Being a designer can be stressful. You have many ideas but you have no idea if they work or not. You can make a mockup and test it and even be confident that if something is done it would have been useful and needed, but how you can sure unless you actually make it work. The course Interactive Prototyping offered me a chance to make something that actually works. That was a chance I didn't want to miss.
The brief for the course was provided by Nokia and the topic was "Music on the go". A representative from Nokia Gear came and briefed us on what they looked for from us and we started initial training in coding and electronics. We knew that in order to make something work, we most likely needed some sensors and Arduino board and some basic coding skills. Simultaneously, we started investigating the topic and interviewing different people, starting from basic music listeners to professional musicians and technical experts. All that was followed by constant benchmarking of existing tools and gadgets for listening, making and enjoying music. The task was challenging since we had only two weeks for benchmarking, needfinding and ideation. The task was challenging but doable. We spread out and tested many different things and suddenly had an eureka moment. We were in the train, heading to a music conference in a small city in Finland and we wanted to listen to music during our ride. We carried one of Nokia 360 speakers with us and one of us played his play list. His list contained many rock and metal songs and many colleagues complained on his music taste. Soon, we exchanged the source of music but the reaction was similar. Some of the students were happy with the music taste, but some were disappointed and were offering their phones and playlists. Basically it was never perfect. Our solution was that each of us gets to play some songs and then we switch. Suddenly Eureka! What if a speaker could do that automatically. What if a speaker could source music from many phones simultaneously and shuffle it so that everyone gets to listen to at least one of his/her songs?! Wouldn't that be a nice and useful product. Imagine applications in cafes as a jukebox replacements and even in similar context as the one we were in, such as buses and trains. How many times you were in the bus where you didn't like the choice of music. Current solution was that you listen to your music and have headsets all the time, but what if you could listen to your music on the official bus sound system?! With this idea in mind we came back from the trip and started working on the actual prototype.
We had no previous coding experience and we had no idea on how to start. In discussion with professor Jussi, we agreed that the easiest way to make a proof of concept would be to hack some of the existing bluetooth headsets and just make a module that would press the right buttons at the right time. We created an Arduino board that was connected with four bluetooth headset devices. By pressing a button on our speaker, you actually send a sequence of electrical inputs to those four devices and press certain button combinations. For example, once you connect your phone to our speaker, you actually connect to one bluetooth headset inbuilt in the box which plays music automatically, then the Arduino module stops it and keeps it paused. Once you press play on the speaker it plays one of the connected bluetooth headsets inside the speaker. Once the sound stops, the speaker recognizes that there is no sound coming and switches the source. That way, the speaker plays one song from each of the headsets at the time and then changes the source. That way each connected user can get at least one out of four songs, since we had only four modules. This was just proof of concept, but there are bluetooth modules on the market that can connect to seven devices at the same time, meaning that seven people could play their music from the same speaker. Also, since we used already made product as a modules, the size of the speaker is huge. The actual bluetooth module is small and you can control in directly if you have more coding knowledge than us. Since I was the main coder in the team and this was my first contact with coding, I was happy to achieve even this result.
The product was designed inspired by organic design and famous lamps designed by Ross Lovegrove. The final design was a compromise between practical functional prototype, meaning an easier construction for holding and mounting electronics and a pleasant design exterior. The box containing the electronics is very orthogonal, therefore following the shape of electronics. The lid of the box and the mesh for soundflow is completely organic, braking the light in many directions making it a desirable object.
The prototype was tested with random users and presented to Nokia officials. They loved it and we started negotiations on transferring the rights to them. Those negotiations were stopped due to changes in Nokia personnel.
What I learned from this, was that everything can be learned in fairly small amount of time. I had no previous coding experience and still I was able to code and make a functional shuffling speaker in a month, including all the designs and execution. The only obstacle for learning is never trying. Everything can be learn. Especially if you are not aiming to make an actual working product but only demonstrate the capabilities - proof of concept. You just need to be creative and do it in some ways. It is irrelevant how.