What possibilities are wanted within a home media environment from a user's perspective?

And how can this become a growing system?


This is a design research project within Industrial Design TU/e and focusses on the concept of “Growing Systems”. When thinking about systems, we generally think of complex machines and computers connected with each other. Yet a system can also contain only people who interact with each other. I interpret a system as the interactions that include and connect all the players, including computers, designs, things, services and people. Nowadays systems between technology and humans are intertwined within our daily lives and we keep on developing this. Growing systems is the study in how we can make a system past- and future proof  for development in technological possibilities and development of user values and needs. [1]


In this research I focus on how people use media in their home environment. Due a close and continues cooperation between me and the test-users I discover what features people find valuable within their media system. I use Smallplayer, a product that I developed with Olaf van Duren outside my study, as a reference for a growing home media system to discover where this example stands in the landscape of media experiences. With these results I can give an insight in which direction home media environments should develop and how these developments should be implemented.


The insights of this research are gained through the perspective of the users. To achieve this I based my approach on the method of co-reflection [4]. The participants of the research are being made aware their use of media in their home environment and are made experts in their own values of media-use. From there on we started an iterative process to design a media system for the future. The results of this iteration are compared with the actual existing product Smallplayer. Due to this approach, the realization of elements from this research is very likely to be directly accepted by the users, since it is their own well considered input.


The most significant insight is the large need for easy access to all possible media and the possibility to play this directly from the internet. To view the full results of this research click here.



Smallplayer is a small device that you can attach to a television, which will make it highly interactive. Key elements of this device is that it has a high connectivity availability, it is cross-platform and it gives you access to an enormous amount of media content from the internet. The high connectivity and the cross-platform elements are corresponding a lot with the growing system philosophy. For example you can just use every remote device that you already have in your home environment. That means the remote control of the tv, but also your smartphone or tablet. These last two devices also provide new opportunities to interact with your media, which makes Smallplayer also possible.

Smallplayer is therefore very suitable to use as an example for a growing system integration and to give insight in what works well and what not, according to the users. If you want to learn more about Smallplayer go to the websit:



I like the practical vision behind Growing Systems and this project had my interests because at that time I was developing a product with a friend that has the same vision. I choose this project not only because it seemed an interesting subject, but also because it allowed me some of good opportunities.


First of all I could combine my research in growing systems with the product I was developing by using home media environments as a context and using Smallplayer (the name of the product) as a reference in this context. Hereby I would gain valuable development within both my study and my work as a designer.


Because I combined this project with Smallplayer, it also gave me the unique opportunity to start a project on a whole different level as what I could normally do. Now I had already a working product to start with instead of starting off from scratch.


This project also provided me with the freedom to approach my research differently than the previous semester. I wanted to give my research more structure by exploring the known field Growing Systems first and setting up an approach based on the method of co-reflection. This I had not done in the previous semester. Now I could take more control in steering towards an in depth research process.




This research process is focused on how to find valuable answers to the questions: “What possibilities are wanted in a home media environment from a user’s perspective? And how can this become a growing system?” To be able to answer these questions, the test users and I went through three phases, based upon the co-reflection method.



First phase: Awareness of media use

The first phase consisted out of an online questionnaire with questions about what the participants consider media and their home media environment and how they make use of their media system. These would give me insights the home media situation of the participant and what they find important mentioning. After comparing them with each other I used the input of the users to prepare the next phase. Equally important were the considerations that the participants had to undertake in order to answer these questions. The goal of the questions was to make the participants aware of how they use there media at home, in order to make them experts in their own behavior and values.


The insights from the broad and open questionnaire lead me to clarify categories and types of media and to focus on specific areas or use that mentioned al lot within the answers. Overall I could state that “media” is interpreted as images, sound or a combination of the two. Under this description fall movies, tv-shows, music, photos, etc. Since Smallplayer also only deals with these types of media, I decided that from there on the research is only focused on media interpreted as such. I was also able to divide this pile of media into three categories, based on the different values people have for them. These categories are “physical media”, “digitally owned media”, and “online streaming media”. Strickly speaking some types of media would fit in more than one category. Therefore I explained the three categories as:


Physical media: All the media that is stored by a manufacturer on a physical form, such as a DVD, a record plate or a CD.


Digitally owned media: All the media that you have stored on a harddisk or a computer, but is offline available.


Online streaming media: All the media that you stream directly from the internet when playing.


These categories I used to structure the interview I had with the participants in the next phase.

Second phase: Bipolar laddering and future scenario

The second phase consisted of interviews with the participant of the questionnaire in their own home, based on a method called Bipolar Laddering [5]. In this interview we discuss the answers of the questionnaire with the participant, also compared to the answers of the other participants. During this interview we have the opportunity to go deeply into the user experience of their media rituals, wherein the participant is the expert of the usage of their home media environment and I the expert in user experience studies. This constructive method allows me to get a realistic view on what people found important within their home media environment. As we established a mutual perspective on this, the participants create a future scenario of their home media environment with my support in design. This future scenario consists of wishes of how they would shape their home media environment if there were no technological limitations. These wishes form the basis for the final phase of the project, the evaluation.


After collecting all the wishes of the participants I stacked them together and looked for patterns. There emerged a number of subjects, each covering a few wishes:


• The collection of media

• The availability of media

• The integration of the home media environment

• Suggestions of the media system

• The quality of media

• Live media

• Other topics


Some of the collected wishes meant basically the same thing and I analyzed which wishes corresponded with each other. Having the possibility to search and directly play all media from the internet was by far the most wanted feature. Every participant had mentioned this wish. Other wishes that stood out were for example that all the media available services are connected and work together in one home media system, or being able to watch a selection of media based on my interests with the ease and serendipity of watching traditional TV. The next visualization shows  which wishes stood out by how many participants mentioned this wish.

Third phase: Evaluation user experience

After analyzing the wishes of the participant I used these wishes to create an evaluation form. At the same time the participants had the opportunity to try-out Smallplayer at home for two to four weeks, depending on the date of the interview. Smallplayer functioned as a fully interactive design iteration with the goal to use as a reference frame in the field of growing home media systems. Before Smallplayer came into the picture the participant knew how they used their home media environment and they knew how they want their future home media environment to function. From a growing system’s perspective it is interesting to know how the current home media environment could develop toward their preferred future scenario. By letting the participant evaluate Smallplayer, we learn where Smallplayer stands in this development toward the future and what the participant think of the implementation of their wishes. You can read the results of the evaluation and the overall conclusion in the next chapter.




The evaluation form consisted out of all the 26 different wishes that I collected during the interviews. For every individual wish, the participant could determine on a scale from 1 to 7 (1) whether they want that wish to be true, (2) how they experienced this specific feature during the period they used Smallplayer and (3) how they experienced this specific feature before they used Smallplayer. With the results of the evaluation I measured the average of how much the participant want the wish to be true and average deviation of the different opinions. If the deviation was high, al lot of participant disagreed upon how much they want the wish to be true. I also measured the average score of how people experienced Smallplayer and the situation before per wish, so that the improvement of Smallplayer (the difference between the two values) became visible. The participant also had the chance to clarify their answer afterwards.

These are the wishes of the participants divided in categories:

I wish that...

This figure shows how much each wish is wanted on average of the participants. The larger the scale, the more the wish is wanted. The darkness indicates how much the participants agreed with each. The darker the color, the more the participants agreed on how much they would want the wish to be true. The number indicates the wish.


General remarks

Most user wishes that are stated important also show a high relevance rate. Thus these wishes can indeed be seen as proven directions for home media systems to develop towards.


Also the wishes that are stated important show relatively high improvement with using Smallplayer compared to their previous home media situation.


The topics on which Smallplayer actually scores low compared to people’s previous situation are mostly topics that are stated less important (and also less reliable percentage). Yet the extremes (-1) do show a high reliable percentage.


The topics on which Smallplayer scores a negative average of experience value are with wishes that require functionalities that are simple not integrated in Smallplayer.


The experience

This figure shows how each wish is experienced within the home media environment with Smallplayer integrated compared to the situation without Smallplayer. The color is green when Smallplayer improved the experience and red when the experience decreased. How much the experience has changed is indicated by the length of the scale. The circle indicates the border between a positive or negative experience, where outside of the circle indicates a positive experience.


From the wishes that the users agreed most upon, we can conclude that people want easy access to every available media. This access means that they should be able to search with a specific media in mind or can browse through the available media. They should be able to start the media directly and be redirected to the place where they left off earlier.  In this big pool of available media they should be able to bring specific media to the front so they can easily find them back at another moment. For example when they would like to watch a specific movie, but not right that moment. Or when they watch a tv-show from which not all the episodes are available yet, the system will bring these episodes also to the front when they are available. User should also be able to see which media they have already watched or listened to. When they watch something, there should be subtitles available and there should be no commercials whatsoever that you have to wait for. On top of this, the users value the quality of media much, yet the required quality of their media depends per person.


Within the subjects that the users value the most, the biggest achievements with the experience of Smallplayer is the general access and availability of video content, the availability of subtitles and the commercial free environment. The video content and the subtitles come from clandestine sources and are therefore not a sustainable solution. This could only become a growing system if there is access to a legal database with all the possible video content and subtitles available.


Smallplayer only achieved marginal improved experience for the rest of the subjects that are most valuable for the users. These subjects have in common that they require a more intelligent and personal orientated system. The intelligence of the system should be focused on making it easier to find and directly play the media that a specific user prefers. It would at least require a personal all-round media account that can correspond with existing devices and services, since this is something Smallplayer still misses.




Reflection on goal

I wanted to give my research more structure by exploring the known field Growing Systems first and setting up an approach based on the method of co-reflection. In the previous semester I started by exploring the research topic in context, which in that case mend going to the neighborhoods to find opportunities. Through the design instinct I developed over the year I directed myself in doing a design project approach instead. When I realized this I had trouble in reshaping my previous project towards an in depth research project. This semester I therefore had to force myself positioning first and creating handles through setting up an approach based on research/design methods to would give me grip on the situation. Since I am familiar with making choices in my projects without knowing all the information, this approach felt very unnatural for me at first. Later on in this semester I felt the benefits of my new approach. I was very aware of my progress, from the past till where I was then and what possibilities were in front of me. I believe that this did very much contributed in the depth of my research process, but also in the much more relaxed state I was able to perform a research/design project in general. My verdict of previous semester was hard for me to accept, but I am glad that I had this experience. I want to use these insights in the approach of my FMP. Although I want to focus on design and less on research, I have learned how these perspectives can go hand in hand and lift the process in quality.



In this research I specifically focused on implementing co-reflection. Since I am a user experience designer and experiences happen inside of us, I am always very interesting to seeing things from a user’s perspective. I believe co-reflection is an excellent method to approach this perspective. Since my goal for this semester was to perform a more in control and structured project to improve the quality of my research, I deliberately used my time first to really understand the idea and process of this method and the subject of growing systems. I learned there are three different phases of co-reflection, which I applied in my project as well. What I learned most out of this method for myself, is that I not only need to focus on finding out what users want and how they want it, but to find out what I actually want to find out and what my vision is towards a specific (design) case. I needed to have this vision, since co-reflection is very much about the confrontation between designer and user.


To find, and how to find…

I also discovered that “research is not only to find, but also how to find,” something Jun Hu told me during the mid-term demoday. In my pursuit of implementing co-reflection, I changed my research question a couple of times and eventually I deviated from the original method of co-reflection as well. One of the main reasons I always preferred I design process, rather than research is because I thought this deviation in the process will lower the quality of research, while from a design for society perspective it might be necessary. My previous M1.2 project was a good example for that. Yet in this project I learned that in research I should discover my path as well and the process is often not one straight progression towards a predetermined goal. However the difference lays in having a goal to start with and being able to make the choices in the process based on what knowledge you started with and the knowledge you gained along the way. Because I had paid more attention to structuring my project on forehand, I was able to make substantiated choices leaded to a deviation of the original plan, while still having a grip on the quality of research. Through this experience I learned that this could also improve the quality of my design process, because it gives me more confidence and control on making choices, rather than making a choice based on intuition and gut feeling. Although making choices based on too little information is something I am comfortable with and has already let me to good outcomes, structuring a design project as I did in this research project will allow me to convince my stakeholders much better and it give me some security to fall back on if in doubt. I intent to start my Final Master Project as a design process, but with the same approach as I started this research project.


Integration of Smallplayer

In this project I combined my design work of Smallplayer with my research within this study. My challenge was to find the right balance between performing a project that could help Smallplayer in improving its concept and gaining knowledge that would contribute to science as well. I covered this by using Smallplayer as design concept within the range of growing home media environments. By this approach I could gain knowledge in how to improve home media environments in general, while this information would also be worth something for Smallplayer. It was not only nice to be able to sort of work for my own company, while at the same time doing valuable things for my study. The integration of Smallplayer gave the project also a sense of importance that I liked a lot. I was not doing a project that would probably just end when the semester ended. Now I was doing a project for which the impact of my performance matters for society.

Therefore I want my Final Master Project also to have an already existing element integrated. This doesn’t need to be a product or a fixed concept. Working within a company or being involved within an existing initiative (within society) would also provide this quality for the project. I have already some active leads for my FMP, but I want to look a bit further still. The upcoming months, before I hand in my FMP proposal I want to have this existing element covered.


Growing systems

The topic of growing systems has given me new insights in designing systems. I believe there is a transformation from ownership of things towards access and usability of things. Why does everybody need to own the same thing to be able to use it? In a sustainable system people should be able to use the system whenever they want. More important, when he doesn’t need it, other stakeholders in the systems should still be able to use it. A growing system is a sustainable system. In this project I learned that the opportunities of improving (or setting up) a system could be found in the very local dimension of a system. With my co-reflection approach I came as close as possible with the people and discovering values and improvements on their level, which helped me in improving their media system. I believe that if you want to design from a sustainable perspective, you start in finding the opportunities on a local level, based on the values of these local people. From these opportunities design has the possibility to experience an implementation of a possible future and try out whether this works in a growing system. With this vision in mind I will start my FMP, so I can get more experienced in growing/sustainable systems.


Overall project

Overall I believe I did a good project and succeeded in my goal to do a more structured and substantiated project to improve the quality of research. My coach has helped me in understanding what a design research process actually means and the possible approaches I could take, while still allowing me the freedom to direct my own process. I learned that research can be a discovery process, but that I steer towards gaining concrete and valuable data at the same time. Handling the all the data of my research in something from which I could observe patterns and create insightful conclusions is something I had not yet achieved at this level until now. I believe the quality of my results come from the layered process that I directed. I have done multiple rounds of collecting insights based on different techniques and learned what tools to use for what type of information. These phases in the process layered in the sense that each phase contributed in the insights to plan the next phase. In the end I believe I was able to make valid conclusions and I tried to communicate my process and findings in a clear online website. I create a website because the interactivity would allow me to make a clear story of the process and conclusions and providing extra information about the choices that I make during the process only if people were interested to learn more. This form of project report worked out well and I intent to do this for future projects as well.



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Smallplayer Official Website: www.Smallplayer.nl