Octava, an app designed to augment live performance and arts events with contextual information in real-time, has been in development for 5 years, as a collaboration between myself, and composer Linda Dusman.
The UX/UI design challenges were very unique to the development of Octava. A blend of institutional memory, tradition, dedication to loyal audiences and a general resistance technological adoption has made many orchestra organizations resistant to the changing perceptions and tastes of the contemporary public.
Essentially, our goal was to augment the traditional concert experience with supplemental information that is queued to precise moments in the musical score, providing supplemental context that enriches the over all experience. It was hoped that this would elicit more of an active listening experience as opposed to passively allowing the music to wash over the audience.
Having spent a decade working on multi-disciplinary teams of scientists, artists, earth scientists, and satirists (to name a few), I very much knew the role data could play in broadcasting any information to the public. With this in mind, from the beginning of the Octava project I knew we desperately needed a way to gauge user impressions.
The challenge here is that aesthetic impressions are qualitative, not quantitative, so we needed a metric that could allow users to quickly assess their experience in an unguided way. Collaborating with Human Centered Computing at UMBC in 2011, I developed a hybrid qualitative reaction survey that fueled 3 full revisions of the Octava app over the next 5 years.
While not empirically conclusive, the data yielded from these surveys gave clear impressions of our user test audiences that guided my UX/UI design decisions, allowing us to completely revert many of the initial critiques.
Our first iteration of Octava (then called Symphony Interactive), featured a scrolling score that followed the orchestra through the use of a flight simulator throttle control. As laid bare by our user responses, this approach pressurized the experience as user felt compelled to watch the screen every moment. This was diametrically opposed to our goals so a major overhaul of the app was necessary.
The second iteration removed the scrolling score from the interface, and replaced it with a rotating “pin wheel,” where each spoke of the wheel was a single annotation. This design allowed for users to access the information as they saw fit, even if they wished to return to a previous annotation no longer relevant to the current moment of the music. This design completely turned our user responses around, letting the use Octava fold more seamlessly into the concert experience.
Building on the success found earlier, this version of Octava advanced the user experience further by providing additional context and information. While the pin wheel design was a step forward from the scrolling score interface, it too had limitations. While users felt the interface gave them direct access to the content, there was a still an element of confusion as to the progression through a given symphony. Addressing this feedback, the interface was once again completely redesigned, replacing the pin wheel interface with an interactive timeline. Each dot represent a single annotation, and the timeline progresses automatically during a performance. Users now had complete access to all information as well as a road map charting their course through lengthy compositions. Once again, our user reactions continue the positive trend.
To get a better glimpse of how the app functions, please view the videos below.