MFA Design Exhibition

CCA MFA Design Exhibition

The blog has been quiet lately, but rest assured I have been busy with my thesis explorations and am graduating this coming Saturday!

Before that happens, I am finishing up the last bits for my thesis exhibition, which will open this Thursday night at CCA! For a sneak peak at work from my classmates and me, look at our exhibition website.

The opening party is:
May 15th, 6pm-10pm
1111 Eighth Street
San Francisco, CA 94107

Thesis – Week 8 Summary

Zoom Level 13 View of Tracking Experiment . . . people need to get to the ocean!

Zoom Level 13 View of Tracking Experiment . . . people need to get to the ocean!

It has been around a week since I asked people to track their movements and send me their .gpx files daily. For some reason my Android testers are all doing pretty well, but all my iPhone testers are having issues with iMoves; it has been super buggy and is resulting in long diagonal lines when people lose connections. I’ve been importing my testers’ tracks into TileMill and while it’s been revealing where people go and don’t go, I’m not sure it will be the best way to show the information I want to show. I also sent a survey around asking people for their favorite hidden gems in SF. The results are going into a database I am building for the compass (which needs a new name for this iteration).

In other crazy news, over a week ago my friend Jen sent me an email about a workshop at SFAI called “Get Lost: Wandering as Art, Mapping through Media” taught by Ilyse Magy, a recent graduate of the Social Practice program at CCA. Jen and I were planning to go, but the workshop is at a bad time in the semester. Funny enough, Ilyse was at this past week’s Maptime meetup and we had a good chat about her workshop and my thesis and it sounds like she might be interested in helping me test my ideas!

Zoom Level 10 View of Tracking Experiment

Zoom Level 10 View of Tracking Experiment

I particularly like the cluster that is CCA.

I particularly like the cluster that is CCA.

When I met with Scott this past week, we worked on my code some more and talked about the direction I am going. You can now use the button on the compass to set your home position (yay!), although it is a little buggy (boo). Last semester my goal was to get to this point, make a physical device with a button that sets your home point and a light that shows the way. Now that I am there, I have so much more I want to do. When I started my thesis I didn’t want to make an app just to make an app, but it looks like I will need a screen eventually to show a person’s growing map, so I will probably end with the compass + app + website. In the coming weeks I want to get more into Processing and focus on showing the individual tracks of one person over time. The idea is to reveal the gaps and try to fill them. I was telling Jen about this and she said a friend of a friend lives in Paris and decided he would walk every street in Paris and mark them down on a paper map; it took him 1.5 years. I love it!

Last week I was a little ambitious in what I thought I could get done, so some of those tasks are coming back this week.

To Dos This Week:
- find code for logging data from a GPS, test it
- figure out the bugs in the homing button
- run experiments with the compass
- play with mapping in Processing
- continue writing about my experiments

Inspiration – Inge Wegge and Jørn Ranum

Every year the Banff Mountain Film Festival travels the world showing off the best in outdoor/adventure/environmental films and every year I make a point of seeing it wherever I am. It is always a nice reminder of the crazy people trying new things, climbing new peaks, pushing the limits, and finding unexplored places. So many of the films made me think of my thesis and why people push to do these crazy things. Why should we get lost? Why should we risk our lives climbing up Antarctic peaks? In The Last Great Climb, pro-climber Leo Houlding commented that we do not have the same challenges people had before us, so we have to seek those challenges, and since we live boring, safe lives, we have to seek danger. You could easily replace “danger” with “adventure,” or in the case of my thesis, “a place to get lost.”

Each year one film stands out, and this year it was Nordfor Sola by a landslide. It won three awards at Banff including Grand Prize and People’s Choice. Norwegian friends Inge Wegge and Jørn Ranum spent nine months on a beach north of the Arctic Circle through winter, surfing, snowboarding, and building a home from driftwood and other debris found on the beach. Nordfor Sola has all the elements that I love in an adventure film (or any film): adventure (of course) + Scandinavian nature + Scandinavian humor + beach + ocean + survival skills + snow + beautiful cinematography + environmental consciousness. I highly recommend watching the whole film.

Thesis – Week 7 Summary

Homing Compass with Button

This past week I tested a few different GPS loggers on my phone. After a few crashes with an app I thought was working fine and resulted in losing info for a few days, the winner is GPS Essentials. I now have to charge my phone 2-3 times a day. I love looking back at the tracks to see all the lines I have traveled in a week; seeing where I regularly travel makes me more interested in the places I haven’t been to. Now I need to find another solid GPS tracking app for the iPhone so I can ask both Android and iPhone users to track themselves for a week (or more) and send me the data.

I also met with both Maria and Scott this week to discuss how best to use the month I have left for new thesis ideas. A solid draft of my thesis book needs to be done by March 31st; time is ticking. I had a lot of ideas floating around my head for the past two weeks and am settling in on ways to explore areas people don’t normally go to, by using the compass to track where they go and suggest quirky/interesting places they may not haven’t been. I am also interested in the places where we cross paths with our friends and loved ones. Perhaps we could leave little geotagged notes for people that they can find when they go to those places. Scott told me about hidden stairways, concrete slides, and underground creeks, so I am going to use some of those as obscure places for people to discover.

To Dos This Week
- find a good iOS GPS tracker/logger app
- find testers willing to track their moves and share that data with me
- code Homing Compass to log locations and be able to set homing location with button
- compile database of quirky/interesting sights in San Francisco
- get lost in Glen Park
- begin writing about my experiments
- Bonus: play with mapping in Processing

Thesis – Week 6 Summary

Paper Circuit

This past week has been full of new connections and new ideas! On Tuesday I met with a few people from Stamen Design who kindly spent their (delicious ramen) lunch talking to me about my thesis. It was really helpful to get a different perspective on my projects and talk with people who live maps. (Sidenote: the office is filled with beautiful maps, well-loved plants, and natural light!)

Wednesday afternoon I went to the Hybrid Lab for a paper circuits workshop taught by Natalie Freed. As basic as our first exercise was (see the animated gif above), it was so satisfying to make something so simple that turns on a light. This workshop had me excited for projects post-graduation, so I can add some interactive elements to my paper projects. I thought of one idea for thesis involving thermochromic paint (see below), but I am not sure if I will have time for it before the semester ends.

That same night I went back to Stamen for my first Maptime meetup, a weekly gathering of people currently creating maps and those just starting out (me!). I met some people working on interesting projects, including Damiano, an Italian designer who has a startup based on his Interaction Design thesis project that creates subjective maps, very similar to thoughts I have had about mental maps! Maps have always been magical to me, so I am looking forward to attending more of these meetups in hopes of learning this mystical language to create my own. Between these three encounters I collected so many links to fascinating projects and apps that I could not see any words on my browser tabs by the end of the day.

This brings us to today! I met with Scott and unloaded my idea-filled brain on him. We talked about my review and where I stand with my core idea, which now centers more around being open to being lost instead of having to be lost. I realized that most of the ideas that excite me would eventually make it harder to get lost because you would ideally build your mental map through the process. I think this is a good thing, so I am running with it. We also talked about keeping the technology separate from the concept. I am in a weird position at the moment where I have a device that has some functionality, but not being an engineer/programmer, I don’t have the time to learn everything it would take to make my ideas fully functioning products by the end of the semester. Afterall, we were warned as we started our thesis that we should be trying to learn too many new skills, but use our strengths. I feel like I have spent more time on skills that are not my strengths (creating 3D objects, coding a GPS/compass), and want to make sure I spend time on the overall visual design of my ideas. As I move forward I have to decide what is necessary to show my concepts.

One of my main tasks this week is to track everywhere I go and how long I spend at each place. Today I turned on three tracking apps and hopefully after looking at the data I get from one day I can decide which one to stick with so I don’t completely drain my battery.

Here are some new ideas inspired by my visits to Stamen and the paper circuits workshop. I can’t pursue them all in the time I have, but they have they have my gears spinning:
- Use the same homing compass, but instead of pointing to a place you should go, each light would represent a section of the city to explore. The lights would change color based on how much you have explored different parts of the area. This could be cataloged by logging specific locations or hidden items in each area. It could also be themed so you specifically try to explore cafes, bookstores, different kinds of trees . . .
- Make the compass into a watch of sorts
- Create paper maps with blank spaces that people need to fill in
- Experiment with thermochromic paint to create some kind of heat-activated paper map (hypercolor maps!)
- Think of other ideas for paper circuit maps
- Play with the idea of map as an authority. Maps are meant to help you find your way . . . what happens when you can’t trust a map anymore?
- Save memories to locations and send people to those locations without knowing the destination ahead. It would be like a memory scavenger hunt

To-dos this week:
- experiment with different tracking apps and track everywhere I go for at least a week
- figure out how to read the data from tracking
- find testers willing to track their moves and share that data with me (this may have to wait until next week after I see what apps I can work with)
- put a button on the homing compass so I can set home locations on the fly
- explore TileMill
- go to the next Maptime meetup
- write more research synthesis and the preface + revise what I already have

Thesis – Midterm Presentation

Me and my thesis midterm review wall

This past Saturday was our thesis midterm review. Like last semester, we each put our work on a wall and had 25 minutes in which to talk about our thesis and get feedback. My topic was well received and I got some good feedback from instructors, classmates, alumni, and prospective students. There is still a question from some wondering if my thesis is really about getting lost or if it is more about wandering, the journey, or being present. All these things are important to my thesis, but I still think getting lost is central. Or, maybe the importance is in being open to getting lost. It is possible I have not found the right word yet to say what I want to say. I love wandering, but it seems too aimless. You can wander without being present and aware of your surroundings. There is something about being lost that makes you present and aware because you want to find a way back. Being present is also a possibility, but I think it is too vague. The search for the right term continues . . .

In the meantime, here are some new ideas that came out of the feedback I received:
- My latest explorations rely on you getting yourself lost and then the device helps you get home. What if I were to focus more on the actual getting lost part?
- Create an online component where people can add or record their experiences of being lost
- Include a timer so the light only points home after a certain amount of time has elapsed. Before the home light turns on, the light could be a different color and point in (seemingly) random directions for you to follow
- Show the opposite directions
- Intentionally disorient people by obscuring senses, i.e. have someone wear blurred glasses so they cannot refer to street signs
- Think more about modes of transportation

I have a lot to think about! Here are some photos of my presentation materials and of the presentation itself.

Thesis – Getting Lost in SF (Part 2)

Testing Homing Compass
All this talk about getting lost and I haven’t been lost in a while. This morning I tried to remedy that by taking my Arduino homing compass for a test ride. I discovered at least three problems on this journey, but as with everything, it was a learning experience.

Problem 1: It is hard to intentionally get yourself lost when you are the one setting the rules and you have a decently good sense of direction.
Since I had limited time, I had to plan ahead to make sure I wouldn’t knowingly run into a place I had been before. I walked to 24th St and Mission and looked for a bus going west; the 48 would be there in three minutes, so I waited and hopped on the bus, ready for adventure (or was I?).

Problem 2: Trying not to pay attention to where a bus is going is like not thinking about chocolate when someone says “Don’t think about chocolate.”
The first trip I took to get lost was on the BART, which conveniently was underground most of the way. This time I tried looking down on the 48 so I would not see where the bus was going, but I recognized all the stops that were announced and I got carsick.

Problem 3: It is hard to enjoy being lost and observe the world when you have time constraints.
I had an appointment in the afternoon and was already running behind because of technical issues, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t go too far to get lost. I knew more of the 48 route than I thought, so I had to go further away to get to a place I had not been before. My lack of excitement is clear by the few photos I took.

I got off the bus in West Portal and because I was feeling carsick and was concerned about time, I did not wander long. I walked two or three blocks before I referred to my homing compass and decided to follow it home. I quickly realized (and I knew this before, but had not tested it) that following my compass directly might make me more lost. I was walking into a residential neighborhood, up a hill, and thought it would lead me to a dead end. Luckily I was on a street parallel to a major road, and looking back at my map (below), I barely made it away from Portola Drive.

At first I thought this was a failed waste of time and I should have done this when I had more time, but it was all part of the learning experience! I realized all of these lessons are good to keep in mind as I test with others. Have time to get lost and don’t be sick.

Map of getting lost in San Francisco Part 2

Inspiration – Dominic Wilcox

Dominic Wilcox - GPS Shoes

It was a glorious day when I discovered Dominic Wilcox and his lovely and quirky No Place Like Home, GPS shoes. You can connect the shoes to a computer, set a location, disconnect the shoes, and walk to the programmed place all while the dots on the tips of the shoes light up to show the way. Not only is it a fun idea (and very much related to what I have been exploring with the Arduino), the shoes are beautiful. Oftentimes I see wearable GPS projects that are interesting, but I would never wear them because they are clunky and ugly. These shoes though . . . oh how I would wear them.

I found Dominic’s page early last semester, and returned to it today while collecting my inspirations for my thesis book. He has so many fantastic ideas, including one of my other favorites, Luxury Skimming stones. While perusing his website, I heard this quote that is making me rethink my thesis projects a bit. In this interview he said:

“It’s important to think the ridiculous, to write it down, to draw it out. Because the ridiculous idea, what seems ridiculous, can lead you into new directions that haven’t been thought of before. So, sometimes I’ll come up with ideas that I think, ‘Hmm, I’m not so sure about the idea,’ but I’ll draw it, and then it will trigger another idea and another idea, and eventually you get to a place, which is far away from the original starting point and it’s far more interesting.”

As interaction designers in the program, we feel the need to come up with real solutions to problems. We need to do our research and do user testing for some unmet need, but we also need to get silly and be ridiculous. Thank you Dominic for the nice reminder.

Thesis – Week 4 Summary

Working Homing Compass!
I had a couple hiccups this week, but am getting back on track. As mentioned in an earlier post, I had a setback when I broke the NeoPixel ring on Saturday. When the new parts arrived I quickly soldered them together and dove back into the code. There is something so satisfying about soldering a bunch of wires and circuits together, plugging them into the computer, running some code, and voila!

In my meeting with Scott this week we fiddled with the code some more and talked about directions my thesis could go. I am thinking more about using the device to explore different aspects of a hometown as well as foreign places. After our meeting I successfully made the homing compass work! Of course this is only the beginning, but at least I have something functioning that I can test. Next weekend is our midterm thesis review, so in the next week I need to gather my thoughts, ideas, and put together materials so that I can get the most useful feedback.

Testing the homing compass on the windowsill

FLORA + NeoPixel + compass + GPS!

To-dos this week:
- create physical prototype container for the homing compass
- test homing compass on self; get lost!
- organize presentation
- prepare materials for presentation
- write 1,000 words on my research synthesis

Thesis Exhibitions – Follow the Blue Arrow

Follow the Blue Arrow

Along with my weekly thesis making and thesis writing meetings, I am also part of a group of 13 students designing our thesis exhibition. Our first assignment was to write a six word definition of what makes a great exhibition. My definition was:
A great exhibit . . . leaves a lasting impression. Heck yeah!

Our second assignment was to use another classmate’s definition to create an exhibition in our bathrooms. I chose my classmate Matt’s definition:
A great exhibit . . . illuminates artifacts, weaves ideas, disrupts expectations.

My bathroom is split in two, so I chose the tiny commode for its restrictions and symmetry. Since we had no guidelines on what the exhibit should be, I took the opportunity to relate my thesis to the space. Follow the Blue Arrow explores how we navigate the space around us and raises the question: How do you get lost in a small space? The title refers to the blue arrow in Google’s navigation app. If you follow the blue arrow in the navigation app, you should arrive at your destination. If you follow the blue arrows in The Commode, you may get lost.

Emma Jaster performed opening night at the hottest new gallery in San Francisco . . . The Commode. She lost herself in the space, in her mind, and in her wine.