Creation & Computation – Fall 2020
October 22, 2020
Arduino Gist // Tinkercad Circuit Diagram
User Experience // How it Works
Wind-oh is a wind sensor comprising an indoor display panel and two outdoor components: a mounted light sensor and a windmill. By measuring differences in the amount of light hitting the sensor on each program loop of the Arduino controller, Wind-oh computes wind speed and provides this data to the user indoors by displaying various patterns on a three-by-three LED array.
The outdoor components can be separated as far as necessary from the main board. They are held a fixed distance apart by a precision-lathed wooden dowel, and definitely not a barbecue skewer.
The windmill, which contains no electronics, is driven by wind in the outdoor environment. Its blades, constructed of matte black paper to reduce reflection, temporarily interrupt the course of light mounted on the sensor tower, which checks the instantaneous light level against a rolling array of the ten most recent readings. Rather than taking an initial, fixed light reading, Wind-oh allows the average to fluctuate to provide a better user experience even in changing lighting conditions.
A close-up of the interface guide panel showing the three modes of operation.
The indoor panel displays wind speed information in three different states using a 3×3 grid of coloured LEDs. When no wind is detected for several seconds, LEDs light one by one to signal to the user that the device is actively monitoring external conditions. When wind is detected by the sensor component, the panel lights up in three rows (yellow, orange, and red) corresponding to speed. Sustained high winds are measured by the passing of several blades within a short period – in this case, Wind-oh blinks all of its LEDs continuously to alert the user to potential danger outdoors.
This project was borne out of a desire to push the boundaries of a light sensor’s capabilities. As an apartment-dweller, the need to monitor outdoor conditions on a balcony or terrace is familiar, and occasionally a source of worry while on vacation or away from home. It felt natural to me that a project comprising an indoor and outdoor component should in some way assuage those fears. In effect, Wind-oh acts as a primitive weather station.
I wanted to explore the concept of affordances in this project, specifically its usefulness as a framework for evaluating what features to prioritize at the expense of others. Affordances, in the user experience context, refer to the visual cues or perceived property for the function of an object (Farino). In the way that text or icons reduce the distance a user must ‘travel’ to understand a button’s function, the Wind-oh’s LED interface was designed to require very little or no training to parse. Affordances also imply tradeoffs; every decision to provide an affordance necessarily supersedes another (Amant 138). I noted that, unlike metrics such as driving speed or external temperature, wind speed is not a measurement which people will generally be able to identify numerically at lower levels. Most people can, for instance, read a weather forecast and anticipate the difference between 10C and 20C, but is the difference between a 2m/s wind and 5m/s wind widely understood? Accordingly, the major affordance I pursued was to provide a higher level of abstraction than wind speed alone. Similarly to the subtle gradations to the way people perceive wind outdoors, Wind-oh was designed to provide glanceable information and yet still be eye-catching when warning of danger.
As a reference project, the Apple Watch app for the Weather Network’s forecasting service is an excellent example of a well-structured design that prioritizes ease of use over needless meteorological detail. Fantasy, the studio behind the app’s design, make clear in their methodology that weather information should be provided at a glance (Martin).
Future iterations of this project would include a more robust sensor system, incorporating multiple sensors whose values could be checked against each other to reduce false positives, and a more easily distinguishable set of LED colours, to improve readability at greater distances.
Mounting the light meter at the optimal height for blade detection required dozens of trials. Inside, several pencil erasers provide a flexible mount for the sensor.
Thanks to Canadian Tire for wood glue, duct tape, and matte black (excuse me, obsidian) paint swatches.
The first few windmill rotor prototypes, or as I call them, ‘Denial, Grief, and Acceptance’.
Amant, Robert St. “Planning and User Interface Affordances.” Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces – IUI 99, 1999, doi:10.1145/291080.291103.
Farino, Paul. “UX Affordances.” Medium, Medium, 17 July 2013, medium.com/@paulfarino/ux-affordances-a40b527a696a.
Martin, David, F A N T A S Y. “Designing for the World’s Most Popular Weather App.” Medium, Medium, 13 Sept. 2016, medium.com/@WeAreFantasy/designing-for-the-worlds-most-popular-weather-app-9a4fafe3d559.
Design, Fantasy. “Weather Network.” F A N T A S Y – Weather, fantasy.co/work/weather.