A quick intro
Hey there! I’m Niels Dewelde, a veteran in terms of open Summer of code, because this is my third edition participating. I have a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design and am a master student Interaction Design. This year I am part of the Cultuurconnect team as an UX designer. I will be writing about how and when I joined #oSoc, my experience per year and how it has influenced me in my learning process. So grab a seat!
Three years ago, being a Graphic Design student at Arteveldehogeschool Ghent, I got presented an assignment using datasets. Me and Faustine (another student in my class) worked cross disciplinary with (front- and back-end) developers students. Our project was named “Tagmosphere”; An enhanced version of an early version of Instagram in combination with what now is Foursquare/Swarm. I won’t go into detail, but this is what it looked like; (Keep in mind we’re in 2013 here, folks!)
My first Hackathon!
Our professor was very pleased with the result and wanted me and Faustine to participate in his team at Apps of Ghent ’14, a hackaton organized by the city of Ghent. There we were presented with an extended version of the datasets, and worked on a prototype for weather-visualization. The application shows you what to wear and/or bring when going on holiday. So you’re never betrayed by the weather again! We got awarded with the OKFNbe award, including a free-entrance ticket to open Summer of Code ’14, which was handed to us by Pieter Colpaert (the “big boss man” of OKFNbe). Being suspicious but grateful, we decided to grab this opportunity and joined the #oSoc Family! <3
Oh god, what kind of creature is this?
#oSoc14 started and what a blast I had! Finally being surrounded by like-minded people with a great ambition. Being part of the Westtoer-team, I started working on iTrip. It was my first big project, and what a challenge it was! The existing version of iTrip looked like this. I don’t think I need to mention words like “a complete mess, disaster and oh my, what kind of creature this?”
We worked for a week straight, just to strip down the whole thing and rethink the concept from scratch. It was the first time I realized how important a good Interaction Design(er) really is. My inexperienced graphic designer mind was blown. The existing iTrip in 2014 was designed without having the end-user in mind, without a clear vision and a lot of tech-y features that were nice for coders but had no added value for the end-user. This is where my love for great interaction in combination with great design started.
When #oSoc14 ended, my ambition to become better at interaction and design grew even more. I graduated and immediately wanted to enrol a transition year Communication & Media Design with specialization in Interaction Design at Luca School of Arts. The only thing holding me back for this was the location; Genk (Eek!). I did not want to leave my beloved city of Ghent and go all the way back to Limburg, no way! So I decided to commute daily from Ghent to Genk, yikes!
Energizing during #oSoc15
#oSoc15 came up and of course I wanted to be part of it again. Never had I learned so much about design and interaction as when I participated in #oSoc14. I applied and got accepted — insert tears of joy here — This year I got presented with a project for our partner Leiedal. They wanted a tool for calculating how energy-friendly your house is. We named this “Plong” (after the West-Flemish word for an energy switch). With Plong, we went even deeper in terms of interaction; We decided to use some sort of gamification; Calculating step-by-step, while visualizing your own house!
Although Plong was an amazing project, it did put us in great jeopardy. We decided to create a very big — almost parametric — variable design. Designing all of these little illustrations took a lot of time and effort. On top of this, we had to both make the application very easy to use and iterate on the illustrations. I have learned from this experience to work more in release-phases. Making it so that the core of the project is developed and being able to test it, is much more important than a good-looking prototype.
With this in mind, I went back to college and focused more on phasing every single aspect of an assignment; from desk research to the user and their needs, to applying it on iterations of a prototype. I got more involved with the stakeholders of every project using techniques like urban probes, co-design sessions and participatory design. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get to know your stakeholders before and while you’re working on these prototype and final designs.
My third year of open Summer of awesomeness, uh, code!
Here we are, I applied for #oSoc16 hoping to get to know more incredible people, learn so much from first-hand experience and mentors. And oh boy, I can tell you, I have learned a lot already. We’re working on a secret project which I can not tell you a lot about — confidentiality stuff, you know — But I’m thrilled to share it with you in 2 weeks!
So this was my life (at #oSoc) for the past 3 years, and how I met the amazing people I now call family. Every year so far had its unique mindblowing moments but some of them will remain the same; My love for the user and everlasting ambition to create perfect interactions, supported by brilliant visuals, illustrations and branding. Oh yes, and my love for gold/yellow shades… Sorry guys, I just like the bling bling!