Iterating to awesome: How to do Usability Testing

In this week’s blogpost, I am going to describe my process for iterating on my Navigation and Information Architecture Map and the wireframes for the TD Mobile Banking App. This builds on two previous blog posts; the first was on my process for creating the original concept map and the second was for my process on developing the wireframes.

In this post, I am going to discuss and present:

  • Usability testing
  • Revising the Navigation and Information Architecture Map
  • Revised wireframes
  • Next steps

Usability Testing

Last week, I developed my wireframes using a process that hinged on imagining a flow through the application that would help well-defined characters achieve a goal. This week, I set out to see if real people could achieve those goals. To do this, I first created a digital prototype using Sketch and a plugin called Craft that links my wireframes to Envision. Then, I went out into the field to find at least five willing participants, primarily in local cafes. Last, I looked back at the data I had accumulated and found the top three design issues that I wanted to revise.

I knew that in order to get feedback on the usability of my application, I would need to present participants with a low fidelity prototype. One recommendation I received was to use a paper prototype. However, I decided to try and learn how to create a digital prototype since I know that people in industry do this. The process was arduous. It made me think more about each step of a user’s flow. Questions like, “What will happen if a user does not fill in a field properly?” or “What sequence of screen would a user most naturally flow?” came up.  I also had to learn the idiosyncrasies and limitations of Craft and Envision. I thought that the time spent on this part of the prototype development was worthwhile because I thought that organizing a paper prototype would be overly onerous, especially when working with participants in real time.

Once the digital prototype was developed, I set out into the field to find willing participants. I had six predetermined tasks: checking a balance, transferring funds to an external account, paying a friend, setting up a new alert, paying a bill, and depositing a check. I wrote each of these tasks down on a separate sheet of paper so I could hand them off during the testing session.

I also prepared myself to follow the Think Aloud Protocol. The steps in the protocol involve first, telling the participant what they are about to do and that once testing begins, all I can say is, “Please keep talking.” I tell the participants that I want to hear what they are thinking as they attempt the tasks written on the sheet of paper. The Think Aloud Protocol is based on a theory that people can explain how they solve problems and that though it will slow down task completion, won’t have an impact on potential task completion. As participants will work through the task, I will take notes and record what they say so I have a reference for later synthesis. I also had my participants fill out a SUS score which is their rating of the application flows. My hope is that as I iterate on the wireframes, the score will go up.

A participant tests the digital prototype on his mobile phone
A participant tests the digital prototype on his mobile phone

A key takeaway from usability testing with a digital product was that a lot of the feedback I got was actually about the limitations of Envision. People got stuck on different screens because Envision is limited in how systematically accurate a user can interact with the product. I also found greater success when users could test the product in its appropriate environment, a mobile phone, and not a desktop computer. I also found that digital prototypes are limiting because they constrain how a user can walk through the application since the sequence is pre-determined. When doing this again, I could of course make a screen and flow for every single way a user can walk through the application, but I think that user a paper prototype may allow for more user control and thus, I can get even better data.

Some key takeaways from my first round of usability testing using the Think Aloud Protocol was that when I write the tasks, I should give users more information about what they may need to enter into each field. I also found that having a setting where I could clearly hear the participant is super important. I sometimes struggled to write good notes because of this. It was also challenging not to step in and help sometimes because Envision made it hard to tap on a field and move to the next screen. I would sometimes end up helping a user because it was just too frustrating for something that didn’t help me get any useful information. Also, after getting feedback from 5 people, I had confirmation that getting many more participants to try the application would not add to the accuracy of what I would learn. I saw patterns emerge already and can imagine that anymore than 10, I would not learn much more.

Of course, I was also able to garner some key issues that I would want to fix in my prototype. They are documented below.

Test documentation-01 Test documentation-02 Test documentation-03Revised “Navigation and Information Architecture” Concept Map

There were two key revisions I made to my concept map. First, I wanted the concept map to reflect the complexity of the application system. My first map was too simple. A future software engineer would have a lot of potential to make up user flows because so many details were missing. So, this necessitated a complete overhaul of my concept map. Second, the concept map would have to reflect the revisions I made to my wireframes.

In order to do a complete overhaul of the map, I started fresh. I went through three paper sketches, getting feedback from classmates on clarity and hierarchy. I made sure that I had different shapes to reflect different kinds of screens and operations. Squares represent places a user goes to. Ovals represent the functions you find in each of the “places”. Circles represent the flows a user takes to accomplish the function. Working through this process made me have a much clearer idea of all of the screens I currently have as well as the screens I still need to develop for a complete application. The feedback I got from my classmates helped me to make a better visual hierarchy. At first I made the ovals a much thicker line weight but this confused my classmates because it made them more important than they should be.

In order to reflect revisions that I made to my screens, my concept map includes a shortcut to get to the main functions a user may want to apply to an account. Also, redoing the concept map made me realize that my I never included a way to logout of the application in the original wireframe set. It also helped me to see what screens I would add a home link to for a user to get to restart faster.

Revised Concept Map
Revised Concept Map

Revised Wireframes

Below are the revised wireframes. First, I highlight the key screens that I revised based on the top 3 problems I chose to revise. Second, I present all of the screens. In addition to the revisions I listed above, I also revised a several other elements. I did these revisions based on what I learned from the critique session in class.

The other revisions were:

  • Graying out a button if it should not afford clicking if all required fields are incomplete
  • Changing the titles of buttons to more accurately reflect what they do (ie changing “Deposit” to “Another Deposit” on the success screen for deposits) or to be more natural (ie changing “Return Home” to “Home”).
  • Adding a logout option on the main menu
    Revised Account home screen
    Revised Account home screen

    Revised View bill - added a home screen icon
    Revised View bill – added a home screen icon
Revised flow for adding a new alert
Revised flow for adding a new alert
Revised login flow
Revised login flow
Revised deposit flow
Revised deposit flow
Revised bill pay flow
Revised bill pay flow
Revised view bill flow
Revised view bill flow
Revised check balance flow
Revised check balance flow
Revised alerts flow
Revised alerts flow
Revised quick pay flow
Revised quick pay flow
Revised transfer flow
Revised transfer flow

Next steps

Next week, I plan to build out my application according to the concept map. I will also do usability testing. But this time, I want to focus on particular flows and to get feedback on buttons and font.

 

My wire framing process: from lo-fidelity to slightly higher fidelity

Last week, I built concept models of banks, the current state of the TD bank mobile app, and a future state of the app so that I could build background knowledge, make sense of complexity, and envision how to create a more usable application. This week, I began the process of redesigning the TD bank mobile application. The first step was to imagine how real people use the banking application. I imagined users with goals inspired by real people. I wrote scenarios that fleshed out their stories, and then drew storyboards that illustrated how they could use the app to fulfill their goals. The second step was to design wireframe flows that illustrated a journey a user could would take to fulfill their goal using the banking app.

What I learned last week

After immersing myself in the TD banking mobile app and imagining a better system, I knew that moving forward I wanted to keep a few key design principles in mind:

  • Keep the app simple – the current app has too many buttons that lead to the same place. This is unnecessary and confusing.
  • Keep the app visually minimal – there are screens in the current app that are too heavy with color and information. It is hard to know what different key screens are used for because my eyes don’t know where to look.
  • Make core functions more easily accessible – functions like check balance require 4 taps. There should be fewer taps to find this information.

Users, scenarios and storyboards

 I wrote about three potential users:

  • Louis, a junior in college who is living on his own for the first time;
  • Stephanie, a working mother who is also her household’s financial manager; and,
  • Clark, a freelance UX designer who has to manage many clients and subcontractors.

I brainstormed all the goals they may have and prioritized which goals were most important. Starting the app redesign here helped me to humanize the experience that followed. Whenever I got lost in the details, I could remember who I was designing the experience for. On a tactical level, it helped me to fill in fields with realistic data. On a systems level, when I had a question about hierarchy in terms of interactions and information, I could think back to my character and imagine it from their perspective.

Users and goals
Users and goals

I also believe that having clear character journeys in mind will help me to make sense of the critique I will be leading this evening. Though I will be asking my classmates to give feedback on how to make interactions more usable and hierarchy clearer, the core of my decision making will fall back on questions like, “What would Louis, a newbie to financial management and adult life decisions, need?” or “How will Stephanie use the features in the banking app to facilitate uncomfortable conversations with her less fiscally responsible husband?”

 

Once I had each character’s story written in detail, I made a spreadsheet with scenes and screens. It helped me to essentialize all of the details. What is the most salient idea I am expressing? What image would communicate the idea to a viewer? This helped me to narrow in big ideas. (So much of this design process is going from detail to big idea to detail!)

Scenarios, screens and scenes
Scenarios, screens and scenes

Then, I moved to storyboarding. This started the process of first, imagining how characters would realistically be using the banking app. How would they be standing? Where? And then, it served as a bridge to thinking about the interfaces. What would Stephanie want to do if another mother pays her back in the middle of the park with a check? What interactions would be fast and convenient for her?

Storyboards
Storyboards

Storyboards to wireframes

In the process of storyboarding, I started to build out wireframes. So much of the design process is working in the right level of fidelity for the stage of process you are working in. While storyboarding, I would draw a storyboard with less detail but would have the big idea. This would prompt moving to another sheet of paper where I would sketch the interface with more detail. It’s a cycle of fidelity. Storyboards have low fidelity but are filled with big ideas. They moved me to start thinking about all the details I needed which prompted me to think about details, spacing and hierarchy of the interface. So, I would sketch the interface and then the flow at a higher level of fidelity on a separate sheet of paper. But then I would return to the same (or different) storyboard to think about what the user would do next. What would help Clark keep his records most organized when transferring money to a subcontractor’s account?

Wireframe sketch
Wireframe sketch

Once I had one complete wireframe journey complete, I moved to designing my wireframes in sketch.

Wireframes in sketch

Below you will see each of the flows that I have developed so far.

The following flows are inspired by Louis. In the first flow, he starts a recurring bill pay to help manage his stress. He feels overwhelmed with all of the new ways he needs to “adult”.

Louis sets up his first recurring bill.
Louis sets up his first recurring bill.

Louis finds out he made a mistake when he set up his bill because he missed a payment. So he has to view what he did and change when the bill is set to pay.

Louis views and changes his recurring bill.
Louis views and changes his recurring bill.

Louis is out with his friends. They want to see a movie but he doesn’t have any cash. So, he sends his friend money electronically.

Louis pays his friend.
Louis pays his friend.

The following flows are inspired by Stephanie. In the first wireframe journey, Stephanie is notified that she and her husband have overdrawn their checking account. She checks her balance.

Stephanie checks her balance.
Stephanie checks her balance.

Stephanie wants to set up a notification for her and her husband so that they know when their checking account will hit $500.

Stephanie sets up a notification.
Stephanie sets up a notification.

Stephanie gets a check from a friend in the middle of a party. She wants to deposit it.

Stephanie deposits a check.
Stephanie deposits a check.

Stephanie wants to transfer some extra funds into her daughter’s college account.

Stephanie transfers funds.
Stephanie transfers funds.

Next steps

First, I need to finish making every screen in my system. Second, I will go out into the field and get feedback from real users. I can’t wait to hear what they say!

Reimagining the TD Mobile Banking Application: from sense making to a future state

In this week’s assignment for Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving, I practiced systematic knowledge creation in order to develop a vision for the future state of a mobile banking application. The process to come to this vision was driven by my own sense making and belief that when a digital product is developed with higher order systems thinking, the product will be more effective, designed with a user’s experience in mind.

The first step I took was to build my own background knowledge on banking. I listed all the banking concepts I could imagine, systematically found relationships between the terms, and built a backbone for the fundamental purposes banks serve. From this foundation, I was able to create a hierarchy of bank knowledge that would fuel my future vision of what a mobile banking application could be. Ultimately, this process led to the banking relationship concept map linked below. Constructing my own mental model for the purposes of banks, what functions and sub functions they perform, and how they fit into the larger financial ecosystem provided me with a framework to make decisions later in this process.Bank Relationship Map

The second step I took was to create an information architecture map of the current TD mobile banking application. This involved physically recreating the entire user flow of the app. I navigated throughout the whole application to create a schematic of the application. I learned how a user would interact with each feature, making notes of breakdowns, and possible opportunities for optimization. I was also able to learn TD banks current hierarchy – what “features” are most important, where are different applications linked more than once, and what functions a user would have to hunt for. This led to the information architecture map linked below.

InformationArchitecture-01

After taking a step back to reflect on how I conceptualized banking and how the TD bank currently designed their banking app, I was able to make new connections. In the above map, you will see that TD bank does not have a clear hierarchy guiding their user interactions. Different applications can be navigated to in multiple ways but it is unclear why this is important. There are also different functions that appear to be higher order and yet, are confusing and don’t appear to serve the user.  I first sorted the features into categories that made more sense, specifically, account management, services, support and profile. These categories matched what I believe to be the purposes banks serve and also matched TD bank’s current application functions. From this, I could easily sort all of the functions into these categories. Thus, you will see a future state of the mobile banking application that has clearer hierarchy. I also made a few decisions including making support easier to access, as well as making security a higher priority from the user’s perspective.

InformationArchitecture-02

The Digital Cave: Math vs. Design Literacy

When I started my career as a math educator fifteen years ago, I was motivated to change how my students saw math, to see that  is math all around, to feel that understanding math matters, and most importantly, everyone can learn math. I wanted my students to read the world through numbers. I was driven by the belief that math formats our world – from the ways we plan our cities to the digital technologies that are now omnipresent to the economic models that control our global markets, mathematics is the foundation of our built environment. I doggedly tried. I had to do a lot of heavy lifting. Time and again I had to confront a growing tide of apathy. Students, teachers, graduates, they all recited the same chorus: “So what? This stuff can’t really help me.” And honestly, I thought so, too. Even the most studious who learned to rigorously think mathematically, what would they do with it? Where could they go? Ten years into my career, I discovered design thinking and it revolutionized my classroom. The skills and mindsets practiced by professional designers offers everyone a way to get out into the world and do something real.

A decade and a few months later, I am completing my first quarter of a program in Interaction Design at the Austin Center for Design. In theory class, we read a cadre of articles that articulated what I intuited years ago: design literacy is just as important as math literacy. Math formats our world. Design structures it. To me, teaching the general population the how, why and what of design helps all citizens to first, gain consciousness for the complexity of the manmade world and second, be empowered to critique and contribute to the world around them.

Teaching people “…basic skills in inquiry, evaluation, ideation, sketching and prototyping…” as (Pacione)  as well as lateral thinking skills (de Bono) empowers  people to escape the feeling that, “…the machines of our culture often appear out of human control, threatening to trap and enslave rather than liberate.”  (Buchanan) Just as understanding how knowledge is constructed within the domain of mathematics helps all citizens to grow their awareness, learning how to practice design would open up everyone’s minds to how the world around them has been constructed.

Now, I am not proclaiming design thinking would save the world. This would be naïve. As Horst and Rittel proclaim, there is no way to save the world because “social problems are never solved. At best they are only re-solved—over and over again.” However, since designing is a form of intelligence (Cross), I believe that just like mathematics anyone can learn the art of design. If more people learn to grow their design literacy, their capacity for understanding how the world operates will grow.

Learning that technology is “…a discipline of systematic thinking” and not a product liberates. It can help all people to both learn how the products and services around them have been constructed and also to give them ideas about how to contribute to new constructions.

Mathematics is abstract and distant. Design is concrete and lived. Design can help all people to feel connected to the built environment. It can also be a bridge between mathematical ignorance and knowing-ness. It can inspire students to ask questions and feel empowered to answer them.

After thinking about how design can reshape one’s consciousness, I thought about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. A brief summary of the allegory: in an imagined world, humans are chained to seats below the ground in a cave. They are forced to watch two-dimensional shadows on a wall from birth to death. They believe this representation of the world to be reality. Randomly, one person’s chains are broken and he ascends to the real world, seeing the sun and trees for the first time. He feels obligated to return to the people still chained down below in the cave to tell them the truth. Instead of embracing what he has to say, the people shun him and threaten to kill him. He fails to return to his world and will wander alone above ground for the rest of his life. This allegory inspired my synthesis of the articles about design education. Thus, I called the story, “The Digital Cave.”

Empowering the poor

What if business could offer an honorable way out of poverty? This week’s readings in Design, Society and Public Sector offer compelling arguments in favor of this notion.  Through the research of Le Dantec and Spears on poverty and homelessness and unexpected perspectives on business from Yunus, Martin, and Prahalad, I can imagine a way for this to work.

A social entrepreneur is at the heart of the argument. According to Martin, social entrepreneurs are, just like a typical entrepreneur, courageous and persistent. What distinguishes them is that they search for business opportunity through analysis in what is unjust. They spend time trying to gain empathy for the downtrodden by understanding the day-to-day needs of the poor and homeless. These entrepreneurial humanitarians recognize that the poor have distinct problems and perspectives on products and services and that it is possible to capitalize on this. Prahalad argues that there are 4 billion poor in this world and collectively they have a vast amount of buying power. Yunus provides a framework for designing a business whose primary objective is social profit. Martin, Prahalad, and Yunus all agree that there are shareholders willing to invest in businesses that seek to build a more equitable world.

Le Dantec’s research is a case study in designing for the homeless in Atlanta. He develops insights on how the homeless perceive technology and then, using these insights, co-creates an application that facilitates collective learning and access to city services. As I read his research, I saw a reflection of my own values – as a designer I must find ways to make society more inclusive and to empower all citizens to participate in the larger political world. Le Dantec provides a concrete example of how he did this for the homeless of Atlanta.

Though change can happen through the steadfast actions of a social entrepreneur, Spears’ research lays a foundation to help support an argument that the poor can be empowered to take charge and in turn, become agents of change. His research refutes the folklore theory that poverty is the result of “bad behavior” and instead, through rigorous methods, proves that poverty leads to limited cognitive capacity.

My comic tells the stories of Mary, her son Johnny, and an activity named Dan. Mary feels stuck living in a shelter. She lives day-to-day and is unable to have a long term plan. This has a negative impact on her son’s performance in school. Dan steps in to help unlock their potential to act and change their lives through a social business. In the story, you will see how Dan does this as he co-designs a co-working space whose mission to enable access to higher education for all residents in a shelter.

I am not naïve. I don’t think that starting a business that sells to the poor (or whose purpose is to better our environment or any other social cause) will ensure a more just world. What I am interested in is how co-designing services can embolden citizens of the world to be agents of change. This collection of articles provides me with a basis for thinking about my quarter 2 project.

Third Presentation-01 Third Presentation-02 Third Presentation-03Third Presentation-04 Third Presentation-05 Third Presentation-06 Third Presentation-07 Third Presentation-08 Third Presentation-09 Third Presentation-10 Third Presentation-11 Third Presentation-12

My evolution as a design researcher

As I am halfway through my first quarter of Interaction Design Research class, I am reflecting on my evolution in terms of what it means to do design research as well as how my current project researching the animal product food chain has evolved. As a budding design researcher, I am beginning to grasp what it is I need to practice and learn – how do I step into a world I’ve never lived in, feel comfortable with uncertainty, capture data that reflects how people really live their lives, and gain empathy for all of my participants. I am beginning to understand the complexity of this task and am finding that I as I fumble through my first research project how much work it is going to take on my part to embody the methods that will lead to deeper and more meaningful insights.

At the beginning of the quarter, my teammate and I decided to focus in on how food is distributed from farm to restaurant since it was a topic we were both intrigued by. Our initial research question was to understand how Austin area farmers and ranchers get products to market. Our research started by talking to subject matter experts and doing secondary research. As we began to feel more confident in this brand-new problem space, we practiced contextual inquiries – we tried our best to be able to bear witness to the ways farmers, food distributers and restaurateurs lived their day-to-day lives.  We tried engaging our participants in questions that would reveal the gaps between how they wanted to live their lives and how it was actually unfolding. As we heard stories about how farmers would get their products to restaurants, we heard time and again how important communication was – from building trusting relationships between stakeholders to farmers consistently updating restaurants about what crops they currently have for sale to restaurants making requests and staying updated on all of the farms in the area.  Almost every prompt my teammate and I came up with returned to how important clear and consistent communication was to each stakeholder. Therefore, we narrowed our focus to gain additional rich insights into how individual farmers and restauranteurs feel about their daily communication.

 To begin to unearth how our participants feel about their daily communication, my teammate and I developed several participatory activities. Before the interview, we asked our participants to keep a record of who they spoke with. During the interview, we worked with our participants to create a map of all of their interactions that encodes different information like frequency, importance and method of communication within the map. We then used this map to stimulate stories. At the end, we asked our participant to design their ideal communication.

It was amazing to see how using this kind of activity facilitated storytelling. A powerful moment occurred while my teammate and I interviewed the chef of a well-established farm-to-table Austin restaurant. As he described his relationship with one of his food distributors, he segued into talking about a meaningful relationship he has with a new local restauranteur. At first he was talking about ordering an animal product, how he predicts how much he needs, and what it is like working with this particular distributor. Next, he described challenges he has.

This led into a story in which he recounted a moment last week when a new chef did not have enough fish to serve his customers that day and texted our participant to ask if his restaurant had enough to share. Our participant took out his cellphone to show us the text exchange. He walked us through what happened and how the text moved him to reach out to his other chef friends for the fish. In this moment, I felt like I got to peer into the lives of a network of chefs and how they managed to support each other. In the end, the new chef was supported by his network (who are also his competition!). I believe that entering into the interview with a mindset that my teammate and I would co-create an interaction map with our participant facilitated this meaningful finding.

Of course, as mentioned above, I am a budding researcher and just now learning about how much I still need to learn on how to be an effective design researcher. In my next interviews, I have a few things I want to improve. First, I really need to be prepared for anything. The night before, I should make sure my cellphone can take hours of video (because I found out that it can’t in the middle of an interview), my computer is ready to take notes (after I had typed 8 pages of notes in the field, Word would not let me save the document – something that has never happened before) and I bring several different kinds of notebooks depending on where my participant takes me (small and large notebooks that open in a way that I can carry them one-handed since I need to be ready for anything). Second, I want to modify my participatory methods to go deeper. I see how powerful participatory research methods are at getting participants to open up, share stories, and reveal insights I could not predict. In my next iteration of this kind of interview, I want to ask questions that help me to understand who are the influencers in the participant’s business as well as what the real impact communication has on day-to-day operations. I want to delve into their sense of ideal relationships so I can learn what may currently be broken. Third, I want to internalize possible models I will eventually develop from the data my teammate and I are recording in the field. I believe this will help me to record the right data for future use in the synthesis process.

The designer I want to be

As a student in his first quarter at the Austin Center for Design, I am beginning to develop my own philosophy for how I want to be a designer when I enter into the professional world. In the course titled Design, Society and the Public Sector, I read foundational texts written by design practitioners and academics that are reflections of what it means to them to have impact as an interaction designer. In the most recent cycle of readings, we focused on the meaning and development of value as well as the underlying principles for creating value for consumers and citizens of the world. In order synthesize the articles, I created a short comic that I will present below. First, I will provide some context for the story I wrote.

As a basis for understanding my perspective, I start with two of the readings (written by Jon Kolko and Don Norman) that introduce differing perspectives of innovation and that pushed me to ask the question: “Where does/should the concept of innovation live?”

innovation-01 innovation-02

As expressed in the diagrams above, the authors focused on two kinds of innovation. Innovation from the perspective of new technologies can lead to conceptual breakthroughs and eventually change how humans interact. Examples of this are the automobile, the computer and the cellphone. On the other hand, innovation can be seen from the perspective of the consumer. This kind of innovation is subjective and defined by individuals – in the ways they see their own lives and how they use or do not use services and products.

As a future designer, I am interested in focusing on innovating from the perspective of users. Thus steeping myself in the human centered design process makes sense.

Comparing the positions of each of the authors we read (Norman, Kolko, Sanders, Gaver and Dourish), I am beginning to build a framework for thinking about how to develop innovative solutions to wicked problems (as they are experienced on the human level). At its core, the human centered design process is, “…an approach that values uncertainty, play, exploration, and subjective interpretation as ways of dealing with [the limits of knowledge].” (Gaver, pg. 1) This pushes against the dominant belief in the value of quantification, predictive models and a positivist methodology for understanding how to design innovative solutions. However, humans do not experience the world in predictable and rational ways. Instead they are constantly creating the world they live in. The context that people operate in is embodied. Context is, “…something that people do. It is an achievement rather than an observation; an outcome, rather than a premise.”  (Dourish, pg. 22)

Since I want to be a researcher and designer who wants to innovate from the perspective of users, I have to be able to get at the lived experience of humans. I need to figure out methods for capturing that data and making sense of it. It is not as simple as coming up with all the variables that need to be quantified, making objective (context-free) observations, and asking people to respond to surveys. It requires getting at how people really behave, think, and feel. In order to do this, I need a mindset in which I believe I can co-create with my users so that I can access my users’ experiences. Co-creation is an “…act of collective creativity that is experienced jointly by two or more people…where the intent is to create something tis not known in advance.” I believe this loops back to the quote I presented from Gaver. An act is only creative if it is playful, uncertain, and leads to subjective interpretations. As a human centered designer, I need to embody this mindset in order to capture rich data on how my users think, behave and feel. I can do this through creative activities or presenting them with cultural probes wherein I capture reactions to unexpected and irrational stimuli. Of course, just as any positivist scientist would tell you, you need to process lots of data. In the qualitative research world, we do this through synthesis. As Kolko states, “…Synthesis is a sense making process that helps the designer move from data to information, and from information to knowledge.” (Kolko, pg. 40)

Now that I’ve laid out some of the thinking I have been doing on what kind of designer I want to be, I will speak about the story I will present below. As I reflected on the articles, the idea of play stood out.  When humans play, they are doing, creating, and revealing truths about themselves they would not in a rational state of mind. Thus, I centered my story on three individuals, Marvin, Kolko and Sanders. Marvin is lonely and wants to play. Kolko shows up and stimulated by an artifact (a stick), their unconscious desire to fight is acted upon. Sanders shows up and stops them. She works with the boys to co-create another solution to helping them all feel included. They synthesize this information and come up with an insight: they all want to play in a treehouse. I believe within these simple interactions I summarized the above points: the kids innovate changing their lived experience, co-create, play, imagine, and act as a designer should.

Value comic-01 Assignment 2-02 Value comic-03 Value comic-04

 

 

 

Where’s the value? Or how I got lost in the haze.

As a student at the Austin Center for Design in his first quarter, I am learning how to practice design research. Design research is a process for uncovering opportunities for innovation within complex human-based systems. As fledgling design researchers, my class was tasked with understanding the animal product value chain within Austin. My team decided to narrow our focus to understanding the distribution chain between farmer and restaurant. We have been practicing ethnographic techniques for producing qualitative data – interviews, stories, photos, drawigs, and observations – which we will learn to synthesize later in the course. Practically speaking, this means my teammate and I have been traveling around Austin speaking to farmers, restauranteurs, a food distributor, a farmer educator, and a meat manager for a grocery store. We are attempting to get at how the distribution chain is experienced on the human level through the stories of the people that interact within the problem space on the day-to-day. We want to analyze the mundane in order to find something extraordinary and unexpected – to discover insights that are meaningful and actionable.

What my research looks like
What my research looks like

Just three weeks into the project and I am already swimming in data – transcripts of hour long conversations, physical and remembered images, sense experiences, participant constructed artifacts, my teammate’s perspective, and my own baggage – all of these bits and pieces contribute to how I am trying to make sense of the food distribution chain. I feel like my head is in a thick fog of information. Listening to how people make meaning of their work is endlessly fascinating and complex. So far, I am finding that to stay somewhat grounded, to stay focused on what I am researching, I look for themes that connect all my disparate experiences. (Even though the teacher practitioners keep reminding the students not to make sense of the data right now. That’s what we will do during the synthesis phase.)

In fact, as I write this blog entry, a clear theme starts to emerge: how the food value chain is co-constructed. The first interview my teammate and I conducted took place on a local farm. We were led on a tour by an energetic and industrious farmer who is just as passionate about the feel of healthy soil as she is in talking to potential future farmers at the local elementary schools. She consistently returned to where she finds value – in keeping the community healthy through nutritious food. She has been committed to farming for years sustained by the beliefs like that when a mustard green is bitter enough, it will help consumers eventually avoid hefty medical expenses that consuming non-nutritious food will lead to. One of the most salient moments happen when she plucked two pods of okra and urged us to eat it.

And so, we did.

okra
Lovely okra

Much like Proust’s madeleine, as I tasted the okra, I got lost in memories. Though unlike when Proust was brought back to his childhood at first taste, I got lost in memories I never participated in. They were the memories of the local landscapers that contributed to the compost on the farm that ultimately led to healthy bacteria rich soil. They were the memories of the decades of love that the owners of the land had put into tilling the land, the necessarily accurate data collection, and 20 year long relationships between the farm and community that support the farm keeping in operation. This bite of okra represents how rich the ethnographic research experience is. I get to experience first hand the product value chain.

And then, as my teammate and I meet other actors along the value chain, we learn about how  they contribute to the flow of value from the nutrient rich soil and eventually to the plates of (discriminating? – need to research) consumers.

In the abstract, value is easily translated into monetary terms — how much something is worth in dollars and cents tells the world how much it should be valued. And this perception then reinforces itself – if today I paid x amount for a carrot, I demand that tomorrow that price remain stable. Yet, as my team has worked its way through the value chain of food, we have discovered other forms of value from the perspective of the humans who interact with the product before it lands in front of the customer – rich relationships between a food distributor and the farmers he trusts to work with (he often gets lost in conversation on his pick up route as he gabs with the farmers he has been working with) and the restauranteur at a high end restaurant who pridefully lists all of the vegetables local farmers are currently harvesting (because to excel in the farm-to-table market you “gotta be in the game”).

As my team and I move forward in our research, I start to see gaps in our information. How do customers perceive value? Why do they choose to eat the way they do? How does distribution support or inhibit the value chain? Where are there disruptions that may lead to a monetary devaluing of products? How can the perceptions of food providers contribute to or inhibit more sustainable farming practices and fair exchange?

Design in society

In my first assignment for Design, Society and the Public Sector, I summarized six design theorists through a story about aliens that visit earth to bring back knowledge to their dying planet.

As they speak with a wise person, the aliens make idealistic statements based on rumors they’ve heard about the good life of earthlings. The wise person responds to each statement with concepts that expose a reality of living on our planet. Each one is also accompanied by a quote from one of the theorists. I believe that when the reader makes sense of the three components of each panel (statement, concept, and quote), they will get the gist of each author.

Ultimately, creating this comic provided me with the opportunity to synthesize the six authors and begin to develop my own stance on what it means to be an ethical design.

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