Critical Reflection

This post is a reflection of my final year, the learning curves I have overcome and how I came to any design decisions.

Coming into forth year I had compiled a few vague project ideas over the holidays, however I felt one stood out amongst the rest, the project idea being; To reignite the interest and wonder of Space Exploration by connecting individuals to these missions, planets or discoveries.
I have always and an interest in our Cosmos and felt I could utilise my skills as a designer to help share this interest.

I began looking into all the various components of Space exploration, such as the missions, the destinations and the science or the unknown. I didn’t want to rush this process, as there is a lot of data and information to cover in the field of Space exploration.
During ‘Gurus day’ I had an interesting conversation with one of the Gurus on the topic of media coverage of Space exploration, compared to the past. Everyone on the planet is aware of the Apollo missions. However many people are not aware of the current or on going exploratory missions. A good example of this is the Curiosity Rover, which is the size of a small card and is currently driving on the surface of another planet conducting incredible scientific experiments.

By the end of my ‘phase 0’ I felt I should focus my project on Mars and it’s missions, rather than a complete catalogue of every exploratory mission. I felt I could make the project content much more involving and thought provoking.

Leading into my ‘phase 1’, I figured the essence of my project was capturing the imagination and interest from the user in regards to Space exploration. Looking back to the Apollo Space program and the Great Space Race I felt I had to encapsulate that sense of drive and passion for discovering the unknown within my own project.
I decided on an ethnographic approach to try and understand this feeling by involving the Dundee User Centre, which consists of individual’s aged 60+ who were all present for the Apollo Space program. I volunteer at the User Centre and had already built a relationship and trust with the participants, and I felt this would improve my chance of gaining meaningful feedback. I wanted to explore how much impact the Apollo missions made in their life and what they remember when they look back to 1963. Then compare it to their knowledge and feelings regarding more recent space endeavours.
I didn’t want to use cultural probes, as I wanted to be present during these discussions and capture as much from the individuals as possible. So I themed the user research in the form of a mission briefing from NASA and structured it as an informal focus group.
I was very happy with the insight I gained through my ethnographic study and felt it supported and answered a lot of my questions on where to go next.
Also before moving away from ‘phase 1’, one incredibly useful process I decided on was the weighting between the People, Design and Technology in regards to my project. A reminder of my weightings is 20% People, 40% Design and 40% Technology.

In preparation for ‘phase 2’ I had already decided the best format for my project would be in the form of a mobile app, which would create a connection between the individual and the surface of the Red Planet. I wanted to test my graphic design skills, and apply it to my UI designs in order to create a unique and engaging interface and the technology I used to achieve this was in the form of a web app, scaled to the iPhone 5 using HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

For the ‘mark 1’ prototype I decided to direct my attention to the graphical style and colour scheme of my app. I wanted to include a lot of the already existing imagery of Mars already captured by NASA missions throughout my design. And base my colour scheme of the planet Mars itself as well as colours used throughout space exploration history. This turned out to be a successful use of my time and ended up hugely influencing my final screen designs.

The ‘mark 2’ prototype instead focused on the technology side of the project and more specifically the interactions of the app. This involved designing and developing a working demo of the navigation and menu. This was my first real experience with complex JavaScript thus making this deliverable much more difficult than originally anticipated. This resulted in my demo not being ready to a couple of days after the presentation. Not all was lost however, as my ‘mark 2’ was still incredibly insightful due to me demoing the rotary menu interaction with a number of users, examining if it was functional and self-explanatory. This turned out to be a resounding yes, and thus helped with my confidence in regards to my ‘mark 2’.

Bringing all of this to an end I will finish with saying I have thoroughly enjoyed this project and the entire process from start to finish. If I were to change one thing I would start into the technology side of my project sooner. But this is a minor complaint in an otherwise great experience.
I feel I have achieved my projects purpose, and believe the Martian app will be a portal to the planet Mars, even someone who may not have thought they were interested in Space exploration. This project has fuelled my interest in our Cosmos and I feel I will continue to utilise my design skills to aid this sense of exploration in the future.