Lettuce Tell You Stories from the Field

*vegetable puns intended

Introduction

Over the past three weeks, we have been doing contextual inquiry interviews with the customers and staff of Lettuce meal delivery service. Contextual inquiry is essentially a way for researchers to get jalapeño business and observe your behavior and the context in which you interact with something. In our case, we wanted to visit the homes of Lettuce subscribers and conduct interview sessions to learn more about how the Lettuce service integrates into their lives.

Interview Recruitment

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Our first challenge was to figure out how to get strangers to invite us into their homes for an hour-long in-depth interview session in which we would interrogate them about their lives and relationship with food. Fortunately, Lettuce agreed to lettuce place recruitment fliers in the Lettuce delivery bags for one round of deliveries in early September and offer Lettuce credit in compensation for participants’ time.

With our recruitment pitch effectively delivered to our target audience’s kitchen table, we set up a corresponding Calendly, a scheduling tool, for prospective participants to visit to learn more and sign up for what we called a “feedback session”. Calendly integrated nicely with our team’s calendar such that we were able to customize our availability windows and request location details for the sessions. As participants signed up, we sent customized confirmation emails to confirm the home address and frame expectations for the upcoming interviews.

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Participant Interviews

After sending out flyers to 230 subscribers, we got a response back from about 30 people and then successfully scheduled a total of 13 subscribers for one-hour in-person interviews. The interviews were conducted at the participant’s kitchen or, if they preferred, a public space.

The interview started with a statement of consent, some general questions, and then a free-association exercise. Participants looked at 50 words and picked 12 words that they associate with meal prep then organized it into a positive and negative column and shared their thought. We started with this warm-up to give them time for self-reflection on how they interact with food. For some participants, this is the first time they are called on to give a detailed description of their behaviors about food; a topic which is routine and mundanely uninteresting. We want them to recall what their actual behavior is around food, not their ideal habits.

Then the second part was to reflect specifically on how Lettuce is integrated into their lifestyle and also gauge their home habits and tendencies. We showed them the ingredients from a Lettuce meal and asked them “what would you make if you did not have a recipe card?” We also asked about recipe cards and how they keep themselves organized. This usually transitioned naturally to the next part when we ask to look at their kitchen, recipe books, fridge, and pantry. The final two activities of the interview were to rank Lettuce’s seven principles and conduct a usability test of the Lettuce website interface.

Stories from the Field

Nia

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To start off our interviews, we did a word association activity to get our participants thinking about which words they might associate with “food” and “meal preparation”. When we offered one participant, Nia, this prompt, she immediately honed in on the word “clean”.

Nia shared a story of a time when she and her husband had very demanding work and school schedules. They were eating poorly and for convenience. She decided to turn things around and start a strict program kaled the “Clean Diet.” Nia wanted to track her success by weighing and measuring her body.

“..then I found out at a certain point because I was doing all
these measurements that I was pregnant. And it turned out I was six months pregnant!”

These sorts of accounts are important to our research because we believe that human stories are immensely powerful. Through these in-depth conversations, we were able to observe more of the details and nuances of our participants’ lives and their interactions with food.

Pat

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Pat is a longtime vegan and working father. We had plant for Pat a visual association activity to gain insights on how the subscriber feels about food and meal preparation. From Pat, we learned that routine is immensely important to keep life running smoothly for him, his wife, and their three-year-old son.

“After our son was born, I was like ‘oh my god, what do we do?’, because it was so chaotic. We were fine before our son was born, but now… we’re structured.”

One of the benefits of conducting these contextual inquiry interviews in participants’ homes of was that it made it much easier to learn about their lives and typical routines. Pat was able to show us his recipe books and meal planning artifacts that he and his wife use to keep themselves afloat as working parents trying to prepare healthy meals for themselves and their child.

Margaret

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We sat down with Margaret and did an “inspiration station” activity where she walked us through what meals she would prepare with a Lettuce delivery if there were no recipeas included. During our conversations, Margaret told us what her meal preparation used to look like:

“I used to go to the farmer’s market all the time. I used to plan meals for the week, look up all the recipes, write down the shopping list, go out and get what I needed… I used to do that all, but now I’m working in Lockhart. That’s an hour and a half of my day commuting every single weekday that I lost. How do I get that back?”

Margaret’s recent lifestyle change and new commute to Lockhart was what motivated her to become a new subscriber to the Lettuce meal delivery service. When she found out that there was a service that “#1 would do the planning for me and #2 would do the legwork for me?” She was hooked.

Valerie

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Valerie shared that the Lettuce plan that she is on is honestly too much food for her family. Her husband is more of a ‘meat and potatoes’ type of person and her teenage daughter prefers to heat up frozen “less healthy” foods, so Valerie shares some of her weekly Lettuce delivery with her neighbors. While Valerie would like to take advantage of the composting service that Lettuce offers, with her daughter’s frozen food taking up space in the freezer, it doesn’t leave mushroom to fit her own compost bin.

“They went above and beyond with the compost piece. Even though we don’t participate in it, that really impressed me and told me that these guys are for real.”

Since Valerie isn’t participating in the composting service and she has to coordinate with neighbors to make the deliveries work for her, we wondered what keeps Valerie around as a loyal Lettuce subscriber? What opportunity areas might exist to make the service work better for her needs?

Next Steps

These are exactly the sort of questions that we’ll be tackling next. Our team has been transcribing the audio and compiling the photos from olive our interviews because next, we will transition to the process of synthesis. Synthesis will allow us to identify patterns and themes from across our research with the goal of discerning opportunity areas for Lettuce. More on that later, loyal AC4D blog readers… until next thyme!

Let the synthesis begin

*vegetable puns intended

Co-designing government: innovation through design

When asked in theory class “how do you react to the concept of co-design?”, my first reaction was “wistful”. These past two weeks we have been reading the works of eight authors who each have a slightly different take on design’s place in the world. In this blog post, I will, in turn, offer my perspective on where these authors fall on the below spectrum of “designing for” people versus “designing with” people. To make this perspective a bit more interesting, I will additionally offer insights on whether these authors believe in the value of designing for – and/or with – the citizen versus the consumer.

Allow me to briefly explain why “wistful” was my first reaction. I am currently working for the City of Austin, and I’m on a team which does a significant amount of interfacing between the operations side of the department and the community which we serve. The concept of co-design is often used as an umbrella term for participatory and open design processes. As Jodi Forlizzi describes it, co-design is a sort of “collective creativity as it is applied across the whole span of a design process.” It encourages co-creation between companies and their consumers, but this concept may also be applied to governments and their citizens.

The City of Austin is currently working to scale its capacity to design and build services that grow and adapt to residents’ needs. This is fabulous, and makes me feel like I’m in the perfect place to be both working at the City and learning about how to design and build services. However, in government, there is always be room for growth, hence my gut reaction as we discussed the concept of co-design in a reading by Liz Sanders. This reaction made me think about the other authors that we’ve been reading lately, and whether the audience (or collaborators) that they hold in their mind when thinking about design leans more toward the “citizen” or the “consumer” side of the spectrum.

co-designing govt
Chris Le Dantec and Jodi Forlizzi were relatively easy for me to place. Chris recalled his methodology for including specific populations in his design process, so some might argue that he was designing “with” these populations then he should fall on the “with” side, yet I feel that since his aim was to design the product/service for that specific population, he should be staunchly on the “for” side of the scale. Since he focused on a population experiencing homelessness, I believe that Chris would agree that he was designing for citizens, as opposed to designing for consumers.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have Jodi who introduced us to product ecology, a design framework to help describe how products evoke social behavior. She falls squarely in the “designing with” camp, yet her main collaborators discussed in our readings were consumers of products, hence the placement on the below map. As mentioned before, Liz (who introduced us to the concept of co-design) is also on the “with” side of the scale and – while she mainly discusses designing with product consumers in our reading, she does point out that the co-creation process is valuable within communities, earning her a spot just barely tipped to the consumer’s side.

Bill Gaver was a curious case. His reading highlighted what he called “cultural probes” and the concept of designing for pleasure. Since this method stresses empathy and engagement to understand the people interacting with a product or service, he seems like he could be tipped to the citizen’s side of the scale, and yet it was often hard to decipher whether he was designing for, designing with, or simply designing with no real goals in mind. This ambiguity landed him at the center of the “for” and “with” scale. And, while we’re talking about curious cases, it feels appropriate to place Don Norman on the chart.

Don self-described his writings as “provocative”, and holds that design research is essentially useless when it comes to breakthroughs. Rather, he feels that it is the inventors and those who deal in technology that are truly innovative in the things that they create. Since he seems to believe that design should be based on the needs of the user instead of less important things like aesthetics, it isn’t a huge stretch to think he might prefer to design for citizens rather than consumers, but he doesn’t offer any insights to propel himself up and over that line in our reading.

Jane Fulton Suri outlined the importance of ethnographic research in today’s world. Since the context of her human-centered design framework was set in today’s marketplace, she falls more on the consumer end of the spectrum. However, Jane she does seem interested in designing for the true needs of people, so she may yet become a convert to design for citizens. We also read a piece by our school’s founder, Jon Kolko, and – since our program is focused on solving wicked problems through rigorous human-centered research – he earns himself a place higher on the designing for citizens scale.

Finally, the reading by Paul Dourish offered a pretty cerebral examination of the role of information technology in today’s world in the context of design. Rather than designing with humans, however, Dourish’s perspective often felt framed around the potential to design with technology as we move forward into the future. His article was written in 2004 – before the iPhone was invented – and yet it feels strangely prophetic as today’s technological world is ripe with ever-improving artificial intelligence advances.

In my attempt to place these authors I’ve realized that there is ample room remaining on the “designing with/for citizens” half of the chart, and I hope that this program helps to propel me into that space.

Failing forward

Our classmate Cristina shared a perspective in class the other evening that stuck with me. She mentioned how she felt that we are learning to fail fast, but also learning to fail forward. By now, we’ve now received critiques in all three of our classes and we’ve all discovered that we have ample room for improvement.

“In life, the question is not if you will have problems, but how you are going to deal with your problems. If the possibility of failure were erased, what would you attempt to achieve? … Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”

― John Maxwell, Failing Forward

Yesterday our Studio Foundation faculty member offered himself up as tribute for a live model speed sketching session. We surrounded him with our whiteboards and sketchpads and he struck various one-minute poses to offer us the chance to practice quick sketches.

Paticacture

While speed sketching, I discovered a) it’s super difficult for me to draw folks’ backs (and sometimes easier to focus on capturing the stool that they’re sitting upon) and b) with every sketch I learned. Something. And maybe got a smidgeon better. I know that I’m going to keep on failing fast in this program, but I’m also aiming to continue failing forward.

Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable

There are some things that I’m pretty comfortable with. Meeting new humans, gauging their comfort or discomfort, allaying fears and insecurities, building relationships… and yet, there are many more situations that we’ve experienced during the past three weeks that I’m far less than comfortable with.

The least comfortable experience for me to date has been putting a value upon and “selling” my work… before I’ve even begun to do it. I’m grateful to my group members and fellow classmates who have a stronger freelancing background and are far better at personal salesmanship than I.

I’m also super grateful to be working with some pretty sensational humans both here at AC4D and also within the partner organization that we selected for our first project. I’m learning a lot about myself and it’s thrilling to be working on [first understanding, and then] solving wicked problems together.

Here’s to many more uncomfortable experiences in the upcoming months! 🍻

A step-by-step guide to designing for change

Why do we integrate theory courses into this program? For our first assignment in our “Design, Society and the Public Sector” course, we read the works of five authors:

  • Edward L. Bernays: Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and The How
  • Maurizio Vitta: The Meaning of Design
  • Neil Postman: Informing Ourselves to Death
  • Victor Papanek: Rebel with a Cause, Design For the Real World
  • John Dewey: Experience & Education

These individuals each crafted arguments with varying levels of import depending on the perspective. For the purposes of this assignment, I have sketched a step-by-step guide to help us integrate their views into our path to learn how to design for social good.

Step one, Bernays. This “salesman of ideas” attempted to sell us on the power of persuasion in societal change. This is an important skill to master no matter what the situation, but his argument valued the power of the individual in lieu of considering the good of society, which landed him at the bottom of the below levels of learning to design for social good.

Maurizio Vitta delved into the relationship between society and the culture of its objects. In his piece, he reflected that each object that a society deems useful reflects right back on that society. He also warned of the potential for designers to become consumed by the practice of designing for its consumers in lieu of designing for design’s sake. From Vitta, we will learn to weigh the importance of objects in society.

What I would have given to have been a fly on the wall watching Postman try to teach the German Informatics Society the dangers of living in an information age. From Postman, we continue our journey of learning to design for social good and we take away that it’s imperative to consider the potential side effects and unintended consequences when we create.

Papanek’s works discussed the value of socially and ecologically responsible design, landing him near the top of this Mazlowian pyramid of designing for social good. He, too, warned us that design is dangerous and from Papanek we learn the importance of a designer’s ability to recognize, isolate, define, and solve problems.

The final step in our journey of learning to design for social good — for these past two weeks, at least — is Dewey who drew connections between progressive education and a robust democracy and argued that good education should have both societal purpose and purpose for the individual student. Framing his theory around understanding the nature of experience, Dewey encourages us to learn to understand the world around us today in order to design to solve the problems of tomorrow.

Morality first, design second

Blameless Postmortems

On the final day of my first week of AC4D, a friend introduced me to the concept of blameless postmortems. I’m sure that he wasn’t aware just how fitting and timely his article share was for me. Even after only seven days of class, I’m already certain that I will fail many, many times during the course of this program, and it is vital that I understand how an accident or failure occurred in order to better equip myself to prevent it from happening in the future.

“Some of the most valuable learning opportunities exist in the wake of failure, and those opportunities are often squandered.”

Blameless postmortems emphasize forward-looking accountability and encourage the “experts” of mistakes (read: those who have made mistakes) to turn into teachers and help turn errors into investments in the future. When things go wrong, these accidents contains valuable information and should be “seen as a source of data, not something embarrassing to shy away from”, said John Allspaw, Founder of Adaptive Capacity Labs and former CTO of Etsy.

I’m looking forward to having innumerable opportunities to learn from my mistakes over the next eight months and will leave y’all with this equally relevant short video courtesy of Spanx CEO Sara Blakely. “Failure for me became not trying versus the outcome,” Sara said as she fondly recalled a childhood tradition of sharing failures at the dinner table. “If there’s a ‘failure’ or an ‘oops’ in your life and if you learn from it and if you can laugh about it, then it’s all worth it.”

Working on a problem that is meaningful

My favorite moment today was watching AC4D alum Adam Chasen try to find the words to describe why—upon graduating from AC4D a few months ago—he had opted for his current path as a social entrepreneur bringing KeyUp to life, instead of a more cushy role with a corporation. Adam chose these words: “This is a real privilege to work on a problem that is meaningful. I’d never heard these terms combined, yet they make all the sense in the world together.

My most important takeaway was to never get too attached to a design idea until the concept has been fully validated and to prescribe equal weight to that idea’s validation or the lack thereof. I also learned that this process can be a lot more fun with really wonderful teammates, and so I’m offering our Tuesday morning team selfie up to the interwebs. Happy weekend and congrats on completing orientation, y’all!

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It’s not can we build it, but should we build it?

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Even though AC4D faculty member Emiliano Villarreal was teaching us about M.V.P. when he asked the class this question, it struck a chord with me. Much of the reason that I’m so excited about this experience is that we are learning the skills to help solve wicked problems. To me, this means that we’re trying to ensure that the programs, products, or services that we learn how to design will, in fact, do good.

I know Emiliano was talking about how it is important to validate that demand exists before investing in building something, but it reminded me to also consider how the unintended consequences of a well-intentioned product or service could quickly spiral less towards helping and more towards harming. I’m looking forward to getting out with my group and doing more user-testing and interviews tomorrow to help evaluate if we are on the right track towards designing something that actually should be built!

Creation through ideation

Is it too soon to have already found a favorite part of this process?

Today we took our field research data points, debated themes, crafted insights, and then the fun began. Ideation is, effectively, an improv-style brainstorming session where you allow yourself to say “yes, and” to every concept that comes to mind and then either build upon that or spin into another brainstorm.

I’m excited to see what develops out of this mess of green post-its tomorrow!

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Building empathy

During our first day of field research yesterday, it wasn’t hard for our group to relate to the gamut of sentiment expressed by the individuals that we interviewed. We heard perspectives ranging from a deep frustration with the public transit system and some of its pain points, to a goosebumps-evoking sense of pride felt by an interviewee recounting when she brought her nieces (now regular transit users) on their first bus trip. So, when are we called upon to actively build empathy?

I was most aware of working to emanate empathy during our interviews when an individual attempted to describe and justify their paranoia about technology, actively seeking positive affirmation and validation of their views from our group. I was conscious of arranging my face and body in an attempt to make the interviewee feel that I exactly understood, valued, and felt their fears… while secretly having personal flashbacks to a period of life where I worked hard to maintain a positive relationship with a family member whose religious and spiritual beliefs became largely divergent from my own. It felt akin to not wanting to hurt or stymie the individual’s vulnerability and openness — by letting on that you inherently feel differently — in an effort to draw out their most pure perspective and opinion.

Perhaps these moments elicited my most intentional reactions because the stretch to step into their shoes and see the world from their point of view felt the most challenging. If I have one goal by the end of this program, it is to master that stretch such that it no longer feels unnatural or constructed to slip into a mindset vastly different from my own… and, perhaps, uncover what it means to build empathy.