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Augmentation of Architecture Studio with Emerging Tech

  • Group Project at UM
  • | Team of 4
  • | 11 weeks (09/2017 – 12/2017)

This project discovered the challenges faced by stressful architecture students while spending much of their time in the studio and designed a small display to augment the studio environment. Finally, our team demonstrated the intended experience by prototyping with computational media.

User Experience Researcher
  • Planned, designed the studies with the team
  • Recruited participants and coordination
  • Performed the studies, including field observation, 2 diary studies, and 4 concept testings
  • Analyzed results and brainstormed ideas
  • Wrote study results on the project website
  • Created animations for the prototype
  • Drafted the detailed demo plan

Problem: Isn't stimulating for 12+ hours

As a student at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, life can be difficult. 1/3 of respondents indicating that they spent more than 12 hours per day in the studio. Heavy workloads and frequent deadlines are stressful, and the studio environment isn't stimulating.

If you stay [in the studio for] 1-2 hours, that's fine, [but when] nothing changes in environment for over 10 hours, [it makes] me feel bored and tired. It reminds me of a jail.

— Diary Study Participant 1

Sometimes I do get tired of being in the same space all the time.

— Survey response of a student who is somewhat satisfied with the studio

Big Decision Problems

How can we augment the workplace experience using future computing technologies?


Team members’ regular workloads were heavy and the schedule was tight. We had no experience in concept testing and limited technical capability in developing workable prototypes


Help improve the lives of TCAUP students, particularly improving their time spent in the architecture studios and building positive work habits.

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What we did in the 11 weeks
Process: research, design and testing iteratively


How we got the insights

Research Questions

  • What does the day-to-day life of architecture students look like?
  • How do architectures students feel about their current workplaces?
  • How could their physical spaces be altered to improve mental health, happiness, or productivity?


We first did field observation and short interviews. Then, to better understand our target population, we used two research methods: 4 diary studies, and a survey of 45 respondents.

Based on the results of our diary study and survey, we used a method called Speed Dating created a 3-dimensional matrix (interaction levels, activity lifecycle and the number of people in the studio) of scenarios and lo-fi prototypes to test in user enactments.


Challenge #1: Tested ambient technologies with User Enactments (UEs)

By their very nature UEs must to some extent direct participants’ attention, it is challenging to evaluate the noticeability and the intrusiveness of the ambient displays.

💪 What did I do?

I consulted with experienced people (instructor and GSI) and read how other people did this kind of research. I learned that it still help us move closer to the ideal design. For example, we can still evaluate the aesthetics, whether the device fits into their workplace and other questions that are still important even if the users directly look at the displays.

Challenge #2: Recruited busy participants every 2-3 weeks

Architecture students were busy and their deadline was also somehow conflicting with our project timeline.

💪 What did I do?

Create a research pool by adding a future recruiting question at the end of the previous survey.

Challenge #3: The struggle of the scope and choices between ideas
💪 What did we do?

After talking to GIS (teaching assistant), we wanted to identify important needs or niche that haven’t been addressed, rather than on problems that have been studied a lot with lots of engineering effort. We started from one type of office setting, rather than a very general imagination. Some innovation comes from niche users and generalizes to others.

Final Deliverables

NatureFrame is a small, desktop display designed to help augment the TCAUP studio environment by creating a changing scene throughout the day. NatureFrame also helps build positive work habits by sending break reminders, and reminding users when it's time to get back to work.


We had our participants draw for a few minutes while sitting and listening to our prototype.They generally reacted positively to our ideas, and enjoyed working with the ambient natural sounds.

With this nature sound in the background, I become focused and calm.

— User Enactment's Participant 3

I like the idea of suggesting some healthy ways to relax. Sometimes, even though I know that meditation may be a better way to relax, it’s hard to think of these approaches when I'm in an extremely stressful situation.

— User Enactment's Participant 1

Actually, for me, that would be fantastic! Something that I struggle with personally is that... I don’t have... a sense of satisfaction. [Seeing this message before I go home would] help me reflect on what I finished during these hours. And that actually would help with the relaxation and the stress.

— User Enactment's Participant 3, about the final complimentary message


What I've Learned

Lessons learned

  • Explore the boundaries and risk factors: we want to learn how people react to new technology while also taking into account existing contextual and social factors. Even if we feel that the scenarios may not be beneficial to our users, the point of Speed Dating UEs is to test boundaries about solutions that will/will not be adopted by users.
  • Think beyond the experience: Is this idea usefulness, desirability, practicality? Is the idea may only provide marginal improvement? It's an awesome idea that everyone can think of, but too many (technical or structural or organizational or financially) difficulties to implement?
  • Find ideas can be built easily, creatively: that is, in a way that people have never thought about.

What I would do differently

  • Brainstorm more diverse ideas before narrowing down the scope/solutions. Challenge yourself to think of more design alternatives. Challenge ourselves to use the time creatively.
  • Explore another idea that didn't be selected because of the technical capability.
Contact Gale Like what you see? Gale will graduate in April 2018 and expects to work with an amazing team. 😍

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