Myriad: An Open-ended Design Project

Jules Fennis

Abstract

A fascination for electronics development platforms was the starting point for this project. Brought forward from open source initiatives, these exist of modular hardware toolkits and software. Their modular design give these platforms flexibility and enable them to fit a wide variety of contexts.

What if we could design consumer products so these become flexible as well, allowing the user to tinker while using them? Open-ended design is an approach for the design of consumer products, resulting in flexible product systems, rather than closed, fixed products. These support an exploration space for end-users to investigate what functionality and behaviour is needed for their own interests and niche purposes. The open-ended design framework was used to design Myriad: a flexible, modular camera system to complement GoPro cameras. Myriad exists of a growing library of modules, sensors and a mobile app which combined create unique camera functionality and behaviours.

Inspiration and Method

As interaction designers we often make prototypes for our projects where we frequently use electronics platforms to develop them. I am fascinated by these platforms because they consist of different components, each with their own unique functionality.
 This modularity allows people to use them in different configurations to support a variety of contexts and purposes. In this way it enables them to bring just about any idea to life.

Interaction design is traditionally focused on understanding what a user wants, and subsequently solve their problems by making a product's function very specific for that single purpose. However, for products that are playful or within a leisurely context, etc, this is not the best solution for everyone. 

There is an emerging trend on the web where people modify or hack into products, trying to change products to fit their needs. As technology becomes cheaper and embedded into everyday products that surrounds us, it allows products to become more flexible, and be more accommodating towards these trends.

My project has been an investigation in developing a method for design, which promotes modular product systems, rather than closed, fixed products. The goal is to challenge companies to become more accommodating and flexible towards the needs of the users. Moving from fixed products towards flexible, modular product systems, companies can provide users a space for exploration, similar to how interaction designers use prototyping platforms.

Result

Putting this theory into practice, I have designed Myriad. Myriad is a modular camera system build around GoPro cameras. It exists of different modules and sensors which each have their own specific functionality. For example there are different sensors - light, temperature - that can be used to measure the outside environment, to trigger the camera to make a photo or start recording. In addition to that, there are also modules with output capabilities, such as a flash module, and rotation module which can be used for f.ex. panorama shots.

The idea for these modules and sensors is that they are not made to just function in 1 single way. People can combine the functionality of different modules, and use the complementary smartphone app to connect to the system through Wifi to define settings that create interesting new behaviours.

On a web platform, users can inspire each other by sharing their projects and setups. Also, as this system should be seen as a starting point for a continuously growing library of components, they are encouraged to pitch ideas for new modules or sensors.