How Important are You? A Question of Value.

Research Focus: We aim to understand how Austin area farmers and ranchers get products to market. Specifically, we will explore how farmers and restaurants communicate with each other through touch-points along the food distribution chain.


It’s hard to remember all the people we actually speak to throughout the day. And even harder to assign value to those people. How important are they in my life? All of that of course depends on how you define value.

When we set about having farmers and restaurant folk track their communications, we wanted to get at their definition of importance by having them place the people they spoke to on a board accordingly. The closer to the center they placed the person, the more important. I assumed they would define importance by level of monetary value the person contributed to their business. In this I was right, and I was also wrong. What came out was that apart from monetary gain, sometimes a person is important because of the way they make you feel.

My research partner and I conducted this activity with a farmer that we had already spent time with before named Joe.

Joe was in a bad mood that day. My research partner and I could tell from the moment we walked up he was on edge. Busy, aggravated. According to him, everyone was stupid or uneducated. It took some time before he sat down and did the planned activity with us, but eventually he did, and was very open about who he communicated with and which people he thought were awesome and which were annoying.

Joe likes to talk, and even though we spent 5 hours with him the week before listening to him rattle on, we never really saw him be vulnerable. The point of vulnerability is when a man’s true self can be seen. What we learned was, Joe is scared about his future. “This is the most unsustainable thing I could be doing. I have nothing going for me, we are all just pissing in the wind. I try not to think about it.” We were listening to a farmer that feels like he has no other options in the world except farming and doesn’t know how he could ever leave it. “I wish we could have a life. I don’t have a life. If you’re going to work all the time you got to do at least something enjoyable. At least I don’t have money going out the door.” The low pay paired with lack of expenses has kept him a prisoner to the farming world. He told us often how he loved his work, and we could see he felt some autonomy in his day to day, but love of labor has limits. “I work all day, sit on my porch, and get up the next day to work. This is all I can do now. I can hardly hardly support myself, how could I support a family and kids? That’s out of the question. I have nothing put ahead of me. My dad thinks I’m making a bad decision with what I’m doing. But he’s a knot head. I think I’ll be fine.”

The only other life he can imagine is one where he works at HEB, which is ultimately less appealing to him.

Hearing Joe talking makes me wondering if we’ve been missing something entirely. That it’s not communication with business relationships that’s important for a farmer. Maybe it’s communication with people that make them feel connected and valued as a person that they need, instead of like an outliner on society’s fringe.

“I literally don’t leave the farm except to market. I don’t really complain about it anymore. I’m better just staying here. The more I leave the more depressed it get with the world.” Joe’s energy had dropped a bit by the time we left him.

Moving forward with our research my partner and I want to look at a couple of things. First off, we are ditching an activity using images that we thought would be great, but didn’t land well with any other the participants we used it with. Secondly, we want to expand upon the activity that did work well and incorporate a new element that accounts for the amount of time our participants spend communicating with certain people. Hopefully this can help us better understand the trade offs they make throughout their day. Where do they sacrifice time from one activity to feed another? Lastly… we aren’t sure yet. It’s important for us understand the level of impact and influence these different players have on each other’s lives, but we haven’t defined the activity that will best lead to this insight yet.

And for Joe? The perceived problem of the food value chain is deeper than I first imagined. It’s not just helping farmers make money, moving food to market, convincing consumers to eat local, or even shedding light upon the value and commitment of the people working across the food chain. The problem is shifting power and human-beingness back into the system to the people that keep it afloat.

“Products on Products”

“PRODUCTS ON PRODUCTS”

by jay messenger

Jay Messenger Assignment 1-01 Jay Messenger Assignment 1-02 Jay Messenger Assignment 1-03 Jay Messenger Assignment 1-04 Jay Messenger Assignment 1-05 Jay Messenger Assignment 1-06

 

The main inspiration for “Products on Products” is that design is everywhere. Practically everything we interact with has been designed by someone. My keyboard, the Word document I’m typing in, the sofa I’m sitting in, the coffee mug I’m sipping, and so on and so on, outward from everyday objects, to services, and into society. It’s an endless sea of products and meaning-making, interwoven into our daily existence, our cognizance, and our identities.

The idea that there are an infinite amount of layers of design in our lives made me think to draw out a kind of Russian-doll sort of comic. “Products on Products” displays a series of designs within designs – or more specifically: a design within a design within a design within a design within a design – with coda at the end.

Each comic represents the position of one of the pieces we read, discussed and studied for the assignment:

Jay Messenger Assignment 1-01

“Product A: The Hat” represents the position of Maurizio Vitta taken in “The Meaning of Design,” i.e. the theory that, in our era of mass consumption, products and services begin to lose their primary function in the eyes of consumers, and instead become sources of “social significance” to those who consume them. Vitta clearly thinks this is an important paradigm for designers to recognize, but I also think it is critical that consumers recognize it as well, much like Bobby does.

Jay Messenger Assignment 1-02

Product A is then encompassed by “Product B: The Lesson,” which represents the position of John Dewey in “A Need for a Theory of Experience.” Dewey’s main point is that education needs to take the backgrounds, experiences, and inner thoughts of students into account into their education. This can be accomplished through the “principle of interaction” – i.e. displaying sympathy for students unique needs and preferences and incorporating them into curricula – and through the “principle of continuity,” i.e. the idea that students’ experiences must be manipulated, selected, and built on each other. Mr. Robertson is trying to teach according to both of these principles.

Jay Messenger Assignment 1-03

Product B is encompassed by “Product C: The Curriculum,” which represents the position of Emily Pilloton in “Depth Over Breadth.” In this frame, the designer, seen talking to a school administrator, essentially embodies Pilloton’s ideal: someone who has permanently moved to the site of their research, empathizes with the community, and focuses on a highly impactful vector, i.e. primary education. I couldn’t help but satirize the designer’s position a bit, as I personally think it’s really presumptuous to assume you can fully assimilate into a community in this fashion.

Jay Messenger Assignment 1-04

Product C is encompassed by “Product D: The Fundraiser,” which represents the position of Edward Bernays in “Manipulating Public Opinion.” Bernays views the manipulation of public opinion as an inevitable and foundational aspect of democracy; the entrepreneur in this frame is executing his right to do so. Bernays also sees public manipulation as a strategic enterprise – Bernays would likely approve of the entrepreneur’s strategy of simplifying and dramatizing the case of “The Curriculum” in a public setting.

Jay Messenger Assignment 1-05

Product D is encompassed by “Product E: The Common Sense Solution,” which represents the position of Michael Hobbes in “Stop Trying to Save the World.” Hobbes argues that many “common sense solutions” lack adequate follow-up evaluations, and are often scaled such that they are implemented in social settings that are completely unfitting for this sort of service. In this frame, Bobby and Mr. Robertson survey the aftermath of the entrepreneur’s common sense scaling of The Curriculum: a Designer Corps whereby designers are mobilized to live in and re-design the curricula of school districts across the country. It clearly didn’t work out.

Jay Messenger Assignment 1-06

“By-products” serves as both a representation of Vicotor Margolin’s position in “Global Expansion or Global Equilibrium” and as a moral for the story I am telling. Designing is provocation, whether the product be a hat, a lesson plan, a curriculum, a fundraiser, or a national initiative. With everything you design and unleash into the world, you are provoking the society such that there are new expectations, new social significances, new public opinions, and the like. Sometimes these provocations can have unforeseen consequences. This is especially true the higher the scale of your product – and I hope that this comic makes this clear.

We can’t possibly predict all these impacts, but we should at least consider them before we saturate any given market with any given product. We are expansionists – that’s inevitable – but we must try to take the Margolin’s equilibrium model into account.

 

Redesigning myAT&T – Sketches to Digital Wireframes and User Testing

After completing our sticky note storyboarding in Rapid Ideation we then moved forward by creating higher fidelity wireframes using pencil and paper on a phone screen template. Previously, we only concentrated on the most important task or idea for each screen in our sticky notes. Because of this key information within each screen was missing to fully realize what the experience may be like. By moving to pencil and paper it allows us to consider the more granular level detail of each screen, such as UI components and the navigation. Here are a few examples of some of my sketches.

Sketches

The next step was to critique each other’s screens for anything that might be missing or confusing. At this point we may have been missing back buttons or smaller detailed informational items that were less important to the primary point on the screen, but still important to include. One benefit from beginning with sketching is that changes are much easier to make, part due to the effort involved and arguably we are much less attached to what we have created at this fidelity. Once the entire flow made sense in sketch format, we then moved on to digitizing our wireframes (view full resolution).

Wireframes

Iteration is very important at this stage from feedback about the designs we are working with, both from other designers as well as users who are not as familiar with the project. To confirm our designs were communicating what we intended, we conducted user testing via the “Think Aloud Protocol”. With this protocol we ask users to tell us everything that is going through their minds about what their seeing and feeling about each screen. From feedback we received during user we took into consideration on future iterations of our wireframes.

To set this up I created a Craft InVision prototype to be able to tap from screen to screen. At this fidelity it’s pretty close to what a final experience may look like and can be used to gain valuable insights about usability and perception of information on the screen. I also plugged in the phone into my computer and recorded what was being used and said during the user test. Lastly, I took notes to highlight breakdowns or opportunities I noticed or the user mentioned.

One of the main findings that came out of user testing was learning that people gravitated towards the account tab I was using in my navigation when they wanted to submit an insurance claim, or suspend a device. I intended them to go to the device tab to do so. Although, these users did eventually get to the intended location, and admitted that they felt it made a little more sense than what they were accustomed to (they were probably just being nice), their feedback told me I should provide a button within the account tab to navigate to these same locations.

Another change in my designs that my user testing informed was for a more consistent messaging system. I realized that I had 3-4 different ways of showing confirmation that the action had been completed. There was also a place where I could have included a more clear success message that was missing. As soon as I updated this users had no confusion as to whether or not the task was completed.

Over the break I plan to iterate more on my designs and test them in front of other people focusing on more error states and any edge cases that arise to make sure the functionality of my app is complete.

Concept Mapping – Creating Understanding

Concept mapping is intended to create an understanding around an unfamiliar space. The idea is to step back and abstract the space you’re looking at to create a high-level understanding. This idea is much more ambiguous than the previous mapping exercises I have created, which caused some difficulty at the beginning.

My first iteration was purely a site map. Although site maps are very useful, they are more beneficial later on in the design process. In retrospect I was approaching the assignment with a literal mentality, which led to a literal artifact. The limitation of being literal while creating a concept map is potentially missing the opportunity to acknowledge important relationships of bigger ideas within the ecosystem you’re trying to wrap your head around.

Concept Map v1

The overall assignment is to redesign the mobile experience for managing your AT&T account. We began by conducting research asking participants what his or her top five pain points from a list include we created as well as keeping it open for them to add his or her own. In addition to surveys we read reviews about the current experience to further inform the emotion behind what exists. From there we created a matrix that identified overlapping features or pain points within the current app experience. This served as a stepping stone to start creating our concept map.

Moving forward the class identified the primary six criteria that will be included within our final design. I think this is one of the reasons why I had a mental block at the beginning. Something about identifying criteria prior to creating the concept map caused some confusion on my end.

One of the moments where it started to click for me personally was when applying the question of ‘what?’ rather than ‘how?’. Looking back this seems to obviously be the “correct” question when creating an artifact like this, but that’s not where my mind was. This helped me clear the literal block I was having. The following image is of the white boarding session where that moment occurred.

ATT Concept Map Rough

After some more exploration and iteration I arrived at a concept map that I feel is more conducive to the exercise. Even the visual layout at a glance shows more of a ‘what’ mentality rather than ‘how’. The circles represent nouns within the system while the connecting lines represent verbs, labeled as such. There is no question that concept mapping is a valuable tool, especially when applied to more complex problems.

Concept Map v2

A Story of Poverty – Theory Readings

Poverty is a social issue which could be argued to be impossible to solve, a wicked problem. A wicked problem is a problem that is so deeply connected to other factors with a large set of variables that it is inherently extremely difficult to solve. But, by trying to understand the links and causes of poverty, technology & homelessness, as well as applying the idea of a social business, I believe we can lessen the severity of homelessness.

My story of poverty begins with Bill feeling good about life. He’s worked hard and had created a pretty comfortable life for himself. This was the case until he found out the store he was working for was shutting down. This led to him losing his job, which led to losing his vehicle, then his apartment ultimately leaving him without a place to live.

This part of my story relates to Christopher LeDantec’s recognition that multiple issues compound and negatively link together to create a situation of poverty. Although my story focuses on one situation, LeDantec explains how there is no one single cause of homelessness, so there is no single solution. LeDantec also discusses that there is a common mentality within poverty that people desire to continue maintaining his or her appearance to hide the fact they are homeless, primarily from friends and family. Those who keep their cell phones also use this as a social construct to communicate that they are still doing alright, as well as literally continue communication between friends and family as much as possible. One insight discovered by LeDantec was the fact that mobile devices are perceived to be more useful than a laptop or desktop computer.

My story continues with Bill having the desire to keep up his appearance. He does this by stopping at a truck stop to use the showers. At the truck stop Bill buys travel size products to minimize his spending as well as receiving a sense of greater purchasing power.

This purchasing power is derived from C.K. Prahalad’s discussion about businesses having untapped potential by branching out items into smaller and individual use sizes, which makes products more affordable and ultimately gives people in poverty more purchasing power. He argues this ultimately improves their quality of life.

After showering to maintain his appearance for upcoming job opportunities Bill was also hoping that it would help relieve his stress. This was not the case. He decided he really wanted a beer or two to destress. This probably isn’t the best of decisions due to the fact he only had a $20 to his name.

I chose this scenario to relate to Dean Spears’s discovery through research that scarcity and poverty depletes cognitive ability and reasoning power due to trying to resist the indulgence of the poor. Because they are living in scarcity they’e almost forced to make bad decisions.

While Bill is drinking his beer Eric is introduced into my story. A dialogue occurs between Bill and Eric about their situations and Bill learns that Eric is also under a large amount of stress. Eric explains that he hasn’t been happy with his job and that he was frustrated in the fact that he felt he wasn’t able to make the impact he was originally hoping for within the organization. Eric is considering leaving his company but wasn’t sure what to do next.

Bill jokes that Eric could solve his problem of not being able to find a job. This is where my story relates to Roger Martin’s article. Martin talks about how there are there three qualifiers for a social entrepreneurship which are to: identify a stable but unjust equilibrium within the poor or disadvantaged population, then identify an opportunity to improve the situation, and lastly forge a new equilibrium that alleviates suffering for the group. The opportunity Eric identifies is by designing a system with Bill that focused on applying for jobs via a mobile device rather than a laptop. The seemed to be more accommodating to someone in a situation similar to Bill’s.

Continuing this dialogue Bill counters Eric’s explanation with confusion about how Eric wanted to leave the corporate world and that it sounded like he was potentially entering a similar space. Eric then began to explain how he was recently exposed to the idea of a social business, which is a self-sustaining company that sells goods or services that repays investments and improves the quality of life for the poor. This is what he wished to co-create with Eric (which also addressing LeDantec’s argument that co-creation is a good thing in order to design for multiple publics). This conversation is my way of bringing in Muhammad Yunus discussion around the idea of a social business.

Bill and Eric decide to move forward with the idea of creating a service focused on applying to jobs via a mobile device. This allowed Bill to get back on his feet. Not only did he end up getting into a better position but he loves the fact that he is helping others that have been struggling to climb out of homelessness.

 

Thing

Research Plan – Team Sprocket

 

Focus and Topics

Predatory loans, by definition, can be abusive and take advantage of people without them being aware that this is the case. Team Sprocket seeks to understand predatory loans in greater detail to find out how we would potentially improve this scenario.

 

We intend to explore the parties involved directly, and indirectly, with predatory loans. Along with the parties we will seek to educate ourselves more about the process associated with these types of loans. Also of importance is discovering the origin of necessity as well as the general societal perception of predatory loans.

Objectives

The objective of the research is to further understand predatory loans and why people utilize them, being unfair or abusive in their nature, rather than alternatives. Our research will help better understand:

 

  • The general perception of predatory loans and whether or not everyone understands the inherent abusive nature of said loans.
  • The way in which predatory loans are positioned to potential borrowers.
  • The process involved in applying for predatory loans.
  • How these loans are processed.
  • What exactly is involved in paying back predatory loans.
  • What other solutions exist, if any at all.

 

Participants and Context

The participants that take part in the ecosystem that is predatory loans are few and far between. It is not a particularly prevalent issue. To observe and interview, we have identified the following groups of people and the unique points of view that they bring to the overall conversation:

Lenders:

From lenders we will gain insight into the why and how of the efficacy and morals of a predatory loan situation. The spectrum of Borrowers that come to them for services. As well as a view into what kinds of objects are commonly put on the line and the ripple effects the loss/gain has on people’s lives.

Borrowers:

From borrowers we will learn the direct circumstance by which someone is put in the position of using a predatory loan and how it feels.

Family Members:

Family members will bring other perspectives on how the above groups of individuals are affected by taking part in predatory loans, in their lives outside of work.

Those Owed Money by the Borrower (besides the Lender):

Previously borrowed from lenders will enhance our insight into the events leading up to this need.

Non-profit employees who help individuals get out of debt (?):

“Get out of debt” do gooders will have a perspective of the overall loan and debt space as a whole.

Collection Agency Employees:

Collection agency personnel will have seen the ins and outs of all types of debts and loans, including the endings and beginnings of them.

Bank employees (Possibly):

Bank employees will more fully understand how loans as a whole work.. And what the criteria is for someone being rejected.

Entering the environment:

Predicting that the predatory loan space will have a difficult entry point, we plan to broadcast the work we are trying to do at the forefront of our research, expressing the need for these interviewees across platforms of social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.), public commerce(craigslist, loan offices/services etc.), non-profits oriented towards debt and the low income population(Mission Capital).

Entering a vulnerable space:

Predatory loans is a sub-sector which encapsulates a population who exist on the bottom rung of the ladder of society and almost definitely feel that reality daily. The delicateness to which these issues need to be approached will be at the forefront of our awareness so as to receive information that is not voiced out of defensiveness.

Behavior observation:

Behavior will be most easily Observable when the Borrower is in their home environment relating to their family. This context will give us insight into how the earlier phases, taking out the loan and the decision to do so etc., went and the ripple effect they have had.

We can observe documents, what their parameters are, and the words that are used.

Observation points:

Borrower’s, Family Members, and those owed money by the Borrower we will try to observe in their home.

Lenders, Non-profit, collection agency, and bank employees will be observed in their work context.

Activities and Method

Contextual Inquiry will be utilized to conduct research. Contextual Inquiry is important with the focus being Predatory loans for the fact that the life context of the individuals is so important. These are people that could fall under the “basic needs” category and to understand through immersion the weight that that reality has is important. A clear focus gives us the capability to dive into the how and why of where they are and how they got there. The aim is to understand the consecutive nature of the events that led them to needing this type of loan as well as the process, feeling of interfacing between Lender and Borrower and the undercurrent intents.

Driving this research is a deep desire to understand the full life cycle of the process of a predatory loan. Starting at the catalyst creating the need and ending at the route of payback or loss of property put on the line. A key component is the power of choice, and if it feels like it is present in the transactions and decisions made. A step further begs the questions, if the choice is jeopardized through manipulation of a less well off individual.

A moderator will be facilitating conversations with the research participants while a note taker is annotating key phrases, actions, reactions, and scenarios. All alongside a photographer who is snapping photos of key incidences as inconspicuously as possible. All members of the team will be aware of places that call for further questioning.

We are expecting our research process to run for approximately 12 days.

Schedule

IDSE101 Research Timeline - Team Sprocket - Sheet1

Discussion Guide / Script

Introduction. Hi, my name is ________. We’re conducting research with [Borrowers, Lenders, Collection Agents, etc] to understand loan options in Austin. What I’m hoping we can do today is ask you some questions, and then have you show us some of the things that help you [manage your finances, manage your loan, manage customer payments].

If at any time you don’t feel comfortable with what we’re asking, just let us know.

Explain and distribute informed consent.

Foundational Interview:

(30 min) During this section of the interview, we will seek to build rapport and gather context about their motivations, processes, and artifacts to inform the rest of the interview. We will seek to gain an understanding about loan processes, how they understand their progress towards [taking out a loan, paying off a loan, issuing a loan, etc.], their current perception of their progress against this goal, and the milestones, markers, and artifacts used to inform this perception. (Past / Present / Future).

Foundational Interview Questions:

Borrower

How many loans have you taken out? What is the amount in total?

When did you first take out the loan(s)?

What is the interest for the loan(s)?

For what purpose did you take out the loan(s)?

Would you mind if we contacted this business/individual?

What measures did you take to avoid taking out a loan?

Who is your Lending Company?

How often are you in touch with your Lending Company? Do you contact them or do they contact you? How do you communication (e.g. via phone, in-person, mail, e-mail)?

How are you paying off the loan(s)? Check? Cash?

Do you pay in-person or online?

What tools do you use to track your finances?

What tools do you use to track your loan payments?

How many revenue streams go to paying off the loan(s)?

Do you expect to take out another loan in the future?

How would you describe your personal capabilities with technology?

Whom do you go to for financial advice?

Whom do you go to for financial support, if you’re in a pinch?

How did you find out about the Lending Company?

What opportunities opened up by taking out a loan?

Tell me about the process of taking out a loan. (Who was involved, when did you first find out about loans?)

If you could go back right now and tell your past self anything about loans, what would you say?

If your future self were to come back in time, to this very moment and tell you anything, what do you think he/she would say?

Lender Employee

How long have you worked here?

Walk me through the process of issuing a loan.

What is the loan range (e.g. $100-$5,000)?

What is the average size of a loan issued by this company?

How do you handle the stress of your job?

For what purpose do Borrowers usually take out loans?

How do you determine the lending risk?

What kind of collateral do you normally accept?

 

Those Owed Money by the Borrower

How many of your customers have needed to take out a loan to make their payment?

Did you receive your payment directly from the Lender or from the Customer (Borrower)?

How often do you find that your customers have difficulty making the payment?

How do your customers normally pay you? (Cash, Check, Credit)

 

Non-profit employees who help individuals get out of debt

How many clients use Predatory Loans to make a payment?

Can you show me the tools you provide to help clients out of debt?

Do you ever have face-to-face contact with the Lender?

At what point do clients seek your help? What level of desperation?

What role do secrecy and shame play in debt and financial management?

What factors drive clients towards Predatory Lending? Convenience? Lack of education?

What puts clients most at risk for taking out a Predatory Loan?

 

Bank employees

What are the criteria for taking out a loan?

Why might the bank reject a loan request?

What is the rate of rejection?

 

Collection Agency Employees

How do you get the list of names to contact?

How do you contact the Borrowers?

How many times do you have to follow up with someone to get in touch?

Hey What’s up Hello, Predatory Loans

The research plan was an oddly comforting assignment. A phrase I never thought I would have around a school assignment, but it’s true. I enjoyed projecting my initial ideas around predatory loans on to paper. Reviewing questions such as, ‘what are predatory loans, who do they affect, how are these populations most affected, what is the behavior of the lender, how much say do lenders have in the application process?’ and so on and so forth.

Throughout the creation of our research plan, I found myself constantly placing qualifiers within my questions or descriptions of potential participants. For example, wondering, ‘why did I assume the person asking for a loan was under financial pressure?’ or ‘Why did I assume the person lending the money was wealthy?’. To reflect and critically engage with the assumptions I made around predatory loans and what words I was putting on the page was an arduous task, but it felt rewarding. By analyzing my own assumptions and thoughts around predatory loans, I was getting to a deeper, cleaner starting place; one that allowed me to build up my research from a less judgmental place.

The second comforting notion was the simple reminder that this is just a starting point. Previously during trial runs of this process, I was under the impression the research plan was more like a recipe. Each step needed to be completed in order to create the perfect meal. Though after actually doing the process, I’m finding that exact steps of the ‘plan’ will not matter half way through an interview as long as you stay within your focus. The research plan’s activities will change in real time during the actual research process. I now have a better understanding of what Jon meant when he said “make a plan, but know that it will go wrong”.

So let’s begin our research, and see where the observed behaviors take us.

researchplan8.24.16

Concept Map #1 – Navy Federal

Last quarter our Methods class focused on understanding the research  process. We learned how to build a frame for who we are designing for and why. Now, with that as a foundation, we begin the act of rapid ideation – developing a concept, and rapidly generating concepts that could support the users we would have researched.

Our assignment this quarter is simple – build the concept for a banking app. There’s one catch, we need to do it over and over again.

I chose a bank in which I’ve had an account since I was 13 – Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU). Navy Federal is focused on serving families connected to the military. I was also interested in the app because of the important role it might play in the life of a military family. Military families are dispersed around the globe and there are only a few NFCU branches around the country, let alone the world. Their primary customer base, service members and their families, regularly move to new duty stations, the bank does not have many physical access to branches. Because of these constraints and in an ever increasing mobile world, I am interested in how NFCU’s app has been designed and could better support service members and their families.

To understand the app in depth, I took a screenshot of each page in the app and created a visual map illustrating the app’s information architecture.

Current App

NFCU Current

While the app has many positives, I uncovered a few opportunities for improvement.

For starters, there were two errors in the core functionality of the app:

The app would crash when attempting to add a person to the “Bill Pay” contact list.

 

app crash

 

Additionally, the app would stall when one attempted to deposit a check.

app_stall

 

Beyond the crashes, I found is that while the core functionality of a banking app – accounts, deposits, bill pay, transfers – the app is poorly organized and equal real estate is given to the non-core features (including information, tools, and rates).

menu screen

Concept Map

In mapping out my initial concept map, I kept thinking of that military family. I had an story pop up in my head.

A husband is on deployment for 6 months. His wife is left taking care of the house and their children. She is a no-nonsense kind of woman. She doesn’t have time for the non-essentials. Constantly on the move and juggling three things at once, the last thing on her mind is paying bills. To make dealing with her finances easier, she could use an app that is offers what she wants as directly as possible.

The following concept represents this kind of user. The app has been pair down so that only the core functions are immediately accessible on the landing page.

NFCU Concept

Additionally, on the menu page, the offerings have been paired down. Many of the extraneous resources, like the mortgage calculator, have been removed I mean, who needs one when there isn’t even a mortgage function in the app? The goal was to ensure that the user has what she needs and can get to it as directly and easily as possible.

NFCU concept menu

Overview

The developers who have created this app have created a pretty solid work flow which is easy to navigate. My hope for this quarter is to build upon that foundation, offering a simpler, more refined app.

But in real life, I really hope they fix the deposit and bill pay problems. For many customers who don’t have a branch, not being able to deposit a check is kinda / sorta / definitely a big problem.

Hopping to Solutions

Sophie Kwok and I worked together for our last assignment for our Design, Society, and the Public Sector class. Over the past few weeks we focused on the topics of design thinking and wicked problems. Below is a story illustrating our ideas and then a detailed description that frames our story.

BLOG POST

We face problems every day. They range from losing your keys to the daily commute being too long. While these problems can be frustrating, they can be solved. On the converse, there are problems that are gnarly, entangled, and ambiguous – climate change, race relations, and hunger are just a few examples. For decades, solutions using methods steeped in research and expertise had been developed to address these complex or “wicked” problems. But more often than not, the solutions have fallen short and in some cases, made the problem even worse.

At the same time, over the past 30 years a group of designers have been using a process in which to identify and solve often ambiguously defined requests from clients. Clients would have an ambiguous problem in which unable to design solutions on their own. Rather, they hired designers, who could embrace that ambiguity and design unique solutions. The designers would put the users at the center of the challenge, and based upon their identified needs, generate ideas and opportunities that utilized a variety of disciplines and experiences. This approach, often referred to as “design thinking”, has become synonymous with tackling ill-defined and unconventional challenges. Because of that, many people, including the authors of this post, see design thinking as an ideal approach to tackling wicked problems.

Wicked Problems

Wicked problems are defined as being complex challenges that can be interpreted and addressed in multiple ways. There is no one answer. With one solution, another challenge emerges. Horst Rittel, who defined the concept of wicked problems, frames them as contentious challenges with various solutions. He states that not only is a wicked problem due to its complexity but a core element is equity. Without an understanding of those who are affected by the problem, the solutions we develop will not only be unable to address the crux of the issue, they will potentially make the situation worse.

Richard Buchanan, a design professor, builds upon this argument stating that if we are to address these wicked problems we must build a common understanding of design and its implications. He states that because our world is defined by designed artifacts, it is vital that individuals in all disciplines are able to understand the role of design and how it influences something like “wicked problems”. He believes that a common language around design thinking affords us the chance to collectively define and address these challenges.

Jocelyn Wyatt, of IDEO.org, builds upon this idea stating that design thinking is our best bet at addressing these wicked problems. She believes that a common understanding of design affords us the chance work across the disciplines, and with all stakeholders, identify and understand the impact of the issue and ultimately create a concrete and validated design.

Design Thinking

But how do we get to that point? Nigel Cross, a design researcher, frames design thinking as a methodology, or an approach in which to build an understanding of how to deal with complexity and ambiguity. We live in a world in which anything artificial is designed. What we create directly and indirectly impacts others. If one understands how design affects others and is able to develop knowledge of how to approach complex issues we have a greater chance of tackling wicked problems.

If this is the case, it is vital that, as Chris Pacione, a design professor, states, design thinking become a literacy. It must be seen as foundation in which we understand and create solutions for wicked problems. Regardless of one’s discipline or perspective, it is vital to, as Edward DeBono, an author, states, think laterally. Thinking laterally infers that one should be able to identify and connect disparate ideas in order to develop new and creative ones. Regardless of whether one becomes an industrial designer or a white collar litigator, an ability to think in such a manner offers us the chance to approach problems from different perspectives. That coupled with an awareness of how our work affects others, gives us the best chance for dealing with problems big and small.

Wicked problems aside, our world is changing. Traditional industries and jobs, like manufacturing, are disappearing. With that, businesses and schools recognize the importance of having a new set of skills – being able to understand a problem from multiple perspectives and make an informed decision in order to create a beneficial solution. Design thinking has been adopted as an approach that will help our current and future employees accomplish that task. Schools are now basing their curriculum around design thinking. Businesses are sending their employees to 2 day workshops. All with the hope of “understanding” and taking advantage of design thinking. While one may not become a designer, they are being introduced and given the freedom to “think differently”.

Design Thinking & Wicked Problems

Whether design thinking is the answer is up for debate but it is essential that we have the ability to see problems through a different lens and be open to the possibilities and pitfalls of what we create. As we indicated, wicked problems are exactly that. They are not going away but if we are able to put people at the heart of the problem, design with and for them, and think up, down, and around about how to solve those problems, we a least have a shot of making a sizeable dent.

 

Dear, Future AC4D’er

For our penultimate individual assignment we were asked to create three illustrations providing advice to a future student. The following are three key points that have helped me during our first quarter at AC4D.

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