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Category Archives: Design Research

CapMetro App Iteration 6: Defining and Refining

The latest iteration of the CapMetro App was intended to reduce the number of physical clicks that it would take a user to get from point A to point B, purchase a ticket, or add money to their “wallet”, and get on their bus.

Other smaller functions such as saving to favorites, finding help info were taken into consideration but not the primary function of this iteration.

Below is the revised concept map for this version of the flow:

Cap Metro Concept Map - Support Process

And below are the pre-critiqued wires of the consolidated journey:



3-01And below is the post critiqued in class revisions to the wires:

20141210_214335After both critique and user testing the results were mixed both positive and negative.

My user tests did not seem to have an issue with being immediately presented with the idea of getting to a particular location from the location they were currently, via gps.

The critique however pointed out that someone, at some point may want to not always use their current location to get from A to B, and might not realize that by clicking the “Plan a Trip” button on the navigation that option actually appears.

My user test questions then were to specific. The task posed was get from where you are to this destination. This was not an open ended question and from this the task seemed rather obvious and was generally successful.

The next steps are to actually take into consideration these open ended questions. What if a user wants to perform a certain task that I do not have the option for? And this is the process of iteration.

Honestly 7 iterations is really not enough to get to the ultimate flow for the user. Testing and re-testing is really the key. Getting the wires in front of real people and knowing what questions to ask or to NOT ask might actually be the key.

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The Debt Project: Seeking People to Interview

Personal debt touches almost every aspect of life and according to a recent study, is a major source of stress for 46% of Americans. Our team has spent the last 5 weeks researching debt, focusing specifically on how debt relates to personal identity, relationships and community among young adults age 18 to 26. In line with the mission of our school, Austin Center for Design, the goal of our research is to find design solutions that will make a positive impact on people’s lives.

We began our research by speaking with students, recent graduates, financial counselors, business owners, and soon-to-be parents. From these initial conversations we have uncovered lack of community support tied to personal financial issues, specifically debt, and a strong connection between identity and financial choices. In order to deepen our understanding, we need to talk with more people who are experiencing debt.

If you are interested in participating please reach out to us. We would love to talk to you and learn from your experiences so that we can work together to find real solutions.

We can be reached by email at:

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CapMetro App Iteration 3 with User Testing V1

With now our 3rd iteration of the Capital Metro app re-design we were tasked with finding 5 willing participants to work through the flow of the design with at lease 5 pre-defined tasks to complete.

I think you must actually go through this process to really appreciate how valuable it really it. A few people were completely confused, a couple just wanted it to work like their banking app. One person was so focused on the bottom navigation that they never really looked at the main screen for indicators of how they could complete the given task in one step.

I found in my own design a ton of things that could be consolidated or eliminated all together, as well as a few missing pieces that needed to be added. Below are the screens presented (not necessarily in order) that were cut up into individual screens and handed to the user as they “clicked” on the paper to indicate they were moving to the next step. This in of itself was a daunting task keeping track of all the screens and what went next sifting through 20+ screens that you initially thought were well organized. Thank goodness we have great professors that were able to give us some pointers on how to better manage that for the next iteration.



IMG_0286 IMG_0276

Tasks involved were:

1. Plan a trip to (certain location)

2. Choose time of departure

3. Buy a Ticket: Set up wallet, add money,

4. Add favorite locations

5. Check Schedules

Lessons Learned:

- needs consolidation and animation indicators were not apparent at all for the user in a static paper flow

- possibly have the option to set up your “wallet” or account on the first time you enter the app so getting from point a to b is fast and efficient. Don’t have to go through the whole process of pin verification and adding cash

- when you find your route have your “wallet” balance on the screen to see if you even need to add funds or not or if you can just get on the bus, skipping the step of “check wallet ” or “buy ticket” all together


Bottom Line – lots to do for next iteration, and a great learning experience. User testing, a must.

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Learning by doing: Cap Metro redesign Update

I love the curriculum at Austin Center for Design because I am never learning just one thing. This is also the reason I spend a reasonable percentage of the time feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and like I need to spend the next 48 hours bingeing on batman (the animated series), but I digress. This week I began user testing my wireframes for a redesign of the CAP Metro (Austin Public Transit) smart phone app.  We were assigned to use a form of usability test, called think-out-loud protocol, which I have not down before. So, in addition to learning more than enough about the flaws in my design to iterate on my wireframes, I learned a lot about how to conduct this kind of test, its value, and my own abilities.

Based on my testing I have identified 3 main problems with my current design. I am looking forward to discussing them at our critique this evening to get feedback about possible resolutions.

1) The 2 search boxes, which are intended to be From: Starting Point and To: Destination, in the trip planner are not clear. Especially because I am suggesting that the application will fill in the user’s current location as a default for the starting point. (This also connects to my first take away about how to conduct this type of test).


2) The drill down view of a trip does not read as cohesive unit. It was not clear to users that the box at the top is the meta-view of the trip and then below are the step by step instructions. Also, it did not communicate that it was a fixed sequence of steps because users expected to be able to modify aspects of the trip inside the drill down view.


3) The trip settings (Departure/Arrival time and Minimize: Time, Transfers, or Walking) were not obvious to user. One user thought that Depart Now, rather than indicating a setting, was a quick action button.


These problems all pertaining to the trip-planning flow, which can be seen in its entirety below (click to zoom in):


Also, based on my testing, I learned:

1) Think out loud protocol testing requires giving the user a written task for him to preform using the system being tested. I discovered that I need to provide a lot more context in my written tasks. Wireframes are highly abstract, so I think some narrative about the context of use would be helpful. In particular, since I’m trying to suggest that the phone’s GPS will provide “current location” data to the app I need to include in the user’s task, his current location. Alternately, I need to create mocks up for all of the places I anticipate user testing so that the current location on the wireframe matches the location of the test.

2) The slightest breeze will turn an orderly paper prototype test into a sprint across the parking lot to recover your home screen. Testing should be done in doors.

3) Finding the right locations to recruit people is difficult. In general, I found at coffee shops people hanging out outside are more approachable and interruptible. Inside people were mostly deep in conversation or plugged into multiple devices. For the next go round I’m going to try the following things: Go by bike, parking is terrible in all of the places I want to do user testing (i.e. UT), try later in the day when people might be less in work mode and more in hangout mode.

Below is an updated concept map reflecting the current system design:


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Servicescapes to Cityscapes: Using service design tools to understand social problems

One of the things that has been most compelling to me in our service design course so far this quarter are examples of using service design tools to understand non-commercial social interactions. In that vain, as I read Mary Jo Bitner’s “Servicescapes: The Impact of Physical Surroundings on Customer and Employees,” I imagined how her framework for understanding servicescapes would map to perceptions of cityscapes. I am in the early phases of a design research project about perceived safety and awareness of personal safety in urban environments, so this particularly relevant.

Bitner's Original FrameworkBitner’s Original Framework

I have recreated Bitner’s framework (above) and then modified it to push my understanding of this issue and to generate topics for inquiry in my research.

My first iteration on Bitner’s framework kept the overall structure, just switching the roles of customer and employee with person who feels threatened and person who is a potential threat. I then evaluated each section to see if it was applicable to perceived safety and made appropriate additions and modifications.

Bitner's Modified Framework

This points to specific areas to pay attention to in my research. For instance, how do physical attributes of a space, like choke points and sight lines, might influence perceived safety? I will probe to see if my research participants are aware of these details. Also, the project I’m working on involves wearable technology. Looking at potential physiological responses will feed design ideas at a later stage of the project about what data could be collected and presented.

This first iteration also pointed out to me a major dissimilarity between a servicescape with and customer and employee, and a person navigating an urban environment and evaluating his or her safety.  To visualize this difference I have created a new model using the main components of Bitner’s model.

New Framework based on Bitner

A service interaction is fairly unambiguous, the role of customer and employee are, at least at a high level, defined. In the case of a cityscape, a person who feels threatened may be responding to the environment in the absence of any other person. If there is another person, he is evaluated as a potential threat in the context of the environment. Moreover, the second person, or potential threat, may or may not be aware of the person who feels threatened, be aware that he is perceived as a threat, or actually intend harm.  All of this creates a dynamic and multi-pronged “service” flow.  I have also added two additional components to Bitner’s framework. Culture and awareness are lenses through which the response moderator evaluates all of the other stimuli, and will be a major focus of my research.

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Service Marketing and Product Marketing – Together again

In the paper written by G. Lynn Shostack: Breaking Free from Product Marketing, I was initially intrigued by the subtitle which read “ Service marketing, to be effective and successful, requires a mirror-opposite view of conventional “product” practices.”

From reading nothing beyond the above, the fact that the word “product” was italicized, and the statement so bold, the argument although seemingly obtuse, was one I was willing to at least hear out.

The paper begins basically re-iterating the initial statement in longer terms. That “new concepts are necessary if service marketing is to succeed”. The assumption for the reader at this point is only to relay the fact she is speaking that new concepts for service marketing must divorce themselves from traditional methods of product marketing. However this is not clearly defined until a bit later in the article.

Shostack has obviously made a stance in this paper that the definition of “marketing” has only been applied and tested in the world of physical tangible products, and that service industries approach to marketing is seemingly lost in game of imaginary whack-a-mole. In which they are just pounding away at game table filled with empty holes where never a mole pops up to be whacked. She states that in a service business “many companies are confused about the applicability of product marketing” and that “more than one attempt to adopt product marketing [in a service business] has failed”.

She states “service industries have been slow to integrate marketing in to the mainstream of decision making and control because marketing offers no guidance, terminology, or practical rules that are clearly relevant to services”.

I will just pause here for a moment because we have now only gotten through the first page of the paper with bold statement after bold statement with little evidence so far to back them up.

A summary of the next few pages are that Shoshack seems fixated on the idea that marketing can only apply to tangible products, once even attempting to prove herself wrong by actually citing “Even the most thoughtful attempts to broaden the definition of “that which is marketed” away from product synonymity suffers from an underlying assumption of tangibility. Not long ago, Philip Kotler argued that that “values” were created by “object,” and drifted irredeemably into the classic product axioms.”

What I understand from her very pervasive stance on product and service marketing that in no way can either service nor product marketing be approached in the same way, and thus far no suggestion for service marketing has been defined as even existing.



So, perhaps now is a good time to bring things a little into context.

This paper was published in the Journal of Marketing in April of 1977.

That being said, basically the entire article, particularly the statement implying “It is wrong to imply that services are just like products except for intangibility. By such logic apples are just like oranges, except for their ‘apple-ness’. Intangibility is not a modifier; it is a state.” is full of outdated theories. My takeaway from this statement is that in either case of service or product marketing the human element is never taken into consideration, only the idea of something tangible.

To me service marketing involves humans, great product marketing involves great involvement with what humans need, and marketing does not have to result in anything tangible at all.  The textbook definition of a service business is this: A commercial enterprise that provides work performed in an expert manner by an individual or team for the benefit of its customers. The typical service business provides intangible products, such as accounting, banking, consulting, cleaning, landscaping, education, insurance, treatment, and transportation services.

Marketing for both products and services in reality have vast similarities. They both rely on customer satisfaction, a system of communication, loyalty, and consistency in order to gain repeat business. You cannot turn to any media source in this day in age and not see marketing for service industries, which vastly mirrors that of product marketing. In a service business you actually DO have a takeaway. The promise of something “great”.

Whether it be something like Turbo-Tax that markets an easier life through step-by-step tax filing guidance that takes the guesswork and confusion out of the process. Leaving you stress free, and able to be playing catch in the yard with your little boy within 20 min or less. Or an investment firm like Charles Schwab, that markets a one-on-one personal connection to you and your finances. Promising to care so much about your situation, as if they were an extension of your immediate family you might just think about inviting to Thanksgiving dinner.

The connection I see between service and product marketing is the human connection. Seems as though since 1977 marketing and consulting firms have done a pretty good job at figuring that out. Great experiences are what keep the customers coming back for more. And yes, you can market a service similar to marketing a product, even cross pollenating the definitions of tangibility as not just being something you hold, but something you feel.










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Healthcare literacy and access in rural Texas: Health, apathy, and access

Crystal Watson, William Shouse and Eugenia Harris are teaming up this quarter on a research project aimed at exploring the details around access to health care services in rural small towns in Texas, and how limited availability impacts the level of care people receive as well as the level of literacy around healthcare, and how if any that information is utilized by the rural communities.

To get an idea of the scope of the access problem, witness this quote from a 2010 article in the Texas Tribune entitled Health Care Sparse in Rural Texas:

“Sixty-three Texas counties have no hospital. Twenty-seven counties have no primary care physicians, and 16 have only one. Routine medical care is often more than 60 miles away — and specialty care is almost unheard of.  Most of Texas’ 177 rural counties, home to more than 3 million people, are considered medically underserved.”

Initially we were interested in this topic of research from not only personal experiences with the challenges of how individuals in the towns we are targeting with less than 5,000 people, of which Texas alone has over 1,200 of them out of a total number of cities and towns of 1,696. But after further research realized the issue may not simply lie in access but in general healthcare literacy and would like to explore this issue in more detail.

The first place we plan to visit in our research is Haskell TX, population of 3,305 people, where the local dentist was also the ambulance driver for over 10 years, and the town veterinarian also delivered (human) babies. We are interested in uncovering  novel approaches like this around how  small communities come together to work as a unit to deal with healthcare situations, and manage their health in general (regular checkups, healthy diets and exercise etc).

We intend to dig into this problem by conducting research with people directly affected, both patients and healthcare providers, using methods of contextual inquiry and participant interviews, as well as participatory “Positive/Negative Healthcare Experience Mapping” activity with a select group of patients.  In doing so, we hope to gain a better understanding of the challenges it entails for both providers and patients, and to uncover novel coping strategies that may have developed to address those challenges, as well as any healthcare literacy limitations uncovered during our research.

The full Research Plan can be viewed here: 

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Can you have great Service Design without great interaction?

Last week we were tasked with reading a paper by Stefan Holmlid entitled Interaction Design and Service Design: Expanding a Comparison of Design Disciplines.

I immediately was taken a back simply by the title because of my own interpretation of Service and Interaction Design, but we will follow up more on that later.

Holmlid’s article initially struck me as being filled with citation after citation from other academics in the Service Design disciplines. The main thoughts attempting to be expressed as a gathering of information from many sources and authors grouped together to define a framework to “compare” the fields of Service and Interaction Design (Interaction design of which he later integrates with the digital world thus defining Interaction Design as IxD design).

After very broadly stringing together definitions of first Interaction design as being “a range of service settings in which interactive artefacts are used to perform service, and a set of business innovation strategies combining process innovation and interactive technology.” And Service Design in contrast to Service Development (not defined) as being “a human-centered approach and an outside in perspective (Mager, 2004; Holmlid & Evenson, 2006). It is concerned with systematically applying design methodology and principles to the design of services (Bruce & Bessant, 2002; Holmlid & Evenson, 2006).”

So, with that, and being thoroughly confused by this point in where this was all going the framework was established as being “the three analytic areas Process, Material and Deliverable.”

From each of these areas I was able to attempt to decipher how Homlid viewed each discipline categorically, Service Design and Interaction design being separate from each other but with similar and overlapping areas and created the following diagrams.



First, the spreadsheet of attempting to organize the information in a way with the citations from the paper that I could create a visual representation of the information as I understood it, from Homlid’s POV.

However, after 3 weeks of studying and living through the process of Service Design I just don’t think there is a distinct separation of disciplines. How can you provide great Service Design with out great Interaction Design and very much vice versa?

At first I attempted to put Service Design under an umbrella of a bigger idea of Interaction design, but after much thought, and actually going through the process of attempting to create a Service Design platform for a client, the not only overlap but in my mind attempt to reach the same end goal. To create the best possible experience for the user (whether digital or physical interaction) as possible through research involving methods we are learning throughout the entire year. You can’t have Interaction design without Service Design. You can’t have Service Design without Interaction design.

I took away from Homlid’s paper that in Service design you have a physical takeaway. Such as a “thing” that you can put on your bookshelf, a lamp that you buy, etc. But I believe Service Design (which integrates seamlessly with Interaction design whether in the process of, or the use of a material object) can result in something very much non-tangible.

After a great experience with Service Design you may come away with something in which you may not be able to touch it, or feel the weight of the object or material in your hand, but it could be a memory, or experience shared between humans. This reaches into the digital world as well.  And there is no way to extract the discipline of Interaction Design from this process I believe at all.

Going forward in our larger Service Design project I actually believe that this tedious, very confusing and overly cited paper actually aided in my better understanding of how much that Interaction Design is so integral in creating a great Service Design Model. The goal is delight, happiness, and loyalty in the end to whatever is designed. You can take away a stuffed animal from the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, but you can also take away a super fun memory of throwing that ring into the mouth of the clown from the famous Loof Carousel and getting nothing tangible from it but the sheer joy of validation that you did something good when the clowns nose lights up. That is both a fantastic example of Service and Interaction design as one and the same.



Loof Carousel Service / Interaction Design


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Revitalizing Capital Metro App: Iteration 2

Concept Flow V2: Goal – Find a bus stop, get destination information, purchase ticket (ticketing checkout still undecided)


Individual Screens:


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Financing Longer Life Expectancies in an Aging Population

“In 1940, the typical American who reached age 65 would ultimately spend about 17 percent of his or her life retired. Now the figure is 22 percent, and still rising.”[1]

As life expectancy in America has increased (about 3 months each year since 1840)[1], so has the length in retirement, and attendant worries about financing life in old age. By 2025, 25% of the U.S. population will be over 60, compared with 16.5% in 2000 [2]. The repercussions are often difficult for retired individuals and their families, but they are also far-reaching in society, affecting wide-ranging fields including politics, healthcare, and finance.

Here at the Austin Center for Design, we’re interested in researching how people finance or plan to finance this long period of retirement, and coming up with design ideas to address this multi-faceted problem. Our team [Lindsay Josal, Maryanne Lee, and Laura Galos] will focus our next 3 quarters on financing the longer life expectancy of an aging population, particularly for members of the working class.

In conducting our research, we will primarily employ Contextual Inquiry to gain understanding and empathy with people in retirement or planning for retirement by observing and learning from them in a “master-apprentice”-style relationship. Specifically, we plan to learn from retired individuals, working-class individuals in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s (to gain a sense of perceptions at each age plateau), financial experts, and caregivers of retired individuals.

Our full research plan can be found here.

We believe that addressing the new financial concerns that arise with increased longevity can alleviate some of the financial, health-related, and emotional issues facing both seniors and their circle of caregivers.

Interested in learning more or participating in our research? Do you know someone who would be open to speaking with us about financing retirement? We would love to hear from you! You can contact us at:



[1] Easterbrook, Gregg. “What Happens When We All Live to 100?” The Atlantic Monthly, Oct. 2014. Online. Accessed 11/5/14.

[2] Disruptive Demographics. MIT AgeLab. Online. Accessed 11/5/14.

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