Redesigning myAT&T – Storyboard Flows

Our project for Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving this quarter is redesigning the mobile experience for managing your AT&T mobile phone account. We chose this problem due to how much opportunity there is to improve on the experience, especially on the mobile platform. Not only is there opportunity for improvement, pretty much everyone can relate to the frustration with a majority of cell phone providers. Previously I detailed the value of concept mapping as well as a reflection on the process.

After concept mapping we explored what it looked like to storyboard the six flows we decided to focus on as a group. In previous classes we have created storyboards, but there was a larger emphasis on character development then. While characters are useful in establishing a narrative, this focus was more to be more utilitarian; establish the happy-path. Taking practice of telling a more traditional narrative or story and applying it to an exercise like fleshing out flows made the process feel much more comfortable and natural.

The six flows we chose are include:

  1. Plan management
    1. a.) The ability to view current plan and features.
    2. b.) The ability to compare usage against available plans.
    3. c.) The ability to change a plan.
  2. The ability to upgrade a device.
  3. The ability to suspend or remove a device.
  4. The ability to make a warranty claim.
  5. The ability to make a payment/set up automatic payments.
  6. The ability to review and set account security.

I have had some experience sketching out flows of screens before, but there was a very beneficial constraint I have not previously applied. That constraint was the use of pure sticky notes and a Sharpie marker. Using minimal real estate combined with a thick marker forced me to focus on the most important aspects of each screen.

In the past I worked on larger pieces of paper with a thinner writing instrument, but this format led me to pay attention to navigation, placement of components, and really even the layout of the entire screen. It’s arguably too early in the process to be focusing on those details. At this stage in the game those details become distracting, pulling you away from first establishing the hero flow. I was becoming stuck in the granular details rather than stepping back and looking at the picture as a whole before fleshing out the intricacies.

The format I implemented for my storyboards were using a purple sticky note to denote the flow I was working on and light blue sticky notes for the actual flow. Within each flow, the top row shows the high-level functionality while the bottom row gives a small description of what each screen is accomplishing.

Storyboard 1

From here, I actually stepped away from working on it for a day. I wanted my mind to marinate in the flows a little before I took another stab at it. Whenever I did come back to the flows consolidation seemed to be a focus of my actions. I placed yellow sticky notes over the blue sticky notes when I saw an opportunity for iterating towards simplification with the iterated screen.

Storyboard 2

This also allowed me to easily recognize that three of the six flows began with a very similar screen design. Reducing the number of steps will ultimately provide a better experience for the end user allowing them to accomplish their task in less time. The storyboards will inform the structure of design moving into the more detailed wireframe stage, which we are working on currently.

There is a level of clarity I received during this process due to the focus of the bigger picture, which was derived from the constraints of the sticky note real estate and the thick weight of the Sharpie marker. This affords a smaller cognitive load when continuing into higher fidelity wireframes. After all, that’s the benefit of applying process, right?

Team Food Freedom – Beginning Research

Well, it’s begun! Team Food Freedom has begun our larger AC4D project. My team and I have decided to research “access to healthy food among low-income individuals in Austin”. Our group is aware of the important role food, more so healthy food, plays in our every day life. We are curious how access to healthy food, from a physical and mental space, influences people’s eating habits and perception of food. The area of focus could lead to a number of directions that aren’t necessarily known at this point. That’s what is exciting about ethnographic research, it could present a space that we are completely unaware of at the moment.

This quarter started off slower than what was hoped. Although, I think overall the class is moving forward with more confidence this quarter. This is due partly because we deeper exposure into the process from the previous quarter, as well as becoming more comfortable living within ambiguity. This allowed us to get more exposure to opportunities of improvement within the process. Learn by doing, right? I know on a personal level this has been extremely beneficial because generally over-think things, which typically becomes a barrier to making. Part of this is due to being unfamiliar. To combat this I will externalize more and sit within the data longer.

To focus our research participants we are defining low-income as someone who makes less than $10/hr, which comes out to less than $20,800 annual income before taxes. The living wage in Austin is reported as earning $9.52/hour. Living wage is defined as the level of income that a person must make to support themselves in a given location. Focusing on this level of income will allow us to consider how physical (location and financial) access affects diet and food perception. Generally, higher quality food is more expensive and could be a potential barrier. With a higher income one could assume that access becomes much less of a barrier and then would primarily focus on any mental/habitual barriers. We are interested learning more about both types of access. If we were to focus on incomes at or below the poverty line, we would lose the opportunity of healthy food as being a focus. The idea here is that someone in this position would be focusing more on problems that would be more important than healthy food in their minds.

At first we were recruiting from too broad of a pool which wasn’t providing enough constraints. With the recommendation of Ruby Ku, we applied the above constraints, which ultimately started to give us more traction. So far we have reached out to community organizers, neighbors, approaching people at HEB, posting online, and asking people we come across in our day to day routines.

Gaining participants began with minimal traction, but as the quarter as progressed we have started to make significant progress. I think part of the initial slow pace was subconsciously thinking in the back of our minds that we have until next April to finish the project, without thinking of the steps in the process we haven’t even been exposed to yet. This mentality has definitely changed within the last week. We went from 5 participants scheduled and/interviewed to about 15. We would still like to get a few more scheduled.

The slow start was a reminder that in this world there is never time to waste. Whenever opportunity presents itself we need to capitalize on that time. Even if it’s only 30 minutes of transcribing, replying to a couple of emails, or working on a blog post it’s still progress. After all, the end project’s success is going to stem from incredible number of smaller 30 minute tasks. I can’t wait to see what Food Freedom comes up with!

Concept Mapping – Creating Understanding

Concept mapping is intended to create an understanding around an unfamiliar space. The idea is to step back and abstract the space you’re looking at to create a high-level understanding. This idea is much more ambiguous than the previous mapping exercises I have created, which caused some difficulty at the beginning.

My first iteration was purely a site map. Although site maps are very useful, they are more beneficial later on in the design process. In retrospect I was approaching the assignment with a literal mentality, which led to a literal artifact. The limitation of being literal while creating a concept map is potentially missing the opportunity to acknowledge important relationships of bigger ideas within the ecosystem you’re trying to wrap your head around.

Concept Map v1

The overall assignment is to redesign the mobile experience for managing your AT&T account. We began by conducting research asking participants what his or her top five pain points from a list include we created as well as keeping it open for them to add his or her own. In addition to surveys we read reviews about the current experience to further inform the emotion behind what exists. From there we created a matrix that identified overlapping features or pain points within the current app experience. This served as a stepping stone to start creating our concept map.

Moving forward the class identified the primary six criteria that will be included within our final design. I think this is one of the reasons why I had a mental block at the beginning. Something about identifying criteria prior to creating the concept map caused some confusion on my end.

One of the moments where it started to click for me personally was when applying the question of ‘what?’ rather than ‘how?’. Looking back this seems to obviously be the “correct” question when creating an artifact like this, but that’s not where my mind was. This helped me clear the literal block I was having. The following image is of the white boarding session where that moment occurred.

ATT Concept Map Rough

After some more exploration and iteration I arrived at a concept map that I feel is more conducive to the exercise. Even the visual layout at a glance shows more of a ‘what’ mentality rather than ‘how’. The circles represent nouns within the system while the connecting lines represent verbs, labeled as such. There is no question that concept mapping is a valuable tool, especially when applied to more complex problems.

Concept Map v2

Final Research & Synthesis Reflection – Payday Loans


As Quarter 1 wraps up we are taking this time to look back on how we can ultimately improve conducting our research and synthesis. These are some of the primary skills I was most excited to learn more about from the program. Before I go into that I want to give a brief overview of our research: what and why we were researching as well as methodology used during the process.

For the first quarter me and my team, Team Sprocket, explored the space of payday loans. These loans are intended to be short-term loans, roughly a period of 2-4 weeks. Because of the short time frame of these loans, the interest rate is astronomically high, around 500-700% APR. The reason for this is due to the fact that they are only collecting interest for a short time frame, in contrast to a more traditional personal loan that lasts 2-5 years.

This is where the controversy beings to come in the picture. We found our primary use case of taking out a payday loan were larger unexpected expenses occurring when no financial safety net was in place. Payday loan businesses only require a proof of income and an open checking account with no regard to credit history at all. Because of this, activist argue that payday loan services target the most vulnerable borrowers, especially since they’re already in a place of need. We have found borrowers can get stuck in a cycle which turn that intended short term loan into a longer period. Because of the extremely high interest rates, borrowers end up paying much more than the original price of the loans.

During our ethnographic research, which is the study of people in their own environment, we primarily interviewed borrowers (9) but also had the opportunity to interview a couple (2) of people with the perspective from the lending side. The primary method we used during our research was the use of contextual inquiry, which is the idea of observing and asking questions in the most direct environment where the primary point of action being studied takes place. We asked to conduct our interviews in the home. The idea is to get a better understanding of how people approach their finances, which primarily occurs in the home. Not only did we want to understand, we wanted to step in the shoes as much as possible into the people we interviewed. This is partly to attempt to remove the bias I mentioned earlier and approach the opportunity from a different frame of mind other than our own.

Knowing that more research is coming next semester, it’s a good time to step back and considering room for improvement. The first opportunity that comes to mind is definitely giving enough time for transcription. Our research had rough momentum in the beginning, but could still have transcribed while we were finding other people. This would have prevented us from playing “catch up” once the research was finished. It would have also provided the opportunity for us to sit in the data more and iterate on our research protocol refining our approach.

Which brings be to my next big opportunity: sitting in the data. Next quarter I will definitely be spending more time in the data, specifically alone. I feel this would have helped me get closer to the data. Not that I wasn’t close to the data, but I think there’s an intangible feeling during synthesis of an aha moment or epiphany that I felt like was missing for me personally. This is where the magic happens for insights after recognizing patterns, which make it more natural to reach interesting provocations and ultimately design principles of quality.

Going hand in hand with sitting in the data is the idea of externalizing more. I’ve leaned on organizing my thoughts via my computer or through conversation. The problem with this is that it limits lateral thinking and thoughts become based on previous experiences, rather than producing new opportunities or directions within the creative process. This is something I’ve personally struggled with in the past, which produced a clear limitation in retrospect. Next quarter I will illustrate ideas, write down my thoughts quicker (they will disappear into the ether), and create my own activities to produce original thinking.

Admittedly, we began our research with a bit of bias of them being “predatory”. This was difficult to separate, but important during this phase of research. One of the big opportunities moving forward would be to be more aware of that bias and separating it from generative research. During synthesis but bring that bias in during the synthesis stage. It’s important to remind yourself of that biased frame of reference.

Overall, establishing ways for gaining as much empathy as humanly possible while finding and creating outlets of original creativity from the data is what I am looking to work on improving in the future. I am looking forward to applying lessons learned from this quarter towards future research endeavors.

See our presentation here.

Theory Final – Larry the Lobster

For our last project in theory we were asked to read 6 articles from a variety of designers that discussed what is involved with being a designer as well as the process of design.

We live in a time where design is maturing into a discipline which is being recognized to stand alone. Design is gaining more of a seat at the table if you will and influencing companies and organization from the ‘C’ level. This is partially due to the fact that design is being recognized as a universal and flexible solution to a number of problems. Design firms such as IDEO and Frog are helping push this understanding into the public.

Richard Buchanan argues that “design problems are ‘indeterminate’ and ‘wicked’ because design has no special subject matter on its own apart from what the design conceives it to be. Subject matter is potentially universal in scope, because it could be applied to any area of the human experience. But in the process of application the designer must discover or invent a particular subject out of the problems and issues of the specific circumstance.” This brings up an interesting topic of whether or not design is its own discipline due to the fact that it is 100% dependent on other subject matter. I would side with the fact that this argument facilitates design being it’s own discipline even more so since it can be so ubiquitously applied.

Jocelyn Wyatt take an approach to explaining design thinking targeted towards those who don’t have much exposure to design. To break it down to assist these individuals to get on board with design thinking she describes it as three spaces to avoid direct linearity: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Inspiration is the space of identifying an opportunity where a potential solution could be applied to improve a problem. Ideation is the process of generating, developing and testing ideas. Implementation is the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives. The primary purpose of breaking down the definition of design thinking in this way is to prevent process focused individuals from picking apart the fact that design thinking is not concrete.

Chris Pacione takes a similar stance as Jocelyn in the fact that by breaking down complex topics, in this case design thinking, into a digestible format that it affords the idea of establishing design thinking to be as ubiquitous as mathematics. He states, “design is too important to be left to designers.” I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. By having a basic understanding of design thinking it would allow people to thrive in a day to day experience. This is due to the fact that the skills design thinking would provide would allow people to step back and ask why more consistently. They would start to pick apart why the way things are and inherently want to improve them.

Nigel Cross explains that a level of intuition is how design research can make broad generalization with a small sample. After all design research isn’t trying to predict behavior, but it attempts to empathize behavior. Along these lines the intent of the design process is to make something new, and by doing so you help change the problem, not just solve it. He also discusses the idea that design has to happen in real time, you can’t read it but you have to do it. This provides an incremental build up into something “magical” that doesn’t happen instantly. This is the reason why it’s called a process.

Edward De Bono primarily discusses process and acknowledging the default way the brain operates does not afford creative thinking, which is where this magic can happen. This creative thinking is also referred to as lateral thinking, in contrast to linear thinking. The logical part of the mind is based on what it’s seen before which prevents opportunity. One of the more simple ways De Bono proposes to get around this limitation is the use of a random word. The idea is to apply a random word into the problem space, regardless of how crazy it feels or how it doesn’t make sense. This generates a new frame around the situation that normally wouldn’t have been explored. The random word works because it is genuinely abductive. After the application of lateral thinking he argues that a valuable idea will be logical in hindsight, but needs a catalyst to arrive there.

To summarize these points of view around design thinking, I’ve created a video. Please enjoy.

A Story of Poverty – Theory Readings

Poverty is a social issue which could be argued to be impossible to solve, a wicked problem. A wicked problem is a problem that is so deeply connected to other factors with a large set of variables that it is inherently extremely difficult to solve. But, by trying to understand the links and causes of poverty, technology & homelessness, as well as applying the idea of a social business, I believe we can lessen the severity of homelessness.

My story of poverty begins with Bill feeling good about life. He’s worked hard and had created a pretty comfortable life for himself. This was the case until he found out the store he was working for was shutting down. This led to him losing his job, which led to losing his vehicle, then his apartment ultimately leaving him without a place to live.

This part of my story relates to Christopher LeDantec’s recognition that multiple issues compound and negatively link together to create a situation of poverty. Although my story focuses on one situation, LeDantec explains how there is no one single cause of homelessness, so there is no single solution. LeDantec also discusses that there is a common mentality within poverty that people desire to continue maintaining his or her appearance to hide the fact they are homeless, primarily from friends and family. Those who keep their cell phones also use this as a social construct to communicate that they are still doing alright, as well as literally continue communication between friends and family as much as possible. One insight discovered by LeDantec was the fact that mobile devices are perceived to be more useful than a laptop or desktop computer.

My story continues with Bill having the desire to keep up his appearance. He does this by stopping at a truck stop to use the showers. At the truck stop Bill buys travel size products to minimize his spending as well as receiving a sense of greater purchasing power.

This purchasing power is derived from C.K. Prahalad’s discussion about businesses having untapped potential by branching out items into smaller and individual use sizes, which makes products more affordable and ultimately gives people in poverty more purchasing power. He argues this ultimately improves their quality of life.

After showering to maintain his appearance for upcoming job opportunities Bill was also hoping that it would help relieve his stress. This was not the case. He decided he really wanted a beer or two to destress. This probably isn’t the best of decisions due to the fact he only had a $20 to his name.

I chose this scenario to relate to Dean Spears’s discovery through research that scarcity and poverty depletes cognitive ability and reasoning power due to trying to resist the indulgence of the poor. Because they are living in scarcity they’e almost forced to make bad decisions.

While Bill is drinking his beer Eric is introduced into my story. A dialogue occurs between Bill and Eric about their situations and Bill learns that Eric is also under a large amount of stress. Eric explains that he hasn’t been happy with his job and that he was frustrated in the fact that he felt he wasn’t able to make the impact he was originally hoping for within the organization. Eric is considering leaving his company but wasn’t sure what to do next.

Bill jokes that Eric could solve his problem of not being able to find a job. This is where my story relates to Roger Martin’s article. Martin talks about how there are there three qualifiers for a social entrepreneurship which are to: identify a stable but unjust equilibrium within the poor or disadvantaged population, then identify an opportunity to improve the situation, and lastly forge a new equilibrium that alleviates suffering for the group. The opportunity Eric identifies is by designing a system with Bill that focused on applying for jobs via a mobile device rather than a laptop. The seemed to be more accommodating to someone in a situation similar to Bill’s.

Continuing this dialogue Bill counters Eric’s explanation with confusion about how Eric wanted to leave the corporate world and that it sounded like he was potentially entering a similar space. Eric then began to explain how he was recently exposed to the idea of a social business, which is a self-sustaining company that sells goods or services that repays investments and improves the quality of life for the poor. This is what he wished to co-create with Eric (which also addressing LeDantec’s argument that co-creation is a good thing in order to design for multiple publics). This conversation is my way of bringing in Muhammad Yunus discussion around the idea of a social business.

Bill and Eric decide to move forward with the idea of creating a service focused on applying to jobs via a mobile device. This allowed Bill to get back on his feet. Not only did he end up getting into a better position but he loves the fact that he is helping others that have been struggling to climb out of homelessness.



Design in Society – Comic Assignment

For our first assignment in IDSE102 Design, Society and the Public Sector, we read and discussed six articles which dived into various opinions about design and society. The discussions were very thought provoking and had me start thinking about design in ways I hadn’t previously thought about before. Next, we were asked to create a comic, which explains each authors’ view on design in society.

I decided I wanted to represent the various arguments in the form of a dialog stemmed from different objects that correlated to each author. I chose a cashier ringing out customers (representative of me and my retail days) as the setting in which the dialog would take place. The cashier is naturally inquisitive, which ignites the conversation. My comic begins with the cashier waking up and expressing disdain for his job and how his work is not mentally stimulating. There’s a reason behind this that is revealed at the end of the comic.

Comic-01        The first interaction is inspired by the reading of Edward Bernays: Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and The How. The cashier’s first customer walks up to the check out aisle and places a megaphone and a stack of invitations on the counter. These two items represent the argument Edward makes about public persuasion serving a social purpose. He backs up his theory by also making the argument that the public has the ability to accept or reject ideas that are presented to them. I align with the school of thought that even though people have the “ability” to make decisions, they often don’t take the steps necessary to arm themselves with accurate enough information to make an educated choice. For example, the term ‘natural’ in food advertising is only regulated by a food product being “minimally regulated,” which is not clearly defined, where as the term ‘organic’ is heavily regulated with multiple tiers and explicitly defined requirements. The public’s perception of said regulations is found to typically be opposite of reality.


Next, the second interaction relates to John Dewey: The Need of a Theory Experience. I chose two items to represent John Dewey’s article: a watch and a compass. The watch serves to symbolize Dewey’s explanation that a current experience is influenced by previous experiences, which in turn shapes future experiences to come. Over time, these experiences drive a more granular and focused human experience of an individual. He continues his argument by stating this could potentially limit the possibility of experiences. The compass is included to be a guide for these experiences. A person can “grow” through a series of experiences, but they have the possibility of being miseducative, which guiding someone down a negative path; ultimately leading to negative outcomes.


The third dialog comes from Maurizio Vitta: The Meaning of Design. Vitta acknowledges that products originally served a utilitarian purpose, but as mass production began to have its influence he makes the argument that our consumption of products serves to actually identify our “individuality” within society. I framed the interaction where the cashier mentions that a very similar vase, that ultimately would serve the same amount of utilitarian purpose, is on sale at the moment for 50% off. The customer declines due to the vase they chose to be a better fit for their personality, which infers that they are more interested in the status symbol than the actual functionality of the product.


The reading from Victor Margolin: Global Expansion or Global Equilibrium? Design and the World Situation inspires the fourth interaction in the story. Margolin’s primary argument is that two models exist on a global scale: the equilibrium model and the expansion model. The equilibrium model denotes the world should have a system of ecological checks and balances with finite resources, while the expansion model he states that the world consists of markets rather than nations, societies, or cultures, which lends to the accumulation of private or corporate wealth. He leans more towards the equilibrium model, but acknowledges the advantages of both. This is why I chose the balance scale to represent this; the balance of ideas.


The second to last conversation comes from the reading by Emily Pilloton: Depth Over Breadth: Designing For Impact Locally, and For The Long Haul. Pilloton makes the recommendation that one should focus his/her effort on one thing rather than making efforts toward a variety things. Although, she also makes the argument that this one focus should ultimately be applied toward a variety of systems. She also explains that it is most beneficial to truly immerse yourself in a culture to the extent that you begin to identify yourself with the culture. The problem I see with this is that one can potentially get so close to the culture the original intention of identifying with that culture could get lost in the experience.


The final dialog exchange is derived from Pan Lu Sheng: Diversity of Design Education in China which discusses the status of design within the Chinese educational system. In my comic I chose a stack of books to represent this article because Sheng explains how China used to be mostly an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) but, with the help of American design thinking, China has increasingly been involved with OSM (Original Strategic Management). One of the primary reasons for the increase of Chinese design is due to the fact that 66% of Chinese schools incorporate a level of art or design. They have roughly 300,000 students enroll in a design focused program every year.


The comic ends with the cashier having an introspective moment about how much he learned during his shift. To the point that he considers going back to school for design thinking.


Team Sprocket – Research Plan Reflections

The flow of the process was somewhat lost due to time constraints. It seems like it would be optimal for all researchers to experience each step, from focus statement, through participants and context, to the action plan. Our team split up the sections and therefore had on blinders while creating our first drafts. Working in a limited collaborative environment, we were unaware of what our team members were thinking and feeling — vital to collaboration and developing a cohesive plan.

There is something to be said for officialness of a presentation, however, to find the line between articulate and direct, and/or including every detail and getting your point across, can be hard to define.

When drafting the script and questions, there was an effort to write well or “properly” when it may have been more beneficial to write colloquially.

Establishing the level of granularity of focus can be tricky. The focus should have a specific direction while at the same time not limit and confine the research. This is a skill that will become easier over time.

Research Plan – Team Sprocket


Focus and Topics

Predatory loans, by definition, can be abusive and take advantage of people without them being aware that this is the case. Team Sprocket seeks to understand predatory loans in greater detail to find out how we would potentially improve this scenario.


We intend to explore the parties involved directly, and indirectly, with predatory loans. Along with the parties we will seek to educate ourselves more about the process associated with these types of loans. Also of importance is discovering the origin of necessity as well as the general societal perception of predatory loans.


The objective of the research is to further understand predatory loans and why people utilize them, being unfair or abusive in their nature, rather than alternatives. Our research will help better understand:


  • The general perception of predatory loans and whether or not everyone understands the inherent abusive nature of said loans.
  • The way in which predatory loans are positioned to potential borrowers.
  • The process involved in applying for predatory loans.
  • How these loans are processed.
  • What exactly is involved in paying back predatory loans.
  • What other solutions exist, if any at all.


Participants and Context

The participants that take part in the ecosystem that is predatory loans are few and far between. It is not a particularly prevalent issue. To observe and interview, we have identified the following groups of people and the unique points of view that they bring to the overall conversation:


From lenders we will gain insight into the why and how of the efficacy and morals of a predatory loan situation. The spectrum of Borrowers that come to them for services. As well as a view into what kinds of objects are commonly put on the line and the ripple effects the loss/gain has on people’s lives.


From borrowers we will learn the direct circumstance by which someone is put in the position of using a predatory loan and how it feels.

Family Members:

Family members will bring other perspectives on how the above groups of individuals are affected by taking part in predatory loans, in their lives outside of work.

Those Owed Money by the Borrower (besides the Lender):

Previously borrowed from lenders will enhance our insight into the events leading up to this need.

Non-profit employees who help individuals get out of debt (?):

“Get out of debt” do gooders will have a perspective of the overall loan and debt space as a whole.

Collection Agency Employees:

Collection agency personnel will have seen the ins and outs of all types of debts and loans, including the endings and beginnings of them.

Bank employees (Possibly):

Bank employees will more fully understand how loans as a whole work.. And what the criteria is for someone being rejected.

Entering the environment:

Predicting that the predatory loan space will have a difficult entry point, we plan to broadcast the work we are trying to do at the forefront of our research, expressing the need for these interviewees across platforms of social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.), public commerce(craigslist, loan offices/services etc.), non-profits oriented towards debt and the low income population(Mission Capital).

Entering a vulnerable space:

Predatory loans is a sub-sector which encapsulates a population who exist on the bottom rung of the ladder of society and almost definitely feel that reality daily. The delicateness to which these issues need to be approached will be at the forefront of our awareness so as to receive information that is not voiced out of defensiveness.

Behavior observation:

Behavior will be most easily Observable when the Borrower is in their home environment relating to their family. This context will give us insight into how the earlier phases, taking out the loan and the decision to do so etc., went and the ripple effect they have had.

We can observe documents, what their parameters are, and the words that are used.

Observation points:

Borrower’s, Family Members, and those owed money by the Borrower we will try to observe in their home.

Lenders, Non-profit, collection agency, and bank employees will be observed in their work context.

Activities and Method

Contextual Inquiry will be utilized to conduct research. Contextual Inquiry is important with the focus being Predatory loans for the fact that the life context of the individuals is so important. These are people that could fall under the “basic needs” category and to understand through immersion the weight that that reality has is important. A clear focus gives us the capability to dive into the how and why of where they are and how they got there. The aim is to understand the consecutive nature of the events that led them to needing this type of loan as well as the process, feeling of interfacing between Lender and Borrower and the undercurrent intents.

Driving this research is a deep desire to understand the full life cycle of the process of a predatory loan. Starting at the catalyst creating the need and ending at the route of payback or loss of property put on the line. A key component is the power of choice, and if it feels like it is present in the transactions and decisions made. A step further begs the questions, if the choice is jeopardized through manipulation of a less well off individual.

A moderator will be facilitating conversations with the research participants while a note taker is annotating key phrases, actions, reactions, and scenarios. All alongside a photographer who is snapping photos of key incidences as inconspicuously as possible. All members of the team will be aware of places that call for further questioning.

We are expecting our research process to run for approximately 12 days.


IDSE101 Research Timeline - Team Sprocket - Sheet1

Discussion Guide / Script

Introduction. Hi, my name is ________. We’re conducting research with [Borrowers, Lenders, Collection Agents, etc] to understand loan options in Austin. What I’m hoping we can do today is ask you some questions, and then have you show us some of the things that help you [manage your finances, manage your loan, manage customer payments].

If at any time you don’t feel comfortable with what we’re asking, just let us know.

Explain and distribute informed consent.

Foundational Interview:

(30 min) During this section of the interview, we will seek to build rapport and gather context about their motivations, processes, and artifacts to inform the rest of the interview. We will seek to gain an understanding about loan processes, how they understand their progress towards [taking out a loan, paying off a loan, issuing a loan, etc.], their current perception of their progress against this goal, and the milestones, markers, and artifacts used to inform this perception. (Past / Present / Future).

Foundational Interview Questions:


How many loans have you taken out? What is the amount in total?

When did you first take out the loan(s)?

What is the interest for the loan(s)?

For what purpose did you take out the loan(s)?

Would you mind if we contacted this business/individual?

What measures did you take to avoid taking out a loan?

Who is your Lending Company?

How often are you in touch with your Lending Company? Do you contact them or do they contact you? How do you communication (e.g. via phone, in-person, mail, e-mail)?

How are you paying off the loan(s)? Check? Cash?

Do you pay in-person or online?

What tools do you use to track your finances?

What tools do you use to track your loan payments?

How many revenue streams go to paying off the loan(s)?

Do you expect to take out another loan in the future?

How would you describe your personal capabilities with technology?

Whom do you go to for financial advice?

Whom do you go to for financial support, if you’re in a pinch?

How did you find out about the Lending Company?

What opportunities opened up by taking out a loan?

Tell me about the process of taking out a loan. (Who was involved, when did you first find out about loans?)

If you could go back right now and tell your past self anything about loans, what would you say?

If your future self were to come back in time, to this very moment and tell you anything, what do you think he/she would say?

Lender Employee

How long have you worked here?

Walk me through the process of issuing a loan.

What is the loan range (e.g. $100-$5,000)?

What is the average size of a loan issued by this company?

How do you handle the stress of your job?

For what purpose do Borrowers usually take out loans?

How do you determine the lending risk?

What kind of collateral do you normally accept?


Those Owed Money by the Borrower

How many of your customers have needed to take out a loan to make their payment?

Did you receive your payment directly from the Lender or from the Customer (Borrower)?

How often do you find that your customers have difficulty making the payment?

How do your customers normally pay you? (Cash, Check, Credit)


Non-profit employees who help individuals get out of debt

How many clients use Predatory Loans to make a payment?

Can you show me the tools you provide to help clients out of debt?

Do you ever have face-to-face contact with the Lender?

At what point do clients seek your help? What level of desperation?

What role do secrecy and shame play in debt and financial management?

What factors drive clients towards Predatory Lending? Convenience? Lack of education?

What puts clients most at risk for taking out a Predatory Loan?


Bank employees

What are the criteria for taking out a loan?

Why might the bank reject a loan request?

What is the rate of rejection?


Collection Agency Employees

How do you get the list of names to contact?

How do you contact the Borrowers?

How many times do you have to follow up with someone to get in touch?