Friday, February 18, 2011

Alpha Phase of the BobbiDigital Shelf

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Exciting times. I never thought it'd come to this, but I'm finally starting the build of the concept digital shelf I've been relentlessly obsessing over the past 6 months.

A bit of background for those just jumping in. After 40+ hours of research including academic journals, interviews with DJs, music collectors, designers, breakdancers, and supermodels, and an intense artifact study of people's collections and mental map of organization patterns, I decided to take a design direction for my problem space of degenerating value of digital music.

Specifically, I was going put music back where it belonged: back on the shelves of individuals' homes. Not as mere personal collections, but as conversation pieces and trophies of connoisseurship, adaptable and organized to one's personal preference. Most importantly, it wasn't going to be trapped on some beat up iPod somewhere - in which case, you'd need to shove it in an iHome in order to play a mere few tracks before someone rudely interrupts with their own personal "preference."

This digital externalization of the traditional MP3 collection takes the form of a physical touchscreen shelf. Because my research showed that physical objects did indeed hold much more value, providing a newer way to think of music organization and challenging the user to use it a conversation piece was... well, a challenge.
Similar problems of playback in the digital age has plagued services such as YouTube and iTunes for decades. The same problems of scalability, error prevention, and universal naming standards reoccurred, though I did find a few ways around some of these issues.
Coming up with an intuitive way to allow both small collections (200-1,000 songs) and much larger ones (20,000+ songs) to fit on a single visual interface was a tough one. However, I soon realized that my user group was familiar with such technologies and are willing to acknowledge that despite its function is an externalization of a digital music collection, it's still not a normal bookshelf - it's a digital one. If based on that fact alone, I could push the boundaries on search and scrolling, but still remain true to a humble, intuitive interface.

The next few days will admittedly be rough, as I have limited resources and no money as a starving graduate student married to technology, good food, and travel. I do have high hopes, though.


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