Finished!

It's been a very long week to say the least, but after the most all nighters I've ever pulled everything came together. Despite having to remake half of my project since the last crit, I'm very happy with how everything turned out.

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This was one of my posters for the final show. I love how the cinch bag turned out, but I have way too much fabric left and I don't quite know what to do with it! I'm also kind of sad with how it was easily overlooked at the show, but I digress.

The other day Dylan graciously let me film at his house with Lena. I had a great time, although she did a number on my prototype... nothing a little more sanding couldn't fix, though! I had a great time watching her play, she's overwhelmingly adorable.

This was my final demo video for the show. This is probably the thing I'm most excited about for my project. I think I've discovered a love for film making! I took some inspiration from japanese sensory cooking youtube videos that I watch all the time.

Reflection

The more I work on this project, the more I fall a little more in love with it. I've been asked and approached several times if I am interested in putting this into production or kickstarting it. While I don't imagine doing so anytime soon, if I ever get exhausted from the corporate grind, I would really like to push this further. While the prototype was still clunky, I think it's an effective proof of concept. I had a lot of construction snafus since everything seemed to break every time I moved forward, but it does work (unfortunately my battery was dead for the show). There's still a plenty to improve on functionally, aesthetically, and experientially, but this is a lot more refined than where it was junior year, and overall I'm satisfied.

As for the feedback I've gotten, a lot of people commented on how everything I make is cute and adorable - which is a blessing and a curse. I'm glad I had a chance to not fight it and embrace the cuteness for what it is - a children's toy. I've been battling a lot with adding meaning and substance to this project, but I think there's a fine line between being richly meaningful and being overcomplicated. I don't think I've settled too much in that, at its core, this project is "just" a children's toy, but my journey so far and the thought I've put behind it may lead to something deeper.

This whole semester I've been thinking: "Is this really what I want to do as my very last thing in design school?" The pressure has been tremendous, but I haven't been so driven (ha) and inspired for a studio project in a long time. I'm glad I'm leaving with something I can take and develop more in the future. This project is definitely not finished, and the end to this semester has been very bittersweet, but I'm happy.

Week 12-13: Making, making making.

Prototype

I've begun building my final prototype! Unfortunately the wheels haven't made it on yet and I've only made half of the track, but I think I'm... on the right track (ba-dum tsh). I had some 4am freak outs about how my board wasn't working or making sound but somehow it all worked when I soldered a surface-mounted piece to another after being at my wits' end.

The track is pretty much finished. I might have to change the puzzle ends because they don't want to snap together since the tolerances are too low. I also added a slate color to the track to tie the car and the track together - the wheels on the car will have a bit of slate on them as well. I had some comments during crit that the track is visually complicated, so I intend on making the raised section slate colored as well to blend the lines and dots together.

I settled on these three colors because I felt that they were bright, fun, and gender neutral. I also coordinated the different colors with different instrument sounds (blue: bells, pink : xylophone, yellow: guitar). They latch on with magnets so it's a nice satisfying snap. I also put a compartment in the pink roof to hold all the pegs, one, because it was the easiest to make into a box, and two, because the xylophone noise is what I would call the "main" instrument.

Packaging

I had comments on figuring out how to package this - both from an interaction and visual standpoint. I really like the idea of having building blocks in a sort of satchel, so I played with the idea of a printed sack to hold all of the tops. I've already sent for the fabric to be made, so there's no turning back! Here are some of my explorations:

I used the shapes from my car tops as geometric elements - to indicate the contents of the bag, and to create a brand language around the interchangeability.

This is the pattern I settled on. It was difficult to create a pattern but without it being too constrained. Luckily Montana spray paints publishes the color codes for all their paints so these are accurate swatches to the actual objects. The shapes themselves will be about 60% to scale of the actual tops, and the drawstring will be dark blue paracord like the track.

 

That's what I've done so far, it's just all in the final push!

Week 11: Hitting the ground running

Ever since getting back from California (thank goodness onsite interviews are over) I've hit the ground running - mostly so that I can maybe (?) finish my prototype before carnival.

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The car

Suffice to say, I've drawn more for this project than any other project since sophomore year. That's kind of sad... but I've enjoyed drawing a lot this week. I think I've gotten my chops back. I hope.

I've narrowed down the silhouette that I like. The plan is to make the roof come out to hold all of the pegs. One new feature I'm implementing is having an interchangeable roofs that change the instrument the car plays. I feel like this is a better solution to further strengthen the language of a vehicle.

There's been a lot of clashing between the forms I want and fitting all the components and having a functional rolling car (ball bearings, ball transfers, wheels??). It's been a constant battle and hopefully I've conjectured correctly in ordering my materials.

The track

I began prototyping the the new track with added steps down for the wheels to roll against. I made each of the note lanes raised with a pop color in the background - actual color is tbd since orange was the color I had on hand. I decided to keep the track laser cut as this would take hours to CNC....

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The insides

I spent five hours today prepping the illustrator file for the inside supports. Probably the most frustrating process ever, as I kept forgetting things and trying to squeeze as much as possible in the smallest size ever... Also, my components measurements are in metric while my car's dimensions are in inches so I've been flip flopping and gahhh!! We'll see how it goes.

Playtesting

finally got to play test with a real life child! Aisling graciously lent me her daughter Iris (5 y/o) to play with my prototype. It went surprisingly well, with some hold-ups with the craft of the prototype. Otherwise, she had fun and I had fun. It was interesting to see that at first she placed the pegs in a pattern visually and then slowly was oriented to what position played what note. I can see this having a bit of a learning curve, but it was nice having Aisling playing along with her.

Iris really liked the idea of having different musical instruments and different colors. Towards the end she started making her own track and bridges with bottles nearby, which would be an interesting next phase of this project. Unfortunately our project is due in a week... Overall, this was a fun experience and it was great seeing an actual child playing with my prototype.

Week 8-10: Style

I've been looking at Scandanavian and Japanese wood toys for style inspiration. They do gender-neutral colors/materials very well, and I enjoy the calm elegance of their toys.

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I've also been looking at other wooden toy cars out in the market.

Now that the insides work, a lot of my work lately has been spent on designing the outsides. It's been difficult, to say the least, because for a while I felt like I was just designing a car. I'm pretty torn up about it being a car at all. I'm incredibly rusty on my drawing skills and it took me a while to get back into the swing of things - especially thinking in three dimensions again. 

Here are some of the sketches that I've done (the others I've done aren't very worthy):

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I made some blue foam models to figure out what I can do within my sizing constraints. Note how much of the Marc Newson car I accidentally made!

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I still have a lot of ironing out to do. After some reflection, I wanted to get rid of the app completely because at this point it feels very disconnected to my toy. Not to mention, I haven't even touched it. I think I wanted to do the app because it was an easy solution of translating the music on the track to actual music, but I'm almost afraid that it's a cop out. I'm trying out the idea of having pre-made songs on pieces of paper you lay over the track and create music off of those guides. Maybe even another clear layer that can show harmony options in relation to the melody. 

I had a lot of good feedback at our last crit. One of the biggest issues that kept coming up were people's concern about how much of an educational toy this is and how much it translates to actual music. I can't say I know myself...

I also need to really nail down the form. I definitely agree that it doesn't have to be a car or a truck or a train or anything remotely vehicular. What I'm struggling with is how to depart from that and where to go in terms of the amount of abstraction I should deal with. It's no longer a "musical car" but a musical... vehicle?

Week 7 - Prototyping + Confluence

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With all the inner components correctly working, I put together some housing to see how the structural supports can hold up together while properly and made a quarter mockup of the round track. One immediate problem was how to get the car to roll constantly in a circle - the wheels have to be angled in a particular way or the pegs will be misaligned with the switches. On existing toys, the wheels have enough give that they can make turns, but I don't have much room to do the same. At this point, the car just slides on the track rather than rolls like a regular car....

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It was difficult figuring out how to mount the switches in properly so that they stuck out ever so slightly from the bottom of the car to hit the pegs on the track. Cue some awkward assembly with evenly measured wires connecting the switches and the board.

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In order for a the switches to play at the same time on a round track, I had to angle the switches at -5 degrees since set up the track to have a row of holes every 5 degrees. Note the copious amount of bondene I used since I made the structure completely wrong. Definitely making this differently next time.

Having perfectly sized pegs to hit the roller switches is a challenge. Too high or too low, and the switches won't activate. Also, for some reason the switches don't like to work when rolling backwards. Another thing that I found was that either the switches activate too quickly, making the sound not play enough, or that the sound of the switches rolling over the pegs were louder than the actual sound. I'm going to need to play around with the idea of different types of peg materials, as the wooden dowels seem too rigid.

I showed this to some employers during Confluence, both during studio tours or from bringing the prototype to my interviews (not sure if that was a good or bad idea?). I'm glad I got this together in time, even if I was gluing the wheels on when people were walking around, since it made explaining my concept sooo much easier. I got some fun comments out of it:

  • Steve Johnson, VP of LinkedIn asked when he could buy this toy because his son would love it, and that if I made it into production he would back it. Pretty exciting, all things considered.
  • An ex-game designer turned PM (?) from Electronic Arts suggested having an entirely automated peg system that raised pegs that wrote existing songs. He made an interesting comment about how intimidating it seems to have a blank canvas to put pegs in on his own.
  • A lot of people asked about how this was supposed to facilitate reading music, so I really need to set in stone my concept of how this is a gateway to music learning. This is a problem I'm trying to tackle in the app.

Anyhow, next steps - get this thing working as perfectly as possible and playing around with other instruments other than the xylophone.

Edit: found this TEDed video that is really relevant to my project. Give it a look! The motion on this is pretty great.

Week 6 - Working

Good news!

I got the WAV trigger to work. Turns out I had to convert the files in Audacity, remove all the metadata, and change the settings to 64kbps and 44.1khz... which for some only worked in Audacity and not Adobe Audition.

I soldered all of the microswitches to the board and mounted them on a piece of foamcore to keep them in place.

My battle station! I have a love/hate relationship with soldering.

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Soldering all these little switches so close together was pretty difficult. I also may have destroyed some of the ports trying to get the header pins out (oops). You'll see that in the second photo I accidentally soldered a switch on backwards. Lots of rookie mistakes from being too excited...

Here's a short demo of the working components:

Now that that's finished, I found a few pitfalls. I used recordings of a xylophone, which has a nice pleasant sound. However, it's not very useful for sustained notes. If you hold down one of the keys it just repeats the plucking sound in a loop, which doesn't work too well in this system. I'm going to have to experiment with other sounds or simply sine waves.

I also prototyped a few options of different tracks:

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A straight track (like in my older prototype from last year)

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A topographic track with undulations - this could be interesting in mimicking crescendos/decrescendos or even song structures. Not sure if that's very necessary though.

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A round track - this would be great for loops of music, and in terms of round tracks is probably the only feasible one for me to successfully produce. Even then, it's going to be difficult to figure out how to get the track and the switches to line up (do I angle the row of switches?). Hopefully I can get this nailed down this week.

I made a little "schematic" of the internal components and the track:

This is a side view of where everything on the inside has to be placed. The speaker is on the back of the car so that the user's hand doesn't muffle the sound when pushing it along the track. The battery is on the bottom for easy access to replace/recharge. The off/on switch is also on the bottom, something I added last minute because I realized I didn't have a way to turn the system off and on without taking out the battery (oops). I'm going to have to CAD an effective mounting system to make sure all these pieces can just be set into the body of the car easily. That's my next step!

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This is the track in its linear form, which is how it was for my original design. Right now, I have an F major scale, mostly because I liked the sound of the F scale on the xylophone. This is subject to change. The track itself will be entirely analog - the only electronic components are in the actual car.

Week 5 - Buying & building

After looking around for solutions to build my project, I was fortunate enough to find the perfect circuit board which makes building this 10x easier - I don't have to code an arduino at all! (Hopefully)

Here's my wonderful shopping list:

The WAV Trigger is the most important!

The WAV Trigger is the most important!

As soon as my package arrived, I started testing the WAV Trigger. There's a bit of a learning curve, but it isn't very steep. There's an open source program that writes the init files which tells the WAV Trigger which ports do what and how - there are 16 available on the board but for now I'm only using 8 (a full tonic scale). This is all uploaded to a micro SD card along with all the WAV files. All I have to do is label them 001, 002, 003, etc and they're automatically assigned to their corresponding port.

Above is the very useful (but not very pretty) program to upload the INIT file onto my SD card. There's so much stuff you can do with this, and I'm definitely going to play around with it a lot!

I soldered a few header pins to test out different types of switches. I found that the roller switch (bottom) works the best for my prototype. Using this switch lets me be able to roll the car backwards and forwards on the track, while the others posed some mechanical difficulties with what I'm doing.

Some people suggested using sensors or reed switches, but after thinking about it, they might unnecessarily complicate the mechanics of the inner components. Sensors would probably need an Arduino to control the on/off levels and using reed switches in such close proximity would be difficult. I'm trying to keep this mechanical and I love the clicky feel to these microswitches.

On the left is the speaker, which works pretty well (Sparkfun doesn't have a very extensive speaker inventory). I was playing some noises when I set the speaker head face down over a roll of electric tape - the sound was so much better! I'm going to have to figure out a good resonator that doesn't take up too much space....

One problem I've faced is getting the WAV files to work - I'm not quite sure why, but only the sample WAV files that I downloaded on the product page produce sound when uploaded onto the SD card. Maybe it's because I've converted them to WAV files? Or that I'm using iOS when WAV files are for Windows? Not sure!!

Here's a little foamcore mockup I made just to play around with how small or big the car can be. Hopefully I can make the car as hand-sized as possible for the hands of the children. :)

Week 4 - Plan of Action

Project Statement

Melodia is an interactive toy that uses a modular system to create a better understanding of music literacy and composition for young children through the use of exploration and play.

Deliverables

  • A working arduino-powered prototype
  • Prototype of mobile application
  • Product video

Schedule of Events

Week 4

  • Feb 02: Contact music teachers, professors in the area, iron out system
  • Feb 04: Go to the children's museum, order materials for Arduino

Week 5

  • Feb 09: Compile research
  • Feb 11: Prototype toy using Arduino, sketch forms

Week 6

  • Feb 16: Continue work on prototype
  • Feb 18: Have semi-functioning prototype

Week 7

  • Feb 23: Refine prototype
  • Feb 25: Try not to die from Confluence stress, have a working prototype

Week 8

  • Mar 02: Refine form, create housing for prototype
  • Mar 04: Have final prototype of physical toy

Week 9

  • Spring break

 

Week 10

  • Mar 16: Develop app
  • Mar 18: Develop app

Week 11

  • Mar 23: Develop app
  • Mar 25: Wireframe app

Week 12

  • Mar 30: Refine wireframes
  • Apr 01: Refine app

Week 13

  • Apr 06: Refine app, start on any necessary print material
  • Apr 08: Storyboard product video

Week 14

  • Apr 13: Work on video
  • Apr 15: Work on video

Week 15

  • Apr 20: Finish video
  • Apr 22: Make any finishing touches

Week 16/17

FINAL REVIEW & SHOW

Week 3 - Initial Presentation & Critique

Presentation

I did a short presentation to the class the other day explaining the direction I am taking with the project. The words "musical literacy" blurted out my mouth but I think it well encapsulates the area I want to work. I'll be developing a Arduino-powered toy, with a modular track, and possibly an app. My main goal is to make music more tangible not only through sound but through reading and writing music.

Critique

I collected both positive and negative comments from my peers. There seemed to be a pattern in some of the critiques. Many people liked the physical aspect of my project, which is something I don't intend to ever remove. Some were concerned about the necessity of the app, which is very understandable. I need to decide the ultimate purpose of the app and how it works in tangent to the toy without being an unnecessary element. A few people talked about making the connection between the tangible music making with real technical music composition, and maybe pushing it to other applications such as using the music written to be easily transitioned to piano music. There was some concern about building the tool in terms of the Arduino and coding, which I am a little worried as well but I feel like the system could be relatively simple and this would be my third time using Arduino.

These were some of the more poignant comments that stuck out to me.

  1. Facilitate learning with positive and negative feedback.
  2. Changing notes digitally as well as physically to experiment on the app (this I'm not quite sure of but it was an interesting point)
  3. Making the toy more collaborative
  4. A circular track might not actually work mechanically

Week 2 - A New Audience?

I started looking into music therapy and the methods that occur during music therapy sessions. The American Music Therapy Association had some good information on different audiences for music therapy - I namely looked at young children, special education, and autistic individuals. After much speculation it became difficult for me to force my existing project into a new demographic. Talking to Dylan highlighted to me that my main problem going through this wasn't that I don't have a valuable enough audience, but that the main purpose of my project didn't properly come to fruition.

My main goals now are to:

  • Create a play-oriented device that "tricks" users into learning music composition
  • Bridge the gap between physical music making and music on paper
  • Something digitally-powered and more sensitive to changes in notes than the current peg and key system.

Week 1 - Defining the problem

I am continuing a project from Spring 2014 as the first part of my low tech/high tech project Melodia. I outlined what the project communicates right now, what it lacks, and what it could be (above).

I decided to continue this project because while I liked my concept, I feel the initial idea was not communicated in the final deliverable.

  • It didn't function well
  • Play-time is short lived
  • People were scared to use it

Along with the above issues, I wanted to see if my problem space of early-childhood music education could be broadened to a new audience.