After an idea has been identified, the murky soup of inspiration has to be fleshed out into a fully flavored gumbo. The design process begins.
Having carried out this process in different disciplines, I've come to know its iterative nature. Polished concepts don't emerge from the flash of inspiration; months of refinement are usually required. I typically find myself repeatedly revisiting the initial vision in order to tweak and refine a concept as much as possible.
Here are a few designs that I've played a role in.
Pictora was a project with one goal in mind: we wanted to make the process of searching for images better, in every way possible. The idea was born in February 2010, when Google Images was still largely unchanged from the original version that launched in 2001. It was born out of a common user frustration: if you query a search engine, and the result you're looking for isn't on the first page, you give up and enter a completely new query, which yields 10 million more results.
We believed that this forked approach to searching wasn't ideal. What if the user could interact with the search engine in an intuitive way? They would be able to tell the search engine what to filter out and what to emphasize, leading them to the image they had in mind. Rather than a fork, Pictora is a funnel that leads the user ever closer to the image they want.
Developed as part of a course on User Interface Design, Pictora was ideal in that we had nearly a whole semester to work through the user-centered design process. Before a single line of code was written, sketches and mockups were made. Research was conducted, which brought on wireframes and low-fidelity prototypes.
Each iteration had to undergo scrutiny. A final, hi-fidelity prototype was created in Adobe Flex, and had to prove its worth in user testing. Users were timed and clicks were counted; we didn't want the users to waste a single second, because, ultimately, that is the entire point of technology. It saves us time.
Pictora incorporated numerous features that had never been applied to a search engine before. Users could log in and save their favorite images to their own personal filmstrip, allowing for easy retrieval. No more of, "What happened to that awesome landscape photo?" The filmstrip holds on to your favorite images from across the web, because they're worth keeping.
The tag cloud on the right allows the user to filter their results by voting each tag up or down. Don't want black and white? One click, and it's gone. As soon as the user sees an image they like, they can view the full-size version in a single click.
What does a computer science student know about industrial design? I was curious myself, so I decided to find out by taking an interdisciplinary design course. As a semester project, we decided to tackle the issue of urban attractiveness in Atlanta, Georgia. The focus was to let design run wild; our real-world constraints were limited. Thus, we were free to toy around with ideas like:
We researched the traits that make other cities great. What we kept finding was density as a result of some geographic constriction. In contrast, Atlanta is a classic case of urban sprawl; no land barriers exist to curtail expansion. As a result, old properties fall into disuse and disrepair, causing pockets of desolation and destitution in between cultural hotbeds. If we could bridge the gaps between the culture zones, we could increase density and safety all at once.
Our primary research was to explore the city on foot; we had to see the problems at street level. After each walking session, our ideas would slowly refine and find focus.
We set our sights on surface parking lots as the cancer of Peachtree Street, one of Atlanta's most prime locations. Surface parking lots serve as physical demarcations; each one of the lined asphalt blocks is another area where a building can't exist, which worsens our density problem.
Our proposed solution was to focus on Peachtree Street as a microcosm of Atlanta's problems. In a perfect world, we could wave our hands and make parking invisible, either by moving it underground, or by concealing parking decks within buildings. But, we recognized that we couldn't just kick out all the existing landowners. If our long-term goal was to eliminate surface parking, we would need an interim solution as well.
So, while banning any further development of additional surface parking lots, we would give incentives for owners of existing lots to promote culture and density by using their lots to organize events, such as food truck lunch days, which are already popular in Midtown. The resulting effect is less desolation; events get people out into the street to make use of their city, a rare sight in a city that's shamefully called "The Los Angeles of the South."
Block Party is a team-based puzzle game that requires players to work together. The players assume the role of blocks and must utilize power ups, activate switches, and destroy walls to make their way through three distinct levels.
As simple as the concept may sound, this project involved a gauntlet of idea generation. Finding a concept for a game that's challenging, rewarding, and ultimately, fun, requires the designers to generate and burn through a large number of ideas. Many concepts that sound interesting may not make for fulfilling gameplay.
Once we settled on making a puzzle game, we had to find a way to playtest levels without spending weeks on actually implementing them. The blocky nature of the game lent itself very well to LEGO prototypes. This allowed us to make working, playable levels very quickly. In addition, it allowed us to get a wide sample group to test the levels. Not all people are proficient with video games, but nearly anyone can manipulate LEGOs.
After all of the brainstorming, prototyping, surveying, and playtesting we had developed a game that we believed was quite fun to play.