Capturing More Than the "What": A Reflection on Participatory Interviews

Last week Diana and I connected with CSA members to learn about how they made decisions when preparing food. Our method of research was called a participatory interview. This method involved discussing the topic with the participant and leading them through a creative activity called an Experience Canvas. During this exercise the participants chose word and image stimuli from a collection we provided in order to reflect upon their ideal experience.

There were many aspects of the interviews that went extremely well. The scheduling with the participants was straightforward and we easily found times that worked for everyone involved. We were also very successful in clearly communicating the intent and procedure to our participants as indicated by their ease of understanding the different stages of the interview. The participants themselves were excellent to work with as they were very friendly and agreeable. They both were very willing to discuss and reflect aloud which resulted in an interview that proceeded efficiently and within the optimal range of interview time.

The canvasing activity was enjoyable for all involved. In fact, the participants indicated that they found the activity to be very useful in helping them crystallize their thoughts around the topic. One participant even indicated that he might want to use the activity as a tool for future thought processing. The participants chose stimuli with confidence and could coherently articulate why they selected them. We had to artificially speed up one interview mainly because the participant could relate almost every piece of stimuli to his beliefs in a meaningful way.

However, there were many aspects of the interviews that could be improved upon. As note taker, I believed I was capturing sufficient notes during the interviews. However, I later discovered that my notes were extremely vague and failed to provide complete thoughts and references to the context of certain ideas. Many times I wrote down the “what” while failing to record the “why”. Also, there were several instances where I failed to identify the specific stimuli that the participant was discussing which lead to confusion and frustration during the later synthesis process.

Diana also saw several things she would do differently as the discussion facilitator. The participants were enthusiastic enough on their own that she let them take the lead too often, sometimes forgetting, in her enjoyment of the conversations, to do the actual work of moderating. To avoid this problem in future she would ask more probing questions that would explore the “why” behind the participants beliefs and values. She would also be more assertive in asking to see mentioned artifacts, and being sure to document them. During the canvas activity, she would lead her participants to elaborate further or clarify their stimuli selections by encouraging them to write directly on the canvas.

Upon reflection, we both realized that the main component missing from our interviews was a sincere curiosity about our participant’s choices and values. We identified closely enough with our participants that we took too many things for granted and would constantly assume that we knew what the participant was talking about without requesting clarification or asking for an applicable story. For example, one participant stated that he he did not appreciate his food being bland and predictable. We recorded the idea and moved on with the interview without even bothering to ask why he thought these things, or what bland and predictable meant to him. The lack of understanding behind these beliefs resulted in the data being essentially useless to our later synthesis.

Overall, we managed the structure of the interview fairly well but missed the frequent opportunities to reach a deeper level of inquiry. As our confidence in our research abilities improve we hope to become more aware of those opportunities for insight and develop the skills we need to capture them.

App Prototyping, Round 2

This time, a video demo of the app formerly known as ‘Community Cooks,’ currently known as the Johnson’s Backyard Garden (one of the local CSAs) ‘Fresh Ideas Exchange’. The animations have somehow gotten lost in conversion; working on figuring that out. In the meantime, voilà:

App demo video

App demo page

Prototyping Week Two: Everyday Chef is now Burger Me

To recap, the past few weeks we’ve been creating business models and mobile prototypes based on themes we discovered during our first few weeks of research. My initial business idea involved empowering individuals to establish their own nano-enterprises by developing a platform allowing “normal people” with cooking skills to sell their dishes. It was called Everyday Chef.

Last week I spent about 20 hours creating the intro sequence of slides that allowed someone to register to become an Everyday Chef. During my conversation with Justin, he drew the Facebook icon right in front of me and said, “I’ve just solved all your problems.”

My attempt to stick it to the man is over. Facebook you are now a non-negotiable in our digital existence. Please be careful.

Also, my classmates and professors challenged me to “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.” They suggested I focus on one specific food and set one price point.

So what is one meal that most people love and is really hard to mess up?…HAMBURGERS!

I’m still wrestling with how this fits with my values surrounding obesity prevention, but the concept of empowering individuals to turn unused skill sets into a commodity that can be sold is intriguing. I think it could ultimately lead to building stronger local economies, cultivate stronger communities, and provide supplemental income to those that need it.

But for now, I’ll just stick to burgers.

Prototype video below, enjoy!

Empowering the Bottom of the Pyramid.

(This piece was a co-creation between myself and the sachet toting Samir Rath, in response to the question of how the nature of designed culture has changed due to the increased presence of, ubiquity, and acceptance of technology; furthermore, we were asked to describe the differences between applying this technology in the US, as compared to in a developing country.)

Technology has become ever more pervasive in our daily lives, both in intensity and in reach. As a result, the world has become increasingly interconnected, both physically through the development of trade and transportation links, and virtually through social networks and increased communication capacity. However, there are four billion people living under an annual income of $3,000 (in local purchasing power terms) that have yet to be introduced to commonplace technologies that we take for granted. These individuals comprise the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP), and are now being targeted as a $5 trillion market by international marketing groups. We are extremely concerned that under the rhetoric of current business models, most of their strategies represent nothing more than veiled attempts to “sell to the poor”, as though simply turning the poor into superficial consumers will address the fundamental problems of poverty and sustainable development. We proceed to argue that the key is to increase accessibility of technology to the BOP section in developing countries, empowering them to direct their own experiences based on their own aspirations, and thus enabling them to improve their own lives.

Increased presence and acceptance of technology in our lives has changed the nature of our economy from crafts, to industrial production, to the information or digital age, and now to a possible conceptual economy. Thus the stage is appropriately set for an unprecedented scale for impact of ideas by leveraging technology through current innovative and intuitive approaches, while increasing the reach of solutions globally. For example, mobile technology has become an observable technological part of our lives in both developed and developing countries, which will be used as a foundation for the conceptual economy to grow on. Billions of people who were completely excluded from the formal economy and lacked a connected identity are today on the grid and can access information instantaneously. Global mobile connections have increased more than five times in the last 10 years to a staggering 6.3 billion connections. Although penetration is still lower in the developing world, emerging Asia currently accounts for almost half of all connections worldwide.

In addition, social networks and social media have become tools that hugely amplify our reach and accessibility to information, creating increased global interdependence and interconnectivity. We are currently seeing a phenomenon of news publishing businesses losing relevance as social networks start communicating important events in more accessible forms. Recent events, such as Steve Jobs passing away or the Bastrop wildfires in Austin, were both viral on twitter before major news networks caught on. This phenomenon is not only limited to the developed world as with increased Internet penetration, most of the developing world is also plugged in. In an infographic, Ian Wojtowicz from FlowingData brilliantly visualized Facebook’s coverage worldwide by overlaying it on NASA’s map of earth at night showing human habitation.

Increasing the connectivity in the developing world through social media outlets, such as Facebook, will create great opportunities for positive impact on the lives of billions of people. As Malcolm Gladwell said, “Poverty is not deprivation, it is isolation.”  For the first time, people living in poverty will be able to reach others that have previously been beyond their physical reach for interactions in business or pleasure. They have access to information for any service/product they desire and can make more informed decisions about how they want to use their limited resources. It is enabling individuals to participate in conversations and transactions that were previously reserved for only those who were physically present. Contemplating Clay Shirky’s observation that “when we change how we communicate, we change society,” can lead us to the reasoning that technological tools of communication, such as the mobile phone example, can provide a cure against isolation and poverty. This is contrary to privacy issues resulting from the advent of technology and social media that concern Paul Dourish and Danah Boyd, where it is imperative to protect individual boundaries, but in the BOP context social networks and mobile technology are providing people of poverty with a sense of identity and independence for the first time. They feel more included and accessible, not exposed and vulnerable.

Multiple corporations, with Unilever and P&G at the forefront, started modifying their products to sell to these poverty-stricken groups following CK Prahalad’s introduction of profitable business models that focused on BOP. Rather than understanding the context and culture, the strategy of engagement with BOP has largely been very expansionist, viewing them as an untapped market with very little competition compared to mature markets. What is really appalling is that most of such interventions have been disguised as altruistic or as improving the quality of life of the target users/consumers. As an example, hygiene products like shampoo and soap have been made available in affordable, individual packets, and companies like P&G have claimed that they have improved the quality of life by providing multiple options and enabled people in slums to have a healthier life. However, no rigorous studies have been done on the impact of the introduction of millions of plastic packets in environments, such slums with no capacity to recycle or remove the garbage created by introduction of such new products. This claim of improving quality of life by providing more options subtly avoids an underlying fundamental conflict. Poverty cannot be reduced by simply refocusing BOP as new consumers for existing products, they are in need of new products and unique solutions tailored to their culture. Similarly, while designing such solutions we need to be cognizant of Neil Postman’s analysis stating that the same technology has “liberated information into a deluge of chaos,” as apparent with the obscene number of American billboards, newspapers, magazines, periodicals, televisions, and radios; making application of information to solving future problems exceedingly challenging.

Such experiences involving misappropriated services and overwhelming product/information options become inhibitive and do more harm than good. What we feel should be done is to introduce technology as a tool, and let the use of that technology evolve in the context of the public it is introduced to. Such a process can be immensely empowering, building reinforcing positive experiences. As an example, ITC e-choupals provided farmers in rural India with information about current and derivatives prices of various commodities in the market, thus enabling them to make better decisions about which crops to grow to match the need of the consuming population. The government of India combined with a UK based company, DataWind, just designed and released a US$35 tablet which supports web-browsing and video conferencing, and plans to distribute 10 million units over the next few years. Devices with such capacity will enable BOP to design their own use and experience based on their needs and aspirations. Initiatives, such as mobile-based e-Government in Sri Lanka, aspire to empower citizens without access to citizen services before and eventually provide them with a voice in the nation’s democracy, which goes beyond the ballot box.

We are at a pivotal position where we can positively impact the lives of a population that previously could not participate in the global economy or benefit from advances in human society. To do so, we believe corporations need to utilize new business models, including design thinking in the development process, to better understand the BOP public. Introduction of new technology, products, and services in an innovative and contextual manner will enable the users to create their own experience to address the unique problems they face, resulting in empowerment and a greater standard of living.


Designing for "Deep Interactions"

Position paper #3 for IDSE 102 – Design, Society and the Public Sector, by Jonathan Lewis & Diana Griffin.

Experiences are important. They teach us what is right and what is wrong. They shape our beliefs and our preferences; they make us who we are and who we will become. Experiences can lead to growth or destruction. This premise should spark little contention, but we begin here because we believe that its implications are significant when played out in full. Consider the theory of John Dewey, in which experience is defined as the interplay between internal and objective conditions in a given situation. Experiences exist in continuity, building upon each other, leading always to growth, change or reinforcement, whether positive or negative. Because experiences have such pervasive effects, it is vital that we—in the collective and individual sense—examine the questions, “What are we experiencing?” and “How are we affecting what others are experiencing?”

So, what are we experiencing? To answer that question, we must look at the interaction between external and internal conditions that make up experiences. While internal conditions are unique to every individual, external conditions are, on a broad level, shared by all within a common culture. In our culture, where some digital device or technology is always within arms reach, most experiences are in some way influenced by digital technology. What effect does this have? In his speech to the German Informatics Society given in 1990, Neil Postman argues that technology has brought a bombardment of information of such relentlessness that ultimately we have become indifferent towards everything. He asserts that with millions upon millions of sources of information available to us, our foundational understanding of what should cause surprise, fear, sadness, excitement or joy is warped. He calls upon his audience to care less about information and more about things that matter, stating:

“There is no denying that the most prominent uses of computers have to do with information…The computer is an answer to the questions, how can I get more information, faster, and in a more usable form? But now I should like to put some other questions to you that seem to me more reasonable… If you and your spouse are unhappy together, and end your marriage in divorce, will it happen because of a lack of information? If your children misbehave and bring shame to your family, does it happen because of a lack of information? If someone in your family has a mental breakdown, will it happen because of a lack of information?”

In the two decades since Postman posed those questions, the pervasiveness of digital technology expanded, and designers and technologists came to recognize the reality of the information overload Postman described. To help navigate this ever-widening sea of information, many designers are turning to experience or interaction design as new approaches, hailed for their ability to humanize technology. By focusing on the human experience to create things that are: learnable, memorable, efficient, satisfying, poetic, beautiful, and usable, these emerging disciplines are expected to help us solve the problem of managing the constant flow of information around us. Now, we find that things created to facilitate this human-technology dialogue—in other words, interactions—are now everywhere. In short, ‘interaction’ is the new ‘information’. Consider your everyday experience of technological interactions, or take ours as an example: as we write this paper, one of us has 38 internet browser tabs and 14 computer programs currently open, while the other is conducting a one-minute experiment to see how many browser tabs can be opened on a 13-inch laptop; the result is over one hundred. Each of those tabs and programs offers a multiplicity of different interactions, and those are only on one device. We could also look at smartphones for another example; there are over 6000 applications in the productivity category of Apple’s App store—most of them created to help us manage the overwhelming number of interactions in our day-to-day lives.

Today, rather than “informing ourselves to death” (the title of Neil Postman’s 1990 speech), we are now interacting to death. Taking the above quote from Postman and substituting the word ‘interaction’ for ‘information’ yields equally valid questions:

“… If you and your spouse are unhappy together, and end your marriage in divorce, will it happen because of a lack of interaction? If your children misbehave and bring shame to your family, does it happen because of a lack of interaction? If someone in your family has a mental breakdown, will it happen because of a lack of interaction?”

You may see these questions and think, “Yes.” But rather than a lack of any interaction, such interpersonal breakdowns are usually due to a lack of a specific kind of interaction, and may be exasperated by the ubiquitous presence of other, negative kinds of interaction. If interactions are the molecules of experience, and our experiences are as often as not mediated by technology (at least in the culture within which we are writing), we must ask, what kinds of interactions are we facilitating when we create new technologies, and how do we facilitate interactions that don’t lead to breakdowns? What kinds of interactions lead to a life focused on the things that matter?

In an effort to create products, services, and systems that cultivate the right kind of interaction, the field of interaction design has turned to ethnographic methods to gain an understanding—or a “thick description,” as Clifford Geertz terms it—of users’ needs. Ethnographic methods originated in fields such as anthropology and have been modified by designers and “design thinkers,” as Jocelyn Wyatt names the interdisciplinary participants in the resulting collaborative design process. Such processes are developed to empower users by intimately involving them in creating solutions to the problems that affect them. The assumption is that if the people who will be affected by the design are involved in the creative process, they will direct the designer to create the appropriate kind of interaction for their situation.

These methods are not without flaws, though. One problem we see with this approach to design is that it still operates within the same value structure that created the problems it attempts to solve—in our culture, the value structure that believes that helping us manage the flotsam of interactions we find in a sea of information is the most helpful solution. We are not arguing against the use of ethnographic methods in design; these methods are invaluable for bridging the gap of understanding between the designers and the people affected by their designs. However, well-implemented ethnographic methods may just as easily have led to the creation of one of the 6,000 productivity applications available for your iPhone as to the creation of a truly meaningful and necessary design solution.

To create the right kinds of interactions, designers must have a strong understanding of the kind of interaction they are striving for and this understanding must transcend and sometimes trump information gathered using ethnographic methods. In a recently published article, Bruce Nussbaum claimed that, “ethnography is too shallow for what we now need. We need to go much deeper into the historic context and wider into the lateral connections of people in society.” We posit that such a depth of understanding leads to the kind of interactions designer should strive to facilitate—what we call deep interactions.

This concept of a deep interaction is grounded in the recognition that humans are finite beings whose cognitive, emotional, and physical faculties can only be directed towards a limited number of things. The framework for deep interactions is most clearly understood when viewed against what we consider to be shallow interactions. The following are comparative statements chosen to help assist in understanding the nature of a deep interaction:

  • Doing fewer things better. Whereas shallow interactions focus on enabling people to do more things (managing their multiple to-do lists, for example), only so more interactions can take place.
  • Enabling reactive emotionss. Whereas shallow interactions lead to a numbing of emotional reactions, making it difficult for individuals to experience surprise, joy, fear and sadness.
  • Focusing on local. Whereas shallow interactions focus on making infinite global connections, deep interactions focus on knowing and caring about individuals and the environment around you.
  • Encouraging mindfulness. Whereas shallow interactions lead to tasks being performed mindlessly, deep interactions lead to mindfulness of what you are doing.
  • Prioritizing thoroughness. Whereas shallow interactions make speed a priority, deep interactions make thoroughness a priority.

To illustrate how interactions can be viewed with an understanding of deep interactions, we will compare two of Google’s mobile platforms: Google Orange, an SMS application popular in Africa and the Middle East, and Google App for the iPhone.

Google for iPhone
Owners of Google’s iPhone application can access most of the features of Google’s online offerings at close to broadband speed. These include but are not limited to search, Gmail, reader, news, documents, calendars, and maps.

  • Doing fewer things better vs. more things easier
    – No: Gmail allows for multiple email accounts to be added at the same time, and gives notifications when a new email is received, enabling people to manage more and more accounts and relationships. Additionally, calendars allow for the scheduling of a day down to the minute.
    – Yes: Documents allow for the creation of one artifact that can be worked on collaboratively eliminating the need for time spent creating many versions of something.
  • Enabling Reactive Emotions vs. Numbing of Emotions
    – No: Google reader and google news contribute to the information/interaction overload that causes people to be jaded about all that is going on in the world to the point where nothing is surprising and nothing leads to action.
    – Yes: Users have the option to limit what they read through lists and filters.
  • Focusing on Local vs. Global
    – No: GChat treats users that are 3,000 miles away the same as users who are 3 feet away.
    – Yes: Maps allow individuals to navigate their local environment.
  • Encouraging Mindfulness vs. Mindlessness
    – Mindless: Google has a picture search that allows users to take a picture of something and search for it online, running the risk allowing individuals to gain most of their knowledge through visual picture searches.
    – Mindful: Google allows users to turn notifications off allowing them to be in the present.
  • Prioritizing Thoroughness over Speed
    – Thoroughness: Google searches are incredibly thorough.
    – Speed: Google prioritizes things for you in their searches.

Google Orange
Google Orange is a partnership between Google and the French telecom company Orange. It allows SMS phone subscribers in parts of Africa and the Middle East to access Google Services. One of the main features is conducting Google Chat conversations using text messages. Users will be given a certain amount of free text messages per month as an incentive to using this service.

  • Doing fewer things better vs. more things easier:
    – More: More text messages could lead to more individuals and relationships that need attending.
    – Fewer: SMS access to Gmail could allow for better communication in jobs previously unavailable to people without internet access.
  • Enabling Reactive Emotions vs. Numbing of Emotions
    – Numbing: Google news and Gmail could cause users to become jaded about current events.
    – Normal: Users have the option to limit what they read through lists and filters.
  • Focusing on Local vs. Global
    – Global: Google Chat treats users that are 3,000 miles away the same as users who are 3 feet away.
    – Local: Text messages allow for users 1 mile away to easily connect with each other if transportation is not available.
  • Encouraging Mindfulness vs. Mindlessness
    – Mindless: SMS enabled chat often takes a significant amount of time causing users to perpetually have their face buried in their phones.
    – Mindful: Google allows users to turn notifications off allowing individuals to be in the present.
  • Prioritizing Thoroughness over Speed
    – Thoroughness: Google searches are incredibly thorough.
    – Speed: Google prioritizes things for you in their searches.

These two examples illustrate the point that whether a product, service or system will lead to a deep interaction is oftentimes ambiguous. Yet the answer to this question is vital to the world that we continue to create through the experiences that we influence with our technologies. It must be our goal as designers to create things that lead to deep interactions, ultimately leading to positive life- and culture-shaping experiences.


Dewey, John. “In Need of a Theory of Education.” Education and Experience. 1938.

Postman, Neil. “Informing Ourselves to Death.” Speech to the German Informatics
Society. Stuttgart. October 11th, 1990.

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. 1978.

Wyatt, Jocelyn and Tim Brown. “Design Thinking for Social Innovation.” Stanford Social Innovation Review. Winter 2010.

Nussbaum, Bruce. “Want to Know More About Bruce Nussbaum’s Creative Capitalism? Read On.” Fast Co. Design. October 12, 2011.

Technological Multiplicity and the Obscene

(the ‘scene’; Wagner’s Ring Cycle)


Growing advancements, amplification, and social integration with technology have supported increasingly ill-defined and obscure power structures. This departure from clearly defined boundaries and codes of ethics require designers to engage with their subjects by reversing traditional designer-client relationships, taking on the role of the student, and inhabiting their subjects’ cultural frame of reference.

Legitimacy and Clarity of Power:

The growing acceptance and integration of technology has moved power into the hands of more people. This lack of a centralized and unified power in favor of more disseminated forms brings into question the legitimacy of power in general.

Zigmut Bauman argues the transition of power is being made from the ‘scene’ to the ‘obscene’ by the movement towards a less clearly defined and legitimate power. Bauman describes the ‘scene of power’ as as space for the performance and reification of social codes “…where mystery plays and morality tales are repeatedly staged… rehearsing for public consumption the unshakable and eternal truths of the human condition.” Furthermore, the increasing reliance and integration of technology furthers what Jean Baudrillard describes as the ‘obscene’, or ‘loss of scene’, whereby the multiplicity of information lacks the traditional hierarchy of importance. “Obscenity begins precisely when there is no more spectacle, no more scene, when all becomes transparence and immediate visibility, when everything is exposed to the harsh and inexorable light of information and communication” (Baudrillard, 130).

Power struggles tend to be waged as legitimacy wars. In a globalized world where information is hyper-apparent and yet difficult to parse, we are constantly questioning power-relations. Niel Postman delves into the history of power relations, illustrating the clear regard for authority in the Middle Ages. During this period, people “…believed in the authority of their religion, no matter what.” This ‘scene’ of power was clearly defined by the church and the monarchy. While there were certainly many mysteries to life in the Middle Ages, there was consensus in rigid obedience, and never was the structure of power in question. “Having power means that the other side is being forced into obedience. If that force is legitimate, it does not feel like coercion, obedience can be safely expected, and resistance is an exception” (Bauman, 284). Boundaries in this paradigm are clear, and suffering was to be expected and accepted. Postman argues that today we instead believe in the authority of scientific progress. Within this paradigm, the very notion of unquestioning acceptance goes against the fundamentals of the scientific method.

“…the world in which we live is very nearly incomprehensible to most of us.”

This transition towards the obscene can be illustrated through the invention of the microscope. Where once our understandings of boundaries were mitigated by the boundaries of what is visible to the naked eye, the microscope allowed us to peer into the worlds inside worlds, leaving us wondering if we are all not gods of some kind. This advancement in technology marks a significant physical separation that we have undergone by adding an infinite set of invisible layers between our understanding of ourselves. When we made the move away from the singular power structure of the church and an isolated cultural worldview, through advancements such as the microscope or the printing press, we lost a unified moral framework from which we could determine consensus around what was good and evil. “In a world without spiritual or intellectual order, nothing is unbelievable; nothing is predictable, and therefore, nothing comes as a particular surprise” (Postman).

Amplification of Technology – At What Cost?

An element of this dissolving singularity, Postman would argue, is the progression towards infinite expansion rather than for cohesion. Technological proliferation may produce a more efficient culture, but likely not a happier culture as individuals become increasingly socially isolated. Boyd confesses having a hunch that the “…stream of social information gives people a fake sense of intimacy.” Furthermore, Evans states that the proliferation and dependence on technology “further de-contextualizes human experience by emphasizing information over understanding”. This power allows us the freedom, but at the risk of losing the strength of physical interpersonal relationships, memory, and nuanced social cues. Postman points out that technological advancement is “always a Faustian bargain: Technolgy giveth and technology taketh away, and not always in equal measure”. As designers and entrepreneurs, we must take on a more dynamic and dialectic response to negotiating the technological boundaries that are in constant flux.

Democracy Must be Dynamic and Dialectic.

Democracy must take on a dynamic and dialectic mode of representation if it hopes to maintain the perception of legitimacy in the eyes of the people. The Supreme Court is mandated to interpret the Constitution relevant to modern context. If the people are to believe that their elected officials have their vested interests in mind, they must have trust that there is a certain public armature that is willing to support their interests. More importantly, the perception must be that this power is flowing primarily in one direction; from the people towards the representatives. However, our perception of this flow of power is increasingly in constant upheaval, teetering on the edge of legitimacy, and therefore very often constituting the ‘obscene’. For privacy to function in this a democracy the representative, or armature of the people must be dynamic in understanding a multiplicity of ways in which people now interact socially and technologically. Dourish suggests that “privacy regulation is a dynamic, dialectic, negotiated affair. Technology itself does not directly support or interfere with personal privacy; rather it destabilizes the delicate and complex web of regulatory practices.” What results should be a balancing act, not a set of rules that are to be applied across the board. We must engage in the dynamic process according to our modern context; “when there is a definitive; there’s always an exception to the definitive that makes sense” (Dourish)

What This Means for the Role of the Designer?

As designers and policy-makers we must contextually understand these changing boundaries from multiple perspectives, and in an ever-changing way. “‘Ours are times of transition’ means: the old structures are falling apart or dismantled, while no alternative structures of equal institutional hold are about to be put in their place. It is as if the moulds in which human relationships had been poured to acquire shape have now been thrown, themselves, into a melting pot” (Bauman, 284). Without these traditional moulds, the patterns and boundaries of relationships “become as suspicious as they are uncertain and vulnerable, “open to becoming “endlessly disaggregated, remixed and redistributed” like nodes.

Postmodern psychology has proposed that there is no ego, that we’re made up of a multiplicity of elements. In fact, “This fluid multiplicity of personality is what gives us our flexibility and resilience” (Evans). The more boundaries we uncover, the more ‘Rococo’, obscene, or ill-defined our integration with technology becomes, the more we must rely on both the micro and the macro perspectives. Because our awareness has expanded to include many divergent cultures and value systems at once, we must keep an eye on a peripheral view by considering sustainability, the true value of resources, and the meaning of scale in everything we design. However, for maximal beneficial social impact, we must first consider the context in which we are working at the most local level. This flies in the face of traditional modes of thought around “creative genius” and “visionary thinking”. While there will always be acceptance of autocratic design as part of the traditional methods of top-down economic business models, these types of methods will never engage in supporting or empowering financially, geographically, or socially outlying communities. Despite thinking the recent perception that access to choice leads to better quality of life, this is essentially the myth of democracy; that ‘free markets’ and more options do anything but strengthen the passive role of the consumer. Evans states that “we are given the illusion of liberty, but that is simply the freedom to choose between brands of mass-produced products.” While the freedom to participate in choices within the dominant globalized value system is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s dangerous to presume that it’s an empowering act. As designers we can do a better job of understanding the unique cultural frameworks of clients, reversing the traditional model of student-teacher towards a student-co-creator relationship.


The ‘obscene’; Waaaaaaat?


by Cheyenne and Ben  :-)


Wireframing DinnerShare!

Our recent endeavors have been to prototype our first iterations of a mobile app for our business ideas, and run three people through the wireframes. These poor individuals were then tasked with rating their experience based on ease of use. I probably confused the heck out of a few people, but here’s what resulted from the third and final user test…

And here are my wireframes!


Quick & Dirty Business Model, Pitching and Prototyping

The Task, Part 1: Looking at the findings from our initial stage of research, pinpoint a problem area and develop a business idea that solves it. Ben and I had visited and observed local CSA farmers at work for our research, and one problem that had come up was the difficulty of recruiting new CSA members, due to the barriers people perceive around cooking with CSA produce – not knowing how to cook and otherwise use up all those vegetables every week.

My Solution: Community Cooks, a CSA-based cooking school in which the weekly classes are focused around the produce in that week’s CSA box. People signing up for a CSA could add on cooking classes with their subscription (either a full session to match the length of their subscription or a short session for the first month of their subscription), and people interested in trying a CSA could also try out the cooking classes by paying a drop-in price. The instructors would be recruited from the more-experienced cooks among the CSA membership, and would be paid per class taught. Check it out in more detail in the PDFs below:

Community Cooks pitch (PDF)

Community Cooks business model canvas (PDF)

The Task, Part 2: In class last week, we had a surprise trip to the farmer’s market to test our our pitches on real people. We went around the market in pairs and threes, approaching people and asking them to judge our pitches. Over the course of the morning we got a lot of practice with on-the-spot presentation skills, and learned mighty quickly to cut to the chase and be clear and concise and on-topic (although that is still easier said than done). Watch one of my pitches below:

The Task, Part 3: Our follow-up homework this week was to adapt/develop our business idea into a mobile app, create a digital prototype, and test it on at least 3 people. After a lot of rough sketches on paper, talking it through, and scribbling some more, I settled on an adaptation of the original Community Cooks idea to fit the context of a mobile app. Instead of cooking lessons, the app facilitates finding and sharing recipes based on local food. It has a focus on products and produce from local farms, which the farmers can update when things are harvested. When it came to digitizing the prototype and getting into the more formal testing style, I had a chance to refine the features based on each person’s feedback and reactions to the app. See a video of the latest test, and check out the full PDF prototype below:

Community Cooks app prototype (PDF)

Some thoughts on the process thus far:

1) Ideas are fun. Business ideas are hard. It’s one thing to come up with the grain of an idea as a potential solution to a problem, it’s another thing to flesh it out into a business idea, and it is a whole ‘nother thing to actually consider it in terms of viability and think about things like costs and revenue, distribution, and resources. My eyes actually glazed over a bit just typing that sentence. These are not things I’ve every really turned my mind to before, and it has been ridiculously intimidating and challenging trying to get my head around even approaching this kind of thinking. At the beginning of this quarter I posted about how I was setting out to embrace the idea of entrepreneurship, but embracing the actual gritty, grimy details of it is going to be the real challenge for me.

2) Ideas are fun. Talking about ideas is hard. Short and sweet still doesn’t come easily for me, and will take a lot of practice, rethinking, and revising, over and over and over.

3) Ideas are fun. Sketching ideas is fun, too. Stopping myself from going too high-fidelity, too fast (like, the second I touch a computer) is hard. I think I missed a lot of opportunity for feedback on the barebones idea of my app because people looked at the design-y rendering and got caught up in the details of layout and wording instead of considering the worth and usability of the actual functions themselves.

Onwards and upwards from here, I suppose.