The Murky Waters Leading to Research Clarity

For our 2nd quarter project (which will ultimately become the capstone of our program), we were asked to investigate the topic of college completion and persistence. Our group, consisting of Kelsey Greathouse and Sara Miller, has decided to focus our research specifically on how resource-constrained post-traditional students persist through post-secondary education in moments of struggle or hardship. We have decided to focus our research on students aged 18-24 who are working through school, who are the parent or guardian for a child, or who come from an underserved high school.

This week, we worked on creating a plan and process for the research we will be conducting over the next few weeks. To do this, we first sought to define the focus of our research. This was a murky process as we worked and reworked our interests. We went broad, then got stuck in the weeds, and finally, through many forms and drafts we found a hint of clarity.  We incorporated background research to understand how this question is being asked or answered in other research or practices currently. We learned a lot during our research and uncovered the term Social-Emotional Learning as something akin to what we are interested in learning more about in this research.

As we adjust to our new group of two, we found getting outside input was very helpful, so we reached out to our mentors. Using their feedback along with many conversations, we were able to move from a long list of biased questions to a couple of activities that we hope will bring out an in-depth understanding of what are participants are going through.

Our next step is to reach out to research participants this week and begin interviews!

Research Plan Research Plan

Slicing the Service

We are deep in the heart of the of our client design research projects. With 9 weeks of project planning, interviewing, data collection, transcription, and theming behind us, we have just 7 weeks to go before we present our final product to our client.

The Buzz Mill team (of myself, Kay Wyman, and Shelly Stallings) has been hard at work at our next phase of synthesis. For the past two weeks, we have been working on what is called service slices. Services slices are an opportunity to visualize the process of experiencing a service. After presenting some of our themes to our client, we had the opportunity to have a very candid conversation with the business owner and his management team that allowed us to understand the mission and greatest value of the business even better. We did this by presenting the business owner with a sheet of paper that listed the various values we had heard communicated by him and his staff. Immediately, the business owner and his digital asset manager stated that their greatest value was getting people in touch with nature. They want folks who walk through their doors or speak about them to their friends to know that Buzz Mill is the place you should go to “log out.”

Since there is not one clear process for how this happens currently at Buzz Mill, our team decided to focus more broadly on instances where this is or where it seems it should be happening but is not and then visualize it.

To start, read back through all of the data we collected during interviews and observations and pulled out utterances and observations that were associated with actions. But, we were sure to only choose actions that were associated in some way with “logging out.”

From there, we read through each utterances in this new set, and, first began to pick out physical things that people had used while completing the actions referenced in this list. This helped us understand what is physically being used right now to help people “log out.” We found it particularly interesting that there were so many digital artifacts.

We first drew this by hand and then Shelly converted it to a digital format.

Artifact Artifacts

From there we pulled out utterances and observations that were associated with the environment. This exercise helped us see very clearly and visually how various environments come into play in the process of logging out, taking into account distance and associations between various environments.

This was also drawn and then converted to a digital format by Shelly.

ENVIRONMENTEnvironment

This left us with pure actions and the people associated with them. We then began creating two diagrams that highlighted these interactions. One diagram documented any and every instance of behavior and information exchange. The other focused more on the driving impetus behind these actions as expressed in the utterances by documenting the power, policy, influence, and emotion behind each action. We drew these diagrams collectively as a team and were left with what look like the scribblings of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. Except with not a much standardized equation behind it to be able to offer some explanation at first glance. Nonetheless, it made quite a bit of sense to use and helped us really identify areas where the process of “logging out” whether has a patron, a staff member, or a member of their nature survivalist club, the Lumber Society, may break down.

You can see the finished product of our drawings below.

B and information exchange PPIE

Clearly noticing the confusion and chaos of these diagrams, we decided to pick out three processes to present to our business owner. We decided to create a third diagram for each of these processes that tied in elements from the behavior and information exchange diagram and the policy, power, influence, and emotion diagrams. These new diagrams were to tell the story of the process and the greatest influences on this process in more clear and visually appealing way.

You can see these three final diagrams here.

In this diagram, we combined utterances from three members of upper management who very much create and refine the vision for the Lumber Society. We combined their vision for how an individual should be first hearing about and interacting with the Lumber Society into one visual diagram.
In this diagram, we combined utterances from three members of upper management who very much create and refine the vision for the Lumber Society. We combined their vision for how an individual should be first hearing about and interacting with the Lumber Society into one visual diagram.
This is the story of one patron's experience at Buzz Mill. You will notice that he has been upwards of 5 times and sees Buzz Mill very much as a coffee shop and has not understood the larger mission.
This is the story of one patron’s experience at Buzz Mill. You will notice that he has been upwards of 5 times and sees Buzz Mill very much as a coffee shop and has not understood the larger mission.
This is the process a Lumber Society Member went through to first hear about Lumber Society and then become a member. Each exclamation point is a moment of missed or a very closely made opportunity that could be solidified by more of a process at Buzz Mill.
This is the process a Lumber Society Member went through to first hear about Lumber Society and then become a member. Each exclamation point is a moment of missed or a very closely made opportunity that could be solidified by more of a process at Buzz Mill.

We chose each of these for the way in which they communicated the service slice process to our client. Presenting the service slice of the Lumber Society process as told by upper management and then contrasting that with an individual who interacted with the Lumber Society in a way less linear than the management would imagine, and then a patron who has been to the space many times and has not understood the larger mission of the business or at all understood the intention or value of “logging out.”

Sketchy

This week for our Studio Drawing class, we were tasked with conceiving of 10 activities that one might do in their daily life and drawing a sketch of that communicated that activity. I went through at least three iterations of each sketch/activity. And you can see some examples of those activities and iterations below.

IMG_1837 IMG_1834 IMG_1839 IMG_1836

This was a challenging but fun assignment.

The first way in which it was challenging was the same way this class has been a challenge so far. I tend to focus on the details of an image and when creating a sketch it is important to selectively choose which aspects to emphasize and which to allow to be less defined. As such, my focus for improvement continues to be around which lines to emphasize and at what weight to emphasize which lines.

That said, sketching, like any activity when practiced repetitively and diligently, is something that is easy to improve upon. And I am in awe of how the exercise of sketching each day in this course has improved the strength of my images.

In my previous post this week, I told the story of how I came to create a narrative that synthesized 7 readings we read this week. For that assignment, I was easily able to sketch the story because of my learnings in this class and then very easily able to translate those images to compiled shapes in Sketch, to offer my images in a graphic and digital format.

I look forward to continuing to grow in these ways artistically and digitally.

Narrative Synthesis

For class this week, we were tasked with synthesizing seven readings which tackled the concept of designing solutions for poverty. We were asked to create a narrative (or story) that discussed this synthesis and then visualize the narrative in a comic strip format.

I began this assignment by considering the main points of each of the authors by writing a short three to four sentence summary of each reading. From there, I recognized similarities between some of them and recognized that they could be divided into three groups in terms of the stance that each took. The phrase “school of thought” kept popping into mind as I thought of a more specific term than group to define each.

The word school made me think of fish. And I went with that thought to create a comic about a fish.

My comic tells the story of a fish (who is secretly, but not so secretly, me) who has just graduated from school and she is looking to join a school of thought. She is a designer and, like so many millennials, she wants to change the world. Specifically she is interested in tackling the problem of poverty through design. She has to choose one School of Thought to enroll enroll in. However, I was imagining a School of Thought to be kind of like college, where you enroll in one school but have the ability to take classes at others.

My fish is trying to decide where to go. She refers to the Atlantic Ocean’s version of U.S. News and World Report and narrows down her list to three options. She then goes on school visits and meets fish professors at each schools (which are in fact the authors of our readings).

Comic Strip

In the end, she decides to attend the School of The School of Designing Solutions to Poverty Geographically. She believes that in order to solve a social problem like poverty, you must really understand you population. She sees that there cannot be one blanket solution to the problem and is excited to learn from professors who are tackling the issue from more of a global standpoint by inciting collective action between industries, others who are working on a very local level but across disciplines, and others who are very focused on creating one specific solution for a local community and constantly iterating on it.

She hopes to take one semester of classes at the other two universities because she sees value in considering folks who are suffering from poverty as consumers so as to give them buying power and more of a say in markets as well as creating businesses who’s goals are to work to alleviate poverty.

IMG_1812

After I wrote out my story, I drew it out with paper and marker, going through a couple iterations on each slides. From there, I started to convert my physical designs to digital ones by drawing everything up in Sketch.

I had a great time doing this assignment. Having studied English in college, it has been difficult for me to consider how to visualize some of the ideas around synthesis that I have had with our readings and the ability to add in another storyline on this assignment really allowed all of the pieces to come together for me.

(Group) Work

At some point during college, I remember coming up with what I thought was this revolutionary idea: if only I could do things on my own (operate in a sort of vacuum), I could be a freakin rockstar at anything I wanted to be. The real world required explaining to people your perspective before doing things. The real world required considering the parameters of an assignment. The real world required me to take breaks to consider other people.

*sidenote* I now wonder if that sentiment is not part of what drew me to study English. In writing an essay, I only had to consider the topic, the author, and my own thoughts. At the time, I may not have thought much about my professors who inevitably poked holes in my writing and their ability to understand my ideas all four years.

But then the real world happened. I had group projects. I joined organizations. I was a founding member of an organization. I graduated, got a job, and got coworkers. There were even moments I had to ask other people for help. *GASP*

Now I don’t say any of this to say (despite however egocentric 21 year old me was) that I didn’t or don’t have empathy. I have always loved stories. I have always loved listening to peoples stories and helping them achieve their goals. And if that was not a part of something I was doing or studying I probably would have lost interest real fast. But the ability to listen to someones story, synthesize it with an idea of your own and communicate it to them in a way that they understand has always felt like a lot of work.

These past three weeks we have been working on a team as part of a service design project. They has posed many, many moments when I have had to communicate the value of an idea I have or synthesize an idea I have with another person’s idea and then communicate it to them. And, many times in this process I have dropped the ball. Sometimes, I let it go. The idea was not one I was married to anyways. And sometimes I fight and struggle and argue my thoughts about an idea until my team acquiesces but still does not totally understand what I am getting at. Sometimes there is this weird limbo, where the person respects your vision and mostly understands and agrees with what you are getting at, but does not completely understand enough to know how to execute on that vision.

At this point in my career, I have managed people and I founded an organization which I established a board for and now manage. And I feel so far from mastering this skill. So far that, in comparison to some of the other skills I have been working to improve upon over the past couple years, it feels I should be much further along.

That being said, the experience of working with my team has allowed me to see how others work through this process, try to communicate the value and vision of their idea. In some ways, I think we are all just attempting different things to see what works and what doesn’t. And so every day I am getting new ideas and new insight into how to improve in this area.

So #1 I would like to thank my team for being patient with me in this process. And #2 I look forward to reading this post in a couple months and seeing what insight I might give past me, or someone who may be struggling with a similar problem.

Theory Assignment 2

This week for our Design, Society, and the Public Sector class, we were asked to create a visualization that compared the views expressed about when and how design research should come into the design process, views expressed in 10 articles by 8 authors.

I choose to analyze the approach of each of these authors from two points of comparison. The first being, “Would these authors more advocate for utilizing users perspective in the design process or not?” The second being, “Would these authors advocate for using data from prior research and other fields or analysis of a current product in the design process?”

This task felt especially difficult to me because the question of how and when and where is the best way to conduct design research is one that has stumped me since we began class, and before. However, what these readings revealed to me was that there are clearly differing opinions. Writers like Suri and Le Dantec would advocate for folding in findings from other fields or deferring to those who are experts in a user population during the process. Others like Norman or Forlizzi would advocate for using an existing product as a basis for further design (on or outside that product). Authors like Gaver and Sanders might more advocate for simply observing people in their environment and identifying problems from there.

This exercise has helped me see that there is no way to be completely objective in design as an aspect of personal judgement is involved in every design process. The when and where and how of going about collecting data from users will and (these authors have helped me see) can affect your process. Maybe the aspect of working on teams can help provide checks and balances that make our process as accurate as possible?

Regardless, I have really appreciated the insight of each of these authors and hope to use aspects of their approach in my process at various points.

Importance of Defining Your Values As a (Insert Profession Here)

This weekend I got to spend time with friends. One of them works in content mitigation at a large, well-known tech company, another works as a speech language pathologist, and another just transitioned into a data science role in tech (also at a large, well-known tech company) from finance. My friend who had just transitioned to her role in tech spoke about a shift in expectation from her previous role. Where prior she was given strict guidelines by which to go about certain projects and tasks, now she is essentially being given a goal to reach in respect to a project or task but less guidance on how to attain that goal. “There is a wrong way to do things, ya know?” she said.

The speech language pathologist chimed in and spoke of the many rules she is required by law and insurance companies to follow every day to do her work and expressed her empathy for my recently turned tech friend in the ambiguity of her current job functions. She “couldn’t imagine having to work with that few parameters.” The large company’s content mitigator stepped in and spoke about the strict guidelines she follows at work every day but also the way in which those guidelines change almost daily because of things people like her are asked to speak up in ways that further define those guidelines.

As I listened to this conversation, I considered the thought that the guidelines created by companies and sometimes set in laws were created by a majority of people who collectively decided “what was right.”

I loved my friends idea that, “there is a wrong way to do things,” because I think she is right. However, in the world that we will be operating in throughout this program and after, as we seek to find solutions for problems that are worth solving, there most likely are many or any guidelines at all yet. When you are working to offer a solution to a problem to a large social issue such as homelessness, there has not been even one broad, far-reaching solution created yet. And so it is hard to look to any one thing as an example or a guide for how to best tackle a problem like this. There are books upon books about how to design commands on a computer in a way that is intuitive and ample amounts of books on how to design a chair. But there is not a similar or uniform 3 to 10 step process you can follow to solve problems like homelessness.

I thought about the moments right after my recently converted tech friend had been assigned a task. What did she do first? How did she know to do that? Who did she confer with or ask for help? That led me to imagining the moments when my speech language pathologist friend is working with a client and they do something she has to react to but this time, she is not required to react in a certain way by a law or by an insurance company. And, she has to use her own judgment to move things forward. What are the experiences or is the knowledge she draws from to make a decision in that moment? What data does she refer to to ensure she is making the best decision?

This thought felt reminiscent of a reading we had this week by a famous computer scientist Paul Dourish. He spoke about two different theories of design: positivist theory and phenomenological theory. He spoke of positivist theory being one that “seeks objective, independent descriptions of social phenomena utilizing broad statistical trends and idealized models.” Conversely, phenomenological theory regards “(broad statistical trends) as having no objective reality beyond the ability of individuals and groups to recognize and orient towards them.” Essentially, he is saying that positivist theory asserts that if you add a touch of w, a cup of x, a pinch y, and a dash of z to any design process you will be able to create an outcome that can be tailored to the the individual experience. Phenomenological theory says that you can use w, x, y, and z as guidelines but these may be used in varying amounts depending on the individual AND there are other objective elements at play that need to be considered if the experience will really be tailored to the individual.

This may be a leap but, I wonder if there is a lesson for how to design the way you or I may hope to navigate the world as a professional within Dourish’s distinction of these two theories. In either approach, we have to consider prior theories and all existing guidelines that relate to something we are creating or something we are researching. But if we decide to take a phenomenological approach (and in some ways I would argue we have to because we are humans with biases) then we must consider as well what we know from our own personal experiences or the personal experiences of others and tailor our approach accordingly.

All of this is to say that I feel this past week has given me an opportunity that I am most grateful for in considering how I want to operate as a designer as I move through this program and after. It has given me the opportunity to consider my values and what I will prioritize in the moments when the theoretical bumpers have been taken down from my lane at work.  How will I hope to go about tackling the problems I hope to working towards solving after this program? What will I fight for when I am on a team of people each with varying perspectives? And how will all of this play into making great designs?

Growing Pains

With the close of this week, we have officially completed three weeks of our year here at AC4D. In so many ways, it feels like it has been much longer than the actual 21 days we have been enmeshed in this experience. I feel I have consumed more information than could possibly fit into three weeks (so much that it must have been longer than 3 weeks) and yet we have. And in other regards it feels like much shorter than three weeks. As I look towards the coming year and realize how quickly these three weeks went by, I recognize how quickly this year could pass and the importance of being present and soaking up as much as I am able and then filling in the gaps where needed each day. Those days will eventually add up to the year I have been granted to grow in this program.

In my post last week, I spoke about this feeling of uncontrol or untethered action. I spoke of knowing many truths about myself and my work style but, being thrown into this new situation suddenly, feeling as if I haven’t been honoring those truths completely. I spoke about being thrown a lot of information over the past couple of weeks and feeling like there is a pile of it on a table (some of it is actually physical and some is not) and now I am working to sort through that pile, organize myself in this new context and in the context of what I know about myself. It is a little jarring but exciting and comforting to know that the chips will eventually be sorted into their right place.

This week, along those lines, I want to talk about the content of “what has been thrown at us,” what we have started to learn and what we have been tasked to do.

So far, the major assignments we have been asked to complete are to research and select a business with a social good to their mission, sell that business a service design research study on their business at the cost of $1000, develop a comprehensive research plan and timeline for our work, secure and conduct interviews with participants in our study, read five academic articles on design, find elements of each to compare and contrast, develop a statement on these comparisons and contrasts, create a visual representation of that statement, present this visualization and our process for creating it to a class of our peers, sketch every day for at least 45 minutes, and write blog posts (of which this is one). In a typical business, these tasks would be allocated to various individuals, one being detail oriented, the other being creative, another being process driven and the other being charismatic and sociable. In the “typical business,” we know these divisions of responsibilities get blurred every day. Folks are asked to step in here and there to do tasks that utilize skills that they don’t get the chance to practice every day. But unusual is for one person to be assigned all of these responsibilities at once from the onset.

What happens in this scenario is that each person in our class is inevitably good at one or two things, okay at a handful of things in the middle, and just terrible at another few. And what occurs is a retraining of your brain to attempt these tasks which require skills you may not have honed recently or ever in order to complete an assignment. And despite your efforts it may come out terrible just because you have not had the opportunity to flex the muscles required to do that task.

After spending many years getting validation for what I am good at, being placed in classes and positions at school and roles at work based off of what I am good at, it is fascinating to be asked to complete a tasked and then judged on it based off of what I am not good at.

I wonder what “at the end” of this program that will mean for me, how attempting and reattempting these things will manifest when all is said and done. And I have to imagine the affect will be two-fold: one that I will be better at these things I no inclination of how to do before and; second, that I will be unafraid to jump in on tasks that I haven’t done before and will be able to be be really honest and self aware about my ability to complete such tasks.

I’m not sure though so I will get back to you in about 9 months.

Reading Comparisons

For class this week, we were asked to compare the 6 essays by 5 thought leaders and identify their chief arguments. We were then asked to plot the 5 leaders based off of their chief arguments on a  axis of importance.

I chose to define importance as making a direct argument for how to be a great designer with the other end of the spectrum arguing how not to be as a designer. I found Dewey’s argument most valuable in that sense as it explained the direct affects of positive and negative interactions on an individuals development.

Postman was on the far opposite end of the spectrum because he said we should not focus on the deluge of information in society today in order to identify the “real problems” we should be working on, not clearly stating what we should do.

Writing Comparison

This is It – Michael Jackson

I remember returning to school after summer break the beginning of my senior year of college and for the first time thinking, “I understand how to do this school thing.” After three years of adjusting to college life (i.e. finding and cooking my own food, managing my to-do lists, going through various modes to manage my calendar, etc.), I finally felt that I was on sure enough footing to be able to be deliberate about achieving success and recognizing what caused any failures. For the first time, I was not a chicken with my head cut off bouncing from assignment to assignment to house party to football game to assignment, hoping I landed in the right place. I was deliberately making decisions that would lead to my success and I knew it.

Since graduating, I have only taken that ability and learned it better. I have had to forget and then remember how to listen to advice I am given, to be a conscious contributor to my own decisions, etc. And the truth is I will still have to and will continue to have to be reminded of the truths I know about the world and myself, including what makes me successful.

This first week of school at AC4D was a deluge of wonderful information about design. We were assigned major projects in each of the three courses we are taking. We were had to do research to find a company with a social good mission who would allow us to conduct a service design study on their business. We then had to ask them for $1000. We had to sketch things that were difficult to sketch. We had to read academic articles on design and consider how they apply to our work in this course and beyond. And all of that is not considering the dramatic shift in schedule we are experiencing. It has been a dramatic shift to the kind of problems my brain is considering. It has been a dramatic learning curve full of information I have never encountered. It has been a dramatic shift in having to think through group dynamics more than I have in many years (possibly ever). And right now I feel a little bit like that chicken with my head cut off.

It is an odd sensation approaching an environment like this, knowing you have the capacity to be successful, knowing what your strengths are, knowing what you need to stay afloat, and yet noticing the chaos of the unknown and the new and having to sit with it and be okay with it.

From what I glean, this feeling will not go away for a long time and may not go away for the entirety of the program. But I am excited about the opportunity to chip away at it and be creating processes that allow me to make more deliberate steps towards my success. And I look forward to sharing that experience with and comparing notes with my classmates along the way.

I am excited for this wild ride!