Week 13

One week before soft opening.  Because of our two mishaps we were now about a week behind, meaning that at softs we would not be showing a “feature complete” beta version on Monday.  By our best estimates we can still reach this point by mid-week 14.

So, Allison continued with artistic revisions.  She has taken nearly all the pictures she need to take for the items, and has focused on editing the 3 minute and 30 seconds.

Glen and Elodie continue with server optimization and assisting the front end guys.  Xin and Jeremy have wedged in even more functionality, completely and successfully integrating all systems including photography and data entry.  They’ve added a help screen and even more textures from Allison.  Xin also continues iterating on the feel of the workspace, working closely with Chris to find new mechanics that answer problems raised by playtests.

Chris also worked with Xin to more clearly define some of the new menu pages, all the while continuing to update and clean the database.  As we test the different systems that add information to the database, we add a lot of “junk” entries.  If we don’t spend a little time each day clearing things out, it becomes a mess.

On Tuesday Rebecca was able to sit down and play with the app for over an hour.  She is cautiously optimistic about the app; the juicy way the app throws new connections on the screen really pleased her.

We conducted two playtests, one on Wednesday and one on Sunday (yes, we made it BOTH times).  In general we are getting good responses.  Kids understand what the app does for them, and during almost every test children are finding things they want to make.

We continued work through the weekend and are now certain that we can call feature lock next Wednesday and focus solely on polish.

Next Monday: Soft opening.

Week 12

Okay, so we lost some time last week.  First things first.

Elodie, Xin and Glen got to work immediately on correctly implementing the caching system, which they fixed by Monday afternoon.  Once that was done, Elodie and Glen continued server and cache optimization.

Jeremy continued polishing the data entry screen and the photography system.  The photo system exists in two places with slightly different functionality; the kids can use it to take pictures of their projects for submission to the database and the staff can use it when entering new items to take their picture.  Jeremy has the latter up and running and is working on implementing the former.

Xin spent another busy week on the front end.  Working with the others, he has added a text search function with an auto-complete option.  This allows kids to search for items by name and makes back end data entry so much smoother.  He also worked with Allison this week implementing new UI textures, and continues to iterate on interactions in the workspace and on how we look up and display connections.

Allison, aside from her work with Xin and the textures, has begun building the pieces of our menu.  On Friday, she and Chris went to Makeshop and took the majority of the pictures we will use in the app.  We took the pictures using her iPad since all other pictures in the database will be taken the same way.

Chris, aside from helping Allison with photography, finalized the menu layout, which Allison usd to design the look of the menu.  He also began outlining the four documents we will need for our final product: a user guide for the front and back end, a script for the staff to follow when using the app, a style guide for taking pictures in the app, and a paper addendum to the inline documentation for the app.

Also, we returned on Wednesday to conduct out missed playtest.  There were very few children but we were able to spend time with several of the staff getting their impressions and suggestions.

But then, it happened again.

After last week we decided we had been too lax in our build pipeline.  We had decided to change code the day of the test without a backup version that was worth testing, and we paid the price.  This week we decided to a) constantly test systems each and every day, and b) build the app and test it the night before.

We have been building the different systems separately, which is to say we had one app for the front end, one app for data entry, and one for photography.  During the week they were testing fine separately.  Because of the apparent success with these builds we continued developing on Saturday instead of calling feature lock on the playtest build, deciding instead to meet early on Sunday and integrate all systems.

On Sunday, once we integrated all the different systems into the app, we began having seriously app-breaking memory issues.  Again, we realised the cause of the issues later that evening, and again we cancelled a playtest.  We rescheduled for Wednesday next week.

Week 11

Work.  Continues.

Weeks 11 and 12 will constitute a sort of crunch for the team.  With the schedule we have laid out for ourselves, we want to be done with production by the beginning of week 13 so we can use 13, 14 and 15 for polish.  But that means work, and a lot of it.

Elodie and Glen did some massive server updates.  Elodie worked all week implementing a cache system for the server.  She did get the cache system up and running by Friday, but due to a communication error, Xin did not realize it had been implemented.  This will be important later.

Glen added several new back end functions that improve the communication time between app and server.  He also built a prototype text to speech wrapper for us to later implement in the app.

Xin wrapped up the work on the 2-item connection.  While it is not finished, it is working and ready to be iterated on.  He also added the multi-item connection, which works like a charm.  And because he believes sleep is for the weak, he also added the info page functionality which allows users to expand any item to read more about it.

Jeremy also stayed busy this week; he wrote and finalized the majority of the photography system and began work clearing up all the bugs in the data entry system, making it possible for Chris to finish the data entry and begin working on data management.

We gathered on Sunday for our playtest.  Because we weren’t sure until the end of the week that we would be accessing the server (instead of our prototype “on-board” server mock up) we hadn’t been testing with the server build.  Since we had populated the database we decided to test the server accessing version.  However, since Xin didn’t realize the cache system had been added, the front end didn’t know how to deal with the information it was getting from the back end.

Of course, all we could see was that the app wouldn’t work.  We didn’t discover the reason until later that evening.  Unfortunately, we canceled the playtest, rescheduling for Wednesday.

Week 10

Halves!  At week 10!  Which is more like five eighths.

Most of the work this week centered around two things: the halves presentations and polishing up a playable demo to show at halves.  We’ve had a working prototype for a month, but it is very rough and not easily understood just by watching.  Since Xin is responsible for the main workspace in the app, most of the work centers on him.

For example, Allison has been working with Xin to integrate new art assets.  Elodie and Glen have been making sure that the connection to the server is as seamless as we can make it.  Jeremy got back to work on the camera system, though we knew it wouldn’t make it into the app in time for halves.  Chris worked with one eye on the future, finalizing the design doc and final schedule; he also began bug hunting in the data entry system.  Of course, this started out as “using” the data entry system to populate the database and quickly became “bug hunting”.  Hopefully we can have the database completely populated by next week.

We also rehearsed our halves presentation.  On Tuesday we went to Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and showed the presentation to Lisa Brahms and Rebecca Grabman.   Their feedback was invaluable in tightening everything up.  Lisa gave voice to an idea that we all understood intuitively but perhaps unconsciously.  Our target demographic is not all kids ages 2-13; it is instead the family unit that includes kids ages 2-13.  This simple restatement of our design concept clears up a number of issues we were having, including whether or not we could expect parents to help children over rough patches.

We gave our presentation to the faculty Friday and received generally good reviews.  Most are impressed with our scope and schedule (we plan to leave ourselves close to a month to polish).  Concerns included that the faculty did not completely understand Makeshop’s user story before or after our app; at softs we will be sure to provide both cases to the faculty so they can better grasp the context of our app.

Spring Break and Week 9

The entry this week covers the last two weeks, and for good reason.  The Game Developers Conference this year was March 17 through 21, and two thirds of our team were attending.  Spring Break was March 3 through 16, and though we were not required to continue working, we decided to as a team so we wouldn’t lose much time.

During spring break Xin, Elodie and Glen tried to integrate an early version of the 2-item connection into the app.  While Xin is responsible for the coding on the app itself, Glen and Elodie had to program the search function into the server as well.  However, there was a bug that we were unable to rectify before the weekend.

These three also got the app to connect to the server.  Before this point, our prototype housed a very small database locally.  Now it can access the server and store the database there.  The problem is that the database is completely empty right now, so Xin and Glen have also built the backend data entry portal which allows users to update the database.

Chris spent the week trying to complete the design doc without adding too many new features.  There’s a lot of work to still be done, and the halves presentation is right around the corner.

During week 9 Jeremy, Chris, Glen and Xin all attended GDC and were out for the week.  Elodie continued optimizing the server back in Pittsburgh.  Allison also continued iterating on our visual design.  On Friday, they both went to Makeshop to take videos and conduct interviews of staff and children.


Week 8

This week production kicks into overdrive.

Glen and Elodie now have a working server, but it is still not completely optimized for our purposes.  The front end (being worked on by Xin) is not yet ready to interface with the server, so Glen, Elodie and Xin are in constant contact with each other making sure we add the hooks that will allow us to attach these two pieces together once they are ready.

Xin’s prototype continues to be improved.  One-item connections have been implemented and we understand how the multi-item connection works, but more work is needed on the two-item connection.

Chris continues to try and find a way to make this particular connection useful to children in Makeshop.  One particular playtest question really puts this problem into focus.  During the playtest, we show the child a 1-item connection and ask them to describe what the visuals mean.  Most children are able to articulate that the items all connect with the first item they chose, and can talk about the connections.

We then show them a 2-item connection and ask the same question about the visuals.  Most children cannot say what the chain of items is trying to show, or how the information could be useful to them.

Jeremy has begun researching how to use the iPad on-board camera.  One of the purposes of our app is to catalogue all the items in Makeshop, as well as all family projects built in Makeshop.  Jeremy will be responsible for writing the portion of the program that controls the camera and allows staff and families alike to fill in important information and help flesh out the database.

Allison continued working on the visual look of the game.  This week she has been focusing on how to visually illustrate the connections between items in the database, and has also begun working on the slide deck for our upcoming halves presentation.

Next week is Spring Break, but the team will be working through the week since most of us will be going to GDC during week 9.


Week 7

A lot has been accomplished this week.  Front end and back end are building two sides of the same bridge, and while they haven’t exactly met in the middle yet, they are a stone’s throw away from each other.

Elodie and Glen have the server set up and are working on the database.  Elodie focused on the image server; a big feature of our final product is the ability to take pictures of objects and add them into the database, as well as recalling and displaying those images.  Glen has built the rest of the database and they are both now creating the protocols for front end query and back end answering.

Xin has completed a working prototype of the app.  It showcases the galleries, the work space, and the ability to ask questions about single items and to display connections associated with those items.  Jeremy continues working with NGUI, a powerful Unity UI plugin.  In a way, our two front end programmers are also building a bridge; Xin is creating the guts of the app from the ground up, and Jeremy is learning the tools we will use to make the final version clear and beautiful.

A photo taken in Makeshop with an iPAd

A photo taken in Makeshop with an iPAd

Allison continues with concept work for the final look of the app; she will be the keystone between Xin’s prototype and Jeremy’s final UI interface.  She also conducted some photo tests at Makeshop.  Using an iPad camera and natural lighting, she took pictures of artifacts in situ to make sure user-generated photos could be usable.  The results were outstanding; the best photos seemed to be the ones taken in Makeshop’s natural light using their wood-grained tables as a background.  The aesthetically pleasing photos have the added benefits of being clear to younger viewers and easy to take with little setup.

Chris has been working this week on the “2 item” connection interaction.  In the app, if a user asks for connections to a single item, they are shown other materials, tools, and processes that are directly related to that item.  However, the crew at Makeshop is also interested in showing a bridge of connections between two seemingly unassociated items.  For instance, if a child asked how a saw and cloth might be connected,  the app would show that saw connects to wood, which connects to a chair made by sawing wood, which connects to the cloth used to upholster the chair.  This interesting interaction would seemingly drive the user toward thinking about the non-obvious connections between items.  However, in playtesting, we have not seen any children grasp this interaction or see any utility behind it.  Chris’ feeling is that they get lost in the convoluted steps between items, and has been working all week on a way to make this interaction more clear and useful to children, but has so far remained stumped.

Next week, we’ll drop in the keystones that connect our different bridges and put a real working version of our app into children’s hands.

Week 6

Okay, we have a design, we know it drives the interaction we are looking for, and we have the support of our faculty and client.

Now all we have to do is build this thing and make it work.  Time to slip into production mode.

We spent the beginning of the week defining terms.  Elodie and Glenn, the back end programmers, began designing the database and quickly discovered that using MySQL, as we had first proposed, would cause some tough problems.  They have since moved on to a graph database structure, and have begun implementing it on our local server.

Front end began the week with the goal of creating a mock-up digital prototype to test out on Saturday.  Jeremy and Xin made a lot of headway, but due to illness we did not have something we could put into children’s hands on Saturday.  Instead, we did some more info gathering.  Xin and Allison surveyed parents about the types of touchscreen apps their children were using.  Meanwhile, Chris and Jeremy asked children of different ages to demonstrate different gestures on the iPad, including “swipe”, “pinch”, and “zoom”.

Meanwhile, both front end and back end are establishing how and what they will communicate to each other for each query.

Allison continues to look for a good design aesthetic.  She’s begun working on a mood board to display different looks for the app that can help us visualize the different looks she is talking about.  She is also trying to codify the way we take pictures in the app.

Week 5

Last week we learned that our original design ideas were too linear for Makeshop.  The real world is a little messy, and we want to reflect that in our design while still accomplishing everything we set out to do.  We’ve taken the idea of the toolbox (a place to store and sort different ideas, stuff, and processes) and turned it into the Work Station.  Here, children can still store and organize things they are interested, but they can now ask the app to suggest other items that are connected to the ones they chose.  So, if a child places a “hammer” in the Work Area and asks the app what could be connected to it, the app may suggest “hammering” as a process, and “nails” and “wood” as materials, and arrange them around “hammer” in the Work Area to form a “process block”.  Each process block suggests everything you would need to engage in that process..  If the child asks the app to suggest something connected to the process block, the app will suggest an item that was made using that process block.  If the child asks about the item, the app will suggest another process block used to make it, and so forth.

We tested this version on Saturday to see if it inspires kids to make new things.  First, we asked the child what they wanted to do in Makeshop and what their favorite tools was.  Then we ran through the playtest.  Finally, we reminded the child that everything in our playtest was available to use in Makeshop, and we then asked them the same two questions.

Out of seven kids, only one had an idea about what she might do in Makeshop that day before running through the playtest.  After the playtest, all seven kids had ideas about what they wanted to try next.  Seems pretty conclusive…

Quarters happened for us on Friday.  Feedback was very positive; the faculty think we are basically on the right track, and are happy that we are keeping an eye on several potential problems.  Overall, they feel we are in a good place.

Week 4

This week we continued our research and design work.  Allison has finished work on the branding; the poster and half-sheet are off to the printers and should be back in a few weeks.

Our playtest hit a snag on Wednesday because of the great blizzard of 2014, so we rescheduled and ran on Friday and Saturday.  We learned a lot from this first prototype and are incorporating those lessons into the next one.  Besides playtesting the actual prototype, we also sat with children from 3 to 13 and asked them to sort and make sense of several piles of tools, materials and processes.  Observing how children think about these objects in an semi-unstructured  setting gave us some great insight into how we should structure our design.

On Thursday night most of the team attended Makenight 21+, an event aimed at adults who want to work with their hands.  At this 90’s themed party we decorated pogs and made schrunchies while listening to Dave Mathews, Sublime, and Sinead O’Connor.

Next week brings quarters walkarounds, and we aim to get two more playtests on a new prototype as well.  It’s going to be a busy one!

Week 3

Data collection and research are the key words this week.  Jeremy has begun researching art styles as they relate to children in learning environments, and Elodie is becoming our expert in gif creation and text-to-speech programs, two things we feel we will need to complete this project.

At Makeshop Chris created a catalogue of tools and copied gigs of archived pictures to help populate the app.  Allison explored ways to photograph and record different tools, materials and processes.

All of this, of course, was to fuel the design that Glen, Xin and Chris are working on.  Our plan is to begin testing prototypes next week Wednesday.

Of course, Allison continued work on the branding of our project.  We have a solid first pass on our poster and half sheet, and the web page is all but designed.  Our team photo was taken Friday in the green screen room, and we hope to have it ready next week.

Week 2

This week we got to meet with Rebecca Grabman, our contact at Makeshop, and to really dig into the heart of this project.  We are creating an app for use in Makeshop that will teach kids about the connections between ideas, stuff, and processes, and inspire them to create things with their own hands.  It should also serve as a wiki for kids who are more self-directed, or as a teaching aid or reminder for kids new to a process.

We also interviewed Lauren, Derrick and Kevin, three employees at Makeshop, to get their individual views on what the app should do, what would help them the most, and what the average experience of a child in Makeshop actually is.

Finally, we brainstormed for several days about the shape our app should take and began designing the interactions list and a prototype interface.

Week 1

Team at Makeshop with Lisa

Team at Makeshop with Lisa

We are Six Tinkers, a project for the Makeshop at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to create an app that inspires young children to build things with their own hands.  The Children’s Museum’s design philosophy is “Play with Real Stuff”, and at the Makeshop, children have access to hundreds of tools, tons of material, and unlimited inspiration in the form of museum curators to help them imagine and create new things on their own.  However, with so much opportunity, it can be difficult for someone to just “begin to create”.  We have been tasked with building an app that helps kids get creating through one of the Makeshop’s three entry points: ideas, stuff, and processes.

The first week of every ETC Project is very similar.  Our team met for the first time officially on Monday morning, and we began putting our team room together.  We organized the room, ordered supplies, assembled furniture and generally got to know each other.

We also talked about roles and responsibilities; this is the first project for several of our members and we don’t want anything about the project process to be a surprise for them.

On Friday, we visited the Makeshop as a team and talked to Lisa Brahms, the Director of Learning and Research, about the needs of the Museum.  Afterward we toured the rest of the Museum to get a feel for the personality of the institution.  This quickly devolved into the six of us running around and playing with our favorite exhibits.  With new discoveries and wonders around every corner, the museum definitely makes you feel like you are eight years old again.