The Future of Policy Design

Kelsey and I decided to write a short story, challenging the idea of what our future will look like if we continue to allow our world to be run by policy, and one where the population realized their involvement was necessary to affect change in the scale and breadth necessary. The full story is listed here. If you keep reading from here, the story will be spoiled.

The details on the president are intentionally left out for the reader to fill in. We make assumptions day to day, and many people are vehemently against the current administration. What Kelsey and I would like you to take away is the case of things is always malleable, we just need to create the change and be persistent enough to make it stick.

The first future is the one where the president was assassinated. Without the political unrest he was causing, without an end to the misplaced focus, the public grew complacent, and trusted the other party would act in their benefit. But the system was too old, it was too used to the way of things, so it did not change. The inequalities proliferated, and corporations took control after policy had bankrupted nations. The second future is where the unjust president was allowed to finish his term. Our idea was his level of corruption and lack of transparency were the catalyst for the public to care again. To become involved on the scale currently needed, there needs to be an event that sparks change. There needs to be a real reason to affect the change we need. I know it seems contrary, but complacency and acceptance of the state of things are dangerous to a society. Never be satisfied with unjust equilibriums and a system not designed for a user.

Now, to explain a bit more of the thoughts behind these stories.

Design today is pushing the boundaries of what human interaction is in all sorts of exciting ways. Technologies are redefining they way we interact with one another and it changes the way we interact with our “self.” Unfortunately, policy is not keeping up. Laws and regulations are being lightened, policies are creating an open season for data mining and selling of users, and it feels like our privacy is crumbling. How can these two futures exist alongside one another? Our society became divorced from the idea of a technological future because it is not what we imagined. But the technological future is here, and it’s time for us to step up and focus on the micro interactions and how they effect the macro scale social, economic, and technological economies. It seems as though using design thinking and the designer’s toolkit, policy can be made for it’s people instead of for the highest bidder.

Stephen Linder, in his piece “From Social Theory to Policy Design” he states, “Our attention to policy making has been skewed in favor of evaluation the consequences rather than the origins of specific alternatives.” The focus of policy making is misplaced. Understanding human needs and the way we interact is the basis from which policy should be created. Instead we have policy makers and law makers scrambling to fill gap after gap created by poorly designed policy. Instead of accepting failure as a necessary piece of progress, they do not admit to their mistakes and attempt to cover them with new policy. Linder goes on to say “Much of the policy debate in the past few years has centered on stabilization policy, the use of various instruments to counteract short term fluctuations in economic performance.” Here we see another underlying problem of the focus of policy. Laws are to be created as long lasting paradigms for behavior, but more and more policy is being created and just as quickly needing to be patched or rewritten because of a failure later on. Policy is focused only on the short term, for reelections and to fulfill part of their platforms, politicians rush through to make the change they wish to see. But it is not the change we ask for. Our system does not consider the micro outcomes for individuals, but only the macro outcomes and implication. Saving money is more important than education, a bonus from Comcast is more important than privacy.

Policy focus on macro-outcomes has led our society down a path to become more chaotic and less focused on how an individual experiences the world. Our policy is disconnected from it’s people. Rebecca Wright, in the article “Connecting Past, Present, and Future,” makes a case for returning to previous ways of life. She says “…by paying closer attention to some aspects of past societies, it may be easier to combine the goals of greater societal equality, protection of the environment, and economic prosperity.” Her idea of learning from past mistakes and looking to the implications of current situations on the future is right, but her execution seems to be a bit muddled. She says “Historical evidence suggests that people could adapt quickly to the introduction of technologies that reduced the energy demands transport and other everyday activities. Such policies could also help to reduce social inequalities.”

Now while it is understandable policy needs to curb the use of fossil fuels and a major cause of this is transport, but her claim of a reduction in social inequality seems disconnected. She uses the examples of the poorer majority in 19th century were able to deal without rapid conveyance compared to the bourgeoisie, but the inequality simple things like this caused were rampant and glaring. Farmers were used as forced labor through indentured servitude, tithes were required for guardianship and corruption was prevalent. Our current society has checks and balances to mitigate these, but ultimately, if you remove the ability for people to travel at will, you remove part of their freedom. Policy already limits personal freedom and creates a less fettered environment for economic growth and proliferation at the expense of the wellbeing of the world and it’s people. Instituting inequality is not a way to reduce inequality.

It seems we should follow Wright’s idea of past implications and future implications on what we do in the present, but Jennifer Pahlka’s execution seems a bit more realistic. She says “…Perfecting imperfect laws is the best chance we have; as the complexity of our society increases our chances of getting policy right the first time goes down rapidly.” The change needed is not to focus on pieces of inequalities, but focus on a more rapid iteration of policy with an understanding of the far-reaching implications beyond the present. Pahlka also makes a case for co-design in policy, or at least an increased focus on testing. The MACRa regulators reported that they’d just written the best rules of their career, having benefitted for the first time from real world feedback during the process.” The tools of design seem to being to cross into the world of the policy maker. Allowing for a greater focus on the individual than the assumptions made based on their trends and voting behavior. Where then did they divert? How can we bring them back together?

Chris Meierling has an idea, stating that “Policy makers and designers share the same wickedness and deep uncertainty of their problems yet different approaches to cope with them have risen out of each area of practice.” He compares and contrasts the ideas of policy and design and how they attempt to tackle the wickedness inherent in the problems they solve. On design Chris says “…design context puts great weight on people’s stories and interactions…and is implicitly open to the subtleties of people’s experiences with design products.” On the other hand he says “[policy making is] attempting to remove emotion from decisions and the legacy structure of the political system that attempt to whittle problems down to a single interest chosen from two.” The biggest disconnect between policy and design is their contextual focus and the tools used to process the information. In design, a user is taken into consideration, and multiple permutations and paths are created to consider a multiplicity of experiences. Policy, as we have seen, focuses on the macro view as it’s base, allowing for stakeholders to be the loudest voice instead of the people. Town hall meetings are seen as “good PR” and not a viable form of communication with constituents. Ultimately, policy needs to shift and use design tools instead of the tools they have created for themselves.

Chris Meierling also talks about what tools are used by both designers and policy makers. While similar in structure, the importance and take aways from the tools are significantly different. Policy makers focus not on the individual, and not on the bigger picture of effect, they focus on the benefit to them, their political career, and their image. Designers focus on the person, and let the artifact speak for them as a piece of their conversation and a tool to support their life, not define it. Therein lies the necessity, policy needs to shift from a controlling entity to a supportive entity, as design supports it’s users, policy should support it’s people.

HomeList – The Business

In the past 12 weeks, we have been working on developing and testing a product to connect people experiencing homelessness to housing options in Austin. These individuals often have various barriers to housing. These can come in the form of prior evictions, legal history, or simply not being able to save for a down payment. HomeList acquires these barriers from its clients and connects them with housing available specifically for them. HomeList achieves this by leveraging both public housing, transitional housing options, as well as a normally hidden list of renters willing to work with people in this situation. We promise, through HomeList, to connect people to stable housing.

Our goal of stable housing comes from an understanding that people are less likely to worry about self-care until they have a stable dwelling, and many people who are living on the street only need a bit of help. These people are normally overlooked because there are other, more vulnerable people who need help sooner. There are unfortunately few options for the less vulnerable population aside from waitlists for case management, and a hope for bootstrapping. The reality of the situation is far from this. The normal waiting period we found from our research participants is close to a year when applying for housing.

Value

HomeList hopes to cultivate increased landlord outreach participation by changing the public perception of what it’s like to house someone who is or has experienced homelessness at some point. Contrary to popular belief, someone off of the street is as likely to be evicted as any other renter. With harsh requirements for background and credit checks, it can be incredibly difficult to get off of the street once there. Renters around the city are coming together to make a change though. They make exceptions for certain barriers to allow these people to have a place to live and stabilize their lives.

To measure our success we will look at the average time people wait for housing before HomeList (from our current research this is around 9 months) compared to the amount of time it takes when HomeList is implemented. Not only does decreasing the time people spend on the street benefit the individual and their lives, but it also saves money for the state or city. Below are two visualizations of what it is like for people who do not qualify for case management to try to get housing when on the street. The first shows the experience without HomeList and the second shows the connection to housing when HomeList has been implemented.

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Above you see the disconnection from housing options, and below how HomeList connects directly, and immediately, with the open housing options.

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On average, an individual experiencing homelessness costs the state around $14,000. These costs come from healthcare, legal costs, general care for these individuals. Keeping someone housed costs less, estimated at around $12,000 for Austin. Saving $2,000 per year per person amounts to a savings of $3 million if the people currently homeless in Austin were to get housed. Actual costs and savings will vary, as roughly 7000 people experienced homelessness in 2016. By helping people get into housing, HomeList not only allows them to rebuild their lives from a stable home, but also saves money for the organizations who most frequently interface with people currently experiencing homelessness.

Business Structure

HomeList is to be incorporated as a B-Corp to retain the social mission of the product regardless of the company’s controlling party. Our promise is to connect people experiencing homelessness to stable housing. Through outreach to and working with local non-profits and private renters, HomeList serves a part of the population normally forgotten by the systems in place to support them. Instead of working for the benefit of shareholders and investors, being a B-corp allows HomeList to work for its clients above all.

An added benefit is the ability to sell stake in the company or incentivize employees or partners with shares. Our hope is to become a fully self sustaining SAAS company creating a client-side application to better serve the population of individuals experiencing homelessness.

Behavior Change

The model below shows the behavior change we hope to see from implementing HomeList. Our most lofty goal is shifting public perception of what an individual experiencing homelessness is. During our research we found negative feelings plague the rental market for these individuals, when they are in fact as likely as anyone else to be evicted or not pay rent. Hopefully HomeList will assist in proving this fact to current renters, and to others who may be interested in social benefit of this type. tocmini

 

Funding

For initial development and startup funding, we would originally seek $60,000 in funding to further test our product and create an MVP to deliver our value. The full development cost of our product is $95,000, but our profits in the second year would cover expansion. The development for our MVP would take two months, with a second release scheduled tentatively for a month after the first release. Below is a roadmap of our releases, the dates are not added because they are not concrete. Another avenue considered is partnering with a developer and offering HomeList stock to incentivize their work. This would decrease our need for funding immensely, and would only require minimal input for expenses. Kelsey and I hope to work to implementing a more basic version of our program through text message before releasing a product to help cover development costs with revenue. 

Development

For a full release, our timeline is estimated at 60 days, or 12 working weeks for two developers, full time. This is a rough cost of $60,000 for initial development. This release would include full landlord and client side UI, housing program databases, and HMIS server integration as well as e-sign in capability and information storage databases. Later releases will come after our first year, when revenue is expected to begin to cover the cost of development and business. We would then begin to include further functionality beyond matching with housing. It will consider health factors (both mental and physical), job services, and legal help. There are organizations in Austin who provide these services as a social benefit. Matching people with organizations like these after they are housed will help stabilize our clients and further empower them to take control of their lives. Below is an expected roadmap for our releases with what will be released and what order it will be released in. Dates are absent as we do not know when these will take place or when development will be started. Overall the first two releases will take 60 days, the second two coming after our first year of business.

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Revenue

Monetizing HomeList comes in the form of licensing. Currently, HMIS software (Homeless Management Information System) is licensed on a monthly basis. Each organization working for the benefit of individuals experiencing homelessness is required by HUD (the Federal Housing and Urban Development Authority). HomeList is to be sold as an add on to interface with the current HMIS software offerings to make gathering information easier. It is also the only client side application interfacing with HMIS software.

HomeList would be sold to either non-profits directly for $1,500 per month as a flat fee, or to COC organizations for $1,000 per organization using the software. This may seem like a large amount of money for non-profits to cover, but due to the nature of the software, it should qualify from the same HUD subsidy other HMIS softwares are covered by. Normally 75% of the cost is covered by HUD. Other offerings vary from $2,000 – $5,000 monthly depending on the size of the organization for HMIS software. Our is positioned much lower because it does not have the a case manager side UI. Below is a graph showing our profit and loss over 24 months with our current model of funding and development. The graph includes the cost of development for our first three months in operation at $10,000 per month. Our full business plan is available here and our full financial analysis is available here.

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Objectifying Humanity Through Technological Advancement

Objectification is normally seen as negative in when applied to people, but through industrialization we became objects without even realizing. Nearly every one working within a system is objectified, and this is by design. Objectification is prevalent in every industry, tech, healthcare, politics, manufacturing, it seems to be a ubiquitous ideal. Healthcare seems to be a good example, on the educative side, future doctors are given an intimate knowledge of the interior of a human. Byron J Good explains it well stating “Within the lifeworld of medicine, the body is newly constituted as a medical body, quite distinct from the bodies with which we interact in everyday life…” A paradigm shift occurs in the students mind, from human, to patient. The idea of a patient comes with a problem solving intention. Interaction becomes tainted, shifted from looking at a person to looking for symptoms, for something to fix.

AprilStarr in a post after an experience in a hospital, she aired some frustrations. These all lead to show how our medical industry, one of the most intimate spaces, has shifted focus from working with humans, to working on them. She details and experience where “In one day, we had 5 different groups of residents and their arrogant leaders come by and wake my husband up to ask the same set of questions that have been documented in his chart (that 5-wheel car doctor seems to think everyone is reading).” She understands the needs of residents to learn, but having little decency to allow a patient rest shows the lack of concern for the “person” and more of a concern for the end of “helping.”

What this level of objectification truly leads to is the tactical nature of an object over a human. Objects are able to be used, humans on the other hand, are not. Kant’s categorical imperative in action: “So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as an end, and never as only a means.” This imperative should shape the way we understand one another in the world. Industrial culture has allowed this to fall under the line of importance.

There are organizations dedicated to beginning again, with a more human centered understanding. The Dell Medical School is attempting a new model for the healthcare industry, working to ensure the overall health of an individual, and not just seeing patients as a list of symptoms or problems to be solved. Hopefully their success is well-won and their model becomes the norm. Design is the word we use for creating experiences allowing people to feel comfortable, but seemingly, it is the process of creating something actually for a person, not just an object of utility.

The issue is then not a question of how does it happen, but why? When did we, as a people, allow ourselves to simply be used as means to an end. When did businesses decide to throw the ethical ideas of what a person is out, and deify profit margins and efficiency? Is it too late?Industrialization and technology seem to have caused this shift to be catalyzed and blown to epic proportions. These industries have boomed such in past decades there is no way for the world of policy, regulation, and true understanding of consequences to catch up. Like healthcare, but much worse, companies and governments are realizing this quickly. While some seek to protect their populations from the potential negative effects, others seek control for propaganda and to spread doubt among their populations. The bottom line is: they seek to control the objects interacting with their goods and services, but only enough to ensure loyalty or continued use. Those objects are you.

Our experiences with technology and the way it has been delivered shape our understanding of it, and control of this is never in the hands of a user, but always an interpreter of their needs. Sometimes things work out well, and others times they fail, but always there is a lack of understanding of the medium. Technology becomes a delivery mechanism for all of this, and technology is arguably out of our control. In his article “Why Nothing Works Anymore,” Ian Bogost talks about how “technology is becoming a force that surrounds humans, that intersects with humans, that makes use of humans—but not necessarily in the service of human ends.” Technology is becoming more and more powerful, and our “needs” are becoming more and more lofty.

Making more efficient chips, more efficient power supplies, smaller and thinner and better batteries the name of efficiency is the new game. So users can use their phones longer, or have a smaller profile in their pocket. But ultimately, technology is now in service to technology and users are simply a by product of this creation. Ray Kurzweil details how quickly technology is indeed expanding, which also highlights how little we know of the social and cultural impacts. He contends circuitry was created, it has been improving exponentially and soon, will well exceed the cognitive ability of the collective brains on Earth. Kurzweil shows by his math, by 2059, one human race of computing capability will be available for roughly one cent. Here Kurzweil is using objectification of the human race to show how insignificant out capability will soon be. Whether our physical manifestation is as necessary has yet to be seen.

Bruce Streling describes this problem well, saying:

“We have entered an unimagined culture. In this world of search engines and cross-links, of keywords and networks, the solid smokestacks of yesterday’s disciplines have blown out. Instead of being armored in technique or sheltered within subculture, design and science fiction have become like two silk balloons, two frail, polymorphic pockets of hot air, flowing in a generally tainted atmosphere.”

His point seems to be that design is now mingling with science fiction, because science fiction is our current reality. Just because our idea of what the future should have been do not match up with what it is, does not allow for a disregard of the lack of understanding technology has on our world.

As designers, what then can we do to tame this chaotic and shapeless landscape expanding exponentially beyond our control? We can reign it in. By constraining the interaction and guiding users through these chaotic systems in a manner suiting a human, design can become a sherpa leading into the technological age. Listening to people like April who had a poor experience during an exceedingly difficult time can provide incredible insight into what needs to be done better. Thinking you know better than her is not.

Gary Marsden tells a nearly cautionary tale of how human centered design has evolved. It’s inception was “to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of the interaction between the computer and the user…The results were analyzed to better understand the human cognitive process and better optimize the interaction between user and computer.” This presupposes two things: initially the human was not as capable, and second, the human does not know what is needed. This scenario shows how interaction design has grown from a practice of objectification and is shifting to understanding people.

Understanding technology and the impact it has is equally, if not more important. In his work “People are people, but technology is not technology,” Marsden goes on to explain how he and his team used real human centered design to help create working software for medical teams in remote areas. They completely changed the way doctors and nurses communicated, because they focused on the person, and worked within their understanding of technology. Delivering more power and more speed and the next best thing should not be the focus. It should be on delivering what people need, in a form that does not alienate us from the technology we use. Ian Bogost warns of the complacency of being uncertain whether your technology will work for you or not, and I feel this warning well. He says “It won’t take a computational singularity for humans to cede their lives to the world of machines. they’ve already been doing so, for years, without even noticing.” He seems to make us all out as slaves to the progress of technology. Our focus has to shift to the users of technology, not the spirit of technology itself. Design is our medium to do this, to create a cohesive world from the chaos in it now.

HomeList – Business Plan

HomeList is a digital application connecting individuals experiencing homelessness with available private and public housing. Through a dialog with the user, the application gathers the user’s personal information, including any barriers to housing. Then the system matches the user with a housing program or private rental available to them. The system then contacts either the owner of the property for approval, or contacts the organization for availability. Once approved, the system then walks them through the process of signing their lease and moving in to the unit.

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Above are screens illustrating a small flow of the product. The first illustrates the the list of housing options a user would see; the second shows the process of becoming familiar with a private landlord’s lease, and the third shows how the application changes as the user progresses towards their move in date.

A key piece to HomeList is an initiative called the Landlord Outreach Program. This connects non-profit organizations seeking to end homelessness with Austin landlords and offers incentives to take in individuals who have or are currently experiencing homelessness. These incentives typically come in the form of higher than normal security deposits or guaranteed case management if there is a bad situation. These costs are paid for through a specific financial stream built to help individuals get back into housing. By aggregating these additional open units, there is enough available housing units to reduce the number of homeless individuals in Austin. This program is run by the continuum of care organization in Austin, known as the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO).

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Above is the expected journey an individual experiencing homelessness would take when using HomeList to find housing.

HomeList interfaces with the landlord outreach program and uses the list of available housing to allow people with lower barriers to rent from an understanding and accepting person. Optimally, this would cultivate stronger relationships with the landlords currently participating in the landlord outreach initiative, and gain further traction in the community as a whole. This also allows people experiencing homelessness to spend less time on the street, and less time worrying about where they will be staying. This allows a greater focus on self sustenance instead of worrying about find a place to live.

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Above is the Theory of Change diagram created to map the behavioral impact. It shows the activities performed, and the outcomes we seek to produce from them.

The promise of HomeList is to connect individuals experiencing homelessness to stable housing. Through this application, those who are living on the streets are given a direct connection to housing options accessible to them. HomeList will help to handle the transition from experiencing homelessness to stable housing.

In order to fulfill our value promise and further our reach, we plan to establish our company as a non profit. Charging the individuals who would be using our service is nothing short of predatory. As a nonprofit we do not have to satisfy a group of investors and instead can do what is best for those we serve. We also believe that as a non profit, we can better work with other non profits serving the same population. When working with other organizations, there will be less of a question of intention to do good, and no worry of maximizing profit to the detriment of the user.

In order to begin developing our product, initially we are seeking $250,000. The money would come from multiple sources: the Grants for the Benefit of Homeless Individuals (GBHI) and the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Grant, as well as city or state funds appropriated for initiatives ending homelessness. We would be requesting a grant of $150,000 from the Grants for the Benefit of Homeless. The GBHI is a federally funded general grant that works to tackle homelessness at the local level. They do not have a specific focus on who can apply for the grant. From the McKinney Vento Grant, we would request $100,000 to cover the organizational operating costs and infrastructure costs. The McKinney Vento grant comes out of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. This organization is the primary advocacy group at the federal policy level.

Right now we are still in the process of development estimation, but we are assuming a six month development timeframe with 3 developers, working on a client side and server side application. The main pieces of development will be the web app and mobile wrapper, as well as the integration with different types of HMIS software or Homeless Management Information Systems. All non profits who perform intakes or administer the coordinated assessment are required by HUD (the Federal Housing and Urban Development organization). There are many different companies who make this software, and integrating with their databases and information architecture can be complex. This sum of money also includes all fees for infrastructure, salaries, and grant applications. This original grant funding will allow us to perpetuate until the second month of our second year. At that point, our estimates show even with the rise of infrastructure costs, we would only require an additional $40,000 in grant money for our second year, until HomeList became sustainable. This dream of sustainability is contingent on having the buy in of 6 organizations by the end of our second year.

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Above is a financial for our first 24 months of business. This does not include the additional funding obtained at the beginning of year two for operating costs. It shows our first year with the funding requested, less the $150,000 for development costs.

To create revenue steams and achieve our vision of self-sustainability, HomeList would charge a licensing fee to the organizations who choose to buy in. Sold as an add-on to current HMIS systems, and being marketed as a cost saving initiative, HomeList would qualify for subsidy from HUD, who pays the majority of licensing costs for HMIS systems currently. At $2,000 per organization per month ($1,500 per organization if licensed by a COC) HUD contributes 75% of the cost of the system, leaving $500 per month as the cost to organizations. All profit from the sales and growth of HomeList will be used to research other markets, and expand to them if possible, as well as developing further tools to assist in ending homelessness. Our full business plan is detailed in a document here for viewing.

Power & Manipulation: How to Wield Design Thinking

One thing has become abundantly clear in these first two sections: design is manipulative. The last theory post talked about how the intention of a design does not necessarily match to the outcome. Design is unique in how it subtly changes thought patterns and impacts culture and ideology to their base without an overt statement. When designers create without thinking about the long term ramifications, they set loose an unknowable force. Sometimes these forces create good outcomes, sometimes bad. Or sometimes they are both as in Mark Manson’s article where he tells us the internet was supposed to be this beautiful thing, and kind of still is, but it’s buried beneath garbage.

How then can a designer ensure their intention is realized? How can designers coerce the change they wish to cultivate? Design holds coercion as a main delivery mechanism to the consumers of the design. In the article “Manipulation” by Jon Kolko, he talks about how the power of design lies within the manipulative ability designers have. He also talks about the duty of the designer to design for good, but qualifies that it is not to simply want to do good. “I intended to do good, so of course it was good that I would do.” Followed by “It is not enough to intend to do good. …That intent must be qualified, and the qualification happens at a micro, detailed, tiny level of design specificity.” He expresses how a designer should wield their power, using it to respect the user and respect the design as an artifact capable of making waves beyond your imagination.

When we normally consider the idea of manipulation, it comes with a certain connotation of deceit, or use. Manipulation through design is not manipulation of it is manipulation for. This qualification is slight, but meaningful. Manipulation of is when you manipulate people for selfish intention. For instance, the article talking about democratization and design in the workplace by Pelle Ehn, highlights the way design is able to be used to manipulate people into feeling more powerful, while robbing them of the little power they held. Another example of this comes in Assai Lamzah’s article “Urban design and architecture in the service of colonialism in Morocco.” Assai explains how “the French colonial regime used space, urban design and architecture in Morocco as means of power and domination.” The French built new infrastructure around cities in Morocco keeping the nationals in the city center and halting the growth and proliferation of their culture, and instead forced the French culture, architecture and bureaucracy on the indigenous population. The Moroccans were fed the French ideology from the mouths of their community leaders. In using the Moroccan population to their advantage, Assai states “This policy of association was designed to prevent Moroccan resistance to colonial rule,” meaning essentially, by integrating into the culture instead of overpowering it—as they had tried and failed doing in Algeria—they were able to more effectively control the population.

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Design here is not overt, it is an accepted practice used by government structures still today to control and cull their populations. The design of these systems are not regularly vetted or designed for their users. They are designed to empower those designing. More contemporary and applicable examples of this are viewed as “dark patterns.” This are used to manipulate people into clicking on the wrong action, or unintentionally opting in. A great example of this is Facebook’s farewell page. It not only is difficult to find the way to deactivate your page, but they use emotionally charged tactics to make a user question their decision. Telling a user their friends will miss them, or that they will be missing out on updates from their friends.

Using social anxiety and emotional pain to control your user base is becoming more and more commonplace. In Brian Cugelman’s article “How companies use social pain, to stop customers from leaving,” he talks about how companies are using attachment anxiety to wield power over their users. This is a designed mechanism. There was testing done, probably A/B testing, to see which option proved more effective. Facebook, from the earlier example, employs psychologists whose role remains a bit of a mystery, but it seems this is at least one tangible example of their impact to the site. Cugelman states “The brand’s not sorry to see you go, nor is the website, as these are non-human things. They don’t have feelings. However, there’s no shortage of research that shows that people still feel the effects of human-like interaction, even when expressed by technology.” So tech companies are obviously using dark patterns like this to manipulate users into feeling bad or anxious about leaving a site. According to Jon’s ethical argument, the designers creating these mechanisms either were not aware of their impact, or simply did not care and are moving towards the side of unethical treatment of other people.

A question that comes to mind here is: What is a designer to do when in a situation such as this? Pressure from all sides mounting for you to increase the amount of users saved by the landing page. Having psychologists tell you to play off of their emotions and cause discomfort. In this situation, saying no isn’t going to create a systemic change. It has to be adopted by all designers for a better experience across the board. This is a lofty call to action, and it seems almost counterintuitive to the wants of a business. It seems almost easier to capture users like this on their way out, then to captivate them continuously through good design and UX. What does this all amount to?

In her article “The World that UX is Helping Create,” Lis Hubert talks about her realization that UX is creating a negative impact on human end users. She presents a call to action in the form of a question; asking “ Do you, dear UXer, like the world that you are currently helping to create?” Following it with her final question: “Are you ready to accept responsibility for the way your designs change the world?” She qualifies all of this with guidelines for designers to follow when creating. Nicholas Carr compares the users Lis is describing as compulsive and addicted. The devices were designed to do everything, including snare us and enslave us to the interaction of the digital realm. He states part of the problem is the data analytics we have, and their focus. Companies want data helping them to sell more, not the information of what a user needs. User needs are often contrary to what many would consider things to move a business forward. Investing in infrastructure or redesigning pages to be less confusing and allow users to spend less time, not more, on their product.

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This is a screenshot showing what it’s like to try to leave Facebook. It’s confusing and they use family and friends to try to pull you back in.

But money rules the world, and companies like Google, according to Nicholas “[were not founded] with the intent of spreading social anxiety and then capitalizing on it through surveillance systems—but it is now sustained by design…Rewards now flow to the competitor that is best able to maximize consumer anxiety in a way that spurs more compulsive behavior…” Nicholas highlights here how designers are missing the mark in standing up for the user on the grand scale. Designers are exercising their power, either with or without the knowledge of the ramifications (which is not an excuse), to the detriment of the public. News organizations pop off articles about how millennial are the least socially secure generation, and it is not a wonder in a world where there is so much manipulation of the emotions and considerations of this group, that they would be so unsure of the world they live in.

Making sure the work created is not contributing to the problem of the masses, that it is not a dark design. Lis makes a great point, similar to Jon’s, about how designers must think beyond the standard area of effect of their work and look to see what waves their single drop could create. Designing for the details is what becomes important; not holding to the values of the company, but holding to the values of the user. How then do we do this?

According to Jon, to move from the trend of manipulation of to manipulation for, designers must begin taking the ethical questions of their projects to the forefront, and ensuring they adhere to a set of qualities defined by user research. In Mike Montiero’s piece “Ethics can’t be a side hustle” he brings into question of what good work is. His contention is a designer has a responsibility to ask the ethical questions like: Is this for the good of the user? Does this hurt or disenfranchise anyone? How will this effect the people who use it? His example of designers working on Uber’s Greyball program, a tool used to help avoid run-ins with the law for Uber drivers, shows how people can create something without worrying about the true result, thinking “I know better than them.”

This mentality has moved down a path of the reification of user populations instead of supporting them with design. Montiero does not simply blame designers, though. He calls out anyone who touched the product. He places blame on the lack of ethics of all involved parties for allowing something like Greyball to be implemented. It’s similar to the Facebook designers who created the exit pages. They knew how their designs effected users, they knew the intention was tainted with greed and impure motive, but they made it and implemented it anyway. Probably blaming a greater “they” in power pushing for the change, only making the problem bigger.

Behavioral change has so long been used for nefarious purposes in business, government, and other sectors, it is seemingly a hard tradition to break. These examples of manipulation of a group of people illustrate how not to wield the power of design; but what of the other side, manipulation for? Now manipulation for is a simpler way of saying using manipulation for the benefit of the user. For instance, making changes to grocery lists with healthier items, gradually pushing a user to adopt a healthier diet with little to no overt change in habit. Or manipulating people to spend less time on their phones, making websites smarter and simpler, easier to navigate with less clicks and more time spent elsewhere. Is it difficult to think of things that are meant to empower a user for everyday life because there aren’t many things made in that manner?

In Richard Anderson’s piece “Go ahead—ask people what they want” he makes a case for designers to listen to users, and to hear them. he states “…users actually do often know what they want and need, and when they don’t (completely) know, answers to such questions often contain important clues.” With near certainty, no one told the Facebook designers they wanted to feel bad when they were leaving, and no one told Apple to make something so addicting there is no separation from self and technology, but they created these things with an unexpected, and potentially catastrophic, consequences.

Design is powerful, and the potential for manipulation is great. Many people believe if design thinking were a more prevalent school of thought, these issues would be eradicated. All people in a business would understand the emotional impact of their products and become more conscious of the effect they are having on their user population. In David Dunne and Roger Martin’s article “Design Thinking and How It Will Change Management Education: An Interview and Discussion” they speak about the necessity for change in the MBA program from the ground up. Their claim is MBA graduates should be learning about design thinking and empathizing their their users instead of being the numbers guys looking to crush constraints and opposition. A main point of their article is that the “analytical, quantitative, number crunching, deductive-inductive, self-oriented” typical MBA grad would be “weeded out in the application process” of this new program. This is based off of the idea that MBA would no longer be focused on business in so far as numbers and profits go, but instead on designing their business to serve customers the best.

From this conversation of the manipulative powers of design, and the ability to manipulate in a bad way unintentionally or without thought, what then happens when people utilizing design thinking choose to explicitly manipulate their users or customers? Things like the Facebook account delete screens, or other emotionally punitive options similar to this. These things are very superficial at this point, they are simple modules expected to elicit a visceral but general emotional response. If they were designed with the specificity afforded to design thinkers to be manipulative of someone, how would this be beneficial.

There are a lot of necessities for Dunne and Martin’s world to become true, so if a slow incremental integration is what happens, then do we not give the traditional MBA, someone who is part of the problem in enforcing dark patterns, enforcing number goals, and enforcing strict needs for profit margins, does this not give them more power to further exploit the user? Instead of having a designer as a mediator, the MBA would have the power, and arguably due to their logical and profit-forward views of the world, the motivation to wield design as a tool for their purpose?

The answer to this question will only be answered once the first wave of designer-businessman hybrids come out. Criticism of this is obvious, that design thinking, at it’s core, takes the user into consideration and holds their need above the other pieces. This is true, it is a current definition, but as with all things, it can be tainted and turned against it’s original purpose. Hopefully a strong ethic will emerge and push the design thinkers of the world to act with ethics in mind, but from our history, it seems ethics can be in short supply.

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All of these examples show how design is used as a tool of manipulation of people for a selfish purpose. Design should not be used in this manner. It should be used to empower and support, not to isolate and instill anxious compulsions. The power of design should be wielded benevolently and carefully. In Jon’s words, comparing each decision to a set of values, and taking responsibility for what we create. Keep the principles of your users in your mind and ensure you fulfill them. In this way, manipulation for becomes the guiding hand of a mentor, forming your experience to foster talent and drive away insecurity and anxiety. No agenda beyond making the experience better.

 

My final question will be left for you to answer, because I do not have the answer. There are arguments made very persuasively for design thinking to permeate every aspect of the world, but should design thinking be applied to everything, given the opportunity for corruption and manipulation inherent in it’s power?

Moving From Ideation to Evaluation

The first steps of the home stretch have been taken. We have been talking our idea into existence; it has been focused, and become more explicit. It exists, but it’s still got a way to go. Moving from our prior model from the end of the prior quarter, Kelsey and I have come from the complicated desktop interface and moved towards something simple. We haven’t completely decided on a name quite yet, but it exists, and for now at least, it’s called Quarters. More importantly, focused to ensure our product would actually be usable, instead of a multi-tool. Tackling a multitude of problems is not realistic, so we have focused to trying to help find stable, affordable housing for our population.

After last quarter, Kelsey and I realized we needed to make a change. But we felt pretty lost in all of the ideas, all of the things we wanted to do. Focusing on just one thing is probably the most difficult part for me thus far. We argued, and we talked, and we tried to focus. There are so many things we could do, but what should we do? We have been working on our wireframes and our testing plan to confirm we have made the right choice.

The ideal state of our product is to make use of, and potentially cultivate, a group of private renters in the local area, as well as other inexpensive housing options, who will work with individuals coming from the street for housing. Right now there is no way for people to directly connect with these renters, and the supportive organizations normally work with case management referrals. Our product would allow someone to connect with a housing organization or private renter they would be applicable for.

To do this, we want to use a natural flowing dialogue system, with simple answers, mostly yes or no to begin with, age and gender. We want to gather information and make it feel like we aren’t probing or being intrusive. Setting the tone of the messages becomes incredibly important, it has to be respectful and well thought out. Some of the screens are shown below, as I stated above, they are rough, but we’re working towards something simple and effective. 3screen

Ultimately, our goal from all of this is to decrease the amount of time people spend on the street. We have our sights set high, we’re working on figuring out if this would even help. We’re trying to answer questions on whether there is infrastructure to support this, whether we could tap into the network of landlords willing to rent to individuals experiencing homelessness, or if we would have to try to make our own. As we make the wireframes more real, questions just keep popping up, what if this, what if that, what happens here? It feels like it will be endless, but it’s also exciting.

I kind of get lost in the making and working something into existence. It’s akin to making pottery, you poke holes, push it all the way back down to a ball of clay again, pull it up, see something to change, make a ball, repeat, only once it’s well made do you allow it to dry for polish. It seems like I have been thinking about design in too theoretical of a way to this point. I spent too much time thinking and talking, and not enough time making a thing. It’s easier to work when there is something to work off of, and it has taken entirely too long to come to this conclusion. Feedback and conversations around a thing are always better (they tell us this all the time).

As we move forward to testing our idea, we move cautiously. Working with the population we want to target, it’s difficult to not want to over-promise a capability, or paint an inaccurate picture of what will happen. Deciding how to introduce our idea has been difficult. What to say about what we are testing, and how to ensure we aren’t making promises we cannot keep. It makes me feel like a bad person, but false hope is worse than none at all. Our test consists of to texts or emails our participants and talk to them about their past, and find out some basic information about their history. Using that info, we will contact housing programs in the city to see if they have availability if our participants are eligible or would be a good fit for a transitional property or something low-rent. We hope to assist with renters assistance, but this is all contingent on our participants trusting us and keeping in contact, as well as our rigor in research.

We have been setting expectations low, explaining who we are, and what we are doing, very simply. We started research, thought of this thing, and want to see if it will help. A barrier we seem to have hit here as well is narrowing our focus of participants. Our target group has been difficult to pin down, so we have participants over a range of demographics, but all sharing a few of the most key qualities.

Our pilot begins Monday, we have a few participants scheduled for the first week. As we round out the third week of this final quarter, anxiety is high. I want this to work, I hope it does, and if it does not work, I hope we know why and can make the necessary changes to make this a viable and useful product. Because ultimately our goal is to help people live stable lives.

Quarters

Simple Beginnings

As students at AC4D, Kelsey and I were tasked with finding a social problem with the theme of sustainability. We were both passionate about the sustainability of affordable housing in Austin, TX. During our research into the space, we found that “affordable” housing in Austin still is not all that affordable. The price range for these units and homes are still only available to people who have income above $45,000. There are so many people who make less than this in the city, so many people who struggle to afford rent and need help or face living on the street. So we went to speak with those individuals specifically. At ARCH and around downtown Austin, we spoke with individuals about their experiences with homelessness and what it is like to try to get off of the street. We found that people do not always want to be off of the street, we saw how rapid rehousing services and permanent supportive housing services help the people who are most vulnerable. But we also saw how many people are left behind. How many people are lost by the system and do not qualify for these housing initiatives. We wondered: are there programs for these individuals? Do they have any options? They felt like they were standing still; like there was no where for them to go but down until they were where the system would pick them up again.

We found services who would work with nearly all of our research participants. We wondered: How can we connect these individuals to the support they need?

Enter Quarters, a web-based experience for connecting individuals with housing services near them. Using a responsive and dynamic dialogue system, we find what these people need to apply for housing programs, guide them through the processes, and connect them with the organization to apply.

Our Promise

We promise to connect individuals experiencing homelessness to stable housing. Using Quarters, individuals will be able to connect with housing programs catering to their needs and their situation. Quarters will also help individuals keep track of their applications, contact the organizations for their progress towards housing, and assist in getting documents required for some applications. The people who we are focusing on need structure, but do not receive any. Quarters is filling a gap left by the system and current case management, helping individuals who are in need and receive little help from the state as the system is now.

Our Business Structure

Current cost of an individual on the street is nebulous. Figures range from just above $14,000 to upwards of $30,000. One cost estimate stays the same: $10,000 to house, and give case management to, the chronically homeless of the country.
Quarter would help to reduce the cost of individuals to the state, regardless of case management. They would find housing faster, reducing their costs to emergency organizations and charities for homeless individuals. We hope to expand Quarter to include free legal, job, and financial organizations these people need as well. These additions will also help stabilize our target population’s lives beyond housing, keeping them housed, off of the street, and living for themselves.

To cover costs, we would use local, state, and federal funds appropriated for use in non-profits helping individuals experiencing homelessness. There are many funds available for people in this space, as well as a consistent public spotlight on the problem. Any lack of funding would need to be made up from donors. Whether corporate or private, donations will help cover overhead. Monetizing Quarters seems predatory; as our population is already marginalized. Funding for our endeavors would need to be appropriated from public monies or private funding. Our in-progress business plan can be found here.

Intending to Do Good – Corporate Donation and Public Opinion

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Intention is an interesting concept philosophically. The question is I seek to answer is this: Does having an intention other than just charity matter if the outcome produces a social good? My immediate reaction was, yes this does in fact matter. For our intention shades everything going into a project or initiative, and things selfishly intended are not as beneficial as they could be. What then is to be said about an action with unintended consequences? There are many examples of products or services being created due to a latent need found purely by accident, or technologies arising from another research project. Michael Hobbes uses PlayPump International, a company who made water pumps powered by children playing, as an example of good intentions but a failed execution. They raised a huge amount of money, and instituted their idea in many towns. Unfortunately, though well intended, the pumps created issues. In some towns, locals were paying children to play with the pump to get water. Others show women pushing the pump around to get their water. Obviously the company did not intend for this consequence, but does their intention matter since these things did happen? Not for some people. Critique of this idea as well as others with similar unforeseen outcomes is high, and in hindsight, there are obvious mechanisms to used for evaluation to prevent such outcomes. But they wanted to do good. They set out to do good.

 

Which brings around the point of the authors in this post. Themed as “With the Best Intentions,” these authors all focus on different pieces of the nonprofit sector, highlighting this that work and things that do not. Mark Manson in his article Everything Is Fucked and I’m Pretty Sure It’s the Internet’s Fault, he explores the intentions of the internet. He said “There was a near-utopian level of optimism during this time. Technologists envisioned a highly-educated global population that would tap into the infinite wisdom available at their fingertips.” This is not the internet we see today. What our internet looks like is Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, and cat pictures. The internet has done a lot of good, too. It allows the instantaneous sharing of information, and it allows us to reach people on a grand scale. Manson argues however, the internet does the opposite. The internet allows us to find our tribes and seek comfort, Manson says “The internet in the end was not designed to give people the information they need. It gives people the information they want.” This is a problem. It allows people (including myself) to retreat to the safety and comfort of an echo chamber instead of having a continued and diverse conversation. When we look at charities online, there are horror stories and success stories abound with many organizations. Scathing reviews exist for almost anything now, and it’s difficult to figure out what is true and what is not.

 

My contention here is that intention, when considering charitable donation, does not matter, to a point. Basically, if an entity (company or private individual) wants to fund charitable organizations, this should not be looked down on. This is my opinion, and seek to support it further. Take for instance the product(RED) campaign. This is huge, and to this point, has raised $465 million dollars for charities. A criticism of this charity during for some time was the limitation of their effects. During its inception, the Global Fund was only targeting a few countries in Africa, but now it has expanded affect to over 100 countries, and also gives money to support local initiatives. Their goal is to end the AIDS epidemic in the world by providing treatment, prevention and education. The major criticism of this organization centered around its income source, using consumerism to bolster charitable donation. Some even said it was stealing donations away from other organizations with similar missions, whilst failing to provide relief on the scale necessary. Since such critique, it seems as if they have expanded, according to their site, to a much wider reach than in 2010, but an important consideration remains—their funding source is still the same. Another point to make is this: there is no precedent for corporations making donations, save donations of profits directly to organizations. By extending this to consumerism it is a bit questionable, but ultimately, they do not have to do anything. This argument is weak, but still true. Previous to this, what percentage of sales went to charity? Marginal in comparison I’m sure.

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Controversial? Most definitely. But, is use of this revenue channel bad or good? It’s hard to say, but this is unfortunately why intention becomes a large part of this distinction. You can frame the idea in a few ways. For instance, RED was created because GAP and Bono were hoping to provide social good through a new revenue stream. It’s certainly logical in hindsight; allowing consumers to choose a specific product bearing the logo and color of product(RED) and a portion of the proceeds go to charity. That’s great; it makes charitable donation available wherever these items are sold. On the flip-side, the enrolled companies are using this as a veiled publicity stunt to further their image with the public. They use this good intention to make themselves look better than other companies with prospects of gaining an edge on the competition. Because after all, the world runs on emotions–the things causing people to donate to charities in the first place. We know companies are aware of the weight of these actions.

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The intentions of this movement are good, at least in part. The product(RED) campaign has raised money for the Global Fund. No one is disputing this. They have delivered on their promise of products with their brand giving profits to charity. They have also allowed private companies to increase profits by marketing with product(RED). The intention seems to be selfish in nature, and it can be a struggle to see what good may come out of this. What if instead, the real effect, though some years removed, is a precedent of charitable donation from for-profit companies and corporations.

 

In Alex Holder’s Sex Doesn’t Sell Anymore, Activism Does article, he describes companies like Lyft using charitable donation to a public cause to outstrip the user base of their direct competitor: Uber. Uber responds in kind by making a donation larger to cover their loss of consumer base and to cleanse their public image. Holder quotes Will Fowler as saying “Brands are allowing people to pat themselves on the back without them personally having to sacrifice anything.” The defining piece of charity is not self-sacrifice, it is the voluntary help. So, is the move to donate to charity for an overall profit for the company, and an overall net good, a bad thing?

 

My opinion is no. At the Austin Center for Design, the faculty teach and believe in the idea of a “social” business. A self sustaining profitable business also producing a net social good from its interactions and/or product offerings. Muhammad Yunus describes social businesses as connecting to both the selfishness of humans as well as their selflessness simultaneously. The goal of the business is to grow and scale, maintain a profitable margin, while also providing a social good or service to address a specific social problem. Seemingly, this is what product(RED) is by definition. Their model is taking profit made from product sales or credit card transactions and distributing the money made to their non profit organization of choice. It’s a simple value proposition, and to this point, it has been succeeding. Scaling and growing a customer base as well as increasing donation and the ability to make change for The Global Fund.

 

If we think about the other businesses who fuel product(RED), their primary goal is profit, but they also have a social good packaged in as well in offering the choice to donate by buying certain products. Whether the intention is to publicize their efforts, or gather a larger customer base, the question remains–is it not still a social good? When first considering this, it seemed to be a less than well intended campaign, but as I read Jon Kolko’s Design Strategy, Product Management, Education and Writing, I found myself conflicted. He states “[The future for designers] …lies instead in encouraging behavioral change and explicitly shaping culture in a positive and lasting way.” The intention of product(RED) could be a beginning step in the right direction for all business. As with Uber and Lyft competing with donations, other companies have joined the repertoire of donors. Amazon with their Smile campaign, alongside many others. Charity is possible alongside consumerism; in fact it works pretty well. Now, all told, none of these organizations are in the top 100 of largest recipients of donations, but the amount of money they are raising is certainly not trivial. The product(RED) campaign has enabled the Global Fund to fund local charities all over the world to address the issues at the ground level by the people in the communities. This model could be a tipping factor for other businesses ensuring their profitability and wealth is used in part to fund social initiatives around the world.

 

If implemented properly, models like these, percentage of purchase, a percentage of profits overall, etc, would create a large sum of money for charities. It would also be a reminder that everything you buy has a portion going to charity. There are obvious potential downfalls. The number of normal donations could fall dramatically. If people are getting their warm and fuzzy feelings from normal purchasing, why would they donate directly to the cause? Arguably, knowing everything included donation might be a catalyst to make people more charitable overall, and be more mindful of what we are buying and where our money is going. Behavior change is difficult, but much easier when prevalent. If you give people the tools and the precedent, they will adopt in kind from the scaffold built around them.

 

There is a lot of criticism for Amazon’s smile movement, similar to how Phu argues disqualifies product(RED) as a truly beneficial initiative. My question to her focuses on the final sentence of the article, which sounds like a call to action, “Ultimately it means that individuals need to start taking personal agency to advocate for social change and look into the how their consumption may impact others.” If these campaigns allow people to see how their consumption can impact others, why not start there? Why not have consumers push for the increased donation of corporations and for profit companies? Why not make this an accepted and necessary practice? If the expectation is that all companies will partake, then it may gain traction and proliferate. 2015 was the most generous year from the United States, with around 373 billion dollars raised for charities. The highest portion given was from individuals, at 264.5 billion, and corporate giving placed last at a mere 18.45 billion, even though their profits are far higher than the net profit of the individuals in this country. The money and capability is there, but the expectation or, better yet, requirement is not.

 

The next question is: how do we decide who gets the money? Money is great, but when it’s thrown into the wrong programs, the effect, dollar for dollar, diminishes. The intention of charitable donations is to make a difference in the lives of whomever the organization targets. Their execution defines how successful their endeavors are, and the hope is as much money donated as possible goes to the end recipient of the aid. We analyze intentions and the potential executions and invest that way. Unfortunately, the results are not always as projected. From small organizations just starting out, to large organizations who have been doing aid work forever, there are diverse ways of implementing solutions to the community at large. Some organizations like the PlayPump story start out successful in a single small community, scale up operation due to public support, and fail in other markets because the context and need is different.

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In Michael Hobbes’s articles Stop Trying to Save the World, he gives us a concise understanding of his view when he says “What I want to talk shit on is the paradigm of the Big Idea—that once we identify the correct one, we can simply unfurl it on the entire developing world like a picnic blanket.” Here, Hobbes is calling out organizations for not testing their solutions, by hoping their method will apply to everyone everywhere. Unfortunately organizations do not always take into consideration the human component of the systems they are trying to impact. They believe, our method will work for everyone because it works for us. The push needs to be funding companies who show the ability to adapt to the level of diversity existent in human cultures. Not only does this take practice, testing, and consistent reflection, but it also may take organizations being smaller or paying more rigorous attention to outcomes.

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New story community pictured above.

For this reason, organizations like New Story, who builds housing currently in seven cities in Central and South America, are wildly successful. New Story makes connections on the ground where they plan to take effect, and work with the local governments and organizations to build in the best locations and build the most effective forms of housing. Not only do they help the communities they go to by giving them shelter and building homes, but they also hire local workers which also bolsters local economies. Adele Peters tells us how New Story built 151 homes in Haiti with a much smaller budget than the six home producing initiative made by the Red Cross costing $500 million. This story highlights what is wrong with the nonprofit industry: there is not enough communication. Whether it is organization to organization, or organization to community, the channels of what will work and what is not working are broken. When you consider the transparency of New Story’s practices compared to most other nonprofits, you see a stark contrast between the moving parts and money understanding from an organization like New Story versus Red Cross. The effectivity and efficiency of the smaller organization is huge in comparison because they are able to dive deep to see what matters instead of using established business channels to solve a new problem. The highlight here is that a larger organization takes time to adapt to a new situation and can afford to fail. But what cost does their failure bring? In this case, there is an obvious net negative as funds were not appropriately used for housing and furthermore, did not make a dent in the problem of 60,000 displaced individuals. Currently, the Global Fund, the recipient of the funds from product(RED) does just that. Not only do they fund their own projects, but deliver funds to other local organizations to extend their reach to as many areas as possible. They are changing with the criticism they receive, and are making sure their solutions are applicable to as many people as possible. They are moving in the right direction.

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If efficacy starts to deteriorate within organizations, why not push for smaller models or for a model more akin to what the Global Fund does? Or give money directly to the small nonprofits like New Story. Their models of empowering local groups and local people to do the work they need within constraints they understand is more effective than throwing money at a situation and hoping for the best. Jessi Hempel explains this well in The [Human] Codebreakers when she explains how Jan Chipchase and Serota undertake research projects. She says that Chipchase “believes the problem lies in their intent: Instead of entering new markets with an open mind, they approach with a strategy in place, then look for the people who prove their theories right.” In the nonprofit world, these strategies, even when considering providing for the most basic needs, can lead to failures like PlayPumps or the Red Cross housing initiative in Haiti. I’m not discounting the efficacy of these ideas, either. The Red Cross does many things well, and it is an incredibly important organization. However, failures give us the chance to learn and grow, and hopefully these situations provide their leadership with a learning experience on how to approach projects in the future.

 

The need for charity is real, and companies are approaching this from a variety of ways. From using increased prices on consumer goods for a cause, or taking a small portion of an ATM or transaction fee, to nonprofits being funded by the people of a country, product(RED) is trying to help. This was the intention, and it was well executed, and has raised a decent amount of money. Their charity is doing great work. GAP’s intention was to sell products that would help this effort, but also profit. Their intention was fulfilled on both ends, and the question was: Does it matter if there is a profitable intention? No. Not really. The consensus seems to be it would be better if it were just a donation, but they are increasing money delivered to a cause. The next question we sought to answer is: who should get this money? The answer to that is much more straightforward: the people who can recognize where it’s needed. Not a building corporation here, or a developer from another country. Hire the most local people and find people who understand the true needs, not only of the people and their culture, but also those who have fluency in the local regulations and laws. Simply put, we need to be taking all of the money we can from anyone who is willing to give it. If we can trick other companies to do the same and contribute by having charitable contributions be publicized, let’s do it. After all, they are the smallest contributors to charities in the United States, making up only 4% of the donations from the US. They have the power to do more, to donate more, to make a difference in countless lives, and they should be. They should do it by fueling efforts to understand the culture and by uplifting the local people instead of applying a generic solution to every area and hoping it sticks. We need to treat people like people and seek to understand them. Use our skepticism and our ability to ask why to truly understand. This is how we will make a change for the better in the world, this is the behavior change we need. Ask why and seek to truly understand.

 

AT&T Redesign Features and Functionality

This is the final installment of the AT&T application redesign saga. From the last post here(prior post showing development estimate details), the design has been flattened to reflect a monochromatic color scheme, and has also gone through a bit of redesign. The full set of screens can be found here(full set of screens), this file is a bit messy, but it gives every screen designed for the AT&T management experience. From the last post, the application underwent a few changes. These were to keep a more consistent spacing, padding, and text style throughout the application to a consistent experience and style. This final installment will cover the various features and expand on the value delivered by the final product.

Backtracking to about 14 weeks ago, the task at hand was to find problems existent in the current application and consider ways of redesigning the interaction to better help users navigate, use, and be satisfied with the experience provided by their wireless account management tool. There were three main findings discovered through user research. They are listed below with explanations of the impact the finding had on the redesign of the application. The manifestation of these implications will be shown later alongside the feature delivering on the implication.

Users want the capability of an employee without the hassle of going to the store. – Essentially users do not want to have to contact AT&T or go to one of their stores or kiosks unless they want to. It is inconvenient to try to make changes to an account through a dedicated management application and still have to call support for help. This left users feeling frustrated and under-appreciated while using the application, as they hoped their experience would be simple and fluid.

Which brings us to our next insight into user needs:

Users need simple, familiar navigation, obvious way-finding and feature placement to encourage error prevention.- Much of what users were saying was the application was “like a maze.” They were getting redirected, links would stop loading due to the web wrap, and the interaction with the application was sub-par at best. These people wanted a responsive, thorough application where they did not have to play a guessing game to complete their tasks.

Finally, Users want to see progress to monthly limits quickly and easily.– Even before paying their bills, users come to the AT&T application to see their monthly data, talk, and text balances. For many users, especially those with multiple lines held by their children, it was of the utmost importance to be able to see how much data was used total, as well as per device. This allowed for accountability on the user’s end, and allows users to increase these balances before incurring overage charges.

What do all of these mean?

The previous statements for user needs, or insights, led to three principles followed very closely during the design process. These are:

-Give users full account control; allow them to do everything they may want to do to impact their mobile bill or plan from their phone.

-Use familiar and build in navigation, and more obvious iconography within the application so users feel more aware of their progress towards accomplishing a task, and are more cognizant of where they should be going to complete their tasks.

-Give users as much information as possible to make informed decisions that will effect their wireless accounts. This, basically, is showing users all of their metrics in easily digestible formats so they are able to make the appropriate changes.

As stated previously, next will be what features were created in direct relation to the insights and design implications found during research. This is an abbreviated version of the full feature brief, detailing each feature and the value delivered to the user. The full feature brief and design details are available here.

Full Account Control

Adherence to this first principle is difficult to illustrate, but giving users the full functionality of the application, from managing authorized users to creating a warranty claim for your broken or malfunctioning device, the redesign has users covered no matter what their desired task. The screens below illustrate the authorized users area, the warranty claim, and the other device settings available to users.

3.10      6.11       8.4

Users Need Simple Familiar Navigation, and Obvious Wayfinding

Giving users simple and familiar navigation options allows them to use an application fluidly and easily, even if they have never used it before. Previously, the functionality of the application was buried. This was remedied with the addition of the bottom navigation icons as well as the removal of the overflow hamburger menu. Users are also always able to go home without going back, or can go back on any screen in the redesign. In the longer tasks, counters showing how many more steps to completion show users their progress to their goal. Shown below are a few screens exemplifying this. The first is within the warranty claim, showing users their progress through the task. The headings added at the top of the screens help to set apart where the user is in relation to the rest of the application. This bar shows pertinent information for the current task, and shows where the user currently is with the less specific heading at the top of the screen.

6.5      6.8       8.3

Users Want to See Their Progress to Monthly Limits

The most used feature of this application is the ability to view current data usage. Most people worry less about their talk and text limits as they are seldom reached or broken, but with the current emphasis on data usage and the movement to always on connectivity, data limits are becoming more and more of a burden. Below is the home screen showing the current usage juxtaposed to the time remaining in the billing cycle. The second screen shows the more detailed usage view, showing users their full usage as the home screen does, but also giving the individual device usage.

2.1       2.2

The final piece is the proposed release timeline over a period of ten weeks. It shows the value delivered during each release, as well as specific features related to that value. It is shown below.

Timeline.2

Thank you for your interest in the process and outcomes of this project. It has been a long journey, but experiencing every piece fitting together to create a cohesive design, development plan, and release strategy taught much more than anticipated. Testing with users and doing research to inform a design is difficult, but the value presented in this technique is huge. Knowing the product created will have the desired effects and having the data to back up the claim is a huge confidence boost. Everything was not a happy path though, the attention to detail required creating screens is huge, the thought behind releases and thin-slicing the application requires a level of objectivity I did not have before going through this course. This project and process has given me a new appreciation for the technology we interact with daily, and has ignited a passion for user testing and design I did not have before.

Development and Delivery Roadmap

Since the last post made, the project has moved from need to be thin slicing into a tangible release timeframe. In working with the flows and figuring out what pieces are the most necessary, a timeline of events and schedule for the two developer team has been created. When thin slicing, it was understood the application needs to deliver real value to the user, but also must fit within a four week development timeframe. This activity forced a detailed inspection of the flows, but also the elements within, giving an opportunity to decide between things like custom navigation or a more speedy release. This also required another dive into prior user research to ensure the flows chosen for the initial release would deliver the most value to users. It makes sense, the more delivered on the front end, the more likely it is for users to continue using the application and more likely for a higher volume of use in general. Below is the spreadsheet used to down select flows and thin slice into workable pieces.dev_roadmap

The longer it takes to release different pieces, the less likely people will be to use the application. It reminds me of a forum post for the new Pixel C tablet. At release, it was promised to have USB-C to HDMI capability, but, over a year later, the software has yet to match their promise. This destroys not only the user’s experience with the device, but also the credibility of an organization. Finding this forum post made it hit home how important delivering in a timely fashion is important, but also how important open and clear communication from development teams and product teams truly is. Collaboration is key on all pieces of a project. This is one of the most important things I have found from my work here. Keeping users, developers, project managers, and any other stakeholder informed and as a part of the design and creation process is integral to having a successful and well thought out product. The feedback from a multiplicity of views is important to shape the vision for the future. It can also muddy your perspective, though, so keeping having a strong initial vision and executing to your plan is just as important as listening to users and stakeholders during design and development.

Planning the development was a unique challenge. When speaking with Mark, he expressed that it can take time for developers to become accustomed to an API, and the syntactical structures it requires. While planning the first release, padding was introduced to ensure both developers were able to become familiar with the API. For the first release, the Login, View Data Usage, and Bill Payment flows are the focus. After going through reviews and the research results gathered, it seemed most people came to the application most frequently for these tasks. Including these specific flows seemed obvious after looking back to user research. The full development roadmap is below. It details what developers should be working on during each phase of development, when releases are scheduled, estimated cost of hours, and scheduled progress updates.
Roadmap

The first release, called “Deliver,” is scheduled for four weeks after the start date. The first flows scheduled to be made are the login and view usage flows. Both are simple, and should be able to be developed in the first two weeks. The login flow was estimated at three days, and view usage at less than one, giving the development team a much longer than anticipated time to create the flow. This is to allow for mistakes or any difficulty learning the API functionality. The developers are scheduled to work more collaboratively to understand how the API is programmed, as well as familiarizing themselves with the style and workflow of the other developer on their team. The payment flow was estimated at 4 days without PayPal integration. The PayPal was scrapped in favor of ApplePay, for simplicity of integration and the ability to add a native iOS feature over a custom control for ease of programming. Given the padding on the front end for learning, there is a chance to add a smaller flow on the front end. If time allows, (potentially 3-5 working days) the change password and email flow should be started/completed depending on time allowance. The flows for the first release are shown below.

Login PayBill1Paybill2Paybill3Paybill 4

The second release was more difficult to plan. Trying to figure our what comes first was significantly easier than rating the subsequent functionality of the application. Here, it was assumed the first release would be limited to the Login, View Usage, and Payment flows. There is no allowance of the initial padding carried from the first release. The second release, Expand, creates the flows to change the plan options, such as data amounts and the talk and text plans, and the ability to change the account password and email address on file. This was shaped from user testing as well, and from some personal experience. It was difficult to decide between adding the ability to upgrade and suspend devices, but many people still visit brick and mortar stores for device upgrades, and call for more advanced device management. In my experience from working with users, they like to interact with their hardware before buying it. Having to go to a store or call to increase data on the fly seems like an unnecessary inconvenience, hence the decision to add it second. The second release is scheduled for two weeks after the initial release. This is so users are able to use the limited functionality, but expect more features to be added in the future.

The third release, titled “Process,” adds the final piece of expected value for users, meaning what the original application delivered. The Upgrade Device and Suspend Device flows were saved for the third release, for the reasons cited above, but also because of their ability to be developed in tandem. Many of the screens in the two flows are shared, with the exception of the new device selection screens. There is a limited amount of custom navigation here, and the flows are still estimated at 10 days together with the release of these functions scheduled at the end of the third release, two weeks after releasing the plan options and security flows. Continuing a consistent update pattern is good practice to keep users interested, but to also build loyalty. Knowing what the users want to be able to do and showing them you are working towards their wishes builds loyalty to the company and application. The best indication of this is the success of the update changelog after an application updates. Many people probably do not read through these all the way, but seeing the changelog and knowing the development and design teams are working to provide a better, more fluid experience provides a user a feeling of security and assurance.

The fourth and final release is labeled “Convenience” because it adds a new feature for users. The ability to file a warranty claim from a phone, or even from your phone if it’s still semi-usable seems to be a significantly more intuitive process than calling a specific warranty line for a replacement device. This flow is also estimated at 8 days even though it shares many screens with the other device flow. Due to the integration with a third party system for warranties (as AT&T does not directly warrant the phone), as discussed with Mark, the flow is expected to take additional time. Which is another reason for saving this flow for the end. Learning additional API language and coding to work with a new back end system could interrupt the workflow of the developers used to working in the AT&T specific system, as well as coming back to the AT&T system. Moving these potential hiccups to the end of the development cycle seemed logical; keeping the most valuable pieces of the application in the first releases allows for additional time to be spent integrating to a third party system after the value for users has been delivered. It is also the longest flow, taking up an entire two week development phase on it’s own, which was also a contributing factor to it being the final piece delivered.

Application development is incredibly detailed and process oriented. Ensuring all pieces are created without errors, making a detailed timeline of events and deadlines, and overall just coordinating these things without having the moving parts was valuable to experience and understand. Knowing the product has to deliver value within time a specific time constraint is stressful, even when the stakeholders and the product is purely conceptual. Feeling confident in the process, and being familiar with how to create a timeline, coordinate releases, and manage the work flow has been a great experience. The most important piece however, is understanding the necessity of clear communication first with users in the design phase to help shape the final form and vision for the application. Developers second, to understand their limitations, reservations, and input to make the product as seamless and useable as possible. And finally, the stakeholders, ensuring they are satisfied with the release timelines and the value delivered to their users for the money they are spending on your work.