Henri

Creating Languages for Objects at IxDA15

On February 10th, Method hosted a workshop for the IxDA15 Conference at our San Francisco studio. We were challenged as a group to design a workshop that breaks the boundaries of traditional conference workshops while pushing the attendees to expand their thinking beyond typical workplace processes. After initial brainstorming, it was clear we could use this opportunity to solve a set of problems and roadblocks that have inhibited us from designing non-screen based products in our own practice.

One of our Lead Interaction Designers, Daniel Nacamuli, has had prior experiences in his work where he realized the need for a tool that shortens the distance between making, experiencing and reflecting in the design process. Building off of that prior experimental work, a tool was created for the workshop that takes this opportunity and builds a tool that extends the initial prototype into a tool that would allow any designer a mechanism to tighten the design process loop. Led by Daniel, Interaction Design Director Garrett Groszko, Lead Design Technologist Tim Meador, Lead Interaction Designer Melissa Martin, Senior Visual Designer Flavio Carvalho, Designer Joanne Ong, and Lead Interaction Designer Ian Bach, the team successfully designed, developed and manufactured a tool nicknamed ‘Henri’ (Hardware Enhancing a Natural Responsive Interface) that creates languages for objects and removes the noise of interactions.

Challenge

Over three weeks, the team asked themselves several questions to frame the next evolution of this tool: What do we need as designers that we don’t already have? What are we making the tool for? What does it look like? The focus could not be singular: the team needed to design both the physical tool and the workshop experience. Henri needed to create multiple forms of feedback in real-time, design patterns to create a vocabulary and feel like you are playing when you collaborate with team members. The interaction capabilities were the primary focus of the tool, freeing designers from focusing on the physicality of the product and coding, while significantly enhancing a collaborative design process.

Because the workshop had a hard time-frame of four hours, the experience as well as the tool had to be approachable with a low-barrier entry. The participants needed to come together, become familiar and comfortable with the tool, and understand its value in a very short period of time.

Approach

We approached the design with an understanding that the focus should fall on the results rather than on the form factor. Henri needed to be a well designed, non-distracting form that showcased the team’s work. The behaviors being tested needed to be fun and instantaneously rewarding. The team accomplished this by using light, sound, color, rotation, and pulse to engage several senses simultaneously.

Defining the workshop was an exercise in framing the tool and its potential application in the real world. It is a device that in concept and practice allows you to visually express an idea so that both you and your teammates can experience it together. Designers no longer have to rely on ideas in abstract terms. Henri shortens the loop between having the idea, experiencing the idea, sharing and reflecting on the idea. This quicker feedback loop allows for much more iteration.

Outcome

The final design of the workshop took six teams of six people and assigned them an ordinary object. Each team was given a fully functioning Henri and instructions on three behaviors that they had to give their household object, building an exciting narrative story to be presented to the entire group at the end of the workshop.

The workshop successfully saw teams work together in a very short amount of time; most participants had never thought of infusing personas into an object. They began to think from a unique perspective where the product needs to communicate more information to a person than just on, off or idle. What if it was angry, sad, or excited? Henri allows those concepts to be tested real-time, and enhance the overall capabilities of both the designer and the product. It helped people literally think outside of the box, and be productive while playing.

Method is working now on next steps for developing the product further. Please refer to method.com and our Facebook and Twitter pages for status changes.