Aspiration dubs itself a “Financial Firm with a Purpose”. My favorite features are the ability to earn interest on my checking account balance, use any ATM in the world for free (because they don’t have any brick-and-mortars), and that I have the autonomy to decide how much I would like to pay Aspiration as their monthly service fee.
I began inventorying existing functionality by taking screenshots of each individual screen within my banking app. I found that over 80 separate screens with potential actions are possible within what I thought was a relatively simple and straightforward app! This is partly because Aspiration offers an investment component to its users which comes with the ability to buy and sell shares, adding an extra layer of complexity into the app’s functionality.
Next, I mapped out the functionalities in the below concept map:
I am overall relatively satisfied with the functionalities in my existing Aspiration banking app and would suggest only minor redesigns for the next iteration. First, while it was helpful to be able to view my personal info (name, address, phone number, etc.) from within the app, there was no functionality to edit that personal information, so I would add that feature.
Also, it would also be nice to have the ability to set alerts on my account balances, send notifications when transfers have completed, and create recurring payments from within the app. These are important functionalities to integrate in order to keep Aspiration competitive with today’s market.
Two months ago, Gerald, Cristina, and I partnered up with Lettuce, a local meal delivery service that aims to create a more sustainable, hyper-local food ecosystem. We set out to learn more about how the operation of Lettuce affects a subscriber’s relationship with food. By now, we have spent countless hours analyzing our research data to unearth recurring behavioral patterns, otherwise known as “themes”. By asking “why” about some of these patterns and interactions with food and the Lettuce meal delivery service, we have been able to synthesize deeper insights about human behavior.
In our recent blog post describing how Lettuce gets produce from “plant to porch”, we highlighted how increasing product lines decreases efficiency on the operations end. When the process is inefficient and deliveries run late, this affects the customer experience. One customer, Keegan, shared a story of a time when her Lettuce delivery arrived late: “One time it was almost 8 PM. I was like ‘forget this’, because that was going to be my meal for the night… I had to figure something else out.”
It is a very human thing to grow dependent on a service and, conversely, it can feel pretty terrible to be let down. Customers are relying on Lettuce to help put food on the table, and they must be able to trust Lettuce to deliver. Armed with this behavioral insight, how might we point out opportunities for Lettuce to strengthen and grow trust with its customers?
Another behavioral insight from our research involves the angst involved in meal preparation. Our workspace is inundated with quotes of individuals stressing about the various tasks involved in cooking and meal preparation, from procuring groceries to simply having the mental energy to cook a meal when one’s life is feeling particularly chaotic. We’re sure that no one in this program can relate to those feelings, right, classmates?
Keegan illustrated this perfectly in relation to her experience with Lettuce deliveries occasionally running late. She said, “Sometimes I’m ready to cook and by the time it gets here, I’m like ‘I’m exhausted’… and there goes the cooking time.” This sentiment rang true to us: if one isn’t both physically and mentally prepared to cook dinner by a certain point in the evening, then they pass a decision fatigue “tipping point” and are no longer inclined to cook their desired meal.
Studying these themes or behavioral patterns catapulted us towards the realization that meal preparation cultivates anxiety because people approach cooking as a chore, rather than a healthy habit or skill to hone. What might happen if we can help Lettuce to reframe how people think about cooking to perceive it not as a task but as a habit to hone?
Our next insight involves patterns of latent needs that our participants expressed through their behaviors and frustrations. It is essential to make a quick distinction about discussing the word “convenience” before we dive into how we arrived at our third insight. Our team acknowledges that Lettuce provides convenience with their food delivery, however, in the conventional sense of our food culture, “eating out of convenience” is generally associated with highly processed food with high caloric and poor nutritional value. The convenience associated with Lettuce is a healthy endeavor.
Our current food culture is a symptom of our work culture. Busy work schedules have driven the importance of shaving time from staple activities like cooking and eating. We now see behaviors that reflect people being distanced from a healthy relationship with food. We also see this behavior with parents attempting to accommodate their children with customized meals and allowing their children to make poor diet decisions.
Pat shared of his three-year-old son that “his favorite foods are bread, cheese, and fruit. He only likes some vegetables. Lettuce works with my wife and me, but our son… we usually do a variation.” We captured this behavior in the following statement: parents enable picky children which inhibits exploration of food. By catering to children’s professed palettes, parents are consequently stymying a world of new taste experiences.
We also heard over and over that people want to eat seasonally but underestimate the learning curve. This theme indicates subscribers’ willingness to try vegetables or fruits that they have never encountered before, but are inhibited by a lack of really knowing “what to do with it”. Since a large part of Lettuce’s mission revolves around encouraging people to eat seasonally to support the local food ecosystem, it’s important to acknowledge this knowledge gap.
Another theme or pattern that we witnessed was how cooking new foods takes mental energy. People stick with what they know, as inferred from subscribers defaulting to their easy meals when life gets rough. While we were visiting her house, Keegan even used these words to describe something in her pantry: “this is my go-to, my sad ‘not cooking’ meal”.
From these recurring themes:
Parents enable picky children which inhibits exploration of food.
People want to eat seasonally but underestimate the learning curve.
Cooking new foods takes mental energy. People stick with what they know.
We arrived at this insight:
The allure of convenience and choice has enabled parents and kids to form bad food habits. We must foster more exploration of and respect for food.
We believe this insight is valuable because it speaks to a latent need exhibited by the Lettuce subscribers and it helped us get a better understanding of the subscriber’s actual relationship with food. It also led us to wonder how can Lettuce foster more exploration of and respect for food?
While we were conducting our research, we looked at more than just the subscriber’s relationship with food. We also looked at how and why subscribers valued the Lettuce service. We learned that subscribers desire a sustainable lifestyle. For example, Maple is a student who lives in a small apartment complex and cannot compost. Maple studies landscape archeology and she knows the positive impact that composting has on the environment.
While subscribers do value the tangible service of composting, they are primarily motivated by the non-tangible aspect of living a zero waste lifestyle. One reason people like Maple make decisions around sustainability is that they are acutely aware that their individual actions can have an impact on the greater whole whether that be in their community, the environment, society, and so on.
This sustainability or “greater good” mindset is hard to shake. It makes it impossible to throw out a plastic Tupperware without lamenting that it will end up in the landfill. One succinctly stated reflection on sustainability that we heard during our research came from Margaret: “A lot of people probably don’t think about that. But for me, I can’t not think about it. Once you get in that mindspace you can’t get out of it.”
This leads us to our final behavioral insight that we would like to share with you: Subscribers operate from the mindset that their individual actions affect the whole. Lettuce should positively reinforce subscribers impact all throughout the experience. How can Lettuce bolster subscribers’ perception of a collective good?
As we move into the final stage of this research project, we will continue to reflect upon these opportunity questions. Pondering these challenges will guide our team in our journey to outline opportunity areas for Lettuce to grow, improve the service it provides to its customers, and strengthen the local food ecosystem. Until next time, blog readers!
Have you ever heard of “service slices”? We hadn’t either. Gerald, Cristina, and I have been working with Lettuce, a local meal delivery company, for the past six weeks with the goal of identifying key opportunity areas for the company. This process began with in-depth behavioral interviews with staff and customers alike and we’ve since been analyzing the research data that we collected through various lenses. We sifted through the data to identify a few key emerging themes and then refocused to start mapping out some of the behaviors that we observed during our research.
For the purposes of this assignment, our team would like to offer you a glimpse of how Lettuce operates from plant to porch. We mapped out a few of the key operations processes that culminate in the delivery of a Lettuce bag to the client: sourcing, assembly, and delivery. We examined several hours of our research data by creating what are called “service slices” in which we mapped out behavioral and informational interactions, inferred relationships of power and influence, and sketched out the location and objects involved in these interactions.
Lettuce strives to create a sustainable and hyper-local food ecosystem. In order to do this, Lettuce partners with a number of local farms and purveyors to source the ingredients that go into their weekly meal deliveries. By creating service slices examining this sourcing process through various lenses, we were able to identify a few bits of “low-hanging fruit” insofar as opportunities for Lettuce to streamline and make more dependable the sourcing process.
Once the ingredients have been sourced and delivered to Lettuce’s warehouse, they are ready to be assembled for delivery. During assembly, the packers are supervised by managers to ensure that all of the meal boxes are packed correctly into each delivery bag. We used the service slices to note a few key areas of frustration on the staff side during assembly. One manager noted that while Lettuce is striving to offer a variety of product lines for its customers and is ever-increasing the available meal options, this has a compounding effect on the efficiency of the assembly line.
After assembly, packers transition into the role of drivers for delivery. The delivery bags get divvied out amongst the drivers and routes assigned, and the drivers set out to make their deliveries. Similar to assembly, when things are running late or a driver calls in sick, this affects everyone’s delivery route. By mapping our data using these various service slice lens, we also noticed some really positive interactions between the operations staff which lend themselves to strong team cohesion.
Creating these service slices helped us to examine the operations side of Lettuce from a few different perspectives and glean observations which we hope will prove useful in the next step of our research process. We look forward to synthesizing insights and working towards providing Lettuce with areas of opportunity to enhance the services that they provide to the Central Texas area and beyond.
Over the past two months, many people have asked me why Austin Center for Design. As we’re now in the final week of the first quarter of the program, it feels like an appropriate time to reflect upon life events that led to my decision to attend using the context of the final set of readings in our Design, Society and the Public Sector theory course.
In retrospect, it’s easy to draw lines between the dots that have led me to where I am today. If you had asked me as I was graduating from college, however, where my career would lead then I would have had 20 different answers for you. In the same vein that Edward de Bono explained that self-organizing systems set up patterns, my career path feels perfectly logical in hindsight.
I earned my bachelor’s degree in something called cognitive science. It was effectively a bachelor of arts hodgepodged together with required course credit options spread across the disciplines of psychology, linguistics, philosophy, and neuroscience. Richard Buchanan might have asked if studying cognitive science undermined or contributed to my ability to solve complex problems, and I hope that my path ever since would indicate that it has helped.
I learned relatively early in my career the importance of considering the culture and needs of people living in a community before trying to design a solution for — or better yet, with — the locals. As Peace Corps volunteers, we were encouraged to learn from and study solutions that were already working in our communities (or “positive deviants”, as Jocelyn Wyatt would say) to try to model these best practices in our work.
In my current role at the City, I espouse to incorporate the viewpoints of a number of our latest set of authors in my daily work. I first became interested in working for the City of Austin because I learned about the Office of Innovation and Design Technology while managing a small startup coworking space. Since renamed to be the Office of Design and Delivery (ODD), this department focuses on integrating human-centered design to help the City better serve its citizens.
Taking a page from the “Case for Design Literacy” by Chris Pacione, ODD is working to educate City staff that design is not just for designers, but for anyone whose business is to create or lead something. This recognition that fostering design literacy among a staff can lead to a stronger public sector was what motivated me to apply for my current role facilitating code education and outreach.
Herb A. Simon might argue that community outreach is inherently an ill-structured problem. While well-structured problems have an initial state, goal state, and constraints clearly defined, my team has none of these. While we know that our overall purpose is to increase education and awareness of city codes, there is very little data to illuminate the initial knowledge state of Austinites, nor how exactly to quantify a goal state, nor a concrete definition of the parameters within which we must work (beyond budgetary constraints).
When Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber say in their article “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” that “the formulation of a wicked problem IS the problem”, it reminds me slightly of our team’s key performance indicators. How best can we measure success or progress when our mission and work might itself resemble a wicked problem? Do we monitor and record the number of community events attended each year? The number of code violations found by inspectors per year? Or the percentage of cases resolved by voluntary compliance? Each of these metrics and attempts to formulate ways in which we can measure progress toward a goal inherently tell only a small piece of the story.
Like any good fledgling design thinker, I will end with optimism. I would agree with Nigel Cross that “design ability” is possessed by everyone. I also appreciated Simon’s perspective that solving ill-structured problems requires the acquisition of and use of expertise of context-specific knowledge. In each role that I’ve had in my career, I’ve learned more and more about myself and the world around me. I’ll combine this perspective with Wyatt’s statement that “one of the biggest impediments to adopting design thinking is simply the fear of failure”.
When Scott asked our class “what does fear of failure mean to you?”, my instinctual response was “lack of experience”. By this, I think I meant that the more life experiences I have, the less I fear failure and rather look forward to new challenges and opportunities. So, why design? Or, more specifically, why Austin Center for Design? I’m drawn to this program because it pushes me to stretch my limits and learn more about myself and the world around me. And hopefully, in doing so, I will be setting myself up today to help solve the wicked problems of tomorrow.
When learning any new software, you can bet that you’ll experience a learning curve. Our studio assignment this week was to digitize our sketches from the previous week’s assignment.
Pat offered us a number of approaches to use depending on the time, quality, and flexibility allowed for each project. This resonated with me because—if life continues at this rate—time will always be limited in the upcoming months and it’s crucial to be comfortable creating both high- and low-fidelity renderings depending on resources available for any given project.
For the purposes of this assignment, it was time to dive into Adobe Illustrator. I needed to push myself to attempt high-fidelity renderings of my original sketches, as I know that is a skill that I will need to master to become a successful designer. Throughout the week our class quickly learned which of us were most adept at teaching Adobe products (go Gerald!) and we discovered just how long it takes to translate a sketch into a high-fidelity digital rendering.
After some long hours and late nights in the studio chipping away at the learning curve while discovering digitization of curves (and layers!), I feel like I’m planting the right seeds to grow towards mastery of this stuff.
Over the past three weeks, Gerald, Cristina, and I 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.
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.
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
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 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.
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 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?
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!
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! 🍻
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.”
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!
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!