Ricky Yu | TheaTech


Design for theater tech education

UX design & research

Ethnographic field study

10/2017 - 01/2018



Problem Space


Students who worked with a technical team in a student-run theater found it very hard to learn the theater context and the relationship between their works and the set design. They felt like they were just doing labor work without knowing why they should do so. 





We presented TheaTech, a mobile application useful for theater technical education and communication.


We used an interactive blueprint to inform the members in the theater of the relationship between their labor works and the final stage design. In this way, it is easier for technical workers in the theater to understand the logistics of their works and learn the technical and aesthetic choices in the design of the stage.



My Contribution


This idea came from my ethnographic field study to work with the technical team of DramaTech Theater for one month. Then I found out I could use my design skills to improve the learning experiences of the students in a theater production class. I synthesized the data I collected by affinity map, persona and task analysis. Then I designed the information architecture and made the prototype.

Task Analysis
Affinity map
Ethnographic Field Study

DramaTech Theater is a Georgia Tech student-run organization which produces theatrical productions on campus. I showed up to work with the set team to work on their second production in fall 2017, A Dead Man's Cellphone, during the whole October. According to the introduction of the theater members, the major job for the set team is to build the set which suits perfectly for theatrical performances and artistic expressions.



My field work

My methods in the field study included participation, observation, interviews and ethnographic notes. My first goal in this study was to find an area that I can design for. Through the research I made, I found there was a communication issue that needed to be improved.



There are three types of people in the theater.


Students in Theater Production Class

DramaTech offers a one-credit theater production class to the students of Georgia Tech. This class is a purely practical class without any lectures. No teachers will show up. Students need to work in the theater for 32 hours in order to get the credit.



Leaders of the tech team

This category includes the designer of the production and master carpenters and other formal members of the club. They have a strong passion for the theater. They've worked on several productions and they knew the production process very well. They often lead the students from Theater Production Class to work.



Instructors of the theater

The instructors both instruct the leaders of the tech team and Theater Production Class. But they don't usually show up during the class time. They just give some general guides.



I conducted semi-structured interviews with the three types of people to let them talk about the issues or inconvenience they found in the theater.

Students in Theater Production Class

are unable to learn the theater context




The lead designer and the instructor would like to help,





What makes it even worse?




Interrupted attendance

Because interrupted attendance is allowed, it is possible for students to lose track of the progress if they have an absence.



Multiple skills required

Theater production requires too many different skills. If a student doesn't know them all, the works he or she can get in touch with are limited. If they only do carpentry, they might not know what welders are doing.


From the information above, we can see a communication issue among the students and teaching team in the Theater Production Class. The theater knowledge and the set design failed to be transmitted to the students.


Students repeat some labor works without knowing why. They needed more chances to learn about the design of the stage and the contribution of their work to the final stage. 

So, I decided to use my design to bring the theater context back.


Since the theater class involves different types of people, they all could be related to the digital platform I tried to design. And we all know solving communication issues is to build the bridges between the different stakeholders. In this way, I need to build personas to think more about their needs and the scenarios during the theater productions. 



Richard Sato

Occupation: Student in Theater Production Class

Year: Junior

Gender: Male

Major: Computer science



Richard is a third-year CS major student at Georgia Tech. Last semester, he watched a performance from DramaTech Theater. I thought it was fantastic. And it also aroused his interests in finding out how the beautiful stage was built. This semester, he happened to have the need to register for a one-credit class. He saw the Theater Production Class then he registered for it. 


However, when he got to the class, he found out no teachers showed up in the class. He was asked to follow the instructions of the master carpenter. He just helped them to cut woods into the certain size of pieces. But he didn't know why he should do this. At first, he thought it was okay because at least he could learn some new skills. But in the following weeks, he got more upset because he felt the things he did had nothing to do the set design. He still didn't know what the design and what the final stage would look like. He got busy on other classes so he stopped to come to the class.



1. Learn how the stage is built based on the set design

2. Feel fun in the Theater Production Class



1. Regarded as a labor worker. Can't see the whole stage design

2. Feel tired and bored in the Theater Production Class

3. Distracted by the workloads of other classes 


Janet Harper

Occupation: Set designer, member of DramaTech Theater

Year: Sophomore

Gender: Female

Major: Computational Media



Janet is a second-year CM major student at Georgia Tech. She has stayed in DramaTech Theater for one and a half years. She worked both as a technical team member and an actress. So, she was super familiar with every working process of a production. She also knew how to use almost every tool in the theater, 


This semester, it is her first time to be the set designer of a production. She worked so hard on it. And she hoped everybody on this team could clearly understand her design and follow it carefully. But at the first working party, she found lots of people didn't come. So, she couldn't explain her design to everybody. Whereafter, people frequently asked her about the design. She hoped to answer all of their questions but she was too busy because there were too many things to cope with.


From the two personas, we can see they both mentioned about the design of the set. One tried to learn it. The other one tried to convey it. But they both failed. So, my ideation should focus on how to use the set design to connect both sides.




1. Successfully fit her set design into the production

2. Let everybody understand her design



1. Can't inform everybody of her design because of their frequent absence

2. Too busy to answer all of the questions



Task Analysis

After the analysis of user profile, I hope to analyze the use scenarios. So, I made the task analysis based on my ethnography. I hope to know how users encounter and solve (maybe they can't solve) their problems in traditional ways.



Above is an ideal version of how users work in theater. I used red to highlight the steps which largely rely on the availability of the leaders of the tech team. However, since their major task is to finish the task, not to educate people, they are often too busy to talk. I used yellow to highlight the steps which rely on the blueprint. But the whole might only have one blueprint, it's impossible to get it every time

​It's clear that my design should focus on increasing the accessibility of the information that the tech leaders have and the blueprint contains.



Possible features

Through the analysis shown above, my basic idea was to build a digital platform to solve these issues. Here are the features it should have.

Set Design/Blueprint

​The solution should allow users to read set design anywhere, anytime.

Track the production

​The solution should allow users to track the progress of the production in case they have absence.

Tools/Skills Tutorial

The solution should teach​ students how to use the tools required.

Task List and Instructions

The solution should contain today's task list and provide instructions and requirements.

User Flow

The students can use this platform to check the design. The theater leader can use it to publish design and also the tasks. Meanwhile, the instructor can also use it to make class announcements. Due to the limitation of the time, I only focus on designing the interface and user flow for the students. Here's the user flow.



Design Iterations

In my first versions, I decided to divide features into four different pages: Task, Blueprint, Skills and Production.



But later, I found this didn't work because for task instructions and production history, they both needed the blueprint to help them demonstrate. In my initial design, the interaction flow and hierarchy were confusing.



In this design, the Blueprint is an independent page as well as a subpage of Task page and Production Page, which was confusing.

Interactive Blueprint


So, I drafted new wireframes. In this version, I put the blueprint permanently at the top. I created a controlling panel at the bottom. It has three tabs, Task, Skills and Production. Users can click buttons in the controlling panel to view its related part highlighted in the blueprint.


For example, a user hopes to know what "Cut wooden pieces" is for. He/she can click this task in the controlling panel, then he/she can see the stage platform in the blueprint is highlighted in red. In this way, the user can know this carpentry task is for building the platform.



New version: interactive blueprint at the top, controlling panel at the bottom

Display section

A 3D version of the set design is shown in this section. Users can use their fingers to zoom and rotate.


Control section

Users can select different tabs here to see highlighted information in the display section above.

Highlighted information


Completed part


Uncompleted part


Switch highlights on/off

Users can switch on/off the red highlights in the blueprint.


Choose from tabs

Users can choose different tabs to read information of "task list", "production" and "skills".


Full screen

Users can click this icon to view the blueprint in full screen. Then some numeric information can be displayed.



In the controlling panel, instead of controlling what's highlighted in the blueprint, users can still perform some other task. In Task tab, they can select the task they want to do today and get related instructions. In Production tab, they can view production details and contact other crew members. In the Skills tab, they can watch tutorials. The core idea of this is to make the responsive blueprint at the top always be able to give them assistance when they're performing other tasks



Visual Display

My future work would be the evaluation. After that, I'll work to design the interfaces for theater members and instructors. Theater members can use it to publish tasks and design. The instructors can use the platform to publish class announcements.



Designed by Fangxiao Yu,

last updated in February 2019