is designing for children different?

Recently, I listened to Radio Johnny: Debra Gelman on Designing Digital Experiences for Children to hear her point of view on designing for children. The interesting outcome is that many of the concepts discussed could apply to designing for adults as well.

  • Kids are not great readers, which encourages designers to use other means to communicate—images, icons, information graphics. Adults often do not have time to read everything when visiting sites or browsing information.
  • Storytelling is important in design for the children’s market. Here is a book about using storytelling in interactive pieces Storytelling for the User Experience.
  • Other ideas were discussed as well such as creating a safe environment and opportunities for the kids to “create” something of their own. This idea of the individual having an opportunity to do more than simply participate brings me back to the idea of building frameworks and opportunities for users. Does it help the user become more involved with the material?

Could some of the ideas being used to design interactive for kids be applied to adults? Would it change the way adults interact with information?

Is the data pure?

ew days back (at AC4D), there was a discussion about field studies for design research and synthesis. We talked for a bit about contextual inquiry. In a nutshell, this is a process of going to “the research field” and observing the subject and environment first hand to gain insight about the problem that is being investigated. We were talking about an example of doing contextual inquiry for a tooth brush company who want to understand the benefits of using an electric brush and in turn, use that data to design a near ideal tooth brush. While formulating the steps for doing the contextual inquiry, the following steps were outlined/discussed as a guideline –

  1. Introduce yourself
  2. Get familiar with the field (in this case, home of some participant)
  3. Ask to see the place where action takes place (in this case, bathroom)
  4. Observe the action (brushing)
  5. Observe the surroundings to make meaningful inferences
  6. Talk, rinse and understand.
In general, I understand the value of doing field work. I think it is the best way to observe somebody in action and understand the hows and whys of any problem. For instance, if I am designing an information portal for some farmers in India, I need to be there to understand the needs so that I can solve the problem for them. However, the process of doing contextual inquiry is something that I don’t entirely agree upon. Apparently, the process involves shortlisting candidates for participatory research through some screening and then schedule an appointment with them for a field study (contextual inquiry). Then, at that fixed time, you go and observe. I think this procedure works only well in some cases like
  1. It does not make people conscious
  2. It does not induce any disruption in their activities
Doesn’t me observing somebody brush his/her teeth make them conscious? If I am using this as a datapoint to derive information to provide to my client/use in my research, this data point has a level of uncertainty and no longer pure. For this study, I would rather go to an airport or hotel and engage into conversations in the restrooms with people who are brushing their teeth by connecting with them in the angle of a fellow traveler. I think there can be more information from that exercise. In general, I think this “text book” definition of contextual inquiry ticks me off. It cannot be this procedural. For instance, if my trying to understand the life of a potter, I should become potter and spend time with him/her making pottery rather than asking that person to make pottery in front of me. I brought this up in the discussion and the counter statement was, “well, if you just watch people, your understanding of the problem is based on only your view points”. Why? I ask. If I observe enough people, then can’t I find patterns and generalize? Well, isn’t eliminating biases by talking to more people a method in contextual inquiry and participant research?


How will social enterprise unlock the $120 billion market opportunity for impact investment?

The Social Capital Markets Conference (SOCAP) is “a gathering of investors, entrepreneurs, and innovators at the intersection of money and meaning.”

I was first exposed to the idea of social finance by Acumen Fund, and got increasingly interested when I learned about the social stock exchanges that are being developed in Toronto, London and Singapore.

With $1195 being the fee to the conference, I simply cannot afford to go at this point. So when SOCAP posted a challenge asking for blog submission on the topic “How will social enterprise unlock the $120 billion market opportunity for individual impact investments?” for winning a ticket to the conference, I decided to write something. 

I am not expecting to win with this entry as I am still new to the space. But I remember Jon said to have an opinion on everything (even if you later realize it’s wrong) and Justin said to “think make” (turn an idea sitting in my head into something people can see). And hey, I might even get a couple comments for feedback. So here was my attempt, which I submitted last night: “Making it part of daily banking“. My favorite post is ““Build Human Capital for Social Investing” by Daniel Kreps, which is also ranking #1 on the list so far. For the Money for Good report released by Hope Consulting on the $120 billion market potential for impact investments, here’s a good summary

[Sidenote: Jon Kolko will also be speaking at SOCAP 10!]

Understanding Twitter…

Hi all, I am starting on Twitter; it turns out that after Justin’s class on Saturday and Ruby’s post, I finally got really curious about it. Yes, I resisted against it for a while, I didn’t like the idea of sharing lunch scoops. But, there are obviously other ways to use it.

Most of you are already familiar with Twitter. So, I am playing the role of the “apprentice” by wraping up what I learnt and please feel free, as experts, to correct me and contribute (thanks Lauren for the metaphor, I like it).

Here are the basic ideas and steps that I understood by looking at tutorials and articles on the web.

So, once you get an account :

1. Fill in your profile so people can find you more easily:

  • add a photo
  • put your real name in your settings so you can refer people to your url:

2. Decide what you want to say as long as your messages are no more than 140 characters. You can write:

  • questions
  • opinions
  • tasks

Alternate messages where you write content (tweets) and messages where you forward content (retweets). Be generous, write information, don’t only forward it.

3. Build your network by choosing et finding the right people.

You can look for :

  • individuals
  • groups
  • organizations

People that you follow will start following you.

4. Tweet. Real-time et frequency are important because Twitter is all about:

  • sharing information in real-time
  • building anticipation
  • making you a reference in a topic
  • dragging traffic

The more you are feeding the system, the more you will take advantage of it.

5. Search. Twitter gives you the opportunity to search in your network and to give you appropriate search results

  • type a topic in the big Search box on your right
  • browse in trending topics

Twitter is all about language and links so there are basic rules:

5. If you tweet is intending to one one user in particular, type the @symbol followed by the username, for example: “@rubyku, what do you think of..?”

Or you can just hit “reply” to a tweet and your message will start with “@rubyku”

6. Use and make #tags

A #tag is a way for people to search for tweets that have a common topic. For example, if you search on #LOST (or #lost or #Lost, because it’s not case-sensitive), you’ll get a list of tweets related to the TV show. What you won’t get are tweets that say “I lost my wallet yesterday” because “lost” isn’t preceded by the hash tag.

Before you create your own tag, search for a few variations to make sure they don’t already exist. Since the tag will use up some of your 140-character limit, you want to keep it fairly short, while still making it precise.

What is the best tag for Social Entrepreuneurship ? “SocEntr” ? I think Ryan had some ideas about that.

Leveraging social media: Tips

I’m not exactly clear on how we’ll be using social media for rapid prototyping just yet, but first we must set up all our accounts, engage with the social media communities, start creating a public voice, and work on cultivating a following. For better or for worse, in this day and age, and especially as social entrepreneurs, we are our own brands.

Good brands are:

  • simple
  • bold
  • opinionated

There’s no wrong way. You have to try things out, figure out what works for you, and be consistent within your own personal framework. Every time you think “I should do this.” or “I shouldn’t have done that.” Try to squash that voice. Easier said than done, I know. (For instance, I probably shouldn’t post three AC4D blog posts in a row on the same day. Hmmm…)

Find your cadence. This will probably be the most difficult for me. Because I am also struggling with organizing and wrangling my internet usage overall. When it comes to tweeting or blogging, I tend to push a lot out at once and then have periods of silence. Because:

  • No smartphone. Limits my ability to stagger social media check-ins throughout the day. (good and bad)
  • Sick of screens. Periods when I don’t want to spend my free time looking at another screen. (good)
  • Internet binges. A result of the aforementioned factors. (bad)

Sometimes it’s hard to see our own patterns and whether they’re effective or not when communicating within social media. Question for Petro: how are you going to give us feedback as we build our brands and social media presence? Question for classmates: how can we give each other feedback on useful/ineffective patterns of communication we exhibit through our social media usage?

We are creating our own living portfolios. I love that idea, particularly as a designer. You set up systems where you’re constantly updating and showcasing your design work, photography, writing, and thinking. And so your portfolio evolves as you and your ideas evolve. And you don’t have to spend that painful time re-finding everything to update your static portfolio when an occasional need arises.

Work smart, not hard.


The symbol is something we are all familiar with. It lives on products, trash bins and often on communication pieces. But, how often do we think about it? I recently watched the story of bottled water again about bottled water and it shed light on what “recycling” may mean. In this case the video showed that many of these plastic bottles are being shipped to India. Does recycling allow us to become passive about our choices and the waste we generate? “It is ok, because it is being recycled.”  How much waste is generated at outdoor public events and conferences? How much of this might be avoided if we thought about our behavior at these events and or the systems surrounding them?

Well, this is what we as students are doing. Our topic for research is “recycling”. It is up to individual teams to pick a focus within the large topic, but I am excited to see what all of us learn about various aspects of recycling through contextual and particpatory interviews. The topic along has gotten me thinking about what role “recycling” has in my daily life.

What do you recycle? Do you consider recycling when purchasing your coffee in the morning or grabbing a bottled water at the office, airport, coference? What would make it easier?

Land of Plenty

Jonathan Harris “makes (mostly) online projects that imagine how we relate to our machines and to each other.” If you haven’t seen his essays on “World Building in a Crazy World” or “Beyond Flash,” they are definitely worthy of your time.

Land of plenty by Jonathan Harris

Lately, he’s been taking and publishing one photo a day since his 30th birthday. Sometimes they are accompanied by a few words, sometimes by a longer story. Above is a photo taken in Napoleon, KY that is a beautiful snapshot of America’s “land of plenty.” Below is the poetic story of an airport sandwich and all its wrappings.

American hero by Jonathan Harris

I was in the food court at the airport and I ordered a sandwich.

The lady put the sandwich in the turbo oven and then she took it out.

She wrapped the sandwich in tinfoil and then she wrapped the tinfoil in paper and then she taped up the paper with a piece of paper tape, and then she put the wrapped up paper parcel in a paper bag.

“That’s OK,” I said. “I don’t need a bag.”

“We have to,” she said.

“You have to?” I said.

“We have to,” she said.

The rest of the story is at his website,

Why Twitter is my trusted source

“Facebook is for friends that are now strangers. Twitter is for strangers that should be you friends.” I heard the original tweet was from @damnitstrue, but I could be wrong, especially after it has been retweeted over and over again.

Twitter has been my trusted source since 2008. Through twitter, I discovered people that inspire me (Sacha ChuaRebecca ThormanTaylor Davidson, and many others), conferences/events I wouldn’t have known about otherwise (re:VisionAcumen Fund Toronto chapter launch, etc), and sites that continue to help me learn about the social enterprise space ( design changedowser.orgunreasonable institute, etc). All of which eventually led me to make the decision to attend AC4D – and yup, which I also found out through twitter.

The first Twestival in Feb 2009, an event organized entirely via Twitter, helped raise over $250,000. Beth Kanter’s entire blog is devoted in helping non-profits leverage social media.

When the entire Skoll World Forum crowd was stranded in London because of the Icelandic volcano, Nathaniel Whittemore organized TEDxVolcano in 36 hours by emailing and tweeting. They even had it livestreamed, which 600 more people logged on and watched.

My favourite example of twitter doing good is when it was used together with Uchaguzi at the Kenya’s election to help aggregate reported problems and document incidents by location and type.

I was convinced long ago that twitter is more than finding out where your friend had for lunch. Try jumping into one of the #SocEnt chats next time and you might see twitter in a different light.

But will it make you happy?

The New York Times published an article called “But Will It Make Your Happy?” in August about consumption. Reading it made me uneasy.

“We’re moving from a conspicuous consumption — which is ‘buy without regard’ — to a calculated consumption,” says Marshal Cohen, an analyst at the NPD Group, the retailing research and consulting firm.

Sounds good, right?

CONSPICUOUS consumption has been an object of fascination going back at least as far as 1899, when the economist Thorstein Veblen published “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” a book that analyzed, in part, how people spent their money in order to demonstrate their social status.

And it’s been a truism for eons that extra cash always makes life a little easier. Studies over the last few decades have shown that money, up to a certain point, makes people happier because it lets them meet basic needs. The latest round of research is, for lack of a better term, all about emotional efficiency: how to reap the most happiness for your dollar.

Red flags, anyone? The article lays out studies that show that we are happier for a longer period of time when we buy experiences rather than things. While I like that the author brings in the idea of medieval marketplaces as a means to community and connecting socially, I do not like that large chain retailers are now trying to create shopping “experiences” to lure more customers. It seems everything gets co-opted eventually by big corporations, and the idea’s vital roots can become warped and cold.

Professor Lyubomirsky studies “‘hedonic adaptation,’ a phenomenon in which people quickly become used to changes, great or terrible, in order to maintain a stable level of happiness.”

Scholars have discovered that one way consumers combat hedonic adaptation is to buy many small pleasures instead of one big one. Instead of a new Jaguar, Professor Lyubomirsky advises, buy a massage once a week, have lots of fresh flowers delivered and make phone calls to friends in Europe. Instead of a two-week long vacation, take a few three-day weekends.

“We do adapt to the little things,” she says, “but because there’s so many, it will take longer.”

While the author does bookend the article with the example of a couple who has drastically minimized their lifestyle to a small studio and 100 items, the bulk of the article still highlights all the studies trying to understanding how we can get the most bang from our buck by making the “right choices” within our current consumer culture.

Shouldn’t we be looking instead at ways to get more satisfaction out of our lives that don’t involve consumption at all? Or is there a way to reframe consumption into a truly bi-directional or even cyclical marketplace? Can consumers ever have a voice in the proceedings? And shouldn’t journalists stop hiding behind their shields of “neutrality” and start having ethical opinions of their own, which they would use to guide the kinds of stories they write?