B3.2 Project DPB390 Final Bachelor Project

DebaTable

Knowledge
  • Conceptual Thinking
  • Data Analysis
  • Design Research
  • Graphic Design
  • Ideation Techniques
  • Physical Prototyping
  • Programming & Electronics
  • UX Design
References

DebaTable is a technologically enhanced meeting table that mediates discussions and stimulates time-efficient debates. It can be used whereever people come together to discuss ideas and make decisions, such as brainstorms or project meetings.

It works in two different ways: the first is by measuring each participant’s percentage of speaking time within the past few minutes. This percentage is visualised in the middle of the table, with lines pointing to each of the seats. The more you talk, the higher your line will be. Additionally, a slowly expanding circle in the middle of the table shows the discussion time left. The time it takes for this circle to reach its outer limit is based on the average of individual “votes” each participant gives with the discreet sliders located at the edge of the table.

A core principle of DebaTable is its neutrality. The value of the presented data is decided on by the participants themselves. Only they can decide if a high peak in the speech graph is a problem, or just a chairman doing their job. DebaTable only mediates discussion by sparking self-reflection. It does not actively change the discussion in any way: it’s up to the people in the meeting to see the visualisation, reflect on it, and change their own individual discussion style.

Meetings are a core activity of our academic and working lives. DebaTable helps us get better at having them, by letting us better ourselves.

Technology & Realisation

Within this project, I (re-)discovered the value and beauty of physical prototyping and deepened my skills with electronics. Cardboard modeling and paper prototyping made me realise how many new insights “thinking with my hands” could unlock, and it allowed me to verify hunches very quickly. Throughout the project, I used existing products and combinations thereof to create “hacked” low-fi prototypes, which was both really fun and got me to try out experiences fast.

With the creation of the final prototype, a ø160cm meeting table, I started my biggest (literally!) prototyping challenge ever. In the following days, I despised heaving to think about so many factors I was inexperienced and uncomfortable with. But in the end, I learned a ton of new skills and actually gained some confidence in physical making. The Vertigo workshop finally became a not-so-scary place.

Creativity & Aesthetics

I experimented with different ideation techniques to spur my creativity. Within the first week of my project, I adopted a first-person perspective to experience the problems with meetings myself. I used physical prototyping to try out new ideas quickly and get to new insights.

I had a great amount of fun while coming up with ways to get my ideas across to others, such as the Midterm Demo Day experience I set up (complete with printer noises). A lot of the visual design I did was conceived “form-first”: I had a clear idea of how it needed to look (such as the visualisation of the speaking time being a circle of dots/lines), and the functionality would form itself around it (such as the Timekeeper, which found a place in the center).

Throughout the process I had a big focus on (visual) polish, from the working of the visualisation, to the feel of the lacquer finish and the look of the lasercut microphone caps.

User & Society

At the start of the semester, I mentioned to my coach: “I’m more of a product- than a people person. My designs guide people in the right direction subconsciously”.

As usual, I tried to apply my technology- and data-based way of thinking to the social context of meetings, and learned that technology wasn’t the solution to this people-centric problem. After reading a paper[1] on designing ethical values into products, my mind raced to figure out what my stance on the perfect meeting would be.

In the end, people themselves were the solution. By accepting that I couldn’t define a “perfect meeting”, let alone measure and create one, I learned to embrace people’s own interpretations as part of the designed product. I had found a way to incorporate User & Society, but still do it my way.

[1]: Verbeek, P.-P. (2006). Materializing Morality. Science, Technology, & Human Values31(3), 361–380. DOI: 10.1177/0162243905285847

Business & Entrepreneurship

I went beyond simply imagining a business model around my product. Instead, a considerable part of the end product has been inspired by marketability, end user experience, or value propositions.

The initial value proposition my design made to the end user was that of self-reflection. However, in talks with the squad business coach, it occurred to me that only a small amount of people looking for a meeting room would be convinced of this added value. I decided to couple self-reflection with the promise of meeting efficiency by adding a time-based visualisation.

In order to appeal better to relevant decision makers, I looked into the buying process of the TU/e and learned about the importance of appealing to regulations as well as to the tastes of interior design firms. These directly influenced the envisioned models and table finishes I would be selling.

Math, Data & Computing

Both quantitative and qualitative data gathering- and analysis techniques were used throughout this project. One example:

To find out what emotions people experienced, I created four internet-connected sliders, that I would strap to chairs and ask participants to meet on. When the meeting wrapped up, I would quickly download the data, fill it into a pre-prepared Excel sheet, and print out the resulting graph. This required a lot of data systems to work in sync with each other. I then recorded and analysed the qualitative answers given about the quantitative data, and bundled all of this together.

For the visualisation, I employed multiple different techniques to translate microphone- and slider-data into dynamic visualisations: from the noise filtering code and the sliding window that would only “count” the last X minutes, to the various trigonometric functions used to display the dots of the circle and their expansion.

Design & Research Processes

I tried to find a fine balance between two different goals I had set for myself: I wanted to both make “Data-driven design decisions”, yet also learn to “trust in my designer intuition”. To this end, I tried out multiple different techniques to fuel my design process, both subjective and objective.

Objectively speaking, I learned how benchmarking products and papers could get me inspired by learning from others. This project has also greatly stressed the importance of clear testing protocols and reasoning behind questions to me, as well as the peace of mind standardised tests provide: every time I tried to cut corners because of time pressure or my own designerly opinion, I got those decisions thrown back in my face when the data came in.

Yet subjectively, a large part of my ideation was based on a first-person perspective. After having gathered (objective) research data in my user tests, I did my own synthesis thereof and iterated on my findings.

Professional Skills

Looking back at the past months, I am very happy with the extent to which my process has naturally followed from my set goals. I found a logical place for all of my goals and competencies and re-adjusted my process to challenge myself as much as possible, for example in physical prototyping.

On top of that I have further sharpened my professional skills and had a great amount of fun doing so. After three years, pitching and presenting are things that come quite naturally me now. Planning, however, has not always been my strongest suit. By setting out quite ambitious iteration cycles for myself, especially in the second half of the semester, I still managed to get in three full iterations.

Credits (top to bottom, left to right)

Cover Photo | by Zeno Kapitein
Figure 1 | by Zeno Kapitein
Figure 2 | by Zeno Kapitein
Figure 3 | by Emma van Dormalen
Figure 4 | by Roy van de Heuvel
Figure 5 | by Zeno Kapitein
Figure 6 | by Marleen van Bergeijk
Figure 7 | by Carine Lallemand