Life & lemons

14 Jan

When life gives you lemons, you don’t have to make lemonade! Sometimes we can’t choose what the cards we’re dealt, but we can ask if we even want to play (instead of the usual ‘wise’ latter part of that phrase where “we can choose how we want to play”). When things go wrong (they inadvertently always do), how differently would you want to play (or not)?


Beta test-cum-ethnographic experiment FAIL

OK, so I had planned to take the 2 prototypes of the Book Bag to the public library and do a little social experiment-cum beta testing.

It was meant to be ethnographic in nature – I place the Book Bag next to the book check-out counter with some instructions printed on a sheet of paper on how to use the Book Bag. I walk away but hover nearby to observe, camcorder in hand. Library user comes along, oblivious to the little experiment. Library user checks out books. Library user sees Book Bag, and reads the instructions. Library user curious, then takes Book Bag and fiddles with it. Lastly library user tries to borrow Book Bag, like other library books, by placing it on the sensor tray of the check-out computer. At this precise moment, I step in, inform the library user that you can’t really borrow that Book Bag as it’s not [RFID-] tagged yet, and go on to explain what I’m doing.

OK so it’s a little devious to trick harmless ordinary citizens into having false hope of actually being able to borrow the Book Bag to help ease the burden of carrying the books home. It even smells like something “Candid Camera” or “Just For Laughs Gags”. But believe me – no humans were harmed in the process! I came up with this experiment as there’s only so much you can get from interviewing people by showing and telling them about the Book Bag, like what I did with my friends. Useful nonetheless, but the totally unaware user would be the best way to show if the design is effective – it’s just simply a really effective way to test if people get it easily; getting the idea of the Book Bag being a bag that can be borrowed like the other library books. If they get it,  then the obstacles to ‘consumer market acceptance’ would be small.

Haha but before you hammer me for pulling such gags in the name of scientific research, let me say that I didn’t quite even manage to test it properly. True I got the set up done nicely and all. But as I was standing back waiting for the first ‘bait’, a librarian in charge of shelving/re-shelving books passed by, saw at a distance something of a left-behind book at the check-out counter, and promptly went to the counter in attempt to take the Book Bag to be re-shelved. Only to be intercepted by poor me, explaining my intentions. But alas! I would need official permission to do something like that! Red tape had be drawn, and now my little social experiment falls into tatters. Realising that there’s nothing much I can do now (I have to write in “somewhere” to get official permission it seems), I gently concede, and go off sulking in a corner. Hahah ok I wasn;t exactly sulking, but wondering how else I can proceed. There’s really no point in walking around the library and interviewing people about it – I could do that outside the library and that wasn’t the whole point of the experiment. Well…. I pondered and thought that instead of making do and getting by with interviews, I don’t really have to ‘play’, do I?

So I didn’t!

Not in defiance of authority, but in fact just not making it an issue of ego, but instead to “flow like water” through it. Well I figured it’s also good to not to put NLB in a difficult position, since they might not wish to be represented in any way through the experiment. The librarian had also been nice and she was simply doing her job, so I didn’t want to make her day difficult.


Finding a natural home in the library for the Book Bag

When stuck, do something else; something different altogether.

So rather than stubborning try to do the experiment head-on, I decided to just do something different and went to a quiet bookshelf in the library where I won’t obstruct reader traffic, and took some pictures of the Book Bag prototypes ‘being at home’. And true enough, they look very part of the book landscape! (If you’re reading this, NLB, please rest assured I did arrange the other books back neatly!)

This also got me thinking about the librarian who saw the Book Bag (first prototype that is, the folded one) and thought it was a book. When even a librarian can mistake the Book Bag for a book – now that’s pretty telling about how ‘naturally’ the Book Bag fits into the library environment, isn’t it? So this trip was not for nought, after all! One data point, but a good one at that! Hahahah… 😀

I also went to browse through the CD section to check out the range of sizes and shapes of the CD covers, as I’m also adding on a CD inner pocket in the Book Bag. Seems that all the CDs comes in standard covers, so I borrowed 2 which I liked (and would try reading!) to use as references for the inner CD pocket.

Just before I left, I managed to sneak in a quick picture (while I was borrowing my CDs) of how the Book Bag would look like if placed at the check-out counter to facilitate ease of loan. I believe being next to the check-out computer would be best ‘home’ for the Book Bag.  The pictures of the Book Bag being shelved together with other books also made me wonder if that is the other natural place where the library can ‘stock’ the bags, so that readers can easily and simply just take the Book Bags off the shelf where they are, use the Book Bag to carry the books around the library and out after check-out.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Well! So the final design is confirmed – the folded one! (by virtue of the librarian’s perception). Not utterly scientific again I know, but what to do when there are on-site constraints to user testing? Sometimes for certain products there may not be luxury of complete user testing (for reasons like confidentiality, high danger to test users, or red tape…), but move ahead we have to and we shall! 🙂


Next – finalised design for submission! The deadline (15 Jan 2011) is approaching! Stressed!



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