This year at Second Story one of the things we’ve been challenging ourselves to do is “get real faster.” In creating interactive experiences we’ve always created proof of concepts and prototypes, but this year we’re trying to do this earlier in our development process so we can learn from our efforts, test our theories and concepts, and in the end, have more time and opportunities to improve our final products.
Just this month I’ve had a chance to practice “getting real faster” on two of the projects I’m producing. The first opportunity was on an interactive installation we’re creating for the Baseball Hall of Fame that will allow users to explore and compare lists of records through the ages.
As we were building out simple black & white wireframes to document the project’s user experience, we realized we could take an extra day or two and “skin” the wireframes with an early design direction. We also thought that if we did this to scale, we could project our studies in our Lab to see what this nine foot tall exhibit might actually look and feel like. When we did this, so much became clearer. We were better able to grasp the size and impact the interactive will have on visitors. We could see that some of the navigational elements felt strange—either too big or too small, and other static features felt a little too “buttony” or interactive. These were all things that we would have eventually figured out and tweaked—but it felt really good to catch and address these items earlier in our process, rather than later.
The other opportunity I had to rapidly prototype was for a project we’re working on for the Institute for Emerging Issues, a public policy “think-and-do tank” in North Carolina. For IEI, we’re creating a large interactive exhibit that will live in their new 2012 home within the James B. Hunt, Jr. Library on the NC State University campus. The exhibit will help politicians, business leaders, and students understand and act on big issues that North Carolina is facing. At this point we are still early in the project, refining concepts and defining the user experience. However, every February IEI hosts an Emerging Issues Forum that attracts politicians, business leaders, and thinkers from all over the nation. Bill Clinton, Thomas Friedman, and Carl Sagan, to name a few, have all spoken at this event. We saw this as an opportunity not to be missed—if we could crank out a quick prototype and get it to North Carolina, we could gain valuable insight and feedback from their target audience. So a small team worked with IEI to quickly create a data visualization tool that shows users the health ranking of all 100 NC counties and how each county’s health can be improved by things as diverse as improving graduation rates, creating more affordable housing, or lowering obesity and smoking levels.
A few weekends ago, we finished up the tool, flew from Portland to North Carolina, spent Sunday afternoon setting up and testing things. On Monday morning we showed up at the Emerging Issues Forum at 7am to observe attendees use the tool throughout the day. One of the first persons to try it out was former NC Governor Jim Hunt, himself—the founder of IEI! And over the course of the day, many NC legislators, policy advisors, professors, economists, and students used the prototype and gave us great feedback. We learned so much—how the audience used the tool, what they liked about it and didn’t like about it. What they wanted it to do and what they didn’t care that it did. While this was only a working prototype–not a polished, finished product–the feedback and insight we received was invaluable. Just like the Baseball prototype, this quick effort will make our final interactive exhibit so much better.
–Michael Pittman, Producer