Google’s Project Ara, the modular phone that reimagines the nature and lifecycle of mobile devices, was finally scheduled to make its appearance. For media and consumers, it was news. For dscout, it was a memorable story of participatory design.
We interviewed Dan Makoski, Ara’s original design chief and most devoted fan, about his lifelong mission to bring users into the design research process. Here’s what he had to say about teaming up with dscout on this worldwide co-creation research project.
How was Project Ara research with dscout different from other co-design projects you’ve led?
Dan: Project Ara is co-creation at a ridiculous scale. It’s 17,000 people around the world using dscout. Participants were doing monthly projects — everything from role-playing what a modular phone experience could be like, to building and prototyping their own phone using cardboard, or paper, or whatever materials they had.
We even had them measure the width and height of their creations, so we had 34,000 measurements informing the actual engineering decision around the size of the frame we would create. That’s another example of where co-creation is not just some creative, fuzzy, front-end thing. The dscout missions actually helped us determine one of the most fundamental, left-brain, engineering things: the dimensions of the phone.
Was this the first time you’d done co-creation on an international level?
A lot of the co-creation stuff I’d been familiar with in the past was when you’re making one-on-one connections in person with people. It’s typically more qualitative and smaller scale. What I liked about dscout was that anyone who had an interest and a smartphone could participate. You could be in Indonesia, and you could just download the dscout app and all of a sudden be part of the conversation.
dscout was good for scale. We were a little bit unprepared for the response, and actually dscout was, too. In the first 72 hours after posting an open invitation for anyone to join that study, we had thousands of people jumping in. We had tens of thousands of posts.
It helped dscout really push the limits of their platform at scale. And it helped show both Google and dscout the power of doing broader, large-scale, global, high-volume co-creation.
Mobile research is fast and long-distance, and you don’t really know the people. How do you go about the process of sensitizing or breaking down barriers?
There’s a fantastic aspect of dscout called a social mission, where all the contributions from scouts on that mission can be visible to all the scouts.
It created a little bit more of that sense of community that we were missing by not being there in person. Scouts created their own communities with each other and started to encourage each other with their ideas.
We used all the various “likes” and conversations and comments in the social missions as a way to focus on the most engaging topics when we were getting tens of thousands of posts. We actually used that as a way to filter our research.
dscout is not just another tool to create another industrialized object. I think dscout is an example of a tool that actually gets at a different way of thinking about value in the world.