From research, we found large factors of how e-waste effects climate change. Improper disposal of e-waste landfill causes chemicals to be released in the air and valuable materials to be lost. Also, manufacturing new electronics has large greenhouse gas emissions.
This informed our goal to focus on this issue and leverage VR's affordance of active participation to enable participants to shift perspective on the value of electronics, and the decisions they can make regarding their acquisition and disposal towards reducing the negative impacts of e-waste on climate change.
Re-Collect is a VR experience project where participants mine and collect materials from e-waste while they rid an environment of toxicity, so that they can perform actions that allow them to have further environmental considerations for how they personally dispose and acquire electronics.
Team: Alex Lazimir, Alison Chan, Ashwin Birdi and Ivy Wang.
Project Length: 12 Weeks, Spring 2020
Development Stage: Research; Interaction Design (tool vendor and deposit pipe) ; Storyboard
Prototyping Stage: Asset Collection (Textures); Brand Design; User Testing
Physical Equipments: HTC Vive Cosmos VR headset and controllers
Graphic Design: Illustrator, Figma
The narrative is set in a near future where our team acts as a group of researchers re-visiting an old research site in a e-waste landfill area that became too dangerous due to toxicity levels.
Luckily, the site can now be re-visited using a robot built for toxic conditions that is stationed on-site and controlled remotely. Participants act as a volunteer to operate the robot and are given a mission: to identify and mine electronic devices to reduce toxicity and collect materials for our research.
The core interaction is participants use the mining tool to collect materials from devices, and restore it using a Tool Vendor machine by deciding to either repair or print a new one.
We scoped down features and focused on our "Repair vs. Print New" feature (Tool Vendor) as it provides participants an option that can actively influence the environment and increase challenges; also better related to our goal on creating a shift.
I am responsible for the interaction design for this Tool Vendor experience in "decide" stage and deposit pipe in "re-create" stage. As both should have common setting and UI controls to avoid participants learning twice, I focused on the research, design and prototype of Tool Vendor, then worked on deposit pipe near the end of prototyping stage.
Exploration on form and interaction
Form & Look: I began my research on objects that participants can instinctly interact with, and can easily, logically blend into the environment and narrative.
Old or damaged electronics like oven, microwave and television that provided a screen or platform to give instruction on the usage of tool vendor, or can create surprises by hiding and revealing changes of the inputted object inside the machine.
I also considered other formats in instruction giving, like using a character — robot. However, our story is set in isolated, highly toxified area, where we believe having other operating robots on site would not fit our setting as the toxicity would damage robots in short period of time.
Interaction and Effects: As visual differentiation between repairing and printing new is crucial to let participants understand and highlight the consequences to their choices, I looked for ways to create the visual impact.
Freezing chamber for cryotherapy had inspired me in designing both form and visual effects. It has a futuristic high-tech outlook and cryosauna has the idea of preserving/recovering something to a better state.
Therefore, I moved forward from this idea and designed the form and interaction with reference on freezing chamber's features.
There are two key moments in tool vendor: to show consequence of manufacturing new devices; to allow for decision making. We broke down the whole interaction with tool vender into the design tasks below. I used this graph when ideating on form and where visual cues and micro-interactions should appear to guide and encourage next moves.
I illustrated the full experience on tool vendor to visualize and present my idea to the team. At this stage, I tended to use direct visual changes like the color of mist as toxic gas, sound effects and trash released from vendor to convey the consequences of participants' choices.
User Testing Results and Iterations
p r o t o t y p e # 1
We tested the tool vendor design for the first tiime in gray-blocked design and utilized SteamVR physical button interaction framework.
We found that the tool vendor model should be more user-friendly — which leaded to more refinement and testing on form variations, and placement of vendor and UI that it is easier to see and access.
p r o t o t y p e # 2
After the second user testing, a crucial feedback we got is to further emphasize the consequences/ effects of decisions in the environment — with more obvious impact in the experience from the usage of tool vendor.
We figured to increase the density and duration of the toxic gas released from vendor, which would eventually change the global fog density in the environment.
In this way, we hoped the visibility of the environment changed by toxic gas was more a noticeable cause of their decision with tool vendor.
f i n a l - d e s i g n
I did couple adjustment on machine's height and angle of the instruction display. At the end, we stick to this design with a simple form as it worked well in the least dynamic shape. It fit the narrative and blended into the enviroment without giving huge visual contrast.
During the finishing stage, a "light stick" with research site logo were added into the vendor as a beacon in the foggy environment, and to strength the immersiveness into our narrative.
Final Showcase and Feedback
Achievements — Participants were able to interact with tool vendor smoothly. The effects/impact of the decision to repair or print were clearly communicated and emphasised after implementing global fog that appears as a result of “print new”.
Unfortunately, we could not hold physical showcase with our designed setup under this pandemic. It would be great to see how physical setup can affect the immersiveness of our vr experience.
Overall, we found that we were able to create a cohesive experience where participants understood the connection between interactions — which makes this project a success for our team.
Design Process — Thanks to the pushes and valuable feedbacks from teammates, I got to continually practise design thinking when working on countless iteration of the tool vendor experience.
The long design process of IxD Design of tool vendor above is only a part of this big project that involves game design, environment design, coding and development, etc. My work is not a isolated part in the whole VR experience and it is my responsibility to always keep myself on track and align our thoughts on each small parts.
Valuable feedbacks in user test — This is a important stage to test out my assumptions on user journey, visual design and effectivness of implemented effects, and ultimately check if we can meet the goal of the project. I enjoyed the surprises on what I had not considered in interactions and user expectations. This motivates me to refine my design until it is good enough and reaches experience goals.