Mobile Bank App: Iteration 4

In case you’ve stumbled upon this blog post and you would like to have more context on what this project is about and how it has evolved, please check the Kick-off, Iteration 1, Iteration 2 and Iteration 3 blog posts.

This is week 6 of the second quarter in AC4D and so far – in our Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving class – we’ve gone through 4 wireframe and concept map iterations, 4 rounds of usability testing and 5 blog posts about on the process of re-designing a mobile bank application.

This past week I focused on refining the flows that I keep receiving feedback on which are mainly the flows of Checking Account Balance and Send Money to Someone.

Problem Areas

Problem: Check balance

Before I first tested the flow so a person could check their balance, I decided to redesign the current way all of the accounts are displayed in the original application. With the intention to provide cues to users that indicate that from each one of their accounts, a user could not only check their list of transactions and balance, but also everything else that could be done with a specific account in a mobile application. I did this by adding buttons to each of the account cards.

Unfortunately, the space was so small that the buttons didn’t seem actionable and it took longer for a user to read and select an option (see screen B1) , than to just click the account card and see the list of transactions.

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 3.45.22 PM

Problem areas: Screen B1, B2 & B3 of Check Balance


solution cehck balance

Redesign: Buttons where redesigned to seem more actionable.
Also, different UI's were used for those buttons that had actions 
that were taking place on the same screen (transactions, details, settings) 
and on another part of the app the option to make a card payment.

Problem: Confirmation screen for mobile deposit

I tested the Deposit a Mobile Check flow with up to 5 users so far and they were able to go through it quickly – despite some technical, non-wireframe related issues, like the interactive prototype not being fully interactive, some screens not loading on time, etc. The only main concern I resolved for this flow, was the fact that the screen before the Summary screen and the Summary screen looked too similar – this brought confusion to most users – they weren’t enough indicators that made them think they were in a previous and final step.

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 3.45.29 PM

Problem areas: Screen C1 and C2, are two different actions. C2 is the summary screen.


The way I solved this is by slightly re-accommodating the content on the confirmation screen:

check confirmation

Redesign: 1st screen is previous to the Summary screen 
that gives you the confirmation for your check deposit. 
2nd screen is the Confirmation screen.

Design Decisions: The “Welcome Screen”

Home - What would you like to do?

The “Welcome Screen” was initially created after one of the individuals that tested my prototype didn’t know where to go after loging-in. During the session he was able to tap on a few screens from the Accounts screen but was not able to actually accomplish any of the tasks that were given to him.

The screen contains the main options a user will most commonly use on a mobile banking app: Review account balance and information, transfer money, make a deposit and profile and application settings.

After this round of testing, the screen was designed and added to the flow. During the following usability testings, users were quickly able to tap on the option they thought was related to the task I assigned to them:

"Send $100.00 to your friend Ethan Baldwin" - 
Task #1 - Users would quickly tap on Transfer Money and complete the task.

What’s keeping me from making a design decision is the thought that users might get the impression that they’re being constrained by only seeing these options, especially after repetitive uses of the application.

For this next iteration, I’ve decided to A/B test the Welcome Screen vs the traditional landing screen that most banks use which takes a user to his/her list of Accounts.

Concept Map: Revisited

I rearranged many of the actions that can be taken on the application, after the changes made to the wireframe this week.

Concept map 4

Iteration: Above is the 4th iteration of the mobile bank concept map up until now.
* Circles with thicker line wait are frequently visited screens or actions 
* Words on grey font are screens that I still need to build. 

Bill Payment & Alerts

Last week I worked on designing the flows for viewing, setting up and changing recurring bill payments, and setting up alerts. For this week, I will be testing these flows.

Bill Payment

bill payment 2



Stay tuned for more findings!

Redesigning a mobile banking app: Iteration 3

This week we’ve conducted a second round of usability testing for our mobile banking prototypes. Using Thinking Aloud Protocol, we’ve spent time intercepting potential users that we’ve never met before in order to get honest feedback about our prototypes.

Usability Testing

For this week’s round of usability testing, I decided to continue sharing my most complete flows in order to refine them and hoping to get perspectives on common needs as it relates to banking from my users after they finish “their test”. If people are not on a rush (as they mostly were this time) I spend a few seconds asking them what they thought about the options provided and what other capabilities they often used on a mobile bank application.


Problem Space #1
Welcome screen after login.
BoA Wireframes - Problem Areas - Iteration #2 (1)
The user is limited to the six options she has, so feels forced to choose the “next best option” to go ahead and complete the task she was given.
– Give the user an option to customize the Welcome Screen
– Don’t provide a Welcome Screen and provide a more perceivable menu option
Problem space #2
Main menu > “Settings”
BoA Wireframes - Problem Areas - Iteration #2 (3)
The user needs to guess which type of settings the option is for. (Was willing to venture and discover what it was about but there was no screen for such option)
– Be more clear about the type of settings
– Re-word the option or include a shortcut to this option elsewhere on the screen
Problem space #3
Main menu
BoA Wireframes - Problem Areas - Iteration #2 (2)
The user needs is confused and a bit thrown off by the bottom menu.
Doesn’t distinguish between transferring, paying and sending money.
– Add a static menu that stays exactly the same on all screens
– Find a common ground between “Transfer” and “Pay” words

Revised Wireframes

Due to my conversations with older generations and what they shared about their mobile banking use, I’m still on the hunt to propose a better way to display options from the main menu – this has been the feature that I decided to iterate upon this week.
For my redesigned wireframes, the main menu has stayed on the “friendly thumb area” to provide users with higher accessibility. I’ve used the floating action button to add more visibility and perception of action (assumption that might or might not get proved wrong on my next usability testing).
 all screens small

 Next steps

I would like to test this mobile application with older generations that currently use the Bank of America app, and see how this new version of the application compared to the original, improves their normal use.
Stay tuned for this week’s findings!

Service Design: CRAFTing a Customer Journey

For Service Design, our team (Mariangela, Adam, and Mary Hannah) has been working with a local pay-by-the-hour craft supply business called (fittingly enough) CRAFT. This has meant that we have gotten the wonderful opportunity to interview a bunch of CRAFT patrons and do a little crafting of our own. Service Design is the exactly that, the design of services.


In reference to CRAFT, it is the creation and orchestration of all the touch-points within CRAFT to act as a single entity in order to achieve the ultimate creative experience for each guest. Our process started with researching what the current state of a guest’s experience at CRAFT is. Next, we did research with the employees of CRAFT to understand the work they do, what they hope CRAFTing guests experience, and any barriers to achieving this ideal. To learn more about how we did each, we have included the introductions to our research plans and where we currently are in our process.

Introductions to our research plans

What is the current state of a guest’s experience at CRAFT?

Focus Statement

We aim to learn how customers currently experience CRAFT. We will use this research to seek opportunities within the service experience that will lead to greater value for the user and the business owner.

Research Objectives

Our goals are to:– Understand the customer’s perception of value, service, and flow from start to finish of the customer journey
– Understand factors that contribute to decision making throughout the customer experience, from start to finish as defined by the customers
– Understand types of people who use CRAFT, define how they identify as creators, and how the service integrates into their making process
– Understand what makes an ideal crafting experience
– Uncover all potential touch points throughout the customer journey

Research Activities

Front of House (FOH) WalkthroughDescription For each walkthrough, members of the design team will accompany a recruited participant from the moment a customer drives into the lot of CRAFT to the moment she leaves. After completing the walkthrough, we will walk with our participants to a nearby coffeehouse to do the Participatory Timeline activity (see below).  Secret ShoppersDescription We will ask 2 secret shoppers to walk through CRAFT  and take at least 15 photos as they go of the following things: – Things that catch your eye
– Moments you make decisions to explore a crafting material or not
– Things you like (fun, interesting, easy, etc.)
– Things you don’t like (confusing, annoying, boring, etc.)
– Things you think should be improved
– Things you needed help onAfter these secret shoppers complete their CRAFT experience, we will move to a nearby coffee house and review their photos with them. We will also have our secret shoppers create a map showing where they moved in CRAFT. Then we will move on to the Participatory Timeline activity (see below).

Participatory Timeline

DescriptionFor this activity, we will prompt our participants to create both actual and idealized timelines of their experiences at CRAFT. First, our participants will write or draw out a diagram of their actual activities in CRAFT, starting at the end of their time there and then working their way back to their perceived beginning of the experience CRAFT offers.
Then for the idealized timeline, for each step mentioned in the previous activity, our participants will select two images from a predetermined diverse array provided by us. They will pick one image that corresponds to their ideal experience of that step and then another that corresponds to an imperfect experience of that step, and then on to the next step, for which they will select another two images, and so on.


What do employees do at CRAFT and what do they hope for their clients?

Focus Statement

We have two focal points as we research CRAFT’s back of house. First, we want to understand how CRAFT’s owner, employee, and workshop facilitators spend their time at CRAFT. Second, we want to build a map of a perceived customer journey from the point of view of the workers at CRAFT. We will use this research so that we can find opportunities for innovation, where the perceived customer journey and the as-is journey do not match.

Research Objectives

Our goals are to:– Understand the owner’s, employee’s, and workshop facilitators’ perceptions of the value, service, and flow from start to finish of the customer journey
– Understand the culture of CRAFT among its employees
– Understand the owner’s, employee’s, and workshop facilitators’ roles and – responsibilities, both as stated and as actually lived
– Understand the actual and ideal work experiences of the owner, employee, and workshop facilitators at CRAFT
– Identify pain points encountered by the owner, employee, and workshop facilitators working at CRAFTResearch ActivitiesBack of House (BOH) Contextual InquiryDescription For each inquiry, members of the design team will accompany an employee as they carry out their work. We will inquire about motivations, values, and their personal history with CRAFT.Participatory TimelineDescriptionFor this activity, we will prompt our participants to create both actual and idealized timelines of their experiences at CRAFT. First, our participants will write or draw out a diagram of their actual activities in CRAFT, starting at the point of time when we are seeing them. We will ask them to work backwards and forwards through the their day. Then for the idealized timeline, for each step mentioned in the previous activity, our participants will select two images from a predetermined diverse array provided by us. They will pick one image that corresponds to their ideal experience of that step and then another that corresponds to an imperfect experience of that step, and then on to the next step, for which they will select another two images, and so on.
Customer Journey MapsDescription We will ask our contextual inquiry participants to complete customer journey maps that show all the activities customers undertake while at CRAFT. Starting from asking why customers walk through the door all the way through to the end of their interactions with employees, we will ask our participants to map out all the steps CRAFT customers go through. As they go, we will ask “What’s the best thing that has ever happened at this step?” and “What’s the worst thing that has ever happened at this step?” to elicit stories about each step.

Where we are in our process

We are currently unpacking our research by building a customer journey map.

IMG_0283 (1)

We are building this map so we can make the customer journey tangible so that we may uncover patterns and breakdowns. We will use this map to help us ideate and then prototype solutions.

We are hoping to innovate upon CRAFT’s current guest experience in order to fulfill their value proposition. Ultimately, our goal is to help ensure that each guest is able to walk away feeling that they’ve had a valuable experience, one that is seamless and connected wherein guests are able to spread the story of CRAFT to potential future customers. Thus, increasing CRAFT’s bottom line.

Redesigning Mobile Banking: “I don’t know what’s happening here”

In case you are reading this for the first time, for this quarter’s Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving class, I am redesigning Bank of America’s mobile bank application.

For the last two parts of the assignment, I started by creating concept maps of the current and redesigned state of the mobile bank, this helped me visualize the complexity of the system. The next step was to come up with stories that introduced three users and scenarios where they would use a mobile bank app, all of them with different goals in mind: this was a scaffold for the first round of wireframes.

This week was all about usability testing and getting honest feedback from real users using the Think Aloud Protocol technique.

From my former set of wireframes, I integrated both the feedback that I gathered from my class peers and the one that I gathered from four different user testers.
The top three problems I found after this first round of testing were:
  1. The main menu was not easily perceivable
  2. There was confusion differentiating between Transfer, Send & Pay a friend
  3. Check balance menu should be easier to read and provide the necessary affordances to make it more actionable.


With the wireframes we created last week, we came up with different tasks and asked our participants to complete them. If they felt really frustrated, they were allowed to quit – they are not the ones being tested.

The tasks provided were as follow:

Task #1:  What is the next payment due for your credit account?
Task #2: Pay your friend Ethan Baldwin $100.00 by Nov 15th for Basket Ball tickets.
Task #3: Deposit a $300.00 check to your debit account.

Problem Area 1: Check Balance

Problem Area 1

Task #1

“I just don’t see how “transactions” is going to take me where I want to go. I would like to go to details, but it’s not taking me anywhere. Yeah, I don’t know…” – User Tester #1

Problem Area 2: Main Menu

I built my mobile UI prototype with the iPhone components found on Sketch. This inspired me to add a redesigned bottom navigation bar with these same components. From my point of view, the bottom navigation bar is useful due to the proximity the user’s thumb would have to the main menu – also called “the friendly thumb area”.
But I soon realized that this feature presented a lot of problems:
 Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 2.40.25 PM
“”Move Money” seems strange to me, what does that mean?” – User Tester #2
I tested the mobile app with two baby boomers and they both really struggled at comprehending that the bottom navigation bar was a menu, and what each of the options where – both also hesitated from randomly taping to look for more options.
From these group of users, User Tester #4 was not able to go past the list of accounts because he did not think the bottom menu was actionable. After the session (which he was not able to complete) he mentioned:
“I would like to see a first step that asks you what is the main action that you would like to take, and go  from there. Kind of like a tutorial” – User tester #4
For those users that were able to find the bottom navigation bar, the menu options represented another concern.  First, “Move Money” did not mean anything to User Tester #2, and as she struggled to accomplish Task# 3, I was able to observe that the reason why she was struggling so much was also because the option she was looking for actually fit to “Send / Request Money”. She did not take the time to go through the rest of the options where she could have found “Pay a Friend” – these options didn’t adequately map to the options she normally uses, and were misleading due to the word choice.

“I think I’m struggling with this system because I’m not used to it yet, but I know that a couple of days from now I will probably know my way around it pretty well. I don’t mind exploring and tapping” – User Tester #2.

Problem Area 3: Deposit Check

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 2.50.15 PM

“I would like to see a series of steps instead of everything on the same screen. Having all of this is overwhelming to me.” – User Tester #3


After this first round of usability testing, I synthesized the findings and attempted to implement the changes to the application, but first, I started by modifying my initial concept map.

Revised Concept Map - Mobile Bank

With all of the feedback I received, I worked on a few suggestions to improve my current wireframes and added a couple of different ideas to the existing flow.

An example of this part of the iteration were the two following screens. One of them being the bottom menu where I opted to replace the icons with actual words.

Main Menu - Accounts       Home - What would you like to do?      List of Accounts

Next Steps

Unfortunately, there were several tasks that not most users were not able to complete due to the menu being such an issue. For this next round of usability testing, I will focus on figuring out how users react to the new menu concept. I will also be testing screens for Setting Recurring Bill Payments and Setting Alerts.

Wireframing: Redesigning Mobile Banking

For the second part of our Mobile Bank App Redesign project – recap for the first part here – we dived into wire framing.

We developed a few scenarios inspired in different types of people. This allowed us to think of different banking needs that other people might have and helped us understand what would motivate them to use a mobile banking application.

Using a – Character, Background, Context, Goals, Story – framework, we came up with three characters and four different scenarios they might encounter which would lead them to interact with their bank through a mobile application.

Isaac, 38

To start creating scenarios for our characters, we first started by “humanizing” them by giving them an identity, describing their motivations and unattained goals, and assign them a level of competence of the technology that we will be using to help them, in this case – a mobile application.

One of my characters is 38 year old Isaac, who is a freelance designer and has a 13 year old daughter. He works from his home office most of the time, while his partner works full time at a consultancy company. As part of his day-to-day activities, he takes care of grocery shopping, and everything that has to do with bills. He uses his computer for many of his activities but appreciates having his phone around to notify him of important events whenever he’s running an errand or visiting a client.

To start introducing the product into the live of Isaac, I assigned a context of the time and place that he will be in when he starts to use his mobile application.

Isaac recently opened a savings account to start saving for his 13 year-old daughter’s college. He realizes that he just missed one week of depositing into the saving’s account and is worried that this might continue happening and thus, end up saving less than he could have for her daughter’s education.

In order for Isaac’s needs to be fulfilled, the following goals would need to be addressed by the product that he will be interacting with:

Isaac would need to be able to:

– Know that there is enough money to make a transfer
– Know that money was successfully transferred
– Make sure the information is saved (to prevent future mistakes)
– Avoid having to repeat steps for this repetitive task

Story & Screens: Storyboarding

With my character’s background, goals and context, I was able to create the following story, which I segmented into key areas in order to organize my storyboard . Each key moment in the story gets assigned a screen on the storyboard. This process also helped at identifying key interfaces that I will have to create for my higher fidelity screens.

Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 6.44.48 AM


Storyboard - Banking

Low fidelity UI


Wireframe Bank

First flow:

Transferring money, setting up reminders


This week, I will get the rest of my wireframes ready for user testing which will hopefully give me a lot great feedback to iterate my product.

Concept Mapping: Understanding Mobile Banking

The second quarter has started, and in our Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving class we are learning how to redesign a mobile banking application.
The first step in our process has been to create a high level Concept Map of the basic activities that entail managing ones money through a mobile app.
I decided to choose my Bank of America mobile application since it is the one that I use the most. I have always had mixed feelings with this application and its web counterpart. The mobile app seems easier to use in some aspects but harder for others, and viceversa.
Before we dived into concept mapping, as a group, we started by brainstorming a bunch of words that we associated with banking. With these words, we created a 2×2 matrix in order to identify relationships between the main features / actions related to banking. The rows & columns with the greater number of interactions/relationships between each other are the ones that I identified as the essential features of the mobile banking activity:
2×2 Banking Matrix
Highlight 2x2 matrix

Once I identified these essential features, I translated them into a more digestible visualization – this is how the following “Relationships” Concept Map was created:

Relationships Concept Map (Low Fidelity)

Relationships - concept map

After this first attempt, I switched to Sketch and re-created a high fidelity version of the map:

Relationships Concept Map

%22Relationships%22 Concept Map(no title)

After our relationships map, we started by “dissecting” the existing application. We did this by taking a screenshot of every single screen on the app. We were to explore features that we had never imagined existed. We ended up with hundreds of screens. This helped us create an understanding of how the flow of the application worked, and it looked something like this:

Existing Screen Inventory 

Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 11.27.34 AM

We then created a Navigation Information Architecture Concept Map based on the existing application. It got very saturated and complex after a while.

Existing Navigation Information Architecture Map



  • Circle size: I decided to communicate features with higher number of options by enclosing them in a big circle, the more options the feature had, the bigger the circle.
  • Line weight: I also decided to communicate higher frequency of feature use by using a thicker line weight.
  • Dashed circle: Are the customizable features that you can add from “settings”.

After recreating the existing Bank of America mobile application concept map, my understanding of the use of the app was bigger and brighter. I discovered new features I still don’t know if I’m ever going to use, but it also helped me think about possible use case scenarios of how I would go about using the app for a particular situation I were to encounter.

I used this new knowledge to create a redesigned version of the BoA mobile application:

Redesigned - BoA Concept Map

For my redesigned version, I highlighted blue and relocated the areas that I’ve noticed are important and might not currently be in the right place. BoA’s application puts their “Help” button front and center – which stays on the header – so that users can access and type in their questions for self-help. But a more clear placement and wording could guide users accomplish their most common banking tasks in an efficient way.

Bank of America’s mobile application has many features and products that can make it somewhat difficult to navigate, although I attribute the navigation difficulty to a few interactive elements. The app allows for customization which aims to fit different user needs. But this customization capability isn’t immediately obvious and can go unnoticed by many users. I asume this could be especially the case for those users that don’t take the time to explore the capabilities and who just prefer to schedule an appointment at a branch for their needs.

For the rest of this second quarter we will continue working on re-designing our banks mobile application. I’m excited to show the rest of the process!



Jaime by Design: The boy who failed design

For this quarter’s last assignment, the class was tasked to analyze and synthesize articles on how designers think.

Design practitioners such as Chris Pacione, Nigel Cross and Edward de Bono, analyze what is known about the particular skillset of a designer. These have to do with the ability to recognize ill-defined problems and how they go about understanding and testing an idea quickly without much structure to start from.

Jocelyn Wyatt, introduces the concept of “mindshift”, which targets mostly organizations that have always done the same things the same way, or different things the same way, and how design is a practice that could help a organizations, be it big or small, to start designing the right things for the right people.

For this assignment, I found the concept of “design as a new way of literacy” which many of these authors suggest throughout the readings, particularly interesting. The idea of design being taught as a part of a traditional school curriculum in order to instill design abilities to all humans alike resonated with me personally. Envisioning a world of humans that only had to interact with systems and things that were designed solely with them in mind is beyond of what I or maybe anyone can even imagine. This is why I created the following video that narrates the story of a boy who was bad at Design in school and the reason he why he decided to overcome this: Jaime by Design

I found this assignment to be particularly entertaining since I studied Industrial Design. So I guess that makes me one of those people that “think in a particular way”? and that has skills that other people would like to have and potentially should have for the long run? One thing that I do have to say is that, even though I am more comfortable than many working with uncertainty, and find the process of putting things to paper before saying them out loud the most helpful practice ever, design methodologies are something that you will never stop learning from. Because, just opposite to how math has ways to find a definitive answer to a problem, design needs a myriad of tools to help designers or creatives, or inventors, to help them try to solve the unpredictability of systems created by humans for humans, otherwise known as Wicked Problems.

In pursuit of inclusion

For our theory class this week, we read articles on the subjects of poverty and social entrepreneurship. Some of the readings have similar views as it relates to profitability, both for stakeholders and shareholders, that can be gained from investing either capital or labor in social business. Others views showcase the importance of reconsidering our pace of ubiquitous computing so we can stop and think how we can continue permeating our world with technology, without alienating a single person in the process.

Both of these are areas in which design research could have an important role: creating empathy with our end users, designing not only for them but with them, and by identifying unjust equilibriums or problem opportunity spaces. Our final goal being to take action to bring those ideas to reality.

As usual, for our assignment, we had to create a cohesive story that incorporates all of the author’s points of view. This time, I created the character of Leo. This is his story:

Artboard 1

Artboard 2

Artboard 3

Artboard 4

Leo is a laborer who goes to work every day to the city of Dreams from the outskirts. He normally works a few odd jobs that allow him to feed his family of 5. He depends on this job to sustain them as they barely make ends meet.

One Monday, arriving at the city of Dreams – which he needs to cross to get to his place of work, he stumbles onto the usual great door entrance. But this time, there’s a tube with lots of letters placed at the side and arrows pointing at it, indicating some sort of action. Leo can’t read, he dropped out of school at 6 – so it’s hard for him to tell exactly what he needs to do, but no opening door means there’s a problem. Among the confusion, he then proceeds to observe a very well-dressed man that goes through the door by tapping the screen a few times.


“Write down your credentials” – the screen said, but Leo wouldn’t be able to know this.


We have begun to challenge some of the assumptions HCI makes about the relationship between people in technology. – Le Dantec

Before entering, Leo attempts to ask the man if he was doing something wrong. But, with a look a disdain, the businessman immediately dismisses him by giving him a few coins.

For decades, corporate executives at the world’s largest companies have thought of poor people as powerless and desperately in need of handouts. – CK Prahalad

Confused, Leo starts asking more people for help, as he would like to cross the door, his family literally depends on this job to eat, he can’t go back with a straight face – but everyone looks at him and keep walking their way.

Leo decides to spend the few coins he received from the businessman and buy a phone to call his boss. He tries to dial his boss’s phone number, but he can’t manage to remember it – all of the stress, keeps him thinking about his kids, his wife, their health needs, their education needs, the possibility that he just lost his job, and all of the needs that he fights to sustain daily. He starts feeling powerless and thinking that he will never be able to make ends meet.

“People in situation of poverty have a harder time at making decisions due to the number of economic trade-offs that are involved in their situation” – Dean Spears

Suddenly, Sophie shows up. Sophie is a design researcher, her work is to find problem areas in society that are worth to solve and that will improve human well being. She doesn’t seem surprised to see Leo there, looking like he’s wandering around – she has seen this happen multiple times throughout the day.

Sophie calls out for a co-creation session, and invites all of the people she saw struggling with the security implementation. This is how Sophie – the designer – turns into the social entrepreneur, by focusing on problem finding (unjust equilibrium) instead of jumping straight to problem solving without deeply clarifying what other underlying problem areas might there be in this unjust equilibrium.

“The reason that the entrepreneur sees this condition as an opportunity to create something new, while so many others see it as an inconvenience to be tolerated stems from the unique set of personal characteristics he or she brings to the situation – inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage, and fortitude. These characteristics are fundamental to the process of innovation.” – Martin & Osborne


The story of The pursuit of inclusion tries to imply that cities should be planned both from an urban design and a technology perspective, for the integration of those people that have been left behind while the technological revolution continued to thrive and spread into metropolitan cities. It is big cities that tend to have the biggest presence of people experiencing homelessness and poorness. I believe it is our goal as designers and potential change makers to put an effort at calling out unjust equilibriums. Doing this would allow us to reach a balance in society.


School Food Lunchroom Research : A Reflection

In order to learn about the factors and actors influencing the school food menu planning process more in depth, the team decided to start interviewing the people that make things happen: school food staff.

We started with our first recommendation – KANE (*fictitious name) charter school and their school food staff. After we spoke with Laura, the Food Service Director, we felt that there were still some missing pieces. Struggles in the food service area – like regulations, refundable meals, participation rates, free or refundable meals, co-ops, TDA, USDA, counter-intuitive software tools – were things that showed significant and latent concerns, but had a scope too big to effectively conduct design research for. Where to begin?

We were stuck.

But we knew we were on to something.

So we decided to continue immersing ourselves into the KANE school system for most of our research, speaking with teaching staff, lunch room staff, students, parents, etc. As we honed in our research, we realized there is an opportunity to learn more about the experience of KANE’s school food service staff.

Which is where we first spoke to Martha.

Martha is an Executive Chef at KANE. The first day we talked to her for our contextual interview. She’s sitting at the table across from us, she has a bright compelling smile and an alert gaze, her phone is close to her at all times, “this is so important” she says, as she holds it up for us to see, communication, as in constant texting and phone calls between the Food Production Director and her, is key in her role – “that, and e-mails”. With every answer Martha gives, you can tell that she’s passionate about food, and not only that, but about the children that she cooks for every day.

“We’re feeding other people’s children”, she mentions. Her and her team need to have that in mind every time they design a menu. In her role, Martha’s goal is to provide enough options for kids in KANE to eat good food and develop healthy habits. Martha likes to believe that having children practice at making good food choices, will push them to make other good choices in life – “like going to college”. 

As the conversation unfolds during the contextual interview, we realize that most of Martha’s food related memories take her back to her childhood. Growing up in a Mexican home, bold flavors and textures that characterize traditional mexican dishes, are her everyday inspiration when creating menus. Martha believes that kids are more receptive when the meals her team makes have an eclectic flavor – most of the kids from KANE are from hispanic backgrounds – when this happens, the participation rate is usually higher. When the participation is up, Martha feels accomplished: That means kids have their bellies full. That also means that government refunds will be higher.

After we wrapped up our first conversation with Martha (we met a second time for a participatory research session a few days later), my interest for school food lunch programs grew bigger than it was before. Her passion for her work is compelling and evident. You could tell by the smiling look on her face when speaking about her daily struggle: to create a food menu that tastes good, looks attractive, is healthy, is easy to serve, makes kids happy, and is refundable.

All of this just made me wonder – are all Executive Chefs this passionate about what they do?

As we wrap up these two weeks of user interviews, there’s a couple of reflections about the methods we’ve used that I’d like to share:

After our first round of interviews, I learned not to start our research with such a broad focus. Challenges are always good, but not when you have such a tight time constraint. By starting with such a broad focus initially made us think that we could conquer the world and talk to everyone. But as the days went by, and agendas got synced, and recruiting calls not getting returned, we realized it was easier said than done. This is one of the underlying reasons that made us focus on KANE’s food service in particular, which has been pretty insightful on its own, but it would have been nice to have more time to interview and observe the comparable participants and systems in other schools.


When in darkness, follow the light


For our Design, Society and Public Sector class, we read articles by Donald Norman, Jon Kolko, Paul Dourish, Liz Sanders and Bill Gaver. The articles provided perspectives on the place design research has in innovation, and the importance of including end users to be – not only the subject of the research – but also a key collaborator in the activities that make part of the research methodology.

For this second assignment, we were tasked to illustrate in the form of a story, the key points of view of these five authors.



Norbert is a mechanic from the quiet and small village of Middletown. One day, right after dinner, he was working on his truck when he saw something fell from the sky.

He walked a couple of miles and reached a big crater. A huge meteorite had crashed and, with the impact, had burst into thousands of pieces. To Norbert’s surprise, around the crater left by the impact, he found a few pieces of branches and trunks that appeared to light up as if they were lamps, odd sound waves were also transmitted right when Norbert approached one of the branches. It appeared like when in contact with a piece of meteorite, a piece of wood would become energized and made it emit light and sound.

After a few tests and experiments, Norbert thought of designing some cool, never before seen musical instruments. He was convinced that the village would love his new inventions. He announced the news to the rest of Middletown and everyone seemed excited for his discovery but, much to his surprise, they had no interest in acquiring any of these instruments.



Donald Norman claims that technology comes first, designers and users assign meaning and use to it after, therefore, technologists are indispensable and drive revolutionary innovation. In the other hand, designers only drive incremental innovation by engaging with users at the end.

Dorbert, the village’s electrician and philosophy teacher was one of the few people that felt truly intrigued by the discovery – He was certain that a source of power like the one Norbert discovered could be of great use only if it was applied in a way that corresponds to the needs of the people in Middletown.

Dorbert decides to reach out to Kolbert, the village’s private detective.

Kolbert, the detective – throughout his lifetime, has learned that by immersing himself in a particular context and understanding the people’s struggles and motivations can, not only help define problems in a particular space, but also, help detect opportunities and potential areas of improvement. It is by doing this immersion and synthesizing his findings, that Kolbert discovers a particular insight that he had not been aware of: A large part of the Middletown population have to walk across the woods every night when coming back from the factory outside of their village. This made villagers feel anxious and paranoid.


Paul Dourish claims that it’s challenging to translate observations from participatory research into technical requirements, but elemental to adapt to an ever changing environment. Participatory research is helpful to get a sense of what should be taken into consideration when designing for a person’s context.

In “the Value of Synthesis in Driving Innovation”, Kolko claims that it is by immersing oneself into an end user’s context, and focusing on gathering data related to the user’s behavior and emotion, that makes design research so valuable for innovation.

Inspired by Kolbert’s findings, the village’s government representative, Gabert, decided to reach out to several villagers. He asked 10 of them to draw and describe the favorite and least favorite part of their routine for one week. The results were interesting, and consistent with detective Kolbert’s findings, most of the villagers’ least favorite part of the day had to do with their commute back from the factory . With these artifacts the villagers handed to him, Gabert was able to familiarize himself better with the people from Middletown and get a bigger understanding of needs that were not being met involving their commute to their village from work.


Designers engage end users to participate in activities that help them visually document their environments, interactions and relationships. With these probes in hand, designers gain empathy for their users and, according to Gaver, are able to “predict with confidence which systems (their users) might prefer”.


During his immersion, Kolbert was able to empathize with the villagers as they walked back from work every day for a week. Listening to ominous sounds and screams, and darkness so absolute, no torch could light up more than a couple of inches out. On the same note, with his artifacts, Gabert was able to get a sense of what the villagers inherently hoped and wished for: a feeling of safety when walking back home from the factory.

With all of these findings at hand, Lizbert, the village’s architect, brought 10 other villagers together for a creative session. By having everyone ask themselves “How can we improve the commute experience for Middletown villagers when walking back home from work?” Lizbert tasked the villagers to describe how their ideal commute to the factory looked like. “Safe”, “light”, “comfort”, were just a few of the words that villagers came up with when describing their ideal road.




According to Liz Sanders, people are creative beings and seek an outlet to express their creativity in diverse ways.Continuously involving end users in the design process gives room to uncover problems that users didn’t perceive as a need or opportunity before. This makes the collective design process more engaging and precious.

Dorbert, who was part of these creative sessions, suggested how these findings could be addressed by Norbert’s newly discovered source of light. By applying an array of purple meteorites to the roots of the trees surrounding the walk to the factory and back, the trees will light up the path, providing a sense of security for factory workers, and the beautiful music coming from the trunks will numb down the ominous sounds coming from the rest of the forest.



Creative collaborative techniques and a deep analysis of a community’s way of life, which are methodologies used in design research, helped Middletown villagers improve an aspect of their daily lives that they were so used to, they forgot it was a daily nuisance. This is how Middletown used design to follow the light while being in the dark.