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Final Project - Research Question


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The first deliverable of my Final Project at CIID, this document consists of the process followed in arriving at a research question for my final thesis.

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Final Project - Research Question

  1. 1. Final Project, del. 1 Initial statement & Design Challenge/ Research Question Name: Shamik Ray Nationality: Indian Background: Industrial Design, User Experience I want my Final Project to … I want my final project to be a reflection of the person I have slowly evolved into over the past 6 years since I started studying design formally. Having moved from Industrial Design to User Experience and finally IxD at CIID , I want my final project to connect my different skills and experiences of these different phases. I also want to design for real users and want the project to be socially relevant. I am hopeful that in the process, my project raises a few questions that makes us to look at an established way of doing things differently or critically. I’m interested in/inspired by… I have always been inspired by technology that empowers us to be creative and expressive. I have myself been a photographer and a musician and have always been fascinated by the tools that enables one to create - whether it is a camera or a guitar. However I also believe that these tools should be democratic and accessible because I don’t see art/creativity as the topmost tier in Maslow’s Pyramid but more as a catalyst that can help us move through the levels to the top. Like for example, photography to me is a sequence of identification,reaction and creation through which we try to communicate. The picture becomes a point of conversation and sometimes an object of positive reminiscence. This means that photography inherently has characteristics that can be leveraged on a social level to bring people together. During my Final Project I would like to challenge myself in… I can rely on: My understanding of the Design Process, ability to ideate effectively and build quick prototypes using Arduino and Processing as well as graphic and interface design experience. I would like to challenge: My skills in doing research. Would especially like to innovate on making my own research probes to engage with people effectively. Would also like to explore web-based technologies like HTML5, CSS, Javascript if the solution has web-based touch-points too.
  2. 2. Related projects Tap Tap See : An iphone camera app for blind and visually impaired Dialogue in the Dark : A social enterprise creating a common ground between blind and sighted
  3. 3. Blind with Camera : An initiative prompting the art of photography in people with visual impairment and capacity building around the “Non-Retinal” Art culture in India. It provides a platform for the visually impaired to share their “Inner Gallery” of images . Sensory Photography : A repository of knowledge,guidelines and projects that documents projects done in the area of Sensory Photography by different organizations working for this cause.
  4. 4. Pete Eckert : A blind photographer who speaks about how he ‘sees’ and captures the world. My starting point My starting point was a very broad question : “How can the arts be a social catalyst?” . How can the inherent qualities (like creativity,expressiveness,story-telling, communication etc.) that the arts foster in a person who practices it help bridge gaps and uplift people who find themselves on the peripheries of our society - those who are perceived to be “different” or “at-risk” etc? From the start I wanted to focus on a specific user group. I started with the idea of exploring something that leveraged the talent and uniqueness of street-musicians in a place. However I soon realized that my perceptions of street musicians being marginalized was not true at all (at least in Copenhagen). The things that I thought to be problems (like no organized way of consuming their music, or their performances being ephemeral) seemed to be be the reasons why they chose to live the life they do i.e. being away from the mainstream and commercialization. A design intervention seemed too forceful here and I looked to other places for inspiration. Then I came across an initiative called Point and Shoot. It is related to promoting photography among ‘at-risk’ youth in areas with gun-violence as a way for them to have a voice and channelize some of their angst through the camera instead of the gun. I was very inspired by how two seemingly unrelated things could come together and as I said before “an art-form could be used as a social catalyst”. This made me think hard about more such connections that could possibly be waiting to be explored and I had this “aha” moment when I started thinking about connecting visually impaired people with photography in a way that the images could become their unique point of view of the world.
  5. 5. Initial journey of thoughts traversing through interest areas and potential connections. What roles can an ‘image’ play ?
  6. 6. My explorations Since embarking on this project, I have done a combination of desk research, body storming, experience prototypes and interviews hoping to lead me towards a concrete research question/design challenge. After deciding on the two constraints that I imposed on myself since my starting point, namely, using the medium of Photography and focussing on the visually impaired, I decided to take deep dives in each of these fields. Desk Research: It was important to deconstruct photography to understand what is the essence of it. On a more conceptual level, what are the qualities of a photographic image that makes communicating with them so popular in today’s connected world? Why do people rate digital photographs their most prized digital possessions? I also read about blind photographers and how they go about their work. It was encouraging to see collectives around blind photography and the reasons they cite on why the blind clicking photos actually makes sense. I also read some research papers to look at some of the attempts at making photography accessible for the blind from a technology standpoint. A particularly inspiring quote from a blind photographer called Pete Eckert that stands out is: “The byproduct is an image for sighted people. The event is an image for me.” This led me to the insight that photography is not just about the photograph that comes out in the end but the whole performance that precedes it. Desk Research Board
  7. 7. Experience Prototype/Body Storming: I was intrigued by what happens if the sense of sight is removed from the whole photographic journey (which consists of identification - reaction - creation - communication). To understand this better, I devised a set of body storming experiments. To simulate partial and complete blindness I used a ground-glass spectacle and a black blindfold respectively. I then took a few of my classmates to places rich in stimuli and asked them to take photographs that they could use to communicate how they felt there with people back home. This was done to observe what are the things that become important when the sense of sight is not there. The whole prototype is documented in this film. Simulating different levels of blindness. Blind Photography Walk Interviews/Visits: The interviews done at this stage were more for inspiration and having different points of view on my topic of interest. As I am working on a project for the visually impaired, it is important to build a relationship with an institution specializing in that field. Hence I have started
  8. 8. collaborating with Instituttet for Blind og Svagsynede (IBOS) in Hellerup, Copenhagen. I met Birgit Christensen who has been working there for the last 6 years as an instructor. She is going to facilitate future sessions with students of the institute. Instituttet for Blind og Svagsynede. Birgit Christensen(inset). My design challenge/research question My research question is: How can we use the qualities of the ‘experience of photography’ to build a common ground between the blind and the sighted? In other words how can the ‘photographic event’ as well as the ‘photographic product’ help bridge the worlds of the blind and the sighted? I am trying to explore how we can make a design intervention that makes photographs more accessible to the visually impaired while trying to bring to the sighted world their unique points of view. How can we ‘learn to see’ the world in a different way from people who can’t? The main value that I see coming out from my project is the creation of a common ground between the blind and the sighted. Throughout this project I would like to refer to the blind as ‘experts’ because they have developed a far more advanced way of making sense of the world. My initial experiments point to the rather exciting potentials of ‘sensory photography’ - i.e how can the the other senses play
  9. 9. a more important role in the act of photography and how can images also communicate with our other modalities. Throughout the process I want to work closely with the Instituttet for Blind og Svagsynede because my user-group is pretty focussed and I feel they can add tremendous value to my project. I want to design something for the present that can be built, tested and deployed with present technology. But that would not stop me from speculating at a conceptual level. The existing projects that I have come across are either collectives that organize events around photography for the blind or more around assistive technology. I DO NOT want to make just a more accessible camera for the visually impaired because that for me is just a single touchpoint of a bigger system. I want to explore the sweet spot between the device that lets the visually impaired take and share pictures and also the social aspects of sharing or having conversation around images taken by them or other people. There would definitely be a more service design approach throughout. Mapping out where my project is positioned. On a more personal level, I see a research question like this being the perfect opportunity to look at the very basics on interaction design as ‘shaping dialogs’ between people-people and people- technology. In this case I have imposed some constraints (like photography and visually impaired) which might make us look at a very established system of products/services in a very different way.
  10. 10. Keywords : visually impaired, sensory, photography, mobile, sharing,social. Project Blog What I am reading once in a while.. Words without Pictures Susan Sontag on Photography The Digital Evolution Reframing Photography