Reflection on Prototyping Process and Next Steps
Throughout my prototyping process in this course, there are various elements that I plan on using and thinking about as I move forward in my prototypes and thesis work. I will admit that, coming into this course, I was unsure about creating prototypes of my proposed thesis. I initially felt that a prototype seemed like it better suited a design thesis project rather than a fine arts thesis project. I also felt unready to dive into the making process. I wanted to continue to read, research, and form my research questions, methodologies, and methods before producing work. I also wanted to form a timeline and outline of my practice for my thesis. Therefore, when I first entered into this course where we are asked to rapidly prototype our thesis in the first week was stressful for me. Looking back now, I am very happy that we jumped right into the making process.
While I feel that the research and reading side of my thesis work has really pushed me to form my thesis, the making process has additionally led me to new ideas, particularly ideas and methods that the research side of my work might not have made apparent to me. For example, the rapid prototyping process gave me little time to analyze and consider different technologies, yet at the same time this process also provided me a space to test out different technologies to see what worked and didn't work for my thesis proposal. This process has opened me up from my preference of Unity, digital games, and digital immersive environments to consider virtual reality, 360 cinema, and a blend between real, filmed environments and digital environments.
This process also forced me outside of my comfort zone, pressing me to think and make at the same time. I think that this process of problem solving, creating and iterating simultaneously will be helpful as we create our thesis in a relatively short time period. This making period introduced me to new design methods (creativity maps, user flow charts, user testing), new artistic methods (reflective journals, defining actions and values), and indicated to me how as artists or designers, we can use both design and artistic methods in our process. This is really important to me, because while I am completing an MFA, I feel that I am also a designer in some instances, and it is personally important to me to combine both fields in my work. This combination also helps me with my speculative fabulation methodology, as well as my design-based research, or research-based design methodology. Overall, I think that selectively using methods from both fields can in fact lead to stronger projects.
Another one of the most important aspects of this prototyping process for me was becoming familiar with user testing. User testing was really beneficial for me, as I gathered quite a bit of information regarding other people's perspectives of my work. It was really significant for me to see how different my insights and opinions are from my audience. It also made me realize how important a target audience is. It's fairly easy to say I want a "broad audience", but it seems that sometimes my intentions are not evident through my making process. This has caused me to really focus on who my target audience is, and what I want them to get out of my work or the experience. Moving forward, I plan to continue to implement user testing throughout my thesis work, because it will help me understand how effective my work is as an educational or empathetic piece.
Looking back on this process, I also realize how crucial it is to begin the making process in the beginning stages when you are first creating your research questions. I noticed that in my initial making process of my prototype, I was not particularly following my research question. This caused me to shift both my created work and my research question, because working on both sections simultaneously helped me to realize what I am really interested in asking, researching, and creating. This process of testing how effectively a project can answer a research question is more complicated than it originally seems, and as its the basis of a thesis project, it is important to start focusing my created work around a research question and testing it as soon as possible, in order to allow time for iterations and refinement of both my created work and my thesis document.
As I move forward with my prototypes and thesis work, there are various areas I would like to continue to work on:
In my next steps, it is really important to me to go back and continue my research on Sequoia trees to know exactly what information I want to convey through scientific research and my theoretical framework (primarily Donna Haraway's work, Anna Tsing's work, and Lynn Margulis's work revolving around symbiosis, species entanglements, and multispecies storytelling).
While I had originally intended to rely on secondary research and data analysis, due to this prototyping process I am now considering additionally conducting my own primary research through interviews with people who work in conservation, the National Park Service, and specifically within the Sequoia forests. I feel that this addition could be beneficial to get an experts opinion, in addition to more information I can reference in my thesis, while also potentially providing me with narration and visuals for my thesis work.
DESIGN & ART METHODS
I am also interested in analyzing, organizing, selecting, and outlining what methods I will use exactly to research, produce, and critique my thesis work. With some new methods introduced to me through this class, I am intrigued to look for more methods that could help me refine my research and creative practice, yet I know that this can be a slipper slope where I can begin to drown in the plethora of methods available, so I believe its important to select specific methods and plan their use ahead in my creative work. For example, a few methods that I know I will need to use in the outline process of my thesis work include storyboarding, flow charts, and mapping out the process for analyzing, selecting, and "adapting" complex data and information into new visual, audible, or sensory forms. While in the production stage, I will use interviews, 3D modeling and game development, iterative design methods, and audio production. In my reflection and critique stage, I plan on using user testing, reflective journals, and surveys to evaluate my work.
Moving forward, there are also technologies I would like to test within my thesis work. I would like to continue to explore Virtual Reality, in particular the use of the HTC Vive or the LeapMotion to track hand and body movements in a virtual space. While I find VR to be an isolating experience and somewhat limiting in interactions due to controllers, I am also interested in its level of immersion and ability to represent an embodiment of another species.
Another area I would like to explore is the use of photogrammetry and 360 film. I think that a combination between real environments and more realistic 3D models combined with digital, creative and non-realistic assets could be an interesting mix between the real and the virtual, the scientific and the speculative. I have had no experience with either of these technologies, so I would like to test them out, as well as test out the amalgamation of two different styles of content.
One of the most important areas in my next prototyping process is to develop the technical scripting aspects of my thesis. This primarily involves developing the interactivity and the game elements through mechanics and dynamics. I am specifically interested in exploring new interactions for players that focus on how the player is situated within the environment, relates to other species, and receives information. This will primarily involve creating new controls for the player, but it can also include more nuanced elements, such as audio cues and complex camera movements.
Overall, this prototyping course and process has introduced me to the importance of iterative design and diving into the making process as soon as possible. Furthermore, it has really helped me transform my thesis proposal. I am excited to use my new insight and experiences from this course in my next steps of my thesis project as I continue to research, make, test, analyze, and refine my thesis.