Mixed Reality Studio Environments

The School of Design at Carnegie Mellon is hiring you to develop a mixed reality ​hybrid (people bothin person and remote)​ design studio environment to enhance the studio learning experience. Focuson ​one aspect ​of the studio experience. You will be designing and developing a low-fi prototype of one interaction in a hybrid studio experience for the client to review.

11/28 Performing Background Research

Interviewing my peers about their current experience in comparison to the old studio experience, it seems a common factor in many of their answers was how much they missed the social interaction aspect of being in the studio. Although we’ve switched to an online format of classes on Zoom, the medium does very little to replicate the experience of being in a studio. For one, there is an odd disconnect and barrier that is often felt when talking to people through Zoom. Unlike normal social interaction, people can choose whether or not to be seen. When people choose not to be seen, there is a lack of social cues such as body language, facial expression, and so on which can make the exchange much less rewarding for either party involved. Of course, one of the other most commonly mentioned points is the ability for people in the studio to walk around and bounce ideas off of others while engaging in conversation with one another. It seems a big part of what has been lost in the online medium is a rewarding emotional experience and the tangibility of physical being. One of my goals in this project is to keep in mind that rewarding emotional experience and the tangibility of physical being through MR.

The information that I had gathered from my interviews gave me enough information to create a few personas based on different qualities such as personality, values, and accessibility. Creating these personas helped me identify the different needs and pain points of this topic as well as help me approach the problem.

11/30 Analysis of Existing Products/Solutions

I wanted to avoid jumping blindly into the prototyping process without understanding some of the preexisting products on the market. By researching some of the existing solutions I can get a better look at the strengths and weaknesses of certain products, applying that knowledge in the ideation of mine.

Analysis of the Microsoft HoloLens
Analysis of Zappar Zapbox

Since we are projecting our thoughts 10 years into the future, it is more than likely that a lot of the drawbacks that exist with the current products will have been resolved through technological developments and design changes. A common aspect of the technologies I examined above was that both confined the user to a headset when they wanted to immerse themselves in that MR experience. Besides the several pros and cons which I’d identified for those products, there is the added hassle of having to go through added steps such as removing the product from its case, calibration, program startup, etc.

In products such as my iPad, there is a certain convenience that comes with the ability to pick it up and use it when I need it and simply set it down and forget about it when am done with it. I can leave it lying on my desk and go about my other tasks, only going back to it when have to. Considering these factors, my vision for my product would be one where the user isn’t confined to a wearable unit. The main type of product I thought of was one where the MR experience would be projected through a projector. Through research, I learned of a prototype called Lumen, similar in concept to what I envisioned and furthermore, an example of what could be achievable and at our fingertips in the near future. Though it’s described as a flashlight, the way it operates seems to be essentially the same as a projector. It projects mixed reality displays onto surfaces that can then be interacted with, creating an experience that can be shared with multiple people.

Meet Lumen:

Introductory video to Lumen.

During this stage, I was having difficulty pinpointing an idea that I wanted to look at close to my final MR experience, and feeling unable to jump into the storyboarding process. I talked to Peter about this concern and we discussed using storyboarding as a way to ideate. I had been thinking of storyboarding as too rigid of a process and function, and I began my ideation through storyboarding.

These were really rough sketches of some of the ideas which came to mind during ideation. I drew them out indiscriminately, so I could get them all down. I documented ideas through bullet points as well. These were organized using a Post It Notes app.

12/1 Current Workspace Environment

By documenting my current workspace I was enabling myself to take a deeper look at the elements which affected how I worked in a home environment. It also helped me envision the ways my MR experience could be affected by or affect this environment.

My current at home workspace, featuring a special guest.

I generally like to keep my workspace as neat as possible. I find it uncomfortable when my desk seems messy or cluttered and personally, the state of my desk has an influence on my mindset as well. When my desk is clean and organized, I feel less distracted and able to focus on my work better. It helps me reach my work essentials easily when I need to find them, and I don’t find myself moving things around to look for stuff. I keep all my electronic devices quite close to me, as I usually use them regularly for school work. The bulk of my work is done on my laptop, which sits at the center of my desk. However, when I need something lighter and more easily transportable to work with, I use my iPad. It is worth noting though, that the iPad isn’t as versatile in terms of applications and functions so I generally only use it to ideate through sketches and writing.

The feeling of a home environment is created through my various personal objects. These all hold different sentimental values to me and make my workspace a little livelier. They don’t distract me too much on a daily basis, but I do find myself fidgeting with certain things when I feel unmotivated to work. When I am not distracted by those objects, the top distraction would be my phone. It sits on my desk n close proximity to my workspace and a little too often when I am unmotivated or don’t want to work, I reach for my phone and end up wasting valuable time on it. :/

Example of what my digital workspace generally looks like. (L) Detailed screenshot of how the Discord Design server functions and the ways we can interact with each other. (R)

In terms of my digital workspace, there are certain applications and windows which I keep open while I’m working as they are accessed regularly during my work process. I like to have common access to the platforms through which I gain key information about my schoolwork and courses, which I keep open as tabs in Google Chrome (emails, Canvas, Medium). I also keep other applications such as Messages and Discord open, although generally use them for different forms of communication. Discord gives me a space where I can interact casually with my peers, especially through the Class of 2023 Discord server that our class created. I can bounce around between people’s “desks” and in the several voice channels we created, I can view occupants who are on the channel in real-time, and choose whether or not I want to engage with them. Personally, it has been the closest replication of how conversations and/or social interactions would happen in a physical studio. Messages is an application that I use for more casual purposes, I usually communicate casually with friends through Messages. Although I habitually keep it open n case someone wants to reach me, it can be a distraction at times.

Besides these applications, the most commonly used software in my day to day work process includes various apps of the Adobe Creative Suite. Usually, the more complex a design project or the more further into the process, the more Adobe apps will be open. They usually reflect where I am, progresses wise in a project. Although they are powerful tools, and I use them the most commonly, having multiple Adobe apps open often slows my computer down and can affect working progress.

My most commonly used Adobe applications.

12/3 Breakthrough in Ideas, A New Interest

Although I’d been able to identify my project goals previously, I was having difficulty identifying a specific aspect that I wanted to focus on in my MR experience. I went back over the interviews which I conducted with my peers and noted these quotes:

At the beginning of this project, I felt quite fascinated with all the aspects related to the social dynamics that a studio setting facilitated. Some of the things I heard which online schooling failed to afford were creativity and new ideas as well as social cues that enhanced social interactions and led to social bonding, all of which led to emotionally and mentally fulfilling interactions between people. However, one thing that stood out to me after going back over the interviews was the mention of how, to some people, staying at home wasn’t necessarily a negative or painful experience. For some people (more like most people, to be honest) online schooling meant they could attend classes from the comfort of a bed, or wake up less than a minute before the start of class needing only to grab their devices and log on to class. The home environment itself was a place of comfort and never really the direct source of stress for them. It was more the fact that they had all of a sudden been forced to move their work environment back home, what would usually have been a space for relaxing and escaping the stress of work what now being intruded upon.

The other factor that also interested me was the difference in online schooling experiences for international and domestic students. As a domestic student, I experienced the lengthening of school days due to accommodations for the new online curriculum. It seemed that to accommodate for the new format of learning, morning classes had been moved up earlier while afternoon classes had been moved further back. This did not feel helpful to me, and through discussion with peers, I found many others felt the same way. The larger gaps of time in between classes didn’t necessarily facilitate work, especially if they were anywhere between half an hour to an hour and a half long. These gaps never felt long enough to enable us to actually complete a task, as the process would involve switching from a class mindset to a productive working mindset. At the same time, they were also gaps of time that felt too long to be wasted on menial activities. In the end, the later end to each day and awkward lengths of free time in between classes only caused me to work later hours than I did. I compared that to international students, who would often have classes starting in the evening and going on until late at night. Daytimes were often reserved for worktime, which helped increase productivity in some students, however, they still struggled from the negatively impacted sleep schedules from class.

With this in mind, my focus shifted from being on the social aspect of studio environments to ways I could accommodate the different experiences of students in different time zones and the problem of work-life separation in the home environment.

12/5 Prototyping Interactions

Going back to a discussion I had with Peter about the analysis of existing products I did, we talked about the implications of having the MR experience created through a projector. Although the aspect of it being readily accessible on a workspace makes it a convenient and unobtrusive addition to a workspace, the projector aspect would mean it can only be projected onto 2D surfaces and hence only create 2D experiences.

The implication of this experience being created for a setting 10 years into the future, involves that of MR glasses becoming commonplace between now and 2030. Moreover, in the rapidly developing world in which we currently live, it is more than reasonable to predict that current MR glasses that are on the bulkier side may become much lighter and easier to handle. For this reason, I changed the idea behind my MR experience so that it is controlled through glasses.

I made some very quick and rough prototypes of possible interactions I could include in the experience, but they do not reflect my final product. One of the first interactions which wanted to try and prototype included a social networking panel, which when minimized would only display one's personal profile. When tapped, it would elongate and display a list of all other users who are online.

I tried prototyping this in Reality Composer but was unable to make the panel do anything other than simply enlarge in scale. I looked online for tutorials and asked whether it was possible for it to simply elongate but it seemed Reality Composer did not have that function, so I ended up prototyping the interaction in Keynote.

12/6 Developing Interaction Ideas

The first interaction which I envisioned, allows users to create an isolated space between their work area and the possible distractions of their surroundings. It is essentially the projected images of a personal space bubble, which illuminates only a small area around the user's electronic device. Within this area, they may choose to place other work essentials they need.

For those who feel impacted by the lack of distinction between their work and life environment, this can provide them with a medium through which they are visually transported to a different environment. By creating a clear visual boundary between their work essentials and the rest of their surroundings it allows the change to happen on a mental level as well, which may promote productivity. Making users feel as if there is a designated purpose to this specific function and space can lead to stronger mental associations with it. So that when they do put their workspace in isolation, their minds automatically shift to the mindset of when they are working. Moreover, being unable to see the various other objects which may otherwise act as distractions in a normal day, may discourage the user from actions such as: reaching for their phone, or fidgeting with other objects in their immediate surroundings.

The second interaction which is featured in this MR experience aims to simulate different times of the day. In the setting of online education, those who do not reside in the local timezone of their classes face the added stress of class conflicting with times such as sleeping hours, or working hours. With this interaction, I wanted to target the problem which I identified of different time zones creating conflicts between class hours and sleeping or working hours.

Since many people are productive at different times of the day, for those who find themselves working at less than optimal hours, they can toggle the time of day simulated by their MR glasses to help increase rates of productivity and decrease feelings of fatigue. This interaction is further enhanced by optional ambiance audio, which users can toggle on and off based on personal preference. For those who find calming ambient noise to be a useful tool in helping them focus and work, this could be advantageous to them.

12/10 Presentation Slides

Working through the rough outline of my slides, I started by simply laying out the things I wanted to talk about on blank placeholder slides while moving the sequence of slides around so that I could work through how I would present.

12/13–12/16 Sketch Video Process and Presentation

Working with Aftereffects has become a pretty common step of my design process due to many previous projects in where I worked with it as well. In starting the process of creating my sketch video, the first thing I did was utilize Adobe Illustrator to create the assets which I needed for my video. I went back and forth between my storyboard and Illustrator, which helped me in making sure I was sticking to the planned storyboard as much as possible.

Working from home and filming without a tripod or greenscreen was quite tough at times. My house was situated in a way where I got very little natural light in my room during the day, even on a bright and sunny day. Indoor lighting was also not as bright as it wanted t to be, though was able to adjust certain things in my raw footage in post, such as color balance, levels, sharpness, and noise.

I found the process to be quite tedious, mainly due to the fact that even though was rendering at a third of full resolution, it was still taking up to 10–15 minutes each time I wanted to generate a simple preview of the work I had done. Moreover, it was very frustrating that there were several times throughout the process where Aftereffects stopped responding and I had to force quit the application, losing unsaved work in the process. Since this video involved visuals of a type that I had never before attempted to create in Aftereffects, I ended up watching tutorials to get around some of the effects which I didn’t know how to create. One such effect involved the use of the roto brush, which hI used to depict the user going into isolation mode and switching in between day and night view. It saved me the time I would have needed if I chose to mask out my laptop frame by frame instead. t was not a perfect mask, due to lighting conditions however it still worked out quite well.

As I’d mentioned there were often gaps of times in between the making process where I was waiting for the preview of my video to render, I used these gaps to work on my presentation. I went off of the rough structure which I’d mapped out earlier in the project and created my final presentation while referencing that outline in Keynote.

12/17 Final Presentation

The final deliverables which I created for my presentation include my slides:

And, my final sketch video, which has since been uploaded to Youtube and can also be found on Box:

Since I was in presenter mode for the final presentation, I wasn’t aware that my video did not actually play until I had finished my presentation. It was very disappointing to me once I found out because I had actually gone through the process of testing my whole presentation multiple times out on Zoom (in presentation mode) with a family friend, and those times I was able to run through it without any kinks. :( Maybe I jinxed myself by doing so.

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