in Final Project, My Work, Process

The Petri Dish

Concept premise

At the dawn of the 21st century, the Internet’s birth enabled social media, unlimited 24/7 news on a global scale and free information about any topic imaginable. There’s also Youtube and a million other media sharing outlets in the digital sea of bits.

Information has become commonplace and democratised. But as we head further into the next few decades, how will information continue shaping our daily lives and influence how we carry out our daily tasks?

My project, affectionately named “The Petri Dish”, is a social commentary on how we have come to embrace information that is fed to us in an unquestioning manner. Will we use our intuition to understand and make wise choices, or will we lose our ability to perceive, succumb to our ‘technological overlords’ and follow their instructions blindly?

On a side note, it is named as such because we are used to thinking of performing experiments in a lab using a petri dish. Here I am presenting the notion of the participant at the installation as “The Petri Dish” instead.

Development of Idea

It all started out with the idea of highlighting social issues that are deeply relevant to the current century. My initial attempt was to bring to attention the problem of waste products, and how our insatiable consumerism habits will ultimately come round and bite us. It was a simple idea; there was to be a trash can that will project whatever goes in towards two artificial ‘local environments’, a terrarium and an aquarium. The terrarium represents our living environment, and the aquarium represents our water bodies, e.g. a lake. On further development, there were a few issues that prompted a pivot. Firstly, the scale and scope was too big and wide respectively, and I didn’t feel a certain intimacy was achieved as the object was not focused and directed.

“The Petri Dish” was thus born.

The participant will get to nurture a flower, guided by instructions from a screen. Initially, I was hoping to utilise the whole lineup of gardening stuff: soil, fertilisers and water. In the initial body-storm exercise, I was given feedback that it probably is a little too much, and doesn’t add to the fact that the flower is kinda ‘unreal’ in the first place, so mimicking ‘real gardening’ with all bells and whistles might not be the best approach. Thus, the setup was dramatically reduced to only one element, an ‘electrolyte’, and the participant will decide accordingly how he/she will approach the task on hand and achieve a ‘satisfactory’ result.

The screen will always give false instructions, so after a few rounds, the patient but eager participant will realise that he/she must use her own intuition to nurture the plant sufficiently and stop when its just right and ignore any contradicting instructions from the screen.

Ultimately, the installation is designed to frustrate participants and stimulate distrust of the screen.

Design Process

Inspiration for flower mechanics: Ever Blooming Mechanical Tulip by jiripraus

Initial Ideas

Overview of how it works

Dimensions, dimensions…

Interaction console details

See here for details on initial conceptualisation.

Further development after class feedback

Design refinement

As mentioned above, after two rounds of user feedback, I have refined the interaction to become much simpler. Now the user only controls the amount of electrolyte(water) he/she wants to apply. And information will be presented through the flower’s mechanics and the OLED screen.

Prototypes (Rough & Polished)  &  User Feedback

Rough Prototype

Rough Prototype

Feedback for rough prototype:

  • Replace soil with something representational(try not to use real soil..)
  • Participants feel obligated to not kill the flower
  • Signage with instructions is sometimes not considered to be important to look at
  • Indicators for current state of flower is crucial for participants to make ongoing decisions
  • Usage of perhaps colors to guide participants with indicators and ingredients to use

See here for more details on body-storming session..

Polished Prototype

Feedback for polished prototype:

  • What does the 53% represent? Seem like it doesn’t matter.
  • Is there supposed to be something else after the growth part? Lack of further instructions from screen.
  • Currently, participant is unclear if he/she is following the instruction closely (this is partly due to the fact that the code is not working properly).
  • Consider change 53% to 53ml, could work better as the dropper is measured in ml.
  • Servo motor creates alien-ish sound; visual and audio links to the character of being a alien
  • Use Optic fibre to create lights for flower
  • If flower is dying, the movement can be glitchy to signify ‘dying’ in the ‘alien’ sense
  • The fact that following instructions doesn’t work could perhaps somehow be more emphasised

The interaction of liquid versus flower bloom is somewhat effective. I feel that overall the code needs to work much better(it was only working 20% ..), and the OLED screen’s instructions has to work in tandem with the participant’s interaction.

Grand Finale !

Final improvements:

I added some lights on the console and center connector to suggest movement of the electrolyte. There is also a light on the flower to hint at its state. Overall the lights add to the installation’s visual mood when deployed in a dim area.

The code is working pretty much this time, and I have figured out the quirks associated with the OLED, that is perhaps for another post.

An instruction manual has been added to the console , but it is not merely aesthetic. There is some information regarding the flower that can help the player make informed choices.

Buzzer sounds have been added as well to help with providing feedback throughout the interaction process.

Lastly, part superficial part practical, the OLED has gained a magnifier in front of it to help players make out stuff on its tiny screen. It kind of adds a little character to the whole piece as well.

Make your own !

Instructables w/ code and schematics

In-class final presentation

Parting thoughts:

I could sense the urge in participants to “win” the game, I guess that’s the power of ‘gamification’. It is also interesting to see everyone’s different approaches, even though they were all pretty aware of the underlying premise of the installation. I think the refinements worked quite well too as I think theres less confusion about what is to be done, and the screen is much easier to be read this time.

The information on the manual is pretty crucial, and it was a pity it could be read easily with the lights off. Engaging the installation in a dark environment is definitely more desirable, and sets up the mood appropriately as well.

Speaking of moods, I think that’s an aspect that I can work on more. The establishing of surroundings can be better utilised, great examples include the ah gong photo frame and the space dome pieces.

Though thoroughly challenging, I had a great 13 weeks for this module and look forward to more in my upcoming years! cheers!