The BBC’s role in NoTube is as one of three ‘Use Case’ partners – we come up with ideas and prototypes which drive the technology choices and services created in the other parts of the project.
The theme of the BBC’s part is ‘TV and the Social Web’; technologies that can help people interact with each other while watching TV – whether that’s with people on the Web or in the same room.
Although the end results of the NoTube project are primarily to produce technical services, such as APIs, that others can re-use and build upon (rather than a ‘product’), we want these technical services to be driven by human needs as much as possible. And whilst we want the scenarios that shape our work to be realistic, we also need to be innovative given that this is a three-year research project and that convergence of TV and the Web is already quickening pace around us.
As an Information Architect with a background in user experience, one of the techniques I ‘ve come across in the past, inspired by the work of Adaptive Path, is the use of cartoon-strip style drawings to help envisage such futuristic scenarios. So, during the planning of our first NoTube demos we extended our basic Use Cases (e.g. “I want programme recommendations based on my social networking activity”) into fictional narratives and then sketched high-level storyboards to further explore and communicate the user-related aspects of the demos. The storyboards are ‘high-level’ in that they don’t consider the detailed user interactions with the devices (e.g. the TV or smartphone) but rather the wider context in which the interactions are happening – whether the person is at work or at home, with others or alone, is feeling tired, outraged, playful, and so on.
- be creative and imaginative
- focus on people’s motivations for engaging with our Use Cases
- consider the bigger picture
- make our ideas more accessible to our colleagues, both within and outside the project
- develop more realistic demos
We’re currently planning our next round of demos, so we’ve been returning to this technique to generate more ideas. We decided to turn some of our drawings into posters for the NoTube booth at IBC, and then my colleague Libby had the idea of creating a set of postcards and stickers from them that visitors to the booth could take away. By rooting the technical work firmly in the real world, we hoped that people would find these an eye-catching and engaging route into the complexities of the NoTube project.
Whereas we’d previously been using pencil and paper for our sketches, we experimented with using the Adobe Ideas iPad drawing app for the production of the posters and postcards, and although it took a little while to get used to drawing with our fingers, it was very quick and easy to create the drawings and we were pleased enough with the results. Incidentally, neither Libby or I would describe ourselves as good at drawing, but our amateurish-looking little stick people can still convey the message effectively, so don’t let a lack of drawing skills put you off trying this yourself! Dan Roam’s book The Back of the Napkin is a good place to start if you need some inspiration.
The full set of postcard designs can be found on Flickr.