Alex Kan's Portfolio

Interactive BookMixed Reality StoriesEngaging TechnologyPresentationHire Me

Interactive Book

Interactive Book • Mixed Reality StoriesEngaging TechnologyPresentationHire Me

The experience of reading digital books is subpar. Readers might be delighted by the content, but not by the interaction with epubs, mobis, and PDFs. The design goal for this project was to make scrolling a digital book feel like turning pages of Edward Tufte's magnificent paper books. The business aim was to make the design scalable, so that my client could launch other books in the same format.

Role

I was the sole UI/UX designer on the project, responsible for

  • designing the overall look and feel of the book
  • designing the user interface for navigation and search
  • creating a design system not just for this book, but also for the future books in the series
  • presenting sketches, wireframes, mockups, and prototypes to the client's team
  • handing them off to developers and supervising the implementation

I worked together with an art director, a layout designer, a photographer, and two developers. There was no dedicated project manager on the team, so I partly took on that role as well, ensuring that everyone is on the same page (although, not literally :-)

Design

In the process of designing the UX of the new format, my guiding principle was to recreate the feeling of a luxurious paper book, starting with how it opens…

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A prototype I made for developers
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Release

…while also integrating features only possible in a digital form, such as illustrations 'reacting' to readers' progress:

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interactive tests:

and an instant search with a clickable thumbnail for every spread:

Iterations of the Search UI

Impact

  • the book gained more than 3000 paid subscribers in less than three years
  • this one book earned more than £64K (4.5M roubles) during that time
  • Bureau was able to launch more than a dozen of other interactive books based on the same format

Mixed Reality Stories

Interactive Book • Mixed Reality Stories • Engaging TechnologyPresentationHire Me

In my PhD project for The University of Melbourne, I investigated the gamification of running. Preliminary market research and academic literature review helped me identify the following problems with the existing 'gamified' solutions for fitness and running in particular:

  • most of them focus on external rewards, such as points and trophies
  • most mixed reality systems require expensive hardware and are inconvenient for running
  • running experience in the existing literature is seen as monolith and discussed mostly in terms of skill and frequency of exercise
  • existing academic literature and commercial solutions mostly focus on the potential health benefits of running rather than enriching the experience

Zombies, Run! is an exception to all of the above. Instead of relying on achievement badges, it relies on a fictional story. With only a simple app and a pair of headphones, Zombies, Run! story creates a mixed reality experience for the runner: with the app, they run not just in their regular environment, but in a post-apocalyptic world full of zombies.

'Zombies, Run!' description from the website

The popularity and commercial success of Zombies, Run! suggested that such 'mixed reality stories' (MRS) have potential, yet there was limited understanding of the format. Hence, the research question for the project became:

How can the user experience of running with mixed reality stories be supported?

Role

While it's hard to overvalue the amount of support and guidance I received from my supervisors and peers, ultimately, as a PhD candidate, I was solely responsible for

  • planning and time-management
  • designing and conducting the studies
  • recruiting participants and receiving approvals from the ethics committee
  • presenting the findings
  • bringing the project to completion

I broke down the overall project into three distinct phases, each building up towards answering the overall question. Given the nature of the question, I adopted qualitative research methods for the investigation. Each phase followed a regular design thinking process, just on a larger scale:

1. Empathise & Define

The aim of the first phase was to explore the existing experience people have with 'Zombies, Run!'.

The main study during the first phase was a study with 14 runners and people who want to start running regularly. I asked each of them to use 'Zombies, Run!' during their workouts for at least three weeks. I interviewed them before and after they started using the app. Three participants did not finish the study (hopefully, not due to being caught by the zombies).

Phase I participants

Challenge: Participants run on their own, at a convenient time and location, therefore it was difficult to capture their thoughts during the workout.

Solution: I asked the runners to record a short audio-diary entry after each run – that helped to capture participants' thoughts still fresh on their minds.

Diary guide for the runners
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Experiment with canonical methods to better fit a particular context.

During the first phase, I also joined two Melbourne running clubs, to better understand runners, and also find potential participants.

Melbourne running club

2. Ideate & Prototype

In the second phase, I switched perspectives to better understand how storytellers and designers can create new mixed reality stories.

Phase II participants

I conducted workshops with 6 creative writers and a producer to get insights into their regular process and speculate how they can adapt it for the creation of MRS. The workshop structure was inspired by storytelling workshops I attended in Melbourne.

Three of the workshops participants agreed to complete a sample MRS script each, all three were interviewed as a group after they completed their scripts. I used the scripts to create three MRS prototypes.

Challenge: To use participants' own music in an MRS, I would need to ask runners to install a prototype on their devices prior to participation. That has proven to be a significant inconvenience.

Solution: I pre-selected upbeat songs for each MRS and used a dedicated device for the prototypes. Runners would only need to bring their own headphones. While this solution didn't allow runners choosing songs from their collections, it made the participation more accessible, streamlined the consequent testing process, and saved a lot of time.

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Don't be afraid to sacrifice features.
audio-thumbnail
Run
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3. Test

The aim of the third and final phase was to evaluate the prototypes and to extend the previous findings.

This phase introduced a new set of runners to the mixed reality stories created during the second phase. I asked 36 runners to pick a story and (literally) run with it at the Melbourne University campus. Right after the workout, I interviewed them about the experience. Some participants chose to run in pairs, and there even was a group of three runners participating simultaneously. 9 out of 36 came back to experience a different MRS and were interviewed again about the differences in their experiences.

Phase III participants

Challenge: Initially, the participants were supposed to run at the Melbourne's most popular running track. However, the departmental ethics advisory group refused to approve the application due to safety concerns at a crowded park, that is surrounded by busy roads.

Solution: Instead of searching for an alternative running track, I took the study in a different direction and suggested locating it at the Melbourne University campus. This location had several research advantages over any running track and allowed for more interesting connections with the stories. I wouldn't even consider it if I got the approval the first time.

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Instead of merely clearing out the roadblocks, consider entirely different routes.

The study demonstrated that the prototypes evoked experiences comparable to those from an established commercial app. The overall runners' satisfaction with the prototypes reached 75%.

Summary of Methods

• contextual inquiry
• prototyping
• usability testing
• one-on-one and group interviews
• in-person and remote interviews
• workshops
• audio diaries
• questionnaires
• journey mapping
• secondary research and literature review

Impact

The main contribution of this project is a framework for studying and designing mixed reality stories. With this project I demonstrate how MRS different from audiobooks, podcasts and existing 'gamified' solutions for running that rely on extrinsic rewards, such as points and achievement badges. The project also provides a detailed description of how mixed reality experiences can be created without expensive hardware or complex software.

In addition, the mapping of the runners' journey challenges the 'monolith' view of the running experience, previously defined mainly by the skill or frequency of workouts.

The project shows how some runners actively look for distractions, while others seek more of a meditative experience and want to focus on their runs. There is also an important distinction between runners focusing inwards, on their thoughts, and runners focusing outwards, on the surrounding environment. These distinctions were not previously described in the relevant literature, yet play a crucial role in how runners experience different types of MRS.

These findings allow anticipation of some future trends across both academia and the industry. For instance, in the thesis I speculated how other activities, such as walking, could benefit from an audio-centric mixed reality story. About a year after the publication of the thesis, Apple has done exactly that with Time to Walk.

The work is now written about in a way that demonstrates expertise in the theoretical, methodological and practical aspects of the work. I think that this thesis is a brilliant piece of work, for which the student should be hugely proud.
Dr Conor Linehan, thesis examiner

Engaging Technology

Interactive BookMixed Reality Stories • Engaging Technology • PresentationHire Me

My fascination with the use of 'entertaining' mechanics in 'serious' software started before I commenced my PhD and continues to this day. Here are just some examples.

Ready Steady Goal

For my undergraduate diploma, I designed a prototype of an app that helps to develop habits for achieving personal goals. The app encourages setting up simple, repeating, and measurable steps towards the goal. It keeps track of the progress and provides a visualisation to assist with identifying patterns.

Impact: After defending the thesis, I graduated with honours. This prototype also helped me to get accepted into the University of Melbourne.

Cellular Wars

One of my clients asked for assistance with developing a pitch for an app that would encourage people to measure mobile internet speed in different locations. I suggested using game mechanics for the purpose. The idea was to divide Australia into small areas (cells). The person who gets the fastest speed in that area becomes the leader of the area. That would encourage others to measure speed both more often and in more locations, in hope to get bigger numbers and usurp the current leader.

In a single design sprint, I developed the concept and visuals, and handed off to the client to present.

Impact: the pitch helped my client to secure the funding.

Not Spent

The digitalisation of money removed a lot of friction from spending. Impulsive purchases provide instant gratification at the expense of long-term goals. Not Spent is a concept app that helps people to save money by introducing instant gratification for not spending.

Spenders set up a saving goal and choose a beautiful motivational image either from presets or their photo library. Every time they resist spending, they enter that amount in the app, and the money go to their saving account instead.

Gratifications comes from instantly seeing progress towards the goal.

Impact: I published the concept on Medium and promoted on Twitter. The amount of views exceeded the amount of followers I had at the time, with the solid read ratio of 50%.

Presentation

Interactive BookMixed Reality StoriesEngaging Technology • Presentation • Hire Me

As a postgraduate researcher and a freelance designer, I got used to presenting my work regularly and to different audiences: researchers, designers, engineers, clients, academics, industry professionals etc.

The poster I made for Melbourne's Computing & Information Systems Doctoral Colloquium earned an honorary mention for best design:

I had two papers accepted to the Australian largest academic UX conference OzCHI.

My research findings inspired me to give a talk at UX Australia – the country's largest UX conference that brings together academics and industry professionals alike. The talk was rated second best on the conference app and received an overwhelmingly positive feedback.

Hire Me

Interactive BookMixed Reality StoriesEngaging TechnologyPresentation • Hire Me

I'm seeking for a design role in the UK. Currently I'm overseas, but I already have the right to work in the UK and will move there soon. Open to work starting February.

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