Building onto the product vision with a feature brief
Jumping into the final product management assignment, I had already sized my application with a developer and created a product roadmap for the trimmed down version of my wireframes. Now, it was time to bring that roadmap into a compelling vision for the user and for the company.
With my product manager hat on, I revisited the guiding research for my banking application, refined behavioral insights, and outlined how these findings could serve as the foundation for the app’s prioritized features.
Crafting a narrative from a rocky foundation
The big snag here was…we didn’t exactly conduct ethnographic research for our banking app. I had, however, spent a couple hours on the phone with Amela, a woman who came to the US as a refugee from Bosnia when she was 14 years old. She also works at one of nine resettlement agencies in the US, so she provided wonderful color on the transition from both a personal and tactical side.
Inspired once again by the idea of addressing the US’ refugee population, I dove into my old research and extracted three key insights:
From these insights, I identified three design pillars to guide the creation of my app.
Takeaway: Justifying the development process without user research feels unnatural. Ethnographic research adds so much more depth to the product decisions.
Takeaway: Grounding design pillars in research redirected my focuses for the roadmap activity.
My pillars were previously inclusivity, security, and simplicity. While the two sets share some commonalities, my roadmap no longer felt like it fit my objectives as well as it had before. Its overall priorities were in line, but the granular elements of each section are where I may want to rethink my feature ordering.
Takeaway: Keep a consistent vision throughout the product creation process.
Working the refugee angle at this point felt too late – I couldn’t properly do it justice. In some respects, this brief would have been more successful had I stuck to the vision that drove last week’s artifact.
Nevertheless, the design pillars and high-level roadmap still work together nicely, mapping to each other throughout the build.
Showcasing Unique Value
The final section of the feature brief is reserved for showcasing the important elements that will set my bank apart. Particularly important for my design pillars are internationalization, profile alerts, sending money with Zelle, and the Fortune future payment analysis. In the feature brief, these features all have their core components and value drivers listed next to them.
These will be effective for helping stakeholders see my vision as something more concrete. It starts to ground the insights and diagrams into an imaginable reality.
Last week, Kaley and I launched our first round of content for The Pulse of Austin. On Day 1, Tuesday April 10th, 16 Austinites engaged with us via SMS about the city’s dockless bikeshare & electric scooter pilot. Our content framed the narrative around rider data, and we asked for input on two key issues: transparency and privacy. Other questions and points came up along the way, too – all reported below.
Note: we sent this report to Laura Dierenfield, the city’s Active Transportation Program Manager who is running the dockless pilot. She had some additional information to share on the current (docked) B-cycle system:
“We are actively expanding our station-based Austin B-Cycle system in several ways. The Austin City Council authorized $200,000 towards that end, per Resolution 20180201-057. We have also taken steps to expand the system in and around the UT campus.”
Ridership Data Transparency
The City plans to privatize their dockless bikeshare and scootershare operations, rather than making them part of the city’s public B-cycle service. This means that the city will not have ownership over ridership data. Dockless bikes could provide particularly granular data on where Austinites are biking, helping to prioritize biking infrastructure. However, a lot of dockless bike companies will not make this data open.
Ofo, one of ten companies Austin is considering, even reported false data in Aurora, Colorado, claiming 2.5 daily rides per bike, when they were really clocking 0.18 daily rides.
Should Austin’s selected provider(s) be required to share their ridership data? What level of transparency is important?
People almost unanimously agreed that the city should have access to ridership data.
(see argument for tradeoff below)
“Data should be 100% open–the value of how (and if) people are using different transportation options may be worth more than the service itself.” -78723 resident
“Ridership data needs to be available.” – 78702 resident
“Transparency is important to me.” -78723 resident
“They should definitely share the data.” -78705 resident
“I think transparency is very important on this issue. The city is actively trying to gather more robust data when it comes to bike ridership and partnering with a bikeshare company could provide a lot of useful insight.” -78705 resident
Q: Due to FOIA risk, could companies report data to a third party collector that anonymizes and shares with CoA?
Yes, this is what Seattle has done to ensure riders’ privacy with the data they publish. The University of Washington acts as their intermediary, collecting all the data and sending the city reports that have been reviewed for compliance.
Thoughts on payment
“Feels like city should need to pay for this data – like they do to Strava right now.” -78702 resident
“I think that any entity receiving public funding should be required to make valid information, in this case daily ridership, publicly available.” -78722 resident
Q: What currently happens with B-cycle data?
Currently, anonymized B-cycle trip data is available on Austin’s Open Data platform.
In addition to control over ridership data, some dockless bike companies track users even when they are not using the bikes, reserving the right to sell that data to third parties. Austin riders could become our provider’s key source of income.
On the other hand, monetizing user data could result in lower bike rental rates for residents. We are living in an age where so many products we use track us and store our data. Is bikeshare one service on which we need to draw the line? Residents weighed in:
“Not sure. All of my fitness tracking apps are already tracking and selling all my data already. If it’s anonymous, maybe it’s par for the course.” -78702 resident
“Given the currently political climate I would say having bikes that give away data would be a very poor move for the city. Personally, I wouldn’t use a system that stored my data, feels really creepy.” – 78702 resident
“Oooh [the non-bike trip tracking] is devious and gross. Def strong dislike on that.” -78722 resident
“Protect privacy.” -78705 resident
How peripheral data could improve the service
“I think limiting data collection to when users have the app open would be a good way to regulate it. It could be useful to know where people are when they decide to look for a bike – at transit stops? At community gathering places?” -78705 resident
Alternatives to selling data
“I think an alternative way to keep lower prices could be to either sell advertising space on the bikes to third party companies or provide incentives to bike share companies if they keep their costs below a certain threshold.” – 78705 resident
Private vs. Public – why privatize now?
Revenue vs. Investment
Privatization would mean less or no capital investment on the part of the city, and they would even get fees from the companies (estimated at $30 per bike). The city may also require the companies to put up a bond.
With two weeks left of AC4D (!!), Kaley and I had a bit of a retrospective on our last 6 months of working towards The Pulse of Austin. We traced our journey from research, initial insights, ideation, and then the months of testing and iterating on our concept. We have been told countless times during our school to “trust the process,” which can feel obvious, yet abstract at the same time when you’re in the thick of it. It’s when you look back at it all that you achieve that clarity: our idea has progressed immensely, and we’re excited to say that we’re in a place where we feel great about it.
That’s not to say our vision is set in stone; we are still questioning and shaping our platform almost daily. However, those changes are feeling more like refinements. The foundation is solid, and our scope has narrowed. Now, within that more narrow scope, we have a new set of decisions to make.
Balancing development and testing
This week, The Pulse progressed in two tactical ways: backend iOS development and content development.
We met with a developer through Open Austin, who set up the push notification element of The Pulse this week, and who plans to build the screens for our key weigh-in flow next week. We are thrilled to have development power on board, and it has also pushed us to consider what is properly vetted vs. what needs more validation before building. Our teachers emphasize not rushing into building, so we are being conscious to pull back on the reigns and test features at a lower fidelity before taking our developer’s time.
Our platform can be broken down into the following primary features:
Educative and compelling content
Structured opportunities to weigh in early on city planning initiatives
A personal and editable map of the user’s locations and happenings
Our content development aimed to test different ways to educate and elicit input – addressing features 1 and 2.
Each day from Tuesday through Friday, we sent a different type of SMS-based engagement to our pilot testing group of 23 Austinites. We tried the following:
An incremental reveal of a narrative thread
A choose-your-own-info menu with a prompt
A narrow A vs. B vs. C vote
A “good-to-know” piece of content that did not elicit a response
We learned that we get a good quantity (~70%) of responses when we ask for participants to text back a simple letter. However, this prompt did not ask for the ‘why’ behind their selection, which we know is an important component. We plan to have an optional rationale entry in our platform, so next we need to test how many users will provide that rationale when given the option.
The incremental reveal that asked specific questions along the way elicited the largest quantity of thoughtful responses. People enjoy responding to structured prompts when they feel informed.
Two of our testers expressed an interest in the text format of the interaction. It’s easy, simple, and conversational. As we move into an app, we must keep these qualities in mind. Does perhaps a chat-based platform make more sense than a poll-based platform? While our heads our in our app, we cannot ignore the results of our pilot.
Additionally, how valuable was the human, conversational element of the pilot? We cannot easily scale when we provide personalized responses to our users, so what will users think of an automated reply instead?
Building Off Our Pilot
Testing Next Steps
Next week, we plan to measure the level of need for human intervention in our platform, as well as test the value of location-based content.
We will also be taking our concept into a more robust set of wireframes, working out our developer to prioritize our MVP’s features. Our goal is that, at the very least, users will be able to learn about and weigh in on an issue posted to The Pulse.
Looking Beyond AC4D
Kaley and I feel energized by the response we have received within the city. We plan to continue building relationships with city departments who share our mission of a citizen-led government. We feel confident in finding support and a home for The Pulse, so our planning has extended beyond the next two weeks. It feels great to continue looking towards the future, and we are excited to provide another update next week.
Fundamentally, what we imagine, as designers and as people in our society, is limited by money. Money fuels the massive, intimidating systems that continue to perpetuate the status quo. Money constrains businesses to act on behalf of shareholders. Money incentivizes us to act within the scope of our role for our employer. Money influences whose words get published and publicized, shaping our shared vision of the world. Money also gives people the luxury of making decisions without always fully evaluating what the outcome of those decisions may be.
This post is not going to be about money (or overthrowing capitalism) or anything like that, however. Drawing out all the connections to money made me feel frustrated and stuck in this enormous machine. I think we’re all stuck. So, let’s abstract a bit.
Stepping back from the massive machine running our existence
Designers are praised for immersing themselves in the worlds of the people for whom they are designing. At the same time, taking a step back from those worlds can be essential for finding clarity. Care to take one – maybe a few – steps back with me?
When was the last time you questioned what you see as your complete reality?
Today, we are stepping back from our 3-dimensional world, evaluating it as one piece of a larger whole. In doing so, I hope to inspire new paths to pursue in addressing our state of being.
Our reality as a slice of a greater existence
Let’s visit the 1884 classic Flatland, a cautionary tale of sorts. The story is told from the point of view of a square, named A Square, whose 2-dimensional world receives a visit from A Sphere. A Sphere arrives to introduce A Square to the 3-dimensional world of Spaceland, but he is not able to communicate this message in Flatland. Here, A Sphere’s 3-dimensional shape registers as a 2-dimensional circle. By moving up and down his third axis, A Sphere demonstrates his changing size as an indicator of a different spatial existence. He is, in fact, an infinite amount of circles.
It’s not until A Square is pulled into the 3rd dimension, however, that he believes this larger reality A Sphere describes to him.
Similarly, there could be a whole other existence in a higher spatial dimension, which we are not able (or perhaps willing) to recognize as such; of which our world could be but a section or a shadow. We could be living in a singular cross-section of a body of infinite worlds, all bound a 4th dimension.
But humans want to “see it to believe it,” just like A Square.
I believe what is truly limiting what we can imagine is our society’s collective conception of reality as this world we perceive around us.
Liberation in rejecting our perceptions
When the X-ray was first invented around 1875, it created a revolution for artists and mathematicians alike. The X-ray was proof that there are parts to our world that our eyes cannot register on their own. Following the X-ray were the discoveries of radioactivity and electromagnetic waves: more invisible reality. Given these discoveries, what else are we possibly not seeing? These were catalysts for the movement of the spatial 4th dimension.
Up until this point, artwork was very traditional and was expected to adhere to perspective. Now that our eye’s interpretation of the world was considered incomplete, artists were free to explore what our complete world may truly be. Art became more theoretical, notably with cubism, a movement led by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.
Picasso and Braque called themselves Orville and Wilbur, because, like the Wright Brothers, they were inventing something new. To them, cubism was the new realism.
“It is to the fourth dimension alone that we owe a new norm of the perfect.”- Guillaume Apollinaire, poet and writer, 1912
Picasso famously described his goal in cubism as “paint[ing] objects as I think them, not as I see them.” His 1910 portrait of Kahnweiler, a German art dealer and writer, explores ideas of transparency and a more fluid interpretation of space. It starts to evoke a 4th dimension, because it’s so determinately not the 3rd dimension.
A tool to transcend our perceptions
Charles Howard Hinton, a mathematician and science fiction writer, explored how we might achieve a cognitive understanding of a spatial 4th dimension in his 1912 publication The Fourth Dimension. Linda Dalrymple Henderson, PhD, explains his theory that, “by memorizing the relative positions and color gradations of cubes within large blocks, Hinton’s readers were to develop their mental powers and transcend self-oriented perception (eg. the senses of left/right and up/down or gravity).”
Charles’ pieces start to get us thinking about how the objects in our world might amount to something larger; a tessaract of infinite cubes. They challenge our brains to record new sets of information with seemingly familiar objects.
In The Fourth Dimension, Hinton wrote, “The merit of speculations on the fourth dimension… is chiefly that they stimulate the imagination, and free the intellect from the shackles of the actual. A complete intellectual liberty would only be attained by a mind which could think as easily of the non-existent as of the existent” (pages 573-574).
Imagining the non-existent just as easily as the existent is no easy feat. Hinton offered one tool for us more than a century ago… it’s our turn to design some more.
Technology and the fourth spatial dimension
Author and computer scientist Ray Kurzweil writes about the exponential rate of growth of technology in his article The Law of Accelerating Returns. He predicts that singularity is near; in calculating the amount of neurons and neuron connections in a brain, he estimates that in just 5 years (2023), we’ll be able to achieve the human brain capability with technology for just $1,000. Even more wild is his long-term estimation that, by 2059, we will be able to achieve human racecapability for just one cent.
What might happen when we combine this computational power with our robust formulas and calculations of greater spatial dimensions? Might our technology be able to reveal to us an entirely new world?
Will our technology adopt even more elements of divinity as it becomes the keeper to a higher awareness? Transcending to higher dimensions is also related to transcending to a higher consciousness in some Eastern religions. This makes me wonder…could our technology itself achieve enlightenment?
If our technology does reach enlightenment, then will it leave us behind, or will it take us along?
Given this power, could our technology ultimately rule humanity?
How might we, as designers, create technology so that humanity is incorporated into technology’s trajectory? I do not have the answer, but the first step to arriving at that answer is to imagine this greater world. So, let’s train ourselves to move beyond three dimensions and conceive the future.
Note: a lot of this material is drawn from a course I took at The University of Texas with Linda Dalrymple Henderson, PhD. I dusted off my old notes and used her work The Image and Imagination of the Fourth Dimension in Twentieth-Century Art and Culture as guides for the “liberation” section of this post.
Henderson, L. D. “The Image and Imagination of the Fourth Dimension in Twentieth-Century Art and Culture.” Configurations, vol. 17 no. 1, 2009, pp. 131-160. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/con.0.0070
Earlier this quarter, I met with a developer to estimate how long my banking application design would take to build.
With development sizing information, I dug back into my wireframes to evaluate what features are essential to delivering the core value of my product.
I then combined the details of the wireframes with externalizing the high-level priorities of the app. Together, these approaches drove the creation of my product roadmap, which communicates my development sequence and strategy.
Outlining my Product’s Priorities
When going into the prioritization process, I found it important to remind myself and highlight what value I aspire to deliver with this app. These pillars are simplicity, security, and inclusivity.
Most banking apps have way too many options – as a designer, I should take a stance and make certain decisions for users, like the few types of alerts a user can choose to create.
When people get on their mobile banking apps, their goals center around convenience and efficiency. I want to quiet the clutter so users can complete their task, then hop off.
When researching barriers to mobile banking, security rose as the most striking concern. In 2016, The Federal Reserve ran a study where 73% of non-mobile bankers said security concerns are a key reason they do not bank through a mobile device.
Additionally, a FICO study found that 44% of US consumers rate identity theft and banking fraud as their biggest concern in life.
Source: American Banker
Designing an application with security top-of-mind will help the application provide comfort and ease to users – particularly users who may not engage otherwise.
I want this application to feel natural and breezy to more than just native English speakers in the United States. We have the potential to create something valuable to many more people. I kept this in mind while designing, and it will come into play via internationalization on the roadmap.
The Externalization Process
To get an idea of the entire picture at once, I wrote each flow on a purple post-it, and then I wrote out all additional pieces on green post-its. Then, I kicked into (de)generative mode and explored ways I could potentially get rid of each flow. The good ideas made it up in the form of the yellow post-its, along with some notes reminding myself of certain features’ importance. This activity helped illuminate what to start pruning away.
This can be housed on the bank’s website, simplifying the login process
View transfer history
View deposit history
Both these transaction types can be viewed from the searchable transaction lists in Accounts
Set up a recurring payment in Zelle
Zelle is a quick pay platform. People are not as likely to have recurring payments through Zelle, versus bill pay and sending money to an account
We narrowed flows; now let’s address function
With the flows prioritized, I looked into Sketch to see how I might reduce some man-days off of my key flows’ estimates.
In revisiting the details of my wireframes and questioning their necessity, I found a handful of opportunities to further simplify my designs by removing one inessential element of a flow. All the 1-2 day savings add up, like with the example below.
With Zelle, a friend can easily ask or look up their friend’s phone number or email address. People are not demotivated by having to add it in themselves, so this feels like time well-saved to not develop this feature now.
The Product Roadmap
All this pruning and re-designing yielded what you’ve all been reading for: the product roadmap. Flows are prioritized based on the value delivered on my three pillars (simplicity, security, and inclusiveness).
As mentioned previously, internationalization will be a driving foundation of this project. My developer estimates about 15% extra work on top of the total. To be conservative, I scheduled every week as a 4-day week, providing some buffer and some time for my developers to execute to their fullest.
What’s Coming Up
The roadmap felt like it came together quite easily once I had my priorities sitting on the wall in front of me. I want to continue to externalize data as I navigate new systems and refine these frames.
Next week, we will be taking our roadmaps and developing a “feature brief,” which is designed to bring high-level stakeholders on board for your vision. I will pull from this week’s material, while continuing to explore how I might bring empathy further into the discussion.
My comprehensive set of edited wireframes live here.
As we dive into designing interfaces, we want to keep our foundational research in our hearts. We revisited residents’ stories that resonated with us and evaluated these alongside everything we have learned from our design process.
Last week, we identified 3 primary resident sentiments that have inspired our concept:
I don’t know how city government works
I don’t have time to attend all the meetings
I don’t see how I connect to city government
Sentiments 1 and 3 particularly apply to the following insight:
Residents do not think about city government’s impact in their lives, so it is not a natural way for residents to express themselves.
Given this disconnect…
…How might we help residents feel informed and connected to the civic functions surrounding them?
There is a vital second step after this connection that we must also address: what happens when people do engage with civic issues? From meeting with officials in the city, we learned that, by the time a resident does speak their mind, it is often too late to affect change. This is because residents are often not aware of issues affecting them until they are far along in the decision or implementation process, where there is little room for influence.
So, those who engage are left feeling unsuccessful, and they decide to disconnect once more from city government.
This exploration led us to the following insight:
People’s reactive approach to city government deepens feelings of disconnect.
But, as you can see in the graph two spots up, there is room for input and influence in the early stages of city processes. So…
…How might we bring in resident voices earlier and more often?
These insights guided the below articulation of our vision:
With our grounding insights and objectives, we revisited our systems-level artifacts to focus on delivering these two big pieces of the civic participation puzzle. These artifacts consist of an information architecture (IA) concept map and a set of service blueprints.
The IA map is to help us understand where information is housed, and how different pages and features connect to one another. The service blueprint serves to illustrate how the user moves through the platform and what the system is doing simultaneously to enable that journey. Our work became hybrids of these, along with customer journey maps, as we charted out how users would move through The Pulse.
Planting a Seed
When first envisioning how a user would interact with a push notification, we imagined the user would want to share their voice immediately after reading a surprise, personalized bit of information. Then, we drew it out in the blueprint and as a storyboard, and we realized that we expected a lot of the user – especially given that he or she had no intention to engage at the start of their journey. This helped us reframe that first bit of information as “planting the seed,” making civic workings more top-of-mind for the user. Then, when inspiration does strike, the user will be inclined to hop on The Pulse and share that thought.
Simplifying the Experience
Externalizing the elements of our app spurred important conversations between us, which primarily led to simplifying the architecture in order to hone in on the value we aim to deliver. For example, our voice sharing is now housed in just one place, on its own tab, with nothing else on that tab. It took us a while to let go of some elements, but it feels great now that we have. Ah, good ol’ spring cleaning.
Working on our vision at a systems level inspired and highlighted what we needed to build at a micro-level. For one, the process exposed alternate entries into the application, which inspired us to build out our onboarding, login, and push notification flows. The work also heavily impacted what information and controls we included on many cards and pages throughout the application.
Our original maps also highlighted some concerning rabbit holes, so we re-designed the topic pages to be more inclusive and less granular. For example, “Parks and Trails” is its own page, rather than “Butler Trail,” which can still be found and filtered for within its parent page.
A Quick Zoom Back Out
Moving between the two to ensure a consistent and functional vision proved very successful this week. It also taught us that synthesis is never done. We have the privilege of spending 6 months with this problem, and our conception of the problem keeps evolving.
Next week, we plan on filling in our wireframes to have a full, comprehensive set. We will use these wireframes for usability testing on Wednesday to further refine our designs. Additionally, we will be solidifying what we plan to ship within the next 4 weeks, before our time as AC4D students comes to a close (!).
Why aren’t we paying attention to our personal data?
I admittedly have no idea what data companies own on me, and, frankly, I’m scared to know. So I have remained blissfully ignorant, hoping that nothing bad will come of it. This hope is founded on an assumption that companies all have pure, honest (enough) motivations – which I don’t even believe. I should probably reevaluate my not-so-blissful approach…
The frequent and hidden collection of personal data is a pressing point of concern with today’s technologies permeating into most aspects of our lives.
Data collection and its usage are not being carefully constrained.
During the last SXSW conference, I attended a panel with Shawn Powers, the Executive Director of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. Shawn spoke about how data is the “oil” of the 21st century in terms of its value and its potential to change our society. Where they differ, though, is the amount of scrutiny placed on them. Whereas oil is highly regulated, we have no scrutiny over how data is:
Extracted from us
For something so valuable, why are we exerting so little control?
Where letting our data run wild could lead us
It is a lovely day, and you decide to take the train to the fancy shopping district to explore. You arrive at the station, put in your information for the ticket machine, and then start completing your ticket purchase – only to be denied a ticket. Your money was valid, so what was the problem? From your personal information, the machine was able to index you and knew you would almost definitely not buy anything in the shopping district. Your low potential spending is not worth the cost of transporting you there, so you are barred from taking that train.
Trevor Hardy gave the above train travel example during his SXSW talk called Branded Cities: Can We Avoid an Urban Dystopia, and it has remained top-of-mind since. Running our world off of data has an enormous potential to reinforce and breed further inequity in our society.
When we are reduced to numbers, we lose our humanity.
The data-driven future also stagnates innovation and progress. Roger L. Martin, a business professor at the University of Toronto, argues that in looking at data to dictate the future, we are inherently looking to the past and lose any vision of any new future. In the train scenario, you could have been taking the train to make a big purchase you had been saving up for, or to apply for a job. But your past window-shopping activity severed these possible future outcomes.
This ambiguous threat
Cyber security expert David Choffnes attests that, “the information being gathered may not hurt you today, but you don’t necessarily know how it might hurt you in the future.” We do not know how it will manifest into products and society, but we do know that “there’s no undoing what happened today” (Choffnes).
Are we capable of fully understanding the power of our data? Understanding its potential: possibly. Anticipating how it will shape our society: no – not with the current lack of structured principles for designing data’s role in our world. With no concrete course, data’s future is malleable by those who have power.
Taking a stance to shape our data’s future
George Aye, co-founder of Greater Good Studio, says that designers are in a particular position of power for being comfortable working in ambiguity. As designers, we are given an “innovator” card because of our title. We are privileged to receive this esteem, and we have a duty to use it.
Personal data regulation is an issue on which designers cannot remain ambivalent. For human-centered designers out there, now is the time to play an activist role.
Not everyone who is well intentioned can have a seat at this table, but we can. And we must take that seat with conviction.
Jon Kolko, founder of Austin Center for Design, furthers that, as designers, we must take ethical and political stances in order to best control the outcomes of our designs. It is when we are neutral that we overlook how the details of our designs will affect the future.
Mike Monteiro, co-founder and design director at Mule Design, argues that a designer is just as responsible for harm he or she creates unknowingly as knowingly – we need to ask questions and understand what we’re building. The better we understand how our design decisions impact data extraction and manipulation, the more solid our ethical framework will be.
A designer’s advantages in creating change
As perhaps a little pep talk, I have listed what predisposes us well as designers to tackle this challenge:
Reach: designs permeate the world and have the potential to become pervasive
Span of Impact: the power of a design unfolds over time, providing an array of possible moments along its journey to create impact. (See Amy Thorpe’s Defining Design as Activism).
Vision: with our training in handling ambiguity, we can paint a picture of a possible world that captivates and convinces our audience to work towards this new future.
Generative Mindset: because the design industry’s connections to institutionalized power, we have the ability to think generatively – proposing alternatives rather than just criticizing what currently is. In a powerless position, it is easier to resort to more destructive acts that do not point us towards a solution (again, see Amy Thorpe’s article).
Form: as designers, we are trained to make, and to make fast. This puts us at an advantage, as we can start to prove concepts without the burdensome analytical pieces that hold a lot of ideas back.
Richard Buchanan, a professor in design, holds that designers are in a powerful position to provoke discussions around science, technology and ethics. To do so, he writes that, “The contributions are typically made through the concrete expression of design thinking in real products that influence daily life rather than through writing about design.”
Power: although mentioned extensively, I want to note George Aye’s definition of power here: “Power is the ability to influence an outcome.” So, let’s go exert our influence for good.
Developing principles around data
As a starting point to get discussion going, I have crafted a few principles that I believe designers should adhere to when working with data. (I very happily welcome any thoughts, critiques, and additions in the comments).
Collect only the data needed to provide value for the user.
People who are online looking for a social service know what they need; they are aware of their problem that they are trying to solve. They do not need to fill out an intake form about their health, housing, behavior, and financial status in order to be told they need Snap enrollment. This data is all great for the provider, but it puts people being served in a vulnerable and uncomfortable position. This principle is inspired by Aunt Bertha, a social services search platform, that values treating their users with dignity.
Maximize anonymized access to resources and information.
Too many things require logins and credentials. Companies can still derive value and insights from users who do not create accounts. Removing this barrier to access for helpful information will benefit many more.
Require a user opt-in for any data collected exclusively for the benefit of the provider.
Activism in the workplace
Even with all these positive predispositions, I have one big thing looming over my head: the power of the employer.
Rather than thinking of the power that my employer could have over me, I want to reframe this issue to think of the power that I could leverage within their powerful institution to drive change. If we get large companies to start thinking about their data practices in more humane ways, then we can attack this problem at its core. It won’t be easy, but this would be a very effective form of activism.
This quarter in Product Management, we are learning about giving life to a product, starting with wrapping our heads around application development.
To learn more about developers’ timelines and considerations, I dusted off my wireframes from last December’s Rapid Ideation and Creative Prototyping Course.
Back in Quarter 2, I created 5 iterations of wireframes for my banking app re-design. With each iteration, I went out into the wild (mostly places with beer) and had strangers talk through navigating the app’s flows.
The class followed think-aloud usability testing protocol, which has the tester verbally express their thought process as they work towards a prescribed goal. Throughout the activity, the administrator is unable to answer any questions the tester may have, simply responding and probing with “please keep talking”.
This method can feel uncomfortable, but this discomfort comes with a reward: with 6-10 think-aloud tests, designers can identify their product’s primary usability issues.
This first assignment focused on understanding how long building something actually takes and which components are the time sinks.
I was very fortunate to get almost two hours with Mark Phillip, an Austin-based developer and entrepreneur, to size out my wireframes. Mark went through flow by flow (log in, check credit balance, transfer money, etc.), estimating each one in days. This post covers my higher level evaluation, as well as the particular pieces that will stay with me as I move into building a product roadmap.
Below is a snapshot of how I prepared my wireframes for meeting with Mark. The highlighted pieces are buttons, components, and features that I wanted to ensure got included in my estimate.
123 Days of Development – The Breakdown
Review the complete breakdown and discussion notes here.
Adding and editing payment recipients is a time-consuming feature. Additionally, I have 4 different ways to send money. If I can nail this and streamline the payment workflow itself, I can save time on these 26 days.
There are a few expensive goodies which I’ll have to weigh – how beneficial are these to the user experience?
Auto photo capture for check deposit: 2 days
Personal avatar with photo saved bank system-wide: 4 days
Just push notifications would take 2 days less than doing push, email, and text notification options
Touch ID login: 2 days
I would love for my application to be available in more than just English, so I asked Mark about translations. Developers call this Internationalization, or I18N for short, and it is a lot smoother to work on from the start of the process.
While building the app, a developer would flag each language item on the screen, and that flag serves as a placeholder to pull in languages from any dictionaries. It’s 10-15% extradays on top of the entire app estimate, but, once it’s in place, any language of similar word length can be easily integrated. This will be a tough, but urgent decision to make as I create my product roadmap.
Recurring Transaction Options
My original wireframes included almost any option you could want for a recurring transaction:
every two weeks
every six months
Mark estimated that building 2 monthly recurring options would take 3 days, while adding two more options would increase the estimate to 5 days.
I need to discriminate which types of payments really need recurring options, and then how many options users really need to satisfy 95% of users.
Charting the Course
Over this next week, I will be gathering my takeaways from this meeting to prioritize the building of my banking application’s features.
More wireframes and flow annotations can be found here: Wireframes V6.
In the first two weeks of this quarter’s course titled Theory of Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship, we explored how people and organizations try to impart positive change in the world. Further, as a designer, what does it mean to “design for good,” and how can I structure my design practice to promote positive outcomes?
To articulate the points of view of this sections’ authors (listed at the bottom of the post), I create a little story centered around a buffet restaurant in a rural midwestern town. This post will discuss my deeper interpretations of the material.
Embedding Charity into Existing Touchpoints
Time is a finite and fleeting resource – a resource of which no one ever seems to have enough. Many people therefore do not spend their time addressing needs outside their personal realm.
Meanwhile, we know that there are serious concerns around the world: famine, illness, homelessness, violence…on the list goes. With no time, some people will donate money to organizations to address the concerns they weigh most heavily. Others do not feel the financial flexibility to donate to charity, so campaigns like Product(RED) and Livestrong (or for my story, Country Comfort’s buy 1 meal – give 1 meal special) have embedded the charity into consumption, making it feel more accessible for all consumers to “do good”.
These campaigns have proven to be an effective way to funnel money towards need. However, they disconnect consumers from the depth and gravity of the underlying problems creating that acute reaction their purchase is alleviating.
Mixing social good with consumption leads toward a superficial display of altruism, rather than a provocation towards deeper systemic change.
In the case of my character Susie, she was appalled at the amount of food left by patrons taking part in the “meals for Africa” promotion. What about food waste and economic inequality – issues that contribute towards famine?
Cindy Phu, who writes about the Product(RED) campaign, flags that consumption-driven charity can make people feel like they’ve done their part; they’ve satiated their need to be charitable. In reality, their purchase is a small drop in a seemingly bottomless bucket, and, meanwhile, many other important organizations are strapped for funding.
The Desire for Gratification
People feel good when they contribute towards a charitable cause. This warm feeling can be elevated through a touching story: for example, a particular family you are helping or child you are feeding. To get that granular with your impact, your money needs to be donated for a very specific – often necessary – yet still more surface-level purpose.
Organizations like New Story are finding success in working closely with the communities they are serving, as well as closing that loop with donors by showing them videos of the exact house they funded and the family whom it is for.
While these models can provide great aid and value, I, as an interaction designer, want to dismantle flawed systems and reconfigure a more equitable society. This isn’t work that comes with a beautiful video a few months later. This could be a career-long effort with just some stepping stones to show for it, which may not feel gratifying or sexy.
We recognize that today’s problems will take generations to solve, so we are grabbing the easy wins to feel good, while delaying the non-gratifying work for the next generation.
This is messed up. And is largely misplaced energy.
Online Charity: Riddled with Equity Issues
A lot of the specific stories and causes we now donate towards stem from online crowdfunding communities. People have been given an enormous platform for articulating important causes, and some campaigns catch virality.
A concern here (also expressed by my classmates) is that the crowdfunding phenomenon reinforces a mentality that the private sector can successfully address social funding issues. The amount of cancer-related crowdfunding campaigns I have seen within my friend network alone is heartbreaking. People should not have to expose their personal experiences online in order to pay for things our healthcare system already should. (My classmate Scott spoke today about how design is political, and here it is creeping in).
The viral nature of Internet content is particularly concerning to me with crowdfunded charity: a touching story will soar to the top of people’s feeds and rack up money, while equally compelling but unshared campaigns struggle for representation and support. The result is one individual receiving $300,000 for a vacation, while obvious need lies elsewhere.
Where Designers Fit into the Equity Equation
Jon Kolko argues that, as experience designers, we are shaping behavior by determining how people will interact with an artifact. Further, molding this behavior gives designers the power to shape culture. That’s a lot of power and a lot of responsibility (Jon says we’re responsible for future behaviors, too, so buckle up!).
Taking from some of this week’s other readings, below are some guidelines I will follow to honor the practice of designing for social impact.
Do not anticipate transforming anyone’s lives with my designs; rather, anticipate promoting positive behavioral change that can add towards a collective good. (Inspired by Joyojeet Pal).
Promise myself to never conduct community outreach just to check a box. Do not go into research with a pre-determined outcome, and truly listen to community input. (Inspired by Jessi Hempel, Laura Bliss, and my research in civic engagement).
Understand a problem’s ecosystem before developing potential solutions. See a potential solution as more than just a standalone business, but perhaps as a connector between other resources. (Michael Gordon and Daniela Papi-Thornton).
Finally, hold my convictions close as I embark into the real world of designing. Richard Anderson and Jon Kolko both speak to the importance of knowing what you stand for as a designer, as it informs what types of projects you will undertake and gives purpose to your work.
Last week, Kaley wrote about our new direction: a platform for Austinites to voice their feelings on civic topics, which then empowers their voices through a collective display of the city’s voices. The feedback loop for residents who engage was still a lingering piece, and our current vision for this is to connect users with opportunities to take action and seek resources.
This week, we collected a larger data set to start playing with and worked through the details of our platform to bring the idea into higher fidelity.
Call for Voices
Essential questions we needed answered this week:
What kinds of things will people say when asked what in Austin they care about?
Will people’s responses start to fit together when we collect a large enough sample size?
Will people be motivated to contribute their voices in the first place?
To address these questions, we created both an online survey, a call/text option, and an in-person activity. We posted the survey on our respective Nextdoor and Facebook accounts, where we received strong traction. For the call/text option, we designed and posted flyers in libraries, parks, and coffee shops across Austin. Finally, we designed an in-person questionnaire that we worked through with 3 strangers. In total, we collected 100 responses, 96 from the survey, 3 from the in-person interactions, and 1 from the posters.
On social media, where people know us, people were more inclined to participate. Strangers were more hesitant – who wanted their thoughts and what were they using them for? Valid questions. We need to be more explicit with our intentions to help establish trust.
One action item for building trust and reaching engaged Austinites will be to go through already-formed groups, such as PTAs, neighborhood organizations, and Facebook community & interest groups. Getting one advocate within each group will enable a transference of trust and increase participation with The Pulse.
The poster’s call to action was not easy to find or very clear. Simplify the graphics and the message.
The posters failed – we got one response from a library manager for multiple hours of our time. Social media had a good return, but this is only within our network. A big challenge will be reaching a more representative Austin. While this is our ultimate goal, we have decided that we will first focus on people who are already active in local issues. Have them spearhead the platform and bring others on board.
Digging into the Data
To gain insight into how our platform would work, we simulated the categorization of voices by printing and grouping all the collected responses. We read each one out loud, then proceeded to place it near others that addressed the same topics.
What the Data Showed
Transportation and Housing are the strong top categories where the people we reached have concerns to voice
People generally selected the most relevant category for their thought. However, some people covered two separate issues in one response.
Most of the Other categories fit nicely into our larger category groups – some people just like that specificity.
Some specific subgroups emerged, but many responses remained at a higher level.
There’s a wide range of specificity with open-ended responses. Ex. “affordable housing” vs. “I was lucky enough to buy an affordable home that has become unaffordable because of taxes. I am approaching retirement, and can not see how I can remain in my home with the reduced income of retirement. I imagine it is even worse for people who are renters.”
Some people’s voices may fit within others’ as we categorize them.
There’s a certain level of conjecture that we have to make at this early stage in deciding where to place opinions.
Some people were thinking more on a national scale. We corrected this by emphasizing Austin in the messaging.
Some people’s responses don’t necessarily take a stance – we must prime them to do so.
Rather than “what about that topic is on your mind?” We are considering phrasing the prompt as “what change do you hope to see?” – Making it more actionable and making them take a stance.
Some people’s responses felt vague because they had already indicated their category prior. We decided to remove the category because:
One less click for them.
They will be more specific in their free text and we will be able to tag it more successfully.
19% of respondents selected their own category rather than selecting a preset.
We carried our takeaways from this experiment into creating a service blueprint. The blueprint draws the user’s path through interacting with Pulse of Austin, as well as maps out the other factors at play during their experience.
The activity of creating the service blueprint highlighted steps and connectors between aspect of the service which we had not yet considered. It also clarified our conception of the Pulse’s system requirements, helping us to see what we are getting ourselves into on the technical side. This blueprint also inspired new features and pushed us to make decisions on elements of the user’s experience.
Decisions and Revelations
We need to decide from what sources to pull updates, events, and resources.
We can let users contribute to the listed resources to help prevent things from falling through the cracks, but a lot of this will need to be moderated for legitimacy and usefulness.
We have moments where moderation would be needed: confirming that a submission should be in its assigned group and reviewing both thought and resource submissions for appropriateness and accuracy.
We can have our power users (early adopters, advocates, activists) lead charge on the page(s) connected to their focus area.
Categorizing someone’s voice: We planned on having the user select the category or group they think their concern belongs to. How many options do we give them and what steps do we take them through to ensure the proper match?
Instead of putting the categorization burden on the user, our system will make the decision itself. This also removes the friction of the Yes-No-Try Again process that would push some users to exit. This of course, relies on a “smart” system to tag words appropriately.
We have two main types of visitors to the site: those who have a specific concern to voice, and those who want to explore and maybe come across an interest.
We want to make sure people can visit the site and take action right away, whether by contributing their voice or by viewing what others have said. To reduce friction, login intervention needs to happen at different, distinct moments in the journey for our two main types of users. It’s really only when they are taking an action that needs to be linked to a human (themselves), that they should be prompted to log in or create an account.
One of our riskiest assumptions is that any software or data algorithm we develop will be able to effectively tag and categorize people’s voices in a way that they feel properly represented. Not being experts in this field, Kaley and I plan to spend this next week researching just what it will take to create this capability and where we may have limitations.
Additionally, we haven’t had much opportunity to run a simulation of this platform by users. We need to measure responses to the part that comes after submitting their voice. Will they be interested in reading what other people say? Will they feel satisfied if given programs or shown ways to participate? This is particularly critical at this beginning stage, because, as of now, the Pulse of Austin has not matured to the level of making an impact. How do we encourage Austinites to engage with a platform that only has the promise, and not yet the proof, of making an impact?