Experiencing rather than reading

Skills: Resarch through design, Prototyping, testing

This is a short summary of our findings in our bachelor thesis. This thesis have given a greater understanding of the users’ experience and interaction with devices, such as self-trackers. Through testing we came to the conclusion that, meaningful experiences are, in self-tracking devices, better reached using tactile and physical qualities rather than simply displaying information as text and numbers.

1. Inital research

Throughout the Bachelor thesis we used a design process to explore different subjects, methods and ways to engage. Therefore the process has been iterative and many choices have been made. The following shows the major insights that have had the biggest impact on the final outcome.

After finding our main subject we analyzed commercial self-trackers such as Fitbit and Upright. By analyzing these we got a strong understanding of the usage of these devices. This pointed us toward understanding the basics elements a self-tracking device must fulfill: Tracked input of a person’s actions or inactions and outputting it in some sort of data visualization.

Outcome: Defining and exploring self-tracking

2. Prototyping and tests

Through the act of Critical making and research through design, we created knowledge by building and testing. We made multiple prototypes comparing these as we built. The great insight we had was, that we always needed to create a translation of the data to be able to create meaning for the user. Therefor, we continued with investigating this translation, by trying to understand what information the user needs and then extract it. The next step for our process was to run tests on the users.

We created a prototype that could measure the user’s heartbeat and instead of displaying the data in numbers, we decided to make the user ‘experience the data’. A vibration motor was inserted in a necklace. A test subject would enter a room and enter a situation, where they had to think fast. While they performed, an attached heartbeat monitor recorded their heartbeats. Afterwards the test subject was left alone in the room, to listen to one’s heartbeats. The tests were set up with as little interruption as possible. Many test subjects responded that they were surprised over how stressful they got, and that it was a very different insight, as many only have used heartbeat monitoring at the gym, where everything was presented in beats per minute.

Outcome: Issue of translating data, Meaningful experience

3. Final results

The greater insight came surprisingly as, randomly, there were three persons with minor heart conditions taking the tests. A respondent said, that she finally understood, what the doctors have tried to explain to her about her heart. She was finally able to experience it. Therefore, we ended up with a product that could create a meaningful experience for it’s users, by addressing the problems of addressing how a user enacts with data.