The Socializer

Project type: Group
Timeline: Seven weeks

The brief was to create a ubiquitous computing product for a convention or large entertainment event. My two partners and I chose to create a technology experience that helps conference attendees with networking. We chose to situate the product at South by Southwest, but it could be used at any professional conference. The final deliverable was a video sketch depicting how the product works.


I've been curious about the concept of networking for a while. Many people struggle to understand social expectations in the business world. Could the networking experience be improved through sensor technology? Two classmates and I spent about six weeks finding out. From start to finish, it wasn't nearly enough time to consider a product's market viability, uncover user needs, test concepts, and create a video proposal for a product in such a new field!

For me, the most interesting aspect of a ubiquitous computing project is the nuts and bolts of the interactions. What are the affordances in a ubiquitous computing product? This is a question that's still being answered by technologists today. On this project, I argued that large gestures should be kept to a minimum, as users may feel strange using full-body gestures, especially in a networking scenario. (This hypothesis may become less and less true over time, as ubiquitous computing becomes more pervasive and mainstream.)

The majority of the work on the project involved developing an idea that could be financially viable, technologically feasible, and desirable enough that users would want to be surrounded by it. Privacy concerns are paramount in the world of sensors, especially due to sensors' invisibility.

In order to understand what needs conference-goers perceive themselves to have (regardless of whether we identified the needs), we used a research technique called Speed Dating. We assembled several groups of former South by Southwest attendees (in order to have consistent data) and tested out our initial concepts on them.

We thought some of our ideas, like the Virtual Wingman (above), would be too controversial for our research subjects. However, the vast majority were comfortable with the concept, though they found flaws in the execution.

I took the results from our Speed Dating tests and determined which aspects of our concepts were falling flat. In order to build in more privacy to the Wingman scenario, I wrote a script for the video sketch that had two users being asked individually if they'd be willing to meet someone new.  Perfecting the pitch as well as the concept was a valuable learning experience. For the audience, a concept is only as good as the way it is expressed. Refining a pitch is a form of experience design in itself.

The digital nametag displaying the attendee's schedule

Collaborators: Alicia Knight, Mohit Taneja