A collection of process reports and methodology for my semester-long indepent study project that took place during Spring 2020. Sadly, due to the effects of COVID-19 and with studios moving online, a majority of the logs have been lost or incomplete. I’m currently of getting my process logs back from school and rebuiling this archive up piece-by-piece.
It’s my first day back in St. Louis, and I felt it was time to start documenting some of my process as I begin my semester-long indepent study. It’s a bit of a sentimental return to campus since it’s my final semester here, but it’s going to be a busy and fun one with the project starting in full gear.
As prep for my interaction independent study, I’ve been reading about the Google design sprint (https://designsprintkit.withgoogle.com/introduction/overview). In a few short days, I’ll be participating in a design sprint with some Google design sprint alongside my classmates. It’s going to extremely exciting to really dive deep into a design sprint with professionals to really refine and hone in on the user research aspects of design, so I’ve been trying to get a head start on reading and preparation.
Part of my research has involved dissecting who the audience will be for my project, and the exact goals and actions that will be produced as a result of my project. I’ve spent time reading about the Sakuteki, an old Japanese text about desiging and maintaining gardens, as a metaphor for building a website (https://www.are.na/block/5781573). The text discusses how analysing and emotionally understanding the broader context and picture of each project through three simple questions:
- Using what?
These questions serve to grasp the project into functional forms. The why being the creative potential and point, the how being the method to produce that result, and the what being the parts and materials that will induce the effects. The Sakuteki suggests that building a garden should be guided by its intended cultural and aesthetic function in tandem with the designer’s creative approach — but its true form is ultimately defined by the materials and individual pieces that guide the process.
I’ve been thinking of this procedural method in context with my independent study. How can I reduce this process to just iterative placing and building to make ideas more natural and fluid? I think it starts by understanding better the simple (in theory) structural core of my project. Why do people play video games?
I need to better define four things to start:
- What is my goal? For both myself (a) and the user (b)
- Who is the user/audience?
- What will the user “do” while interacting with my project?
- What are the takeways of the project? What does the user leave with?
I’m going to spend the rest of the week dissecting these questions more in depth in context of why people play video games. Part of me wants to do something in relation with data (and subsequently visualizing it), AR, and possibly some conditional components that vary from user to user, but all of that is more down the line. At the moment, I want to focus more on the people that play video games, and discuss their stories and relevance in context of the why that people play these games.
Friday has come, and so ends my final first week of classes at college. I would like to say that I’m excited, but to be honest, I’m more anxious and nervous about transition from a student to a (young) professional so quickly. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, but I’ll make do.
Monday morning bright and early at 8:30AM, I began my indepent study process. We kicked off with a short talk from the Google alum, but very quickly we began to dive deep into our projects. We broke up into small functional groups, each with a Googler at the helm, to individually better understand our projects and shared our four things them out loud. Once we shared our projects, others in our group needed to encapsulate them and say them back to us in two sentences. This process allowed us to very quickly distill down the important and notable parts about the project that captured other people’s interest. Then, once we had somewhat of a grasp on what our distilled project was, we grabbed three user empathy profiles, and then started thinking deeper about potential users for our projects.
For my project, I came into the day with my goal being to create an interactive visualization and experience that would share and enlighten others about the reasoning behind why people played games. I wanted to dissect the stigma behind gaming and the narratives of microtransactions (MTX), online gambling, and internet toxicity as well as discuss how games and the realities, communities, and connections they create can have a lasting and permeating impact on the world. I wanted to focus this project specifically on people who have never played an online game before or who have kids/friends who do and want to know more about why they play and how they can make it the best experience possible. The project would primarily involve a lot of scrolling, hovering, and clicking as they moved through the site and learned more about specific people, stories, narratives, and articles that would be encompassed in the site in addition to possible AR and VR components to show rather than tell. Hopefully, by the end of the experience, people would be able to leave the project with a better and broader understanding of video games and why people play them, love them, and spend hours upon hours, and millions of dollars to play and interact with them. My audience would leave with specific stories, moments, and memories of how games have shaped people’s lives and how games continue to permeate the fabric of our society in both important and tiny ways (yikes).
I very quickly realized that things needed to change from that behemoth of an idea. Initially, I wanted my project to focus on the stories behind why people play games and take a more personal approach to detailing these individuals on a personal and emotional level. However, after discussing this initial idea with both my peers and the Googlers, I knew that my initial idea was too vague. The notion of any and all video games felt way too broad. I definitely needed to narrow it down to better focus my idea, and from that, I could further hone in on and refine my audience choices. The Googler I worked with, Will Bates, recommend that the best way for me to start narrowing down my idea would be to just stop using the word video games. By doing so, it would force me to think of what specific narratives and stories I wanted to tell about these games, and how I could structure my own narrative and lense on top of them.
By the time Wednesday came, I had already spent a few days mulling this idea over in my head. After talking to the Googlers and my coach/professor Jonathan Hanahan, I wanted to shift my direction more towards the idea of insiduous microtransactions in video games designed to take advantage of kids. This new direction quickly gave me the ability to think about potential users, audience members, and an overall thematic that overarches my project. Above, are two of the potential user empathy maps that I developed and thought about prior to class this day.
As I presented this idea to the Googlers and the rest of my class, I realized that while yes, it is better, there still needed to be more work involved. I had some pushback about the games I initially wanted to focus on for microtransactions. I chose games like Star Wars Battlefront II, Candy Crush, and Counter Strike Global Offensive due to the prevalence and notoriety of microtransctions in these games.
While the breadth of these were good, I was strongly urged to try and focus on just one game to really dig into it and uncover and share as much as I could about that one specific game. My classmates were also curious about the implications behind my topic. They wanted to know about specific facts and moments that I knew of in regards to these games and how I would best share and present these in the web. I talked about specific articles that I read from online about like What Candy Crush Does to Your Brain and Activision’s technology that’s designed to match you up with worse players after you purchase MTX. They and the Googlers noted that these are things that I needed to note in relation to my audience. Why should they know this? How will his impact them? How can my website be best structured and visualized to impart this important information? These were important things I needed to consider.
I left this roundtable discussion with a deeper idea and understanding of what I wanted my project to look like. By the end of the 3 hour long deep-dive, I had a new single sentence summary of what I want my project to be: A parent’s guide to insiduous microtransactions in Fortnite.
This new summary allows me to quickly and convey both my main idea and audience. I know that I want to structure the website flow as primarily informational with data visualizations. I want the piece to let parents know and understand what Fortnite is, what their kids are doing, and the potential dangerous and addictive nature of microtransactions in the game. The piece can function for the parents as both a reactive measure to kids getting into Fortnite as well as an introduction to possibly allowing kids to play.
Now, it was time for me to dive deeper into possible layouts, navigation systems, and content management. I’ll be taking the long weekend and the next week or two to dive deeper into these things by doing some mood boards and navigation maps as I think through the finer details and structure of my project.
Hey! It’s been two weeks since I’ve last posted. Things have been moving really quickly on my end for my independent study. In the past few weeks, I’ve been setting up the content structure and the navigation system of my website as well as beginning some initial concepting.
While I was thinking of how I wanted to approach this in my initial concept of a parent’s guide to Fornite, I realized that I didn’t really like the direction that I was going in, visually speaking. I was beginning to mood board, and I just didn’t like the look and feel of Fortnite’s aesthetic and how it would play into the website I wanted to create. I wanted to draft something that could a deliver a clean and precise structure/aesthetic that include gamified elements and interactivity. Thus, as I developed both my navigation structure, I knew that I didn’t want to stick to Fortnite. What game did I decide to move on to? Simply put, I felt like Minecraft would be a great option with a similar audience and direction as well as a super simple, isometric aesthetic.
Once this decision was made, I quickly pivoted my project. I drafted up the mood board above to quickly capture the essence of what I felt like could be cool visual directions and aesthetics that I could use to capture Minecraft in a sleek but interactive space. My classmates and coach agreed with my shift in perspective. I still wanted to preserve the core idea of a parent’s guide to this game — I just needed to develop this concept further through some lo-fi wireframes that would give more understanding of how I wanted to approach the content.
At this point, I reconvened with my class, and we all presented and discussed our initial navigation structures, content systems, wireframes, and mood boards to just see where everyone was at. This was a fairly fiesty class. We each took turns discussing, prompting, and subsequently deconstructing everyone’s project to ensure that we were all adequatly thinking and articulating our choices and directions (with constructive love, of course). My project, of course, was not spared.
For me, I needed to clarify what the actionable takeaways for these parents were. This is incredibly important because I needed to fully know what the actual point of coming to my site in the first place was. Additionally, my site and topic still felt a little too board and spread thinly, and I needed to come up with a way(s) to quickly get to the heart/core of my project without having my users dig through all of the other pages. I needed a cornerstone piece that would really solidify my topic and allow the other subcontent to support and raise the main piece. Finally, I needed to start find and scheduling interviews with actual parents and users about their main concerns. This would allow me to fully know what they care about when their kid plays video games and how I could address those concerns through my website. These were all things that I noted during our discussion, as well as revising the main content structure of my project for further review and revision.
I’ll be spending the weekend flipping through some address books and reaching out to some family/friends who would be part of my user demographic. Once I solidify my user base and their main concerns, I’ll most likely be refining my core concept and structure some more to better suit their needs. In the mean time, I’ll be continuing my wireframing and prototype development as our first complete keystone prototypes will be due in two weeks on February 12.
Hey friends. It’s been an arduous two weeks as I worked to complete my prototype and revise my visuals. While I concepted out my prototype, I conducted an interview with a parent of a Minecraft player. The parent had noted to me earlier that Minecraft had actually inspired their son to become an architect. I wanted to dig a little deeper into that statement, and I ended up finding out that that was actually the only silver lining the parent could find with games.
During our conversation, we continued to discuss the parent’s issues with his son’s gaming. I learned that gaming had been a major point of contention throughout the son’s teenage years. The parent noted that the hardest part about managing their son’s gaming was the fact that computers and internet connection has become such an integral part of our lives as students that managing gaming become near impossible — to the point that he even had to turn off the wifi in order to get his son to stop playing.
Some thoughts and notes from my interview with the parent.
The parent noted that he struggled to overcome his son’s gaming issues, and that they even visted a therapist to help the parent and his son resolve these issues. The parent felt that the hardest part was overcoming the generational gap that existed between him and his son due to the different ways they interact with techonology, and that he just wanted to be able to connect better with his son to help him feel supported (with boundaries of course). The parent felt extremely strongly about games, and that he wanted to see my project because he wanted to know how to deal with games and understand it better for the sake of his child. This was definitely something that I wanted to focus on moving forward with my project.
With this in mind, I wanted to revist my concept and ideation to be able to support this parent better. I wanted to think deeper about how I could shift my idea to be able to help parents understand their kids better and how they can understand games and communicate about them better. I went to sketchbook and decided to mockup some ideas of the layout and how the content could better serve the site.
During this time, I decided to watch the Abstract: the Art of Design epside about Cas Holman on Netflix. Cas is a designer who focuses specializes on designing tools for play for kids. I wanted to learn more about how kids think and communicate about play and how it can be so integral for them as kids. It was incredibly intersting, and I would highly recommend it!
I wrote a bunch of notes down on post-it notes and pinned them up on my wall as a mood board of concepts and ideas of how play was important to kids and teenagers for freedom of expression and the ability to unleash their creative potential. Play was important, and it was something that I wanted to balance and communicate to parents to get them to understand.
From here, I began to organize my thoughts and ideas into specific silver linings that I could focus on. I decided to work with 3 main aspects of Minecraft that I felt were incredibly important to emphasize and understand: creativity, cooperation, and community. With these in mind, I began to map out all the pros and cons that I could glean from each of these points. Then I began to work out a content navigations system that could best represent these.
Now, with this in hand. I began to build out my prototype. Below are the screens that I drafted in Figma. I wanted to focus specifically on these silver linings that I’ve chosen and help parents communicate about and with them to their kids.
I ended up rolling into today’s class with all this stuff to present to rest of my crew. To say that things weren’t pretty would be an understatement.
My project got pretty quickly dismantled — for a majority of extremely relevant reasons.
First and most importantly, it had become too broad. The scope of my project had exceeded what it should be doing. The idea of having the separate sections of the silver linings as well as blurring the lines between what parents perceive and what kids believe. This caused a huge issue where the content become too stretched.
Secondly, the visuals became disconnected from the thematic. If I’m making a whole site dedicated to reasons behind why kids play games and justifying it, within reason, to parents, then why did it not have elements that evoked that — either explicitly in the visuals or just color wise? This was a major oversight on my part, it was definitely something that bothered me now that I reflect back.
Finally, the navigation and content was a bit disjointed. The spread of the content had issues with the content taking precedence over the actual interactive and engaging web elements — things that were sorely needed in my website. I needed to frame my content to amplify the reason behind why this site exists both thematically and output wise.
I needed to lean in harder on making it relevant for the web as well as revise my concept to make provacative visuals and interactive elements that really verify the decisions I’m making about my site. I’m going to take the next few days to really step back from this project to look at it holistically. I really need to take a broader view on what I want to get out this project, and how I can use what I’ve gleaned from my interview to support my purpose. Whether the result is a pivot, a step back, or a completely different direction in the realm of games has yet to be discover. The visuals, prototyping, and development will come once this is done. I’ll be back in a week with more updates on this process.