Creating the Creatures of Vikings Belief

As with the Viking gods I have been able to operate under a rather substantial amount of artistic licence in my representations of the creatures that Vikings believed in.

Vikings believed that there were nine worlds connected by the ash tree yggdrasill.  Each world was home to its own inhabitants and Vikings told many stories featuring these (as far as I know) fictional beings.  See my mood board and representation of the map of yggdrasill and the nine worlds below:

My artwork once again is based upon written descriptions and pre-existing visual representations of the creatures in question.

Below are my mood boards and visual creations, alongside some of the reasoning for my creative decisions.


Giants or Jötunn’s as the Vikings called them, were very big and strong.  They ate animals and fish because they lived in the world Jotunheim.  I decided to keep my giants very similar to humans, just bigger but I have given my giant big ears as a fond reflection of a favourite childhood story of mine, Roahl Dahl’s ‘BFG’, illustrated by Quentin Blake.



Dark Elves

Dark Elves were ugly, tricky creatures who lived underground and liked to cause problems for humans.  Due to living underground my elves are pale skinned and I have tried to capture their mischievous essence in my drawing but whether or not I have succeeded is open to the interpretation of the viewer.



Light Elves

Light Elves were considered to be like “angels” by the Vikings, they were beautiful creatures who inspired music and art.  I have tried to make my light elf similar to my dark elf, in order to see the connection that they are both elves but I have given my light elf  a skin tone that is more reflective of somebody who lives above ground and I have dressed him in a more elegant manor.




Ogres were large, monstrous creatures; the Vikings thought they were nasty, strong and dangerous beings who would kill and eat people.  I have created my ogre to look dangerous and grotesque, with a large belly to show that he is capable of consuming a person.




Dwarfs were small with oddly shaped bodies, they lived under the ground in the world of Nidavellir. Dwarfs were very good at making things out of metal. I have created a small person with a body shape that is similar to people who have the medical condition dwarfism, as I believe this mythical creature is probably derived from a misunderstanding of people who suffer this condition.  In Viking myths, dwarfs are skilled metal workers which I have tried to display in my drawing, through the characters decorated armour and weapons.



Sea Serpents

Sea serpents were giant monsters that the Vikings believed lived in the sea.  My sea serpent is based on the traditional depiction of a long, snake like dragon creature that lives in the sea.



Below is a video of this section from within the application.


User Testing Blog

User Testing is a vitally important part of the creation of any usable digital creation. Throughout the development of my application, I have been conducting informal user testing with the younger members of my family and their friends and I have recently conducted formal user testing at Holy Name R.C Primary School.

The user testing at the school was an extremely productive undertaking but before I start evaluating and explaining my findings, I want to take a little look at the value and processes of user testing.

User testing helps test the usability of a designed artefact, the Nielsen Norman Group define usability as:

Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use”. The word “usability” also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.

Usability is defined by 5 quality components:

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they re-establish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?”
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

Nielson (2012)

It is often hard to know when and how many usability tests are needed within the design process, usability expert Steve Krug says “Timing is everything

Most companies can only afford to pay for one round of usability testing, which they’ll do near the end of the development cycle, when the thing’s almost finished,” Krug continues.  “Unfortunately, that’s the worst possible time to do a test. Yes, you’re going to find problems but you’re not going to be able to do anything about them any more. Some of them are going to be deep-seated problems. If you start testing at the very beginning of your design, though, you can pretty quickly uncover those problems.”

Krug (2011)

According to the Nielsen Norman Group “The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.” Nielson (2000)

This is good news for me, as it means that my smaller informal tests that I had previously conducted were a step in the right direction of this little and often approach and it means that my more formal school based testing, can be conducted with a smaller impact to the everyday business of the school.

User testing with children has its own challenges; Tom Stewart offers advice for usability testing with children in his article ‘Tips for Usability Testing with Children’.  Stewart starts by explaining that clinical user testing labs can be counterproductive to the task when dealing with children, a friendly, familiar environment can often yield better results.  A familiar face can also be helpful, as described by Stewart:

When testing with younger children it is important to have a parent or familiar adult around to provide reassurance. The adult may or may not participate directly in the session depending on what we are trying to achieve and what sort of feedback we need.” Stewart (2010)

Jamie Sands is a Usability Consultant at User Vision, he also agrees that the comfort of the user is very important:

Usability testing is most effective when the respondents being tested are comfortable and therefore happy to think and discuss what they are interacting with. If children are not at ease, they are unlikely to respond in a natural manner and less likely to give their attention to the tasks at hand.” Sands (2010)

The pressure of a “test” can be scary for all people especially children, so you should also try and make the research less daunting:

The experiment should be welcoming and not intimidating. All usability testing can potentially feel like a test that the user can pass or fail.  To avoid this, the moderator needs to be comforting and reassuring to the respondent to ensure they do not feel as if they themselves are being tested.” Sands (2010)

When assigning tasks during testing, it is also import to consider their appropriateness in relation to the child’s ability.  Stewart (2010) says “Make sure the length of the session and the difficulty of task is appropriate to the children’s age and development.”   Children are also more prone to boredom and distraction which can also be a problem during user testing with children, Stewart explains:

The facilitator has to keep a close watch for boredom, fatigue or children becoming too engrossed in one task and have a range of options ready to move the session on to more productive areas.

We always try to aim for sessions which are fun and tasks which are engaging with lots of different activities, games and breaks for snacks and drinks.” Stewart (2010)

In order to get an accurate result from user testing, it is important to understand that children communicate differently to adults, and understanding this can make the interpretation of the experiment easier, as explained by Stewart:

It is important to recognise that children communicate in different ways, many of them non-verbal. Facilitators need to be flexible and use appropriate communication techniques.  Very young children (under 6) are often not able to express themselves verbally, so behavioural observations can be as important as verbal feedback (e.g. smiling, fidgeting, sighing, groaning).” Stewart (2010)

Sands also discusses interpreting responses during user testing:

Children are often less vocal, or less able to verbalise their opinions about issues they experience. An uncomfortable child may be too shy or uneasy in giving responses if they feel they are being tested and are concerned that they may say the wrong thing. Whereas adults will express their feelings vocally, children are more likely to offer clues non-verbally, by fidgeting, smiling and their body language etc. The experimenter should be aware of these cues and note these in conjunction with potential problems experienced with the site. Look for the child’s lack of engagement with the site. Yawning and fidgeting can be clear signs that the site is no longer capturing the child’s attention.” Sands (2010)

I structured my tests in a way that I hope will allow me to get the greatest amount of information from the testing experience.

IMG_0034 IMG_0033

I arranged for a school governor, who regularly visits the school to help with reading to accompany me, as I believed this would help the children to feel more at ease.  I firstly introduce myself and explain that this is not a test for them but it’s a test for me, so there is no need for them to be nervous.  The next step is to let the children have free roam of the application, while I make notes based my observations of their choices, usage and general behaviour.  I then ask the children to complete a small amount of tests, followed by 4 questions about the experience.

Recording user testing is important, in order to review and document the events as they happen, for evaluation at a later date.  This recording can be done in a number of ways, including video recordings, audio dictation and written accounting based upon observation.  Due to the age of the testers and the setting in which the testing is taking place, the most appropriate method of documentation and the one I have employed is written accounting based upon observation.  Video and audio recording of young children raises too many problems, that could jeopardise my opportunity to conduct testing.

The results

I was originally planning to produce some form of visual reference to demonstrate how the testing went, i.e. a chart but in some ways the testing went too well.

The users also completed the tasks I set them successfully, showing a good understanding of how to navigate within the application and how to operate all of the interactive features that they encountered.  This could be interpreted as evidence that the design is effective and that no changes are needed but I feel another round of user testing, time permitting may be needed in order to reinforce these initial findings.

The most interesting results in my opinion, came from my observation during the free roaming time at the start of the test.  During this stage I noticed that the children were drawn towards the highlighted interactive elements within the app and they sometimes missed elements that had been left un-highlighted.  This was exactly the reason why I left some interactive content without highlights, so that I could establish whether the highlighting technique was effective; see the difference between the two below:

Without Glow

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 17.06.24

With Glow


I did noticed that the hit recognition area on a couple of buttons needed increasing and the text on one of the buttons needed changing.  I also realised that I needed to add arrows to the Viking house interior.

As a result of my testing, I have changed the elements indicated above which will hopefully improve the usability of my application.

All users tested said they liked the application and expressed a desire to use applications like this within their normal classroom lessons and indications to back up these statements were given during the testing by the children, in comments such as “cool” and “that’s class

All of the children indicated that their favourite elements of the application were the interactives and in particular the students enjoyed seeing themselves wearing a Viking helmet.  This was what I was hoping for but I do hope that the interactives do not divert attention from the other elements, as my application needs to work on all levels.  I did however notice that all students read the text and some gave answers based on illustration and animations, which is a good indication that all elements are communicating information.

Prior to the user testing my main concern was that the user’s would struggle with the amount and level of the text within the application but to my delight all of the users tested managed very well with the text, although the head teacher did point out that the younger age users may struggle with the amount of text.

The school’s Headteacher raised the question of audio within the application; previously I have been encouraged by some people within my education establishment to include background noises to some of the scenes within my application.  This was something I have resisted, as I believe it would not be appropriate if the application was been used within an education setting such as a classroom; can you imagine 30 children using the application at the same time but all at different parts of the app, each with differing sounds blurring out, mixing to make an unorganised hum of pure noise?

This would be counterproductive to the learning environment and process, and although the volume could be simply turned down, the time it would take to ensure each student had turned the sound off could be better used by actually teaching or exploring with the application.  The head teacher agreed that sounds of that nature would not be appropriate for an application of this type but she did suggest that maybe some audible Viking words within the Viking Language section would be a good addition to the application, this was a good re-enforcement to previously stated intentions to add such a feature within the Viking language section of my application.

Overall my testing has been a great success; my application appears to be easy to use, whilst communicating information to and entertaining the user.  I would like to leave this post with a quote from one of the children tested: “that’s class”.


DuVerneay, J. (2013) When to Test: Incorporating User Testing into Product Design,

[online] Available at:, [accessed 29th May 2013]

Krug, S. (2011) DIY Usability Testing, [online] Available at:, [accessed 30th May 2013]

 Nielsen Norman Group, no publication date, Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox Articles, [online] Available at:, [accessed 31st May 2013]

Nielson, J. (2000) Why You Only Need to Test with 5 Users, [online] Available at:, [accessed 31st May 2013]

Nielson, J. (2012) Usability 101: Introduction to Usability, [online] Available at:, [accessed 31st May 2013]

Sands, J. (2010) Usability Testing with Young Audiences, [online] Available at:, [accessed 29th May 2013]

Stewart, T. (2010) Tips for Usability Testing with Children, [online] Available at:, [accessed 30th May 2013]

Presenting our work effectively for exhibition and dissemination.

As part of our examination process, we have the task of organising and presenting our work effectively for exhibition and dissemination, in an appropriate sophisticated form.  We are doing this in the form of an end of year exhibition.

During informal discussions about our exhibition, I suggested that we needed an unusual word that people would not automatically know and the example I used was the name of my fellow Masters’ student Gareth Sleightholme’s blog:

Apoheinia is “the perception of connections and meaningfulness in unrelated things.”

Gareth then proclaimed that his current favourite unusual word was “Dasein”; this is a German word that means “being there”.

Philosopher Martin Heidegger is heavily linked with the concept of “Dasein”, which he appropriates for his reconceived notion of human existence in the world.

In existentialism “Dasein” is being “in a concrete and historically determinate situation that limits or conditions choice.  Humans are therefore called Dasein (“there being”) because they are defined by the fact that they exist, or are in the world and inhabit it.”

The notion of having a place in the world is something that fits quite well with the situation we find ourselves in as MA students.  We are choosing to conduct our enquiries in a diverse range of disciplines, in order to realise our potential and establish reasons for our choices in our lives and in our practices.  Our exhibition is a chance for us to stand by those choices and state publicly our right to be there, wherever that may be personally and professionally.  This is the reason that as a group we decided to brand our exhibition under the title of “Dasein” and for the viewing public to fully understand our individual exhibits, there is a requirement of attendance or being there.

As a result of this decision, I produced 3 possible logos which can be seen below:


Each of us had the opportunity to produce a logo and eventually a group decision was made to combine one of my attempts with an attempt by Gareth Sleightholme, the final result can be seen below:



Creating Asgard and the Æsir

Recently, I have been working on the Viking beliefs section of my application.  As part of this segment I shall be delivering information about the Viking’s religious beliefs; the Vikings had their own pagan religion.

To accompany the written information about the Norse gods I have created some images.  Nobody knows for certain if these beings exist and to the best of my knowledge nobody has met one or even better taken a picture that I can base my artwork on, so a certain amount of artistic licence can be afforded in the production of my designs.  I have been producing imagery based upon my research and previously produced media featuring the individual’s deities in question.  The main sources of information regarding these beings are the old Norse written accounts, featured within writings such as the Saga’s and stories depicted on Rune stones and within other carvings from the Viking period.

I started by researching the home of the Viking gods, followed by the creation of a mood board (see below).


How do you design the mythical kingdom of an ancient race of gods?  To answer that quest ion I began researching Asgard, in order to identify any identifying features of that realm that would hopefully inform my design.  My research indicated two main areas that I felt would be important in my depiction of Asgard and those were:


Vallhalla is a great hall where fallen Viking warriors go to feast after their death, until they are called upon by Odin to battle again at Ragnarok .

In front of Vallhalla stands the golden tree Glasir.  The hall’s ceiling is described as being thatched and adorned with golden shields and spears.  Valhalla is the home to some creatures, such as the stag Eikþyrnir and the goat Heiðrún amongst others.

See my Vallhalla below:


Bifrost – The Rainbow bridge

The rainbow bridge is an important identifying feature of Asgard but I have also used the fact that the route to the realm of the gods is a something that is seen in the sky, as the logic to set Asgarde floating above the clouds in the sky but out of view of those below.

The rest of my production was open to a lot of artistic licence but I tried to base my design on things that the Vikings may have encountered in their lives.  As we know the Vikings where intrepid travellers, who will have seen different forms of architecture in many different countries but there is a constant in most societies.  Castles and palaces have been built around the world to house those who are considered or consider themselves to be of importance.

I tried to base my art work upon a castle structure, constructed from materials known to the Vikings like stone and wood, the roofing is based upon precious metals like copper and gold.  I have set my castle structure upon a floating mountainous island, that floats amongst the clouds connected to Midgard via a rainbow bridge. See Asgard Below:


The Menu

To access information about the individual Viking gods, I have created an interface that features a bottom up menu that auto hides to create more space for the information on the screen.  The menu background is based upon Viking carvings and the buttons are framed headshots of each god with their name displayed on a scroll (see below).


btn_god_balder btn_god_loki btn_god_odin btn_god_sif btn_god_thor







To create the Viking gods, I once again researched each individual god and created visual mood boards of pre-existing imagery.

Below you can see my mood boards and my interpretive creations.


Odin is described differently depending upon whether he is in Asgard or in Midgard.

One important distinguishing feature of Odin is that he only has one eye, due to him sacrificing the other to drink from the fountain of wisdom.

The descriptions of Odin whilst travelling in Midgard, are believed to have heavily influenced the descriptions of Gandalph the wizard in J.R Toilkin’s, Lord of The Rings and this is evident in mine and other people’s representations of both characters/beings as you can see below:





Frigg was Odin’s wife and the queen of Asgard, she was the goddess of marriage and motherhood. Frigg is often depicted as wearing blue which is something I carried into my depiction, see below:



Thor is the Norse god of thunder, strength and war.  Whilst creating Thor I felt it was very important to stick to the written descriptive accounts, where he is described as a mighty warrior with great strength, red hair and a beard.  I tried to include his three main weapons:

  • Megingjörð – a magic belt that doubled his strength.
  • Járngreipr – a pair of iron gloves that were needed to handle Mjölnir.
  • Mjölnir – the mighty hammer that could crush mountains and create lighting flashes across the sky.

Many people may not know of the written description of this deity, due to the Marvel comics character Thor created by Stan Lee, scripter Larry Lieber, and penciller Jack Kirby.  Marvel’s Thor is based upon the Norse legend but the character’s visual appearance is different to the recorded accounts, as he has long blonde hair and the only weapon he carries is Mjolnir the mighty hammer. It is hard competing against such popular incarnations but as I mentioned earlier nobody has seen the supposed entity in question, so any visual creation is open to interpretations, that ultimately cannot be wrong or right with no accurate visual record existing.

Below you can see my mood boards and my interpretive creations.




Sif is Thors wife and most depictions feature her adorned in blue clothing, which I have also done.  The main description that stands out in my research of Sif is her long golden hair, which I have tried to incorporate into my imagery see below:




Loki is considered to be a Norse god although his parents were actually giants.

Loki is known as the Norse god of mischief.  He is a trickster with magical powers who is often naughty, causing problems for the other gods which is why I have based my design upon a jester, which also is a theme in older imagery of Loki.

Loki is often described as being handsome but he is a shape shifter, so he can change the way he looks.  He appears in the form of men, women and animals and to show this I have created a simple shape shifting animation, that you can see below:




Balder is often described as being very popular amongst the other gods, due to his invulnerability and his good looks.  This is something that I have tried to capture in my imagery, see below:



Below you can see a short video of my completed ‘Viking Gods’ information section:

In order to make best use of my time, for university grading times and constraints, I have not as yet included or produced imagery and information based on every god but I feel I have produced enough to provide a strong indication of how this part of the application will look and operate.  If time permits I will add more to this section before the end of the project.