Inspirational BitsResult under "Material Explorations"
Inspirational bits are, as the name suggests, small, inspirational investigations of specific technologies with the intent of exposing and making dynamic properties tangible, visible, and ultimately understandable for members of a design team. These bits were when first working on them in 2009 given the form of small games that allow design teams to explore and experience properties of technologies in an easy to grasp and playful manner. The incentives people have to understand the rules of a game were thought to be helpful in exploring technological limitations and properties, spurring them to understand them. For example, in the ‘BluePete’-game, a digital entity utilizes BlueTooth connections to jump from device to device. Users that have Pete on their device should try to pass ‘him’ on to other devices by getting close to them. The game illustrates BlueTooth’s inability to search for devices and listen for incoming connections at the same time. But also does this game show to how a commonly thought of limitation of the Bluetooth technology, a latency to connect, can be turned into being something like a game trigger, having the players hold on to each other or steal each others' phones to give Pete time to 'jump'.
The inspirational bits method starts out from the challenge that in designing for bodily interaction it is difficult to conceptualise how the kind of bodily and emotional sensations we were aiming for are going to feel. We need ways to explore how they will actually be experienced in the digital material. We explored this by giving engineers more time to both understand the properties of the digital material, and to work out ways for communicating this knowledge to the others in the design team. Thereby we approach the digital material in similar ways to how we approach other materials, such as plastic and wood, as design materials. This focus on material issues pinpoints how interactive systems design also need to approach technology as a design material, and to make it available to all members in a multidisciplinary team.
We are now going about this project again creating a virtual material library. The material library is constructed as a web portal where we use current web technologies to create downloadable code that illustrates properties of each digital material. The library will initially contain versions of the Inspirational Bits we previously have built for Bluetooth, RFID, accelerometers and radio. We thereafter aim to fill the library with more materials as our project continues. We will also encourage others in both the academic community and practicing designers to contribute with examples of how they used the material library in their application projects, but also contribute their own material explorations. With this library we aim to contribute to the more tangible parts of the future Mobile Life legacy.
To improve on the quality of the bits we in this project also plan to conduct ethnographically-informed studies of how material knowledge is communicated and used in real-world settings. Our first study will take place in the IKEA material-lab. We there aim to study how material experts and designers negotiate design solutions as they are working out new designs of IKEA furniture.
Photo: John Paul Bichard