Stories from the Castle

Over the last few weeks, Jen and I have been conducting design research for our project with Castle Hill Fitness. At the beginning of this assignment we created a research plan on our own which focused on the green initiatives that the gym utilizes. The goal was to learn about the impact these may have on members and employees. After meeting with Castle Hill Fitness we updated our research plan to better reflect their interest in learning more about the new member on boarding process.

Focus Statement: We plan to learn how new members feel about and become familiarized with the products and services offered by Castle Hill Fitness.

Next we began conducting interviews. We have met with 15 participants including employees, former members, current members (new and old), and potential future members to learn about their gym experiences. From these interviews we’ve collected many hours of audio which we’re in the process of transcribing, and over 800 photos. We’re midway through adding all this data to our work space walls in preparation for the next steps of affinity diagramming, which we will use to group the data into themes based on inferences. We will explain more about this grouping process in a later post once we’ve done it.

Research data on the walls of our work space.

At this stage of the process we’d like to share some stories that came out of our research. These stories are not formalized themes, but give a general picture of what we heard in our time with participants, and may help convey a sense of the emotions and overall feelings that people had regarding Castle Hill Fitness and new gym membership.

One story we heard was how community is a big part of what people like about Castle Hill Fitness. Many of the participants we spoke to mentioned how Castle Hill Fitness has a family and community vibe to it, and that’s important to both the staff and members.

“When I turned 50 some of the people that are in Recess that I’ve been jumping rope with for 20 years, we went out to dinner in honor of my birthday. And it’s not about me, right? It’s about the connections that those people have with each other. And I was just the catalyst.”

We also heard the experience of a potential new member. We spoke to Renata, who’s looking to get back into fitness after recovering from some serious injuries. A friend had recommended Castle Hill Fitness so she went to check it out. When we spoke to her she’d done a 3 day free trial, but had not yet joined as a member.

“I loved the class and I was, like, glowing and I was so excited to keep doing Pilates. And the next morning I woke up so sore that I didn’t go back to Castle Hill, I didn’t go to my yoga class that I go to every Saturday. I’m an athletic person and I just felt wrecked. I think I was wrecked for like a week! So I didn’t use the rest of my trial in any sort of way.”

We heard from various gym employees about what it’s like working with new members. For example, Avery told us why she enjoys working with new members saying,

“I find new members exciting. Specifically, I really enjoy getting a new client and kind of starting to—I can’t find a more positive word—but starting to brainwash them. Kind of shedding all that stuff that they know about working out, what they know about gyms and their body … getting them into a deeper internal motivation based on how they’re feeling and how they’re moving.”

Lastly we spoke with a former Castle Hill Fitness member, Jane. She has recently decided to join the Townlake YMCA so we were able to hear about her experience as a new member at the Y and compare it to her time at Castle Hill Fitness.

“I know at Castle Hill they send a lot of emails to members, like ‘oh as a new member you get a free 15 min session with your personal trainer or da da da.’ Those are very helpful. I appreciate those, because I don’t know what’s going on. If you send me an email, I will read it, and be looking and researching what this gym has. If you tell me what you have, and that 15 minute thing or whatever then I’m more likely to act upon it than me wanting to ask what you have offered. At the Y, no emails yet.”

When choosing what to include in our presentation to Castle Hill we tried to select stories that would be interesting for the client to hear. We did this by using quotes and examples that might reveal something new, or convey the emotional impact/personality of the participant. In presenting personal stories from the research we hope to humanize the data and make it more relatable.


Reflecting on week 4

Our fourth week at AC4D was just as busy as the previous ones. In theory class I presented the diagram I made showing 8 author’s viewpoints on design research, and my own interpretation of what design research should and should not be. I think this went well, and I received a lot of positive feedback. Similarly, in our Application class where we’ve been learning and practicing sketching, I got feedback that I’ve improved a lot in my daily object sketches. I’m feeling so relieved and proud of the progress I’ve made, but I’m also tired. I’m finding that at AC4D you will learn, but it will be hard. You will improve, but it will be through many hours of sustained effort, and time is a precious commodity.

Tomorrow my team will be presenting our stories from the field to both the client, and the IDSE101 class. Today we originally planned on working 11-3, but completely changed up our presentation shortly before 3pm, and ended up working much later. I’m feeling good about the changes we made, and think the presentation will be much more impactful because of them, but I can’t help looking forward to some magical time in the future where I feel confident that I know what I’m doing from the start, and it takes me a much shorter amount of time to accomplish a similar quality product.

Day 11 of sketching the same object daily.
Day 11 of sketching the same object daily.

Fewer words more pictures

Last Saturday we learned some techniques for sketching people and faces. Specifically about how to place body parts and make things look proportional. For our assignments we practiced drawing figures in different positions as well as adding them into a scene. This allowed us to practice perspective sketching and drawing people. Here are some of my efforts that show how I progressed through making these.

A few iterations of a museum scene.
A few iterations of a museum scene.
Iterations of a tunnel scene
Iterations of a tunnel scene

Design Research in Space

In our theory class the last couple weeks we’ve read articles from eight different authors and discussed their views on the role of design research. From this we were to create a diagram with an x and y axis to plot these different positions. The x axis of the graph was to show the range between “designing with” and “designing for”, and we were to create our own range for the y axis.

First, for the x axis I decided that I would interpret “designing with” as research where the involved participants were aware of the purpose and engaged in multiple steps of the design process making it more a relationship of back and forth. On the opposite end I interpreted “designing for” as research where participants may or may not be involved, but they weren’t fully aware of the purpose and were more subjects of the study than interacting with the researchers.

Second, for the y axis I decided to follow a common thread I found in the author’s approaches to design research of if they start broad, or narrow. On one end I listed “specific needs” for research that began with a clear problem or focus in mind. On the other end, I listed “broad culture” for research approaches that began by learning about broad themes such as culture, values, or identity before narrowing down to a more narrow focus of a problem, or product.

After plotting these on the diagram I ended up with a relatively even spread of about 2 authors in each quadrant. Please see the diagram below followed by the individual reasons for placing each author where I did, and an exemplifying quote from the reading.



  • Give participants tools to drive research with co-creation.

  • Research informs what should or should not be designed.

  • “The goal of this exploration is to define the fundamental problems and opportunities and to determine what is to be, or should not be designed and manufactured.”

Fulton Suri

  • Aware of business needs, but focused on human culture.

  • Mutual benefit comes from engagement between business and users.

  • “These efforts must go deeper in terms of helping companies understand what is truly meaningful in relation to complex human issues of culture, identity, lifestyle, and values- hence our emphasis on ways to achieve profound insight and non-linear interpretation.”



  • People > technology or business.

  • Learn from people to identify problem, but may not engage further.

  • “Whether the research is pragmatic – as in looking for usability enhancements – or conceptual – as it was for Chipchase – the philosophy of design research is the same: to learn from people and to emphasize people, rather than technology or business.”


  • Research is very broadly focused on gaining cultural insights.

  • Don’t inform participants of reasons for research, and data is interpreted by designer without input from participants.

  • “This tension creates exactly the situation we believe is valuable for design, providing new perspectives that can constrain and open design ideas, while explicitly maintaining room for our own interests, understandings, and preferences.”



  • Users as active participants.

  • Applies context to a specific use.

  • “Accordingly, the focus of design is not simply “how can people get their work done,” but “how can people create their own meanings and uses for the system in use”; and in turn, this suggests an open approach in which users are active participants in the emergence of ways of working.”

Le Dantec

  • Research is participatory.
  • Evaluates the needs of multiple publics.

  • “By presenting this work we hope to extend our understanding of how framing design around the notion of publics, combined with a participatory design process, foregrounds not just the needs of a particular public, but also the design opportunities at the boundaries of that public. “



  • Focused on a participant’s interaction with an object. The framework informs the research so participants may not always be involved.

  • Select research methods based on the design problem.

  • “By using a framework to select design methods, designers can avoid prescriptive design processes and choose research methods that best discover information about the relationship between phenomena constituting the design problem.”


  • Focused on the specific needs of the technology.

  • Focus on enhancing and improving technology for the user not necessarily with.

  • “Once a product direction has been established, research with customers can enhance and improve it. Beforehand? Leave it to the technologists.”

After reading these articles I have started to develop my own view on design research. Because the plotted points made me think of stars I used their locations to create constellations to point me in the direction of what role I think design research should, or should not play. I’m sure this will continue to develop over time as I add more stars to the design research night sky, but after these readings it’s a little less dark up there.




Transcription life

This last week, we completing more interviews, and have been trying to catch up with the transcriptions for all of them. The transcriptions are time consuming, but interesting. As I listen to them, I always catch things that I missed in the moment. It’s also very apparent when transcribing how different people’s speech patterns are from written communications. This is something that I’m hoping to get better at with time, but it can be difficult to separate thoughts or know where exactly to break an utterance when everything seems to flow together.

In our studio class we’ve been practicing perspective drawing, and yesterday we learned some tips for drawing proportional figures and faces. This week I’m more excited to draw people in different poses than just random objects because it seems a little more dynamic and forgiving.

One of the most helpful things I’ve learned this week was during the sketch tutorial that Scott graciously offered to give for any of us that were interested. The shortcuts and tools he showed us gave a really useful background that I think is going to be very helpful in future assignments. Also, I got a wireless mouse so am looking forward to having more control than what my trackpad allowed.

Reflecting on week 2

This last week I presented my first theory diagram, began conducting research interviews, drew tons of shapes, and sketched the same object seven times.

Presentations at AC4D are followed by a critique from the instructors which can be pretty detailed. One thing I’ve realized is that my perception of my delivery can be completely different from the audience’s experience. This is encouraging, because my nerves don’t seem to come across as much as I feel they do, but it’s also unsettling to feel so disconnected from reality. I’m sure through repeated critiques this gap will start to shrink.

Using Sketch for the first time (outside of general tutorials) to create the theory diagram was a learning experience too. It’s frustrating to have a picture in my head of how I’d like something to look and then have to adjust because I just don’t have the skills or time to create it, at least not yet. Practice makes perfect, and that’s definitely what we’ve been doing for our applications class. I went into the assignment of drawing 400 circles, ellipses, straight lines, curved lines, and basic shapes thinking it would be tedious and boring. It was at some points. However, with everything else going on, taking a few minutes each day to sketch and draw has been relaxing. I’m thinking I might add a few minutes of sketching to my prep before presentations moving forward.

Below is the object I chose to draw daily for the next 50+ days, and a few examples of my sketches so far.

My daily sketch object
My daily sketch object
Sketches from 8/30 and 8/31
Sketches from 8/30 and 8/31

Risk advisory levels of the roles of design in society

In our theory class we’ve read five different authors and discussed their views on the role of design in society. Our assignment was to then distill down these views and plot them on an axis of importance based on our own interpretations.

When plotting these different positions of the role of design in society on an axis I needed to create criteria that made sense to me. I decided to pair the potential consequences of disregarding an author’s position with how relevant the his position was to our society today. This resulted in a very threat oriented caution chart, which made me think of the advisory flags often used at the beach to warn visitors of current conditions before they enter the water. As eager design students I think all the author’s viewpoints are important to keep in mind and be aware of as we begin testing the waters.

I organized my diagram in vertical columns by the author’s last name. Each column begins by stating how I believe they would describe the role of design in society. The next paragraph explores potential consequences of not adhering to that role, and the relevance it has in today’s society. Finally, the column ends with an exemplifying quote from the reading. IDSE102_01_Assignment1_01_LB

Below the descriptive text columns I’ve drawn advisory flags modeled off beach warning flags to depict the “threat level” or potential impact I associated with ignoring the author’s design advice in 2018.

Things are moving

I’m coming to the end of my first official week at AC4D, and it was a whirlwind. I had hoped that the estimate of 60hrs of work/week for school was slightly exaggerated, but so far it seems pretty accurate.

Everything felt like the timeline was half of what it should be, but it was also thrilling. Plus the short lived sense of accomplishment I felt after completing something that seemed practically impossible was pretty great. I think it will take me a couple weeks to adjust to my new routine, but this week was eye opening and encouraging.

In our Interaction Design Research and Synthesis Methods course we began work on a service design project. We plan to learn how new members feel about becoming familiarized with the products and services offered by Castle Hill Fitness. Understandably, we were not able to meet with Castle Hill until today (Friday), but needed to create a research plan and presentation for the assignment which was due on Wednesday. To meet the deadline, my partner Jen and I created an initial research plan centered around the businesses green initiatives. However, after speaking with Castle Hill Fitness more about the project we have updated our research plan to focus on their on-boarding process for new members. I think the project is going to be really interesting and we plan to jump right into contacting participants next week and hopefully begin interviews. 

In our Design, Society and the Public Sector Theory course we read 4 articles by E. Bernays, V. Papanek, and M. Vitta. The discussion in class was very interesting, and I enjoyed hearing all the different interpretations and examples from my classmates. Stay tuned for my first diagram about these readings.



Jen & Laura go to the Castle

Two days ago we began a 16-week project in service design. The task is to partner with a local business then create and execute a research plan that delivers enough value that they are willing to pay us $1000 at the end of 16 weeks. The business also needs to meet the following criteria:

  • Have between 2 and 20 locations, stores, factories, building, etc.;
  • Employ at least 10 people;
  • And be in a humanitarian context.

After receiving the assignment everything began to move very quickly. Jen and I teamed up Monday night, and by Tuesday morning we had a starting list of businesses that fit the assignment criteria or we had a personal connection with that we thought might be useful.

We pitched our proposal to seven businesses via email, phone, or in-person visits before two businesses agreed to sign on. Our pitch started by explaining that we were interaction design student looking to work with a local business on a 16 week project. Then we explained why we thought their business might be a good fit, and gave a general overview of what the project would require and deliver. Lastly, we ended with the hard part which was our request for payment and the short timeline we were working with for a decision (~24 hours). Please enjoy the images below of some of the businesses we visited in-person.


The business we plan to work with on this project is Castle Hill Fitness. CHF is a local gym in Austin with the vision of “fostering a community that celebrates a person’s individual journey towards a higher quality of life.” They are also the only Austin gym that has been recognized as a Green Business Leader by the City of Austin. We decided to make those green initiatives the focus of our initial research plan. We will be meeting with Castle Hill Fitness on Friday to discuss the project in more detail, but we will be presenting our green-initiative-focused plan as a starting point.

Through our research we plan to learn about the green initiatives that Castle Hill has implemented and the impact this has on gym operations and customer experience.

Within this focus we’ve outlined the following goals to help guide our research:

  1. To observe current processes and strategies (both good and bad) used by participants to administer the Castle Hill Fitness green initiatives.
  2. To understand the impact of current green initiatives on the employee and customer experience at Castle Hill Fitness.
  3. To identify opportunities to better the customer and employee experience at Castle Hill Fitness through green initiatives.

To accomplish these goals we plan to use methodologies centered in contextual inquiry. This means we plan to learn about people in the context of their lives. To do this we will:

  • Go to the participants’ work and work-out spaces rather than bringing them into an office to conduct interviews, shadow them, and administer other research activities.
  • Interview a wide variety of gym employees as they perform their job duties to gain a better understanding of their tasks and procedures, especially around green initiatives.
  • Conduct an interview prompted by gym artifacts or behavior, rather than simply following a question/answer script.
  • Develop a series of activities that participants can use to communicate their wants, needs and desires in a creative way instead of simply in a verbal manner.

Who are these participants we will be learning from to better understand and inform our research goals? Well, we would like to work with participants who occupy different roles in the gym to potentially give us different viewpoints and perspectives on the topic. We are also hoping to work with all the members of Castle Hill’s green team in whichever role they fall into. Below is the proposed participant list we created and our plan is to ask our Castle Hill contact for recommendations for specific participants.

CHF participants table

Our specific plan for participants varies slightly based on their role, but generally goes as follows:

  1. Introduce ourselves and ask them to fill out a consent form.
  2. Ask a few introductory questions to get to know the person a little better.
  3. Have the participant to show us their “gym artifacts”. For customers this would be more along the lines of what they’ve brought with them to the gym, and for employees this would be the tools they use to do their job.
  4. Shadow the participant as they go about their activities, and then ask a few deeper questions on our topic of interest.
  5. Facilitate a visual activity involving eco-friendly objects.
  6. Thank them for their time and give them a Soup Peddler gift card.

We will be meeting with Castle Hill Fitness on Friday and will adjust this plan accordingly, but are very excited with the progress we’ve made and looking forward to the next steps.

Finding bikers

This morning our team met at Flat Track coffee to try and find people who’d experienced putting their bike on a bus in Austin. Also, I tried oat milk for the first time in my latte which was lovely. We later traveled around to various locations such as food trucks, and bike shops in search of our target audience.

The previous evening we’d created an online survey which Vicky posted in an awesome facebook group she belongs to. So going into the in-person interviews we already had 24 online surveys completed. In order to make sure we were comparing apples to apples in our testing we used the exact same survey questions in-person, and while one of us was interviewing, the other was entering their answers into the online survey so all the data was in one place and ready for review immediately. This system worked really well.

Of the about 50 people we approached today only eight fit our criteria to help validate our assumptions. Luckily we were able to add the online participant responses to that for a total of 44 people surveyed as of writing this (the survey is still up online). Of those 44…

  • 29 replied they would be interested in an app that shows if there is space available on the bike rack of their bus before it arrives.
  • 10 answered that they would pay a $0.99/month subscription fee to use that app.
  • 21 replied that they would be interested in using the reservation feature of the app to reserve a bike rack spot on the bus ahead of time.
  • 15 answered that they would pay $1 to reserve a spot on the bike rack of their bus.

One interesting thing we saw a couple times was someone would answer that they were not interested in the reservation feature (often because they didn’t think it was achievable or ethical), but would then answer “yes” to the next question asking if they would be willing to pay $1 to reserve a spot on the bus. Some also gave us feedback outside of our yes/no questions that they were against adding additional costs to public transit. We also learned that sometimes businesses don’t appreciate you asking their patrons to participate in surveys.

Lastly, someone commented on the facebook survey post with a link to a designer job posting! It was a pretty cool way to end the last day of orientation, and I was really proud of the work our team did moving through the process together for the first time.