DAAP Mobile Computing Fall 2012 - Orbach

Hey Everyone! This quarter in school we have an awesome opportunity to participate in a collaborative studio instead of the traditional chair project. I’ve chosen to participate in a mobile computing studio, and focus on education. Hopefully this thread will yield a lot of awesome feedback and discussion about the work.

I’m working on this with two UI designers. So the outcome is as much about the digital as it is about the physical.

This is some of the research we conducted, and the research outcomes. Going to try and keep it short and sweet here, I can provide a full pdf is anyone is particularly interested!

Design Requirements

First Round of Sketching

With the sketches, there were a couple of ideas that really stood out to me beyond the forms… The one being having a double sided display with an e-ink facing outwards. When the device is closed, students can read textbooks with minimal power consumption, and take notes that aren’t typed if they prefer. when the device is open, it functions as a normal laptop with an lcd display. Just a concept right now though.

Other ideas include a dynamo crank, built in thumb drive (students complained about wirelessly sharing data, and highly preferred jump drives) and built in handles.

UI sketches are in there, but are harder to discuss in sketch form. at least for me…


Hey Dan, good project. It is a little hard to comment on the single image mass of sketches. You might want to select a few to refine and blow those out. Also, it is a lot easier to comment if you number the concepts.

Is this something the students would buy and bring, or something the school would issue? I would assume the students would buy and bring with some kind of subsidy program for students who assistance to purchase. This would follow the whole consumerization of IT trend. People want to pick their own stuff. After you identify the key needs and solve for them with a set of standardized functional benefits you can develop an archetype that can be iterated on. This happens with every adopted technology, ie all laptops share the same archetype (flip open, screen on top, keyboard on bottom) , all smartphones for the most part follow a very similar archetype (all screen, cameras on front and back, minimal hard keys on edges) and so on. Once you have that archetype, it might be interesting to then design a few versions for different brands that might represent the kind of variation that might be on the market in 5 years.

Thanks for the quick response Yo! I went ahead and picked some of my favorite ideas out and numbered them. Hopefully this makes it a bit easier to digest and respond to!

Is this something the students would buy and bring, or something the school would issue?

An administrator I was talking to likened the cost of the computer to the cost of books. Most HS students spend between 150-200 dollars a year on books. Over four years that’s a significant chunk of change, and ultimately a cost benchmark. The only time schools buy these for kids is if they get a massive (1 million+) grant from the government. Otherwise the cost is on the students.

People want to pick their own stuff.

My group is definitely thinking about customization (it’s a “scenario” we’re designing around) when you say pick their own stuff, do you mean feature set as well as aesthetics? that’s interesting to think about for sure!

few versions for different brands

Sponsored studio. So i think multiple versions for the same brand :smiley:

Coming up with the archetype is going to be the hardest part, in my heart i’m sort of set on discovering some new format… but it might not NEED to be something new. A better design might just be an evolution of something that exists now. I suppose I’ll see where the ideation takes me!

I would step back a ways and think about what it means to be in high school, then think about what it could be like in 5 years.

Any tablet in Best buy with a wifi connection can get you more information and “learning” than a classroom. I don’t think a new tablet with a new interface is the most insightful direction. But, since you do need to come with some kind of hardware and on-screen experience, maybe think about what only a large organization like a High School can provide. What’s the next evolution of “teacher in front of blackboard”? or notebook and Trapper Keeper :slight_smile:, or pencil, or paperclip. Learning is a lot about recording information in a way that you can access it again at a later time and make new connections through it. Or maybe you could argue that high school isn’t really about intellectual schooling at all, so much as it is about social development and peer, authority interaction. Is there a hardware solution for that?

Let go of “Mobile Computing” for another couple weeks and see where it leads you. It’s ok if it pisses off your teachers. You can always design a pretty nice, clean minimal tablet in 1 hour, with a few more hours to model and render.

Brett, that’s a really interesting point. I tried brainstorming on it for a little bit, and kind of came to the conclusion that on the social end of things, a device like this would end up playing a role in identity development and things of that nature. it would be interesting to explore it from that perspective. Unfortunately, I can’t veer totally off course, since it’s a group project :slight_smile: but I’ll definitely try to think more outside the box… or to just not design another box.

It looks like you should re-visit your design requirements. It doesn’t look as though you’ve addressed many of them in your sketches.

All of your sketches are really nice. You could strengthen them by asking yourself how you are sketching from one idea to the next and developing your concepts (towards the requirements) rather than just representing what was in your mind already.

It looks like you are drawing what you thought of before the requirements were defined more than what you should be thinking of now.

you’re absolutely right. I think this was just more of a first idea dump to get all of the generic stuff out. As I keep sketching I’ll be keeping those requirements closer in mind…

Just as an FYI, Students in Minnetonka High School (a fairly affluent suburb of Minneapolis) are issued iPads. Every single one of them. They are locked down a bit (minimal apps, limited internet access, etc.) but they are available for books, notes, schedules, etc. If that’s now, what about in 5-10 years?

NURB, in the research we did we found a few highschools with iPads, and some with Thinkpads (just the Highschools in the area we grew up in) another HS in chicago that I know of has iPads as well. I think the “opportunity” here is that the device they’re using is just an off the shelf iPad. it’s not tailored to the students as an educational device. It might have more than they need in some cases. Obviously, it’s tough to compete with the app infrastructure they have set up, but I think a big part of the design opportunity here is software side. I’m struggling a bit coming up with new hardware that isn’t a toughbook or some other generic thing. that’ll come with time I suppose. But the software side is a big opportunity. there isn’t an OS for students. how it could help them stay focused, keep track of stuff, learn with them (a sophomore might not have the same help needs as a senior) so all of those things are things my group is looking to address… the 5-10 years part is tricky. I’m trying to keep the project grounded in reality. but at the same time, futurestuff will be futurestuff, you know? thanks for the reply!

I certainly wasn’t trying to detract from your work thus far, just putting that out there in case you missed it as an example of how it’s done today.

Good to see you’re thinking and researching this stuff. I think this topic will be one that gets pretty hot in the years to come. As school budgets drop and enrollment rises, how do you reach more kids with fewer teachers and still have quality education?

Something like this might eliminate absences, sick days, injuries, travel plans, etc. as kids could conceivably learn from home.

oh cool nurb. no worries. I was trying to make sure I was really thinking things through… I was thinking, any ideas on how to “sketch” UI ideas? like for instance, if I’m thinking about an automated file creation system that grows with a user and learns tendencies, how do I sketch that other than a simple UI wireframe? I find those hard to read most of the time. they just don’t communicate how normal ID sketches do for me…

Great sketching process, really nice to look through.

You’ve probably seen this before, but it’s a nice insight into how UX and sketching can work together. Not as nice and gestural as your usual sketching(or typical ‘ID sketching’) but useful none the less.


Thanks for the feedback guys. I went back and though a lot about how this device should function and the kinds of features it might be neat to have, both physical and UI wise. I did some more refined sketches with fewer directions/features.

Sorry for the small size, I don’t know how to make things look larger, just click 'em please!

Form concepts

  1. integrating a USB drive into the chassis. Adds function in the form of speedy data transfer without having to deal with networking computers. Many schools don’t have the infrastructure to set up a highspeed network for data transfer, and students actually preferred USB drives when we met with them.

  2. Removable/Replaceable/Upgradable base. The base would contain the hard drive, graphics card, and CPU (if possible, i don’t know with the motherboard how that would work. but it’s also not really my field of expertise). Students could upgrade to a new component set over time, or maybe right before graduation. The old components would be recycled, and broken down. This eliminates the quick obsolescence of the device, and gives students an option to bring a faster computer with them into college.

  3. Customizable top. Just a fun, more whimsical concept with identity expression. It’s a little extreme here, maybe the tiles are fewer innumber and located somewhere else. But this would be a quick fun visual way to identify the laptop as yours.

  4. Not much to this one, it’s just a form I like and keep coming back to. The raised hinge is a bit of a call back to the spine of a book. Still trying to think through adding book-ish detailing and callbacks to sort of set up a metaphor. (thanks Holly!)

  5. LCD/E-ink display. This is what I believe to be the strongest potential concept. When open, an LCD screen would allow this to function as a normal computer. However, when closed, it turns into an e-ink screen tablet. This has several advantages: Power savings (e-ink screens are far lower power. it would be ideal for reading long textbooks without draining battery); limited functions (by limiting what can be done on the e-ink display the design keeps users from being distracted while they read or work. it’s almost like functional simplicity); growing the e-reader market (imagine tons of highschoolers with new access to e-books. it could be a neat paradigm shift as they enter college as well); tablet style note taking (if the screen was touch sensitive, student could use a stylus to take notes in a more traditional notebook style)

UI concepts

  1. Bookmark. At the end of a class, a student can set a “bookmark” of their screen. computer knows what was open. upon calling back the bookmark, the computer opens what was open. this would help class start faster ("class open your books to page…)

  2. when battery is low, option so autosave all open documents

8.finder concept that uses color to bring forward more recent and relevant documents.

My groupmates also have a bunch of other UI ideas that will be fleshed out soon. any feedback on these directions would be appreciated. I realize it’s not terribly different than what was in the first post. just a bit more fleshed out. I did a lot of exploration and just kept coming back to these ideas… guess it means something!


Hey guys,

another update. Kind of beginning to find a global direction for this concept. This is what my group is excited about right now. It has a double sided screen (e-ink to LCD) which provides several benefits:

Easy on the eyes for longer textbook reading
increased battery life while reading
the limited functionality of the e-ink creates a “change of state” in the device. and when you’re note taking and reading with it closed, it eliminates the distraction of the internet.

Trying to think of a way to include “wonder” and “spice” to the design. Just some sort of delight. I think that’s the biggest thing it’s missing right now. The UI wireframes exist, but I don’t have em to post right now unfortunately. Some really neat UI stuff is hopefully coming in the next couple of weeks!

All feedback and questions are appreciated!

Lots of changes! Form is different. Added a stylus, it attaches to the outside of the device. This is some rough cad thrown into keyshot.

What awe we looking at in terms of materials?
What does the back look like?
How does the stylus store?
What does the stylus look like?
How does the industrial desin relate to what is going on on screen as well as to the life of the student?

Show us some more views, right now that is a great angle of a corner with nothing going on.

Right as usual Yo,

In terms of materials, almost everything will be plastic, rubberized or smooth. The blue piece going around the outside of the base of the laptop will be rubber.

Pen: has a groove in it that mates with an external bump in that larger basin for it. They’ll click into one another for storage (due to the plastic flexing a bit) and to remove it the student uses the excess length in the groove to pick it out. I struggled with this problem a lot. Mostly on how to keep it simple, and one piece. I went through a variety of solutions with springs, and extra pieces. But in the end I just kept trying to simplify it and came to this. I’m fairly certain it would work in the real world.

Removable Jump Drive: Built into the chassis for easy data storage and swapping.

The stylus was also styled to be as simple as possible.

From a cmf perspective, black was chosen to offset the toy-esque appearance of the stylus being stored on top of the device. However, that storage method is kind of a throwback to a pen by a notebook. The stylus is stored close to the point of use (the e-ink display)

That blue rubber piece that detaches is removable and can be replaced with other colors. This is one of two ways a student can personalize the device. the other being an e-ink screensaver.

I still haven’t modeled in the ports and other smaller details like that. This is because a good deal of the design is still “liquid” I want to try and keep things loose for as long as possible, to make changing things easier.

That should be just about where I am now. Hopefully the attached views are sufficient!


I think there’s promise here, just need to really nail down the details. On a simple device like this this you really gotta hone it in.

Split line, why is the gap so big? Also it doesnt seem to be centered. Either center it or move it towards one edge. Make it look purposeful.

Are those outside fillets curvature continuous? Think about adding some guide curves so that “chamfer” So it has subtle crowning. It’ll catch more light way. Good example of what Im talking about. http://cadjunkie.com/1513/ipad-crowned-surface-in-rhino

Your step down to the screen seems kinda big, have you looked at other devices and seen how they treat this?

I know your trying to keep it liquid. But the sooner you get detailed, the faster you’ll get responses. Otherwise your answer can always be, “I’m thinking about that”

The tiny details will make a huge difference in the product. Branding, charging ports, ir windows, leds, regulatory labeling, etc. All those need to be honed in as well.

Thanks for the feedback Eman! I’m curious what you mean by split line? where on the device are you referring to?

I’ll definitely be trying that with the chamfers… that video is really interesting.

With regards to the screen stepdown, it’s a bit larger to prevent damage. Although to be perfectly honest, I don’t really think the external screen would get too damaged if it was close to flush. It’s more of a semantic thing. I looked at the kindle and nook e-readers. It seems that they both have a very slight stepdown with their screens.

Thanks for the advice on the details, I totally agree. Good thing it’s a semester long project haha