ubiquitous computing & pervasive interaction design


Our largest task when completing our first milestone was narrowing down the list of potential spaces to focus on. In the end, our group decided to focus on All Hands Active, a local makerspace. The scope of our project was left purposefully equivocal at this stage to encourage divergent thinking once we gathered more information via our formative study. We had created three broad and purposefully oblique storyboards, each of which sketched an augmentation concepts specific to All Hands Active: smart tools, facilitating useful social interactions between members, and better sharing of institutional knowledge.

Study Design

“This is awesome! We were just talking about how we needed a way to document the space, and this is way better than anything we were talking about.”

Josh Williams, President of All Hands Active

To further explore the space and focus our ideas, we created a two-part formative study. We wanted to create a cultural probe that would resonate with the population we were studying, but we also knew that we had limited time, and decided to also use a data-rich ethnographic method we were all familiar with vis-à-vis contextual inquiry-style interviewing.

We began our study by conducting the interviews. This allowed us not only to gather useful information quickly, but also to use that information when designing our cultural probe. Our interviews reflected the casual nature of All Hands Active, and happened organically within the space alongside observation of the members. In two long observation and interviewing sessions, our team conducted a total of eight interviews with members and administrators.

After gathering our interview notes, we designed a cultural probe that combined photos and a map of the space. We first created a large, wall-sized map of All Hands Active using poster paper and markers. We hung this map up on an empty wall inside All Hands Active, and left small-sized Post-It notes, a digital camera, and a Polaroid PoGo Instant Digital Printer nearby. The PoGo prints small (2" × 3") photo stickers, and through a short instructional sheet (several copies of which were hung around All Hands Active), we encouraged members to take photos, place them on the map, and label them as they saw fit with the Post-It notes.

We designed this study to be interactive and generative. We knew that we needed buy-in from the members of All Hands Active, and the one thing we had found that tied all the members together was a love of making things. The study was embraced enthusiastically by Josh Williams, the president of All Hands Active, who said, among other things, “This is awesome! We were just talking about how we needed a way to document the space, and this is way better than anything we were talking about.”

After only six days in the space, we had already collected 20 photos, all of which were annotated with Post-It notes. When we came to take the cultural probe map from All Hands Active, they requested that we leave it there because they found it both fun and useful. We ended up leaving the map, where it has collected even more photos after another three days. The photos involved mostly pictures of members working on various projects, with a few photos of specific projects with no people in the frame.

Study Results

As expected, although the results of the cultural probe were interesting and evocative, with the limited time available we were not able to collect as much data from the probe as we were from the interviews, and we did not have much time to follow-up with members who participated in the cultural probe. The interviews were our primary tool in defining the scope of our project, but the cultural probe did reinforce many of our findings, and helped focus some of them.

One of our biggest insights was that although All Hands Active is somewhat social, the primary focus of the space is on projects, and not on pure socializing. This was reflected somewhat in the interviews, but became clear once we examined our cultural probe and saw that all the photos were of members working or of projects members had created.

Another insight gained from talking to administrators and a few members was that some members of the space are wary of monitoring. One administrator mentioned that the space has not installed any security cameras, despite the high value of the tools, because of the aversion that many members have to being monitored. This was a major shaping factor in further defining our ideas.

We also realized that because of the unique aspects of the space, such as the fact that the community is fairly tight knit and very focused on projects, gaining and retaining new members is important but also often a challenge.

Because we performed so many interviews, we also gained a much clearer picture about many of the smaller details of the space that would have to be considered for any project designs, as well as important cultural details. We thought that the space was disorganized, but we learned that All Hands Active is considered a neater makerspace than most, and that the members definitely prefer some amount of disorganization. We also learned that not many large collaborative projects are undertaken, partially because of a lack of informational organization about expertise, but partially because many members simply prefer to work alone, or prefer to work on projects that are most easily completed by a single person.

Ideation & Selection

Once we had completed our interviews and begun our cultural probe, the nature of which allowed us to check in on it without disturbance, we began our ideation process by coming up with our list of criteria and tradeoffs.

Criteria & Tradeoffs

We need to respect the fact that there exists some concern among members about the very light amount of monitoring that exists in the space already—solutions that rely overmuch on monitoring may be rejected by this space and by the larger makerspace community.
Cultural Fit (“Maker-ability”)
All Hands Active is a makerspace, and the members provide or make all the tools that they have. We need to make sure that we deliver a solution that appeals to their hackable, customizable culture. This may limit the types of solutions that we can deliver and will also inform the specific way in which we design our solutions.
Given that All Hands Active is used for everything from knitting to painting to 3D printing to programming to neuroscience kits, we need to make sure that any solutions we propose will have some degree of utility to all members and not just a specific group.
The members of All Hands Active are a unique, and in some ways, particular group, with a broad spectrum of user types. Our proposal needs to make sense to the members and needs to excite them—especially given the nature of the space the members would most likely build any future solutions.
Because buy-in from the space is so important, we need to design a prototype that convincingly speaks to our audience in a design language that they can understand. A prototype that involves too much hand-waving and “magical” actions (nanobots, etc.) may turn off our audience.

Development & Revision

We relied on the many sketches that all of our group members were creating for the class-assigned sketching assignments, as all of us were proud of many of the ideas that we had generated with those sketches. After completing the sketches and sharing them with the group, we came together and decided on three new concepts with the greatest potential. These concepts ended up fitting nicely into the broad storyboards we had created in the first milestone, although we did not specifically plan for it to happen that way.

For all of our storyboards, we combined several of our sketched ideas to come up with the final product. Our third idea, ambient gamification, was not based explicitly on any of our sketches, but was instead created dynamically in our group meeting as we brainstormed and discussed ways to combine different sketch ideas that we liked.

Finally, for each of our ideas, we walked through our criteria list, making sure that the ideas fit those criteria, and adjusted the ideas if necessary. One example of this adjustment is our first idea, concerning photos. Initially we had thought to have the photos displayed on a large screen, but we decided that this did not fit many aspects of the All Hands Active culture as described by our resonance and cultural fit criteria, and changed this idea to be individual, movable photo screens that could be adjusted, moved, and arranged by members as they see fit, adding to their “hackability.”

Selected Individual Ideation Sketches

Refined Scope & Concepts

We did not narrow the audience or target space any further in this milestone, as we had already firmly defined these things in our first milestone. We still believe that because of its small size and membership population, targeting the entirety of All Hands Active is a worthy and achievable goal. We defined our activity targets slightly, and greatly defined the specific methods we will use. We are targeting the documentation and recommendation of individuals for collaboration and expertise-sharing, the recording and use of space and tools, and the welcoming and retention of new members.

The main problem that could hinder our project moving forward is that all of our ideas could be extrapolated in many different directions. Just as one example, the augmented reality glasses we are suggesting could be used in hundreds of ways. This could become a problem because our group does not have the resources to explore and effectively present all of these ideas, and we must vigilantly maintain focus.

One of our largest opportunities is found in the good will we have built up at All Hands Active through the success of our cultural probe. If we can keep our targeted population engaged on a similar level throughout the project, we will have an opportunity to be deeply involved and generate highly relevant insights and ideas.

Storyboard 1: Smart Photos & Tagging

This idea was partially based on the success of our cultural probe, which already had a high degree of resonance with our audience. This idea is an updated, more high-tech version of the same idea, so we have reason to believe it will be just as, if not more, resonant. The idea is broadly applicable to all members of All Hands Active, and allows participation from all different types of members with different interests. We had to refine the idea as mentioned above—changing from a large screen with virtual photos on it to small individual smart photo objects—to maintain cultural fit. We will also have to ensure that opting in and out is available to all members, and that careful privacy controls are maintained so as to remain acceptable to the more recording-averse members. We believe this idea to be fairly demonstrable, both in a physical walkthrough situation and in a video demonstration, though it may require some creativity. The similarities to our cultural probe will probably also help again here.

Storyboard 2: Smart Tools & Augmented Reality Safety Glasses

This idea should have no problems with our acceptability criteria, as it does not involve monitoring, and only increases the utility of the existing tools. To maintain cultural fit we recommend making the safety glasses themselves hackable, and would also try to design a software system wherein members could create modules for the glasses, adding to their “makerability.” While we first were discussing these glasses only in terms of the larger, more complicated machines like the 3D printer and laser cutter, we realized that to maintain applicability, we should have the glasses work with all tools, including knitting needles and paintbrushes. We believe this idea will have high resonance, especially because it is built into safety glasses, and will encourage their use. Safety is a high priority at All Hands Active, and adding functionality while also increasing safety should be a hit. For demonstrability, we believe that we could fairly easy make a video demonstrating the concept, and had some other ideas for physical walkthroughs, such as a hat with attachments that dangle notecards in the user’s field of vision.

Storyboard 3: Welcoming Newcomers & Ambient Gamification

While this idea could be difficult to demonstrate, creative engagement of the All Hands Active community (asking the community to create a few prototype 3D printed badges for example) could make the demonstration our most interactive and engaging. Privacy controls are again a concern of acceptability here, so we should design this carefully to make it voluntary and unobtrusive. Because the idea revolves around creating customizable, physical badges that can be worn with pride and for informational use by the members, we believe that there is a high degree of cultural fit, though we realized while discussing this idea that we would have to be careful about competitiveness, as that would not fit with the culture. This idea is again broadly applicable to all members, and hopefully it will resonate, though we may have to test this—perhaps through experience sampling or the “speed dating” method—to be sure.


In this milestone, we focused on gaining a better understanding of our chosen space, and using that understanding to define more narrowly the broad storyboards that we created in the first milestone. We now have several specific ideas for improving All Hands Active, and a narrower set of activities targeted by those ideas. The specifics of our storyboarded ideas still need to be defined, and our next steps will be to move forward carefully with this, making sure to keep those ideas measured, and making sure as they evolve that they still work within our defined criteria.

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