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.


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:


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.


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.


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:


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?

Research Brief: Sexual Health

For our Interaction Design Research and Synthesis class we were tasked to complete a research project over the course of our first quarter. Meg, Celine, and I formed a team. In reviewing possible topics, we chose to explore topics related to women’s sexual health and developed the following focus:

How women feel about sexual health and sex

We choose this topic in part because we understand the importance of a healthy relationship with one’s body and with sex in defining our overall health.

In talking with several sexual health educators from local clinics and outreach organizations, we uncovered that an early and positive experience with education around sexual health increases the chances for a woman to have:

  • better relationships and open communication about sex and their bodies
  • confidence
  • higher self-esteem
  • lower risk of unplanned pregnancy
  • positive well-being.


While we are very interested in this topic, it does comes with a variety of taboos that make it difficult to uncover someone’s real feelings about sex and their sexual health. We also discovered that no one had a definition of sexual health, that the phrase itself felt alien because we don’t have mechanisms to discuss that important aspect of our health.

We initially began our research with a formal set of questions but quickly realized that the questions were not uncovering as much as we had hoped. Also, to truly understand your interviewees, who ultimately frame your project, it is vital to observe their behavior. Because of the nature of our topic, we found ourselves at a loss with what we could observe and at this point have not had an observation activity. Rather, we engaged with our participants in this fashion, leaving room for adjustment as necessary:

  • rapport building
  • activity around wellness (see below)
  • use responses from activity as an entry into the discussion of sexual health and sex
  • get a sense of their comfort in talking about sexual health and sex
  • gain clarity around their history with learning about sexual health and sex
  • document how they feel their sexual health and relationship with sex (or are at least willing to share with us)
  • adjust our questions to meet their comfort level (see below)

We complete the following activity to capture a sense of our interviewee’s personality and to identify ideas that we might use to position the conversation about sexual health.

The activity we used was “The Six Dimensions of Wellness” created by the National Wellness Institute. It is a means in which to identify elements of one’s personality and define what is meaningful to them.

Question Adjustment
We sometimes found ourselves having to adjust our line of questioning around sex and sexual health. Often we would stop a particular line of questioning when the participant would give either verbal or nonverbal cues that she didn’t want to go any further. We would do so when a participant would,

  • shy away from the question
  • give a dead end response
  • offer ambiguous answer or deflect and tell a story about a friend
  • be abrupt and short with her answers

On the other side of the coin, there were a few participants who were very open to our conversations. We noticed this was the case when the participant,

would laugh as if there was a secret she wanted to tell us
they would say something and then get quiet but provide nonverbal cues that they were willing to pursue the topic further

Ultimately, we realized that our interviews had to be a mix of rigor, keeping a clear sense of what we wanted to uncover, and intuition: being able to adjust our line of questioning based upon our participant’s verbal and nonverbal cues.


While we interviewed a variety of individuals, here is sampling to give you a sense of who we met and what we learned. All of the participants signed a consent form and their information has been anonymized.



Raccoon grew up in a family of single women and bartenders and is the daughter of, as she put it, “a pill popping, cocaine snorting, stripper”. She grew up in a strip club and was not exposed to the healthiest perspective on sex and one’s sexual health. In addition, she was abused by her grandparents from approximately from the age of 6 until she first got her period. Later, when she began to drink she became angry at the world which led to her being controlling. She felt she put up emotional barriers because of those experiences and told us she manipulated and physically abused her boyfriends during sex as a result. She’s only now beginning to deal with this aggression and becoming comfortable in the idea of sex being pleasurable.

“i was really angry. i viewed everybody as an object. what did they want, what did they perceive. it made me a very angry person. on top of what i had been through. i hadn’t dealt with it yet, but the edges brought the worst of me. especially when i was drunk. i was so hateful.”




Becky didn’t have any formal sex education until she went to nursing school in her mid-twenties. After working for years as a nurse practitioner, she sees lots of holes in women’s knowledge of their own bodies. She has seen a lot of women give into “peer pressure” without understanding their bodies fully. Becky learned about sex and relationships by watching her peers. Becky was interested in observing how sex played into relationships: how some people used sex as power or manipulation. She is slow to trust people and takes pride in the emotional walls she has built for herself.

“Learning, figuring out who to trust. In doing that, stepping back and observing people before you go full in. Understanding that everybody’s not going to be somebody to trust.”

“…It’s very interesting to me how little we know about our bodies. Like, literally, the anatomy of our bodies, how very little we know. And it’s just cause we’re not taught that. We’re not taught, and everything is not external. It’s not easy to see, ya know, and explore, and whatever. So I think women… I think that’s a disservice.”




Chloe cares a lot about other people. She likes to “give folks their flowers,” by telling people what they mean to her. When her mother was alive, Chloe would send her long letters on her birthday or mother’s day, telling her what a wonderful mother she was. She would share stories and talk openly with her mom about sex, the sort of stories that she now shares with friends. Chloe is uncomfortable bringing up the health risks of sex with her sexual partners or with her doctors. “There’ve only been a couple of times where I had sex unprotected[…] the first time I remember being like “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” but I didn’t say anything and I don’t know [why]…” She doesn’t feel like she knows enough about her body and her anatomy. She believes that women in general are taught to be ashamed of their bodies from an early age.

“Society makes people who have vaginas feel uncomfortable even saying the word ‘vagina.’”




Adrianna is from Spain. Adrianna’s initial introduction to sexual health began in school at the age of 6. Her school’s sexual education program continued until she was in high school. In addition, her mother, a social worker, had very open and frank conversations with her about her body and overall sexual health. In high school she realized she was gay but felt pressure to act as though she was gay. Additionally, she subsequently stopped all conversations with her mother about sex and sexual health. In university, she was able to meet friends who were also gay and build a community where they could comfortably discuss sex and sexual health. After university she opened up to her mother and father about her sexuality. Since then she has kept an open dialogue with her mother about her sexuality but does not mention it with her father. She went on to discuss that she is rather reserved with openly sharing her feelings. Finally, she told us a story about a friend of hers who believed he had contracted HIV/AIDS. She then followed to say that as she and her friends age and become more experienced their conversations about sex and sexual health have become more serious.

“[conversations about sex] have gotten more serious… because you do more things. We have had more time to screw things up.”


Lucy and Adam


Both Lucy and Adam work in fields related to health and well-being. They have very open communication about sex and their bodies. Lucy came to the table with previous trauma and they worked together to overcome negative experiences with disease. She said she would like to tell her younger self to slow down and “don’t give yourself away. There’s no reason to let it go so easy,” that it only hurts us. Adam had few opportunities to talk about sex or his body outside of relationships. They now see their sexual partnership as a tool for relationship building and as fun exploration.

“I think I started the relationship with so much trauma in the past and there was a lot of emotional triggers that were happening and I was really shut down and, I’ve just grown out of that, so I have more ability to speak to it, call it out, bring awareness, and it makes me feel safer and more whole in myself.”

“[…] sometimes we play trust games with like, like choking play, and I never, I never thought that I would think that that’s amazing but trust is amazing, and anything, like a physical communication with trust is amazing.”


As we look back at our interviews a few things stand out:

  • Young women should be introduced to their bodies and sexual health at an early age. This shapes her comfort with and willingness to talk about her body and sexual health.
  • Having a parent, guardian, or mentor who is willing to engage in discussions with a young woman is vital to having her become comfortable and conversant with language surrounding sexual health and sex.
  • While there are other factors involved, the early exposure to sexual health and sex often played a large part in a woman not only understanding and being comfortable with her body but developing healthy relationships and preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Building upon our interviews and these initial thoughts, we now enter into the next phase of the process – Synthesis.

We will take all of the data we have collected and begin to identify patterns and trends that might help us focus our findings and determine a direction we can take our research. Ultimately, the research we have just conducted and the outcome of our synthesis will help us define the core direction for a possible design solution.

Personal Finance Research Plan: Redux

Our research group (Sarah, Miranda, and me) revised our research plan on personal finance. We incorporated both the formal notes we received from Aaron Moulton as well as our own experience with our first few participants in the field. Here are the significant changes we made and why.
  1. Our original conception of “family” was full of presumptions and proved quite limiting. We moved away from focusing on the “household” and broadened our definition to accommodate the varied situations that people find themselves in. For example, it may be that someone is dependent on financial support from family living in another state.
  2. Our research objectives were focused very heavily on debt. This too proved quite limiting as the objectives were worded in such a way that they contained several assumptions about people’s relationship to debt. We broadened the objectives to be more about understanding and exploration of financial management and dropped the focus on debt.
  3. Finally, our plan was not written in such a way that another researcher could pick it up and run with it. We used our experiences with the first few participants to rework the script, incorporating the reasons why we chose to do the activities in a particular order as well as details about how to conduct the activities.
After several sessions, we are now switching strategies for recruitment and will be doing intercepts at a local charity store. For this, we are planning to add a section to our research plan specific to that context.

Technology: Strange v Familiar

This few weeks we have focused on the concept of technology being strange, yet familiar. Technologies and it’s rapid growth in conceptualization to market, far outseeds the Moore’s law already.

Is this a good thing? Is it a bad thing, does higher access to civilians make our lives more like a sci-fi film? Or make us better or smarter human beings? Or dumber… or have no affect at all?

Through all the readings I got a sense that the authors had also thought about this, and from one extreme to the next, one author Bell, felt that we should chill out on getting gadgety with domestic technology. Such as the internet tv in the refrigerator, because there could possibly be a place in your brain that could come up with a design solution to not have to have the user completely loose touch with the reality that makes us, well – human.

Not that technology is bad by any means, but choose wisely is what I got from her article. The power the designer has to influence those who interact with our “stuff” can be good, bad, or perhaps even worse, indifferent.

To illustrate this I used a 2×2 with the axis being: y axis – user controlled v technology controlled, and the x axis being the designers intent to make humans use more cognitive skills and become more intelligent, or less cognitive skills and become perhaps not dumber, but not any more intelligent by any means.



Our Authors:strange&familiar.002

The base for my discussion of the writings:strange&familiar.003 strange&familiar.004

I believe Bell fell between the technology being in control (if the future of design were to go the way she had explained) and this technology not making us human any smarter. But perhaps just making our lives easier by default of not having to think for ourselves.
strange&familiar.005 strange&familiar.006

I put Sterling right in the middle of not learning or getting dumber, but at least having more user control over our situation. Although our cultures may be different it doesn’t mean we wish to have different outputs in using the technology given to us.
strange&familiar.007 strange&familiar.008

Marsden was interesting to me for the sheer fact that his article dealt with such a real life situation. I placed him in an area where yes actually the user was getting more tech savy by shear means of having to learn to use the broken platform that was provided, but the user was still under the thumb of the reach of the technology provided, limited, yet aware.strange&familiar.009 strange&familiar.010

And then there is Kerweil the futurist whom I believe threw out Moore’s law a long time ago and believes that humans will actually be controlled by the robots we built in 200 years. He may be right. You never know.

Lastly I would like to leave with one thought that persisted throughout these readings. That we can not stop the progression of technology and how it impacts each person in each culture differently for better or worse. But as designers, we have the obligation to not only fulfill the need of the consumer, but also not go so overboard that we are actually making them less intelligent. There is a difference between a Roomba and an Internet ready TV screen on a refrigerator. The Roomba makes my life easier by keeping the floor clean, but it doesn’t solve my math homework, or tell me how to cook my grandmother’s recipes. 

The world has enough fluff widgetery. Let’s make some real design. 


Iterations & Ideals

I want to introduce you to a story of the last 24 weeks of my life, introduce you to the individuals that I have met along the way, show you the places I have visited and how I learned the most powerful lesson of the entire year was the power of THE story and the ability and genuine curiosity and bravery to ask each individual tell me their story… to please keep talking. 

My focus was initially on the dealing with the issues surrounding healthcare, but through contextual inquiry found that access and the stigma surrounding mental healthcare was a much bigger problem, as it has been defunded completely by the government and left to individual philanthropist and donors to open facilities to help those who actually need help. 

I found AC4D as my opportunity put something good out into the world. My final product was inspired and dedicate to my father, whom I had barely a relationship with at all really. My father suffered from a depression that I don’t think anyone could understand, was truly stubborn, and never received any help for his condition. 

Looking back and having conversations with my mother I realized as an adult things that I completely did not acknowledge or understand as a child. How does an impoverished family of 5 living in a town of around 1000 people located 60 miles to the nearest hospital where you can birth a child deal with healthcare, let alone mental healthcare? 

That was the question and I went to find the answer. I initially went back to my hometown to do some detective work on the issues surrounding mental health in rural text. The last 24 weeks I’ve been interviewing, researching, building and creating life long friendships all with the purpose to create a “thing” that would help low income or non insured individuals living in extreme rural areas. My product first and foremost had to not rely on any individuals personal access to technology. Then meet the design insights and pillars I had established from my research. 


When it was time to begin actually producing a thing, I knew it would be a “journey kit’  of sorts that included both stories from individuals dealing with similar situations living with a mental illness, as well as a 2 week starter pill pack or holder. 

In interaction design iteration is the heart of everything you do. You create, test your creation, then iterate on the feedback to make it better. 

Do date my product has gone through I believe 6 iterations now. 4 of which I prototyped out

Q3_presentation.001 Q3_presentation.002 Q3_presentation.003 Q3_presentation.004 Q3_presentation.005 Q3_presentation.006 Q3_presentation.007 Q3_presentation.008 Q3_presentation.009

Placing all these iterations against my design pillars and user testing responses, I found that the power of the human story plus a plan of attack for medication regimen would be the most effective tool. But something that is very easy to understand, inexpensive to produce, familiar enough to not be foreign or strange but interesting enough to insight curiosity and interaction.

My thoughts went back to one of my home interviews where this woman had 3 separate pill boxes, the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday types, and in a brain storming session one of professors threw out an idea – what if it’s a dip can and eureka. I could craft a round pill box  that includes a small mp3 player in the center with headphones.

Each time the “wheel” is turned exposing the medication, the user can put on the headphones and press play to hear the story that identifies with that days progression in the 2 week cycle.

Click to watch animation and hear sample audio




I tried to stay true to my design pillars, and to the core values that I tried to keep true to. My idea is that these would be distributed to MHMR centers, the centers that give psychiatric council and prescribe medication to individuals who are on medicare, medicaid or no insurance at all. 

I stayed silent to long in dealing with facing the difficult issues surrounding a low income family members mental health, so hopefully going forward my product may inspire behavior change to even the most stubborn individual. 


The Final Presentation.

AC4D set up the final presentation as a sort of museum situation where the public was invited and it was an interactive experience where people could see your entire process from start to finish.

My station included my research, my insights, my design pillars, ALL my prototype iterations. And the actual final functioning prototype, as well as a listening station where people could hear various short stories that went along with the program.

IMG_4613 IMG_4600 IMG_4603 IMG_4607 IMG_4608 IMG_4609 IMG_4610 IMG_4604 IMG_4612

Summit: Pay it down while you live it up

“I’d like to pay off my credit cards as soon as possible because it is a cloud, it is something hanging over my head.”
–Carl, 32

Debt can be intensely anxiety provoking and yet we saw over and over again in our research that although the young people we spoke with recognize that their financial situation is causing them stress, and could be detrimental to their future, they continue to struggle to change their day to day spending behaviors enough to pay down their debt. Why is it so difficult for people to change their behavior when it comes to money? Why aren’t all of the myriad of existing tools addressing this problem?


Satisfaction Happens Now + Fear of Missing Out

Over the last six months, through a dozen in-depth interviews, intercepts and prototype testing, we’ve gained a deeper understanding of how young adults think about their finances, how they feel about their debt, and how they manage their current financial situation.



Through our research two things became very clear:

1. There is no satisfaction in future benefits. We need to feel immediate value to be satisfied.

2. We want to make good decisions but fear sacrificing more than necessary.

“In the moment of choosing to buy something or not, it’s really easy to make that decision– yeah fuck it, I don’t care– I want this now, and then, oh I have to rein it in now, I have to pay this off.”
–Carl, 24


We found that people will make a budget or a plan at the beginning of the month — often using budgeting apps like Mint — in order to get their spending under control, but once they are confronted with daily spending decisions like whether to eat out for lunch or go out with friends, their budget goes out the window. There is a huge opportunity to create a solution that bridges this gap between long term goals and day-to-day spending.


Introducing Summit: Pay It Down While You Live It Up

Summit is a financial app that sends users friendly, contextually appropriate messages inviting them to send a little extra money from their checking account to the card they want to pay off, making paying off debt a daily activity just like spending.

Summit Gets Personal

Summit leverages individual’s spending habits in order to choose the best times to send personally relevant messages inviting them to put money towards their debt.

Summit Reduces Anxiety

Looking at a large credit card balance can be overwhelming. That’s why Summit breaks down the user’s long term goal of paying down your debt into small manageable chunks, all while helping decrease the amount of time they’ll be paying their debt.


Experience Summit: Click on the image below to get a preview of interacting with the Summit app


But…does it work?

Summit promises its users to reduce the anxiety caused by credit card debt and empower them to change their behavior and achieve a better financial future, but what is it like to use day after day?. In order to find out, we ran a small pilot using existing technologies to test Summit’s core interaction: sending users daily messages that allow them to put money towards their debt.

We piloted with 7 individuals over 4 weeks and sent a total of 124 messages– paying an extra $388 over people’s minimum payments.

Before our pilot, we calculated how long it would take each of our participants to pay off their credit cards and how much interested they would end up paying based on their current monthly payments. At the conclusion of our pilot we ran the numbers again to see what effect, if any, our service had, and what effect it would have if they continued at this new rate.


The results were exciting:


Not only did everyone pay more than their minimum payment this month, but if they were to continue to use Summit, on average they would pay off their debt over 2 years earlier and save over $800!


Behavior Change

Beyond saving our users money and years of indebtedness, we also strive to help users change their spending behaviors so they eventually won’t need our service. After our pilot we spoke to all of our participants and asked them if using our service had changed the way they spent money that month.

One of our participants, Jacob, told us about a message he received just before lunch one day. He had brought his lunch to work that day — something he had been trying to do more often to save money — but that morning his friends decided they were going to go out for lunch and invited Jordan along. Even though he had packed a lunch he decided he was going to leave it in the fridge and go with them. As lunch time, approached he received a message from Summit asking him to put $7 towards his credit card debt which he accepted. As he put that money towards his debt, he decided to keep the positive momentum going and eat the lunch he brought.

This is the behavior change Summit seeks to bolster. Keeping long term goals top of mind and creating a cycle of small successes that helps people create their own positive financial future.


Going Forward

Going forward as we develop and launch Summit we will be looking for strategic partners who can help us make it a success. Our strengths are in understanding our users and telling stories, and will be looking for people with technical, financial and industry experience to work withus to make Summit a reality.

The Summit Team,
Samara Watkiss, Jeff Patton & Lauren Segapeli


(Click below to experience the pilot)
Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 11.45.09 AM

User Centered design gone wrong

This past week we read 3 articles, by three different authors. Jon Kolko’s: Our Misguided Focus on Brand and User Experience A pursuit of a “total user experience” has derailed the creative pursuits of the Fortune 500., Michael Hobbes’: Stop Trying to Save the World Big ideas are destroying international development, and Aneel Karnani’s: Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: A Mirage How the private sector can help alleviate poverty.

In each article I believe that each author was trying to tell the story of how true user centered interaction design went wrong. Whether it be by big business basically creating their own definition for user centered design to appease their unwillingness to change, or as Karnani did, calling out an actual individual name CK Prahalad for trying his hand at user centered design and failing.

I decided to create an infographic artifact to illustrate my take on these three articles.


Creating the right pilot: Trust your gut, focus on the ideal

This week I waited for my recordable greeting card to come in the mail. Anticipating that the idea was to establish a conversation with individuals, via a pen pal type situation, recording reactions and reflections that were then sent back to the first user, then to another individual to reflect or react to by recording a verbal message.  I would then use contextual inquiry to identify if this back and forth conversation (revolving around the stigma of mental illness) was helpful for the initial user in disseminating the stigma that they had to keep their condition a secret, and to be more comfortable speaking out and owning their condition, because they were at least virtually interacting with others that could identify with their emotional state on a personal level.

Unfortunately, the card did not come in, but during this time of waiting for the card to come in the mail, I was challenged with the opportunity to take a step back and ask if this was really the correct way to pilot my ideal final product. Which is a 2 week trial pack of a mood disorder medication, which included recorded stories of others who have similar conditions and how they deal with emotion, medicaiton, and manage self care. As of now I can only equate my final ideal product to the idea to those voice recorded Hallmark story books, where a child can be told a bedtime story by a loved one who may live across the country.

Yet as I was waiting for my order to come in, to pilot my idea, I had in the back of my mind that this is not the correct pilot, I just felt it in my gut. My ideal end product is actually not necessarily a back and forth conversation as the initial pilot would suggest, but a book of real people with real stories about how they felt and dealt with issues surrounding their life before a diagnosis. Then how they felt and managed getting a diagnosis, being prescribed medication, and how they felt with the idea that they may have to maintain a medication regimen perhaps for the rest of their life.

I did not believe in my first pilot idea, so I went with my gut and started gathering stories, from real people in their own words. That is what I wanted in the first place and admittedly should have spent the past week gathering these stories.

The past being the past it, was time to get to work. I created a script of questions and recruited 2 individuals to interview and record in order to deliver these stories to someone who may be hesitant to seek help, whether by stigma or general fear of a diagnosis that required them to potentially take a medication that helped them reach self-care in the long term, possibly for the rest of their lives.

This is what I did today. Surprisingly people who suffer from a mood disorder (bipolar spectrum or depression) understand what the condition is like and are more than willing to share their own stories if it has the potential to help release the stigma of being the odd man out, or the damaged ones, as well as put them at ease about the idea of having to be medicated in the long term in order to reach the goal in life they seek.

I also learned the importance of getting this information out of the computer and on to the “wall”. The wall being a place where you can visualize your journey and ideas, inspirations and wishes that you can physically look at and see on a daily basis. This allows you to be able to see where you have been, where you are going, and where you want to be. To iterate, and I acknowledge I should have done this sooner. I should have trusted my gut.

Out of respect of the two individuals I will not post the recordings until next week when I am able to edit down to the core ideals I am initially going to pilot, to a new “patient” with the same hope that it will aid in creating a virtual bond with my recorded individuals and their experiences in hopes that the stigma of being judged as the damaged one, as well as the realization that it is ok, and rather normal, often rather necessary, to seek aid of a medication regimen is not weird, or uncommon.

My pilot has changed. I now have the necessary stories/tools to relay to someone who may be feeling like they are “not normal”, but being not normal is actually ok with the appropriate treatment. Some of the greatest minds of our time have been “not normal”, and have gone on to make a true effect on changing the world.

I truly was fascinated and inspired by hearing others give their trust and conviction in helping others by revealing their personal information on tape. I appreciate the community that is willing to speak out about 1 in 4 people you may walk past on the streets where you live each day that manage and thrive some sort of mood disorder, but still having a program to not only reflect on their own actions themselves, but also be the crafters of some of the most insightful realizations about the world we live in at the same time.

Pilot testing phase 1

At this point in the process of product development, we are able now to release a few pilot tests of rough prototypes and monitor the results in order to use the information gathered to make our final product the best user experience it can be.

The hierarchy of what my products realities are that: recovery (or stability) from a mental illness cannot solely depend on medication alone. There also needs to be a support system in place for the patient to guide them through the journey and recognize intervention points when and if the patient is having a rough time or is falling off the path to stability.

This being a hypothesis derived from the last 16 weeks of research (contextual inquiry, interviews, and secondary research) led me to beginning my first pilot, focussing on simplicity and human connection.

Please keep talking
Pilot 1

Value proposition of the pilot is:

Helps an individual connect with other that are “like them” and reduces personal stigma.

The pilot could be something like:

A recordable greeting card that is mailed to an individual newly diagnosed with a “mood disorder”. The card includes a story of an individuals experiences and where that person is in their diagnosis (newly diagnosed individuals will receive stories of how people dealt with hearing their diagnosis, and how they are attempting to manage self care, individuals that are further along in their diagnosis will receive stories from others on how they deal with issues such as the stigma or the diagnosis in everyday life, as well as how they deal with medications and self care).

Inside the card there is a prompt and instructions on how the user can record their own story about how they are dealing with issues surrounding their personal diagnosis. And how to put the card in the pre-posted envelope and mail it back (to me). 

For this pilot I would act as an intermediary and the letter would come to me, which then I would vet and then phase 2 would begin. A back and forth communication between chosen individuals would be under my control for this piloting stage.  

The next person that receives the card would be farther along in their diagnosis, and would be prompted to listen to the recorded story in the card, then record over it with either a positive message on how they identify with the story that was told, or a similar story about themselves.

They would then mail it back to me, I would vet it, and then pass it back to the first user. 

This would continue always with the same first time user, but received back with a different story/reflection from a new individual. Again this would be mailed back to me for the cycle to continue. 

Less like a pen-pal but more like remote group therapy. 

The cycle of mailing back and forth would last at least 4 cycles, and then I would collect feedback from the initial user. 

I would need people who:

Have been newly diagnosed with a mood disorder, have been diagnosed with a mood disorder but are reluctant to seek out a support group, and a group of individuals that are farther along in their recovery.

They would interact with the pilot by:

  • Receiving the package in the mail.
  • Opening the package to find a recordable greeting card with a pre-posted/labeled envelope.
  • Instructions on the front of the card will introduce the narrative they are about to hear and instruct the user on how to play the recorded story of an individual dealing with a point in their diagnosis (content is currently in the works).
  • After listening to the story, the user is instructed to follow the printed instructions, with a prompt to get them started, on how to record their own story about their diagnosis.
  • The user is then instructed to place the card in the pre-posted envelope and mail it back (to me). The user will be aware that I will be vetting the content as I would like to establish a sense of trust that whatever they choose to say will not be judged.
  • After a day or so, the user will receive the same card in the mail with a new message from a different individual and instructed to keep the conversation going (by re-recoding their story, or reaction).

I will use contextual inquiry with the initial user, to establish how they felt about sharing their stories, hearing the stories of others, and if the process was beneficial. I will be testing if the method of the recorded stories at all encouraged the user to go out and speak to real life individuals whether in a group setting or a confidant. This will be my measure of breaking a personal stigma, and establishing a connection with another human through the power of storytelling.

It took a few runs to realize this first pilot (separating the medication aspect from the personal connection breaking stigmas), Some scenario storyboarding and a basic process flow about how this might be realized.



Congruently, I have been revising the story arch of a 14 day medication trial, processing what content would be on each page, along with imagery, establishing a visual heirachy that both promotes support, and directs the eye to the second component which is the medication (one pill per page).

I am currently in the process of both recruiting the individuals that I would need to successfully test my first pilot, as well as developing the content design that will actually be seen, read, and heard on the first pilot prototype.

Alumni Design-a-thon Results

La Michoacana market, a Hispanic Market on east 7th street in Austin, TX, is just a block away from my work but feels a world away from the Austin I typically experience.  Garish, multi-colored lettering on the outside describes food products in Spanish.  The clientele is predominantly Hispanic, particularly during the lunch hour, when lines of Hispanic migrant construction workers await Mexican food and aguas frescas from the kitchen that dominates one half of the store.  That afternoon, I walked sheepishly around the store with my clipboard (generally to feign professionalism), before I finally began a pained conversation with the cash register attendant in Spanish.  Shortly, I fell into a broken Spanish and English mix.

Over the course of a few weeks, our team of AC4D alumni conducted street and subject matter expert interviews to understand Hispanic language access issues in Austin – What are the cultural and economic impacts of not being able to speak English? And what are the barriers to learning and practicing English?  From our research, we aimed to use design to generate ideas that could be used to both support language acquisition and improve a sense of shared identity in Austin, which more often than not feels like 4 or more cities co-habiting than it does one unified city.

Conducting the research, particularly via street interviews, wasn’t easy.  Our team’s rather low level of Spanish expertise gave us a rather ironic window into what many ESL students must face in their day to day experience in Austin. While I speak decent Spanish after college study abroad experiences in Central and South America, that fluidity was built up almost (gasp) 8 years ago.  Our team of designers, including Chuck Hildebrand, Bhavini Patel, and Melissa Chapman, all have varied levels of non-existent to passable Spanish skills.

With that said, I will not trade the often priceless experiences that followed those awkward introductions, where we gained some very real insight into the drivers and challenges facing migrants in our city.  Just like you and me, they’re trying to make life work – yet they might already have families and multiple jobs that can, and do, get in the way of learning something new.  I wanted to thank each member of our team, as well as the experts and individuals who gave their time to support the effort.

A taste of highlights from our Research

 There are challenging logistical barriers for Hispanic migrants trying to learn English.

Hispanic migrants often live far from their workplaces and work multiple jobs with fluid schedules.  Poorer migrants, and particularly undocumented migrants likely do not own a car – and therefore getting to and from any particular ESL location requires time and energy that only the most driven of learners can give.

The best course content includes elected, and not solely directed, information.

Learners should have a say in the content that they learn.  Speakers may want to focus on basic interactions that support daily living, such as health, school, workplace transportation, and other economic transactions.  But they equally may want to learn more specific nuance to the language they are using, including accents, pauses, pitch, and humor.

Camaraderie is an important aspect of long term learning.

For some that attend language classes, the draw for learning a language may be just as much about connecting with other people as it is about learning.  The emotional connection can provide an ongoing link to attendance that a traditional classroom approach doesn’t explicitly provide.  We should support interactions that increase dialogue around what it takes to survive and thrive in Austin.

Read the final report!

Report Cover

In the future, we’d like to identify partners for civic design who could sponsor a formal challenge for Austin Center for Design Alumni.  Please let me know your thoughts, suggestions for topic challenges, and recommendations for partners that would be interested.