How simple the things can be?

Here is an interesting read from Wired. The link mentions various patents registered against the name of celebrities. I find this quite interesting for two reasons. First, all of these patents are filed by people who are not scientists. Rather these are the people who were musicians, cameraman, performers and other creative professionals. This asks us to extend our thought of seeing things so narrowly- a kind of skepticism that we had acquired in an age of specialization. Second, all of these patents are so lucidly illustrated or explained that it kind of highlights the simplicity of thought. It also gives one an idea that patents could also be about very simple ideas provided they are novel, illustrative and communicable.

Credits: Wired Dot Com

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Experiencing music

Just an hour before I was in a friend’s room. His name is Johnson, an intensely passionate person with an interest in automobile and mobility design. He was playing certain numbers from Pink Floyd, Strings and Porcupine Tree on his acoustic guitar. He played really well.

After experiencing every such performance I get moved with the power of music. It is one unique trait which has always made me respect the subjective part of human beings. One closes his eyes, his fingers strike the chords and his mind weaves a complex pattern of rhythm and beats. How amazing and awesome is this as a spectacle! It transforms the space and the time where someone performs and someone listens. One looses track of gross details instead start sensing a flow in the environment. There are simply the notes all around, arranged carefully on a time line to constitute this flow. Thanks Johnson!

Customized Media Player for rural women

This is an academic project where it was expected to come up with a customized media player for a village woman. We began with an attempt to first understand the context in which a rural woman operates. User studies were conducted in a village Kudasan near Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Although the initial idea was to know how does a village woman recreate herself but quite sooner user studies revealed a set of insights which let us grasp the social, cultural and economic peripheries around her. In the village Kudasan, we found that women contribute equally alongside with men to the village economy which constitutes agriculture, animal husbandry and craft. However unlike men, they have additional responsibilities to sustain their families (especially kids and elderly) with proper nutrition, food and care.  A typical lifestyle of a woman from the village Kudasan includes waking up early in the morning, preparing food for the family and seeing kids off to school, caring for the cattle and working in fields during the productive part of the year. Additionally it is pertinent to note that all such activities have to be performed by her well within the social and cultural bounds of the village. As the focus of the project was more on creating a customized media player for these women, we drilled down to note the following in context of the village Kudasan:

  1. Rural women were seen listening to radio programmes while working in the fields.
  2. The sitting posture and the way they advanced in the field while doing an activity like harvesting kept creating a distance between them and the media player. They would have to come back to pick up the same only to place it somewhere close to their current location in the field.
  3. A close proximity to an urban area like Gandhinagar, free-of-cost availability of radio signals, live content and with no requirement of tuning the media player every now and then, made FM based radio to score high over vinyl cassette players and portable TV sets among these women.
  4. We were proved wrong in assuming that rural women will always like rural content. Rather we found them listening (and talking about) the news and pop culture from the city. This shows that if provided with ‘culturally suitable’ means, rural women are eager to get acquainted with the latest developments around them.
  5. Looking at some of their media players, we found that the product was not just a single radio. It was a hybrid between an emergency light, a vinyl cassette player and a FM radio. This brought complexity in the user interface and also major ergonomic issues in the product handling.

Out of these modifying the form factor to suit the working posture and simplifying the user interface of the media player were kept on priority while designing the prototype for these women.

User Centered Design v/s API Centered Design

Today I came across few iPhone applications. The task was to simplify one developed by the firm I am working for. They wanted to simplify their existing application by carrying few User- Centered evaluation cycles.

The application at hand was quite in a bad shape (there you are! yeah,  for the users as everything else was flawless).  So the obvious question was “why is it so”? When everyone from the development front wants to improve the performance of their application then why suddenly the end product is still so alien? Thanks to the open market; it is when the companies couldn’t see any such application making in to buying list, a few of them try to look back and investigate for the reasons.

I realize that companies these days are lured by the open source stuff. They want to learn what all is offered in the plate. In a discussion, a close colleague of mine told me that questions like “How the APIs work and how can be these be put to the best of their economic advantage?” score highest in a company’s quest. Thus this approach is most often centered around picking up an API and developing an application around it. Something which I would now love to call “API Centered Design” 🙂