glass1945
Design, Food for Thought, My View, Technology

The Rise of the Wearables

WIRED’s article on Wearable Computers being the next big thing got us talking about whether  wearables were indeed what the future had ordered. When I was researching for the MSR Design Expo submission last year, I came across the fact that life-logging has been present since the early 1980’s. Pioneered by Steve Mann, who went on to found the Wearable Computing group in the MIT Media Lab, this was the beginning of wearable computing.

Steve Mann and his Wearable Device.

Steve Mann and his Wearable Device.

The start was almost 30 years ago and an idea ahead of its time. Today social media is brimming with people posting their day to day lives. Some do so with caution and a slew of new networks like Snapchat have risen to the occasion. Facebook has replaced my regular emails and Twitter my newspaper. To me, this is prime time for the rise of the wearable device. Smartphones with their multipurpose apps own the current era but they have that one fatal flaw; as Thad Starner, the technical lead of Google Glass and who spent nearly two decades wearing a wearable device, points out: “If you can’t get to a tool within two seconds your use of it goes down exponentially.” Wearables will be able to fix this gap. Already people are at work hacking this readily available tech for their advantage. Use cases like Patrick Jackson‘s fire fighting apps or Recon Instruments‘ sports training enabling devices are where I see the potential of these devices. Just the other day, I was part of a conversation where we were discussing which fitness device is a better buy. I think this should signal that wearable devices are very much a part of our future. This said, I don’t really like the idea behind Google Glass for “everybody”. Although designed with the core idea of reducing the time between their intention to do a task and their ability to perform that task, it does give the impression of not being there in the moment. I think the problem here is the obsession that people have with devices and services. Very often the human becomes the slave. Even though you seem to have access to capture every moment of your life today, how much of you remember living it?

Image Credit: Wikipedia and Avi Solomon

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Design, Food for Thought, NID

The Story Trap

“Storytelling is joke telling. It’s knowing your punchline, your ending. Knowing that everything you’re saying from the first sentence to the last is leading to a singular goal and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings.” – Andrew Stanton

As Andrew Stanton puts it in his TED talk, ‘Make me care’ is the greatest story commandment. Stories, they say, give life, context, and order to facts [DMI]. Well written stories make you believe in things you might never have dreamed about. Or sometimes fool you into believing unproven ideas. Still stories and most recently videos as storytelling devices are respected the world around.

As student designers, we are often told to be storytellers. Most often this defaults into asking us to make movies. Strangely though, we are not really taught or asked to learn about the nuances of great storytelling apart from a ‘Narratives’ elective. Nor about directing, nor is the emphasis during a module ever on way you tell the story but more on the process that you follow. But time and again, I’ve begun to see that for a layman(anyone other than you/your team), what work you’ve done or what you learnt in the process does not mean shit if you do not have a fancy video(or 2) to showcase at the end of your project. Its sad that they don’t realize that not everyone is endowed with a gift of storytelling leaving most of us wondering; what was wrong with our work? Was it really that bad to not even get a meagre applause or audience? This normally leads to anguish and then possibly an attempt to ape. Most though will not be able to successfully walk this path as making films may not be everyone’s talent. There is the technical know how and equipments required to worry about after all? Asking everyone to follow a similar path therefore is fraught with problems.

I know videos are a good way of making people understand complex concepts but they seem to be used more often as a smokescreen to prevent people from seeing through the barely there project. Videos should just be a one of the ways of communicating the design concept. The concept itself should be tested and discussed about while the effort to communicate it lauded but not given centre stage.

For me this new trend is scary because if videos are what ‘they’ are looking for, shouldn’t we primarily graduate as film makers then?

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mydesk
Food for Thought, NID, Nostalgic

Third time’s not a charm

Me: this sem review will be fun no? :P
Rasagy: Sem review? As in your blog post wala?
Me: yes :D
Rasagy: I wonder what you’ll write in there this time! :P
Me: exactly.. ditto to you
Rasagy: I’m not posting. You’re the one who posts sem wise. I’ll post next year :D

Indeed, half this semester was marred by a module that made me wonder what I was doing with my life. I know, I am still a crappy designer but what I felt this semester module left me just feeling plain stupid and so I will not be speaking about it at all. Some part of this failure project has been documented here.

So here are the highlights of this semester.

We started this semester with a new faculty Mr. Venkatesh Rajamanickam, rumoured to take over as the new IID coordinator. At first we were apprehensive about how this would shape IID as a discipline. But our fears were unfounded because within the first few days itself, we realized how awesome he was and still is. I personally had an awesome time, discussing things with him. He showed me Durell Bishop’s Answering Machine which blew my mind. Someone doing such work, when I was in preschool was something I had not imagined. From this I learnt that ‘Why should something digital always mean having a display?’ Sadly, all good things tend to end and with this semester end, Venkat resigned from NID citing personal reasons- a loss, that IID will feel for quite sometime.

Moving on, one of the things that I had decided to follow this semester is try and document my projects. And document I did :D You can find the projects over here at the Projects page. This was good because when the time to make a jury presentation came about, I just had to go back to the posts and find the relevant content already prepared by ‘the past’ me.

Being sent to MIT’s DIy workshop was an eye-opening experience. This I feel was the central design project that I did this semester. A week packed to the brim with research, design, prototype and testing; I wish we had atleast one module this intensive at NID, every semester.

As for data visualizations, I’ve begin to realize the balance that I will try to maintain in my work anymore. Not too functional and not too arty. Easier said than done. My semester work is out here.

I became aware of real interaction design thanks to Sudhakar’s interactive classroom assignment. I intend to take this output forward.

So there, another semester goes by and am not any closer to figuring out what I want to do after this. All in all, as I look back this was not really a bad semester. I got to interact with Girish Dalvi a whole lot as part of his Grids and Layouts workshop and APCHI. Arun’s Geo viz workshop gave me a diving board into cartography. Listening to keynotes at APCHI was also wonderful, interacting with Jun Rekimoto or Alan Dix was not something I imagined I would be doing at the beginning of this semester.

What I hope I shall learn some more about the next semester is physical visualizations, tangible user interfaces and anarchistic visual design. A tall order to fulfill but next semester’s going to be a bore otherwise.

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Food for Thought

To be a good writer, you have to be totally honest and not afraid to speak out. You have to have the ability to work hard and the stamina for a long haul. Sometimes you will sit for hours staring at a sheet of blank paper in front of you. You will have to have the determination not to get up till the sheet is filled with writing. It doesn’t matter if you fill it with rubbish. The discipline will prove worthwhile.

Always do your homework. A writer’s responsibility — whether he’s an essayist or a novelist — is to inform his reader while he provokes or entertains him. The challenge is to tell him something he doesn’t know. And don’t talk down to your reader; level with him.

- Khushwant Sigh, page 91, Khushwantnama

What it takes to be a writer

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Food for Thought, NID, Nostalgic, Notings

Design School : Year One

After last semester, I wrote what I had learned. At the end of this semester I was confused what really happened in that one semester. So I thought I could use this post to talk about other things that I experienced this year.

Being a Quizzer, you end up having an ego because you have all that information in your head, ready to spout out at the slightest notice. I really believe that that knowledge repo originating from a well read childhood is one of my strengths. Still I was humbled in Girish Dalvi’s typography workshop when I couldn’t answer any question that he threw at us. I mentioned last semester that reading is crucial. But this semester was when I realized that the reading stack is hundreds of books high. Actually, its infinite.

Open Elective although a major disappointment (atleast I got to meet some awesome people) had a good theme this year – Old age. Our world is increasingly getting older but most companies out there are busy trying to solve endemic problems. In one year, I might end up in the same industry and that actually made me wonder if I should try to end up someplace else where I can really make a difference.

Good research is important. Last semester made me realize that. I also realized that surveys, interviews mostly masquerade as research methods. I have lost faith in both of them while at the same time learning that custom research methods(like this one) make for better insights. I have begun to believe more in end user testing.

Talking about things make them better. I learned that getting people to critique your idea or talk to them about it is the best way to get out of that creative rut that you find yourself in. When you are working on it all by yourself you will not see be able to see what it is that is not working with your design.

I learned and built my first grid based presentation which was well received by the Jury. Except for my Cognitive Ergonomics work, the rest of what I presented seemed to have been appreciated. This is a big improvement from last semester where I was mostly clueless about the work I was presenting.

I’ve realized that the design process you follow is really important. I still have a long way to go before I learn to use it well. Working on MSR’s Design Expo this year made me realize the value of a good process. When working on Meteorites, I somehow formed a process unknowingly and it did help me to produce the end result. It’ll help you where your skills wont.

And you can learn anything given that you want to. At the end of last semester, I only knew Photoshop which I had largely picked up while at TCS. Now, I am comfortable with Illustrator and I even made a short film on Adobe Premiere Pro. A desire to create things in crunch time really helps me learn faster. Hence deadlines are good.

Hard deadlines are even better. Work only gets done if they are enforced. Most of last semester’s projects did not turn out so well because I kept procrastinating. Maybe because…

I fear big projects especially due to the lack of experience. We have not done anything big academically and I wonder how equipped I will be to deal with full projects all alone. Hope I can confront that fear this semester. Geronimo!

One of my favourite moments of last year was lying on @nid_b’s roof and looking for shooting stars. The cold, the company and the squeals when you spot a golden trail all made that night magical. Also worth noting are the Paldi campfires. This time next year, I shall be lamenting the end of 2 years and I shall miss ‘this’ life dearly.

You can read Rasagy thoughts on ‘Year One’ here.

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Food for Thought, Mind Clutter, My View, Notings

Why big IT companies are wrong for you?

Its 2012, startups are making big bucks. You are studying engineering and have dreams of someday coding the next Big thing and when placements happen you happily jump towards the big IT companies who usually come first. Well if being a “rockstar” or a “ninja” is what you crave, then you are going down the wrong path, my friend.

What happens when you join a big company is that they see you as a raw material, ready to be moulded as they desire but you obviously have other plans. Before you know it, you will be branched into streams and your “rockstar” career may just go up in smoke. There is no measurement of aptitude for the job just seemingly random distribution into the various streams. This is the easiest way of tackling with the ‘how to split these people’ problem. Academics play an important role in this filtering. So there you are , getting trained in a technology that is either boring or getting obsolete by the year and your passion for the profession is slowly being sucked out of you. Once you are done with the “training”, you get allotted to sections of the company and your IT career begins.  You normally start being a team member, answering to seniors and initiated into the project. Appraisals happen and your pay increases by a measly amount every year and you dream of going “onsite”. You are no longer a “ninja” and most probably are cozy in this simple life. If thats how you want to end, well my friend, all the best. But if you really want to be somebody step outside the mould, live life, take risks, code a side project, learn what you want, get enlightened, dream big, execute ideas and be honest to yourself. We are all unique, we are not assembled. Today’s freshers are more likely to revolt atleast that’s what i see around me. Attrition rates are quite growing. Consider this, for every 100 new freshers joining , approximately 60-70 experienced people are leaving IT companies. This results in a vacuum of middle leadership and thats why companies recruit all year long. Most people leave because they are unhappy at their current job. In a recent survey conducted by Karthik, the results seem to confirm what we already deduced. 25% every morning, don’t look forward to go to work. 34% feel their work is mundane, and not challenging. 20% feel that there is no clarity in the work and process. 45% are currently planning to change jobs and 75% are in their first jobs! Alarming statistics actually.

If you fall in the unhappy lot, then well i suggest its time you sat back and reflected on where you are headed and decide if thats the road that you want to take.

P.S. This was meant to be part of a bigger post which i abandoned because i got busy with work and the transition from work to college life again. I currently am studying ‘Information and Interface Design’ at the National Institute of Design, Bangalore. I wrote this post out of frustration and it was based on the real life situation around me at that time.

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