What can you do in the field that you can’t do in the lab? A study of the ‘Tangible Toolbox’
What is the Tangible Toolbox? • A lightweight component model that allows the user to manage the introduction and arrangement of new interactive services and devices in the home. • The Tangible Toolbox was developed as part of the ACCORD project • The ACCORD project was a 2.5-year project ending in June 2003, funded under the Disappearing Computer initiative. Partners were The Swedish Institute of Computer Science, Nottingham University, and Acreo. (Swedish Institute of Computer Science, 2008)
Linker Device • With the Linker Device users can explore the properties of a physical device in the home and link these with properties of other physical devices. • The basic device consists of an iPAQ that talks directly to the shared data space and a barcode reader that can read barcodes placed on interactive devices.
Jigsaw Editor • Tablet-based editor that discovers available ubiquitous components and presents these to users as ‘jigsaw pieces’ that can be dynamically assembled and reassembled.
An example of ubiquitous computing facilitated by the Tangible Toolbox • Three ‘jigsaw pieces’- GroceryAlarm, AddToList and SMSSend- are established using the Linker Device and connected via the Jigsaw Editor. • GroceryAlarm generates names of missing groceries in the cupboard. It detects groceries moving in and out and if one is away more than 30 seconds it is said to be out. • AddToList adds elements (in this case the missing groceries) to the list it publishes into the data space. • SMSSend sends this list as an SMS to a phone number previously supplied to the Tangible Toolbox.
Architecture and the Tangible Toolbox “Between the dazzle of a new building and its eventual corpse… lies the unappreciated, undocumented, awkward-seeming time when it was alive to evolution… those are the best years, the time when the building can engage us at our own level of complexity.” (Brand, 1994)
Architecture and the Tangible Toolbox • Stewart Brand’s ‘Six S’s’: • Site: where the home is situated. • Structure: the architectural skeleton of a home. • Skin: the cladding of a home, e.g. brick, wood. • Services: water, electricity, waste, etc. • Space-plan: the interior layout of the home, including walls, doors, cupboards, shelves, etc. • Stuff: mobilia or artefacts that are located within the Space-plan. • The Tangible Toolbox was developed with a specific focus on the interplay between the Space-plan and Stuff in terms of human interaction.
Principles of product development • Can the potential end-user: • See the sense of the technology? • Recognise the relevance of the technology to practical activities and practical circumstances? • Determine ways in which the technology might be appropriated?
Development of the Tangible Toolbox: Phase 1 • The functional relationship between the Space-plan and the Stuff of the home was theorised firstly by considering the results of a number of ethnographic studies. • Several ethnographic studies conducted in domestic environments have emphasized the importance of the spatial and temporal nature of technology use in the home. • The Space-plan and Stuff are ‘organizational features’ of interaction.
Development of the Tangible Toolbox: Phase 1 • Ecological Habitats are places where artefacts and media live and where household members go to locate particular resources. (e.g. desks) • Activity Centres are places where artefacts and media are manipulated and where information is transformed. (e.g. sofas) • Coordinate Displays are places where media are displayed and made available to residents to coordinate their activities. (e.g. notice boards) • While discrete, these places often overlap, assuming different functionsat different times. • The interaction and interplay of the Space-plan and the Stuff of the home relies upon the assembly and manipulation of artefacts and media at various functional sites.
Development of the Tangible Toolbox: Phase 1 “While new homes may eventually be purpose-built for smart applications, existing homes are not designed as such. Perhaps homeowners may decide to ‘upgrade’ their homes to support these new technologies. But it seems more likely that new technologies will be brought piecemeal into the home; unlike the ‘lab houses’ that serve as experiments in domestic technology today these homes are not custom designed from the start to accommodate and integrate these technologies.” (Edwards and Grinter, 2001) • These real world constraints make it necessary for us to complement lab-based research and consider how users might bring ubiquitous computing into the home in the ‘piecemeal’ fashion predicted.
Development of the Tangible Toolbox:Phase 2 • Mock up sessions: exploratory studies conducted in lab houses, in which researchers and participants engage in mutual learning and collaborative prototype development. • Mock ups were guided by the ethnographic data and architectural concepts derived during Phase 1 of product development.
Sample data from a mock up session Bill: I might want to see who’s coming to the house during the day while I’m at work. So I might want to have this (picks up a blank jigsaw piece) as a doorbell, yes? Jack: Yes (sketches a Doorbell icon on the blank piece). And when the doorbell is activated it links to? Bill: A video camera or webcam or something like that. Jack: Yes a camera, good idea (takes another blank paper jigsaw piece and sketches a Webcam icon). Bill: Even better. If we have that (points to the newly sketched Webcam icon) and the doorbell rings, OK? Then the image from the webcam goes to Jack: A web page? (Jack places jigsaw piece showing WebToText icon next to jigsaw pieces bearing sketches of Doorbell and Webcam). Bill: Or even a picture text message. I suppose you could have a picture flashed up on my mobile (points to his Sony Eriksson T300 and then replaces the WebToText piece with the SMSRecieve piece) and that shows me just who’s at the door! Jack: So you’d have an image of who and how many people have been to your home. Bill: Yeah.
Development of the Tangible Toolbox: Phase 2 • Lab-based mock up sessions guided the outlining of an initial editor based on the assembly of puzzle pieces. Issues addressed at this stage included: • Difficulties understanding icons on the puzzle pieces. • Suggestions for improving feedback from activating services or connections; such as audio feedback when actions are generated or error sound when someone tries to join two incompatible pieces together. • Suggestions for default and ready-made macros to choose from, perhaps borrowing/importing macros from friends or neighbours.
Development of the Tangible Toolbox: Phase 3 • The third phase of product development sought to bring research efforts back into the real world domestic environment. • paper mock ups allowed users to explore both the assembly of components and the identification of new components. • Semi-structured interviews
Contribution of Theory • Architectural theory compounded with ethnographic research in order to firmly establish the relationship between Space-plan and Stuff in the domestic setting. • The concept of interplay between Space-plan and Stuff provided the initial direction and rationale for the Tangible Toolbox project.
Contribution of Laboratory Studies • Provided researchers with the opportunity to engage in mutual learning with participants through controlled mock up scenarios. • By establishing pre-arranged scenarios, researchers were able to quickly evaluate the functionality of the Tangible Toolbox in a variety of situations which may never arise in a particular uncontrolled domestic environment.
Contribution of Field Studies • Grounded the development of the Tangible Toolbox firmly in the real-world domestic environment. • Provided a point of covalence between theory and domestic technology use which facilitated more focused lab-based approaches to prototype development. • Provided the opportunity to observe the efficacy of laboratory-informed development decisions in an uncontrolled environment.
Summary • The purpose of the three phase approach of study was to develop an understanding of the social character of technology use from a ‘naturalistic’ perspective. • During phase 1, theoretical and ethnographic sources constituted the foundations of the Tangible Toolbox project. • Phase 2 saw research move into a laboratory-like setting in order to focus research towards practical product development. • Phase 3 saw research move back into a naturalistic setting in order to ecologically validate the findings of lab-house mock ups.
References • Brand, S. (1994) How Buildings Learn, New York: Viking • Crabtree, A. (2003) Designing Collaborative Systems: A Practical Guide to Ethnography, London: Springer • Edwards, K. and Grinter, R. (2001) “At home with ubiquitous computing: seven challenges”, Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, pp. 256-272, Atlanta, Georgia: Springer • Hansson, P., Humble, J. and Koleva, B. (2002) Accord Deliverable D3.2: Understanding and Using the Tangible Toolbox • Humble, J. et al (2003) “’Playing with your bits’: user-composition of ubiquitous domestic environments”, Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, pp. 256-263, Seattle: Springer • Rodden et al (2003) Accord Deliverable D3.3: Study of the use of the Tangible Toolbox