Design Engineering
Showcase 2021

WeJam

Tags
Music
Software
Fullstack
Working with kids

Project Details

Student
Jemima Bradley
Team
Tech Team
Supervisor
Dr Eva-Maria Kirchberger
Role
Musical Technologist
Sector
Retail and Consumer Goods
Links
Email
LinkedIn

I applied to WeJam to develop my skills in back-end software engineering to match my existing design and business skills, while working in a start-up in a field that I love - music. WeJam is an “immersive experience that gives [users] the chance to form a band and play their favourite songs - even if they’re complete beginners”, similar to Guitar Hero using real instruments. Working part remote, part in person, my placement gave me experience in building my technical skills, self-confidence, and resilience in the face of a challenge.

WeJam

Demonstration of Design Engineering Thinking and Skills

WeJam hosts sessions using an app called Songreader, where using real instruments, such as keyboards, keytars, or electric drums, players follow custom sheet music on a tablet - featuring coloured bubbles, which correspond to coloured stickers on their instrument. With the easiest setting, one note is played for the duration of one bar of music, but if done so correctly, the remaining notes in that bar will be triggered and played over the speakers.

The Songreader App and WeJam instruments.
The Songreader App and WeJam instruments.

One of my major early achievements was learning JavaScript, and associated frameworks React and Node, in the first few weeks of my placement as I was to become the sole person responsible for this portion of Songreader’s back-end. I would later also broaden my limited knowledge of HTML and CSS to a similar working standard in order to make UI changes. Through this, I also developed the ability to understand, work with, and improve existing code that integrated with a separate music processing program, having to send and receive messages between the two.

Design Thinking principles were used principally in system testing - conducted in schools with students ages 7 to 14. I would run or help run 20 minute sessions where groups of six would learn to play a song in a 20 minute session. The key criteria for this stage of testing were to establish the system as reliable and well stress-tested, observe and respond appropriately to how students found the WeJam experience, and create a good company image in our interactions with students and staff.

Other Design Engineering skills were important when looking at the bigger picture, and solving problems for issues implemented in programs I was not familiar with. Breaking down observed problems, using techniques such as How Might We’s or even challenging previously made assumptions to find alternative solutions led to system improvements, and consequently user experience improvements.

Role and Contributions

Initially, my biggest contributions were shown through my role in testing. This is where I used my Design Engineering skills the most, leading sessions whilst making observations and communicating necessary feedback to one of the other two tech team members. Examples of problems that I found through observation and used further Design Engineering skills to find an appropriate solution include changes to symbols to represent drum notation, and improved player feedback. The significance of each of these changes were reflected in player performance.

Session testing in schools.

My first major technical challenge was implementing the ability to change song. What seemed like a small problem turned into a lot of research and proposal for an extra week spent streamlining to back-end of the Songreader system, using methods such as Node modules and asynchronous functions to improve request handling within the system, and provide more sturdy foundations for future, more data-intensive additions to the system.

Another big technical change was through redesigning session initialisation - initially, this was designed for the ease of the person running the session, but it became clear that it would be more advantageous to pivot to focus on user experience. Different types of session have different aims, and require different information collection from users. While some of the differences between the session types were small, changes were made with the foresight for further future divergence between modes.

Summary

My placement has taught me resilience, adaptability, and to take a step back before approaching a problem. It has given me invaluable real world engineering experience, and I have developed a lot of self-confidence under the responsibility I was given, something I would not have gained if not working for a start-up. To students looking for a placement, I recommend taking the extra effort to find a role in a field you enjoy.