UX Week 2013 Physical to Digital Workshop

On Thursday of last week, we facilitated our full-day workshop on Physical and Digital Prototyping at UX Week 2013. Our workshop subtitle is “It’s Easier than you Think” because we know that a lot of people worry about their skillset as well as the time, complexity, and cost of building prototypes of products that blend the physical and digital world. They’re just plain wrong.
Today’s prototyping kits enable individuals or groups to build complex “works like” prototypes in a matter of hours and without advanced skills. Our attendees at UX Week included a few people with strong programming skills, those who’d only taken one college course (many years ago), and even those who’d never programmed. But all were able to participate fully; some wrote hundreds of lines of code, others spending time understanding the interaction between simple code statements and the physical input and output devices on a breadboard.
We led workshop participants through an introduction about digital disruption, giving a tour through many of moments of daily activity that have been disrupted. From the daily activities of listening to the radio, to taking your morning meds, to turning down the thermostat and locking the door on the way out for work, disruption is happening. And if it can happen to the lock and key, an invention of the late middle ages, it can certainly happen to any business.
Next we spent a few minutes introducing the participants to one another, through a set of ‘Mad Lib’ introductions, allowing us to understand what the breakdown of strengths is — some audiences are more design-focused, others more accomplished in technology, while still others might include a disproportionate amount of story-tellers or business strategists. But our attendees at UX were a balanced bunch. The activity also included a self-assessment exercises performed directly on participant badges, which broke the ice effectively.
Our second course introduced prototyping and its iterative phases. We talked and showed examples of looks like / works like prototypes during idea generation, development, and refinement. When teams understand the value of prototyping, they allow themselves to get done only what’s needed; instead of trying to build a modern A-380, they are satisfied and even excited about building a Wright Brothers powered glider. The form, the ‘looks like’ portion, of a complex medical instrument was conceptually explored using a film canister, a whiteboard marker, and a clothes pin. Bringing together ‘looks like’ and ‘works like’ modeling, as well as the story that connects the two is the conceptual framework for the workshop. Our three facilitators worked with teams to develop all three aspects: code/hardware, form, and story.
Next we were off into the assignment, which was about Quantified Self. Designers in the quantified self space discover elegant ways to get sensor-based or measured data into their systems so that people can see the invisible parts of life. In many cases, quantified self systems are driven by the desire to change behavior,  to reinforce a good behavior or decrease or eliminate a bad behavior. The QS space is on fire right now with startups, big companies, and researchers all racing to uncover methods to reflect back personal data in meaningful ways. Our assignment introduced these concepts and also assigned each team a globally recognized brand and a part of the body as inspiration for their brainstorming (about half kept their brand top of mind as they prototyped).
Teams spent the next five hours working on the following projects that amazed us in their application to everyday life — each team picked a situation or scenario that we’ve all faced — and successfully explored the design and utility of a digitally disruptive technology to solve or augment the situation or problem. Projects included the following:
Nike Wear Me Out – To combat childhood obesity, the team found a fun and game-like way to motivate exercise, especially outside exercise by kids. The Wear Me Out is a robot pet who desires outdoor play and uses a variety of means (including a wagging tail, LED lights, and eventually barking) to motivate kids — a kid of physical tomogochi. The proposed toy would also measure exercise just by dint of the situation and context of use, since kid walks toy around the park or backyard, and so it would be easy to measure time and distance.
Soothring – A data driven mood ring that reflects the wearer’s mood as measured by heart rate (and potentially galvanic skin response). The team also proposed calming the wearer’s mood via a sound and image display in a pair of glasses.
LubDub – A paired set of bracelets that broadcast the wearers heartrate to a significant other. The display is haptic, with the beats of the heart mirroring a subtle vibration on the other bracelet as well as a small personal LED display. The team also considered some of the design details for how to activate the sending and receiving modes as well.
Day Walker – The team who developed Day Walker was motivated by a desire to measure potentially dangerous UV rays, and they created a beautiful Shine-like fob that could function as a lapel pin or necklace. The team sketched some high-fidelity product designs, including an iPhone application that could show the UV exposure of the entire family, as well as built works like functionality using a light sensor and a series of LEDs which counted up toward a warning indicator and vibrating alarm when maximum sun exposure was reached.
Disney Social Rehab Glove – The team created a system for children who’d had accidents and needed rehabilitation exercises. While they envisioned prototypes for pinching, gripping, and wrist physical therapy, they decided to explore a  wearable glove that sensed motion in 3 dimension (using an accelerometer). Then they went further to develop a Processing sketch to visualize multiple individuals to transform the therapy into a social game (as well as a screen for medical professionals to track progress).
Porsche Car Steering Wheel – The Porsche team built their own pressure sensors to explore some of the input and output challenges of sensing driver stress and driver attention. The team prototyped a steering wheel-based pressure sensing array to determine driver attention and react to it by lowering the volume of the car stereo. In stressful situations, the team proposed a switch to soothing music to calm traffic-frayed nerves.