Service Design: CRAFTing a Customer Journey

For Service Design, our team (Mariangela, Adam, and Mary Hannah) has been working with a local pay-by-the-hour craft supply business called (fittingly enough) CRAFT. This has meant that we have gotten the wonderful opportunity to interview a bunch of CRAFT patrons and do a little crafting of our own. Service Design is the exactly that, the design of services.

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In reference to CRAFT, it is the creation and orchestration of all the touch-points within CRAFT to act as a single entity in order to achieve the ultimate creative experience for each guest. Our process started with researching what the current state of a guest’s experience at CRAFT is. Next, we did research with the employees of CRAFT to understand the work they do, what they hope CRAFTing guests experience, and any barriers to achieving this ideal. To learn more about how we did each, we have included the introductions to our research plans and where we currently are in our process.

Introductions to our research plans

What is the current state of a guest’s experience at CRAFT?

Focus Statement

We aim to learn how customers currently experience CRAFT. We will use this research to seek opportunities within the service experience that will lead to greater value for the user and the business owner.

Research Objectives

Our goals are to:– Understand the customer’s perception of value, service, and flow from start to finish of the customer journey
– Understand factors that contribute to decision making throughout the customer experience, from start to finish as defined by the customers
– Understand types of people who use CRAFT, define how they identify as creators, and how the service integrates into their making process
– Understand what makes an ideal crafting experience
– Uncover all potential touch points throughout the customer journey

Research Activities

Front of House (FOH) WalkthroughDescription For each walkthrough, members of the design team will accompany a recruited participant from the moment a customer drives into the lot of CRAFT to the moment she leaves. After completing the walkthrough, we will walk with our participants to a nearby coffeehouse to do the Participatory Timeline activity (see below).  Secret ShoppersDescription We will ask 2 secret shoppers to walk through CRAFT  and take at least 15 photos as they go of the following things: – Things that catch your eye
– Moments you make decisions to explore a crafting material or not
– Things you like (fun, interesting, easy, etc.)
– Things you don’t like (confusing, annoying, boring, etc.)
– Things you think should be improved
– Things you needed help onAfter these secret shoppers complete their CRAFT experience, we will move to a nearby coffee house and review their photos with them. We will also have our secret shoppers create a map showing where they moved in CRAFT. Then we will move on to the Participatory Timeline activity (see below).

Participatory Timeline

DescriptionFor this activity, we will prompt our participants to create both actual and idealized timelines of their experiences at CRAFT. First, our participants will write or draw out a diagram of their actual activities in CRAFT, starting at the end of their time there and then working their way back to their perceived beginning of the experience CRAFT offers.
Then for the idealized timeline, for each step mentioned in the previous activity, our participants will select two images from a predetermined diverse array provided by us. They will pick one image that corresponds to their ideal experience of that step and then another that corresponds to an imperfect experience of that step, and then on to the next step, for which they will select another two images, and so on.

 

What do employees do at CRAFT and what do they hope for their clients?

Focus Statement

We have two focal points as we research CRAFT’s back of house. First, we want to understand how CRAFT’s owner, employee, and workshop facilitators spend their time at CRAFT. Second, we want to build a map of a perceived customer journey from the point of view of the workers at CRAFT. We will use this research so that we can find opportunities for innovation, where the perceived customer journey and the as-is journey do not match.

Research Objectives

Our goals are to:– Understand the owner’s, employee’s, and workshop facilitators’ perceptions of the value, service, and flow from start to finish of the customer journey
– Understand the culture of CRAFT among its employees
– Understand the owner’s, employee’s, and workshop facilitators’ roles and – responsibilities, both as stated and as actually lived
– Understand the actual and ideal work experiences of the owner, employee, and workshop facilitators at CRAFT
– Identify pain points encountered by the owner, employee, and workshop facilitators working at CRAFTResearch ActivitiesBack of House (BOH) Contextual InquiryDescription For each inquiry, members of the design team will accompany an employee as they carry out their work. We will inquire about motivations, values, and their personal history with CRAFT.Participatory TimelineDescriptionFor this activity, we will prompt our participants to create both actual and idealized timelines of their experiences at CRAFT. First, our participants will write or draw out a diagram of their actual activities in CRAFT, starting at the point of time when we are seeing them. We will ask them to work backwards and forwards through the their day. Then for the idealized timeline, for each step mentioned in the previous activity, our participants will select two images from a predetermined diverse array provided by us. They will pick one image that corresponds to their ideal experience of that step and then another that corresponds to an imperfect experience of that step, and then on to the next step, for which they will select another two images, and so on.
Customer Journey MapsDescription We will ask our contextual inquiry participants to complete customer journey maps that show all the activities customers undertake while at CRAFT. Starting from asking why customers walk through the door all the way through to the end of their interactions with employees, we will ask our participants to map out all the steps CRAFT customers go through. As they go, we will ask “What’s the best thing that has ever happened at this step?” and “What’s the worst thing that has ever happened at this step?” to elicit stories about each step.

Where we are in our process

We are currently unpacking our research by building a customer journey map.

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We are building this map so we can make the customer journey tangible so that we may uncover patterns and breakdowns. We will use this map to help us ideate and then prototype solutions.

We are hoping to innovate upon CRAFT’s current guest experience in order to fulfill their value proposition. Ultimately, our goal is to help ensure that each guest is able to walk away feeling that they’ve had a valuable experience, one that is seamless and connected wherein guests are able to spread the story of CRAFT to potential future customers. Thus, increasing CRAFT’s bottom line.

Iterating to awesome: How to do Usability Testing

In this week’s blogpost, I am going to describe my process for iterating on my Navigation and Information Architecture Map and the wireframes for the TD Mobile Banking App. This builds on two previous blog posts; the first was on my process for creating the original concept map and the second was for my process on developing the wireframes.

In this post, I am going to discuss and present:

  • Usability testing
  • Revising the Navigation and Information Architecture Map
  • Revised wireframes
  • Next steps

Usability Testing

Last week, I developed my wireframes using a process that hinged on imagining a flow through the application that would help well-defined characters achieve a goal. This week, I set out to see if real people could achieve those goals. To do this, I first created a digital prototype using Sketch and a plugin called Craft that links my wireframes to Envision. Then, I went out into the field to find at least five willing participants, primarily in local cafes. Last, I looked back at the data I had accumulated and found the top three design issues that I wanted to revise.

I knew that in order to get feedback on the usability of my application, I would need to present participants with a low fidelity prototype. One recommendation I received was to use a paper prototype. However, I decided to try and learn how to create a digital prototype since I know that people in industry do this. The process was arduous. It made me think more about each step of a user’s flow. Questions like, “What will happen if a user does not fill in a field properly?” or “What sequence of screen would a user most naturally flow?” came up.  I also had to learn the idiosyncrasies and limitations of Craft and Envision. I thought that the time spent on this part of the prototype development was worthwhile because I thought that organizing a paper prototype would be overly onerous, especially when working with participants in real time.

Once the digital prototype was developed, I set out into the field to find willing participants. I had six predetermined tasks: checking a balance, transferring funds to an external account, paying a friend, setting up a new alert, paying a bill, and depositing a check. I wrote each of these tasks down on a separate sheet of paper so I could hand them off during the testing session.

I also prepared myself to follow the Think Aloud Protocol. The steps in the protocol involve first, telling the participant what they are about to do and that once testing begins, all I can say is, “Please keep talking.” I tell the participants that I want to hear what they are thinking as they attempt the tasks written on the sheet of paper. The Think Aloud Protocol is based on a theory that people can explain how they solve problems and that though it will slow down task completion, won’t have an impact on potential task completion. As participants will work through the task, I will take notes and record what they say so I have a reference for later synthesis. I also had my participants fill out a SUS score which is their rating of the application flows. My hope is that as I iterate on the wireframes, the score will go up.

A participant tests the digital prototype on his mobile phone
A participant tests the digital prototype on his mobile phone

A key takeaway from usability testing with a digital product was that a lot of the feedback I got was actually about the limitations of Envision. People got stuck on different screens because Envision is limited in how systematically accurate a user can interact with the product. I also found greater success when users could test the product in its appropriate environment, a mobile phone, and not a desktop computer. I also found that digital prototypes are limiting because they constrain how a user can walk through the application since the sequence is pre-determined. When doing this again, I could of course make a screen and flow for every single way a user can walk through the application, but I think that user a paper prototype may allow for more user control and thus, I can get even better data.

Some key takeaways from my first round of usability testing using the Think Aloud Protocol was that when I write the tasks, I should give users more information about what they may need to enter into each field. I also found that having a setting where I could clearly hear the participant is super important. I sometimes struggled to write good notes because of this. It was also challenging not to step in and help sometimes because Envision made it hard to tap on a field and move to the next screen. I would sometimes end up helping a user because it was just too frustrating for something that didn’t help me get any useful information. Also, after getting feedback from 5 people, I had confirmation that getting many more participants to try the application would not add to the accuracy of what I would learn. I saw patterns emerge already and can imagine that anymore than 10, I would not learn much more.

Of course, I was also able to garner some key issues that I would want to fix in my prototype. They are documented below.

Test documentation-01 Test documentation-02 Test documentation-03Revised “Navigation and Information Architecture” Concept Map

There were two key revisions I made to my concept map. First, I wanted the concept map to reflect the complexity of the application system. My first map was too simple. A future software engineer would have a lot of potential to make up user flows because so many details were missing. So, this necessitated a complete overhaul of my concept map. Second, the concept map would have to reflect the revisions I made to my wireframes.

In order to do a complete overhaul of the map, I started fresh. I went through three paper sketches, getting feedback from classmates on clarity and hierarchy. I made sure that I had different shapes to reflect different kinds of screens and operations. Squares represent places a user goes to. Ovals represent the functions you find in each of the “places”. Circles represent the flows a user takes to accomplish the function. Working through this process made me have a much clearer idea of all of the screens I currently have as well as the screens I still need to develop for a complete application. The feedback I got from my classmates helped me to make a better visual hierarchy. At first I made the ovals a much thicker line weight but this confused my classmates because it made them more important than they should be.

In order to reflect revisions that I made to my screens, my concept map includes a shortcut to get to the main functions a user may want to apply to an account. Also, redoing the concept map made me realize that my I never included a way to logout of the application in the original wireframe set. It also helped me to see what screens I would add a home link to for a user to get to restart faster.

Revised Concept Map
Revised Concept Map

Revised Wireframes

Below are the revised wireframes. First, I highlight the key screens that I revised based on the top 3 problems I chose to revise. Second, I present all of the screens. In addition to the revisions I listed above, I also revised a several other elements. I did these revisions based on what I learned from the critique session in class.

The other revisions were:

  • Graying out a button if it should not afford clicking if all required fields are incomplete
  • Changing the titles of buttons to more accurately reflect what they do (ie changing “Deposit” to “Another Deposit” on the success screen for deposits) or to be more natural (ie changing “Return Home” to “Home”).
  • Adding a logout option on the main menu
    Revised Account home screen
    Revised Account home screen

    Revised View bill - added a home screen icon
    Revised View bill – added a home screen icon
Revised flow for adding a new alert
Revised flow for adding a new alert
Revised login flow
Revised login flow
Revised deposit flow
Revised deposit flow
Revised bill pay flow
Revised bill pay flow
Revised view bill flow
Revised view bill flow
Revised check balance flow
Revised check balance flow
Revised alerts flow
Revised alerts flow
Revised quick pay flow
Revised quick pay flow
Revised transfer flow
Revised transfer flow

Next steps

Next week, I plan to build out my application according to the concept map. I will also do usability testing. But this time, I want to focus on particular flows and to get feedback on buttons and font.

 

Design Research: Getting Inspired and Immersed

Our Interaction Design Research and Synthesis class has given us an opportunity to research a very interesting field – something that we usually don’t think that much about – Animal Food Value Chain. The amount and quality of data we’ve gathered has been keeping us torn between different directions; we finally decided to focus on learning which factors influence consumers’ purchasing and eating of different cuts of meat. In asking consumers to describe how they make choices surrounding their selection, preparation, consumption, and disposal of meat products, we hope to find out how consumers make decisions about which parts of animals they eat, what can influence them to redefine which parts of animals are desirable as food, and what happens to those pieces they purchase but decide not to eat.

This topic touches the majority of people on this planet. It is something that most of the people have experienced, and deal with very often. It is also a source of huge amount of waste and damage to our environment. It is important, and the questions that pop up within this field isn’t something that can easily be answered just out of your own perception of the world. Getting information from other people, and turning it into insights, is critical in order to understand how non-singular this is, how much of a difference there might be in behavior and reasoning of different people. It is fascinating.

The amount of inspiration we get while interacting with people is incredible. We talk to people, we go grocery shopping with them, we cook meals together, we even cut meat together in a butcher shop!

We’ve applied the 5 different types and approaches of gathering information and getting inspiration from people, the 5 types we were taught in the class – and found them all useful:

  • Contextual Interview;
  • Contextual Inquiry;
  • Immersion;
  • Subject Matter Interview;
  • Participatory Research.

Research activities bring us into situations and environments that we wouldn’t otherwise get into. Last week, we were invited into a home of a young family of three to talk about their experience of purchasing and consuming animal-based foods. Our host Anna was home with her 9 months old son. And while an infant would often be considered a distraction in a situation like that, for us it was an incredibly rich source of information about what this woman’s days look like.

We did conduct interviews with people with kids before, and they mentioned how big of a deal, and how much of a struggle grocery shopping or cooking might be when the kids are around; but only after spending 2 hours in an environment like that we’ve truly understood our interviewee: context around her, with her baby being the largest part of it, changed the way she approaches grocery shopping, including the way she selects the meats in a grocery store.

All these words: fast, simple, no thinking, no decision making, straightforward – now it all started to make total sense.

There is a lot of room to grow, a lot of room to improve for us as researchers.

If I was to go through this experience again, I would surely:

  • Make sure the group defines the focus of research as early in the process as possible. What we went through has proved that not having a concise and proper goal, that we all would be on the same page about, is a huge distraction from moving forward effectively. On the flipside, it allowed us to keep a somewhat open mind around the topic of our research.
  • Try to gain more empathy with our interviewees and people we interact with. Maybe even become “friends” with them, in a way, during the interview; and not necessarily trying to keep the whole interaction very “professional” and distanced.
  • Not be afraid to ask questions that I think are dumb – they, in fact, can bring some of the best and unexpected insights.

I am excited to continue this journey with our group, and can’t wait to get to Design Synthesis and generate Insights from all the information we’ve gathered.

 

My evolution as a design researcher

As I am halfway through my first quarter of Interaction Design Research class, I am reflecting on my evolution in terms of what it means to do design research as well as how my current project researching the animal product food chain has evolved. As a budding design researcher, I am beginning to grasp what it is I need to practice and learn – how do I step into a world I’ve never lived in, feel comfortable with uncertainty, capture data that reflects how people really live their lives, and gain empathy for all of my participants. I am beginning to understand the complexity of this task and am finding that I as I fumble through my first research project how much work it is going to take on my part to embody the methods that will lead to deeper and more meaningful insights.

At the beginning of the quarter, my teammate and I decided to focus in on how food is distributed from farm to restaurant since it was a topic we were both intrigued by. Our initial research question was to understand how Austin area farmers and ranchers get products to market. Our research started by talking to subject matter experts and doing secondary research. As we began to feel more confident in this brand-new problem space, we practiced contextual inquiries – we tried our best to be able to bear witness to the ways farmers, food distributers and restaurateurs lived their day-to-day lives.  We tried engaging our participants in questions that would reveal the gaps between how they wanted to live their lives and how it was actually unfolding. As we heard stories about how farmers would get their products to restaurants, we heard time and again how important communication was – from building trusting relationships between stakeholders to farmers consistently updating restaurants about what crops they currently have for sale to restaurants making requests and staying updated on all of the farms in the area.  Almost every prompt my teammate and I came up with returned to how important clear and consistent communication was to each stakeholder. Therefore, we narrowed our focus to gain additional rich insights into how individual farmers and restauranteurs feel about their daily communication.

 To begin to unearth how our participants feel about their daily communication, my teammate and I developed several participatory activities. Before the interview, we asked our participants to keep a record of who they spoke with. During the interview, we worked with our participants to create a map of all of their interactions that encodes different information like frequency, importance and method of communication within the map. We then used this map to stimulate stories. At the end, we asked our participant to design their ideal communication.

It was amazing to see how using this kind of activity facilitated storytelling. A powerful moment occurred while my teammate and I interviewed the chef of a well-established farm-to-table Austin restaurant. As he described his relationship with one of his food distributors, he segued into talking about a meaningful relationship he has with a new local restauranteur. At first he was talking about ordering an animal product, how he predicts how much he needs, and what it is like working with this particular distributor. Next, he described challenges he has.

This led into a story in which he recounted a moment last week when a new chef did not have enough fish to serve his customers that day and texted our participant to ask if his restaurant had enough to share. Our participant took out his cellphone to show us the text exchange. He walked us through what happened and how the text moved him to reach out to his other chef friends for the fish. In this moment, I felt like I got to peer into the lives of a network of chefs and how they managed to support each other. In the end, the new chef was supported by his network (who are also his competition!). I believe that entering into the interview with a mindset that my teammate and I would co-create an interaction map with our participant facilitated this meaningful finding.

Of course, as mentioned above, I am a budding researcher and just now learning about how much I still need to learn on how to be an effective design researcher. In my next interviews, I have a few things I want to improve. First, I really need to be prepared for anything. The night before, I should make sure my cellphone can take hours of video (because I found out that it can’t in the middle of an interview), my computer is ready to take notes (after I had typed 8 pages of notes in the field, Word would not let me save the document – something that has never happened before) and I bring several different kinds of notebooks depending on where my participant takes me (small and large notebooks that open in a way that I can carry them one-handed since I need to be ready for anything). Second, I want to modify my participatory methods to go deeper. I see how powerful participatory research methods are at getting participants to open up, share stories, and reveal insights I could not predict. In my next iteration of this kind of interview, I want to ask questions that help me to understand who are the influencers in the participant’s business as well as what the real impact communication has on day-to-day operations. I want to delve into their sense of ideal relationships so I can learn what may currently be broken. Third, I want to internalize possible models I will eventually develop from the data my teammate and I are recording in the field. I believe this will help me to record the right data for future use in the synthesis process.

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.

Design research: a reflection on field research and project work

Our team aims to learn about the factors and actors that influence school menu planning. We have an interest in animal-based food products, such as meat, seafood, pork, and dairy. At the start of the course, we learned from an expert with Greenfield Project, whose work includes advocating for sustainable livestock programs, the humane treatment of animals, and working to promote related government policy changes.

We chose institutional food services because it represents a significant opportunity to influence food purchasing and we thought that it might be a meaningful area for Greenfield Project. We narrowed our focus on K-12 school menu planning because of its connection to wicked problems (such as hunger, poverty, and education), and our desire to use design research to immerse ourselves within a specific cultural context.

Why design research?

The primary goal of design research is problem finding. Throughout our fieldwork, we’ve strived to:

  • Understand the various people involved with school menu planning and what they do, why they do it, and how they feel about it.
  • Cultivate empathy with our participants. This is an important component for me: as a married man who has chosen not to have children, as a professional who has spent 20 years in marketing and spending the majority of my time with other professionals, etc. So I have not spent much time before now thinking about school menus, childhood nutrition, etc.
  • Curate stories from our research findings and data to share with others.
  • Document data, artifacts, photos, etc. that will enable us to move into synthesis (problem understanding) at the appropriate time in the course so that we can make meaning from our research.

Our design research has been generative, and we have approached it with a beginner’s mindset. Our research methods in the field included:

  • In-depth and ad hoc interviews
  • Subject matter expert interviews
  • Contextual inquiry
  • Participatory
  • Secondary research

While we are still recruiting and completing interviews, I have a sense that the design research fieldwork has given us: insights to better define the problem and opportunity with school menu planning; inspiration to identify potential areas of opportunity for school menu planning; and, information assembled over a short period so that we can intelligently talk about school menu planning.

About a boy and his baked potato

Throughout our fieldwork, we’ve heard a variety of stories about creating, testing, and managing school menu programs. There are many constraints and limitations (such as federal, state, and local regulations, budget, facilities, staffing, software applications, nutrition, etc.) that people must manage with school menu programs. And of course, a component of school menu planning is children—their food desires, habits, and nutrition needs.

Working within those constraints can be a challenge. Laura (not real name) has been a chef for more than 18-years and has spent most of her career in restaurant and catering kitchens. After starting a family a few years ago, her interests in childhood nutrition took root and grew into her current role as the food services director for a large network of charter schools. She’s responsible for feeding thousands of children breakfast, lunch, and snack, and she manages an annual budget of more than $4M.

Laura loves to develop creative menu items. And for her, creativity means delicious and nutritious food that children will eat, that her staff can prepare within the allotted time and that her kitchen facilities can accommodate. One of her best resources for ideas is the student. It can be a challenge though—sometimes the ideas of students sound simple, but because of constraints she has a difficult time implementing their suggestions.

Once a young boy in first grade had an idea to share with Laura. She could tell that he had been thinking about this question for days (and perhaps weeks) as he mustered the courage to walk up to her and say, “Hi. You work in the school cafeteria, don’t you?” Laura leaned down to make eye contact as he went on, “I love baked potatoes. Why don’t we have them for lunch?” Laura was moved as they discussed the merits of baked potatoes and she learned more about other foods that he likes.

Laura went back to her office and set out to solve a problem: how might she add baked potatoes to the school menu? She goes on to tell us about the quandary: “It’s complicated. Let’s see, first I’ll need to source 2,000 whole potatoes, then wash the 2,000 potatoes, the staff will need to place 2,000 potatoes on cooking trays and bake them for the required time, and then the front of the house needs to keep them warm for serving,” and this list goes on.

It appears too complicated and time-consuming for the school kitchen. Laura seems crestfallen that she’s not able to include the beloved baked potato on her menu. After all, here’s a young student that wants to eat a vegetable and she’s faced with numerous constraints.

Laura’s still thinking about it months and months later: “how can I serve that brave little boy a baked potato?” There were wins along the way. She was able to add another of his suggestions (pizza fingers!). And yet, she’s still thinking about the little boy and his baked potato.

Lessons learned

  • Daily debrief. In class, we learned that daily debrief sessions allow team members to share early observations and highlights from the work they’ve done. During our planning stage, we committed to day-of and worse case, next day debrief sessions. With competing demands and the challenges of time management, we find ourselves with a backlog of debriefing sessions. The next time I will make daily debrief sessions a priority.
  • Preparation, preparation, preparation. We knew that we wanted to talk with students to learn about their experiences with school food programs and knew it would be difficult to get interviews. When an unexpected opportunity presented itself, we had not thoroughly prepared, so we improvised. Improvisation can be our friend and our worst enemy. The next time I will endeavor to be more prepared and practiced.
  • Show me more. During our planning and throughout fieldwork, as a team, we wanted to make data come alive with visual images to help us better understand the problem area and to share with others. We’ve completed several visual images (such as a model of the various actors involved with the problem area and sketches of the school cafeteria), and yet find ourselves with fewer images than we’d like as we near the completion of fieldwork and prepare for synthesis. The next time I will make creating visuals throughout fieldwork a priority.

Value and participatory research: only love and creativity can save the world

Value. It’s a word found across businesses, governments, and other organizations. Everyone is looking to create value or to find hidden value. There’s the value chain. And some industries, such as healthcare with a movement called value-based healthcare, are rebuilding their business models on the concept of value. The top three definitions of value from Merriam-Webster are the monetary worth of something; a fair return or equivalent in goods, services; and money for something exchanged, and relative worth, utility, or importance.

Value has been explored in depth recently in the Interaction Design, Society, and the Public Sector course taught by Jon Kolko at Austin Center for Design. Focusing on the role of research, Jon facilitated discussions centered on value (based on articles by Donald Norman, and Kolko) and participatory design (based on articles by Paul Dourish, William Gaver, and Liz Sanders).

On assignment

Our assignment was to identify the author’s point of view for different ways of doing research and engaging with users. From there, we were instructed to sketch a storyline that explains the positions in a story.

At the end of a recent blog post I asked a simple question: are designers the new superheroes? Since joining AC4D and learning more about the designer role and opportunity, the idea of designers as heroes has come to my mind. Heroes are an interesting archetype and in a world filled with wicked problems, it’s not too far of a stretch to imagine a need for the Justice League—with Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Flash—as designers.

Based on feedback from the last assignment, my objectives for the assignment were to go into more depth about the author’s intentions and, importantly, to improve the aesthetics of my Illustrator drawings.

Value

Much like the word value, in chapter four of Exposing the Magic of Design, Jon Kolko recognizes that the word innovation has “crept into the vocabularies of executives….” It’s worth noting Jon’s definition of innovation for product development: “an innovative product is not simply new; it must be new and successful in the marketplace.”

He presents the pressing need for design research (problem finding) and design synthesis (problem understanding). Jon makes the case that design research may describe what to make, how to make it, and how it should feel or look. Jon argues that design research should focus on experiential, emotional, and personal aspects of culture. The goal of design research is to find inspiration for a design project. The goal of design synthesis is to describe the situation and ultimately translate opportunities into specific design criteria.

Jon also speaks to the challenges that designers face. The designer role is multifaceted: a designer should be able to think strategically and to design visuals or other tangible assets that evoke emotion. Designers are now expected to solve a problem and also to decide which problems should be solved. Sounds like a job for Superman!

In Donald Norman’s article, Technology First, Needs Last: The Research-Product Gulf, he puts limitations on what one can expect from design research. Norman contends that the significant technology innovations of civilization came from inventors who invent—not designers who research. “Design research is great when it comes to improving product categories, but essentially useless when it comes to breakthroughs.” As technology is invented and progresses, people discover value and products come second, and later needs.

That’s where Norman sees an opportunity for design research. He argues that ethnographic research can lead to an understanding of human behavior and that leads to uncovering human hacks that will suggest product modifications and improvements. While this limitation may seem narrow, history tells us how “flush toilets, indoor plumbing, electric lighting, automobiles…” were invented—technology revolution led by engineers, scientists, and inventors.

This doesn’t sound like a superhero opportunity!

Norman might not agree with that last statement. He recognizes that small, incremental innovation is the bread and butter of product management and organizations since they can lower costs, add features, make a product simpler and easier to use, solve user problems, and so on. Design research can lead to novel innovations and market success. Incremental innovation can be a slog because new ideas for product innovation are viewed as strange, can be politically unpopular, and they compete for scarce resources within an organization. Designers can help overcome these hurdles by telling stories and promoting value from the participant’s perspective.

Sounds like a job for Wonder Woman after all!

Participatory design

Liz Sanders, a co-author of A Social Value for Co-creation in Design, makes the case that all people are creative and seek outlets for creativity. What if we tap into that creativity to co-design with participants?

Sanders boldly positions that designers should do just that: move from the role of designing for users, to one of designing with users. She argues that co-design should exist across the life of the design process and describes four levels of creativity: doing, adapting, making, and creating. Sanders aspire to a design process that is for the longer-term, more humanistic, and more sustainable.

William Gaver, a co-author of Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty, takes Jon Kolko’s goal of design research, to find inspiration for design, to new heights by embracing interpretation, emotions, uncertainty, and subjectivity. Probes are “evocative tasks meant to elicit inspirational responses from people” that provide designers with inspiration, fodder for storytelling, and hidden information that may or may not be true.

And unlike the superhero Martian Manhunter who can read minds, Gaver’s recognizes and embraces that fact that even with Probes a designer cannot get inside of someone’s head. That’s okay by Gaver. It’s almost as if storytelling and inspiration from Probes activities may have the ability to transform a designer to an artist as they go about creating products and services.

In What We Talk About When We Talk About Context, Paul Dourish argues that context is more than a setting—it’s something people do. As an international computer scientist, he presses the case for ubiquitous computing, also known as context-aware computing. The idea is that “ubiquitous computing proposes a digital future in which computation is embedded into the fabric of the world around us.”

Dourish states that context is critical for understanding activity and information. He goes on to write, “…context and activity are mutually constitutive.” So for the designer, recognizing that context is a feature of interaction is central to our opportunity to understand the meanings that people find in the world and the meaning of their actions.

One last superhero reference. It sounds like Batman must have embraced context-aware computing when he developed his bat suit, the Batmobile, and more!

Designer tips

  • Use immersion perspectives focusing on human behavior to learn about opportunity and potential (Kolko)
  • Watch people (Norman)
  • Design with participants (Sanders)
  • Get inspired by participant’s subconscious (Gaver)
  • Understand context, the connections between context setting and activity, and how it’s constantly changing (Dourish)

Reflection

As I reflect on the readings, several comments and questions come to mind as I take steps to becoming a designer.

  • Creativity as a high-wire act. Quantitative + qualitative + creative thinking = new and interesting ideas (Kolko). I’m inspired by the idea of designer as artist and research as inspiration for the artist (Gaver). If designers find problems, understand problems, and then take these insights to make things… How will I know when my artistic-side has jumped the shark? When does a designer transform from being a talented artist to one that cuts his ear off? How do I maintain balance?
  • Tell me a story. Throughout the articles, the importance of storytelling and the role of the designer kept coming up. And not just stories to sell ideas, gain empathy, etc. From gathering fodder to create stories, to being effective storytellers, and so on. How might I work to become a better storyteller (and writer of stories)?
  • Technology and design research. I don’t take too much issue with Norman’s argument about the history of civilization and technology. What if inventors and designers worked more closely together? If the goal of design research is to understand culture and human behavior, how might that put technology innovation on steroids?
  • Something new. Valuing co-creation is a shift in my thinking that occurred over the past few years. Before that, I was the typical business executive that thought he knew what our customers wanted… After all, I had been in the business for over 20-years, had worked alongside customers at the beginning of my career, etc. Co-creation is a rich area for design insights and inspiration. How might I include co-creation within my design practice?

Story: Justice League Designers

Value and Research, 1 of 8






The designer I want to be

As a student in his first quarter at the Austin Center for Design, I am beginning to develop my own philosophy for how I want to be a designer when I enter into the professional world. In the course titled Design, Society and the Public Sector, I read foundational texts written by design practitioners and academics that are reflections of what it means to them to have impact as an interaction designer. In the most recent cycle of readings, we focused on the meaning and development of value as well as the underlying principles for creating value for consumers and citizens of the world. In order synthesize the articles, I created a short comic that I will present below. First, I will provide some context for the story I wrote.

As a basis for understanding my perspective, I start with two of the readings (written by Jon Kolko and Don Norman) that introduce differing perspectives of innovation and that pushed me to ask the question: “Where does/should the concept of innovation live?”

innovation-01 innovation-02

As expressed in the diagrams above, the authors focused on two kinds of innovation. Innovation from the perspective of new technologies can lead to conceptual breakthroughs and eventually change how humans interact. Examples of this are the automobile, the computer and the cellphone. On the other hand, innovation can be seen from the perspective of the consumer. This kind of innovation is subjective and defined by individuals – in the ways they see their own lives and how they use or do not use services and products.

As a future designer, I am interested in focusing on innovating from the perspective of users. Thus steeping myself in the human centered design process makes sense.

Comparing the positions of each of the authors we read (Norman, Kolko, Sanders, Gaver and Dourish), I am beginning to build a framework for thinking about how to develop innovative solutions to wicked problems (as they are experienced on the human level). At its core, the human centered design process is, “…an approach that values uncertainty, play, exploration, and subjective interpretation as ways of dealing with [the limits of knowledge].” (Gaver, pg. 1) This pushes against the dominant belief in the value of quantification, predictive models and a positivist methodology for understanding how to design innovative solutions. However, humans do not experience the world in predictable and rational ways. Instead they are constantly creating the world they live in. The context that people operate in is embodied. Context is, “…something that people do. It is an achievement rather than an observation; an outcome, rather than a premise.”  (Dourish, pg. 22)

Since I want to be a researcher and designer who wants to innovate from the perspective of users, I have to be able to get at the lived experience of humans. I need to figure out methods for capturing that data and making sense of it. It is not as simple as coming up with all the variables that need to be quantified, making objective (context-free) observations, and asking people to respond to surveys. It requires getting at how people really behave, think, and feel. In order to do this, I need a mindset in which I believe I can co-create with my users so that I can access my users’ experiences. Co-creation is an “…act of collective creativity that is experienced jointly by two or more people…where the intent is to create something tis not known in advance.” I believe this loops back to the quote I presented from Gaver. An act is only creative if it is playful, uncertain, and leads to subjective interpretations. As a human centered designer, I need to embody this mindset in order to capture rich data on how my users think, behave and feel. I can do this through creative activities or presenting them with cultural probes wherein I capture reactions to unexpected and irrational stimuli. Of course, just as any positivist scientist would tell you, you need to process lots of data. In the qualitative research world, we do this through synthesis. As Kolko states, “…Synthesis is a sense making process that helps the designer move from data to information, and from information to knowledge.” (Kolko, pg. 40)

Now that I’ve laid out some of the thinking I have been doing on what kind of designer I want to be, I will speak about the story I will present below. As I reflected on the articles, the idea of play stood out.  When humans play, they are doing, creating, and revealing truths about themselves they would not in a rational state of mind. Thus, I centered my story on three individuals, Marvin, Kolko and Sanders. Marvin is lonely and wants to play. Kolko shows up and stimulated by an artifact (a stick), their unconscious desire to fight is acted upon. Sanders shows up and stops them. She works with the boys to co-create another solution to helping them all feel included. They synthesize this information and come up with an insight: they all want to play in a treehouse. I believe within these simple interactions I summarized the above points: the kids innovate changing their lived experience, co-create, play, imagine, and act as a designer should.

Value comic-01 Assignment 2-02 Value comic-03 Value comic-04

 

 

 

Fascinating Findings of Food Value Chain Research

“The one unusual thing I eat is Liver Pâté on bread because it’s something all children in Norway grew up on.  All kids in Norway eat liver Pâté.” 

Lene, immigrant from Norway

 

During the past few weeks, my team here at AC4D has been performing research on Animal Food Value Chain, focusing in particular on undesirable meats and other parts of animals.

It is incredibly fascinating to learn how, and why, people choose certain kinds of meat to purchase and to eat, and the reasons why certain parts of animals are not used in American cuisine.

For every interview, we tried to choose people from different cultural backgrounds to get richer data from different perspectives, since food is always something very culture-related. Cultural difference was never the main focus of our research, but it is something that gave us some really interesting and fascinating data on our topic.

Lene was born in Norway and lived there almost whole her life; she used to work in a restaurant back there. She told us about her experience buying and eating animal products when she just moved to the US. “When I moved to Houston and I went to HEB, I saw these big trays of chicken breasts, and they were so big and so cheap! I thought: “Wow! I can buy that tray and we’ll have dinners for a week! We can share one chicken breast with my husband, it’s enough for both of us. And then I started to realize that it’s not normal, the size of the chicken. They are too big, something is wrong with them, they can’t be 3 times bigger than chickens in Norway. And of course! I started to do some research and watch documentaries, it’s growth hormones they put in. It’s not good for anyone: not for your body, not for the chickens. I saw a documentary which showed how chicken can’t walk because their breasts are too big, they are falling forward. It’s crazy. It shouldn’t be allowed. It’s not allowed in Norway. And now I buy only organic and grassfed meat and only at Whole Foods.”

Something to think about, right?

We’ve talked with people with different backgrounds: second-generation immigration from Mexico, who spent his childhood in a Mexican part of LA; an owner of a food truck serving halal food – he moved to the US with his family to avoid the Iraq War; a recent immigration from Norway and was a cook back home, mentioned earlier…. Every time we come back from an interview, we say: WOW!

Having a chance to see different points of view on a problem, from Americans and immigrants, we see how some things that seem very obvious in one culture, can be very unusual in another. It helped us to find problems we would never see or think about if we talked only to long-time locals.

School Lunch Menus: Future à la Carte

There’s this special kind of feeling when someone hands you over a brief for a design project. Personally I can describe it as a mixture between anxiety and excitement. You read the topic and you already start thinking about what you’re going to do – products, tools, materials, interactions, branding? But, when you’re learning how to conduct design research, you need to remember to take a step back – your experience is not the only one that counts, therefore, your solutions are probably lacking some serious intervention from the outside in.

Set the table

And then your mentors hand you over your research topic: “Animal Food Value Chain” – think about it. So simple and yet so complex. We could even say that our lives have evolved around and thanks to this topic, and therefore, so many systems have been created due to the need and demand of animals and food.

To narrow down the possibilities and create our focus, each member of the team raised the questions that immediately came to mind, and with affinity diagramming we created patterns that slowly started taking us to a potential area of focus:

What are the factors and actors that influence school menu planning specifically around animal based food products.

The interest was there, we all consider that a healthy diet is key to a good academic performance. But we’ve also learned that various perspectives of what a healthy diet should look like differ from context to context, priorities to priorities. But after we discussed enough about what we know or what we think, it was time to hand the microphone to humans in a school setting.

 

Tell me about yourself…

When conducting a contextual inquiry, you approach someone and your intention is to know how to talk to them, so that they can tell you their story as it relates to a subject in particular; they’re in their space (be it work, home or car) and you’re there to learn from them. Your conversation has a goal – you want to know what a person in particular has experienced that will guide you closer to uncovering a problem.

So we went on a Contextual Inquiry adventure and approached an Austin charter school’s food service staff – that was Laura, or the coolest Food Service Director that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing- and believe it or not, we didn’t talk about food half the time.

So far, we have discovered that school food staff not only works with the common goal of feeding children healthy and delicious food to warm their hearts and give them energy. Their goal is to instill them good eating habits and taking them away from potential metabolic diseases that are related to bad eating practices. Their goal is to empower students at a young age, and guide them towards reasonable decision making so that they can continue pursuing good choices and do so all their way to college and adulthood. They think about the children’s future and they cook with that in mind.

What about the beef stroganoff?

Creativity is the fuel of makers, artists, designers, performers, chefs, etc. We’ve learned that cooking might sound fun for some, but it can become quite complex and can even inhibit your creativity when you have to work under so many constraints and government regulations. Laura and her staff seem deeply passionate about what they do. If they could improve the service, they would buy all locally sourced food, they would have more vegetables and fruits for children, and make the serving bar lower so that the little kiddos can have a good look at their bright colors and choose the one they like.

So far, exhaustive and tedious processes make Laura’s job less enjoyable than she would like it to be. We wanted to uncover what were the factors and actors that influence school menu planning specifically around animal based foods? We have gotten our answer fairly quickly. Now the question is, who are we designing for?