ReelChanges.org, a brief account of my experience and learnings

Reelchanges.org does a lot more than merely using internet as a means of delivering information to the users. The site is originated out of the idea of supporting independent filmmakers around the globe by empowering them with means to communicate about their media proposals, to find audience, patrons and media distributors.

The team included a bunch of documentary filmmakers, journalists and technology experts. It was at this stage, quite the time when everyone was brainstorming that I joined this team as a UX consultant. Initial responsibilities included defining the design brief, gathering background information about various aspects of non- profit media production – distribution and informing the team about related design possibilities.

In parallel, started the phase of identifying different user personas with their individual needs. A set of workflows and scenarios were sketched pertaining to each user category. Somewhere I also got started with the task of breaking up and then structuring the information to come up with the system architecture.

Initial set of paper sketches as wireframes and system diagrams proved to be a handy communication tool within the team. We did run a couple of iteration cycles using these. Besides carrying the advantage of a faster turnaround time, these paper prototypes proved valuable for the team whenever it came to convey thoughts to the team members with different backgrounds, especially when most of us were accustomed to relying on text based communication. These wireframes soon became the basis for generating visual designs (high fidelity UI mock-ups) for this project. We also had points of difference around issues like usage of colors and visual language but the process followed helped us to embrace and appreciate good elements from different points of views. Moving ahead, these images were delivered for front end HTML implementation cycles which made me taste its own set of constraints 🙂

In Aug 2008, the team released the alpha version of ReelChanges.org. Since then it is kept on a content aggregation mode before we could embark on a new cycle of design enhancements. This is also a period when we are testing this idea with a live segment of users, patrons, documentary filmmakers and commercial content distributors.

Credits: Hal Plotkin, Texity Systems

Related resources: Click here to view a set of process sketches of this project.

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A $2 app – fun unlimited

For the past two days we were working towards creating an iPhone app for the hearing impaired users. The application will enable an iPhone to be used as a hearing aid. Figures show that people with partial or complete loss of hearing includes a large number of elderly population. We thus choose elderly as the target user group for this application.

We try to suggest  a design solution at three different levels:

1. At the level of information architecture: We decided to keep the application essentially a simple one. We had to drop some of the advanced features for the pilot release. The application currently enables this user group to hear the surrounding sounds with an amplification. However users have also been provided with an ability to record different sounds which they consider as noise and then use this application to cancel these sounds as noise filters. Advanced features like managing noise profiles according to different usage scenarios are not taken into consideration at this stage.

2. At the level of usability: A short user study revealed that elderly users often find themselves lost while trying to understand visual clues like icons or graphic based buttons. Rather they prefer a step wise approach by carefully reading the text based instructions. Now the challenge was to come with action buttons with explicit text messages while staying crisp and precise. We also considered resizing the default “active or hit” areas for these buttons to be of a little larger size.

3. At the level of visual design: An apparent strategy of creating a visual contrast is followed. Besides we use iPhone library for creating visual design for this UI.

We plan to improve this application and are looking forward for any user feedback. The application is currently priced at $2. By-n- large as a short project, it was quite a fun for everyone in the team 🙂

For app news, Click here.

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.

Tactile Computing Workshop

The video shows a prototype exploring the idea of making ambient lighting sensitive to the presence of people dwelling in a home. During this project, we created electronic sensors using textiles and other components. We used these sensors in the floor to sense the people walking over it. Inputs from these sensors are then used to control lighting in the space.

This workshop was conducted during Jan 2006 session at NID, Ahmedabad by Joanna Berzowska.

Art in a restroom- An attempt to explore ‘Dadaism’

This project attempts to put ‘Objects of art’ in a space like “public restrooms”. We explored ‘Dadaism’ an art movement. The exhibition was conducted in the male and female restrooms inside the campus of NID.