by Robin Moyer
At Sandpit we love mixing equal parts creative concept and technological functionality, and progressively refining what emerges until we achieve the ideal user experience (UX).
But if prototyping’s relatively new to you, and you’re not entirely sure how the process works—or simply how it works at Sandpit—you’ll find this little story quite enlightening.
Overview (what we prototyped)
We’ve just completed a ‘sneak peek’ public exhibition of an interactive installation commissioned by the State Library of South Australia.
Called The Democracy Machine, the installation’s designed to bring to life the history of democracy in South Australia. A combination of engaging graphic presentations (with narrations) and interactively linked voting booths will transport visitors back in time to learn about, and ‘participate’ in, some of South Australia’s most momentous votes.
The full exhibition will be launched in early 2017 as part of the library’s planned new Centre of Democracy, showcasing seven elections and referenda. The ‘sneak peek’ was held in the SA Migration Museum from 18 to 27 October 2016 as part of the Open State program, and looked at just one significant vote: the 1899 referendum on whether or not Australia should become a federation.
Inside view (how we did it)
Creatively, the raw idea for The Democracy Machine was conceptually defined as part of the library’s expression-of-interest (EOI) process that Sandpit was invited to participate in.
After learning that our broad response to this concept (our EOI proposal) was successful, our first step was for our strategy team to more clearly understand the project goals. Just how defined were they? How much room did we have to move? And how much of the concept was yet to be discovered?
Revisiting the initial documentation and costing assumptions with the library’s team started to paint a clear picture of the use cases and associated technical assumptions we had to work with.
We’d already known the project was to be an analogue of the election process (or referendum, in this case). But it was challenging to learn the whole voting cycle—from election announcement to electioneering, to the physical act of voting—had to be creatively conveyed in very rapid time; around just three minutes!
We were now ready to start making.
Prototype 1—basic functionality validation
This first prototype was developed by our project technical team, comprising some of our own staff and some from the client. It’s purpose is to define the functional boundaries of the hardware and software we’re looking to use.
In this case, that included:
- NFC (near-field communication) readers
- Raspberry Pis (Rpis)
- The Sandpit adaptive learning platform
- Card dispensers (to provide exhibition visitors with ‘voting’ cards)
- Allowances for further UX refinement of voting booths:
- Status LED
- Final physical triggers
- LED lighting
- Glowing effect
At the end of its development, which took approximately 2 weeks, we presented the working prototypes to the project creative team (again including a mix of our staff and the client’s) and received their detailed UX requests and prototype feedback.
This allowed us to finalise the broad hardware, software and platforms to be used, order what needed to be ordered, and start working with it all in earnest.
This step involved tuning and refining prototype 1 from all angles: aesthetics; user functionality; software and hardware robustness; and production optimisation.
Throughout this 6 week process we conducted regular ‘sprints’ (identifying a single key issue that could be resolved in one week, and doing so), and held meetings with all collaborating parties. All concept unknowns soon became clear.
At the end of the phase, we again presented a working prototype to the creative team to ensure they were satisfied all requests had been addressed.
Prototype 3—production validation
This step, which had to be completed in around 4 weeks, was critical to get the prototypes millimetre-perfect ahead of full production. We built six voting booths, and despite the low volumes the timing was super tight.
At this point the object designs had been broadly finalised, so we were able to really get a sense of what the final voting booth would look like, and indeed the whole exhibition. More broadly, we also finalised power access, networking infrastructure and lighting.
This is where things really got serious.
This was a big job for our production manager. This included liaising with the carpenter, set designers and technical team to ensure the voting booths and enrolment station all came together.
We were in lockdown for a full two weeks.
Commissioning and launch
The exhibition installation went very smoothly, mostly thanks to the tireless work of our production manager. He was able to think through and resolve all the unforseens quickly and efficiently—calibrating projectors, gaffer-taping cables, testing and re-testing.
When launch day arrived we were well and truly ready. True to brief, we had created a beautifully constructed wooden-framed electronic voting system, carefully and interactively linked with an engaging AV presentation—together celebrating the long and rich history of democracy in South Australia.
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