We are Feral Design Researchers

There’s a problem with unneutered pets. Cats and dogs who aren’t sterilized are prone to jumping on the next attractive thing that comes their way. Our first team assignment for the One Year Course at Austin Center for Design made us feel like a trio of feral creatures.

In the course of 48 hours, Kelsey, Susi, and myself were tasked with securing design research work with a local business or organization. Our instructors required the business to be local, have between 2 to 20 locations, employ more than 10 people, and have a humanitarian purpose. Finally, we must be paid for our services.

The last two days involved us searching our contacts, doing Google Maps searches, listing all NPO (non-profit organizations) we know, and setting up meetings to present a comprehensive design research opportunity. As defined by our instructors, Jon Kolko and Matt Franks, design research is about learning from people in the context of their lives. In other words, design research focuses on actual people’s behavior, rather than opinions. This is not pulling people into a conference room to ask them about how their organization can be more profitable, nor is it organizing a focus group to ask if Smirnoff Ice Guava sounds appealing.  

Our team developed an intriguing lead on choosing a humanitarian focused business, albeit one that has a more canine and cat focus. Seventeen hours after class ended, we met with an Austin-based vet care NPO (who we’re currently calling Austin Affordable Vet) whose mission is to “…make high quality spray/neuter services and veterinary care affordable and accessible to all pet owners.” Our meeting did not end with a signed research agreement, but the organization communicated interest, and requested further information on our design strategy approach. We are currently awaiting an answer to our offer.

Visiting the Austin-based vet care center
Visiting the Austin Affordable Vet.

While the vet care business fit the requirements of the assignment, it is the organization’s own focus on design through their new educational and training program that has us enthusiastic about a potential partnership. This training program, described by them as a “…training program that offers seminars, consulting, resources, and support to animal welfare professionals,” has a user-centered approach, which was confirmed to us by their V.P. of Training & Organizational Development. Based on their approach with their training program, our team decided there was enough potential interest to form a design research plan, and form a focus statement:  

We are conducting research into how this local vet care business promotes affordable and accessible vet care through relationships with other animal welfare organizations..

The research plan (attached below) lays out an initial approach to achieve the following goals over the next 16 weeks:

  1. To build empathy with our target audience, so we can better understand what it’s like to develop relationships with other animal welfare organizations.
  2. To identify the way their employees and volunteers think and feel about their operations, particularly focused on their new training program.
  3. To observe current processes and strategies used by participants to engage with other organizations.

    One of the local pups at the Austin Affordable Vet.
    One of the local pups at the Austin Affordable Vet.

The process of forming a design research plan prior to having conducted design research previously was demanding. Yet, based on what we’ve learned, Kelsey, Susi, and myself look forward to making the human connections that define contextual inquiry and participatory design. The challenge is to convince a growing organization that we are worth a shot, and can produce insights or results that can result in a actionable result for this local vet care nonprofit. See our research plan below:

Austin Affordable Vet_ Research Plan