Proccess”, because my artistic “process” is thinking about stuff while I binge TV series, writing some of it down and, if I’m feeling particularly motivated, drawing some of it. Copy, paste and apply for all steps. If you are interested, the series in question were RuPauls Drag Race, Orange is the New Black and Silicon Valley. Like I said in Phase 1, I’m measuring four variables;

 

1. Where the user is
2. Who the user is with
3. What the user is saying
4. What physical contact the user experiences

 

These variables are tracked and have their worth determined according to an algorithm. The interactions worth is measured by points and added up to establish the user’s worth as person. Remember, dystopia.

 

ADDITIVES
A user collects points through verbal and physical contact. These are additive actions in that they are worth points. I am a firm believer in making things “Marketing’s problem” when I design, but even I had to acknowledge that a device recording conversations is a difficult sell. So, instead of recording speech, the device records the presence of speech, without storing any recordings. To factor in the nature of the conversation and how that effects the points value, it uses word recognition, with specific words equating to a higher number of points. Positive words, e.g. “love”, “happy” or “koala”, mark a positive conversation. The “good” word list is not publically available, but the display in the garment reacts to the chosen words, making them learnable.

IMAG0976
A value is also assigned to physical contact. Different values for different body parts, higher amounts for more intimate areas. Connection made with multiple contact points at once are added together before the application of multipliers (see below), making concurrent contact more significant than consecutive. To account for prolonged contact the points are re-added every minute the contact continues.
Another source of points, separate to the wearable is the users profile. Each page view accumulating points depending on privacy settings. A users interaction feed can be made private, protecting their information, but making page views worthless. A public profile set with a time delay offers users a limited number of points per view, while a real-time feed generates the maximum number of points.
MULTIPLIERS
Where the user is and who they are with does not in itself accumulate points, they multiply the points earned by the additive factors.

 

Location based multipliers can be created in two ways. One of which is by purchase. Similar to the way in which Snapchat allows consumers to buy an area and timeframe to display Geofilters, businesses and private parties can purchase a multiplier for their venue to make it more attractive to customers or guests. The cost of this is determined by the size of the venue, the length of time it is to be in effect and the value of the multiplier. The second method of creating a location based multiplier is natural development. Venues and spaces that consistently attract high volumes of users, especially highly ranked users can develop multipliers without need for payment. Multipliers created in this way can be higher than those available for purchase. The locations of all multiplier spots can be looked up on the site.
Proximity multipliers are based on the rankings of those that the user interacts with. The higher up the scoreboard, the higher the multiplier. These multipliers are attached to the coloured rank system (see below). This makes friends who use the site, in particular those who do well on the site, more valuable to the wearer.

Mocksite2a
Obvious example users. Please ignore that I didn’t have a search icon off-hand and picked a random Wingding instead.

 

Interactions, and the points attached, are only recorded and valued for seven days. So users have to be consistently active to stay on top. It also means early-adopters can’t get too far ahead of newer users. Only the previous seven days are included in calculating a user’s score.
Oh and the coloured rank thing. A big problem with wearable trackers is a lack of long term motivation. Wearers get bored with goals that start to seem unattainable. With space for only one at the top, users could quickly become discouraged with the site. Taking inspiration from the use of levels in social fitness website Fitocracy, which also uses a points system, users will be sorted into different classes dependant on their rank. These classes are identified by colours, with number one having its own unique colour, from two to ten being another and so on. I made a table but I am too lazy to go find it for you now, maybe next week. These classes continue up to the top million, above which the user is “colourless”. The break up lets users set themselves smaller personal goals. This coloured rank also justifies the garments displays existence beyond “I just really wanted to put a bunch of LEDs on a dress”.

 

I will cover either the dress or the website next week, depending on my mood.

Thesis Phase 1: Speculation

Sucking it up and taking back all the horrible things I said about Dunne and Raby here, I decided to take on a speculative design project for my thesis. I even read a few of their books to work out what speculative design actually was. The first step in any speculative design project is obviously the speculation, in this case speculation of what social media will look like 5-10 years from now. Being a research project, the future is inevitably dystopian, because if the ghost of Christmas future had brought good news then “A Christmas Carol” wouldn’t have sold nearly as well.

 

So what trends are observable in social media today?

  • Success on social media is incredibly important to people, for reasons most people aren’t quite sure of
  • With some work, this “success” can become increasingly lucrative, to the point of being an almost legitimate career option.
  • Mystery algorithms have a large amount of control over what we see and consequently what we do
  • We are becoming aware of how faked a lot of posts are, particularly those from social media personalities

In her book, “Seeing Ourselves Through Technology”, Jill Walker Rettberg states that there are three distinct modes of self- representation in digital media: written, visual and quantitative. For this I am eternally grateful to her, because this is the premise I built my entire thesis on.

 

In the early internet, self-representation was purely text-based, the internet was less capable of handling images, so social media consisted of blogs and instant messaging. Lying about who you were was very easy to do. As technology advanced, we moved on to basing the transfer of information on visual communication; photos, videos, and emoticons in place of words. Lying on the internet became slightly trickier. Not so tricky as to discourage any of the people who appear on “Catfish”, but the likes of Facebook and Instagram require a little more effort than typing about how you’re totally a 16 year old girl from LA who is also Britney Spears’ best friend. As such, the natural progression would be quantified social media, that couldn’t be manufactured. No one would go to the extent of  actually living a false life for the purposes of social media. Right?

 

Combining this with wearable technology, because that is literally the only consistent thing in my entire dissertation, my mission is:

 

To design a wearable connected platform that introduces what is sold as a “purer” form of social media. The quantitative data means users would have to go to extraordinary lengths to misrepresent their lives, thereby making its information more reliable than that of its competitors. Thanks to revenue from wearable sales, it can afford to offer a platform with less advertising.
This platform measures four factors to give as accurate a representation as possible of social actions.

 

1. Where the user is
2. Who the user is with
3. What the user is saying
4. What physical contact the user experiences

 

The user is then scored on these factors by an algorithm to earn points, which determine the users rank on what is less a social network and more an online scoreboard. Cutting to its point, this scoreboard reduces each user to a name, a picture, a vague location, a number of points and most crucially, a global rank.

 

To keep up with daily activities, the device would have to be worn daily. No one wants to wear the same thing everyday. So, the device built for this project is just a representative of what would be a suite of wearables available for sale from the corporation. These would track and display at various different levels, allowing users to choose to what degree they engage at different times. More understated, smaller wearables, like smart jewellery are more suitable for day-to-day wear. Larger scale wearables, garments,  that track more and therefore collect more points as well as offer more pageantry, can be worn for social occasions. The dress built for this project demonstrates the full range of parameters that could be tracked and a more elaborate display. An extended selection of the range is shown in the “Shop” section of the website demonstration.

 

The name of this social media platform and the corporation behind it is QBee, named for “Queen Bee”.

 

Phase 2: Design write up should be coming next week, seeing as I’m already on Phase 3.

The Journey So Far|Thesis Diary

It took me more than a month to follow up my first totally going to be weekly post, because of course it did.

 

Achievement Unlocked, Supervisor Acquired. And if my time with my FYP supervisor is anything to go by, Nora, I apologise in advance.

 

Since I’ve changed thesis idea so many times and been less than devoted to my posting about it, it would be easy to get the impression that it’s just my short attention span jumping around. So I want to take a minute to clear my name and prove that there is a certain amount of method to my madness and write up what I swear to Christ is my locked in, final, never changing ever concept.

 

I started before christmas with an idea to do a piece of wearable tech that you can read all about in the December entry of my Thesis tab. I knew in September I was doing a wearable. I am obsessed.

 

The Christmas break gave me a lot of time to think on the fact that I was going to be looking at this project for a very long time, particularly the three months of the summer. I took a hard look at my project and realised, unlike my FYP, it didn’t need to be in the least bit commercial. What it had to be was interesting. The idea I had was small time, so, inspired by the woman who has been my design hero since 2013, Anouk Wipprecht, I decided to go all in a build a dress. I dropped the location based thing because when asked why it interested me, I didn’t have an answer.

 

I give it a week

After a while of reading broadly in the area I decided to focus in from general social interactions to smart phone addiction, and the anti social side to social networks. The concept was that LEDs in the dress would dull with prolonged phone use, to represent that the wearer was being dull. This was the idea I presented to Nora in our first meeting, she said it was a good jumping off point, but wanted me to go bigger, which in hindsight, I shouldn’t have needed to be told.

 

Finally, direct from the message I sent my supervisor, is the final product:

 

“After reading around I still wanted to look at the anti social element, so I started thinking about why it was anti social and started looking at multitasking and how a person can only properly focus on one thing at a time. I essentially circled back to a similar function, but with a more detailed reasoning behind it.

 

The concept is to treat the physical world as another website/app/social media platform. To be active on one, means to be inactive in the other. In the same way you can only have one tab or app open on a screen, your attention can only exist in the digital or physical space. When the wearer is active online, they are therefore inactive in physical space, and the lighting (thinking fibre optic fabric) in the dress goes dead to indicate the wearer is “offline” in the  world around them.

 

I’m also playing around with the idea using white noise (possibly in a hood) as a sort of sensory deprivation to push the “out of body” feel a bit.”

 

And that is our journey so far.

Beauty and the slightly less Beautiful|Thesis Diary

 VS. 

 

The artist and the engineer within me are at war.

My rational side understands that I have a background and skills in product design and usability. It understands that I got into this degree with the intention of developing my UX/UI design abilities. But things change, I’ve changed, and there is a side of me that wants to let her freak flag fly and build a big haute couture masterpiece of insanity, that you wouldn’t actually be able to sit down in, but would look wonderful at exhibition. And at the end of the day, that is where my thesis project will have it’s moment, at exhibition. But there is also the distinction between MA and MSc to think about. It shouldn’t matter but it does, it really, really does.

From a research perspective, both are plausible in the realm of reacting to social media/ smartphone usage. It will just depend on whether it’s at a personal or public level. I have at least been able to make head way in establishing there are problems with excessive smartphone use and disconnection from reality in academic references. So there’s evidence to support my wild assumptions, or my thesis, if you will.

Of course you have no idea what I’m talking about, because I haven’t updated the thesis page in about 2 weeks and its changed 20 times a day since then. It’s going to be a dress and it’s going to discourage/draw attention to anti-social smartphone use in some way. Beyond this all I’ve got is a Mendeley folder that is quickly growing past the point of being useful and I need a supervisor to make decisions for me help me make decisions, or at the very least, shush me and tell me it’s all going to be OK. I need a grown up.

Picking posting back up to twice a week, because the second all-consuming, sanity ruining project of my short life warrants its own space. I will shoot for Wednesdays, but we know how my scheduling has worked out in the past. Posting on my inspiration, my issues, my progress or lack thereof. “FYP 2 – Now with more chance for electrocution.”