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Category Archives: Classes

Family Matters: Addiction

For this first assignment, our team (William Shouse, Jeff Patton and Maryanne Lee) developed a research plan that was focused around the impact of addiction to drugs and alcohol on families and how it alters the family dynamic at various stages of addiction. We started by coming up with a list of all the people and contexts we could talk to and explore. Thinking about people in different contexts revealed the different topics that our team thought we could learn the most about. These topics included relationships, recovery, the cycle of addiction, consequences, support structures, environment and safety.


One of the biggest challenges we faced in doing this for the first time was crafting a plan that could stand entirely on its own without any supplemental clarity from our team. In trying to balance the complexity of access to participants in the contexts we wanted, the team also struggled to determine what the right level of detail and specificity should be.

Like the rest of our peers, we were a new team that had never worked together before. Building trust in each other quickly was a direct result of the respect we had for one another’s time and personal boundaries. Should we be the team executing this research plan, we strongly believe that the trust we have established in each other would be translated into the quality of the quick relationship building needed in order to be invited into the lives of the research plan’s participants.

Click here to view our full research plan.


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Coupling between thinking and actuation

As part of the creative problem solving process – designers research to understand a problem space, apply their own subjective point of view or intuition and create provocations to make sense of incomplete information.

In Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking, Karl Weick states, Sensemaking is not about truth and getting it right.  Instead, it is about continued refracting of an emerging story so that it becomes more comprehensive, incorporates more of the observed data, and is more resilient in the face of criticism. 

In Discovering Design Ability, Nigel Cross states, some of the relevant information [in a design problem] can be found only by generating and testing solutions; some information, or ‘missing ingredient’ has to be provided by the designers himself ... this extra ingredient is often an ‘ordering principle’. These ‘ordering principles’ give people access to new information on the whole and can take on various activities, such as the diagram below for example: 

In Theory of Interaction Design, we read 10 articles and discussed the relationship between creativity, knowledge, perception and strategy. The diagram above is an overview of each author’s summary along with my own position.

Thoughts? Make sense?  Your perception of it?  Can we design for an individual’s perception? Stavros Mahlke, in Visual Aesthetics and the User Experience, thinks we can and should by integrating ‘non-instrumental qualites’ like aesthetic, symbolic aspects and emotional user reactions with traditional user experience interaction design.   

In summary, it is in our thinking and activity where solutions are created and make sense.

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Build Scaffolds. Inspire Articulations. Make New Knowledge. And Repeat.

Access to information technology can make our lives easier, of course, but how people are affected and the sharing of their experience is where we can find meaning.

The diagram below maps 8 author positions around the roles and implications of technology and the meaning of experience and context. Click on the diagram for a full view:

 In What We Talk About When We Talk About Context Paul Dourish describes the interaction of information or object and activity as an alternate concept of context. Context as an interactional problem is the relationship of dynamic objects and activities.

But object interaction is more than the transmission of information, as Bohnear describes in Affect: From Information to Interactionit can be a form of social action, which achieves social ends collectively, in ways in which collective meaning shapes individual experience. 

So if you build scaffolds (supportive frameworks) people will articulate their own experiences that can be interpreted for new knowledge for others.

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Highlighting The Work of Non Profits

For quarter four I am pushing through to build out my wireframes with Story Share in a second iteration. It has been an interesting process on going through this design state, again. In quarter 2 I was able to get a taste of what it is like to do user testing with thermostat wireframes. It is interesting to find each time I go through the process that the first concept or iteration to me feels like the best one. Each iteration after that becomes the reality of the world imprinting its true functionality.  Through testing and talking to industry professionals this project is beginning to tighten up in direction and concept.

Below is the second iteration of wires that I will be using for testing this week. The goal of this wireframe is to allow new users to arrive at a space and understand how to achieve a specific goal. This intro slide focuses the user to make the choice of investigating the Story Share app as a new user or to sign in as a previous user. In this scenario the user is new to the space and looking to volunteer. Ex. 1 is of the main page and Ex. 2 is the following screen of a user story.


 Once a user finds a volunteer opportunity they are interested in they are brought to a more in depth level of the app. While viewing the story the option to volunteer with the event becomes a major icon listed at the bottom part of the screen. If a user decides that this is an event that they want to be apart of they tap the “help out with this project” button. Keeping this action as a consistent feature to new users is a form of a reminder to sign up. Basic information is collected as seen in Ex. 4 and email notification for registration is sent to the user. This is to engage the user but not overwhelm them with a barrage of front end questioning.

The ability to allow users to read through projects and navigate the space without being registered is important. By doing this people who are exploring this app can see what level of importance it might have to their needs and goals. Advocacy is a primary function to the purpose of creating stories for Story Share. Creating a continuous feed of information for particular volunteer opportunities can show the on going challenge that many non profits and their clients go through. My goal is to allow users to share stories in order to continue the advocacy of the clients they are helping.

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Our Continuing Adventures at AmbiguityC4D: Q3 Progress Report Post 1

It has been a month since we presented our research, top insights, and the three design ideas at our final presentation for quarter 2. Since then, our group has been trying to settle on one idea to push forward to wireframe and test with.

This has proven to be harder than we had anticipated.

To get to the three ideas we presented at end of quarter 2, we used a 2×2 matrix to evaluate which ideas we felt passionate about against which seemed feasible. Daddy Doula, My Birth Coach, and the Doula Marketplace each originated from the intersection of high passion and feasibility, but were all so amorphous as to what they could do that we weren’t able to settle on one over another.

We revisited our insights and thought a lot about what we saw as the goals of our final idea.

On Wednesday, we made a breakthrough and came up with this idea:

The Peach Project is tool that enables the user to share information about her pregnancy journey with curated communities of her choice, while building a visual history and journey of her pregnancy experience. Through provocation, this platform will prompt her to externalize and articulate her feelings and then share them with her chosen community and the peach community at large.  Sharing tacit knowledge and stories also allows for feedback, support, and empathy from others, strengthening the mother to be’s feeling of confidence around her impending birth experience.

We finally felt we were on the right track and were pretty amped up about the numerous possibilities when we met with Matt Wednesday night. He pointed out to us that while certain aspects of the idea hit home, once again we were trying to incorporate too many features into one product. “What does this platform really do?”


Yes, ideas are free. But ideas that we were excited about seemed to be few and far between. We were spinning our wheels on the same thought avenues time and time again. We needed a new framework to view our research through.

Jon suggested we chart out a few main phases of pregnancy and then think through the value proposition, emotional value proposition, and incentive for each of our participants through this framework. For example, we thought about Lily’s experience with pregnancy and asked “what was she probably thinking when she first found out?”, “what about when she started to tell people?”.


This exercise was immensely helpful in getting us out of our rut. It enabled us to really understand the changing needs of soon-to-be parents throughout pregnancy and what specific areas are most stressful/have the biggest area of opportunity. While each phase includes a certain amount of stress, finalizing plans and the actual labor and delivery periods stood out as an especially tricky time.

From there, we zoned in on these two goals for our idea:

  • The mother-to-be feels connected to and supported by her chosen network of friends and family by assigning communication responsibilities to her closest friends
  • Soon-to-parents are able to easily create boundaries around communication with wider circle friends and family, enabling the mother to better focus on the process of labor and delivery.

One of the provocations for this design idea is that historically, women were supported through their pregnancy and birth experience by a network of women relatives and friends. The introduction of hospitals into the birth process has led to a deterioration of this system. The internet allows us to use social media as a way to manifest a new kind of support connection. Although this connection is crucial, the ability to create boundaries with family and friends is equally important in being able to focus on the labor and delivery process.

Inner Circle will help mitigate the overstepping of boundaries by friends and relatives who mean well but cause anxiety to the mother by being overeager or over-communicative.  Minimizing these distractions and concerns will allow the mother to better focus on the hard and long task at hand.The app will also act as a tool to delegate and manage tasks such as child and/or dog care easily and clearly, further allowing peace of mind and focus.

We are now in a user-testing phase, meeting with participants and verifying that our assumptions about the usefulness and incentives we saw for this new idea are correct before we start wireframing possible manifestations of this idea.

If you have any thoughts about Inner Circle, please don’t hesitate to comment here or email me at

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Quarter Two in Review: Research into Wicked Problems

On Saturday, December 21st, students at Austin Center for Design presented the results of their 8-week research inquiry into a large, systemic social problem. Students explored topics like disaster relief, teenage pregnancy, health records, and gender identity and safety, and presented their work in an open forum to the Austin community. You can learn more about their progress below.

James Lewis, Meghan Corbett and Anna Krachey have been doing design research around pregnancy and child birth decisions. Their research led them to speak with expectant mothers, public health workers, doulas, and social workers, and they identified three core insights that can drive their further ideation and exploration. One of their insights was “taking care of a baby gives teen moms a sense of purpose and motivates them to take care of themselves.” This idea then led to the idea of “Daddy Doula” – a service that would help “fathers become more informed of the physical and emotional challenges of birth that their partner endures and learn how they can best support and assist them during labor. Teen fathers would then be empowered to take an active, supportive role in the birth of their child.” You can learn more about this idea – and others from this team – here.

Chelsea Hostetter and Alex Wykoff have been investigating the process of gender identity, and safety, for those going through gender variant transitions. Their research has identified heart-breaking stories – and opportunity for design-led change – and as a result of their synthesis process, the team developed over 300 divergent ideas of ways to help a community in need.

One of their ideas – Pickle – is “underwear exclusively for trans-men”, while another – Find a Family – is “a location-based app that allows open-minded families and individuals who have an extra seat at the table for holidays to invite others to participate in their holiday. The app connects people based on their location and interests, and facilitates a conversation that develops into a connection over the holidays.” You can learn more about their process here.

Kurt Hanley is exploring how a city, and community, responds to a disaster to provide relief and support. During his exploration, Kurt engaged with the Red Cross, with first responders, and with those who have been displaced by the recent floods in Onion Creek. He identified a number of socioeconomic inequalities and inefficiencies, and has begun to develop a hypothesis about how to better support those in need. You can read more about this hypothesis – often called a theory of change – in his recent post, here.

Scott Gerlach, Bhavini Patel, and Jacob Rader have been immersed in the chaos that is our health record system. The team spent time with hospitals and clinics, with health providers and the recipients of care, and with the impoverished and homeless; they acquired an understanding of the challenges faced by the healthcare system, and gained empathy with the various constituents in this complex system. Through sensemaking, the team arrived at a place advocating for holistic care and patient control, and will then carry this idea framework forward during ideation and design development. You can learn more about their work here.

Next quarter, these students will further ideate and begin to iteratively develop systems, products, and services that can offer social and cultural value.

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Ideal Thermostat- Iteration #6: Final Iteration and Reflection

After eight weeks of Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving, the sixth and final iteration of my ideal thermostat is complete. Last week, we were given the additional requirements of two extra tasks for our fifth iteration and I came incredibly close to an error free round of user testing. The only problem arose when users were prompted to delete a schedule. Every user I tested wanted to select the schedule first before tapping the delete icon.

Please follow along in the full PDF version of iteration 6 here.

After sketching out a few iterations of the delete schedule flow, I realized that a great interface is often flexible in that there is more than one way for users to complete a certain task. If some users want to tap on the schedule to select it before deleting, maybe I should incorporate delete into the edit mode. This solution seems so obvious to me now that I can’t believe I hadn’t realized it before. I was trying so hard to stick with the button conventions I created that I had forgotten to consider what would make sense to the user.

Re-listening to the audio recordings of my think-aloud user testing participants from last round, I heard one user ask, “what does the arrow on the schedule mean?”. While I was unable to answer her question while she tried to complete the tasks, it was a great question. The arrow was a remnant of functionality from an earlier iteration where users could skip ahead in the schedule. It no longer has any use as a stationary selection indicator, but I chose to keep it as a second indicator of the active schedule. This seemingly minor design detail had a large impact on the way the user viewed the capabilities of the system. I easily corrected this mistake by getting rid of the arrows.

Thinking about it now, I think this oversight highlights a flaw in my approach iteratively designing redesigning this thermostat. As designers, we have to realize that every design decision can portray unintended functionality if we don’t consider conventions already in place. In this case, the arrow still represented a stationary selection indicator that users.

So how did the user testing go this time?

Unfortunately, I did not have an error-free round of user testing, but I did learn a few more things that has altered the way I view my thermostat framework:

  1. Users appreciated that they could delete a schedule two different ways. Many initially deleted the schedule through the new editing mode delete option but noticed that there seemed to be another way to delete as indicated by the trash icon on the main schedule mode screen. Two users even asked to attempt the task again so they could experience this alternative flow.
  2. In this round of testing, two users interpreted the task “turn the fan on for two hours” as needing to enter schedule mode since the fan is on for a certain amount of time. Honestly, I think they had a good point. If every other function on manual mode stays activated until turned off, why wouldn’t the fan on manual mode work the same way? Timed usage of the fan would fit the users mental model better if it were included in schedule mode instead.


In this final blog post I would like to consider the evolution of my ideal thermostat by comparing the final design to the ideal thermostat concept model I created before I had even started designing the interface:

Just a few weeks ago, the vision I had for my ideal thermostat was simply a reduction of unnecessary features included in the Honeywell thermostat’s current concept and the addition of smart scheduling capabilities and an energy efficiency indicator. Let’s compare that first iteration of the concept map against one of the final design:

Clearly my understanding of the necessary components of an ideal thermostat has changed immensely over this iterative process. When I started this process, I was worried that I didn’t know enough about the way a thermostat worked and it prevented me from confidently designing an ideal thermostat concept map that was more than just a simplification of the Honeywell design.

This class has forced me to realize that certain rules such as universally conventions (green for okay/yes button) should be followed, but other “standard practices” should not constrict us. I can now think more critically about what I want in a design and not worry about whether it already exists or if other people would like it, because I have the skill set to test it and iterate on it. I have also realized that a poor user-testing round should not be looked at as a failure but as an opportunity pinpoint what worked and what needs more sketching to solve.

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Redesigning a Thermostat: Final Thoughts

In Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving, we invested eight weeks of time into redesigning a Honeywell Thermostat’s Interface.  On a micro level this has been about tweaking the placement of a lot of pixels from week to week and spending entirely too much time thinking about temperature.  However, on a broader scale what we’ve been learning through practice is how to rapidly articulate ideas, produce meaningful representations of them, and coerce meaningful feedback from users.

And all of those skills mean that we can confront a problem space and apply our unique frame as designers in a creative, iterative process that leads to more meaningful interactions.  So although I don’t care much about thermostats, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges we’ve overcome in the last quarter.  And I ended up with a design that I’m proud of:

You can also check out the Wireframes via User Flows

Although I’m happy about where the design ended up, I tend to struggle with premature judgement while I’m trying to get to that place.  So I’d like to talk a little more about the process that I’m coming to trust.

Rapid Ideation in Isolation

In order to keep moving forward in design, I’ve learning it’s crucial to articulate your thoughts in a way that can provoke feedback.

More and more I’m finding that I work best when I have a chance to sketch out a few ideas (like above) and provoke myself before I consider those ideas with other people.


Theory Testing

It can be tempting to spend far too long designing and refining in isolation, insulated from critical feedback because your design “isn’t done”.  In order to meaningfully test a design idea, you need to approach the process with intention.

Early on, I built a crude prototype of the physical size and feel of the thermostat to be use in conjunction with paper prototypes.  Then I gave people goals to test out and and tried to put myself in their head-space as they were interacting with the design.

In this course we employed “think aloud testing” to prompt the testers to speak what they were thinking out loud in a stream of consciousness to help facilitate our own understanding of their actions (or inactions).  I took this process and had fun with it, probably due to my background in teaching and tutoring.

After a tester completes all the paper prototype scenarios, they fill our a questionarre that is scored and turned into a System Useability Score on a scale from 0-100.

I found the SUS scores to be far less useful than the think aloud testing, but I think they do represent a meaningful verification of the progression of a design project for people that are completely outside the process.  Over the course of my 4 weeks of testing, my design improved from an average SUS score in the low 80s to an average SUS score of 92 on my final paper prototypes.


If you’ve been following along with me throughout this process, you know that last time, I was looking forward to building a digital prototype of my ideas.

I’m happy to report you can check out my digital prototype online now.  Although there are still a few minor issues with how the animations are timed, I’m happy with how the digital prototype conveys a much more complete vision of how each interaction should look an feel.  It’s clear to me that in a collaborative environment, it would be extremely valuable to bring design ideas toward this fidelity before handing them off to ensure the ideas are well communicated.

Lasting Takeaways

I think this project was important for my progression toward an interaction designer who can work autonomously.  Matt Franks did a masterful job of offering feedback at each stage that pushed me forward but forced me to find my own way.  As a result, I feel very confident in the process because it’s one that I helped shape myself.  Now, as a class, we can stop thinking about thermostats and apply rapid ideation and creative problem solving to problems that are worth solving.




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IDSE201 – Thermostat System Interface Redesign

Last week we conducted a number of usability tests using the think-aloud method on our interface design for Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving.  The feedback from these tests and SUS evaluations exposed usability flaws that were in conflict with “my idea” of simple design.

Two major flaws exposed from Iteration 3 were:

1. No clear indication on how to adjust temperature

2. No feedback loops to let the user know that the system was working and what it was doing

So I went back to the whiteboard with Professor Matt Franks and we sketched out options to address these issues.

Designed more wireframe options (see below)

And was able to design a version that was more in line with user feedback but also fit my initial idea to design a simple interface.

My annotated wireframes for Iteration 4 are located here.

Sample redesigned screens below:

Temperature Adjustment Flow:

Feedback Loop examples:

1. Fan On

2. Temperature set at 70

In reflection, the interface I designed was “simple looking” instead of simple and easy to use in previous versions. The system now includes a temperature controller along with feedback loops in the form of animations and text to let users know what the system is doing.

Previous Iterations and Concept Models below:

Iteration 3

Iteration 2

Iteration 1

Concept Models 1 & 2

For any questions/feedback please leave me a comment or you can reach me at



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Ideal Thermostat – Iteration #5: Design Details

Last week, I posted the fourth iteration of my ideal thermostat interface in which I aimed to give users a better understanding of what the system was accomplishing through visual indicators. I also made changes to my schedule mode which showed a huge improvement in user testing when it came to adding and deleting schedules but I now realized that I had designed two different interactions based on the same action of tapping a schedule—entering edit mode and selecting a schedule to delete. This is a problem because the system would not be able to determine which action the user intended to do. I decided to rework the flow so that users would tap the trash icon to enter into a delete mode, similar to the way they tap the add icon to enter add mode…

…then the user taps on the schedule the want to delete…

…and confirms that they want to delete the indicated schedule.

View the full PDF of annotated wireframes here.

Think aloud user testing of the previous iteration indicated that the difference between the auto and on setting for the fan setting was not clear. I realized that I was trying to inform users of the fact that the fan activates when heating or cooling is needed. While this is true, it is not necessary for the user to understand this technical reality. I have since eliminated the auto fan icon, so that the fan’s functionality matches the user’s mental model; turning on the fan is used to manually circulate air for a period of time.

Lastly, I realized that too many users seemed confused about which days of the week were selected in the add schedule menu so I filled in the circles of selected days.

Adding new tasks

Up until the last iteration, we have been creating the core functionality of our ideal thermostat meaning that we did not have to create flows for tasks that users would interact with infrequently. Now that we have worked through the basic functions, we have been given two new tasks to set-up the necessary technical considerations that allow the basic functions to work properly.

  1. Allow the user to connect to a wireless network or enter the date and time necessary for the scheduler to work
  2. Prevent the user from being able to turn on the A/C during the winter, which would break the system.

Keeping with the simple nature of my thermostat, I decided that a connection to a wireless network would be unnecessary since no functions require it. Instead, the first time a user enters schedule mode, they are prompted to manually enter the time and date. This allows the schedule mode to function off this information. Once the user input the date and time, the settings icon is pointed out should they need to change the time or date.

To address the users that try to turn on the air conditioning in the winter, I added a modal that will pop up to alert users that cooling could break their A/C unit.

So how did the user testing go this time?

For this round of user testing, I approached people at Mozart’s. I discovered a few things this round:

  1. Users had no problem navigating the new fan functionality. They would tap the fan and then tap to add more time until the desired amount of time was displayed. This seems to better fit user’s mental model like I suspected.
  2. Problems arose when users were prompted to delete a schedule. Every user I tested wanted to select the schedule first before tapping the delete icon. One user told me she viewed the colored schedule as in a selected state. It seems like I may be sending unintended signals to the user.

I will have to think long and hard about how to address the issues with deleting a schedule and how to indicate which schedule is active without it looking selected. However, if I can fix that, I think the next round of think aloud testing could be error-free!

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