Or, How I Decided Upon My Final Year Project
Over the summer I realised that I have, over the course of many years, mentally accumulated quite a long list of ideas, concepts, and themes I would like to explore, but have either lacked the time or the resources to develop beyond a few sketches or a line or two in a notebook. Now however, I have an exciting opportunity of almost seven whole months (minus dissertation and society time) to dedicate to the research, design, and prototyping of whatever I wish to do; so the first decision before me at the beginning of my fourth and final year is which, if any, of my existing ideas would make a good honours project?
The answer to this question is inextricably linked to my hopes and plans for the future. At the end of my first year here I was considering building a social network for mature students, and have at various times conducted some basic research into the experiences of older students studying at universities in the UK. While I still want to work on this, especially now I know that mature students are more likely to abandon their studies than their younger counterparts, this is an idea rooted in my own past experiences, a service I would have made use of during my application and first year of study; it would be, in short, a reflective process leading to the creation of a digital artifact to solve some old problems I encountered. I still believe that it is a thing that needs to exist, but it has nothing to do with my future, and in pitching it to Chris Lim today, I realised that while I have had it in mind for a few years now, the second idea I described is better preparation for next year, when I hope to be pursuing a masters in either Alternative and Augmentative Communication here at Dundee, or Human Computer Interaction, at St Andrews.
My interest in these courses is exactly what drew me to Interaction Design in the first place; a desire to explore both how technology could be used to strengthen relationships between people, and how it can be used to build a better future for everyone. It is important therefore that my work this year reflects these values. Prior to commencing my studies here, I volunteered with Disability Direct, back home in Derby. There I met a fellow volunteer – a young woman of about twenty who used Facebook to communicate with her friends and loved fantasy fiction – who was blind and needed a guide dog to be able to go outside independently. Her experience of the world was obviously vastly different to my own; I use Facebook too, but I don’t have the frustrations of experiencing it through a screen reader, and I’ve enjoyed reading fantasy all my life, sitting comfortably for hours in wonder and fear as a narrative unfolds on the pages I can touch and smell. For a blind person, the experience of the same stories is an aural one. What are the Fellowship’s options for avoiding Moria? How long would it take a Northern army to march on King’s Landing anyway? Many of the books I read contain maps that can answer questions I might consider at various points in the story, but my colleague had no such additional information to provide further depth to the worlds she was exploring.
However, at least the stories themselves were accessible to her; games, I quickly discovered were another matter entirely. Braille playing cards exist. Braille chess exists. Some attempts have been made to create audio-oriented versions of classic video games, but they tend to be the work of individuals and small online communities rather than developers with a budget and a team for whom developing them is a full time job. Furthermore, while adapting an existing game to make it playable by a blind person is something that I think should be encouraged, an audio version of a game that was designed with visuals in mind may not be as entertaining as it was in its original form, so I have decided that for my project I would like to design an interactive entertainment experience that is specifically for blind and partially sighted people and is accessible to non-blind people rather than the other way around.