In our Product Management course with Scott Magee, we’ve been revising our banking app wireframes that we designed in our Q3 Designing Digital Interfaces course, in order to learn how a product goes from the wireframe stage to market. An important step in that process is identifying capabilities and controls within the app, then meeting with a developer to determine roughly how long it will take to develop the app based on those features.
At the beginning of this process, I took an inventory of screens and flows, and knew that there was a lot of functionality that was incomplete. Within the time frame of the assignment, I knew there would be a tradeoff between completeness and complexity. My goal was to have a complete set of flows, no matter how minimal in total scope, so I wound up having to reduce and simplify the functionality that I had begun to build out in Q3, including most of the financial modeling that had gone into the app. Although the current app only allows the user to do a limited number of actions – transfer funds, deposit checks, view balances, add accounts, view transaction history – those represent the core functionality of a banking app. There is very little that I wasn’t able to completely build out within the scope that I aimed for, and I feel satisfied with the current status. I have 12 main flows, including login alternatives and pre-login actions.
In an exercise to understand wireframing edge cases and errors, I decided to take a small portion of the app – login options – and include every error state and screen that I could predict, which is reflected in my flows. I quickly realized how time-consuming it is to design these, but also how important it is to consider how and when a user might cause an error, and what information they need to be given to proceed.
FLOWS WITH CAPABILITY BREAKDOWN
MEETING WITH A DEVELOPER
I had the honor and pleasure of meeting with developer and entrepreneur Mark Philip to size my app. As designers and students, we spend a great deal of time working on our designs, but meeting with a developer helped connect the work that I do to the bigger picture – how a product actually gets made. This meeting was a huge revelation to me in terms of the teamwork it takes to bring a product to life.
The meeting as a whole was a huge learning experience for me. However, I do have some key takeaways to remember for next time.
Having paper printouts of my screens was an enormous benefit. We could mark them up and have something tangible to reference later.
Mark worked with me to suggest some functionality that was missing, or to edit some elements of the screens as I had designed them. The conversation felt extremely collaborative, and I was grateful to have his experience and expertise influence revisions to my screens. I made the revisions we discussed together, which removed some extraneous screens and made the user experience better.
Mark suggested that it’s helpful to a developer to be given some sort of site map or architecture concept map, to aid in understanding how all the sections of the product connect. I’ll make sure to create and provide this going forward.
Mark gave me a summary in days, broken up by sections of the app – not necessarily complete flows, but pieces for development as he would approach it. The total came to 80 days, and Mark said that overall he would estimate 3 months for the scope of my current app. With 2 developers working full-time, it would take approximately 1.5 months to do the front-end development for my app, assuming that things went according to schedule. In thinking about the tradeoff of complexity vs. completeness, I’m very satisfied with how long this will take. My users won’t have a robust app, but they will be able to undertake the basic functions of a banking app with a shorter wait for roll-out. As I add functionality into the app, new versions can be released sequentially.
View a full estimation table here, with additional notes and info for each section of the app.
View a pdf of all documented flows here, including the sizing summary table.
We’ve been discussing a variety of topics in our theory course, Theory of Interaction Design + Social Entrepreneurship, taught by Richard Anderson, related to the value of social impact, the role of design in “saving the world,” the factors that drive the desire to do good, and the role of good intentions in designing products, services, and systems for social change. Throughout the texts we’ve discusses, what resonates most strongly with me is the collective responsibility of design + social innovation, and what practices we should adhere to in order to predict, shape, and address the outcomes of our products and designs.
We tend to think of products (or designs, initiatives, inventions, etc.) as good or bad. But products themselves are merely instruments that have no intrinsic value. It’s the application of the products and the outcomes of their implementation and use that matter, and which are open for evaluation. Those outcomes always involve tradeoffs – someone (or something) benefits, and someone (or something) suffers.
A specific theme that I keep coming back to is the idea of intention vs. outcome – not within the dichotomy of good vs. bad, but the idea that small creations or designs have the potential for massive social change, while some very big ideas never catch on. Combined with this notion is the thought that things that cause huge shifts in culture often have both positive and negative outcomes for society (depending on your own moral compass). Many authors of culture-shifting designs have looked back on their creations with regret. As I enter the design profession, I want to consider both the impact of the things that I’m helping to create, as well as to ensure those things don’t cause more harm than good.
To help me make sense of this idea, I started to create a list of specific products, inventions, and initiatives both from our course readings and from recent history and to map the relationship between their intended scope of innovation and their actual effect on global change. For the purposes of this exercise I mapped the following 11 creations which you can see in the 2 x 2 matrix below:
Nuclear power – as an electricity-generating source, nuclear power is up for debate in terms of good vs. bad, but the advancements in science that led to nuclear power also led to the atomic bomb, which undeniably had radically destructive effects. For the purposes of this mapping exercise, nuclear power was intended to create change, and did so in many ways.
Automatic weapons – An obvious upgrade from single-shot guns, automatic weapons have been widely adopted, causing huge cultural change. Unlike single-shot weapons, which have uses other than warfare (such as hunting), automatic weapons, in my opinion, have only caused extreme harm for humanity.
The World Wide Web – When Tim Berners-Lee proposed the information management system that would become the World Wide Web, he couldn’t have predicted the radical change it would bring to the world, ushering in the Information Age. Are we swimming in the freedom of unlimited information at our fingertips or drowning in a sea of noise?
Plastic – This low-cost innovation to traditional materials has so radically permeated human lives, that it exists in everything from toothbrushes to spacecraft. Perhaps the hardest dichotomy for me to reconcile, plastics are responsible for all manner of medical, technological, and structural advancements, and yet due to their non-biodegradable qualities, have simultaneously caused much of the massive environmental destruction of our planet (which I doubt we will be able to recover from).
K-cups – Inventor John Sylan was trying to solve a common office problem of stale coffee at the communal coffeepot with these encapsulated individual servings, and had no intention of contributing so drastically to the environmental nightmare caused by their inability to be recycled.
Cameras in mobile phones – Added as a feature to cell phones in the mid-2000s, these mobile cameras democratized photography. Coupled with widespread use of the internet, cameras on phones have made everyone a photographer, in turn causing effects that range from the rise of social media (and its impact on culture) to the near elimination of photojournalism as a profession.
Apps to solve homelessness – Always an epic fail. “There’s an app for that” doesn’t apply to solving wicked problems.
The San Francisco SPCA Knightscope security robot – This robot was used in 2017 to police the premises of the SF SPCA, with a debated intention to remove nearby homeless people. Not long in use, it was an expensive and hostile band-aid solution to a systemic problem.
#metoo – Tarana Burke, a social activist, began using the phrase “me too” in 2006 to draw attention to sexual harrasment and sexual assult. But it was in 2017, when the hashtag was used and promoted on Twitter by Alyssa Milano in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment allegations, that it drew awareness to widespread (and often not talked about) experiences of sexual harassment and assault. This is a compelling example to me of something that started extremely small, but catalyzed an entire movement aimed to change social norms and behaviors.
Product Red – a licensed brand as part of a business model that raises money from the purchase of consumer goods to fund efforts to eliminate AIDS in certain African countries. Although the company claims to have raised millions of dollars and to have impacted more than 140 million lives, it’s difficult to determine how much widespread change this consumer activism has affected.
The keytar – Is it a keyboard? Is it a guitar? It’s…a keyboard with a neck strap. And it didn’t end up being the great music industry disruptor that Edgar Winter might have wished for.
To ensure that we create more beneficial impact than negative impact, it’s important to keep in mind 3 guiding principles of responsibility:
As designers, we should speculate on potential future outcomes of our design projects. The most important questions we can ask ourselves are who will benefit from this design? and who will suffer because of it? When we actually take the time to map out the potential future state(s) of the ecosystem affected by our design, we can start to identify and keep in mind areas where problems or negative effects will occur, and then weigh those effects against our own moral compass to make sure we want to take responsibility for putting those designs into the world.
We also need to involve as many people who will be affected by our designs in the design process. This means not only researching within the community that will be using or affected by our designs, but also keeping community members involved in the creation and testing process. It’s important to understand not just the infrastructure around our proposed design, but also the behaviors and belief systems of the individuals that will be impacted.
Lastly, once our designs are out in the world, we need to evaluate how those designs are affecting the communities within which they exist. Did the design have the intended consequences? Who is benefitting from the design? Who is at a disadvantage because of it? It’s vital to both address negative consequences in the living design and work towards improvement in that specific instance, as well as use any feedback to inform future design decisions in other projects.
Whether a designer works on something as seemingly banal as a camera feature in a cell phone, or as intentionally impactful as bringing clean water systems to rural India, there is potential for great cultural shifts, and with that comes great responsibility. By keeping future, current, and past states of our design in constant consideration and involving affected community members as much as possible, we can practice responsible design and stand behind what we put out in the world.
In our Designing Digital Interfaces course, we’ve been working on integrating financial modeling tools into a mobile banking application of our own design. I’ve been working with my own redesign of the banking application for A+ Federal Credit Union, a local Austin credit union primarily serving education employees. Within the expected functions of a banking app, the financial modeling features that I’ve integrated include viewing a quick overview of financial status (income, spending, and upcoming bills) and a deeper view into spending habits. I’ve also added functionality that allows users to view what amount of money is safe to spend at any given time, including the ability to set a ‘reserve’ amount and add notifications for nearing and exceeding a ‘safe to spend’ amount.
PROCESS + GOALS
I created wireframes for 2 separate flows which I then tested with 4 participants in their homes. For background research, I asked participants what bank they use, what budgeting tools (digital or analog, if any) they use, and what their primary financial concerns are when thinking about their budgets and spending.
My participants, who ranged in age from 22 – 40, were asked to accomplish 3 tasks for each wireframe flow. My primary goals were to understand how users navigated through the different financial modeling tools, how easy it was for them to understand the categories and vocabulary assigned to the tools, and what functionality they felt was missing.
IDENTIFIED PROBLEMS + PROPOSED SOLUTIONS
I discovered a number of problems throughout the wireframes and flows I constructed, but the most prominent problem is in the structuring of the features within the system (information architecture and navigation) and the headings used to describe them in the menu, where most of the features are currently located. Users had differing interpretations of what information they expected to find within each category heading, but no single user was able to navigate quickly and easily to the correct place.
To revise the screens, I intend to consolidate the ‘budget tools’ categories into one ‘finances’ bucket and nest that within ‘transactions.’
Another problem that I discovered is that the categories in the ‘total spending’ visual are not quickly interpretable. In its current form, a user would need to click on every slice of the visual to know what category it refers to.
To revise this, I intend to add a clickable legend to the visual, both to make the visual tool easy to quickly access, but also to give users an alternative path to navigate to individual category transaction details.
Our original assignment in the course was to redesign a banking app. Through this exercise, I got my first real taste of wrapping my head around information architecture. It was difficult, but because my redesign focused on the app’s core functionality, it made sense to place links to key tasks on the home screen, where users would be most apt to need those functions.
When it came to integrating the financial modeling features, it was challenging for me to decide how much of those features to integrate where it would be highly visible to users, but not take up precious real estate needed for core functionality. On the other hand, I was wary of isolating and hiding all the financial modeling tools in nested menu areas where users weren’t apt to ever find or utilize them. To add to this, of the 4 test participants I spoke, most don’t use budgeting tools (1 participant uses mint.com rarely), although they all expressed the feeling that they should and would like to. That leads me to feel even more strongly that key pieces of budgeting features should be established on highly-accessed core areas, but link to more robust sections of financial modeling, to allow users to dive deeper as they see fit.
Another key takeaway from my testing was how important context is when considering usage. I tested my apps in users’ homes, which gave me an appreciation for their lifestyles and needs. While I was working with Keara, a single mother of a toddler, her son was making his disapproval of us known, and known loudly. He was tugging at her, vigorously inspecting my camera equipment, trying desperately to tap the computer keyboard, and eating post-its. In the middle of the test, she turned to me and said,
“See, this is good for you to have someone who has a child hanging all over them trying to figure something else out. This is real life.”
Seeing firsthand how distracted, by necessity, Keara was has shown me how important it is for her to be able to find the information she needs from an app quickly to be able to accomplish her task and refocus her attention. If an app requires too much reading or interpretation, she’s not going to want or be able to use it.
After this round of user testing, I’ve identified some key problems with the structure of the information architecture, which I will address first. After restructuring where the financial modeling features ‘live’ and how users can access all or parts of them, I will also revise the smaller, individual problem areas that are caused by poor or missing user interface elements. After my revisions, I plan to test with a new group of users for feedback and further iteration.
This week, my team put our testing on hold and focused instead on concept definition. Reflecting on last week’s testing and feedback, it was clear to us that our concepts were anything but clear. We needed to define for ourselves exactly what our concepts are by setting a declarative point of view, before going forward to determine whether our point of view has value to our users.
To clarify and define our products, we started with a process of writing down all the things we believe have to be true about each concept in order to take them forward. We then wrote down all the questions we have about each concept, from large questions regarding user adoption – Will users take the time to input information in this app upfront? – to small practical questions, such as – How many volunteers would we need to host a storytelling event?
From that long list of questions, we identified a handful of core questions that would need to be answered first, because the concept itself relies on those particular answers. For example, before How many volunteers would we need to host a storytelling event? we need to answer Can we recruit storytellers to sign up to tell their stories to an audience? Without storytellers, there’s no need for volunteers, because we don’t have an event to host.
A key aspect of concept definition is a competitor and market analysis. We needed to see what other products and services already exist in the world that are similar to what we want to create, whether as direct competition or as a similarly structured product for a different audience. From an impact perspective, we want to understand what perceived value the existing products and services provide to users. We also want to know in what ways these products are solving the users’ problems, and what aspects or features, if any, are missing, so that we can integrate or otherwise address those gaps. From a business perspective, we want to understand how similar services operate – what their business models are, how they reach their target audiences, how they’ve scaled, etc. so that we can start to better understand how we can take our concepts and turn them into real, viable products.
Another method we’re taking to help refine and bring clarity to our concepts is to make service blueprints. These are low-fidelity drafts, intended to help us start to make more sense of every touchpoint a user will encounter with a particular product or service over time and what actions are being taken ‘behind the scenes’ as a user makes that journey with our product.
From this process, we start to see areas where the interactions are unclear, and which aspects of the product or service need more definition. We start to uncover what work will need to be done on the back end to enable the user’s interactions and what systems need to be in place for a user to have a smooth journey from initial discovery to an ideal future state of long-time use. We can also identify pain points in the user’s journey at this early stage, and work to overcome those potential gaps to make the user’s interactions seamless.
You can see in the low-fidelity service blueprint for a storytelling presentation series that we are developing, that we’ve used bright pink sticky notes to call out potential failure points in the service. We can then address these pain points early on, and create structures within the service that diminish them or alleviate them entirely.
We’re currently in the process of answering the core questions that we have about each concept through competitor analysis and research. This coming week we’ll take those answers and test them with potential users in order to validate (or invalidate) our assumptions and refine our concepts as necessary.
We’re also reflecting on our initial service blueprints to determine which areas of our proposed products need more definition and clarity. Through concept definition, we’re moving from a broad, hazy understanding of what we could create to defining exact, definitive boundaries about what we intend to create. We also have a vision of how our users will interact with our products, and how they solve our users’ problems not just through a single interaction, but over time.
For our capstone project, my team – comprised of Christina Davis, Catherine Woodiwiss, and myself – conducted research into the education and life experiences of young, first generation Americans in Austin. In quarter 3, our synthesized research has led us to develop a range of potential concepts for products and services which address the problems we identified. We came up with nearly 200 original concepts and down-selected to our top 5, which we fleshed out last week by making storyboards, lean canvases, and theories of change for each, to get a better sense of how user would interact with each design solution, and their potential impact.
After creating artifacts for our 5 original concepts, and receiving critical feedback, we realized that we weren’t as excited about all of them as we felt we should be to take them all forward in the design process. We decided to ideate more on our most compelling concept at this early stage, teasing it into several other variations that addressed the same problems with different ‘answers.’ Instead of down-selecting from our initial 5 concepts to 3 that we wanted to go out and test, we actually created an entirely new design concept, to test alongside 2 of our originals. Although partially going back to the drawing board set us back in our testing timeline, we felt it was better to iterate early on, and pursue products that were compelling to us and connected most with the problems that we identified in our research, rather than committing to lackluster ideas that we weren’t very excited about.
Over the next 3 weeks we’ll be running user tests with low-fidelity prototypes to test the value of each of our concepts with our target audience(s). We do this with 3 concepts concurrently to give ourselves more opportunity to explore potential solutions, rather than decide on a single solution and iterate on that one alone. We’ve crafted specific hypotheses for each concept that must be validated before moving forward with our product, as well as a prototype or testing method for each. Our concepts, hypotheses, and testing methods for each of our 3 distinct design concepts are outlined below.
CONCEPT 1: A digital tool for managing life and tracking personal goals.
Young people (under 30) will use digital tools with tailored options to manage life (bills, personal goals, etc).
Young people will do the upfront work to load their information into the tool.
We asked our original research participants to take photos throughout their day of things they wish they had help managing, and told them we would text them reminders throughout the day prompting them to take the photos.
The camera probe activity tests:
– That people will do work on the front end, because if they are willing to take photos throughout the day, they’ll likely be willing to do work of loading their info into a digital tool.
– Which areas of life are the most important for participants to manage.
– That reminders throughout the day are effective (because the tool we envision will do this as well).
Results so far:
We’ve had 2 participants respond to our camera probe request so far. One of them, Ashley, didn’t take the photos, but she did give us useful feedback –
“I use Google calendar and the iPhone’s ‘Reminders’ notes to remind me about various tasks or appointments. It would be nice to have everything on one app though since Google calendars takes more effort to coordinate a task … and the Reminders notes app tends to get busy and filled up.”
CONCEPT 2: An online advice forum for First Generation Americans, written by First Generation Americans
Young, first-generation Americans will actively seek out answers to their needs and questions.
Young, first-generation Americans will value doing this anonymously, online.
We asked former research participants to fill out a brief questionnaire of times when they have sought out advice.
We posted similar questions to 3 Reddit channels: r/Advice, r/Immigration, and r/ApplyingtoCollege
– The questionnaire posted on Reddit tests that young, 1st gens use social/online channels and will gauge whether there is value in this type of advice.
– The request of former research participants tests that our target population has asked for advice, has found it helpful, and is willing to share that advice with others.
Results so far:
We’ve received 2 in-depth responses from previous research participants.
For example, Kristen told us, “In the last year, I needed to ask anyone who was good at financial planning for advice. I had just gotten my first new car, a credit card to build credit and other bills that piled on top of these big ones, because my paychecks were not aligning with them. I wished I had a guide for that, but I figured things out as time moved.”
Based on feedback so far, we feel that young first gen Americans would value a forum for seeking advice on navigating challenges, including and beyond the scope of school.
CONCEPT 3: A First Generation American Pecha Kucha event – Professionals who are first gen Americans will present on their work and experiences to an audience of young student first gen Americans
First generation American professionals are willing to participate as presenters of their work and life experiences.
There is an interested audience – specifically, 1st generation American young people/students.
We created a landing page for our Pecha Kucha event with the ability to be put on the attendee list, and are attempting to drive traffic to the site.
We’re also recruiting presenters from our previous research contacts: including SMEs, stakeholders, and personal connections.
– The landing page gauges potential audience interest.
– Commitments from presenters validate our ability to host the event, and excitement around sharing their experiences.
Results so far:
We’ve had 5 email signups from first gen college students eager to attend the Pecha Kucha event, who we met while seeking feedback out in the field, at UT and St. Edward’s University.
Reworking our original concepts delayed testing, so our initial round of testing will run through the beginning of next week in order to allow time for the participants that we contacted to respond. During the remainder of the first round of tests, we’ll be continuing to reach out to known contacts and referrals for their feedback on our concepts, as well as going out to university areas to solicit feedback in the moment.
Next week we’ll use the test results from week 1 to refine our concepts, refine the hypotheses that we test, define new prototypes to test with, and get more feedback to keep iterating on our design solutions.
In our Designing Digital Interfaces class, we’re exploring a redesign of a mobile banking app. I’m redesigning the banking app for my Austin-based credit union, A+ Federal Credit Union, that I regularly use and often find frustrating. The bank itself is very small, relative to big banks such as Chase or Wells Fargo, and as such, doesn’t have the design sensibility that these big corporations have. The app is complex, confusing, and the navigation is less than user-friendly. In trying to wrap my head around a redesign as a newcomer to both designing digital interfaces and understanding navigation, starting with this app I feel like I’ve been handed a new instrument and given some Rachmaninoff to tackle. I’m going to start first by playing some proverbial scales, and simply rework the major failures of the existing site, not straying too far from the original design. Baby steps.
You’ll see in the image of the home screen below, I’ve outlined some red boxes. The red boxes around the buttons within each account section allow the user to make transfers, deposit checks, and pay bills directly from the home screen. Previously, these options were nested deep in the menu (top left), located under another tab labeled ‘transactions’. Since these are high-level goals of a bank app user, I placed them on the home screen, where users can have quick and easy access.
The red box around the image in the top right of the home screen indicates a profile section that currently does not exist in the app at all. This is where the user can set and manage notifications, view statements, change mailing preferences, get help, and quickly log out.
Having user goals in mind (deposit a check, pay a bill) when redesigning this app helps me to think through the steps a user needs to take to get to their goal, and in turn start to tease apart and rebuild the currently over-complicated and non-intuitive pathways that exist within the A+ app.
In my first attempt to visually map the interactions of a mobile application – in this case, my A+ Federal Credit Union mobile app – I was astounded by the number of interaction possibilities embedded in what otherwise appears to be a simple banking app. Doing multiple iterations of the drawings allowed me to have a better understanding of how the user moves through the app, as well as provoking thought on how I might go about redesigning the app to make it more intuitive.
Our design team – Susi Brister, Adam Niederpreum, and Kelsey Greathouse – has been working with Recycled Reads, a used bookstore that’s a branch of the Austin Public Library system. They sell both ex-library materials and donations accepted from the public. In the early stages of our research, we interviewed 24 research participants in various roles at Recycled Reads, the Austin Public Library, and the City of Austin, and accompanied them while doing their daily jobs. From this research, we recorded approximately 25 hours of audio interviews, which we then transcribed.
From the total hours of transcription, we selected 2 hours across 6 participants to map into service slices. The purpose of creating service slices is to focus on what happens within a service during a particular moment in time, but intentionally separate that moment out into 4 separate diagrams – one diagram each for:
Behavior & Information Exchange
Power, Policy, Influence, & Emotion
Artifacts found in the environment
Diagram of the environment
Mapping actions, feelings, objects, and environment separately allows us to separate each from the other, and examine how these interact and affect each other. The service slices allow us to make sense of a complex system by pulling layers of that system apart.
SETTING A TEAM LEARNING INTENTION
We’ve had the feedback that as a team (and individually), we tend to be product-focused rather than process-focused. This has been beneficial to us because we have been working toward the goal of crafting our client presentations alongside the methods and research that support that presentation.
But has also caused, at times, less emphasis on the process itself – so the underlying work and synthesis itself has been minimized in favor of the presentation of a small portion of that work, rather than flushing out the research more fully before starting on the presentation.
This time, our assignment spanned the week break of school between Quarter 1 and Quarter 2. Since we had no classes to attend and no other assignments due, we challenged ourselves to take the necessary time and attention to focus on a more thorough, rigorous process and think less about any final structured outcome.
To accomplish this, we worked together in conjunction as a team, making sense of our data, but also making sense of the new methodology, leveraging each other’s perspectives to work through the complexity of the assignment.
SERVICE SLICE DIAGRAMS
Mapping the service slices was time-consuming and challenging, particularly teasing apart what people were doing (Behavior & Information Exchange) and what they were feeling about what they were doing (Power, Policy, Influence & Emotion), largely because the latter required a degree of interpretation. While what people were doing was somewhat obvious and factual, the power, policy, influence, and emotions that surrounded those actions were not directly expressed.
Although we only used 2 hours of transcription for our maps, they became complex and chaotic very quickly. With one glance, it becomes clear how interconnected behaviors and emotions are within an organization. We made several iterations of our diagrams to help us better understand those connections, while retaining all the data from the transcripts.
When we finished mapping our environment diagram, we realized that most actions within Recycled Reads happen at the front desk, and in the very back room of the store. This is represented visually by a huge absence of artifacts in the blank middle space. For our final iteration of our service slices to present to our client, we decided to reintegrate some specific interactions from all four maps, effectively collapsing them again to a single diagram, but with much greater simplicity and focus on a few key areas. To reinforce the two discrete areas of action within the store, we mirrored that spacing visually in our final composite service slice diagram to present to our client.
FINAL DIAGRAM: INTERACTIONS AND AREAS OF OPPORTUNITY
When presenting our service slices to Recycled Reads, we wanted to focus on two key opportunity areas that we uncovered through this process, one in the front of house and one in the back of house. Although we aren’t going deep into problematic issues at this stage in our overall process, we wanted to bring up these two areas for initial discussion and to lay the groundwork for our next presentation, when we will be discussing problem areas in more depth.
The main artifact we identified in the front of house as an area of opportunity is a scale located at the front desk that is used to weigh customer book purchases when they leave the store. Because Recycled Reads’ primary purpose is to divert used library materials from the landfill, they keep track of the weight of those materials as they leave through the front door, and report that to the administration at the Austin Public Library. What we discovered through mapping out service slices was that even though the scale performed a very important role in their service, it was not addressed in the customer interaction in any way. Customers weren’t aware of what was happening with the scale, nor of its importance in the role of carrying out Recycled Reads’ mission. Moreover, we discovered that several other side tasks are undertaken by staff at the front desk that may be disruptive to their role as the primary customer-facing staff member of the store.
In the back of house operations, we also identified an artifact that was influencing behavior in different ways, depending on the individual staff member or volunteer. Ex-library books and public donations are sorted in the back of house into books that are kept to sell in the store, and those that are sent downstream to another repurposing partner. A major part of this sorting process is a set of criteria determined and revised as needed by the manager of Recycled Reads, which is referred to as a sorting chart. The chart defines, by category (or genre) of book, how recently published a book must be and what condition it must be in to be kept for resale or not.
Through our service slice mapping, we discovered that one staff member was aware of the sorting chart criteria, and sometimes used it to determine what books he kept and what books he didn’t. On many occasions, though, he would override those criteria and instead base his judgments on his own personal criteria, whether that be personal preference and censorship, or a knowledge of current book-purchasing trends. An air of autonomy in one’s job is present at Recycled Reads, and this particular staff member embraced that with gusto.
On the other hand, a volunteer doing the same sorting job used the chart very differently. Not only did he rely heavily on the sorting chart criteria but expressed that he felt he would always do so. Moreover, there were times for him when the chart wasn’t specific enough, and he required the input of the manager or other librarian staff members for an ultimate decision. Where the staff member sorting books reveled in his ability to make autonomous judgments, this volunteer felt more of a struggle with some of the ambiguity.
The three full-time staff members at Recycled Reads that we presented our service slice diagrams to were impressed by the complexity that the initial, chaotic maps illustrated, and commented that they couldn’t believe so much was happening in their space. They appreciated the more focused version that illustrated the single front of house and single back of house areas of opportunity.
The issue that emerged with the scale at the front desk was appreciated but did not have as much impact as the map showing the varying usage of the back of house sorting chart, which was discussed with enthusiasm. The manager mentioned that she had begun to recently pick up on a few hints that there was something to be addressed, but our diagrams brought some clarity and definition to what was just beginning to be recognized. We discussed the dichotomy between autonomy and structure and she expressed a burgeoning reflection that she herself may have moved away from the sorting chart and was not being an appropriate role model for staff and volunteers.
We have completed our service slices and are working to finish up identifying behavioral and attitudinal patterns from our collected transcription data. In combination, these patterns and our service slice diagrams will point us toward creating insights – provocative statements about behavior – that can be presented to our client as the basis for addressing distinct areas of opportunity at Recycled Reads.
Less Talking, More Doing has become a de facto school motto here at AC4D. At some point early in our first week, an alumnus mentioned that we would hear this during the year frequently from our teacher Jon Kolko in the course of our group work. Although I have yet to actually hear the command directly from him or any other faculty member, it is nevertheless referenced persistently in our space as if gospel from above. Like other dogmatic expressions, it is now both overused and misused out of context, much to my dismay.
The phrase, as told to us by the alumnus, was uttered originally by Kolko as a directive intended to keep team dialogue from spinning into unproductive territory. There is a propensity in group work of all kinds, particularly when dealing with a multiplicity of viewpoints, to become stuck in a back and forth volley of ideas, leading to inefficiency and wasted time. The answer to this, as the motto would suggest, is to stop the vicious spinning in place and either visualize something concrete or find another way of moving forward – usually by undertaking some form of task (making something, however small). I wholeheartedly agree with this situational need and use of the phrase.
VERBALIZATION IS VALUABLE
However, there has been some misuse of this phrase outside of this original context. The problem with less talking, more doing is that it introduces a hierarchy in which talking is less valuable than doing. While there are times that is true, as described above, it’s not an appropriate or applicable value judgment all of the time. For example, in our theory class, Design and the Public Sector, we read theoretical texts and then discuss them both in small groups and as a class. This is beneficial because it helps to clarify one’s own understanding as well as opening up a dialogue of possible interpretations by others, leading to a broader appreciation and perspective on topics as a whole.
Additionally, anyone who has ever taught anything, whether formally or informally, or has had to give a verbal presentation knows that at the point where you have to present your knowledge to someone else, you quickly discover how much you actually know about that topic. Being able to verbalize something clearly reflects one’s own understanding. This can be a useful tool in the learning process, in which the attempt to verbalize something can shed light on the gaps in personal knowledge.
There are applicable parallels to be found in a collaborative team context. Collaborative verbalization can bring up valuable alternative viewpoints, as well as indicate gulfs in understanding. Unfortunately, what I’ve observed and experienced in group work recently is that verbalization has been shut down, using the less talking, more doing motto as a justification to undermine dialogue. I’ve also witnessed classmates remove themselves from fruitful discussions in order to ‘do’ something on their own, despite it fracturing the momentum of group progress. The more doing part of the phrase in this context is interpreted as the idea that doing something individually is more valuable than talking about something all together as a group.
MORE TALKING, MORE DOING
Healthy discussion deserves an equal place at the table. I don’t reject the value of visualization or the act of making, but I caution the blanket dismissal of dialogue in favor of making in every situation. The most productive group work sessions that I have experienced have married the two; when dialogue can include some form of externalization of ideas, be it lists or drawings, I’ve seen the most progress take place. We need to be cognizant of the roots of the phrase, less talking, more doing as an instruction intended to combat inertia and to instigate forward progress, and to change the phrase in other contexts to the motto more talking AND more doing.
As part of our coursework for Quarter 1, we have a studio drawing class that meets weekly on Saturdays. It’s important for us as designers to learn to visualize ideas and scenarios quickly and accurately. There will come moments where time is limited and we’ll need to present an idea that is immediately comprehensible, and the best way to do that is by drawing it.
The problem is, drawing is hard if you haven’t done it, and even if you have, it’s a skill that must be maintained like any other. We are supposed to draw every day (which I admit that I fail to do), to build up our fluency. While it’s difficult for me to put time aside to draw, I definitely see improvement when I’m more diligent about practicing and making multiple iterations of the same thing.
This week we’re focusing on drawing people, including bodies in space and motion, and individual faces. For this assignment, we’ve been asked to draw people in 5 different locations of our choice, using the perspective skills we worked on last week to complete a somewhat realistic scene. Most of the scenes that I chose were based on photos from Recycled Reads, a used bookstore that’s part of the Austin Public Library system, and the site of my current design research. I’m intentionally practicing drawing the people within the space so that when I need to communicate the research in the near future, I’ll have some experience to draw (!) from.
REFLECTIONS ON PROGRESS
What’s Working for Me:
I can see improvement from my first iterations to my second. I wish I had done a third, and fourth, and fifth, but I let time slip away from me. I also think you can get a sense of the people within the space, and the general action that’s happening, even if the perspective and proportions aren’t entirely accurate.
What’s Challenging Me:
The accuracy of hands and faces, particularly eyes and mouths. I’m trying to find a style that’s not too cartoonish but it’s not coming to me easily. I get the proportions wrong. I also overwork things. I draw a line I don’t like, so I draw over it darker. That’s worse. So I erase it. Even worse. So I draw over it again, still not right. It’s hard to move on. It’s frustrating to know what I want it to look like, especially since I’m using photographs as source material, but somehow my mind-eye-hand connection betrays me. I tend to start off a drawing session with pretty poor results, then get better within a few minutes. After a while my eyes and hands get tired and I start getting worse again. I know everything will get easier with practice but the progress is incremental. I think my main challenge, in drawing as in everything else we’re doing, is that I get lost in the details, and more often than not, the details don’t matter. I’ve just got to stop judging everything as I do it, and move on to the next iteration, where I can try again.