Public Space Group Project: Teddy DT

I was asked to work with Vanessa Roa and Parinot Kunakornwong on prototyping anything we wanted in a public space. The goal of the project was to create and work towards something never seen before. For the project we decided to work in Washington Square Park in NY. We wanted to have a design intervention first and then let the technology follow. Over the duration of 6 weeks we observed the space and documented our findings. The process was challenging, frustrating, and at times disappointing. Our design intervention included a huge teddy bear that we wired to our computer through Bluetooth technology. We explored different areas of the park and chose to have the bear speak to people as they walked by. As a final presentation we created a slideshow explaining our ideas, iterations, and what we learned through the design process. At the end of the slideshow, there was a five minute movie of our prototypes. Above, you many view the video. To see our process please download the presentation that we delivered to our guest critiques, Melanie Crean and Scott Pobiner, faculty from MFA DT. What I learned from them was that if our group was to proceed further with the project than we should focus more on emphasizing fear versus cuteness. We could also work on avoiding a “Hello Elmo” toy which is smaller and more affordable. We learned that by placing the teddy bear alone on a public bench, we are giving individuals permission to steal it and can’t blame the homeless man for wanting it.

We chose to develop our project in Washington Square Park because it’s a  high traffic area where we expected to see many interactions across generations. On various occasions we observed young children and the elderly interacting and responding to the object with keen interest. We thoughtfully positioned the bear in between benches so that people were forced to walk by, rather then walk up to the bear. We learned that by placing the bear under the main arch way people were less prone to go out of their way to approach it. The busy park allowed us to observe a range of reactions and from what we observed we could then proceed to accommodate our observations over the weeks. We tested various sound effects ranging from show songs, like the Price Is Right, to cartoon babies crying, to bears growling, to famous quotes. It was a lot of fun playing with the audio, but it definitely came with challenges in terms of audio quality, and enhancing projection while still keeping the words understandable. If we were to continue this project we would like to have the bear have a fluid conversation with individuals. We tested this by having the bear say things like: “Hey there. I like your sneakers.” The bear also made non-political comments and talked about the weather. We also tested the audio with Text Reader which is a Mac program that reads aloud any text you write. It was not the best option for the project because it was hard to understand and had awkward pauses because it would get hung up on longer words.  In the end we opted to use Audacity and GarageBand to create solid audio files that would drive more excitement to the project.