Reflections on IDSE101

The following is the group reflection of Eric Boggs, Melissa Chapman, and Dave Gottlieb.


The semester has come and gone.  The fire hose of information is on the rack for one week. This moment of relative dryness is a moment of reflection.

The fact is, we have all changed.  We are thinking and acting like designers.  Not emotional with a penchant for black.  Visual thinkers.  Problem finders.  Thick observers.  Sketchers.  Synthesizers.  Not great at all of these things yet.  But conscious of them, and unable to turn them off.

Here are our three key takeaways from the semester.

Just show up.

Stop sending emails and making phone calls.  Do barge in.  Don’t rest on your laurels and stress.

Before showing up at a few middle schools to inquire about the possibility of doing research there, we had sent various emails and made phone calls to the point of a dead end.  Our research timeline was short, and we had begun to panic about how to make connections.  The solution was to go.  It was to stop sitting on our computer chairs and complaining that people don’t answer emails.  It was to hit the pavement.  A couple of reasons this is easier.  One, people can’t ignore you if you’re right in front of them, unlike an email, that can be immediately dismissed.  Also, these facilitators can more easily judge that all you mean is well.  Seeing smiling faces, and hearing well spoken students, seems to make all the difference.

There are times when you’re not supposed to just show up.  Particularly when doing research with children in schools.  With that being said, you live and you learn.  We are all students.  By the way, the sites, sounds, and smells of school lunches are much the same as you remember.

You must do design research to learn design research.

We could not just have read books on contextual inquiry, participatory interviews, or modeling to learn how to do these things.  They are learned experientially.  Successful contextual inquiry and participatory interviews require a combination of deep observation and an active, questioning mind.  They require us to ask “why?” repetitively but in slightly different ways.  To know when and how to do so takes time and repeated effort.

Fortunately, we recorded video of our inquiries so that we could learn from them.  Watching our experiences again, we learned about our body language and mindless interjections.  We learned about where we should have interjected or questioned but did not.

We also learned that while methods are taught distinctly, that the opportunity to intermingle methods can be particularly useful.  For example, while in a home, we did not ask the mother to “show us” how she completed morning lunch preparation activities because we were at the time conducting participatory research.  The context of the research should be used effectively.

To affinity and beyond!

One of the most salient techniques that we learned was affinity diagramming.  Affinity diagramming is invaluable because it creates a highly visual way to create and then organize a lot of seemingly disparate information.  Imagine lots of sticky notes covering a wall.  Then imagine pushing them around to group within “like” categories, and creating synthesis statements that indicate how.  We used this process throughout the quarter, from initial research question focus to an input for the final concept model.

We can’t keep much information in our head at one time.  Most folks know this inherently but don’t do anything about it.  Before IDSE 101 our group had never tried to conduct such a sense making activity.  Yes, we had brainstormed before, but not in this way, and had never spent the time to organize that data.  Affinity diagramming gave us the structure to make this a collaborative process, and to see the connections that may be missing between schools, parents, and students.

Lastly, we needed to spend time with the affinity data to draw out our insights.  We generated many pages of research, through contextual inquiry and participatory interviews that needed to go into a final affinity diagram.  Just like a good book, data can spark different thoughts over time.   Where we initially had said “we are done” was like the first time through; enough to understand the story and relationships, but not enough to draw deep meaning from it.

Next Steps

We are so thankful for this semester.  While IDSE 101 has come and gone, the techniques and personal lessons learned will drive our research in the second quarter.  If we hadn’t just shown up, we would have never been in place to meet the great folks we did at AISD.  For better or worse, we would be studying a completely different topic on UT campus.  If we didn’t do contextual inquiries or participatory interviews, we wouldn’t have the tools to draw out hidden meaning or understand tacit decision making.  If we didn’t use affinity diagrams, our group would not even have formed and later rallied around nutrition in schools.

Bring on the fire hose.