Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Burn the specs - make a movie instead!

Making video specifications for a project is a challenge - and it's also right at the very edge of "what's been done before". Courtesy of Jacob Buur's guidance I was part of the team who worked on the requirements for eco friendly power generators to be used in Angola by DanChurcAId .

The story is "simple":  conditions in countries devastated by war are so far from what any of us can imagine that design has to withstand a different acid test every day. We worked with video material shot in Congo (which is a similar setting) to edit a series of short movies that would encompass the most intriguing aspects about the users, their environment and their life. Our movies were then used as specifications to kick start the design of the generators.

Coming from a background of "toolbar must allow descending sorting" and "left pane must not exceed 200 pixels in width" this was a challenge, to say the least. After years of working with pages of bullet listed specs, taking this approach was both liberating and confusing. Indeed video is a powerful tool and a good picture stands for 1000 words. But I had to make sure they were the right words.

My video was entitled "Pushing the boundaries" and it included everything from a shot of an overheated engine to people boarding a 4x4 Toyota on an improvised float that was about to be pushed upstream on a muddy river. My point was to show that in Congo tools and equipment are pushed to the very limits and beyond, sometimes in ways that are unimaginable to us. The point was to make the designers and engineers develop an exceptionally enduring product. In this situation, I believe it would have been almost impossible to do this without actually showing them what things are like out there. 

One of the highlights of our project was the video card game - which is a very inventive way to work as a team to group and generally make sense of bits and pieces of video material.


Where there was once chaos, now there was order... and the starting point of 5 great short films.

But the even "brighter" highlight was that I discovered the power of movies and the magic of video editing - which has since become a great love of mine. 
The project ended with a workshop where the movies were presented to the team of designers and engineers working on the project. They brainstormed and prototyped several concepts… and I got to be in charge of the whole thing.

There I am... facilitating... and that's the talking points and schedule in my hand. 

"You want us to what?" I had probably just told them that either a) they should try to use the Lego trucks to see if they can fit in the generator parts or b) they need to wrap up in 5. 

"Dolna, let's play the last one - I need to keep these people on a German schedule!"

In case you were wondering, this is one of the designs that came out:

Those are solar panels, by the way. 

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