Reflecting on Methods After Four Weeks

Our focus at this point in our research process is,

We are focusing our research on learning which factors influence consumers’ purchasing and eating of different cuts of meat. In asking consumers to describe how they make choices surrounding their selection, preparation, consumption, and disposal of meat products, we hope to find out how consumers make decisions about which parts of animals they eat, what can influence them to redefine which parts of animals are desirable as food, and what happens to those pieces they do not eat.

Initially we focused on the “bits and pieces” of meat leftover from cooking certain cuts of meat. We were looking to understand how culture and background played into eating certain meats and why certain people ate typical meats and others ate meats that the majority would see as “undesirable.”

Our team came to a crossroad about midway through week 3 about where our focus was shifting. Two members of our group were still interested in our initial focus while I was finding out new pains and needs from many of our participants. This caused me to rethink our focus to something I, personally, felt was far more interesting: education in buying and eating the meat. I felt that many of the customers, butchers, and chef’s/owners were exhibiting feeling towards a lack of education in the consumer end. Many of the butcher, owners, and chef we spoke to knew so much about what goes into presenting and selling meat, as well as all things that go into the quality of meat the affect price. Then, as we spoke to customers, many expressed they buying meat based on familiarity of cuts, and sometimes price. It may be an insight at this point on my end but I saw a pattern that many of these people were just buying the meats they had grown up knowing and it was only when someone told them of something new or educated them on how to properly cook a certain meat that they broaden their tastes to new types meat and cuts.

A lady we interviewed this Tuesday told us a story about a kind of fish she now loves to eat called Drum. It should be noted that this lady used to be cooking teacher for years before she retired, so she is not even the layman when it comes to preparing many types of meat. According to her, it is common practice for her to ask the fish mongers about the meat or fish she is buying. So one day while she was talking with a fishmonger that she was now familiar with the employee mentioned that Drum, often referred to as a “trash fish” is actually a pretty tasty fish when prepared in a certain way. The lady took this reference from her acquaintance and prepared a meal from this “trash fish,” and much to her surprise it was enjoyable.

This story just demonstrates that certain factors influence a person’s decisions when choosing meats. Hopefully I am not getting ahead of myself in saying this, but I believe that education and easier access to first hand knowledge on  meats can be a possible solution to that. I am excited to be on the same page with my group mates and that we were able to work through our difference and come to a mutually interesting focus going forward into the next phase of this process.

Ed & Sofia Creating Value

Ed is a popular musician. He’s written songs that have touched millions of people all over the world. People love his music but, after so many years of fame, the inspiration isn’t there anymore and he has yet to write a new song this year.
Ed’s manager, Rick, comes to him one day and tells him that the label is thinking of dropping him because he hasn’t written anything good in a long time. Rick says, “They’re going to drop you at the end of this month unless you come up with a song geared toward the female audience. Their market research says that most woman like upbeat songs so try to do that.” “But that’s only 7 days away!” Rick says, “Well you’re going to have to come up with something. My hands are tied, bro.” Ed says to himself, “What do I do now? I don’t know what songs girls like! I need to find some way to get inspired!” After two days of working and coming up with nothing Ed has an idea! What he needs is to get away from the city and go somewhere he has never been in order to be inspired to write his new song. “I’ll go to Italy. That’ll make me come up with something good!”
The next day he arrives in Rome, but even though he is in this beautiful city it might be too late. Ed only has 5 days left to come up with revolutionary song that female audience will like.

Day 1 (Liz Sanders)

Ed wakes up early and ready to get to work. “I think I’ll bring my guitar down to the cafe downstairs and play the tune I came up with while drinking an espresso. That should get the juices flowing.”After sitting at the cafe for two hours Ed begins to think that he will never find any inspiration for this song. He starts to hum the tune he has for the song but he can’t think up any words. Just then he hears a girl behind him singing words to his melody.
“When your legs don’t work like they used to before…”
“That was amazing how’d you come up with that?” Ed says. “I just came up with it.. I don’t know.” “Aren’t you Ed, the famous musician?” She asks. Ed nods and they start to talk more in depth. He tells her that  he’s working on an upbeat song for girls but he’s having trouble coming up with the perfect lyrics. He then has a thought. “What if we wrote the song together?” He asks. “Are you serious?” “Yeah I read in this article that rather than creating for people you should be creating things with them.”

Ed goes on to convince her that “Co-creation” as Liz Sanders puts it,  “…puts tools for communication and creativity in the hands of the people who will benefit directly from the results.” Ed remembers that he had bookmarked the article on his phone and he pulls it up to show her. Ed says, “Liz Sanders would say that If we work together to create the song rather than me just creating a song for you we can potentially accomplish three things:

  1. Monetary value: My song will be way more successful because more girls with relate to it, so therefore I’ll make a lot of money.
  2. Use/Experience value: Creating the song with you will make it a great sounding song than if I had just written it for you.
  3. Social value: We could potentially create a song that really helps people coping with love and the feelings of heartache. We can create something together than helps people handle those emotions.”
The girl agrees to work with him but she owns the cafe they are at and she can’t go away. So  comes up with the idea that he could help her out around the Cafe while he is visiting and in exchange she will help him create this song. She agrees and they shake hands on it. “I didn’t catch your name.” Ed says.
“It’s Sofia.”

Day 2 (Jon Kolko) 

Ed comes down to the store early the next morning. Sofia is busy helping customers so rather than asking what he needs to start doing he goes into the back and looks for an apron. In the back room there is a woman sitting down reading the paper and drinking coffee. He introduces himself and she tells him that she is Sofia’s sister, Greta. She asks him why he is helping them. Ed tells her about the arrangement that he and Sofia had set up the day before. He tells her about what they are doing. and how they are going to create a song for girls. They will be talking to the girls that come in and getting feedback for the song as it gets better during the week. Greta seems intrigued and wants to know more as to why he decided to have Sofia create the song with him instead of just interviewing her or something. Ed talks about co-creation and the value it has in his process. This is makes Greta think about a designer she met once named Jon Kolko and how his points on design research and the value of design synthesis very much pertains to this subject of creating music. Ed asks, “Tell me more about synthesis…maybe it’ll help us in the next few days.”
“Ed, you are a musician and just like many designers you have a boss or a group of higher ups that make strategic goals for the company you work for. Your boss is expecting you to create a song for girls based on the strategic goals of your label. They decide that it is best that you create a song for girls because that’s what will sell or that’s what will allow them to reach into different markets. You still need to write a song for girls, because you’ll get fired if you don’t, but what  if, instead of just writing a few notes and scribbling a few words, you actually figure out what woman want to hear and how they want to hear it.
Maybe you’ll figure out that girls don’t want an upbeat song, maybe they want something different. I don’t know and you don’t know but you should find out. It’s not enough these days to be a great artists, you have to think like the label does by doing one on one research and synthesizing that research in order to create music that not only is revolutionary but also is done is such a way that people can be ready to hear it.”
She suggests that Ed focus on Sofia and really try to get to know her. Then together they can create something amazing.

Day 3 (Don Norman)

Ed is working with Sofia at the coffee shop and is getting frustrated because every time he starts to bring up the song she gives him tasks to do and pretty much ignores him. Near the end of the work day Ed finally confronts Sofia.
“I thought you promised to help me! I figured we would have the song done by now, but instead we have wasted an entire day!”
Sofia says, “Ed, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to strive to create this revolutionary song that you are so desperate for. because I don’t think it’s possible to do that in 5 days.”
“Back at University we had a guest lecturer come to speak during one of my classes. His name was Don Norman. Contrary to what my sister told you yesterday, Norman believes that revolutionary breakthroughs do not come from research at all they come from scientist and engineers in labs. They do it because they are just looking to create, they aren’t trying to fix some need of the public. Design research is more helpful in producing incremental innovations which are slow, small enhancements improving upon these revolutionary products or services.”
 “He was talking about technological innovations, obviously, but I believe it applies to writing musical lyrics.” You are wanting to create the next top song and you think you’re going to be able to do it through getting to know me and creating it with my collaboration, but most often that’s not how great songs are written. They are written in the moment and not for a group of people but for the personal reasons of the artist.”
Ed says, “well what was the song you were humming when I first met you?” “That was pretty revolutionary to me!” Why don’t we just incrementally innovated to create a better, longer, and more pleasant sounding version of that song?”
Sofia agrees!

Day 4 (Bill Gaver)

It’s day 4 and Ed and Sofia are making progress on the song but they’ve gotten writers block. Greta mentions to Sofia that it is the day usually go to the market to buy bread and spices for the cafe shop. Ed and Sofia decide to use this as an opportunity to use a technique that Ed saw at the University of London in a lecture by Bill Gaver a few years back.
Ed goes out and buys a disposable camera for Sofia’s sister Greta. He tells her to take pictures of things she likes and things she dislikes at the market. Sofia ask him why he is asking her to do this? Ed says, “It’s a technique I learned awhile back from this design professor. He calls it, “Cultural Probes.” It’s an approach that stresses empathy and engagement for participants. It’s meant to elicit inspirational responses from Greta.
When they both meet up back at the Cafe Sofia asks Ed. “Are we going talk about why she chose to take these photos?” Ed says, “No.” Bill Gaver says that when you try to interpret these cultural probes scientifically they lose their value. They are simply meant to make Greta think creatively and engage her in our process.
Sofia and Ed then spend the rest of the evening talking with Greta. They then stay up all night writing the rest of the song and in the morning they finish.

Day 5 (Paul Dourish)

Ed and Sofia realize it’s their last day together and they are really happy with the song they’ve created. Sofia asks, “Do you really think your label will fire you if it doesn’t get popular?” Ed says, “I hope not. Luckily I know the main guy that make those decisions.He used to be computer scientist. His name is Paul Dourish.
He told me about a band he just signed named Capital Cities that wrote a really beautiful song years ago called Safe and Sound. They were dropped from their last label because the song didn’t do well when it was first released. But now that Paul signed them it’s one of the biggest songs in America. Sofia asks him,“Why didn’t the song do well back when it was first released?”
“Paul told me once that he believes it’s all about context and there are different ways of viewing these scenarios. There are:
  • Positivist who think in technical notions i.e. software developers (if, then)
  • Phenomenological thinkers that believe the the world as we perceive it is essentially a consensus of interpretationHe said that Capital Cities style of music was not famous at the time it was released because there were not that many bands at that time that sounded like them and thus audiences were not ready to hear their sound. He said that each year the music industry is rapidly shifting and changing. Preferences are changing and bands that once were famous are dying out and bands that were unpopular are now beginning to emerge as stars. Those that continue to survive are those that adapt and change based on the changing context.”
Sofia says, “So Capital Cities’ song Safe and Sound was kind of like a revolutionary innovation and the audience wasn’t ready for it when it was first released??” “Exactly!” Says Ed.
Ed kisses Sofia goodbye and the next week “Thinking out Loud” was the #1 song in the world. The end.
Comic-01 Comic-02 Comic-03 Comic-04

Peeling the Onion of Design Research

“It has often felt like I am an infant taking steps without knowing where the other foot will land.”

We are in the third week of Austin Center for Design however, at this point, I feel like it has been three months. That is not to say that those three weeks have been terrible but it has often felt like I am an infant taking steps without knowing where the other foot will land.

Design research is such a fascinating subject to be learning but it is completely foreign to the type of research I learned while attending business school as an undergrad. In undergrad I focused on market research and statistical analysis, methods that are closely related to this type of research but are used for very different reasons,  and in design research it is more based on “gut feelings” and, sometimes even throwing out the rules entirely.

I make it sounds like I am put off by this way of doing things but, when I take a step back from it, I am actually enjoying myself a great deal. Some of the interviews and inquiries I’ve done have been so profound and interesting that it almost pains me that I have but five more weeks in IDSE101 and only a few more days left in research before switching to synthesis. My team and I have gone on some great interviews and I have learned so much about animal food products that I would have otherwise never known.

“For the first time since the beginning of the program it made me feel like a great designer…”

Today’s research was particularly interesting. I was given the opportunity to tag along with two other AC4D members on a contextual inquiry they had arranged with a local rancher over in Bastrop, Texas that supplies meat for restaurants in Austin. For the first time since the beginning of the program it made me feel like a great designer and it gave me perspective of what we are attempting to understand through the research process. The first hour or so of the interaction we discussed several things about her ranch and the processes that she goes through on a day to day. As the interview went on She became even more comfortable (and way more talkative!) and she opened up about the difference between European to American cultures in terms of buying foods. She pointed out many interesting accounts, like that people in European cultures buy meat based on quality and ask questions about their meat, while most Americans want consistency with their food, specifically their meat. She spoke many concerns regarding this topic and the back and forth we had created a rapport that I hadn’t yet had with a participant. This is one interview out of the many we have done as a group so far but it was a turning point for me at a point where I was beginning to feel run down and unenthusiastic about the process.

I am glad to see some progress in my abilities to facilitate interviews and even more than that I like the fact that I can see what my work is building towards in the design process. I am excited to further my progression in design research and I know that I have a long way to go before I can start getting really good data for designing great products and services, but it’s encouraging to finally take a step and not fall on my face. I am not great at research, by nature I am probably better at creating graphics and visual design, but I am not discouraged by my inadequacy. I am eager to learn more because I have confidence that at the end of it I will be self-assured in my ability to perform design research at a high level.

Steve the Elephant


Steve is an elephant in high school. Steves best friend is Susan the elephant. Steve is secretly in love with Susan but he doesn’t know how to get her to think of him as more than just a friend.

One day, Steve sees his friend Allen wearing brand new Jordan sneakers. Susan also sees this and she starts to think that maybe Allen is cool because he wearing them. By that association Vitta would say that Allen bought the shoes to say something to the world himself through wearing them. By wearing Jordan brand sneakers that are cool and hip, Allen himself is cool and hip. Susan and Allen begin dating shortly after. Steve assumes that the only reason Susan likes Allen is because of his cool sneakers. So, Steve begins to think up ways that he can impress Susan in order for her to like him. He can’t just buy new sneakers because Allen already did that. Steve doesn’t know a lot about Susan’s likes and dislikes when it comes to her tastes in men so this begins to become a problem for Steve.

Steve decides to consult his brother Alfred, a sociology professor at Stanford, and he suggests that Steve should employ the position of Emily Pilloton and assimilate into the culture of his target audience in order to achieve empathetic investment. Through doing this Alfred was also using the position of John Dewey in educating pupils in a way that creates situations that make them more curious about learning.

Steve thinks about what his brother Alfred said and decides the best way for him to figure out what Susan likes is pose as a girl elephant and be around girls as much as possible for a few days. He decides to do this experience over at the rival high school where none of his friends will see him.

Steve quickly becomes friends with a group of popular girls at the rival high school finds out that they really dig elephants with hip glasses and beards. They went on and on about how much they love the lumberjack look and two of them even had boyfriends that had beards and glasses. Steve decided he had done enough research at that point that he had found a solution to his problem. He could grow a beard and buy some glasses and easily make Susan fall in love with him because he knew that she would like those changes. This form of manipulation that Steve is expressing go along with Edward Bernay’s point that in anyone can manipulate public opinion, but, you must first understand your subjects intimately in order to do so.

In the weeks following his research Steve progressively starts to grow a beard. After coming back from a long break from school Steve, already with a full beard and new specs, sees Susan walking towards him in the hall. He stops and asks her if she notices anything different about him. Susan says that she notices the glasses and beard and she thinks they look weird and kind of gross. Steve is confused! “What went wrong?!”

Steve goes back to his brother Alfred, confused and angry at him for sending him on a wild goose chase, and Alfred tells him that he should have realized that just because he figure out what some girls like doesn’t mean that’s what all the girls like and it may not be what Susan likes. This is similar to a position of Michael Hobbes that just because you test something and find success with that group doesn’t mean those results are universal to scale over broader demographics. Something that works with one group may not work with another very similar group because they each have separate factors that come into play.

Alfred then instructs Steve that he now has two choices: He can act on the expansion model and keep trying new thing, after new things, after new thing to impress Susan and potentially see their relationship change for the good, or he can preserve the friendship they have now and continue to watch that blossom into a great thing.

According to Alfred he has to choose one or the other, but according to Margolin he would saying choosing one or the other is detrimental to the entire situation. Margolin would say that choosing both or going back and forth would be better practice.

Cartoon – Steve the Elephant
Steve The Elephant