Coda: Inner Circle Part 1

I’ve always been interested in childbirth- fascinated, because it’s amazing. And then petrified, because everything I’ve ever seen or heard about it is so scary; why is that? It’s a process our bodies are designed for.
When my team was looking for topics to research, we came across an article in the NYT detailing some pretty staggering statistics on birth in the US. One in three births results in a C-Section. The US is one of the most expensive places in the world to give birth, and we also have one of the highest maternal and infant death rates in the industrialized world.
We did a lot of research into this topic to find out WHY these things are happening in birth in our culture. Our huge takeaway insight was that our culture sees birth as a scary, out of control event that needs to be addressed as a procedure. We’ve taken control away from the mother and put it into medicalized methods and procedures that doctors understand.

One of the primary reasons for this is that women don’t see birth anymore- we used to literally support each other through the labor and delivery process and so would see the birthing process unfold before actually going through it. Women saw that it was a long, hard but totally doable process that our bodies are designed for. When birth starting happening in hospitals, women stopped seeing birth until they went through it themselves. By that time, their vision of it had been incredibly flooded by the images from the media that it is crazy, out of control and needs to be intervened upon (which is where I imagined my own fear spawned from)

So, our team wanted to design to enable women to have positive birth experiences. When women felt enabled to make informed decisions about their birth, they would end up feeling empowered by the experience instead of feeling bowled over by it.
We saw through our research that women that headed into birth feeling informed and assertive tended to have a more positive feeling about their birth experience afterwards, and women that were less informed and authoritative and had more of a “I’m going to roll up to the hospital and see what happens-I trust my doctor” attitude tended to feel more bowled over by the experience and have more negative feeling about the experience afterward.
One of our participants showed us an example of a birth plan that she had written for close friends and family detailing her wishes and setting boundaries around her upcoming home birth. Her plan helped friends and family feel included, let them know how they could help, and also allowed her to set boundaries with them. This email set a great tone for her birth and also for her impending motherhood.

It was also a provocation for the design of our startup: Inner Circle: The Birth Plan for Everyone Else.
Inner Circle is a web application that helps pregnant women create a birth plan for friends and family. By offering questions, prompts and examples from other women’s experiences, Inner Circle allows women to practice an assertive voice around their upcoming labor and delivery.

We are currently pilot testing. Pregnant women can go through the process of creating a birth plan email for friends and family via a survey monkey web form that we’ve created. We will then format this information into a Birth Plan Email for her to send to friends and family. See below for an example and go to if you know anyone that would want to pilot with us!

Understanding Our Inner Circle Application Through Context and HCI Design Theory

Our design team is knee deep in piloting our design idea around pregnancy, labor and delivery called Inner Circle: The Birth Plan for Everyone Else.  You can read more about it here.  In Chris Risdon’s Theory class we started off the quarter reading about Human Centered Interaction (HCI) and context in which technology is used. Because we are in the process of thinking about designing the interactions within our product, and how context may affect its use, we wanted to apply the concepts that we learned from these readings to think about strengthening our own design.

We constructed a 2×2 axis based on how we understood each author’s perspective to relate our own Inner Circle concept and execution.   The x axis plots how closely each author’s view point on technology relates to our concept (doesn’t at all, or strongly relates). The y axis plots how we see each author’s perspective relating to the execution of Inner Circle (relates closely, doesn’t relate at all).

It was really important to our product to think about how technology inserts itself in our society and its relevance and impact on our culture because it is our objective for our product to serve as a bridge in communication and connection, and not a disconnector.

One of the most interesting author perspectives was that of Steve Mann, inventor of EyeTap, the predecessor of Google Glass.   Mann was insistent that the capability of a camera that records all viewer perspective experience would offload some of the mental ram needed to remember trivial things.  Mann hypothesized that this would allow us to retain that ram for more important memories and thought processing.  Our group really strongly considered this vantage, because we think of Inner Circle as being able to offload some of the mental ram that goes into worrying around organizing a birth.  “Don’t forget to tell Martha to feed Phoebe when we head to the hospital to give birth” might bounce around in one’s head for months before the event arrives.  Using Inner Circle to send out a plan to everyone else informing them of the organization and plan around the birth would act as a way to clear an expectant mother’s mental plate, much in the way that Mann talks about not using mental ram to remember trivial details.  However, we also think that defaulting on committing something to memory is in a way defaulting on processing fully.  Leading pregnant women through creating reminders to send later and making decisions around their birth experience forces them to process these things.  At the same time, it releases some of the anxiety of having to remember these decisions when the time to focus on the labor at hand arrives.  This mapped to our agreeing with Mann on concept- in that we both agreed that the ability to offload mental energy could help one focus on more important things.  However, our execution of making pregnant women process decisions through the use of our app is directly the opposite of how we see Mann’s execution- that one could fully disengage from processing things with the thought that they could return to the footage later.

This is prime example of the process we used for dissecting each of the seven author’s theories relating to HCI and context in technology and then relating their point of view to our own design.   You can see the full 2×2 below.

We’re currently recruiting pregnant women for our pilot!  If you know anyone who would want to participate, send them to  Thanks!



The Impact of Storytelling: An update on our design process around pregnancy, labor and delivery

James Lewis, Meghan Corbett and I are pushing ahead with our design idea around pregnancy, labor and delivery.  You can read our last update on the blog here.  Our design idea which is becoming a “thing,” is called Inner Circle: The Birth Plan for Everyone Else.  Our research last quarter pointed so strongly to our culture managing birth as a scary procedure that often needs intervention (get the baby out!!!) instead of a hard, long, completely do-able and natural process that our bodies are designed for. We were motivated to design towards the notion of making this concept more accessible to women.

We were so inspired by hearing women’s stories around their birth experiences; both good ones and not so great ones.   The women that had had great experiences felt so empowered and strong; that this experience had set a tone for their start of motherhood in such a powerful way.  The women that had less great experiences felt bowled over,  like the choices about their own birth experience were being made for them, around them, and not by them.

We’ve spent so much time processing and brainstorming what we could do to bridge this divide; how can we design to support women in having a more positive birth experience?  How can we translate the stories of the empowering experiences and offer some of the components that supported those women to women who may not otherwise have access to them?

Our last blog post detailed the intent and function of  Inner Circle: The Birth Plan for Everyone Else . We started out with the idea that women needed to be able to clearly delineate lines of communication to pull supportive people closer and keep the people that pull at them or need boundaries set kept further away during the labor process.   We started building the skeleton of the interface, called wireframes, last week and presented it in class in a formal presentation.  We’re now in the idea validation phase, where we are creating short scenarios of how a user might use our tool.  These scenarios will be accompanied by short storyboards to help accentuate the emotional value proposition of using our tool.   We’ll use these documents in user focus groups with pregnant or recent mothers to give them a good sense of what our tool does and we will use discussion questions to provocate ideas to further improve the concept.

The ask??!  Help us!  We need your story and your thoughts!  We have two testing sessions at AC4D this week: Thurs at 7pm and Sunday at noon.  Here’s a link to our doodle schedule if you’d like to sign up: 

Testing will take about an hour, and you’ll get a chance to connect with other women around your experience with this important issue.  And there will be snacks!


Addressing Birth as a Process Instead of a Procedure: Our Q2 Research at AC4D

James Lewis, Meghan Corbett and Anna Krachey have been doing design research around pregnancy and child birth decisions over the last eight weeks at AC4D.

We became interested in doing research around pregnancy when we read about some surprising statistics in The New York Times. The United States has the highest cost in the world for both traditional, vaginal deliveries and cesarean sections. We have a low rate of the use of midwives and a high rate of C-Sections compared to many European countries. Yet, The US also has one of the highest rates of both infant and maternal death among industrialized nations. So, what is going on with pregnancy, labor and delivery in the US if it’s so expensive and the outcomes are not so great?

We did contextual inquiries with participants to learn about why there is this discrepancy in our birth procedures here in the US.  We talked to:

  • Expectant mothers
  • Public health workers
  • Mothers who had been pregnant as teens
  • A Doula
  • We visited a birth center
  • OB GYN office
  • Pregnant teens Social Workers

Our initial focus centered around how socioeconomics affect pregnancy and birth plan decisions, thinking that socioeconomics could be tied to access to information. As we dug deeper in our research, we realized that there is a pervasive sense of fear around birth in our culture, and we became very interested in how we could design to mitigate that.

After we talked to participants and took a million pictures and saw all of the pregnancy pillows and toy model pelvises in the entire world, we transcribed the interviews, and cut all of the statements into utterances (800 utterances, woah).  We slathered the wall with them, and got to work on synthesizing: separating utterances into categories and then making affinity groups (observations about human behavior) and then eating a whole bunch of peanut butter so that we could create some brain power to churn out INSIGHTS.  Insights are provocative statements that combine what we see in the research we’ve done with what we know as human beings with experience in the world.

Our over-arching take away from our research is that our culture sees birth as a scary, out of control thing that needs to be addressed as a procedure.  We’ve started to manage pain and fear instead of accepting that birth and labor is a hard and long completely do-able and natural process.  With that really heavy and provocative statement, we worked to refine and pare down our many insights into these three statements.

Insight #1: Taking care of a baby gives teen moms a sense of purpose and motivates them to take care of themselves.

By talking to a teen mother and a program administrator for pregnant teens, we were able to see a common trend that many teen moms seem to find a sense of purpose that they had been lacking up until that point.  We talked to Amy, a teen mother who moved to a new town and felt like she didn’t fit in with the students at her high school. Although she did very well in sports and was offered some scholarships, Amy told us that she didn’t feel compelled to take the SAT and go to college. Her lack of direction went unaddressed by her parents and she was basically left to her own devices.  Our research has pointed to sexual activity as a way many teens look to feel loved and supported. This was true for Amy who told us that she went through a very promiscuous period, trying to feel loved in the wrong ways. Amy thought her boyfriend was using protection when she got pregnant at 17.

As the reality of her situation sunk in, Amy made the decision to wait to tell her family and friends about the pregnancy. She knew that ultimately it was her responsibility to make the decision either way. Even though her family shamed her, she decided to keep the baby. She said “I [knew] this would give me a sense of purpose in that if I didn’t do anything else well, I knew I could be a good mom.”

Through our research we identified the second trimester through 6 weeks postpartum to be the critical period of time that this sense of purpose needs to realized. This is the time when childbirth gets strangely real for the teen and could lead to panic and further disconnection if they don’t get the support they need. Amy had a sense of direction, but her boyfriend walked out on her and she was forced to become a single teen mom. Rebecca, a program administrator for pregnant teens told us is that 80% of teen dads aren’t around after a year. This negatively affects the child and decreases the mother’s chance of overcoming a low-income potential.

One design idea we are considering is that soon-to-be teen fathers could be trained to be a “Daddy Doula” (birth coach) through a series of training videos and an on-demand doula skype service. Through this program, fathers would become informed of the physical and emotional challenges of birth that their partner endures and learn how they can best support and assist them during labor. Teen fathers would then be empowered to take an active, supportive role in the birth of their child. which would form a stronger connection between them. And teen mothers would feel supported through what could otherwise be a very overwhelming process.

Kim, a doula we spoke to supported this idea. She said “We give dads and partners lots of things to do, lots of little massage techniques and just encourage them to feel like they’re part of the process too because you need that support. No longer do dads have to just sit in the corner and hang out.”

This design idea was solidified by a recent conversation with our classmate Alex Wycoff. His wife had a baby just a few days ago and Alex mentioned that he felt empowered that he could actively advocate for his wife during labor because he had a sense of what the correct care should look like. This lead to his wife feeling more supported and less fearful that her pain would go unrecognized.

Our second insight addresses the fact that our birth culture in the US is not doing a good job accepting that birth and labor is a hard and long completely do-able and natural process and is instead focused on managing pain.   Mentally preparing and planning for the process of birth may mitigate the postpartum PTSD that seems to be happening because of this.

Insight #2: Birth plans and informed mothers act as preventive medicine against postpartum depression and trauma.

From talking to a doula about the mental game of birth, a mother who felt very prepared, and a mother who felt very out of control, we were able to begin to see how information and preparation really contributed to how in control a woman felt towards her birth experience.

When talking to Kim, the doula, she gave us a lot of perspective on what she considers some of the different “camps” of thinking around pregnancy, labor and delivery.  A lot of women’s birth plans ends up being “I trust my doctor.”, which is true, but they’re also so scared about the thought of a human exiting their body that they don’t actually even want to know what’s going to happen.  Those are the women that end up with birth trauma and feel totally bowled over by the process.  A lot of times new moms walk away from their birth experiences feeling like “what just happened?” Research is indicating that between 5% – 15% of postpartum depression is actually turning out to be PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from birth trauma and feeling out of control.  The media has constantly fed us images from popular films such as Knocked Up, in which the mother is screaming bloody murder, cursing the father, and seems completely terrified and out of control.  That’s what people think birth is.  People ask doulas all the time: is that what is going to happen to me?  Am I going to want to strangle the baby’s father during this process?  Kim has attended 65 births and has never experienced anyone laboring like that.  She says there’s just so much misconception around what birth experience is actually like.

Kim, a doula, shows us an educational video of a calm birth.

Tammy, pregnant with her second child, talked about feeling very prepared mentally and physically for a natural birth, and the response around her being very unsupportive and negative towards that decision. She designed her birth plan, which is a written record of what you would like to have happen during your birth process, to be an unmedicated vaginal birth.  She and her husband took a birth class where every couple went around and introduced themselves.  Tammy was last and was the only one to announce that she was planning a natural, unmedicated birth.  Everyone in the room looked at her like “wishful thinking.”  Her preparation later helped her deal with what ultimately wasn’t a great experience at the hospital, but her knowledge and commitment helped her stick to her natural birth plan.

Awareness and preparation empower women to better endure the physical and mental marathon of labor and delivery. It prepares them to handle the challenges that can occur. We are interested in designing in the area of mental and physical preparation and expectation of labor and delivery.

Our design idea around this is beginning to take shape.  The service of hiring a doula is not available to everyone and is often cost and circumstance prohibitive.   We are interested in a design that pervades mass media and begins to replace the negative images about birth that we have been fed through media.  Understanding that labor and delivery is an incredibly long and strenuous process, but one that the body is designed for, makes us believe that there could be some crossover in the way that one trains mentally for an endurance event like a marathon.   We propose an app concept that is pervades social media and provides visual stimulation and cues of peaceful, positive birth experiences.  There would also be a physical coach component that would provide manageable exercise that would facilitate connection with the body before the very intense process of labor occurs.  Both of these things would help mitigate fear and would promote confidence in birth.

Our third insight addresses the consequences that are happening because we address birth as a procedure.

The third insight from our research is that Hospitals and OBGYNs prioritize money and convenience over the patients well-being which leads to birth trauma and fear.

Consequently, alternative, more natural options have become unattainable because they are not covered by insurance.  We’re not saying OBGYNs don’t care about their patients or are just doing it for the money. What we do believe is that the medical system around labor and delivery incentivizes interventions like using pitocin, epidurals and c-sections. Birth becomes a procedure and women get lost in a mechanized system.

We think one of the ways to deal with that system is to make doulas regularly part of the process. Doulas not only act as coaches for women to deal with the physical and mental anguish women might experience during labor, but also as ambassadors. But when we spoke to Kim, an area Doula (birth coach), we heard that with all the expenses expectant parents have to deal with – Doulas are often left off the list.

Our design idea would be an online marketplace providing financing and business tools for Doulas and independent midwives. By getting the money out of the way, Doulas can focus on doing what they love. This would allow them to serve more clients and guide them through the labor and delivery process, as well as providing postpartum care. Adding more Doulas into the medical system could potentially decrease healthcare costs; for example by preventing unnecessary cesarean sections when vaginal delivery will do if a mother has assistance. When new parents have positive birth experiences and are able to process what is happening, they can be better caregivers for for their child.

Lily, who is expecting twins, launched a go fund me campaign to help with the piling costs of her pregnancy and delivery.

After 5 weeks of research, swimming through sense making of 800 utterances into 35 insights, we condensed those into 3 big rocks.  The statement that our culture sees birth as a scary, out of control thing that needs to be addressed as a procedure umbrellas our three primary insights. We have arrived at three spaces that we are interested in designing for and three concepts as initial solutions to these problem areas.

In the upcoming Quarter, we will be further understanding these spaces, choosing one idea, iterating on it much like we just did for 8 weeks with thermostats in Matt Franks’ rapid iteration class.  We will create a service blueprint to understand all of the moving parts of the idea and how they relate to each other as we did this quarter in Chris Risdon’s Service Design class.  We will apply all of these theories and methods that we have been learning to all of this research we have done to create a design idea that we are passionate about working on.  Totally what we signed up for.

Honeywell Thermostat Redesign FINAL Crack At It!

As a user, I am willing to try to learn the navigation of an interface to a certain degree the first time that I use it.  Then, I expect the learning curve to significantly drop as I have learned the primary behaviors that make the system work and am able to apply them to secondary functions in the interface.  The iPhone navigation system is a great example of this: the swipe feature that you use to open the phone for use (indicated with an arrow) is the same motion that you then use to navigate through the pages; the system has trained you and given you a mental model that you can carry throughout the rest of the system.

“Mental model” was a term that we beat to death throughout the iterative design process in redesigning the overly (to put it kindly) complex and complicated Honeywell thermostat.  The concept of a “mental model” calls into question the previous experiences that a user has had using a system.  In the case of the iPhone, they really made their own mental model for operation of a smart phone and introduced you to a behaviour that would be repeated throughout from the system from the first interation with the phone.  With the thermostat, I was bringing forward the previous experiences that I’d had (and later my users were doing the same) using a thermostat.  Pictured below, you see the beautiful Austin Energy issued “energy saver” thermostat that I use daily in my own home.  It’s so awful that I’ve never actually figured out how to use it.  You have to dive so deep into numerous screens to manually enter each day’s schedule that by the time you’re on Wednesday, you have this sinking and frustrating feeling that you’re an hour away from done and that you’re not even really sure that you’re doing it right.

That is exactly the opposite feeling that I wanted my user to have when using my system.  I wanted them to feel like they had an awareness and control of all space, temperature and time at any given time.  I started out my first iteration not really being able to identify this strategy.  I knew that I wanted very clear and direct paths to the spaces within the system, and to greatly reduce them.  I started out by creating a concept model of both the existing system, and then of how I wanted to redesign the system.  A concept model is an abstracted visual model of the spaces in a system and how they relate to each other.  If you look at the post that I wrote about these models , its apparent how I wanted to simplify navigation of space for the user by reducing them.  I shaved a lot of function out of my design that I viewed as clunky and frankly, not useful.

I also wanted to add a “learning” feature; this feature would automatically record the climate control behaviour of the user and then play the recorded behaviour as a learned schedule.  I loved this idea because I was using the mental model that I had learned from my own terrible thermostat at home: scheduling a thermostat is harder than it’s worth.  So, great, I’ll have the system do it for me.  I have to admit though, that I was really defaulting to ignorance is bliss, and I later realized that I was actually choosing a perceived control over actual control.  If I can design to have real control, I think that’s ideal.  My first wireframes, which are a very basic tool for creating an interface skeleton design so that we could test and rate the function with users, featured the learning function and several climate control spaces within the system with which to navigate through.

My first wireframes actually tested pretty well.  We use a user testing method called “Think Aloud Testing” which I detail in a previous post here.  This method requires the user to speak aloud each decision they are making in regards to reaching the goal in each flow of the system.  This method is great because they actually say out loud what they are thinking when they choose the right path to reach the goal, and, even better, the WRONG path, called a Critical Incident.  A Critical Incident is what happens when the user cannot complete their goal within a system.  It is great feedback for the designer.  It is through this testing that I stumbled across a great and slightly depressing insight: a design that works and scores well is not necessarily a good design!  I detail this realization here .

Upon realizing that I thought that my own design, which scored well with testers, was not a system I was interested in using, I really had to assess what my priorities were in my next iteration.  I remember Matt Franks, our professor and leader in this venture, saying at the beginning of the quarter that the first iteration would be the hardest, because we’d be creating each frame in Illustrator and then the following iterations would just be edits on this variation.   Reflecting back, I think I made 6 completely different designs and one measly iteration!  I did get a lot faster at iterating, though, and my design acuity really improved (if I do say so myself:).

I realized that it what I really wanted was to have all of the information about what was happening in my thermostat in front of me at all times.  The current temp and the schedule needed to reside in the same space.  I would feel like I could SEE what was happening at the current time and at any given time in the schedule with a swipe or a drag, NOT a million and one click throughs and guesses.   To conceptualize this space, I used one of the mental models that I am used to using in part of my daily life.

When I’m not iterating on thermostat wireframes and doing design research, I am an artist and I teach college students photography.  This involves a lot of Photoshop. One of my favorite features of Photoshop that I am constantly preaching about to my students is the Curves adjustment layer.   It looks like this:

The histogram in the background shows every tone in the photograph.  The line traversing the space diagonally can be moved to manipulate any one of those tones in the photograph.  This is done using dots on the line.  You click on one with your cursor, and pull it up or down to manipulate the line and therefore the tones that correspond to that point.   I liked the idea that you could have that kind of finger to screen control in a thermostat interface.  Click the line.  Push it up to raise the temp.  Pull it down to lower it.  Release and you’re done.   It seems intuitive to me. I resolved to try the mental model of Curves in my user interface.  My first crack at using it can be viewed HERE .

I was all excited to test it, thinking that I was really getting closer to the interface that I wanted to design and as a user, wanted to use.  The testing failed miserably.  My users were just not intuitively wanting to move the dot to change the temperature.  They didn’t know what to do with it.  


I anticipated a pretty bleak review session with Matt, but he actually pointed out that I had used a mental model that I was familiar with from using Photoshop, but that my users probably didn’t have that same mental model and there was no visual indication on the actual screen that those dots correlated to actual degrees and to temporal space.  Duh!

This was an exciting turning point for me in realizing how to make my interface more “human”- I needed to think about how to conceptualize the user seeing the interface and realizing that the space that they are navigating through is actually time and temperature and that that cue is actually a mental model unto itself.

So, without further ado, I present my final iteration of my thermostat:

From this screen, the home screen which is also the only screen-you can change the current temp, the scheduled temp (by tapping the top menu of week days or simply by scrolling forward- you then add a point on the day and time that you desire by double tapping the screen).   All of the buttons on the left hand side are touch buttons- each is indicated on by turning gray or off by turning white.  The screen falls dark when the system is off.

 This system really only has one space, and it’s the one you’re looking at.  I’ve modeled it into a concept map for quick visualization of the space:

Shown below is the flow to change the current temperature.  When the user double taps on the current temp bubble (the large one with the number in it), a hotdog shaped track appears that allows the user to drap the current temp bubble up and down.  The sliding number also then juts out to the side so that it can be read while the user’s finger is covering the number inside of the bubble.  

When the user removes their finger, the track disappears and leaves the set temp in the bubble and the current running temp just below it in gray. See below:  

This flow is designed, like the iPhone swipe maneuver that I detailed in the beginning of my post, to be a quick and easy behaviour for the user to learn to be able to repeat to then navigate the rest of the system.  I think it’s important to note that a user is ok with a slight learning curve in the beginning of using a system, as long as it is short and easily learned.  The thing that I learned in this round of user testing, however, is that a user can’t learn the behaviour of a touch screen and react to it on a set of paper wire frames.   Paper doesn’t react to touch.  So, the user looks at the interface and guesses which behaviour is appropriate, instead of touching the screen and seeing its reaction and then responding to that.

So, when my users tried to change the current temp, some assumed the arrows meant tap up or down because the screen couldn’t react.  It would be like trying to test the slide feature on the front of iPhone and tapping the arrow that is pointing to the right instead of sliding it bc the system couldn’t react either way to correct your behaviour!

So, this is where I am in my system design.  I’m happy with the space of my system- the user can see all of the information at hand and manipulate it in what feels like a physically and mentally intuitive way.  However, I feel at a little bit of a stalemate about the gap between the inevitable learning curve of using a new system, and the inability of the paper wireframes to react in order to teach the user those behaviors.


Link to the full PDF of my final wireframes is HERE


Honeywell Thermostat Redesign: Crack at Iteration #4

One of the primary things that I’ve been learning from iterating on my thermostat design using wireframes is that the user testing that we’ve been using, called Think Aloud Testing (read my previous post for more info here) really only allows me to observe the ways in which my design functions or doesn’t function.  It very well identifies Critical Incidents, which are areas in which the user actually fails to be able to complete the goal at hand.  Critical Incidents are the identification of what actually went wrong in allowing the user to reach that goal.  Were they unable to figure out how to actually turn the temperature up and down?  Did my controls read as a button and not as a switch and therefore didn’t help the user achieve the assigned goal because they couldn’t use them properly? All of these things are extremely helpful in giving me information about how my interface design actually functions. This is great, this is information that I need.

However, it doesn’t really give me any information about whether or not my design is actually good or not.   I learned this after the first iteration and user testing session.  My interface actually tested pretty well, users were successful in reaching goals.  However, I thought that the design was garbage.  How did I know that?  I don’t want to scroll through that many screens!  I didn’t really want to use my own interface. But my paths to complete tasks within the interface were fairly well defined and completed, so it was a little bit confusing to fall on the bad design conclusion.
After my first iteration, I felt like I learned through observation that more screens to scroll through means loss of orientation.   Having information easily accessible at hand and close to the home screen allows the user to feel more control over the tasks they are trying to achieve using the interface.   From my own use of my crumby home thermostat, I wanted more direct control over scheduling – I wanted to be able to see and touch what I was scheduling.  My cell phone is 7000 times smarter than my thermostat.  The thing that controls the climate in my house and the comfort of my waking and sleeping hours.  This is really important that I understand this and know how to control it!

In thinking about taking control over the minutiae of something, I reflected on the interface of curves in Photoshop.  I teach college students photography, and when teaching them Photoshop, I preach the control that curves allows over the image adjustments and how you can make tiny adjustments to very specific parts of an image.   It’s the most specific and yet versatile part of Photoshop.   Check out Curves below:
Each dot on the line is plotted by the user.  It relates to a specific tone or color in the image.  The curve is moved up or down, left or right to affect that very specific color or tone.

I decided to try and use the control and specificity in curves in my thermostat interface.  The temperature would be the y axis, and the hour of day would be the x axis.  The user would be able to manually, through touch, pull the temperature up or down according to the time they wanted to change it on the schedule.  At current time, they could just pull the current temp up or down and the number would change as the line moved.

I really liked the idea of how this would work in terms of how much control the user would feel that they would have.  One could see where the temperature is, when it is changing, what it is changing to, and wouldn’t have to leave the screen to do any of it.

The big problem with this wonderful idea is that it lacked the mental model of a thermostat.  My users looked at the screen and were just confused.  They didn’t take the time to figure out what each axis was, understandably.  Generally, one looks at a thermostat and the easiest, fastest thing to do is change the temperature up or down.  Usually with arrows! There is no mental model for how to interact with my interface.

There’s no point of entry for how to navigate this strange and foreign thermostat.  How do you even change the temperature!  None of my users were able to accurately change the temperature up or down.   One user actually pulled the temperature dot to the right to raise the temp.  Massive Critical Incident!
I did have some success with the redesign of buttons.  My previous iteration had these icons as buttons, which really didn’t scream out Press me!!!  It isn’t visually clear that these are press-able buttons.  So, the new iteration above features circles and highlighting to indicate that the button is press-able and which one is activated.

What are my next moves in this redesign?   Well, I’m going to iterate on my curves idea.   How do I make this interface reference the mental model of a thermostat while still appropriating the control and ease of the curve?
Stay tuned.  Iteration 5 is cooking.

Link to full PDF of Wireframes here

Research on Pregnancy and Child Birth Choices: Thinking of Labor as an Endurance Event?

James Lewis and I have been doing research on how socioeconomics affect pregnancy and birth choices.  Meghan Corbett has just recently joined our research team and efforts.   So far we’ve talked to pregnant women, midwives, doulas, public health workers, moms, and those working with young fathers and women who were pregnant teens and mothers.

Most recently, I was able to visit and observe a doula led hypno-birthing class.  It was the first class of a series of five 2.5 hour classes.  I attended with friends of mine who are a couple and  are recently pregnant.  They are trying to collect as much information about pregnancy and birth options as they can.  I thought it would be interesting to attend with them as I could then also get their initial reactions to the information being relayed as parents to be.

Before attending the class, the doula friend debriefed me about hypno-birthing. It is a method of relaxation techniques that help to calm the laboring woman so that she can approach pain from a relaxed place and not from a fright or flight standpoint.  Fear  detours oxygen away from the muscles that need to be stretching for delivery, therefor causing more pain.

When we got the the class, the doula introduced us to the approx 10 couples in the room. Then, they each went around and said how many weeks they are, why they are there, and what they people around them think about birth.  For example,  the doula wanted to know if all of their friends had had epidurals.  Or, if everyone they knew were die hard about home birth.  She said that what surrounds us is often a huge contributor into making our own birth decisions.

On this note, everyone went around the room and told their story.   Here are some of the things that I heard: ” I was looking for something to overcome the fear of labor- pretty much all of my friends have had epidurals and all of them have been really scared.”

“My friend who is an anesthesiologist thinks I’m an idiot (for having a natural birth)- she’s having all of the drugs.”

“This is what your body is designed for- it made perfect sense (to have a natural birth).  There’s nothing that resonates more than that.”

” I always wanted a natural childbirth. When I found out I was pregnant I lost my courage. My husband reminded me that I could do it.”

“My mother had a peaceful delivery with me and I think hearing that has helped me not be afraid.”

When I first talked to my doula friend about what it is that a doula does, she basically said that she’s in the business of the mental game.  It’s her job to keep the mother calm and focused on her birth plan.  She compares labor to being an endurance event- you have to break it down into negotiable pieces.  When I ran cross country competitively in high school, my Dad used to chase me on his mountain bike.  He would pick out a girl in front of me and tell me to go get that girl.  Then when passed that girl, he would tell me to go get the next one.  It was a much more digestible way to progress in the race.  If he had just yelled “Anna- go beat that girl up in the front!” I would have looked at the pack in front of me and been completely overwhelmed.  My doula friend helps laboring women see that they can tackle each contraction at a time, that the pain is manageable, that they can breathe, that they can stay calm and centered.   She helps them win the race and not let fear dictate their birth experience.

When I left the class with my newly pregnant friends, the expectant father and I asked the mother to be what she thought.  He said that everything that the doula had said made “sense” to him- it seemed totally “logical.”  Reason was a handle for understanding in this totally unknown adventure.   The mother to be responded that she needed time to think about it.  The whole thing is overwhelming, and she is swimming in a sea of negative birth stories that tell her to be very afraid….




Honeywell Thermostat Redesign Crack at it #2 and User Testing Thoughts

I’ve just completed the user testing for iteration 2 of my Honeywell Thermostat redesign that we’re working on in Matt Franks’ Rapid Iteration class.   In my last post (to be read here) I discuss the objective of my redesign: making the interface of the thermostat as intuitively navigatable as possible as well as the method used for creating the design called wireframing.   This week I was able to observe that that user testing is a direct way to get feedback on design function.  I can literally watch someone intuitively or un-intuitively try  reach the goal/task that I set before them with my thermostat wireframe interface- or not be able to reach it and the exact place in the path to the goal where the design fails.

We used a system called “Read Aloud Testing,” where the user speaks aloud each decision they make about which buttons to push and paths to take to reach the goal they were assigned as they physically “push” the corresponding button on my paper wire frames.  If they “pushed” the correct button for the path that I had designed to reach the goal of the given task, I would place the next wireframe in front of them for them to push the next button to reach the goal.   If they pushed the wrong button, or couldn’t figure out the path, I called “breakdown!” (well, more subtly than that) and took copious notes for redesign.   This process was rewarding for me as the designer bc even if the user chose something that didn’t lead the correct goal, it showed me directly where the path was unclear or unintuitive.  Every design flaw was a win in a strange way, because I felt like I had the information to redesign it.  I took notes on breakdowns as the user tested, and then made a chart of where they got stuck so that I could go back and fix it.

The most marked flaws are both in the navigation cues and also in the paths that I’ve created.  For example, a few users kept pushing the “Done” button to confirm the action of the button they’d just pressed.  I had made the miscall of using “Done” as a way to get back to the home screen instead of a way to confirm an action or decision which was how it was perceived.  For example, in the screens above, the user would press “Adjust Fan” and then press “Done.”  Which makes sense if you don’t know that pressing Adjust Fan takes you to another screen and pressing Done takes you to the home screen.  So, I’ll be rethinking that.

Also, in trying to be all exciting and new in my naming of the categories that you can navigate into (Climate Control instead of Temperature and Fan), I completely confused the user as to which button to press to get to the goal they want.  So, back to the drawing board on that one.

One big thing that I learned/am thinking about: it is frustrating and confusing to a user to enter into an interface and not know where they are in the system.  I feel that “going deep” (several screens) away from the home screen feels overwhelming to the user.  I personally like to know where I am in an interface in relation to the home screen.  In trying to program the schedule of my own thermostat at home, I felt a little bit like the more screens I had to navigate towards and through to reach my goal, then more unsure I felt of reaching my goal and felt frustrated that perhaps I had just committed to some erroneous, 25 minute, completely tedious task, which was not what I wanted.  So, I have a new idea for my manually edit schedule path that I am excited about and working on for this next iteration.  It will model some of the features of photoshop in order to manipulate the schedule of a day.   Stay tuned!

See full PDF of Iteration 2 Wireframes here


Honeywell Thermostat Redesign Crack at it #1

In IDSE 201, we’re redesigning a Honeywell Thermostat unit.  The original unit, as I described in my first post, is a “disaster.”  What I mean by this is that the interface is so complex and unintuitive that it is nearly impossible to navigate.  The user can’t learn the map of the system and then use it to navigate to other parts of the interface.  They are just constantly trying to figure out how to get from one place to another.  Even the previous and cancel buttons are inconsistent in their use and placement.  An interface such as the iphone teaches the user that certain paths and gestures produce predictable results, allowing for intuitive navigation.  This system does none of that.  It does try and inform you of current traffic situations, though. What!? Exactly.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m interested in designing a thermometer that is as intuitive as possible to use for the homeowner.  I wanted the next step of each task to be intuitive on the screen.

In order to create a design that would allow the user to navigate through the interface in the most intuitive and effective way to reach a goal (in this case, heating and cooling via thermostat), we used a method called wireframing to create a physical rendition of the thermostat interface.   The ideal design will bridge a gap between the function of the thermostat and the user’s understanding of it ….to achieve a goal.  In this case, the larger goal being temperature comfort inside of one’s home.

I think of wireframes physically as being kind of like a skeleton- physically, they form the way that the system will function and how one thing’s action or movement affects another.  But, they don’t allude to the actual physical manifestation of the device, much like how skeletons don’t give much indication of whether someone will be pretty or ugly, fat or skinny.

Onto my design concerns: I wanted to build in “learning” technology, because I am not interested in thermostats.  I am interested in thermostats doing their job and me not having to do much to understand them.  So, I want the thermostat to learn what I like.  I am a creature of habit. I turn the air down when I go to bed and then up when I get up.  Every day. So, I want it to learn from me and then do the rest.  In the two screens below, you see the homescreen and  below that the learning status prompt.  The homescreen displays the current room temp, arrows to toggle the temp up and down, a system on/off button.   It also offers buttons to navigate into the climate control space, to edit the schedule manually, and to hold the temperature outside of the schedule.  Here’s some things that I would like to happen:  I don’t want anything displayed on the homescreen when it’s not “alive” than just the temp.  For aesthetic reasons.   I also am finding that as I build this system to the specifications of the assignment, it grows further away from the simple and navigate-able interface that I want to design.  So, I am finding that I need to go back in and re-simplify.  

View Full PDF of Wireframes

Honeywell Thermostat Concept Model and Redesign Concept Model #1

In Rapid Ideation and Problem Solving, we’ve begun our semester long project.  We will be focusing on the redesign and iteration (8x!!) of the Honeywell Thermostat.  Woah.  The interface is a disaster.  I have no idea how homeowners make any sense of navigating this thing.  Well, my guess is they don’t, hence the redesign.

For this project, we each had to draw out a concept map of the existing interface and then make a second map of our own redesign.  Generally, at AC4D we practice thinking that the user is not us.  For this project, however, I designed my first concept to work as I would want it to work as a homeowner.  I do have a thermostat, and I have a tenuous relationship with my thermostat.  I turn the AC down every night when I go to bed, and up every morning when I get up.   I included technology in my concept redesign, that much like the Nest™ thermostat, would enable the thermostat to remember this repeated action and then record it and play back.  It’s referred to as “learning.”  I wanted to make the interface as easy and navigate-able as possible.   Looking forward to moving towards that as I iterate!