Process: Rain Juice Wireframes

I think going through the process was more interesting than the actual wireframes I presented yesterday in class. Hello, design. Hello, iteration. It’s really not magic. But it works. And sometimes it’s tempting to skip all the sketching and thinking (esp. as you get better at software, esp. if you’re under a time crunch). But just do it.

(This is building off my pitch from last week for “Rain Juice.”)

1: List requirements, brainstorm word associations

2: Storyboard of user experience. This step was key for me, as it made me figure out who the actual user for the site was going to be—the event organizers—and what they would need to be able to do at the site.

3: Thumbnails of hero element of the homepage. Lots, quickly. And more than you think you need. I thought I would lose steam after 2 or 3 pages. But some lightbulb moments in the last few pages. Some bad ideas, too, but it re-validated the ideas of quantity and no judgment during brainstorming. (Connection to Johnson’s Laird piece about how we solve problems.)

4: Slightly larger sketches of page wireframes. Building off hero element, after choosing it. Annotate sketches with use action items or notes about what happens when user does x. Lists are also good here. It was getting really late, so I had a hard time choosing my hero and then flushing out the wireframes in sketch form. I think if I had spent a little more time sketching this part, it would have made subsequent steps easier/quicker.

5: Slightly larger wireframe sketches with more details each time. Repeat until ready for next step. I skipped this part.

6: Move into Photoshop or Illustrator. I was a little confused about the fidelity that these needed to be. Because they needed to include real content and be presentation-worthy. But then it was late, and they were still wireframes? My full set of Rain Juice wireframes on Flickr.

Brainstorming like this and working through your ideas before you start working on your “final piece” has parallels in any creative process. I still remember my high school AP English teacher telling us that during our 2 hour essays that it was better to spend a large chunk of time planning and outlining the essay up front rather than to try to write the whole time. Though it’s tempting to skip the planning stages (especially under tight time constraints), those make the rest of the process easier because you’ll have worked out your big ideas. It’s much easier than realizing halfway through your “final piece” that you’ve run down the wrong path or have framed things wrong—and then have to start over.

Which is one of the main reasons for rapid prototyping, right? Figure out what’s not going to work when there is less on the line. Throw away a 2-minute sketch rather than a 2-hour Illustrator file.

5 minutes outside the classroom

In  Justin’s studio class this week we spent time working on wireframes for concept mobile applications.  The first bit was spent brainstorming and whiteboarding and post-it-noting with @s0delightful, @chapambrose , and @ryanhubbard on all kids of futuristic apps.

We finally narrowed it down a bit and started talking about building a mapping application that prompted users to take photos around a common theme – the photos would then be mapped and tagged creating brainstorming visuals around that theme.  The idea had two main components:  First, we wanted to get people to engage in their surrounding in a new way, and second provide searchable map-sets of visuals around themes that could be used as brainstorming aids.

In the spirit of Think : Make, we decided to do a quick test run.   The theme ‘dream’ was randomly picked, and we all went out to capture some pictures around that theme.  A few of mine are below.

After returning to the classroom, printing out our images, and sharing the idea, I think we all felt the implementation of our App was a little weak.  However, the general idea of getting people to engage with their surroundings in a new way is a theme I really love, and a theme that I believe has a lot of power.

In my 5 minutes outside, I engaged with the area surrounding our building in a totally new way.  The small details seemed to pop out the most, then the textures and patterns.  It felt like my mind was moving quickly, soaking in the bits all around me.

It’s interesting that this kind of activity can so quickly make you look around through a different lens.  Knowing that this is something you can so easily turn on is quite powerful – I’ll be trying it more often…  and you should too!  Pick a theme, go outside for 5 min and take a few pictures surrounding that theme.  Let me know how it goes!

The Focal Point of Technological Innovations

“The drive toward complex technical achievement offers a clue to why the U.S. is good at space gadgetry and bad at slum problems.  ~John Kenneth Galbraith”

The world as we see today has different layers in terms of technological acceptance and usage. While it is clear that technology seems to be ubiquitous in our everyday life and interactions with the society, it is still unclear how to judge the global impact that it has created. Today, when I stand (literally) in the world and look around me, I see buildings, airplanes, radio towers, automobiles, fancy gadgets, robots, highways, and several other “magical” things that have been possible by rapidly evolving technological advances. On the same breath, when I shift my stance to move to an area in Kiberia (a slum in Nairobi, Kenya) or Dharavi (largest slum in India – Mumbai), I don’t see the same technological wonders anymore. What I see is a desperate reach that current day technology is trying to make and yet falling short. On one side, I see a fully mature city absorbed in the comforts offered by the modern technology which is trying to establish itself as the face of this place, where as on the other side, there is a cry for help where the current technology is insufficient to solve fundamental problems.

Figure 1, illustrates a conceptual thought of how technology spreads across the world. If we consider any focal point where any new technology is innovated, its growth or spread can be visualized as a cloud that engulfs over increasing number of adopters. The pace at which the cloud grows mostly determines how well the technology has been adopted across the world. Growing this cloud effectively is a significant challenge for most businesses that hope to leverage the technological innovation on the basis of which their business is built upon. One method in which the cloud can be expanded is by the use of information and power. By power, I am referring to the ability of a company, organization or a government to wield financial or a massive infrastructure muscle to expand the technology adoption cloud to new areas. As the cloud starts expanding, there is an upper bound beyond which it cannot be expanded. In other words, organizations lose a big chunk of market due to this cutoff. Why is this? What causes this cutoff and puts a stop to the technology adoption?

Normally, when a technology is in initial stages of adoption, information could be a big tool to accelerate its adoption. Information about how the technology can impact and enrich the lives of people could be broadcasted to create awareness about the technology itself, which in turn could significantly increase the adoption. This “spreading of information” could be done through several mediums like advertising, word-of-mouth, marketing, etc.

Information is significant in driving technology adoption until its saturation point. It hits maxima beyond which the increasing information or awareness about a product does not determine its increased adoption in different cultures and societies. Why? In [1] Postman, argues that lack of information is not the cause for social and economic problems. Further, he correlates information and technology in an interesting manner. According to Postman, technology generates information. Let us consider this point in the context of figure 2. When technology starts expanding around the focal point of its innovation by targeting new areas for its adoption, it needs to drive in more information created because of the expanded cloud. Why should this be true? Let us consider the work of Dewey [2], where he talks about educative experiences. Dewey says that an educative experience is something that creates a desire in people to want to have more of such experiences. While Dewey talks about this in the context of education, this can be applied to the discussion we are having in this paper. Technology inevitably is a creator of experience. This might appear to be a strong statement in the first glance, but looking deeper, it is a logical conclusion. Every technological innovation has been targeted for use by people in some form or other. Hence, through the interaction a technology invokes from its user, it generates an experience. Whether the user wants to have the experience again and again would determine if the technology cloud really expanded, because these repetitive experiences from the end user are indications of sustenance. Hence, it appears that every technology growth ends up to be a cyclic process where the adoption of the technology itself creates an autonomous channel of information, which can be factored in to grow the cloud further. Naturally, it appears that the cloud should stop growing the moment the technology stops generating the desire for repetitive experiences from its users.

Let us re-visit the Maslow’s hierarchy [3], but only this time from a bird’s eye perspective. Figure 3 represents the Maslow’s Hierarchy and its bird’s eye perspective. The lower tiers of the hierarchy become the outer circles in this representation/view where as the inner circles become the higher tiers. Relating this representation to our discussion of the technology cloud, we can place the technology focal point in the innermost circle, the highest Maslow tier. This representation can reveal several interesting insights about the growth and adoption of technology among the bottom of the pyramid consumers.

The basic premise of Maslow’s hierarchy is based upon the needs of people. Needs of people would determine the experiences they want to have. For instance, if a need of a person is basic like wanting shelter, the experiences, which result from his interactions with the society, are going to be focused on satisfying his need. Unless this basic existential need is satisfied, other higher experiences are not possible. Now, let us juxtapose the technology cloud on Maslow’s hierarchy. This is shown in figure 4. If a technology innovation comes from the center of “Maslow’s circle”, then it is coming from a higher tier that is looking for an entirely different experience than lower tiers.

As the cloud expands over the lower tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy, the technology starts touching the lives of people and cultures that have different needs and want different experiences. The experience this technology provides can quickly end up not gratifying new adopters who can lose the desire to have repetitive experiences, which would quickly stop the expansion of this cloud.

At this stage, no amount of pumping information from the inside of the cloud can increase the adoption because lack of information is no longer the problem. A parallel thought regarding information can be referenced from Postman’s work [1]. For convenience, let us consider that the technology cloud is able to cover everybody in Maslow’s hierarchy except the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) customers. Prahalad [4], in
his work, talks precisely about this population and how companies can sell to them. In [4], Prahalad argues that the dynamics of the BoP markets are significantly different than non-BoP markets. He highlights several case studies where technology made its way to the BoP customers when it empathized with their day-to-day problems. Another interesting point Prahalad makes is the need for a top-down approach. He argues that a billion dollar market exists with the world’s poor if the large corporations start treating them as consumers. Respecting the world’s poorest, according to Prahalad, would determine the technological advances in this market.

To me, it seems like a logical transition for the technology cloud to expand to the lower tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy.  However, the dynamics of these different sectors are so radically different that target technology growths should be planned in advance. A late realization from an organization to take an existing technology and fit it into BoP markets won’t work. In such cases, the technology cloud will remain at the saturation point and will not continue to expand.


[1] Neil Postman, Informing Ourselves to Death.

[2] John Dewey, The Need of a Theory of Experience

[3] Abraham Maslow, The Theory of Human Motivation

[4] C.K. Prahalad, Selling to the Poor


AC4D Elevator Pitches

Josh Baer of Other Inbox and Capital Factory came to share some secrets of pitching during one of our Saturday studio classes a few weeks back.

5 secrets to a killer elevator pitch:

  1. Focus on the problem. Not your brilliant solution…not yet anyway.
  2. Tell a story. Ideally the whole thing is a story.
  3. Use 4th grade language. Don’t try to make it sound bigger. Don’t use jargon.
  4. Have a killer closing. Make it a sentence someone can actually repeat to a friend after you’re done and gone.
  5. Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice…no really, practice. And record yourself. Watch it, post it, get feedback. Practice some more.

Case study: Evolution of the Infochimps pitch. Good to see where it starts off to where it ends, and how much the story evolved.

An interesting tangent to all of this is that it’s useful advice for just storytelling in general, especially when you’re “pitching” or trying to explain who you are and what you’re doing at this weird new place called AC4D.

I put our founders on the spot. How do they explain this thing they’ve created?’s AC4D Elevator Pitch’s AC4D Elevator Pitch for non-designers’s AC4D Elevator Pitch

What I usually say is “AC4D combines design thinking and social entrepreneurship to tackle social issues.” Most people want examples: of what social issues, and what kinds of things we’ll be doing. I start babbling about Emily Pilloton/Project H or IDEO or the AC4D Bootcamp—with caveats and additions. I still don’t think people get it. We’ll see how our explanations of AC4D evolve over the year as we start working with real projects.

As for pitching my own “brand,” I generally resist having to sum myself up in one sentence, but I need to get over it. It’s just an introduction, and it’s better any stake in the ground than boring. Of course it won’t capture any of the *nuance* of who I am and my past history, but it’s not supposed to. Neither is an elevator pitch for anything you’re working on. You’re just trying to tell a short story that grabs someone’s attention, and hopefully they’ll want to hear more.

For now, I’m changing my current go-to bio of “designer + educator + photographer + writer + green girl” to include a VERB: “I tackle social problems through the lenses of design and education…and I’m trying to figure out how to get paid for it.” (Focus on the problem right? ;))

Privacy Matters

One of the major concerns with the advent of information based design is that of privacy.  Social psychologist Irwin Altman defines privacy as “ a direction and dynamic boundary regulation process.”  In other words, privacy is always in flux based on a certain situation.  This concept of privacy directly conflicts with computers which are designed on a rule-based system of 0’s and 1’s.  Privacy is an either/or decision in technology rather than a dynamic relationship.  Normally, when a person makes a decision about what to disclose they take into account the particular the situation, the people who might receive their message, and the context.  Memory is short, and a misspoken word or a mistaken youthful event might easily be forgotten.  Now, however, in a world of information overload, history in the digital sphere might never die.  A record exists for internet searches, people post photos of others, documents can be manipulated and taken out of context, and an original message may reach an unintended audience.  The control of the interpretation of information has fundamentally shifted away from the communicator and to the recipient.  In fact, Danah Boyd points out in Facebook, “When the default is hyper-public, individuals are not simply able to choose what they wish to expose – they have to choose what they wish to hide.”

An Excerpt from my AC4D Position Paper #3

As we design in the digital age, let’s look for ways to slow humanity’s from movement toward a computer-driven either/or mentality and back toward meaningful experiences that exist only in dynamic play.   As Dewey writes, “Every experience is a moving force [and] its value can be judged only on the ground of what it moves toward and into.”  Let’s move toward the place that can’t be be simplified into 0’s and 1’s.

From flying toasters to apathy… clicktivism today

I read an interesting article this morning about the side effects of clictivism.  It reminded me a bit of Gladwell’s article Small Change – why the revolution will not be tweeted.

With the AC4D mantra of THINK : MAKE very much in the forefront of my thoughts, these articles have me wondering who needs to do the making?  If we are trying to affect social change, our process will certainly involve a lot of ‘think make’ as we iterate and test our ideas.  But it is important that the making doesn’t stop there.  We must pass the torch of making onto those with whom we work.

As the first article points out, simply signing up for a newsletter to a cause you believe in can sometimes do more damage than good.  Why?  Because it allows you to stop there.  It allows you to stop before the making, before you actually go out into the world and do anything to affect change.  You feel good because you ‘support’ a cause, and the newsletter feels good because they have xx,xxx ‘supporters’.  This is a problem when being a change agent gets reduced to occasionally clicking your mouse here and there…

I’d love to hear what people think about this… especially as we approach the beginning of our large project.

Think : Make : Share : Think : Make : Share : Think : Make : Share : Rinse : Repeat