The Other Side (Spring, 2020)
The Other Side has been working with the client, Stephan Caspar, the assistant teaching professor of Media Creation & Multi-Cultural Studies at the CMU. There are four members on the team, Hanhui Lu, the artist, and UI/UX designer, Ningshan Ouyang, the programmer, and designer, Ruchi Hendre, the programmer, and Annie Hsiao-Ching Huang, the producer, and UX researcher.
The project was looking to turn the Askwith Kenner Global Languages and Cultures Room, located on the first floor of Tepper school of business on CMU campus, into a destination. By transforming a regular glass wall into a choice-based interactive projection installation, it is creating a platform that connects the room to the other side of the world. The installation encourages creativity, expressing, sharing, and exchanging opinions, and further boosts new conversations and perspectives on cultures and languages.
The interactive projection system consists of hardware for the installation, software for running the system, and an online Github wiki manual.
The client provided two projectors, and a laptop. We’ll deliver cut-out film screens, several phidget light sensors, and 3D-printed containers that hold them on the glass wall. In response to the quarantine lock-down, the containers would be delivered in forms of design document and established procedures, instead of ready-printed. Projectors were already set in place, the film screens and phidgets will be placed in the ETC until further notice to be delivered to the client.
There are two software running the installation, the back-end editor, and the front-end display application. Both will be delivered through Github. The softwares was designed to be installed on the laptop in the Kenner room, which would be connected to the projector to control what’s being displayed on the installation.
The front-end is a unity display application.The backend editor is a python based desktop application used to access the system to upload questions, medis for the interactive projection system.
- GUI is coded in PYQT5 and QtDesigner.
- Deployment is done through pyinstaller.
- This application has a video interface hence it requires K-Lite Codec pack to be installed into the machine.
We worked with the client to come up with three templates, 1) polling system, 2) showcase, 3) conversation. Each template serves different purposes and demonstrates unique functionalities and mechanics. As we were building a completely new system, the templates were necessary and helpful for both the users and developers. It offers an easy start on utilizing the tool, yet not limiting its possible extensions.
The manual covers the 1) installing steps, replacement, and troubleshooting, 2) development and design documentation for potential future development on the installation, and 3) guidance on creating contents for provided templates. It will be updated on Github wiki along with the software, in an organized structure, that it allows the client to expand and edit the contents in great flexibility.
What went well…
The team has given an effort on visualizing concepts and ideas, especially when communicating with the client. It made presenting ideas much clearer, and helped the client have a better understanding of what we’re agreeing to, not expecting something else.
It has been an honorable attempt at trying to have weekly playtest throughout the semester, even after quarantine. We had a rough start, where we didn’t have clear schedules and goals on each weekly playtest because of unclear responsibilities. Sometimes, the team had to work overtime on weekends to get it up in time. Following each playtest, not only it provided some evidence to defend our design, also we’d been actively iterating on the protocols and scheduling on how we want to design and execute our playtests. When adapting to working remotely, the team first developed VR simulation to cope with the limitation, then also provided PC versions due to limited VR testers. In the second week of remote testing, we further provided demo video testing for Mac users that couldn’t execute the PC testing.
Pivot in response of COVID-19: VR Simulation
Quarantine struck the project hard by limiting our access to the testing on both location and the audience. The design team quickly pivoted our plan, despite the risk and uncertainty of whether it’s worth it, to develop a VR simulation of the environment. The VR provided a more vivid visualization of the design that has profoundly helped the team, the client and faculty to vision the design as real installation. It has also been a good way to show and communicate the design to others.
Besides extra work on the VR simulation, the team has not given up the installation, and been actively coping with the situation by figuring out new solutions, such as upgrading on the manual for future implementation. We have tried our best to keep it to the delivery, nonetheless. It’s an achievement not downgrading what we promised.
What could have been better…
Dynamics between Design x Development x Testing
There were many things we wished to have more time testing before moving on to further development. For example, we didn’t have enough time to explore more design choices on the film layout. It was a trade-off on client request and pressure on ordering and having it delivered in time for implementation. It would be helpful for the following development to have the design tested earlier than later discovering the issues after a time-consuming development process. Same goes to the functionality testings. We didn’t get to do the functionality testing as often as expected because progress didn’t follow up. One of the main reasons of original plans falling behind was we pivoted to a big change in response to quarantine. We took a week to develop the VR simulation of the location after thorough evaluation and weighing on the effects.
On the other hand, when we made the time for testing, we were immediately off to the next playtest, that we wished to have more time to make pivots from the findings. It became clearer later that the overlapping responsibilities between design, development, and testing made it harder for such a fast-pace development process.
When pitching our design and choices, there was a miscommunication on the price cost between the tech team and the client. Due to miscalculation on various factors, the price presented to our client wasn’t enough to actually cover the proposed plan in time. The team caught it early, and immediately reached out to the instructors for coming up with a solution. It was important to take in consideration of not only the price cost, but also the delivery time, and many other factors. Reaching out to the suppliers for more information before presenting to the client would be a better approach since time is a critical factor for a delivery project.
Lessons learned and Conclusion
Take more photos, and videos all the time, just in case if ever fell under the condition of having to communicate a location-based experience design under quarantine stay-at-home policy. It has made communication even harder when we didn’t have the option of letting people simply just experience it as how we designed it, but it also made it clear on what are the things people first noticed on the design itself, without environmental factors, that we may not have known from before.
Efficiency and clear goals are critical factors on the testing and iterating dynamics. The team has gone through struggles and pressures on weighing between ideal plans and reality. It’s been a rough battle for all, but one thing the team has persisted on was not giving up on the product, no matter how bad it got. After all, the team have created and delivered a location-based installation during the time of lock-down.
At the end of the semester, we’re delivering the two software and manuals on Github to our client. As for the hardware, we’ve confirmed with the client that it would be handed off as elements without the implementation to the room. Adapting to that, we would be addressing the implementation steps in the manual, and keep the flexibilities in development for the client to easily adjust the parameters accordingly. The films, phidgets will be kept at the ETC until further notice allows us to either order a delivery or let him pick up at the ETC. The producer, Annie, will be responsible for keeping the client and the team informed for the hand-off.