All Hands Active is a member-run organization focused on sharing tools, supplies, and knowledge to facilitate creation of all different sorts, from knitting to software programming to circuit building. It is located in a small basement space in downtown Ann Arbor, and features a laser cutter, Dremel, and three-dimensional printer amongst hundreds of tools, Arduino pieces, and various supplies.
Motivation & Preliminary Observations
Our group started by observing several different environments individually or in pairs. Eventually we decided to focus on All Hands Active. The space is disorganized on many levels: the physical area is chaotic and crowded with notes, tools and supplies; projects are not recorded or documented; and expertise is spread across the membership, with no organization of which members hold knowledge in which areas.
Another dimension of the organization is that the members are proud of the free spirit of the organization, and are averse to being overburdened with required processes. This is an ideal environment for augmentation and automation, as these things would make the space work smoothly for all members without requiring members to perform additional onerous busy work.
Our group started by meeting together and brainstorming interesting environments and populations. We went out in pairs or individually to perform unstructured observations for a few hours each at the University of Michigan central campus, the University of Michigan Art Museum, and All Hands Active.
We reported back a few days later with our typed up observations, photos, interview notes, and preliminary sketches. After talking about our observations, we decided to move forward by creating individual sketches of ideas inspired by the spaces we observed. At our next meeting we reviewed the sketches, discussed the different spaces, and decided to focus on All Hands Active. Finally, we performed a structured group brainstorming session using the “colored hats” concept, which resulted in three polished whiteboard sketches.
We kept our sketches purposefully vague, allowing them to point out target areas for augmentation without over-focusing on exact details at this early stage. To create each sketch, we first drafted broad storyboard descriptions, then drew each panel that we had described.
Selected Individual Ideation Sketches
Concept 1: Tool and Materials Location
All Hands Active is crowded with literal hundreds (perhaps thousands) of different tools, materials, and supplies from many different crafting disciplines. One recurring theme in our ideation process was the idea of using micro-location services and other near future technologies to make tools easily located within the crowded space. We drew this as a concept separate from other ideas, but it is something that could benefit the space in any situation, and could easily be incorporated as a feature in other ideas. Locating small specific objects in a cluttered environment is also an ideal target for augmenting human memory, especially when the space is shared and items may be moved by many individuals at different times.
Our sketch shows a simple scenario in which a user needs to find a tool, the user is directed towards the tool, and the tool reveals itself from the chaos to the user.
Concept 2: Instruction
One problem that came up in interviews with members of All Hands Active was the fact that knowledge is spread unevenly throughout the organization, and often it is hard to know who to consult about a project or about using a specific tool. The only knowledge sharing that occurs is at meetings centered around certain topics, which occur infrequently and only at the whim of individuals. Several of our ideas focused on the idea of storing and reusing this institutional knowledge and providing means of cataloguing and retrieving it easily, without interrupting the easy-going atmosphere of the space. The exact methods differed, with some ideas focusing on video, others on live streaming between maker spaces, and others on smart tools that record who is using them and what for. Instead of focusing on individual memory augmentation, this concept is concerned with augmenting institutional memory, which is a worthy goal not only for All Hands Active, but for many different sorts of environments, especially those of an educational nature.
Our sketch shows a user working on a project, requesting and then receiving help on the project, presumably placed there earlier by another member, and then successfully completing the project.
Concept 3: Social Facilitation
All Hands Active has a secondary purpose as a social space, and the social nature serves a practical purpose of sharing knowledge and skills. The members interviewed complained that a constant struggle was to connect members, to complete larger, collaborative projects, and to know simple information, such as when another member would be present. Our group came up with several ideas focused on sharing projects, sharing ideas, and bringing members together. This concept focuses on a combination of individual and institutional memory, combining members knowledge about themselves with the institution’s knowledge about its members in a way that enhances the experiences of all the members.
Our sketch shows a user who needs help on a project. That user is guided to another member who can help them, and together, they successfully complete the project.