Studio Week 8…The Fear of Making

Early in my education experience, I became painfully aware of the fact that the visual things I made were “different” from the other students. I dreaded the times when my teachers would come around and look at our individual pieces of art, smile and say what she thought they looked like. With other students, the teacher could guess whether they had drawn their family, or a monster, or a baseball player. When the teacher came to my drawing they had no idea what my haphazard collection of lines and dots were supposed to be. I always had to tell them. My teacher would then write what I drew at the top left corner of the page so other adults, namely my parents, would not be as confused. One time when I was in fourth grade one of my paintings mistakenly made it into a first grade art show…I didn’t win. I’ve avoided making visual things since elementary school.

This week, I made something…Granted, at some points I modified something that already existed (like my mobile app website), but I modified it in a way that did not involve clicking to plug something into a template. I actually did some coding! I also choose color palettes, and watched tutorials for the Adobe suite and used Photoshop and Illustrator to create a logo and a mock up of the opening screen. It’s a pretty basic website (with very limited functionality), but I feel like I actually created something that did not exist before, which feels pretty good.

Some Jonathan Lewis originals below. The title written by my teacher at the top of the page on the left is, “Once upon a time, there were Cowboys and Indians.”




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.