AC4D Orientation: Complete

Today marks the last day of AC4D Orientation. I entered the week thinking things would start off nice and slow—we’d get to know each other, talk about the courses we’d study, some overview of topics, maybe a brief introduction to the skills and techniques we’d be learning. We did do all of that, but it wasn’t slow. It was a deluge.

On Tuesday we went out and spoke to ten food truck workers to learn more about the process of cooking in a food truck. We only barely put together a focus statement, so our interviews felt somewhat aimless, although we took in lots of interesting information. I thought for sure we would have trouble getting food truck workers to tell us about their jobs for 10 minutes during peak lunch hours, but everyone was surprisingly open. A German man named Karl sat down and told us all about his experience cooking doner kebabs for Americans. Alejandra invited us into her kitchen to show off her Honduran food, and Jose gave us some free samples as he told us about his Puerto Rican cuisine.

Afterward, we transcribed our interviews, separated our utterances (interviewee quotes) by idea, and looked for inferred likeness between utterances that we would use to create connecting statements that illustrate underlying themes in the nature of their work. This was difficult work! All of our interviewees talked about similar things, but many of our connecting statements felt like “red trucking”—making obvious statements based on similar facts that were mentioned by multiple parties (e.g., “space in food trucks is constraining”). Jon let us know that these statements were, as he put it, weak. He was right.

In the end, we managed to put together four themes, and were then tasked with creating 300 insights—statements including an inferred observation and, most importantly, a provocation. The provocation is key: a suggested course of action that, if our inferred observation is true, could upend typical behavior and result in new ways of working that are more efficient or more beneficial for those involved.

Creating provocations is hard. Not all of our not-quite-300 insights included provocations. A lot of them felt like suggestions to do things that smart food trucks already do. But a few of them, such as our rental system for cooking equipment, felt like it could genuinely improve food truck workers’ lives, eliminating hours of work from their day and reducing the capital needed to get their business off the ground. Everyone uses equipment. But does everyone need to own and maintain their own equipment? After so many hours of painstaking thinking, the insight felt revolutionary and rewarding.

We then received introductions to drawing and the Sketch tool. I will need to brush up on my skills with both to ensure effective communication of ideas. As a writer, I know that visual communication is both extremely important and something that I have weakness in, so I look forward to developing this ability.

Having taken a couple interaction design courses previously, much of this week’s activity felt like an in-depth refresher as opposed to something brand new. However, I know there is still much to learn—and argue about. While brainstorming insights, Jon pushed our group to hold divergent ideas simultaneously in our heads, pushing us to explore extremes so that we can best come up with new perspectives. In one instance, this involved exploring some very uncomfortable possible “solutions.” I look forward to further studying the ethical dimension of this work, as it’s clear that it will be of key importance if we are truly to use design to transform society for good.