Future MR Hybrid Design Studio Environments

Duration: 2 Weeks | Fall 2020

Design Brief: There is extensive research and development in wearable mixed reality devices. Unlike virtual reality, which completely immerses you in a virtual world by obscuring your entire view, mixed reality blends real and virtual to create hybrid experiences. For this project we are looking 10 years out, assuming that head-mounted displays, such as Microsoft’s Hololens, are ubiquitous. Imagine that in the future head mounted displays might fit into thick glasses frames and are as commonplace as smart phones today.


The School of Design at Carnegie Mellon is hiring you to develop a mixed reality ​hybrid (people both in person and remote)​ design studio environment to enhance the studio learning experience. Focus on ​one aspect ​of the studio experience. You will be designing and developing a low-fi prototype of one interaction in a hybrid studio experience for the client to review.

Research Process

Since I began this project on campus, I decided to conduct a series of surveys and interviews with remote students to understand their experiences and specific needs. A recurring theme for remote students was a feeling of being isolated or disconnected from other students, not just in the social sense, but also in their work.


In the School of Design, we make work sharing easier through applications like Zoom or Discord but there are still added barriers for sharing work despite the improvements. For example, setting up times to talk (Zoom) affords online classes with video, but the rigid scheduled nature doesn't allow for the kinds of casual conversations or interactions that really help people develop their ideas and stay grounded in their work. In particular, sharing physical work takes a lot of extra steps: taking pictures or video to make 3d objects viewable through a 2d format, and the inability to touch or manipulate objects freely. Digitally, even the seemingly minimal effort of sharing one’s screen poses a barrier for work/sharing, especially for in progress work. Finally, the lack of a physical studio generally prevents people from reaching out when they are confused/need help, and typically limits interactions from a larger studio wide basis to smaller group of closer friends.


In addition, working remotely cut students off from a “passive” types of interaction. Many people I interviewed mentioned just working next to someone working on the same project or glancing over someone’s shoulder as walked by was a huge morale boost and also helped people feel grounded in their work.


Drawing from trends I saw in my peers in the school of design, I categorized my interviewees into three general groups and generated personas by track (Products, Communications, and Environments) and desk use habits.

The student on the left represents a Products student who is tied to the studio space by the need for a safe, well ventilated space, as well as physical tools, but also has a desk that leans more on the dirty side from dust and debris. The middle student Ethan represents an Environments student to occasionally comes to studio depending on the type of work that needs to be done, using his desk at home and at studio equally. The last student represents someone who is completely remote as well as organized due to a more digitally focused Communications workload.

Narrowing the Focus

After concluding my research, I decided to hone in on the aspect of reducing the barriers to sharing work by creating an experience that fit our normal mode of working as possible. Because a lot of the barriers that come from sharing work digitally come from the added burden of curation, such as taking extra photos, added annotations, all of which reduce in progress aspects. I wanted the method of sharing work to reduce cognitive load of those extra steps by sticking closely to the way we already work.

The core of my proposed solution is a MR modification to our existing desk spaces by allowing users to designate parts of their desk to both share and display shared content. Users would set up a series of cameras around their desk, or capture it through the Hololens camera to capture both 2d content and 3d work. The interface as well as others' shared desk spaces would then be projected over the existing desk space.

Because I wanted to keep the modifications minimally invasive, when first starting the experience, the UI is displayed as a small mug-sized object sitting on one's desk, as displayed in the visualization above. It consists of a name tag, a circular profile picture with the color of the outline indicating an online/offline (green/red) status, an overview of the shared portions of the user's desk, and buttons the user can designate spaces to share/be shared.

As displayed with the icons to the bottom right of the shared spaces above, from left to right, users can choose to adjust the bounds of the shared space, lock/unlock that space (choosing between sharing a snapshot of that space or real time sharing), and deleting that space.

The locking and unlocking function affords both synchronous and asynchronous sharing. Students can see each other work live through an unlocked shared desk space while the a locked space emulates walking past someone's desk at a later time.

Students can access each others' spaces through a virtual map of the studio. The map allows students to navigate from desk to desk as well as view who else is currently active and uses desk based voice channels to afford synchronous communication. As shown in the bottom right, when viewing other desks, the lock/unlock feature is replaced with the ability to record a voice memo that can be dragged into the shared space and received at a later time.