Intelligent Clothing Design Project
In the context of educating future designers we studied a case of collaborative design: the MeMoGa project (funded by the Academy of Finland through the Proactive Computing Research Program). This project made possible to collect research data from authentic collaborative design context for CoDes project, thus these two projects worked in close collaboration. The design context, challenge, constraints and design team were founded on the objectives of the MeMoGa project. The web-based environment i.e. the medium for collaborative design interaction was introduced by CoDes project enabling to experiment user-centered and participatory design in VDS (Virtual Design Studio). In addition one aim of the CoDes project is to explore how new media and design technologies can improve design communication. MeMoGa project offered possibility to examine virtual presentations as basis for design communication.
The main goal of MeMoGa project was to design wearable-intelligence applications and to carry out a usability evaluation of the resultant intelligent clothing concepts. This case is divided into three main phases: design, prototyping and evaluation of the concept. Each phase is considered independently. The MeMoGa project’s user-centred approach provided an opportunity to explore an authentic collaborative design process in which the end-users of the product also participated. In the concept-design phase the objective was to examine how end-users and experts could participate in the concept-design process, in particular by using a virtual design studio, i.e. a web-based environment. We were also interested in what role the web-based environment would play in the communication with the design-team members and in how the collaboration between the team members would go. Another goal was to use the VDS (virtual design studio) to experiment with ways of representing the concept so as to get feedback from team members.
In the MeMoGa project the usability evaluation of the intelligent clothing concept was to be carried out using visualizations and a virtual prototype. Thus, the prototyping context was an authentic one. In the concept-prototyping phase the objective was to produce a visual representation of the designed concept that was as informative, communicative and usable as possible. In particular the aim was to visualize the concept’s functional, expressive and aesthetic properties in as informative a way as possible in relation to the way the visual prototype would be used in the next phase of the project. We wanted to examine also how the web-based environment would facilitate the prototyping process and communication between members of the prototyping team, design team and project personnel.
In the concept evaluation of this phase the objective of the MeMoGa project was to collect evaluative data from the end-users about the designed concept. Thus, the evaluation context, i.e. the way the visual prototype was used, was an authentic one. Moreover the aim was to develop the data-collection instrument to make it as usable as possible from both the end-users’ and the researchers’ points of view. We were interested in how the visual prototype and representation would succeed in taking the evaluation process forward and in how informative the visual prototype was in terms of the concept’s functional, expressive and aesthetic properties. In addition we also studied how usable the actual visual representation was as seen from the end-users’ and the researchers’ points of view.
Tentavive conclusions of the experiment
In this design experiment the virtual design studio (VDS) i.e. web-based environment had four main roles in design process: as medium 1) for distributing the expert knowledge and information, 2) for presentation, 3) for evaluation and feedback, 4) for guidance and supervision. The network-based environment in the process opened opportunities for communication and for collaboration between designers, end-users and other experts. The designers felt that the VDS did not aid the actual designing, since the creative design process happened in face-to-face brainstorming sessions of design team. The designers felt that VDS was usable and necessary medium in getting feedback and expertise knowledge from the end-users and other expertise, since these team members could not participate in the face-to-face meetings due to long distances and different timetables. Although there was real need for this kind of communication tool the interaction between team members and distribution of expertise did not emerge to the extend it was expected. This was partly analyzed to originate from the foundationally different ways of thinking and acting of the designers and other experts and the fact that end-users and other experts participated in the process during their working hours. One of the key factors was that using web-based environment as a tool wasn’t familiar enough for all team members, therefore there was some cautiousness interacting with each other and even some frustration caused by usability features of the web-based environment. Although there were difficulties in collaborating between team members via VDS, the designers felt that they still got useful feedback and information from end-users and other experts.
The visual presentation i.e. prototype was used to visualize the results of the concept-design phase for the end-user in order that they could give evaluative feedback from the usability features of the concept. The visual prototype consists of several elements: pictures and explanatory texts, 3-D animations and interactive 3-D models. These materials are included in the interactive multimedia presentation (picture 3). The informative features of the visual prototype worked sufficiently well to prompt the end-users to discuss about the properties of the concept during the evaluation sessions based on face-to-face discussion and the visualizations were informative and credible enough so that the evaluation of the concepts on the whole was possible. The most challenging features were the technical and accessible usability aspects of the presentation during the evaluation sessions based on web questionnaires, since the biggest challenge was to make the presentation available to prospective end-users through the Internet and to get it working correctly on the participating companies’ networks. These technical and accessible problems were major reasons, in addition to that the end-users simply lacked of computing skills, why the participation to web-based evaluation was much lower than expected.