Last weekend myself and a few friends participated in the OZCHI 24 hour design competition. The task was given to us Saturday morning at 10am, and we were required to produce a video prototype (including our process) by Sunday 10am. Having not done this kind of strict deadline in many years (not since doing coursework), it was interesting seeing how the workflow of this kind of work has changed because of new technology. Most enlightening was the influence of and affordances given by smart phones, and how it had completely changed the working and design process for this type of work.
Out of the five team members working on this challenge, four of us had bought along iPhone 4’s (we had bought them along just as phones, nothing to do with the work itself). We had organised for one of the team members to bring a HD camera for recording, however they had forgotten :). Although this had resulted in some frustration initially, we decided to just use our phones to do the recording (the iPhone does offer HD recording). What followed was an amazing experience. In the past the organisation of equipment had been a huge burden, but not this time. In my past experience, the process involved with producing a short video to outline a solution, as well as the process towards the solution was a challenging task; requiring the video to be planned out in advance, and then the rest of the time planning out the shots, going out, recording them, etc - a very linear workflow.
Our process this time went like this: when one of us thought of an idea or something that might be of interest to our overall goal, we went out and filmed it. No need for planning or organisation, but purely ad-hoc decisions. Additionally, when something was planned (for instance, we decided to drive through the Clem 7 tunnel in Brisbane for inspiration), we didn’t have to think about who had the camera, or how to shoot the footage, as everyone could do as they wanted while driving. This lead to not only a wide variety of shooting styles and focuses, but it meant that the discussion around the importance of the location was not done prior or at the location, but rather afterwards.
This also lead to being able to be more creative in our process. For instance, at one point we wanted to be able to capture some people drawing pictures on a footpath. However this was at 2am on a Saturday morning. Not knowing where else to go, we went down to a local pub, and sat outside asking people (note: drunk people) whether they would like to draw on the footpath. Rather than requiring a large setup with cameras and tripods and lighting, we had no equipment on us except for the phones. This meant that one of us could shoot the drawing up close, while another shot the people from a top point of view, while another shot the crowd gathering around. This was not pre-organised or planned by us, but rather it was just each of us capturing what we felt was important about the situation. Then later on we could go back, and discuss the different point of views - without having to do a second take. Additionally, the quality being recorded was sufficient (HD - 720p) for public viewing.
The process was not completely without problems however. The hub of contention (which is usually the camera equipment) ended up being around the computer that was being used to edit footage. Our process for this was to have a section on the table where we put our phones. When any phones were in this area, the person working on the computer would plug a phone in and transfer the photos and movies, and then hand the phone back. This meant that without thinking about it, we were constantly collecting more and more data. However the problem with this was that the discussion ended up around a single device (similar to the camera equipment problem). This is much better than discussion happening on location or prior to filming, but still there was area for improvement. Some of the blame can be attributed to the network infrastructure, as well as the locked down nature of the device (having to sync through iPhoto was a point of contention). On reflection, using a service such as Dropbox would have allowed us to much more effectively aggregate information together.
Overall the benefits of the iPhone 4 in this project were not due to its technology, but rather due to its ubiquity. It allowed the capture of data (which as I remember was by far the most painful and time consuming process) to become something that was easy, fun and personal. Shots were no longer planned and faked, rather everything was captured on the fly and in the moment. Not only did it make the process more natural, but it resulted in a much better final outcome.
A few people have said that “this isn’t really iPhone specific”. My rebuttal to this is that while this is true, saying just “smart phones” is an over generalisation. The power here is not the functionality, but the ubiquity. While one of our team members had a different type of smart phone, it was not used as a recording device in the process. Why? While it was not discussed explicitly during the 24 hours, my argument would be that the resolution, the camera, codecs and process means that suddenly there are extra organisational and process overheads involved. Because all footage was shot on the same device, all captured media came out exactly the same. Could this be done with Android or other devices? Sure, as long as the devices had the same output, resolution and quality. This again emphasises the ubiquity of the iPhone, and how without planning it, we ended up with 4 of them ready for use.