Week 31: Tom Armitage (a guest post)

I asked Tom Armitage, a friend but mostly freelance technologist and designer, to join us for a few days on Monday and Tuesday to come and talk through and design some of our online interactions as a key component to the Good Night Lamp is its possible online activity. After that I asked him to write about what he did with us.


When we began, Alex drew me a diagram of concentric rings – the various “layers” of the project, annoted with who was thinking about what – and in what direction their attention was facing. Alex and Adrian are very much thinking from deep inside and facing outwards – and so I spent my time approaching the project from the outside in. In part, that was possible because I was coming to the project as a fresh pair of eyes – but it also meant I could focus on a lot of the “surface” level interactions that Lamp users might have regularly.

We began with a list of requirements for whatever I came up with. It all had to be buildable: whilst there was space to be a bit aspirational, that aspiration had to be towards things with known implementations. It also had to be scalable: not in the technical sense (of scaling to meet demand), but in terms of scalable interactions; it needed to work for any number of Lamps. We also chatted a bit about the interesting “edges” and affordances of the GNL platform that it might be interesting to explore.

Over the two days, I worked on a few different areas of explanation. Firstly, an understanding of an online dashboard for lamps: what it’s like to manage your lamps online, what needs to be represented, and how it should be communicated. This was all communicated through a set of wireframes and storyboards. Then, an exploration of some of the very first interactions a user might have with GNL, and how they can be seamlessly led from an explanation of the product to exploring it for themselves. That led to both storyboards and an animatic. Then, something more aspirational: an exploration of what a GNL product for mobile devices might be, and how it might integrate with the GNL platform.

Out of all this work, common strands emerged; in particular, a focus on the vocabulary of the product. One of the things I find most important to pin down early in projects – and which design exploration like this helps with a lot – is the naming of things. How are core product concepts communicated to an end-user? How are they made explained? Making sure nomenclature is clear, understandable, and doesn’t raise the wrong associations in a user’s mind, is, for me, a really core part of product design. Even though many of the core concepts of GNL were clear in our head, by sitting down and drawing things out in detail, I started having to discover what to call things, often bringing Alex and Adrian back to my screen to discuss those ideas.

And, out of that nomenclature comes something else: a set of rules for the product. The final deliverable I produced was a short document – a “natural history”, really – called A Few Notes On Lamps. This began to lay down some of the rules about Lamps – how they’re represented, what language is (or isn’t) used to talk about them, what behaviours they are capable of. We were beginning to define a product language, which will, in time, no doubt extend beyond words and interactions into areas like graphic or material design.

This kind of design work initially appears very tactical. It focuses on small areas almost in isolation from one another, exploring the edges and seams of the product. But by forcing oneself to confirm what things are called, confirm what interactions or graphic langauge are repeated throughout the product, it turns into a much more strategic form of design, which impacts many areas of a product. It was exciting, in the course of only two days, to push at some of the edges of Good Night Lamp, and discover what emerged.

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