We'll be posting interviews with various speakers from the forthcoming Design For Mobile conference on this blog. First up is Liselott Brunnberg, whose design research into mobiles and context will soon earn her a PhD from The Interactive Institute of Sweden.
Barbara Ballard: Liselott, thanks for talking with me today. Let's start with some easy stuff. Why do you like design, what excites you about it?
Liselott Brunnberg: I am excited with doing experimental design in areas that is rather unexplored. It's really thrilling to see if your ideas work and how they are received by the users. If you explore new areas you don't really know about the result &ndash it's more like gambling.
BB: So seeing what you created in front of users is the most fun?
LB: That is just part of the fun – the nerveracking part. It's also fun to be the developer. To see what solutions work out technically.
A user sweeps the "directional microphone" about, seeking enemy agents
BB: What will you do next, now that you have the PhD?
LB: I believe we will try to develop the concept into a commercial product. I will probably work with location-based gaming or location based experiences in one way or another.
BB: Will that be as an entrepreneur, or working with an existing company?
LB: We will work with an existing company.
BB: I think that the reason why I went into industry instead of staying in academia was because I really wanted to see my work become real.
LB: Oh, cool. so you have walked that road already. It would be great to get to know more of your experiences from that. I'm not sure I will stay in academia.
BB: I was half through my dissertation before I quit – so you did better than me, congratulations. Do you consider yourself having a specific design focus, such as interaction design
LB: Interaction design is part of my focus, but a large portion is also focusing on expreience design and entertainment.
As the user moves through the physical environment, real and virtual information is presented based on proximity
BB: How do you understand each of those fields? How are they different and similar
LB: I consider interaction design to be more on usability issues. Experience design is more on creating the actual content. Such as a game – to be the more artistic side. They do both overlap.
BB: Oh, that's interesting. I think that you have some interaction design practitioners arguing about usability.
LB: Probably. It's just how I have defined my work.
BB: I understand. Since I came to this field via Human Factors engineering & psychology (then HCI, industrial design, usability, and business) I find the whole question of definitions a bit irrelevant to actually doing my job.
LB: It has two quite distinct parts. One is to develop the possibility for interaction in the game. To make it possible for players to play the game and also look out at the scenery. One is to create the content itself in regards of the context, and I see that more as experience design. But the interaction side is also about creating a good experience of course.
BB: So as far as specifics: what brought you to location-aware gaming?
LB: When I started as a PhD student I had to do something related to the road context. My colleagues were all doing mobile applications for drivers. I was more interested in doing something for passengers. Children are often spending a lot of time being quite inactive when traveling and I wanted to do something that could engage them more with the surrounding context. So I started to experiment with the idea to make the road side into an exciting game-world.
The researchers in the back seat of the test vehicle
BB: So mobile and location are inseparable as a motivation?
LB: As motivation for me? Yes, I find that interesting. How to create an experience that realties to how people move around. Traveling on road is quite different than walking around for example.
BB: Are you currently working on one application per context such as back seat, or adapting applications based on context?
LB: So far I have only developed applications for backseat. If it would be in an other context such as walking, the whole game concept would have to be adapted a bit. In a bus it could work okay.
BB: So what key discoveries did you make in designing for back seat use? Any principles our readers and conference attendees can take home and use?
LB: The players really liked the concept of creating a fiction connected with objects and locations. What we could see was that the fast movement created a special relation to the surrounding physical context. Even quite simple games became fun when they were linked to the context. The passengers' uncontrolled movement added to the challenge of the game play. Issues in much location based games is how to scale up the experience to cover vast areas, such as a whole country or continent. We saw this is possible to develop engaging experiences based on map data order with scale.
BB: Do you have any intuition for how that could extend into non-game applications
LB: The closest would be to extend into interactive storytelling as experiences in general. Applications where you get to know more about places or objects such as tourists, crimes, history, geography, general knowledge etc.
Researchers observe a Backseat Playground test participant
BB: Oh, education and training is a good one.
LB: Yes, an interesting area is to explore more how children can use the time to learn things about our geography, about places and such in an interesting way.
BB: There are some classroom games around here, not mobile, that have students plan from an 1840's mindset how to move their family across our continent. This makes me wonder about "virtual" location. The games last for several weeks, with different schools participating. Over time the kids have illnesses and whatnot happen to their virtual groups.
LB: We have an old book in Sweden where a boy travels on the back of a goose to experience adventures in different cities around the country. It's for children to learn geography in school. Quite nice.
BB: How could your learnings about context make that into a better learning experience?
LB: Not that it might be a better learning experience then other alternatives; It should give another sensation as if you are actually present at a place then if you are just hearing about it. If you read about an accident in the news paper it may affect you more if you have actually visited the place.
BB: Hmmm, maybe especially for different learning styles. Okay, some technical/practice stuff. What are the challenges in prototyping and testing a context-based application?
LB: Testing can be problematic when you need to experience the product within the field for which it was developed.
BB: Okay, we can wrap this up. One final question you can answer later if you want. Have you seen 230 Miles of Love? Any comments?
LB: I have not seen that – so I will check it out and get back to you. I have pictures to send also . I would enjoy talking more next week when I have my own computer.
BB: Sounds great! Thanks for your time, I know it is getting late.
LB: okay great.
Look for our interview with Enrique Ortiz late next week to see the developer's perspective on context.