Launchpad Weekly Update

Launchpad is on a mission to provide teachers the confidence, community, and autonomy to feel more mobile in their careers. In order to do this, Launchpad will offer a 3-week summer workshop series accompanied by year-round events and a website with resources that support career transition. We help teachers reflect on their decision to explore new career paths, hear stories of others who have taken non-traditional career paths, and build the autonomy they need to feel they can access the resources and connections to move beyond their current position.

Since our last update, we have started to run our second phase of our pilot program and have spent time honing our final presentation. Our pilot includes three phases that mirror the three essential aspects of making a decision to leave a traditional path that we identified in our research. Two weeks ago, we began by creating and releasing a public survey for teachers and former teachers.

This survey, or Teacher Experience Exercise as it was titled, allowed teachers to reflect on their teaching career and discover transferable skills to fields beyond the classroom. So far, we’ve had over 100 people respond to the activity. Through this, we’ve heard some amazing stories and received great feedback regarding the value of the exercise.

Some participants told us that they screenshot the page that outlines several transferable skills to use during their job search. Understanding transferable skills is especially necessary for teachers during a career transition because teachers are siloed within education. Unlike other professions, teachers do not come into contact with a variety of other roles. This limits their awareness of career paths.

“The skills it highlighted on the Beyond the Classroom slide help me see the assets I have in a more business setting that I initially imagined. When I picture leaving teaching, I limit myself to care-taking professions. This helps me consider more corporate/business paths I could go.” – Susanna, Current Teacher

The past week, we also sent out our second phase of our pilot, a newsletter. This email included a story one teacher’s transition to corporate training. At the end of the newsletter, we included a link to a quick feedback form, but unfortunately we have received none. We hoped the story would call attention to additional paths for teachers in a way that we have seen important during career and educational transitions in our research. With the lack of response, we are not sure what are impact we had, if any.

Today, we enacted the final phase of our pilot, connecting people to each other. We sent out an email to our survey participants to see if they were willing to meet one another. We will know later this week if anyone chooses to be connected.

Our presentation narrative is in the works and we receive critique and hone our work. Final results of our pilot and our final presentation for Launchpad are next Saturday, April 27th. If you’re interested in helping us out, we’d love to practice and get feedback on our presentation. If you’re up for it, please shoot us an email at sara.miller@ac4d.com or kelsey.greathouse@ac4d.com.

 

An Unlimited Imagination Limited

language-brain (2)

CONSTRAINTS ON OUR IMAGINATION

Internal Sensemaking

This past week, we’ve been grappling with one main question: What limits what we can imagine? This question is quite complex. Our imaginations are complex. And our imaginations are also immense. Ironically, our imagination itself is greater than we can imagine. Or rather our imagination is greater than we can comprehend.

Imagination happens all the time in our brains, consciously or unconsciously. It’s the sensemaking we do to our imagination that limits it. The sensemaking that comes when we try to understand what our brain is telling us and the sensemaking that we use to then convey it to the external world. Even the act of our consciousness trying to understand our imagination puts new constraints on it.

I’m imagining things right now that I could never explain to you. I can’t even explain them to myself, because they don’t make sense. Because making sense means fitting into the constraints of our current world.

Think about the last dream you had. Try to tell it to someone else. As you begin to unravel the dream itself, you are realizing that there are things within the dream that don’t make sense. As you slept, it felt totally normal, but now to your conscious, sensemaking brain, you can’t comprehend it. As you tell it, you use metaphors and similes to describe how it’s “kind of like” this or that. Ultimately, when you finish telling it to someone else, it’s not the same as the dream you had. You may think that you’ve explained it as best you could, but the retelling of it wasn’t how it happened and didn’t make you feel how you felt when it happened to you in your dream.

This is your brain creating things that you can’t comprehend. The subsequent act of your brain trying to understand those thoughts is the first constraint that your imagination undergoes.

 

External Communication

After internal sensemaking occurs (the first constraint on what we can imagine), the second constraint occurs: communicating to the external world. We want to deliver this thought to others and make it more tangible. Our first resource we draw from is language, spoken and written.

Language and Perspective

As we seek to externalize thoughts from our imagination, we draw from our language. While language can help us communicate our ideas to others quickly, it also constrains our ideas into only thoughts that can be expressed in our language. Language is a good system for some things, but it’s not a perfect system. In his piece “Metaphors Can Change Our Opinions in Ways We Don’t Even Realize,” Steve Rathje explains how language changes the way we view things and ideas. He states, “Because of the role [metaphors] play in our thought processes, the metaphors we choose to use can dramatically impact people’s perceptions in ways that have real-world consequences.”

Language matters. Language limits not what we imagine, but limits how much of our imagination we can understand and how much we can communicate to others. As Rathje puts it, “Words matter, and if we are careful with our words, we can use them to make a positive impact. Like poets, we can approach our language with grace and precision, crafting metaphors that are persuasive and give people new ways to think about issues.” Our language may constrain our original imagination, but it can also be used to create new frames of looking at problems and reframing can spark our imagination all over again.

doesnt speak language

Perspective also can limit how we understand or communicate our imagination. Language often alters our perspective. Take the medical field for example. The verbiage and environment of understanding anatomy creates a new perspective of the human body. Instead of seeing humans as people, medical practitioners can switch to seeing humans as bodies. In his article “How Medicine Constructs Its Objects” Byron Good explains how this perspective alters the way medical students see their patients. He writes, “Students are quite aware that they are learning an alternative way of seeing, that it is a way of seeing that they can usually ‘turn on and turn off,’ but that they are learning to ‘think anatomically’ in a way that is central to the medical gaze.”

Learning this new perspective combined with its new language, provides opportunity to see and understand in a new way. However, doctors must be wary of where this perspective comes into conflict with the alternative perspective of human bodies as people not just objects. Medical professionals have to constantly be code-switching between medical jargon and an anatomical perspective to a human-based, empathetic way of understanding and communicating. If they cannot do this effectively, the whole system struggles because humans are not either people or bodies, they are both and medical professionals need to operate to serve both.

It’s not just the professionals. Ultimately, it’s the medical system that inadequately prepares and inadequately cares for the medical professionals within it. Because the doctors and nurses are not just walking medical databases, they are people too and they need humanizing care as much as the patients.

The Role of Fear

Fear is another constraint we have on the implementation of our imagination. The limitations that fear impose can be good or they can be bad. The can limit us in moving toward certain directions and they can show us potential downfalls to our ideas.

Fear can be tacit or explicitly depicted. Some fear is internal and guides us from implementing or acting on things that scare us. This can hinder our ideas by not giving them the opportunity to grow in new ways or address the parts that scare us. Fear can also be depicted outright to hinder our growth or to call attention to potential darkside of our implementing our imagination. For instance, in the short videos “Strange Beasts” and “Sight,” we explore the potential of augmented reality only to discover that it could creep into our lives in unexpected ways. Unexpected ways that change the way we interact with other people, change our behavior, change our culture, and change us. This fear can hold us back from implementing our imaginations, which could be detrimental to our growth, but these short videos also call attention to potential repercussions that we may not otherwise consider. So, fear can be a constraint, but it can also help us grapple with the responsibility we need to have over implementing our imagination in real life.

 

STRATEGIES TO DEAL WITH CONSTRAINTS

Reframing

In “Reframing Health to Embrace Design of our Own Well-Being,” Dubberly et al. promote a reframing of the medical system to promote the voice and responsibility of the patient. They argue that the current field often reduces patients to a childlike status, where medical professionals have all the power and all the responsibility. Dubberly et al. propose a reframe to increase the autonomy of the patient, the responsibility of the patient, and the view of health. This new perspective would change the way that the whole system works and would especially change the way that healthcare professionals and patients interact. Reframing is an important design tool that can allow designers to look beyond dominant lenses to understand a problem from multiple perspectives and in various contexts. 

Defamiliarization

Bell et al. uses defamiliarization as a way to reframe perspective. As an example exercise, Bell et al. has people “describe something as if they were talking to someone from Mars…[or] imagine that [you] are from Mars and are seeing our world for the very first time.” They describe defamiliarization as “first and foremost a literary device, a style of writing…available as a strategy to anyone with access to a pen and paper.” Still constrained by the limitations of language, defamiliarization can be used to open up new ideas and understanding through a specific type of reframing. Reframing and defamiliarizaton can be used as strategies to stimulate new thought and push ourselves beyond our current understanding of a problem. As an example, here’s a short video of defamiliarization of food to reframe how we think about what we eat.

Finding a Balance

As designers, we need to balance multiple perspectives and fill in the gaps of where our knowledge ends. We can help fill out our repertoire of perspectives by doing our best to experience what others go through. We call this type of understanding ‘empathy’ and as human-center designers, we try to build it with our users in everything we do. But, be wary of where immersion within a community or a perspective can constrain your ideas. Be ready to switch between multiple perspectives.

As designers we need to balance not only how we develop our ideas, but also how we communicate them. Language has its strengths and words matter, but there are other mediums to express our ideas and they should be utilized throughout our work. Drawing our concepts helps move us beyond the constraints of language. Making mockups or prototypes can allow people to interact with our ideas in new way. Drawing and making can not only allow us to communicate to others in a new way, the process of externalizing our ideas can change how we understand them as well.

Our knowledge and understanding can limit that way we implement our imagination. Having a holistic look at something can push us to understand an issue from multiple frames and can provide us with new ways of understanding a certain problem.

Collaboration

Collaboration can be used throughout the design process to reframe problems, to balance perspectives, to fill out knowledge gaps, and to provide feedback on our ideas. Collaboration is a powerful tool that can be used to stimulate thought and feed the imagination. It can also be a constraint, but if used well, it can be the key to powering our imaginations. 

 

CONCLUSION

Our imaginations are not constrained in and of themselves, but our sensemaking and communication of our imagination imposes limitations on what we can comprehend and externalize from our imagination. Our knowledge, perspective, language, and even fear, add layers of constraint. However, strategies such as reframing, defamiliarization, finding a balance, and collaborating can help us cope with some of the constraints and find new ways of understanding and new ways to communicate our ideas.

PUNC Bank: Strategy Feature Brief

To unite multiple stakeholders and teams on a vision of our PUNC Mobile Money banking app, I’ve created a strategy feature brief. After months of designing the application, testing with users, meeting with a developer, and creating a product roadmap, now it is time to compile all of the pieces into a compelling brief illustrating the value we will deliver and how we will do it. You can find the full strategy brief here.

Three main behavioral insights guided our design:

  1. We live in a fast-paced, mobile world. People expect their banking experience to keep up.
  2. Banking is a necessity for our customers, not a leisure activity.
  3. While customers need convenience for small banking tasks, they fear making hasty decisions for high impact tasks.

People want convenience and access to do basic banking activities, such as depositing checks and paying friends. However, when it comes to dealing with investments or changing retirement plans and other high-impact tasks, people desire more friction to achieve these goals so to have time to consider the repercussions.

“If I’m going to mess with my nest egg, I want to be sitting down with my laptop thinking about it. I don’t want to be on a bus, just moving stuff like that around.” -Braden

Additionally, our users wanted clear, jargon free language. Our customers felt tricked or confused when complex banking jargon was presented and often they would avoid tasks that included this. Users also avoided tasks that required knowing information that was not common knowledge or easily accessible. For instance, if they needed to know a friend’s bank or account number or routing number to transfer money, they reacted negatively and verbalized that they would find an alternative route. At PUNC Bank, we are committed to making banking approachable.

Feature Brief - Banking App

Those behavioral insights not only drive our value promise, but our designs and our roadmap to delivery as well. As seen below, our high level roadmap makes sure that users will be able first access the functions they need to monitor their accounts, then to complete small impact tasks, then features that help them develop financial understanding and healthy habits.

Capture

In addition to the high level strategic roadmap, I also included a more detailed strategic roadmap, depicting the breakdown of each phase into the flows by developer and showing our weekly schedule. This helps everyone understand the order of delivery to our customers. It is followed by the feature overview or capability breakdown, which helps illustrate what each of these features actually looks like.

detailed roadmap

The feature overview followed the same three major sections as seen above: Monitor Accounts, Small Impact Tasks, and Healthy Habits. Each major segment consisted of at least one or two key screens, with a description, and short breakdown of functionality as shown in the examples below. This will allow all team members to get a quick glance at what will be in the application, how it will operate, and what value that will be giving our customers. To see all of the features, please check out the full brief here.

accounts view

pay a friend

spending budget

The strategy feature brief is for anyone to pick up and understand what we are doing with the PUNC Mobile Money app and why. It illustrates the high level strategic roadmap depicting clumps of functionality as well as a detailed roadmap showing the breakdown of flows between two developers and over a specific timeline. The feature overview shows exactly how we will be delivering our value promise through a look at key screens throughout the app. All of these designs ultimately hinge on our behavioral insights derived from the users themselves, which makes sure that as a team at PUNC Bank we are always serving our users.

Can Human-Centered Design Save the Planet?

Activism isn’t enough to save the planet. We need more than activism to create long-term, impactful environmental change. Can design pickup where activism leaves off? To understand if human-centered design has a role to play in solving our environmental crisis, I will look at the nuances between design and activism, how design manipulates people, and role of responsibility in good design practice. Ultimately questioning if design that is inherently human-centered can solve environmental issues, where humans might not be at the center.

 

Design and Activism

Designers and activists have much in common. They can both create change, work to solve complex problems, engage communities, and have an impact. In his article, “Are Designers Becoming the New Activists?”, Richard Anderson discusses competing views of designers relationship with activists. Some designers, like Jazmyn Latimer and Sarah Fathallah argue that designers are not activists. They believe that “activists have committed to a solution to a problem and engage in a variety of activities to see that that solution is implemented. [Whereas] designers, on the other hand, (are supposed) to approach a problem with no solution in mind.” While the approach of a designer and of an activist may be different, the intent of change is similar.

While Ann Thorpe argues that “‘good’ design does typically work to bring about change, in its dominant forms, good design (usable, profitable, beautiful, meaningful) doesn’t usually constitute activism on behalf of excluded or neglected groups. Rather, it constitutes general improvements to daily life that are most often gained through private consumption.” So, the majority of design is small changes to daily life, not work at the margins of society. However, Thorpe continues to illustrate several examples of design as activism. She also helps define “design activism” and maps out four criteria to define as such. Design as activism “publicly reveals or frames a problem or challenging issues, makes a contentious claim for change based on the problem, works on behalf of neglected, excluded or disadvantaged groups, and disrupts routine practices, or systems of authority, which gives it the characteristic of being unconventional or unorthodox–outside the traditional channels of change.” Clearly, not all design work falls into this and thus not all design can be considered forms of activism, but some design can be and some design should be.

In fact, in his article “Radicalizing Innovation,” Pierce Gordon argues that activists can be considered designers. However, in many ways, designers have more power than activists. We are given a seat at the table and should use this opportunity to enable change in other ways. As Gordon puts it, we should be engaging activists in our work as they often have knowledge and expertise we need. He states, “In many instances, the true innovation happens at the margins of society. Many of these [innovations come from] activists, and we should work to learn from their lessons if we want to build on their successes.”

Reflecting on his own organization, Greater Good, in his article “It’s Time to Define What ‘Good’ Means in our Industry”, George Aye realizes that looking at work from other related “disciplines that are equally attuned to human behavior” helps them “create tangible, longstanding change for people who have been historically and systemically marginalized.” Aye states that good design learns from anthropology, social work, and community organizing. Design can learn from activism. Design should learn from activism.

We can argue all day about the semantics of whether activism is part of design or design is a type of activism, but it doesn’t matter. Both activists and designers desire change and we need each other to get there.

So, can human-centered design save the planet? Environmental activism is playing its part to bring about change for the environment, but is design doing enough?

 

Manipulation by Design

Design has the power to be doing much more in the way of environmental change. Design is manipulative. Can we use this to the environment’s advantage? Is there a way to appropriately manipulate people and society in doing better by the environment?

Let’s first talk about manipulation because that word is quite triggering. People don’t like to feel manipulated or controlled. They want to feel their own free will is the reigning control over everything in their life, but this isn’t true. As Jon Kolko puts it in his article aptly titled “Manipulation,” “most design is manipulative…Interaction design is largely about removing cognitive friction or producing a happy path — in order to manipulate someone into realizing a goal. That manipulation is typically called ‘helping,’ and it is often, actually, helpful.”

So, manipulation can be helpful, but it can also be deceitful and can play off negative emotions. In his article, “Using Attachment Anxiety in Emotional Design & Marketing,” Brian Cugelman discusses the use of negative emotions used against the user and for the benefit of the organization. Cugelman states, “Negative emotions are often used in interactive design through loss aversion tactics, as way of getting people to take on action and avoid the bad situation that would result from inaction. [They are] also used to create emotional barriers, to stop users from doing something you don’t want them to do, such as trying to stop your customers from leaving your company out of fear of your competitors, rather than because of love for your brand.” Negative emotions can be used to manipulate and deceive and they can bolster distrust and suspicion of an organization.

Fig 1. Illustration of Facebook manipulations of mood.
Fig 1. Illustration of Facebook manipulations of user’s mood.

 

How can we manipulate and still, as Cugelman puts it, “build long-term trusting relationships, based on authenticity, and respect?” We need to use positive emotions, be more transparent and not deceive our customers. And, while it’s difficult to fathom in the fast-paced start-up culture, we need to slow down and create lasting relationships with our customers and consider the repercussions of our actions both with individuals and with society.

 

Responsibility in Design

Design has impact. Sometimes we know our designs will have a huge impact and other times we make small changes that don’t seem to have much impact at all. But the reality is that design makes changes and we need to understand what those might be and what they may affect.

In her piece “The World that UX is Helping Create”, Lis Hubert illustrates the world of the “digital zombie” where everyone is glued to their phones. She reflects on herself and her role in creating this society. She states, “I’d not ever seriously considered my own UX work having a negative impact on my fellow human end users. After all, I was in the meeting rooms each day, fighting the good fight, ensuring that the products and services my teams were creating supported users as best they could. How could my work result in this digital zombie world?” All those days of keeping the user in mind and yet unintended consequences arose. Consequences that go beyond keeping the user happy and engaged to a society of people more attached to their phones than their families.

As designers, we need to be able to zoom in and out of interactions. We may become focused on the one end goal for a user, but zooming out to see how that fits into their life, how it may change other interactions beyond their use of your product is essential. You cannot ignore the ripples of change. Those ripples may amplify in society.

But the ripples of change aren’t always a bad thing. We can create products and services where the change may be small for an individual but may have large positive effects on the world. Let’s take the example of the Halibut Hook brought up by Margaret Gould Stewart in her article “Able, Allowed, Should; Navigating Modern Tech Ethics.” This fish hook created a small change for individuals, the ability to catch halibut of a specific size that would fit in their canoe. However, this hook was not conducive for catching small halibut, leaving that population to grow and mature, thus maintaining a balanced ecosystem. This small invention had an affect on entire community of people and an entire ecosystem. Stewart maps out “The Four Quadrants of Design Responsibility,” as seen below. From pixels to ecosystems and individuals to humanity, we need to be thinking about where our designs fall and what they affect. As Stewart puts it, “We need to excel at that bottom left quadrant to be sure, but we need to also get even more skilled at anticipating systems effects, protecting the health and well-being of our community, and understanding the impact on society when a much larger and more diverse population is using our products.”

Fig 2. Stewart's Four Quadrants of Design Responsibility with the Halibut Hook hitting all quadrants.
Fig 2. Stewart’s Four Quadrants of Design Responsibility with the Halibut Hook hitting all quadrants.

For the environment, we need to try to predict ways we can implement change in the pixel and individual quadrant that may affect the ecosystem and humanity quadrant in a positive ecological way. We not only need to look at how our designs can affect the environment if we implement them, we need to look at the environmental issues and implement designs to make positive change.

Humans are myopic. We’re not very good at foresight. We are bad at predicting the future beyond our own lifespan and we’re bad at predicting the future right in front of us, but we need to try.

 

It’s a Human-centered World, the Rest of the World’s Just (Trying) to Live in It

Not only are we bad at predicting the future, we’re also extremely self-centered. Human-centered design is by definition human-centered. Our whole culture is anthropocentric.

Fig 3. Humans are anthropocentric, believing ourselves to be at the center of the universe. This visual shows the egocentric (or anthropocentric view) and then an ecocentric perspective, where humans are not the center, but a piece of the whole.
Fig 3. Humans are anthropocentric, believing ourselves to be at the center of the universe. This visual shows the egocentric (or anthropocentric view) and then an ecocentric perspective, where humans are not the center, but a piece of the whole.

 

Can anything anthropocentric actually save the planet? Think about it. To solve environmental issues do we need to put humans at the center? Can we not keep the rest of the world beyond humans at the center for once?

I’m not sure we can. I’m not sure humans are capable of enacting change where they are not at the center of it. We are incredibly reliant on our anthropocentric ways. If we’re not at the center of it, we don’t really care. Or maybe we say we care because polar bear cubs are cute, but we don’t make change. If environmental problems aren’t affecting humans, they won’t be fixed. The reality is that (ironically) we need human-centered design to fix our environmental issues. The problems the environment faces are caused by humans and will ultimately affect humans one way or another.

Environmentalism in the modern age has to grow beyond activists. It has to be more than rallies and marches. We need more than “green” buildings and recyclable Nespresso pods (that end up in the landfill anyway). We need more than trendy succulents and selfies on mountains, we need cultural and cross-cultural systemic changes.

Design can be a part of this. Design should be a part of this. Human-centered design has the power to create impactful environmental change. Because design has power. Let’s use it to save the planet.

 

Tetris in a New Dimension: Creating a Product Roadmap

Creating Thin-Slices

After getting estimates on my wireframes with a developer, I was tasked with prioritizing the features to build first. Keeping the user in mind, I wanted to make sure I was delivering value, but keeping the flows very lean in order to build and ship them as soon as possible.

To do this, I returned to my wireframes with a critical eye and the words of my developer in mind. I balanced the user goals with the amount of time it would take to build out certain features in my flow. I discovered that my flows were already very lean and it was difficult to take out many additional pieces to create thin-slice flows.

Below is an example of one of the removed features. I took out the option to make a bill payment recurring for the initial launch. This feature would add an additional 10-12 days of build time. It is not necessary to have for the first launch. 

Fig 1. Example of a Thin-Slice feature removed for initial build.
Fig 1. Example of a Thin-Slice feature removed for initial build.

In the end, I was able to take off 23 days of build time by creating even leaner flows for my thin-slice wireframes. Click on the following to see the entire estimate spreadsheet with changes made for the thin-slice flows: Estimates of Thin-Slice Flows Spreadsheet  (Yellow highlights illustrate the changes made to the screens. Orange highlights show the changes in estimates for full flow based on new thin-slices.) View of all updated screens as thin-slices.

 

Developing Roadmaps with Varying Constraints

Creating an Ideal Product Roadmap

After creating my absolute lowest estimated build while retaining value, I realized that with two developers working at 40 hours a week, I would be able to ship my thin-slice flows in just about 4 weeks of production. To map out the flow of work, I created a product roadmap.

First, I created an Ideal Product Roadmap that illustrated the cascade of tasks that would build up to our complete thin-slice flow launch. This included the Login, Login Fail, Home and Accounts, Check Deposit, Pay Bills, Pay a Friend, and Spending + Budget thin-slice flows.

Each developer was tasked with 3 distinct flows and then shared the task of creating the Spending + Budget flow because of its estimated time allotment and number of visuals. I broke Spending + Budget into the Budget Breakdown section and the Past Spending Graph section.

 

Fig 2. Ideal Thin-Slice Roadmap
Fig 2. Ideal Thin-Slice Roadmap

For full details of the Ideal Roadmap, please click here.

After the launch of the thin-slice flows, I began adding back in the features that were de-prioritized for the initial launch. This included small tasks, such as, creating customizable buttons on the home page, adding a Favorites section to contacts in Pay a Friend, and being able to edit added payees in the Pay Bills section. It also included larger tasks, such as the Quick View visualization and the recurring payment feature.

In the Ideal Roadmap, I clumped these based on themes and time. That way we could ship things in increments that made sense to the user (see Fig 3). For instance, the first theme was around Managing Contacts added in the app. This included the ability to edit added payees in the Pay Bills section and included a Favorites section of contacts in the Pay a Friend flow. The second theme group was focused on visual implementations and included the Quick View feature as well as the donut chart of past spending trends in the Spending + Budget section.

Fig 3. Ideal Product Roadmap - Illustration of  Clumping Releases into Themes.  The first allows users more management over their contacts and payees in the app. The second provides more visuals throughout the app.

Fig 3. Ideal Product Roadmap – Illustration of Clumping Releases into Themes. The first allows users more management over their contacts and payees in the app. The second provides more visuals throughout the app.

 

Below are the screens with the added visuals. While neither of the top visuals in each screen made the cut for the thin-slice release, both of them would be re-added in the phase 2 of releases. In the Ideal Roadmap, they are released together adding to the user’s experience of visual features in the app.

Fig 4. The Quick View feature was removed for the Thin-Slice release, but would be re-added in the second phase of the releases. It would be added at the same time as the visuals in Fig 5.
Fig 4. The Quick View feature was removed for the Thin-Slice release, but would be re-added in the second phase of the releases. It would be added at the same time as the visuals in Fig 5.

 

Fig 5. The addition of the donut chart breakdown of past spending to the Spending +Budget section of the app. Removed in thin-slice, but re-added during the second phase of releases.
Fig 5. The addition of the donut chart breakdown of past spending to the Spending +Budget section of the app. Removed in thin-slice, but re-added during the second phase of releases.

 

Again, because my flows were already very lean my whole app could launch within 45 days even with adding in the cut features that were taken out of the thin-slice flows (as seen in the Ideal Roadmap Fig 2).

 

Creating a Constrained Product Roadmap

After creating an Ideal Roadmap, I also created a Constrained Roadmap (Fig 6). In this scenario, I still had two developers working at 40 hours a week, but I needed to launch something in 30 day increments. Because this particular build was very lean already the change between the two roadmaps was quite small. I was still able to launch my thin-slice flows within the first 30 day launch, so that was great news because it meant that we would have a viable product within the very first launch.

 

Fig 6. Constrained Product Roadmap
Fig 6. Constrained Product Roadmap

To see a detailed version of the Constrained Product Roadmap, please click here.

However, the constraints did change was how I clumped the additional features beyond the thin-slice flows. Where I had clumped them by similar themed features, I decided to break up the visual theme release into the Quick View and the donut chart for past spending trends because of their length. In the Ideal Roadmap these two visual components would be released together, but since I wanted to get out as many complete features as possible in the 30 day launch, I decided to separate them. I was able to add the Quick View build up (Fig 4) to the 30-day launch because it was only three days long and would be able to be done by one developer at the end of the first 30 day period. I moved the donut chart past spending visual (Fig 5) to the phase two release (Fig 7). 

Fig 7. Constrained Product Roadmap close up on de-clumping themes. Quick View moved up to release before 30-day launch.
Fig 7. Constrained Product Roadmap close up on de-clumping themes. Quick View moved up to release before 30-day launch.

 

Additional Learnings

Because my flows were already quite lean and my estimates for build time were pretty low, I thought I would have to cut entire flows, but actually managed to fit all the thin-slice flows into the initial build phase. I still prioritized these flows within that time period to make sure that if we decided to launch early we would have a viable flow with a login and home page.

I spent some time testing out different roadmap tools to see which one I could pick up the fastest. I ended up going with Product Plan, which gave me good control over dragging and dropping boxes, but I accidentally built everything out with time estimates and then realized that the timeline did not depict the weekends, so I had effectively scheduled over everyone’s weekend (not a good work-life balance). So, I went back and added weekend blocks into the timeline to depict weekends. There may be a better tool for that.

Another wonderful thing about creating a product roadmap is it allows you to use spatial awareness along with prioritization of tasks, user goals, and budgets. Creating a visual tool that depicts that tasks broken in digestible pieces that can be moved and placed into various spaces, allows us to find the best plan of attack for building out a product. It was like a huge game of tetris, but with another dimension–the dimension of priorities and constraints.

Launchpad Progress Update

Our business venture aims to empower ex-teachers to pursue paths outside of their current career by helping them identify transferable skills and then connect with a larger community of ex-teachers and employers. We will do this is in a summer workshop series combined with year-round events, and a website for additional support and resources.  

This week we have been working on…

  • Defining the thing: We named the pain points along the journey of making a transition out of teaching from what we heard in interviews, ideated on the forms a solution to those pain points could take, chose a suite of workshops, events, and website as our final solution. We also defined the end state by defining five possible careers to help transition people into.
  • Visualizing the thing: We’ve created a customer journey map to illustrate the stages of the user’s journey and the interaction with our service.
  • Thinking through the details: We also created a detailed service blueprint which allowed us to think through the multiple layers of our service and what tasks need to be accomplished to be able to deliver our value promise.

 

Recently, we have been working on creating physical artifacts that articulate our design concept, whereas prior we were working to validate and solidify our concept. Our team has been focused on creating an end to end solution with the intention of validating the concept with an MVP before the end of April.

 

Our next question: How do we validate the value of this solution for employers? How can we utilize what we find is most valuable to employers to give our graduates a leg up?

 

Now we will work to …

  • Create additional artifacts that help to articulate our larger vision until it becomes a reality
  • Create our first draft of our mid-point/final presentation of our progress
  • Place our concept in front of employers to get feedback

To do this, over the next week, we will be…

  • Connecting with employers to gain feedback on our concept before piloting in the first weeks of April
  • Coordinating and hold interviews
  • Working to balance and define the relationship of our product to employers and vice versa

Our priority is creating physical artifacts that are coherent enough to convey our grand idea.

 

One way you can help right now is…

If you or anyone you know hires for in-house recruiters and would be open to talking to us about their process, please reach out to us at sara.miller@ac4d.com or kelsey.greathouse@ac4d.com.

A New Perspective: Understanding the Developer Approach

Introduction

Over the last two months, I’ve been working to create wireframes for a mobile banking app. Focused first on basic flows crucial to the core of a banking app and then adding on more in-depth features including budgeting tools. While creating these, I’ve put the designs out into the world of users and received feedback, which was then implemented to make the design better for our users.

Moving into the Product Management phase, however, meant a slight shift in design focus. Instead of being solely focused on designs that were great for the users, I now I had to make sure these designs were within our budget for development. To do this, I was paired with a developer to understand product sizing and evaluation. Sure, I know how long it would take me to mock up something in Sketch or XD, but I had no idea how long something would take to be coded and launched.

The Value of Meeting with a Developer

Meeting with developers is a crucial part of getting any digital design launched and the better communication you have with the developer the smoother the launching will go. I scheduled a meeting with Mark Phillip and began to prepare my wireframes for the meeting.

Meeting Preparation

Prior to meeting with Mark, I went back to my wireframes and made sure that I had updated my flows based on the last round of user feedback. Additionally, I decided to try out redlining my screens. As seen below, I first went through and redlined all of my features (as seen in Fig 1-2 below). I boxed them in red and wrote a brief explanation about what they were and how they functioned. After that, I went back through all the frames and outlined all of the controls and components and described how each of those functioned (see Fig 3-4). Lastly, I pulled all of the controls and key components out of the context of the wireframes and described their behavior individually (see Fig 5-6).

Fig 1. Redlining Features
Fig 1. Redlining Features – Home Screen

 

Fig 1 Relining Features
Fig 2. Relining Features – Account Balances

 

One thing that I would’ve done differently here, is talked to my developer prior to our meeting and asked for clarification around what exactly would help him best in the meeting to grasp the wireframes. If I had done that, I would’ve learned that he did not need to see the controls and components redlined (like in Fig 3-4), which would’ve saved me a lot of time. But he did like to see the components and controls taken out of the context of the wireframe and annotated (as seen in Fig 5-6).

Fig 3. Redlining Controls - Home Screen
Fig 3. Redlining Controls – Home Screen

 

Fig 4. Redlining Controls - Account Balances
Fig 4. Redlining Controls – Account Balances

 

Fig 5. Component and Control Breakdown
Fig 5. Component and Control Breakdown

 

Fig 6. Component and Control Breakdown pt2
Fig 6. Component and Control Breakdown pt2

Lastly, I ended up printing all of my redlined wireframes out and bringing them to the meeting. It was a lot of paper, but being able to make notes, redraw, and scratch things out right on the design quickly helped out meeting go smoothly.

To see the full redlined wireframes click on the links below:

Features

Controls

Controls Breakdown

During the Meeting

Mark was friendly and warm and understood well what were trying to accomplish in our meeting. We went through the wireframes by flow and discussed them screen by screen using the redlining Features section I had prepared.

As we went through, it was clear that he quickly grasped what the flows were and how the features and controls functioned. He asked questions when he needed it and the discussion illustrated a couple areas where I could add screens or move things around for clarity of flow.

During the meeting, he gave me an overall estimate for each flow and then I would prod him with questions regarding particular features or what he was thinking. I asked a lot of questions like “How did you get to the estimation? Could you break the timeline down for me?” and “What feature do you think would take the longest? Or how could we save some time or make this flow leaner?” He took all my questions in stride and offered explanations for which features he thought would take him the longest to build and we brainstormed some alternatives.

For example, one of my flows included a long form to manually add a payee for bill payment. I had designed it so that when a user finished page one they would then go on to page two, but Mark pointed out that would be extra time and that a scrolling form would shorter the development time.

Fig 7. Pay Bills Flow includes form for manually adding new payee. It includes two separate pages, but could just be a scrollable form.
Fig 7. Pay Bills Flow includes form for manually adding new payee. It includes two separate pages, but could just be a scrollable form.

 

At the end of the meeting, I inquired about what he normally likes to see in these types of meetings. He told me that a basic concept map of the architecture of the app would be helpful to understand how the pieces fit together and give him and overview so he can better understand where he is in the app as we go through wireframes.

Overall the meeting gave me a more holistic understanding of all the ways a project can be viewed. The majority of the meeting was me trying to understand how the developer is going to attack a problem and the developer trying to understand why we chose to design things the way we did. This understanding of the two sides is a crucial piece to implementing a cohesive product within budget that works for users.

After the Meeting

Upon returning from the meeting with the developer, I documented my learnings. I created and excel sheet breakdown of all the estimations that Mark gave me. I made sure to include notes on the features that would take the longest and why, so I can prioritize later about what should be included in our v1 of the app.

Walking away from the meeting, I have a new understanding of how developers approach a problem or a build and I have better grasp on how I can communicate and how I can prepare to get the most out of those interactions. My main takeaway from Mark was that the more that I, as a designer, can illustrate and articulate how something functions and why we chose that function, the easier it is going to be for the developer to understand the scope of work and give an accurate estimate. As Mark put it, “If I’m confused or scared by something or I’m not sure how it works, I’m going to give you a less accurate estimate because I want to make sure I have enough time to figure it out.”

The Estimation Results

Developer estimation for each flow
Fig 8. Developer estimation for each flow.

Detailed estimation can be found here.

To Consider Moving Forward

Several items within my app are time consuming for the developers and should be carefully considered moving forward. For instance, I had included a Recurring Payment option in my Bill Pay flow. It’s the ability to automatically pay a particular bill at recurring times in the future, basically scheduling them out at particular intervals. This was problematic for the developer because of the amount of variables included, like daily, weekly, monthly payment options.

Fig 9. Pay Bill with recurring payment feature offered. A potentially costly addition.
Fig 9. Pay Bill with recurring payment feature offered. A potentially costly addition.

 

Another feature to change in my wireframes is the numeric keypad. I need to a little digging to find a standard Andriod numeric keypad for the wireframes. From working with the developer, I learned that many standard features are much faster for them to include because the developer that copy the code for standard features instead of building a new keypad from scratch. This should be a relatively easy fix on my end that will allow the developer to work much quicker down the line.

Fig 10. Nonstandard Numeric Keypad will take much longer for developer to build instead of just including a standard Android keypad.
Fig 10. Nonstandard Numeric Keypad will take much longer for developer to build instead of just including a standard Android keypad.

Lastly, including all of the interstitial states that I had included for my users were completely unnecessary for the developer to see. Next time, I would only include enough so they understand the function and not every single screen for interstitial states.

Fig 11. Interstitial states were not necessary to show in developer meeting.
Fig 11. Interstitial states were not necessary to show in developer meeting.

 

Communication is key to these meetings. That includes preparing with redlining features, printing wireframes, or chatting with your developer prior to meeting to understand what would be best for them. It includes asking questions and having answers to developer’s questions during the meeting. And it includes documenting communications after the meeting and following up with the developer as the project progresses.

Embracing the Gray

 

Chaos Muppet theory and a room divided

Chaos Muppets and Order Muppets–what a binary way to set up the world. In Dahlia Lithwick’s article, “Chaos Theory”, she argues that the world is made up of Chaos Muppets or Order Muppets and both are necessary to succeed. You are either a swirling ball of chaotic energy or an orderly and structured walking list of rules. While some identify with one more than the other, I identify with both.

In some situations, I am an Order Muppet structuring my day to be most efficient with the work I need to get done prioritized and defined. In other situations, I am a Chaos Muppet, juggling multiple ideas and playing with ambiguity or jumping in a car for a destination unknown, calling out left or right at every intersection. So, what changes whether I’m and Order or Chaos Muppet? Context. Depending on the situation, the context, the event, the task at hand, I can switch back and forth between both types of Muppets.

While people might identify as more Chaos or more Order, the reality is that most people are a bit of both. When it comes down to it, the world is not binary; it’s not black and white. There’s a whole lot of shades of gray in there and we can’t just overlook that.

Gray areas do not exist just in people’s personalities, they exist in everything, including real world problems and the solutions we design for them. Products are not always good or bad, but most often a bit of both. Understanding how to evaluate the good and the bad is a critical step for design. As designers, we have to be able to understand the context, know who we’re designing for and bring them in early and often on the process, and as best we can understand the consequences of our designs on other parts of the system.

 

Symptoms and Root Causes: What should we address?

Another binary way of looking at the world of design, is that design solutions either address the symptom or they tackle the underlying root cause. Does providing access to a shelter for a homeless person address the problem of them being homeless or does it just address a symptom? Does selling clean drinking water in developing countries address a symptom or does it address the underlying cause?

Design can tackle a variety of problems, but just how deep can we really go? Common critiques of some designs is that the solution treats a symptom of a problem, not the underlying problem itself. It’s a band-aid for the wound, not the prevention of the cause of the wound. Some argue that creating band-aids actually distracts people from addressing the root of the problem. But, like everything, it’s much more complicated than that.

Take the Product (Red) campaign for example, in which, articles of clothing (and other products) are sold to help fund treatment of HIV/AIDS in several African countries. As Cindy Phu maps out in her article “Save Africa: The Commodification of (PRODUCT) RED Campaign”, this campaign raised a lot of money and treated many people with HIV in some countries in Africa. However, those opposed to the campaign argue that it is perpetuating consumerism, only serving some countries in Africa, and not doing enough to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Here we have another shade of gray. The campaign is serving real people with real problems, but are they doing enough to address the underlying root cause of the problem?

Band-aids and  need to co-exist because long term systemic changes take a long time and we need more immediate solutions. So, how can we have band-aids and still be focused on long term sustainable change?

Design band-aids are all around us. Take trash collection for example. Is this a band-aid to a symptom or a solution to a root cause? Trash collection is so pervasive in our culture that it feels like the solution. It’s a band-aid. It serves to collect our garbage and get it out of our line of sight. Is putting our trash in a landfill better than burning it? Yes, in some ways. Five percent of the carbon dioxide emissions is from burning trash. And 40 percent of the world burns their trash. So, let’s not burn it and instead put it into a landfill. Well, this helps with the emissions from burning rubbish, but it comes with it’s own heaps of problems as well. It takes up space, there are leaks, and there is still harmful emissions as trapped carbon items breakdown. So, whats the real root cause? That we make trash. Trash collection is treating the symptom of the underlying problem which is humans create trash.

We could argue that trash collection distracts us from the real underlying issue that we create trash. We see it as a system that solves our problem of getting rid of trash, but does it just mask our true issue that we create trash to begin with? I think some would argue that this is exactly what this band-aid does.

However, without this band-aid we would have a much larger problem that there is trash everywhere or that people are burning trash to get rid of it. Should we do away with trash collection to re-focus on the underlying cause? No. Getting rid of trash collection would present even more problems and symptoms. We need trash collection, but we also need to continue to focus on the underlying causes as well. How do we create less trash? How can we as humans create no trash? As we get to the root of the cause, just like the above image shows us, the problem becomes more complex. The web more entangled and the difficulty and the time increases. The impact might increase too.

Band-aids or solving the cause of the wounds–which one should we choose? The answer is both.

Does this mean that designs should be thrown together thoughtlessly and put into the world with immediacy being the only guiding light? No. We still need those band-aids to be thoughtful. Designers need to make sure we understand as much as possible about the environment we’re designing for. This means bringing in locals early and often to empathize and to understand the people we are creating for, like Studio D for project as outlined in “The [Human] Codebreakers: What Every Company Gets Wrong about Developing for the Emerging World, and How to Do It Right” by Jessi Hempel.

As designers, we need to understand the root cause and we need to know the symptoms and ultimately, we need to design for both. The world needs easily implemented designs that help people immediately and the world needs to long-term structural changes to large systems. We need it exist in the gray area. A space where we can implement some changes quicker, but still understand the ripples of effect it will have on the system. At the same time, we also need to be tackling the underlying root causes of these symptoms. The large, complex beasts that may take many efforts, many years, and many incremental changes to budge.

symptoms v root cause

 

Selfish Altruism: Yet another shade of gray

Activism sells, but activism alone won’t.  

As Mark Manson describes in his article “Everything is Fucked and I’m Pretty Sure It’s the Internet’s Fault”, the world is run by emotions. People are driven by what makes them feel good. And like Alex Holder explains in “Sex Doesn’t Sell Any More, Activism Does. And Don’t the Big Brands Know It”, activism sells. But, unfortunately, activism alone does not sell. People like to feel good. The good feeling of donating might be enough for some, but if activism comes with another payoff or product, even better.

This is why we see a rise in company’s social impact. Lyft pledging to pay to eliminate their carbon emissions, Project (Red) giving money to help HIV treatment when you buy certain products. Businesses add social good components because people value that and it sets them apart from competition. Is this bad?

People may gripe that corporations only do good because it helps their sales, but I would rather have them do good for sales than not do good at all. If Lyft offsets their carbon emissions, am I going to choose them over other rideshare companies, yes. If they want to use my interest in environmental causes to make me choose them over others, fine by me. They might not be the best corporation in the world, but if they are choosing to do something good, even if it’s driven by their sales goals, they are still doing something good.

As seen in the Project (Red) example, you can get more people to do good things, if they get something immediate in return. Because people do run on emotion and they want to feel good. Some people will feel good and that will be enough emotional payoff for them to donate straight to organizations. Others want that shirt to wear, to look cool, and to show everyone that they did something good, so if selling shirts allows them to make more money for a good cause, then go for it. But be aware of the trade-offs.

As designers, this is something to consider. Are there ways to marry the immediate payoff of something and the long-term benefits of another? As an example, Austin Center for Design is addressing two problems at once. “The long-term goal of AC4D is to investigate and drive a positive relationship between design thinking and the large “wicked” problems facing the public sector.” But think about the short, immediate problems AC4D is addressing. For the individuals in the program, the long-term goal is one to work towards but the immediate payoff is changing careers and learning new skills.

People expect something in return. Whether it’s a product or a feeling of doing good, people expect something out of an interaction.

Designers shouldn’t be afraid of the gray space, we should embrace it. If we can marry the Order and the Chaos, the short term solutions and the long term change, we should because the world is in desperate need of both.

Budgeting Meets Banking: Adding Features to an Already Complex App

Adding Features

Last week’s challenge was to add in additional features to our banking app, specifically budgeting features. This included an overview of finances and their trends, a ‘what if’ feature that allowed people to alter their recurring bills to see the effects on their budgets, the ability to compare a single transaction to other past transactions, and a simple way to see what is available for someone to spend. Incorporating all of these features was a challenge. They each overlap in various ways and could have numerous paths a person could flow through. Below is an overview of the flows, you can see that there are several repeated screens, indicating that they show up in multiple flows.

Fig 1. PNC Virtual Wallet Redesign with Budgeting Features Added
Fig 1. PNC Virtual Wallet Redesign with Budgeting Features Added

 

To begin, I built out a Spending and Budgets section that housed the majority of the required features. It could be accessed in multiple ways, from the More menu, through the View Accounts section, and even from individual transaction details (as seen above). While I spent a lot of time configuring how I thought people would handle each of the tasks presented them, I realized in my first user test, that I was very wrong.

User Testing

I ended up conducting in-person user tests with five individuals between the ages of 28 and 38 with a variety of banks. All but one of them used banking applications on their phone. The breakdown can be seen below.

Fig 2. Breakdown of User Testing Participants
Fig 2. Breakdown of User Testing Participants

 

I met each participant in-person and presented them with four tasks, one at a time. They were instructed to think aloud, so that I could get a better idea of someone else’s thought process for each task. I also watched their behavior, which allowed be to probe on certain actions to understand why they were doing certain things. Below are several major problems that my app encountered during user testing.

Problem 1: Transaction Comparison

While creating the flows, I thought that tasks that involved individual transactions would send people through the Checking Account page and list of transactions to the Details for that transaction and then to the Spending and Budgets sections (like seen below). Unfortunately, people wanted everything to be accessible through the Spending and Budgets and I had not finished building that feature out with all its functions. For instance, one task was for people to compare their last HEB grocery trip to their past grocery trips. To do this people could go to their HEB transaction, click Details, see that it was under the average grocery trip amount, click More Info and see a direct comparison to the average grocery trip over the last 6 months (as shown in Fig 3). Unfortunately, this is not at all how people managed this task.

Fig 3. Transaction Comparison Flow Problem Areas
Fig 3. Transaction Comparison Flow Problem Areas

Several people said that they would just manually compare their past couple grocery trips either just in their head as they browsed or by exporting an excel sheet. Two people managed to click on the Details button, but were confused about the actual comparison box. Most people tried to attack this task by going through the Spending and Budgets screen in Figure 4. They wanted to see the Grocery breakdown and figured if they wanted to compare grocery purchases that this is where they would go to do so. I figured that this could be a way to access this information, but I thought that someone’s first inclination would be to go through the transaction screen in accounts.

 

Fig 4. Alternative path participants attempted to take to compare their grocery expenses
Fig 4. Alternative path participants attempted to take to compare their grocery expenses.

 

While it was disheartening to see that people couldn’t figure out my intent, it was good to see how other people attack the tasks, so that I can better prioritize which features to add functionality to first. This was echoed by a participant who told me that he didn’t even want the granular ability to compare one grocery trip to another. He just wanted to see spending in Groceries by month. Sometimes he just goes to the store for beer and sometimes it’s for a large family trip, so he knows there will be plenty of disparity between trips.

 

Fig 5. Alex talks about his priorities in budgeting.
Fig 5. Alex talks about his priorities in budgeting.

 

For this issue, I would want to be sure to make all the pathways functional, especially by coming from Spending and Budgets. That’s where people are looking for the information, so that’s where they should be able to find it.

 

Problem 2: Habit Changer

Another similar issue came to light for the Habit Changer feature. This allows people to alter their recurring bills to see how it affects their budget. This feature was again accessible through the transactions page under Details on recurring bills (Fig 6). People wanted to find it from the Spending and Budget page under the various categories, but they could not click on them. Almost all of the participants missed the button that says ‘Change Your Habits’, which gets them to the Habit Changer page (Fig 7).

 

Fig 6. Habit Changer was accessible through recurring bills, but some people did not click on Deatils.
Fig 6. Habit Changer was accessible through recurring bills, but some people did not click on Details.

 

Fig 7. Participants did not see the Change Your Habits button and most people tried to click on Entertainment where they were hoping to find their Netflix and Spotify bills.
Fig 7. Participants did not see the Change Your Habits button and most people tried to click on Entertainment where they were hoping to find their Netflix and Spotify bills.

Problem 3: Available Money

The last major problem that I encountered was around the quick look at what money is available for someone to spend. I created a Money Bar that had a breakdown of where someone’s paycheck is allotted (see Fig 8). It included the amount that would be going to monthly recurring bills, the amount that would go to their savings account and the leftover money that was free for them to spend. I thought I would put it on the View Accounts page, so it was easy viewing for those who wanted to see it quickly. However, this was clearly a bad design as many of my participants had no idea what it was telling them. Not an easy, quick look after all.

Fig 8. Paycheck Breakdown and Account Balances was a confusing juxtaposition.
Fig 8. Paycheck Breakdown and Account Balances was a confusing juxtaposition.

 

Several people told me that it was confusing that the amounts did not add up. To solve this, I would either put the income breakdown on a totally different page or I would include the Checking and Savings into the breakdown. Instead of having a breakdown of the paycheck, it would show your Savings and Checking, but would show one part of the Checking as reserved for your outgoing recurring bills. This would hopefully cut down confusion and would give people a clear answer to how much money they have available to spend.

Other Learnings

Through my user testing, it was really clear how important testing with other people is during the creation of a product. Last round of user testing, tasks were more straightforward and people had a fairly easy time navigating the system. This time, not so much. But, I learned a ton by just getting my product into the hands of someone else and watching them interact with it. It helped me really understand what pathways were intuitive to people and how they think about the tasks at hand and will allow me to better situate where things are housed within the app.

The other learning that I had during this round was that free food and beer are great motivators for people to come do user testing. Having the cohort bring their friends to AC4D and do user testing with people they don’t know was a great way to get participants that I didn’t know. And a great way for them to see what we’re doing and to get free food!

Feedback from the Field Moving from Ideation to Prototyping

 

CONTEXT

Last quarter, we identified and interviewed students who dropped out of college. After synthesizing the data we collected in those interviews, we came up with themes and insights. This quarter, we have been working on utilizing the themes and insights we created last quarter to develop potential solutions. Last week, we went through the rigorous process of narrowing two hundred concepts that we had created down to five. This week, we chose a top three from those five. Then, we created business plans and began sharing our idea with users, stakeholders, and subject matter experts.

 
TOP THREE CONCEPTS

Concept 1: Casa

Casa is a co-living environment for people pursuing alternative education.

Many of the individuals that we interviewed last quarter were pursuing some form of alternative education, from taking online learning courses to bootcamp programs to reading books on topics they wanted to explore. We noticed that it was very important for people to see others pursuing alternative education pathways (and being successful) in order to feel empowered to devote their efforts towards that (rather than a degree program or school).

As such, we developed Casa to create a solution that provided a shared space for all individuals pursuing alternative education to connect and to easily know where to go to meet people who were carving out their own education and career pathways. We decided upon a living environment because we hypothesized that housing was typically a challenge for students pursuing alternative education (as they move off campus leaving degree programs or move to a new city for a bootcamp).

We spoke with two individuals this week who both helped validate some aspects of this concept and challenged aspects of this concept. The first was an individual who started a non-profit organization which identified folks who were not currently seeking a degree, enrolled them in a online university program, and offered a co-living environment for them. The second was a graduate of a bootcamp who is now working as an entrepreneur.

We began both conversations with the intention of learning about their experiences. Our goal in the conversation with the nonprofit founder was to learn of the ways in which the co-living environment provided support for its residents or did not. In the process, we learned that the environment actually came to be a restrictive one for its residents. In comparison to our conversation with the bootcamp graduate, we imagined that when residents are proactively working towards a common goal co-living is seen as a very positive support.

We also learned that while co-living can offer opportunity for additional support, it can also come with additional complications (from melding emotions of residents and grapplings with mental health issues). This is something we are very interested in investigating further and hope to learn more about in our future conversations.

With Casa, our next steps are to interview people who live in and manage coliving spaces. We have one interview scheduled currently with the director of living learning communities at the University of Michigan.

 

Concept 2: LaunchPad

LaunchPad is a website resource, where people can build their own alternative education roadmap to discover, visualize, and share their self-learning paths. In our research, we found that people need a way to visualize their alternative education in order to see gaps in their skills, reflect on their decisions, and move forward towards a goal.

This week, we talked to two people about this design concept. The first was an alumni of University of Michigan, who designed her own degree via their Individual Concentration Program. This allowed us to better understand how colleges are validating alternative paths even within their own system. We learned about the expectations for someone creating their own degree and what requirements they still had to complete.

The student had to create their own roadmap of courses that they believed would round out their education in their requested area of concentration, then it needed to be approved by faculty. At the end of their university studies, the student was required to write a 40 page independent thesis, which was a the culmination of her learnings from the variety of courses. In our research with college dropouts, we found that having a physical output (that illustrates your skills and learnings) from a course of study allowed students to reflect on what they learned and how it fits in to the bigger picture. For this student, creating a 40 page thesis forced her to reflect on what she had learned through all her courses and allowed her to create a physical piece of evidence of her learnings.

The second person that we talked to regarding this idea was a web development bootcamp graduate. We were interested to understand how he has presented his alternative education background to employers. From this conversation, we learned that he found employers to be more interested in the projects he’s worked on and his skills over his education. Another example of a physical representation of your skills valued higher than the education received.

Overall from talking to these people as well as a message conversation with a recruiter, we learned that in order to validate your learnings to others, it is important to have something to show for it physically. Universities have a strict but supportive process for carving out your own degree.

This upcoming week, we hope to connect with career changers and recruiters to understand how they are displaying and evaluating skills gained through alternative education.  

 

Concept 3: Network Nearby

Network Nearby is an app that connects people one-on-one over topics they’re interested in. It makes it easy to find connections close by with people outside of your social sphere.

Through our data, we found that people who were able to build strong networks felt more empowered to grow and create new goals. We also discovered that many people struggle to create these networks of people due to difficulties finding the right environment to create connections. Many participants found parties and large networking events overwhelming and draining to attend.

We spoke with three individuals to get feedback on our concept of Network Nearby: a introverted entrepreneur, a introverted professional, and an introverted connector of people. We entered each of these conversations with the intention of learning more about how people connect with others and what inspires them to do so. Across the board we heard one thing very loud and clear: the idea of networking is a bad one. People feel that even the word networking assumes that the one initiating it is doing so for self serving purposes. Each felt that connecting with people was best when it was for a mutually beneficial reason or for the sake of a larger cause or project.

That being said, we also heard that connecting with people 1:1 is always better than having to connect with people in a group. The introverted professional believed there was value in connecting with new people but felt overwhelmed and was discouraged from doing so by the process of actually arranging a meeting. The introverted entrepreneur felt networking was necessary and wished there were a tool (like our app) which made it even easier to do so. He even spoke of an app he already used that was very similar but said it did not have enough users to make it worth it.

Another tactic we took this week was to try out one of our competitors, BumbleBizz. We both downloaded the app and created a profile to start reaching out to people. Even just filling out the profile, we ran into several red flags that were pain points for us as users. For instance, being required to select education or employment (as seen in the image below). What if you don’t have one of these? While we have yet to meet anyone over this platform yet, it has given us a couple ideas about what not to do on our own platform.

BumbleBizz

From this we learned, that it is important that people connect over a shared value or interest. People need to feel like they are serving something more than themselves, whether that be a project they are working on, a role they want to do better for their company, or even an idea they are promoting. We found that apps that seemed almost identical to the ones we are hoping to develop are now defunct because of poor usage or lack of funding.

This upcoming week, we hope to talk to more individuals who have experience connecting strangers or bringing people together. We want to know what works well for these meetups and what is not working. We also plan to be very flexible with molding our final solution. We hope to learn from the successes and failures of things that exist and are working now and things that don’t exist anymore.

 

How You Can Help!

This week, we will be working on pushing forward each of these concepts. And, for that, we want to speak with more people. We are looking to connect with…

  • individuals who are recently or currently enrolled in a bootcamp
  • individuals who manage a co-living environment for students
  • recruiters/hiring managers
  • career changers who do not have formal education in their new field
  • anyone who has created a solution that allows otherwise strangers to connect on a deeper level, such as meetup organizers, AA organizers, employees at BumbleBizz, etc.

If this sounds like you, we want to hear from you! If this sounds like someone you know, tell them we want to hear from them. We are scheduling 30 minute conversations.

You can reach us at sara.miller@ac4d.com and kelsey.greathouse@ac4d.com