My Third Semester of Graduate School

For the most part, my third semester of graduate school at NC State followed the pattern of the two prior semesters: a studio course and a seminar. This semester the theme for those two classes was Culture. In addition to those courses, I also took a course with my other "second years" in which we essentially mapped out our plan for the thesis semester and began researching and constructing our topics. I also served as a teaching assistant for an online course, Graphic Design History, which was a new kind of teaching challenge for me as well as an excuse to beef up on design history I had long ago forgotten. 

The secondary theme for the semester, in addition to Culture, revolved around the Institute for Emerging Issues, which has a physical location on NC State's Centennial Campus at Hunt Library. IEI felt that their space is not properly leveraged for maximum impact, and they wanted to see what we might suggest in terms of content, interaction, and engagement. We were told to hold nothing back, every concept would be open for consideration.

In studio, we began with research into the Institute for Emerging Issues. Split into several groups, we were asked to research various aspects to IEI's structure compared with other existing organizations, through topics such as hybrid spaces, community engagement, technology, and our group's topic, portals. We spent several weeks researching in groups, then presented and shared our research with the class. After the class had a chance to review all research, we were asked to create project briefs explaining what each student would suggest as far as changes to the IEI space. In my brief, I sought to improve visitor engagement by using proximity interaction to draw users into the space, then direct them to feedback portals where they can register for interaction in the online space.

My project Brief for the IEI Interaction Project:

Throughout the semester we created small "warm up" exercises to get us thinking about different aspects of interactivity through cultural engagement. These included studies in Play, Proximity, and Presence. (See videos for the three exercises below.)

Play: for this exercise we were tasked with making a boring, everyday activity joyful and fun. I decided to make mine about feeding house plants, using water-reactive terra cotta pots that would only display a playful pattern when the plants were well hydrated. The idea was that it would be fun to make sure the pattern was always visible, especially for kids. 

Participation: For the second exercise we were encouraged to focus our work within the IEI space. We were asked to demonstrate how we would express a user's participation through interaction design. I chose to do this by creating light puddles, projected from the ceiling, that would match a passerby's steps and intensify as the approached and entered the IEI space. 

Presence: The final exercise focused on presence: what does the space do to recognize and encourage your presence within it? This study was most closely related to my final presentation, which was a combination of presence, reactivity and personalization. 

Coinciding with our studio research, in our seminar class, we completed readings on thick descriptions, researched online communities, created observation survey guides, and researched and presented to the class various types of research methods (which will be VERY helpful to us next semester when we begin thesis research!). In my group we researched how to conduct Conversation Analysis, Think-Aloud Protocol, and User Testing. My two group mates and I first dug into what those categories entail using the fantastic resource Universal Methods of Design, which should be any designer's research bible. We then found real examples of research studies that included our assigned methods and presented them to the class, along with a class demonstration in which we asked our classmates to Prototype using lego characters and Play-Doh. 

Observation study sheet I created for conducting visitor observations in IEI's space:

Slides from our Research Methods presentation:

Class Exercise in Prototyping with Play-Doh, creating modes of transportation:

The semester culminated in a morning of presentations to the IEI staff at Hunt Library, where we presented our ideas complete with context, research, and video simulations to demonstrate how our interaction suggestions would change the nature of the IEI space. See my final presentation below, Responsive Wayfinding and Guidance in the IEI Commons.