“Bristol Zoo” – BU entry series #1

Having started my time as a student at Bournemouth University on the Digital Media Design course, I will be posting blog entries regarding my production in seminars and workshops on this blog to keep a record of how my projects have developed, in addition to reflecting and evaluating the work I have done. I’ll do this in a separate category to avoid confusion with any personal or work-related projects of my own in the process.

To begin with, we were handed a brief based around creating a “digital user experience” for Bristol Zoo – a project requiring group collaboration, and one that results in a presentation to the rest of the group, of a concept which we have developed together.

  • Utilisation of the Zoo’s photo archive and associated facts
  • Facilitation of new types of interaction as well as engagement of users
  • Improved relevance of the heritage sector through use of technology
  • Maximisation of locative aspects such as installations and portability
  • Appeal for an audience made up of young families, visitors to the Zoo, and animal lovers.

We kicked off the development process with consideration to new technologies that might be useful in the conception of our idea, which begged the question of “What new technologies are around that could offer a new experience to the target demographic?”. The brief stated that our target user group would be young families (parents, and their children under 13) as well as animal-lovers and enthusiasts of the zoo in general. Taking advantage of sources such as Reddit, Engadget, TechRadar and other similar news sites we looked at new technologies in development, with sufficient information for use in a conceptual idea, as well as technologies on the consumer market that we could possibly adapt for a new idea. We considered the general reception of products that had been released, as well as that of those in development; a significant amount of which had been beta tested at least, and had information available on how they were received by users.

Several opportunities caught the keen eyes of the group, and we began to brainstorm potential outcomes for a few technologies. This initially included motion capture techniques, Microsoft’s Kinect technology, Google’s Glass technology, as well as considering that which was already proven to be well received in the market such as location-aware mobile and web platforms such as Facebook’s Check-in service, interactive applications and solutions for smartphones and other web-enabled devices, as well as simple web apps and games that could possibly be incorporated. We considered the idea of reward schemes, the premise for an educational experience in general as well as ways to engage current users, as well as attract new ones (explicitly mentioned by the brief given to us).

Having sorted through some ideas we concluded that a new digital user experience for the use of zoo customers may require a relatively unknown technology in order to truly engage people, as it would be something that the majority of people had not used, thus attracting people to the installation. We also decided upon the fact it would need to have both casual/fun elements as well as potentially more mature, passive elements in order to be relevant both to children and adults, being equally engaging for both main groups. Obviously the concept would need to bear relevance to the zoo in terms of being themed around animals – as well as the heritage of the zoo and its relevant sector in the industry as stated in the brief.

Unequivocally so, the group decided that Microsoft’s Kinect may not be engaging enough due to its large presence on the market already, and may lack scope for the ability to include substantial amounts of relevant information, images, and trivia about the zoo and its heritage overall. We considered motion capture as a subcategory of Microsoft’s Kinect and refuted its inclusion for similar reasons. The group agreed to keep Google’s Glass technology on due to the arguably passive nature of the experience it offered – which we theorised might be useful in developing an activity for adults.

One advancement we considered strongly for further conception was the Oculus Rift VR Headset – a technology which I’m sure many people who would be reading a blog revolving around the creative industry will have heard of once, let alone laughed at many a reaction video. It’s a USB connected headgear set with a small screen inside placed behind two curved lenses, in order to bend the image around the users complete scope of peripheral vision, offering full immersion when coupled with the mechanic of head movements by the user being tracked and replicated in-game, resulting in an immersive experience in which the user feels completely connected and in a part of the game. Due to the fact this is something that has rarely been offered up before in such a successful form we considered this idea for further development and began to think about how we could incorporate an environment into the installation, ensuring easy accessibility by users of the zoo, as a digital user experience in response to the brief.  We coupled this idea with the concept of an omnidirectional treadmill, allowing the user to traverse 3D environments by running in different directions on the spot.

Finally we put thought into the type of environment and narrative within it that would be controlled by these new technologies – bearing in mind it had to apply to different audiences, as well as meeting other parts of the brief such as the inclusion of historic images from the zoo’s archive. We incorporated these requirements into our concept, theorising that the images could be used by level designers to replicate a realistic environment of the zoo that could be explored virtually. We decided on a narrative-driven storyline for the experience, wherein the user would complete animal-related tasks such as searching for an objective, or otherwise completing tasks such as races, evasions, deliveries etc. We demonstrated how the interface might look with some mock-ups I created which are attached to this post, as well as planning the inclusion of relevant facts as stated in the brief requirements, to adhere to “animal-lovers” and adults, who will potentially be interested in the heritage and factual background of the zoo, as well as introducing technological relevance to the heritage sector as discussed in the brief – which thus concluded our concept and response to the brief.

Bellow is a gallery of the images referenced, showing concept designs of the installation and software.

Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment letting me know how we did!


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