Short Assignment #5: Objects and Ourselves

After reading Turtkle’s article and understanding her point of “things that matter”, we looked to ourselves for the objects we value and find have significant social meaning to us.  The first thing that came to mind for me is one object that has meant a lot to me since the day my parents purchased it–my Kawai baby grand piano.

Although this was actually the second piano my parents bought for me, but the first one wasn’t as nice as this Kawai.  My Kawai became more than just a piano to me.  It became something that brought my family together and warmed the house.  Every night when it was time for me to practice I would encourage my mom to sit in the newly designated piano room and listen to me play.  It didn’t matter if I hit some wrong notes or didn’t meet the tempo of songs perfectly.  I could make my mother cry by manipulating the shiny white keys and that’s something I couldn’t do with any other object.

I built my own computer when I was about 15 or 16 years old with the help of my brother Daniel, a Computer Science major at Georgia Tech.  He and I have been playing video games since our parents introduced us to the PC and video games when we were young.  I saved up some money and he helped me shop for some pretty amazing hardware at the time to build what my Grandad liked to call “a barn burner”.  Since then, I’ve been using it to frag people online, make new friends, discover online worlds, and work through school.  I sometimes refer to it as “my baby” sometimes, jokingly, because I maintain it through its ups and downs and still play it hard to this day.

It was surprising to me when the candle came to mind as a social object.  For some reason I prefer candlelight to artificial light when I’m at my desk because it gives a much nicer atmosphere.  I find it amazing how fire was the first social object that was discovered and yet in this constrained form, it retains a meaning of warmth, comfort, relaxation, and romance.  Like physical books, newspapers, and cuckoo clocks, the candle is one of those objects that gives us an atmosphere that no other object can replace.

The watch, or my watch as pictured, is an object that is often used socially.  Asking a total stranger what time it is to break the ice or simply gain the information is always acceptable.  It also makes for a fine accessory and says a lot about someone’s status or sense of style if you’re trying to analyze someone you’ve never met.  Often times a watch will also be a common family heirloom that is passed from Grandfather to Son and so on.

The last object I thought I should mention is the shoe.  Pictured is my shoe collection, the several pairs that I value most.  Why?  Because shoes say a lot about a person and to me they represent who I am a bit.  Every pair of shoes I buy has a little bit of a story behind it and they’re all good conversation starters.  From the Adidas x Star Wars collaboration to the Adult Swim inspired Etnies collaboration to the Japanese inspired Lucky Cats, the sneaker world is certainly full of interesting products.

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Short Assignment #5: Research and Exploration

In order to brainstorm design improvements for the coffee vending machine we observed in the Student Center, I decided it would be a good idea to observe how people usually obtain their morning coffee. To research this, I decided to also use myself as a subject (as I am a frequent coffee drinker) and make note of the ways I go about obtaining coffee. Sometimes it is made at home, often is it purchased at a coffee shop or café such as Starbucks or Java world in the College of Computing and College of Architecture. I decided it would be most effective to analyze these methods of obtaining coffee and make note of the process that occurs. Aside from the assertive role of getting coffee myself, I will also research numerous coffee vending machines to see how these differ from the one we have observed. Do the interfaces vary dramatically from the one we saw? How can fast coffee be more efficient and still be delicious? Hopefully these answers can be found in researching various coffee vending machines.

starbucks production line

We’ve all been to a Starbucks before. It’s the method that millions of people use every morning to get that fresh hot cup of joe before they start a day of work. Pouring a cup of coffee may sound like a simple job, but designers pay special attention to designing each and every Starbucks uniquely to make sure efficiency of the work flow is maximized. The buyer will start at the counter where the checkout is to order their beverage. From the checkout, the drink is ordered, payment is received, and the Barista writes down the order on a recycled paper sleeve or cup. The consumer can also order any food items such as pastries or lunch items from the register before/while the drink is made.

On this sleeve, the Barista can indicate everything they need to about your drink. The Temperature, strength, decaf or regular caf, amount of shots, pumps of syrup, milk, a custom box, and the drink type. There is space for human error in this step, but all Starbucks Baristas are trained when they’re first hired to learn the symbols that stand for each drink and how to write and understand the system. The customer is then told that their beverage will be ready soon and to proceed to the bar where their drink will appear. Starbucks policy is that the customer should wait no longer than 1 minute from that time to receive their drink, but this time does vary depending on the line. Ideally though, the flow of the bar should be efficient enough to crank out the quality beverages in a short amount of time.

Coffee vending machine

Here is an example of a coffee vending machine, which is a little bit similar to the one my partner and I observed in part 1. The difference here is that the user is displayed with a menu with the corresponding codes and prices rather than a simple button-grid system. However, this layout might be more useful to users who aren’t entirely comfortable with ordering a coffee without a Barista to assist them in what they are ordering. I find that the menu system would appeal to more people because it’s more inviting for someone to inspect even if they aren’t sure they want a coffee. Someone may feel uncomfortable moving closer to a machine to inspect buttons, but a menu feels much more familiar. The only problem I have with this machine is the aesthetic of it. The cold silver look it has may be familiar to an espresso machine, but at this size it just looks cold and unfriendly. Coffee consumers would probably respond better to a warm colored palette similar to the colors Starbucks tries to integrate into their store and product designs.

Short Assignment #4

For this assignment, we were sent out to interact with (and lose our money to) any three vending machines we wanted. So, I set out to the Student Center one morning because I knew there was a plethora of vending machines available there. The first machine I decided to use was a Dasani machine. I found it grouped with several other machines in a little inlet near the information center. Upon observing the machine, I noticed the very limited selection of vitamin waters that it had. I was already disappointed. What’s the point of a vending machine if it poorly automates what it should do better than a vendor? Make me happy quickly! So I decided to be adventurous and try a new flavor. But alas, when I tried to feed the machine my 5 dollar bill, it was spewed back out. The machine didn’t accept 5 dollar bills! That was just ridiculous. Doesn’t the vending machine already spoil its own purpose by being picky as to what bills it accepts? Instead of encouraging any more interaction with the machine, I walked away angrily.

Storyboards 1 of vending machine interaction

After that poor interaction, I headed downstairs and found the Coffee Vending machine next to the Package Pickup line at the post office. I always thought it was an odd place to have a coffee vending machine, and I had never used it, so I decided to give it a shot. After observing my options on the grid of what looked like aged art designed icons on them, I decided I wanted an Espresso. I was confused as to how much it cost because the button had two prices on it, 50 cents and 65 cents. I went ahead and inserted 1 dollar to be safe. Upon inspecting the options, I noticed I could select the strength of the coffee, “whitener” which was odd to me that it wasn’t “cream”, and sugar. I thought it was strange that I was given 3 selections for Strength, as I think anyone attempting to get coffee quickly and desperately from a vending machine would just want to get as much caffeine in their body as quickly as possible, thus always mashing the strongest strength. The choices for sizes was the worst part to me. Instead of any form of measurement written down or even the most commonly used reference such as SMALL or LARGE, I was supplied with two plain, ambiguous cup icons of different sizes. I had no comparison… for all I knew, the smaller cup was the size of a shot glass! I picked the bigger one because I could, then heard the machine start to whirr.

Storyboard 2 of vending machine interaction

For a moment I was a bit scared because the machine didn’t let me know it was starting. It just started to make noises and coffee started dripping out of the bottom. ‘Oh no!,’ I thought, ‘it’s going to dispense my espresso into nothing!’. But right after this panicked thought occurred, I noticed a small cup come down the chute and fall into place. Relieved, I waited as the rest of my coffee was dispensed, and then was pleased to see my change come spewing out of the machine onto the floor. I had almost forgotten it owed me change. I was mildly surprised that the coffee wasn’t terrible.

Short Assignment #3: Paper Clips and Product Slips

The first part of this assignment was an exercise in brainstorming. The instructions were to come up with at least 50 uses for the paperclip (other than being a paperclip of course) and jot them down. I found this to be a fairly easy, but freeing exercise in coming up with ideas quickly. My goal was to write down any idea that came to mind, unedited. The following is the list I came up with.

Paperclip Users

The second part of the assignment involved finding a household, hand-held item and evaluated it, then re-design it. I chose the very common, very standard key ring.

Key Design

My problems with the key ring included a lack of organization, consistency, and efficiency. There is no organized system when using a key ring and a user cannot efficiently find the proper key they want to use each time. Here were some loose sketches I created as a redesign for the key ring…

Key Redesign

This system will have clearly labeled slots for each key, and modular capabilities to easily put the keys in and take them out when needed, like when the user needs to use car keys. Also, using this new invention, users will be able to find the correct key more consistently and with much more ease.

Short Assignment #2: Criticism

Steam Logo

Surprisingly, when prompted with this assignment (to discuss how my understanding and judgment of a product changed from the first time I encountered it), it took some thought to come up with a proper example. I tried thinking of cooking products that maybe I misunderstood or sewing or cleaning products. But these examples were always just instances of confusion before I learned how to properly use a product. Otherwise, I could only think of examples where I disliked a product, yet never gave it a chance to redeem itself or if I did, it did not succeed.

Finally, I came to the realization that there is a software program I use almost every single day now that I disliked during my first several encounters with it. The program in particular is a digital software distribution program called Steam. My first encounter with the Steam program was around 2005 or 2006, much after its official release in 2004. A friend of mine had recommended the software to me, but upon using it, I was turned off by the slow speed, the digital ownership aspect, and the sheer size of the program. I didn’t quite understand why I should actively be using a program that took up so much memory on my computer that accomplished very little. The only times I wanted to have the program open was to play a valve game that I owned (and back then, those games were very few). I also felt very strongly against the idea of digital distribution back then because traditionally, I would go out to the store to buy a video game box of the newest, coolest game. Steam’s idea was that you use a credit card to buy the ownership rights to a game through their program. Once purchased, the owner of that game could download it from their servers as long as they were logged into the account at a computer from anywhere. Not only did I feel like this was game purchasing with strings attached, but that they were trying to take away a part of the experience from me.

Steam launched what they call the Steam Community in 2007. Since this feature caused an immense growth in active users, Steam began carrying many publisher names in their catalog such as EA, Activision, 2K, Capcom, Rockstar, and so on. This meant that Steam was starting to sell a whole lot more and gain millions of active users. Steam has grown and changed rapidly since then, adding more client functionality, an in-game overlay, peer to peer chatting, an anti-cheat system, and numerous other extensive patches.

Steam UI

I gave Steam another chance around this time in 2007 because a popular game they introduced at the time required the user to launch the Steam Program in order to play. I reacted much more positively towards their system at that time due to the larger focus on community and the chat program was much more attractive and easier to use than other programs I was running at the time (namely AIM or MSN). Their more gamer-geared crowd was much more appealing and I quickly made a lot of new friends and acquaintances using the Steam program and its online games.

Aside from the multiple patches and community that really got me involved with the program, I think the fact that I changed as a person helped me feel differently towards using Steam. I started using their digital distribution system because I found it much easier to purchase games through their store using money I made from part-time jobs at that age. I found it extremely convenient to be able to read about game ratings, have access to exclusive sales, and talk to other people about what good games were to buy. Now I can access my entire library of games that I own through Steam from any of my computers at any time I want as long as I have access to my account. Because my feelings changed on these matters, I now love using the Steam program and am glad that my change in opinion has lead me to enjoy its many benefits and keep on gaming!

Steam Login

Short Assignment #1: Toy Cars

Cars from Childhood

When asked to bring in a toy car in the first week of class, most students automatically thought of Hot Wheels or their RC cars. However, my first thoughts of playing with toy cars were these NASCAR miniature collectibles that my father bought for my brother and I when we were little. Unlike most toy cars that involve being pushed around, usually on the nice hardwood floors, and being launched off of every possible ramp, jump, and gap you can find in the house. These little NASCAR miniatures were treated very differently. My dad actually took the time to create precise, grid-like tracks on sheets of poster board for us to race the cars on. We would then organize the cars onto the track like the beginning of a typical NASCAR race and roll the dice to move them from space to space until a winner crossed the finish line.

It’s interesting to reflect on this experience I had with toy cars now because it was a very unique experience from the norm. My idea of playing with toy cars was more in the sense of an organized board game rather than using imagination to drive one around the house (though I did do this when I was young as well). Though I did experience toy cars in that manner as well, my emotional attachment to these NASCAR miniatures through the unique experience and relationship with my father made for a longer lasting memory.