Design Research Buddy App

Because we all need a Buddy sometimes during our field research.

I meant to sketch and talk out this idea with classmates earlier—some kind of resource bank of tools and information about design research, particularly for social sector clients. The idea is definitely one of those “my friends all wish we had this, so let’s make it” kind of projects and less of a business-driven idea. Because part of why I think we should do something like this is so that we build a toolkit that we can use share with future clients after this year is over. But maybe there is a greater need for this. Maybe it’s something we could develop for social sector organizations who need to do this kind of research…they just don’t know they need to do this kind of research yet.

Here’s the seed:

In my head, this is not completely open to the public (like frogmob or OpenIdeo), and not a crowdsourced contextual inquiry resource as Justin mentioned last week over lunch. It’s more like I’m working as a design consultant for your company; here are tools and a landing site for you to learn more or grab resources or to upload our shared content for whatever our current project is. A (better) Basecamp for design research?

The app I sketched out for our prototyping class is the “Field Research Buddy.” We found out that the iPhone is a handy tool in the field during contextual inquiries. It is a phone to call your interviewees, GPS so you don’t get lost getting to the site, camera, videocamera, and notepad in a pinch.

The “Field Research Buddy” app would make using your iPhone for video/photography in the field even easier with the added features of global tagging all the media from each interview session, automatic uploads (onto the secure server of your choice or onto your computer), and a feature that lets you mark spots in your video when you heard a good quote or observed something important.

Anyway, I’d like to hash this out with my classmates. It might not be worth it in the end, or we might be able to compile other tools that do the same things without us reinventing any wheels, or (most likely) this seed of an idea will evolve as we go.


One nice thing (among others) that AC4D has done is to provide new insights about old problems. There is a refreshing way to thinking about familiar problems. The theory class was one of the classes that I enjoyed most for the mental stimulation it provided. Like Jon says,  the ideas and mental exercises are good. But, one needs to apply it somewhere and make it tangible. Hence, in times like this, it feels that the learning comes to full circle. My position paper 2 was published (they chopped off the intro/build-up section, but does not impact the context) in EE times, a leading design line article in the semi-conductor industry…What next?


Learning by Doing: Ready to Rumble

Logo for the Rails Rumble

I’m a firm believer in the hands-on, sink-or-swim philosophy of learning.  Which puts me in pretty good company with the rest of these loons who decided to join the first year of a crazy new design school. My experience at AC4D so far has fit this preference of mine very well, but this weekend should be a special treat.

Chap and I (and a bit of Alex) will be participating in a 48 hour web app competition: Rails Rumble.  Chap’s been working with Ruby on Rails for a couple of years, but my preparation thus far consists of a basic basic “Hello World” rails app I wrote on Tuesday.  This should be a steep learning curve and a heck of a lot of fun.

We’ll post what comes out of it on the blog next week, and maybe a caffeine-fueled update or two along the way.

Now I’m off to the most important preparation for the weekend: sleep.

Sustainable Means Wearing It In

During my recent travels to Costa Rica I noticed a incredible collective consciousness of conservation. I saw signs stating, “Be kind. Water is life.” in nearly every bathroom and kitchen. CFL bulbs were the norm, not the exception. Multiple recycle bins stood in nearly every public place for all types of sources (although tourists participated less than the locals).

Old Range Rover truck in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

What really caught my eye was the abundance of older trucks and SUVs on the road. Costa Rica is quite mountainous and is blessed with a climate above freezing, which lays the groundwork for 4×4 demand and longevity. I was struck by the fact that these vehicles (Toyota FJ40 and Land Rover Discovery) circa 1970s and 1980s were built to last. They were built to withstand abnormal thrashings and the occasional ding or two yet keep on ticking. The simplicity of these machines renders them timeless when vehicles are designed for obsolescence within a model lifetime of 5-10 years. Sure we’ve come a long way in terms of safety, fuel economy and scale but the raw utility and personality of these vehicles is undeniable.

After returning back to the states this week, I’ve reexamined my possessions and my definition of quality with a new set of eyes. The new sustainable may actually be the old “they don’t make it like they used to…” Very cool.

'Protecting Education From Attack'live webcast tonight 10.14.10

My former high school, Greenhills,  is hosting a lecture tonight in the “Life of Mind” series on the topic of “Protecting Education From Attack”.  They invited all of the alumni to attend, however, many of us no longer live in Michigan so I asked if they could webcast the lecture.  They set it up and tonight will be the first live web-cast lecture from the school.

Here is a brief of tonight’s topic:

Tonight’s Life of the Mind lecture, “Protecting Education from Attack,” with Human Rights Watch International senior researcher Bede Sheppard, will be webcast live from Greenhills’ theatre.  Sheppard will address the growing international crisis of increasing —and increasingly violent—attacks on students, teachers and educational institutions across the globe.  This Life of the Mind event is co-sponsored by, a local nonprofit ethics news-and-ideas website and nonpartisan events organization.

Click here for the link to tonight’s live lecture.  It begins at 7:30pm EDT  (6:30pm Austin TX!!)

The first rule of AC4D is….

#1 – The first rule of AC4D is, you blog about AC4D.

#2 – The second rule of AC4D is, you BLOG about AC4D.

#3 – If someone says stop, goes limp, taps out, they have almost come up with enough ideas.

#4 – Two people to a PI.

#5 – One pitch at a time.

#6 – No whining, no sleeping.

#7 – Class will go on as long as it has to.

#8 – If this is your first day at AC4D, you have to present.

Landmarks and Experiences

am presently in Dubai for a short stay on my way to India. This is the most glamorous city I have ever seen. Everything glitters here, literally. Yesterday, I visited the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower. As I stood 800 meters above the ground to gaze at the tall buildings and the beautiful city that was shining below, one word came to my mind – Landmarks! Most of the things in Dubai were landmarks of some sort. There were tons of malls, tall buildings, beautiful mosques, beaches, expensive mansions…and other landmarks.

When I was looking at the different landmarks, I was amazed by the excitement they created to the narrator and at the same time to me. I think that probably is the key. Every landmark in someway is expected to create an experiential value. A landmark would lose significance if it stops invoking any kind of emotion. Then, it probably will become a spot on the map and no longer a landmark.</p


Creative and Insightful Links

Isn’t it awesome when your regular channels of interweb surfing provide you seemingly serendipitous fodder for the problems you’re already thinking about in work-life or school-life? I don’t know if it’s some sort of collective consciousness that syncs up every once in awhile, or if you’re just viewing the world through a sort of focused and filtered lens at certain points in time. (Probably the latter.)

Regardless, here are some related links as we think about creativity, problem solving, and generating insights for Position Paper Numero Cuatro for Design Theory.

  • Limits of our scientific understanding. The last 10 minutes of this episode of RadioLab’s exploration into limits questions whether we are reaching the end of a window in human history when we could both “know” and “understand” our world. (For instance, when we talk about trillions of dollars in deficit, we can’t make sense of that number in our heads.) They also introduce us to a robot who can calculate laws of physics—Newton’s F=MA— through rote computation of observations. But then he also comes up with biological “answers” that we can’t understand yet.
  • In the comments to that episode is this post questioning some of the interview. Science is a language we create to understand the world, so without the context of a human-concerned machine as physical observer, the answers don’t mean anything. The process of coming up with the question and then looking for the answer in the context of our worldview is much more valuable.
  • Why we have A-ha! moments Skimming this one, it’s about how some problems can be solved while self-monitoring to see if the problem has been solved is turned on. But most cannot, and these are the ones that require A-ha! moments. “When you are carrying out idea-creation efforts, you are implementing some kind of program, and odds are good it may not be monitorable even in principle. And even if it is monitorable, you are likely to have little or no idea at which level to monitor it.” Correlations with Richard Buchanan’s and Herb Simon’s wicked and ill-structured problems wherein you can’t know criteria for testing proposed solutions.
  • All creativity is derivative. Compares sculptures from Metropolitan Museum of Art. Cool animation by Nina Paley, who brought us Sita Sings the Blues, if nothing else.

[lightbulb artwork by Andre Kutscherauer]

Comparing Theatre of the Oppressed's"Theatre With"with Design's new push toward"Designing With"

In recent years, the most powerful thing I’ve experienced that made me think “wow, this can actually change how people think and act” was a series of Theatre of the Oppressed performances and workshops.

One time was observing 4th graders in action during Theatre Action Project’s “Courage to Stand” (a five-day interactive performance residency that explores the role of the courageous bystander in a bullying situation). Another was a Voices Against Violence performance-workshop about how to support/help friends in abusive relationships. Finally, I participated in a one-day “Intro to Theatre of the Oppressed” facilitation workshop with Julian Boal, son of Augusto Boal, who started the whole Theatre of the Oppressed method. During the workshop, we tackled gender stereotypes.

—> Watch TAP’s intro to “Courage to Stand” video

One crucial element of why Theatre of the Oppressed is powerful is that it’s nearly impossible to remain passive during one of these “plays.” The shift from “audience member” to “actor” in a safe space for creation is what is so empowering—and unsettling because it definitely jostles your current ways of looking at the world—and difficult because taking action is so much harder than sitting back or even just thinking about an issue.

As we talk about moving toward “designing with” instead of “designing for” and co-creation with other people, the shift from “user” to “co-designer” will be parallel-lically empowering—and unsettling—and difficult.

Here’s an excerpt from my position paper about the topic of “designing with”:

What Theatre of the Oppressed Looks Like

Theatre of the Oppressed as developed by Augusto Boal typically involves a theatre troupe, a group of actor-facilitators, leading participants through a theatre experience that helps them to question their assumptions and rehearse solutions to social problems. More intensively, this would also involve the theatre troupe going into a community and working with participants to define the social issues and problems within that local context that the theatre experiences will address. The process looks something like:

  1. Theatre games to get to know each other.
  2. “Priming” activities/games to build trust.
  3. Theatre games, methods, and image-work to collaboratively define a local social justice issue.
  4. Theatre troupe creates a play or scenes that addresses the social issue that includes the roles of: oppressor, oppressed, and by-standers.
  5. Theatre troupe performs a play once, with a negative ending indicating current conditions.
  6. Actor-facilitators stop the action and discuss the scene and issues with the audience.
  7. Theatre troupe performs the scene a second time, with the added factor that at any time, an audience member (who Boal termed a “spect-actor”) can yell “stop” and take the place of an actor on stage to try to change the course of events.
  8. Continued discussion of whether interventions worked, why or why not.
  9. Repeat scenes as necessary. (Over short-term and long-term.)

Theatre of the Oppressed Goals

The goals for the “spect-actors” are not that they will necessarily that they will also become actors (although some will be inspired to that course of action). The goal is for people to be able to practice and rehearse revolutionary actions that they can use in real life. The goal is to present scenes that have real-life correlations, so people can practice the actual words they might use or how they would actually act in a future situation. I have seen a TAP “Courage to Stand” production where fourth graders stepped up to the stage to realize that confronting a bully would only make them another target, whereas power in numbers, befriending a target, or distracting the bully might be better tactics. UT’s Voices Against Violence productions allow “spect-actors” to detect warning signs of abusive relationships, to question their own role in preventing abuse, and to rehearse methods of supporting  friends who may or may not be aware of their own abusive relationship. We can only learn these things through experience and practice.

So what does this have to do with Design?

Compare both the process and goals of Theatre of the Oppressed to Emily Pilloton’s Studio H initiative, where she is co-teaching a design studio shop class to high school students in rural North Carolina.

  • Both necessitate local investment and engagement of the facilitators with the local community in both defining the problems and working toward solutions.
  • Both shift the role of the traditionally passive observers to active participants throughout entire process.
  • Both empower participants to rehearse skills they may need later on in life: With Theatre of the Oppressed, it’s revolutionary words and actions. With Studio-H, it’s critical thinking and design thinking.
  • Both necessitate a shift in the role of the creator, a power and control shift, and a shift in mindset.

When we reach toward designing “with”, we also aim to inspire change and empowerment among the people we are collaborating with. It’s a position that humbles the designer: no you cannot solve the world’s problems, but you can collaborate with others to leverage our collective creative capital to put a dent in those same problems.

More Info?

Jana Sanskriti is a pretty good documentary that shows the work of the Theatre of the Oppressed in India.

Theatre for Community, Conflict, and Dialogue is a good resource book of theatre games to build community, resolve conflict, and foster dialogue. I think there are probably parallels to Gamestorming, a book of games for better communication and generating insights during the business and creative processes…but I haven’t read the latter yet.

My full position paper as PDF: Designing “with” to leverage collective creative capital