IDSE_103 Interaction Design Prototyping roundup

Our first studio class, IDSE_103,  centered around the theme of storytelling.  The first story we had to tell was about ourselves as we were tasked with going all in on the social media scene.  For me this was a big jump as I started off quite ‘unconnected’. 

It turned out, however, that being unconnected simply meant that I had a blank canvas to work with, and diving in allowed me to begin to tell my story.  As the quarter progressed we used these social media sites not only to tell our story, but to begin to create networks to distribute ideas.

We also learned a variety of tools and frameworks that helped us support these stories. These tools varied in fidelity in order to match the state of an idea. We started off with low fidelity visualization techniques: quick sketches on post it notes that we used to anchor our storytelling. 

These low fidelity sketches became the starting point with which to begin telling a story.  Their value lies in their simplicity.  I can walk up to a whiteboard and sketch out these anchors as I give an impromptu presentation.  Here’s an example:

As the quarter progressed we learned how to take these rough ides and formulate them into more formal business pitches.  We drew on some of the research from Lauren’s class to generate ideas which we then shared with the class.  We represented our ideas visually with concept maps that described complex systems:

Then as the ideas took shape we were able to formulate business plans around these ideas.  We learned how to pitch these ideas, and created multiple pitch decks to support our story.  Every assignment told a story, and as we moved through the quarter the fidelity of the supporting material increased.  We created mobile applications to support our ideas, choosing hero elements and building on some of the visualization and rapid prototyping techniques we had already learned.

From there we built basic wireframes to begin to create the interactions and desired function of our sites.

And finally we learned how to tell stories when we are not even there.  Below is a video pitching YAWYE, a service I designed for this class.

Ideas are virtually worthless if you don’t share them early and often.  This class gave me many tools and frameworks to do just that.  I now have multiple frameworks to pick from when prototyping an idea and telling a story.  I think most importantly it pushed me to focus on the story, own the whiteboard, and share everything…. Think, Make, Share.

The prototype project above has been pitched to several possible partners, and will be beta tested at a restaurant in San Francisco shortly.  Stay tuned on the AC4D blog for updates on how the beta test goes.

Three steps to executing ideas

n IDSE103, we learnt three steps to executing ideas. This video serves as a recap of the course and how ideas should be executed. This is also part of the final class project.



It's just the beginning

Reflecting on the first quarter over the weekend made me realize how much we have done in a short time. There have been great discussions, papers, research and lots of making as well as presenting in our studio class. This video is a short recap of the work I did in our studio class. It was great to experiment with all the methods and mediums throughout the quarter. I can’t wait to apply some of it to new client projects and our work with ARCH.

Check out the video and follow the blog to see what is next.

Systems Thinkers Needed

Been doing research on different kinds of “design” processes, how designers work vs. engineers vs. social workers vs. computer scientists, etc. (which is conveniently proving to bridge my thinking from IDSE102’s wicked problems to IDSE202’s systems & service design.)

Found this video of Don Norman who says we need more “systems thinkers” who can think broadly across a variety of specialized disciplines to help them talk to each other and to orchestrate their collaboration.

YouTube: Don Norman on Engineering Design Education

I think the same critique applies to Design Education as well, since we train “graphic designers” or “industrial designers” or “fashion designers.” We’ve had some debates in class about generalists vs. specialists, T-shaped designers, etc.

While I think there is value in specializing in something, and our culture definitely values it more (you get paid more if you are a specialist), I’m wondering if you can specialize in being a generalist? if you become a good systems thinker, does that become your specialty? Even though a systems thinker works and knows across a broad range of fields?

In other words, can I get paid eventually to be a generalist? Or do I still need a value-added specialist knowledge silo?

Here’s more Don Norman talking about systems thinking: “A product is more than a product.”

In reality a product is all about the experience. It is about discovery, purchase, anticipation, opening the package, the very first usage. It is also about continued usage, learning, the need for assistance, updating, maintenance, supplies, and eventual renewal in the form of disposal or exchange. Most companies treat every stage as a different process, done by a different division of the company: R&D, manufacturing, packaging, sales, and then as a necessary afterthought, service. As a result there is seldom any coherence. Instead, there are contradictions. If you think of the product as a service, then the separate parts make no sense–the point of a product is to offer great experiences to its owner, which means that it offers a service. And that experience, that service, is the result of the coherence of the parts. The real value of a product consists of far more than the product’s components.

…the most important aspect for the delivery of a cohesive experience is systems thinking. It is amazing how few companies understand and practice this.

And any product or service in the social sector (shelter for the night, free books for kids, mobile Care-A-Van) is a part of a larger system. And we need systems thinkers to coordinate the delivery of cohesive experiences (home ownership, education, healthcare).

How do you train/educate systems thinkers? And/or how do you focus the systems thinkers that do exist in the world toward social issues? And how do they then make a living doing important work?

Where do all the leftovers go?!

Below is a glimpse of what Julia and I researched on for Lauren’s design research & synthesis class. The central topic we were given was recycling. But as you see from my classmates’ blog posts, we all went on different route for our research topics, ranging from farmers’ market, to community bike shops, to water reuse at restaurants.

How it all started: Julia, new to Austin from Paris, experienced culture shock when she saw the massive amount of food available at these gigantic supermarkets that we have here in the US. Julia asked Ruby: “where does all the food go at the end of the day if they’re not sold?!” Ruby responded: “No idea. But hey, let’s do our research on that and find out!”

Our challenges: Scheduling for our contextual inquiries and participatory interviews was a bit of a nightmare. Also given the fact that our research touches on business practices only made it that much harder. We had to change our plans a few times but in the end it all came together. Our research participants also seemed to have enjoy the [prime, dream, create] exercises.

Our epiphany moment: Based on our previous conversations with some individuals, we were led down the path of thinking that good food management system is for a supermarket to reuse their food as much as possible. We also simplistically viewed the world as a matter of right vs. wrong: compost program = good practice, no compost program = bad practice. But as we spoke with more people who work at the front of house, dealing with the food and interacting with customers, we slowly reframed our questions. Instead of thinking about reuse and recycle, the bigger opportunity actually lies in reducing the amount of food unsold.

Synthesis and design criteria: Synthesizing the enormous amount of data we gathered was not an easy task. Tagging the quotes, grouping our notes, drawing them out in work models, recombining insights in concept models = many hours of work. After all the synthesis, it became apparent that the two key strategies that could lead to less leftover is being able to forecast demand better and improve internal communication workflow.

To protect individual’s confidentiality, here’s a slightly modified version of our final presentation:

[slideshare id=5573760&doc=idseresearchfinalforweb-101026222952-phpapp01]

An Inquiry Into Water Usage

As a final deliverable for Lauren’s fantastically useful Design Research class, we presented findings for our self-directed projects that focused on recycling. Our team (Alex Pappas, Saranyan Vigraham & Scott Magee) chose water recycling due to the fact that it is often overlooked when thinking about recycling in the general context and it is an issue of active consciousness in Austin due to our water supply and occasional droughts. While our initial interest centered around greywater systems, we readjusted our focus to include water usage at restaurants with and without attached gardens.

Throughout the quarter we applied our newly acquired research techniques from affinity diagramming to contextual inquiries to participatory interviews with our participants. Afterward we transcribed hours of video and immersed ourselves in all the glorious data. We visualized our findings with work models and synthesized new ideas via concept models as we developed solutions for conserving water at Austin-area restaurants. Everything Lauren taught us made sense and this was a real world assignment to prove it.

The following PDF is a slightly modified version of the deliverable we presented in class.

An Inquiry Into Water Usage


I know I tend to draw connections between seemingly-unrelated arenas of my life anyway, but the synchronicity of the following thoughts and musings leading up to tonight’s class felt more than a little serendipitous. (Maybe even a little eerie.)

Any time I sit at the window seat on a flight, I ponder scale and perception: How when we are up high, a house or a car can look so small and insignificant, yet when we are on the ground, that room / that driver seat / our front view is our entire world…how perception changes the object…and how hard it is to pull back and keep in mind your more complex surrounding contexts (your impact on it, its impact on you, your role in it). Me-centered view versus something more global or community-based.

On top of that, this past week, I’ve had a bunch of discussions with AC4D classmates and other design friends about how you scale any local human solution, and what the trade-offs are to get a larger reach and impact. Part of solving a wicked problem is being able to look at the larger picture. But part of the definition of a wicked problem (Horst Rittel/Richard Buchanan) is also that you can never see all the impacts your solution will have–yet you are still responsible for those impacts. So that added a layer to my airplane musings of whether we as human beings are even able to look at the larger picture, since things are so complex now. Even the seemingly small parts are beyond my comprehension, like this airplane wing: I don’t know how it works or what went into making it—let alone the impact of how it was made, or how it’s being used.

Additionally, after we watched How to Train Your Dragon this past weekend, we sat through and marveled at the scale of the various teams as the credits rolled by. In my head, I was wondering how do you even start to put together these teams, who is managing all of this, who is directing it all, who is responsible for it all, or are people just working in tandem on their small parts of the project and somehow it all adds up to a motion picture? A big question for me in terms of wicked problems is where the accountability resides. How do you start to organize and design for such a complex system that involves so many people?

And thinking about scale usually makes me think of Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit. Because she mentions identifying your “creative DNA” and part of that is identifying which scale you work at. Doesn’t mean that’s all you do, but you are most likely either drawn to micro or macro: short story or epic novel, sonata or symphony, small relationship focus or societal themes, etc. When I look at my creative writing and artwork, it trends toward micro, and I’m not sure yet how this plays out in my design work, particularly design work for social sector and wicked problems. How can I wrap my head around very large, complex, interconnected, wicked problems?

So anyway, this is all floating around in my head as I fly from LA to Austin, and drive from airport to AC4D, first class of Quarter 2: Rapid ideation and creative problem solving with Jon Kolko, and one of his first slides says:

“This quarter is about conducting research in the field, thinking about complex, large-scale systems, and solving problems in new ways.”

And one of the goals of the class: “Be able to model complicated systems and services through the use of diagrams.”

Okay. Game on.