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.

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?”

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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.

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True Story: The get to know you game for people you’ve known your whole life.

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Thanks to everyone who has been following and helping with our AC4D project, True Story. We are so excited to share with you what we’ve created and what’s next for our product.

Our Project: A Recap

Over the past 9 months, Maryanne Lee and I have been researching, designing for, and testing solutions that can help families members communicate more openly. Specifically, while we were conducting qualitative research around the impact of aging on family relationships early in our project, we found that adults and their aging parents often have trouble discussing aging-related life transitions. For example, discussions around limiting driving or moving into assisted living are often too difficult to broach, and are put off until moments of crisis. We felt that we could create something to help facilitate open communication among family members much earlier, so that when aging-related discussions eventually occur, the family will already have developed a culture of open communication.

We talked to 9 participants in our early research to understand the problem.

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Based on the conversations and research we conducted with our participants, we came to 2 main insights.

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In order to create a compelling solution that would stay true to what we learned from our participants, we came up with some guidelines. Our design would need to follow these guidelines in order for us to consider our product a success.

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While we came up with over 300 design ideas that could potentially help families have more open communication around aging-related topics, we finally settled on a game. Though the topics we heard about are serious, we felt a game was the right approach to increasing a culture of communication within families. By using a fun and familiar form, families would have something they could spend time together doing. If we could get families talking through fun times together, we could create a safe space to bring up difficult topics.

The Game

While the ideal state of our design is a full-fledged game, the soul of what we’ve been working on, what we really wanted to focus on at first, is the cards.

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Each card has a prompt to tell a story.

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In fact, the object of the game is to collect stories. Why are stories important? Telling stories helps families not only learn about one another, but over time as stories are internalized, family members understand the values that lie behind each others’ choices and are able to start predicting how each person would react to a given situation. In our research, prediction was particularly important to families with elderly individuals who were experiencing cognitive impairment. Caregiving family members found value and relief in making decisions as they believed their parent would have wanted.

Many of our cards are quite whimsical, sort of get-to-know-you questions. We hope this game is seen as a fun activity for families to do together. Especially for families that live far from one another, ensuring together-time is spent on enjoyable activities is very important.

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But in line with our mission, we wanted to make sure the cards also prompt aging-related discussions. The earlier the game is played, the more opportunity families have to develop a culture of open conversation around these topics. Our research revealed 4 top difficult topics. These are health, driving, finance, and living arrangements. So we made sure some of the cards cover each of those topics.

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Real-world testing

We tested our product out in the real world to see if the game succeeded in creating a safe space for talking about aging-related topics. Not only did our participants feel comfortable opening up about their stories, they also showed they were comfortable talking about otherwise difficult subjects.

One participant shared a story about her daily tasks:

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Another participant recognized the value of the game, saying that it might help her bring up difficult financial topics with her grown daughter.

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Overall, our participants thought this would be useful to get to know family members on a much deeper level.

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How Do You Play True Story?

To play, you start with the deck and 2-4 players.

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Player 1 draws a card and answers the story prompt. He or she has the option of telling a true story or a fiction story.

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The other players guess whether the story is true or fiction.

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Player 1 reveals the answer.

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The player(s) who guessed correctly win a token to symbolize that they’ve collected a story.

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The first player to 10 tokens wins! Please feel free to explore our clickable prototype.

What’s next?

Our goal is to take True Story to the next level by conducting a second pilot test to work on our content and tone. Are we asking the right questions? Is the tone conducive to our mission? These are the things we want to figure out.

That means we need participants! If you’d like a chance to play the game and see True Story in action, please email us to be part of our pilot. You’ll help us make our product even better and we think you’ll have fun doing it!

To pilot or for more information, contact us at:

laura.galos@ac4d.com

maryanne.lee@ac4d.com

Thanks again to everyone who has been following our progress. See you at the pilot!

 

True Story

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We are only a few weeks away from our final AC4D presentation, and we’re excited to share with you where our exploration of designing for family discussions around aging has led us.

Currently, our team (Laura Galos and Maryanne Lee) is working on both piloting and creating ideal-state artifacts for our project, which we are calling “True Story.”

True Story is “the get-to-know-you game for people you’ve known your whole life.” It’s a card game for families in which the object is to collect stories from one another, in particular, between intergenerational players.

What Does It Do?

While collecting stories is a worthy goal for families on its own, True Story is designed to do much more. Stories provide a window into the past, but they also provide insight into the way people think, make decisions, their values, and their fears. While family members are collecting stories in the context of a game, they are also collecting perspectives from other family members about topics that might never come up in ordinary conversation.

How Does It Work?

True Story cards each feature a question about a situation that has come up in the past. Some examples are, “Tell me about a time you met a celebrity” and “Tell me about a time you went on vacation alone.”

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Other cards ask for stories around topics that our research has shown to be difficult for families to broach, such as finance, health, living arrangements, and driving. For example, a question that gets family members to talk about ill health is, “Tell me about a time you did something to improve your health.”

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Once the player has told the story, other player(s) guess whether the first player has told a true story or a fiction story. Correct guesses are awarded a token to acknowledge the collected story, and the first person to 10 tokens wins.

Why Did We Make This?

Why do families need to collect stories, perspectives, an intuitive understanding of one another’s values and ways of making decisions? Why do uncomfortable topics need to be surfaced, if only in a game setting? Why make a game of this at all?

The Making of True Story

To recap some of the thinking that went into the creation of True Stories, we returned to our last blog post about our project, written at the end of Quarter 3. At that time our goal was to develop a design solution to help facilitate the difficult conversations seniors and their families have around the major changes that come with aging. Specifically, we wanted to help start conversations about aging transitions—such as limiting driving, or looking at assisted living—between adult children and their aging parents.

While the core of idea has remained the same, over the last several months it has manifested in so many ways—from an iPad game, to a website that helps adults send letter to their aging parents, to a communication tool that uses cards to start the conversation—that amid all the changes it is affirming to look back and see how closely our current product adheres to the principles we set out at the end of Quarter 3. Based on our research and testing with families, caregivers, and aging individuals, we had developed the following criteria to which anything we made had to meet.To help families address difficult aging-related conversations, our product must:

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Design Principles: Mission Accomplished?

Use a medium older individuals already enjoy

Success! To get to True Story, we started by piloting a product we called “Playffle.” Playffle was also card-based, but felt more like a communication tool than a game per se. In our initial research back in Quarter 2, we saw that our older participants, such as Anette, 84, strongly associated cards with being social. She told us that she “love[s] to play cards. I have different groups I play with—some play more complicated games and some play less complicated ones […] It’s a good time, a lot of camaraderie there.” Our pilot participants, upon trying Playffle, greatly appreciated that the cards were non-digital. One participant, aged 82, was under the impression we were going to make a website out of our cards, was elated to hear that we intended to produce a physical product. Furthermore, even younger participants who we spoke with exhibit a wide spectrum of comfort with digital technology. Using a non-digital medium allows everyone to come to the table with a degree of certainty and comfort—a positive start to productive conversations.

Feels non-threatening for older individuals

In piloting Playffle, we explicitly created cards with questions about difficult topics, including driving, living arrangements, and daily tasks. However, we thought that by introducing these topics through hypothetical scenarios, there would be less of a sense that older individuals’ behaviors are being singled out by these conversations. In reality, declining health, trouble driving, etc. are problems that anyone can face, regardless of age. By creating scenario-based questions, we hoped to open up the dialog from one of intervention to one of mutual conscientiousness and preparedness amongst family members. For example, one of our cards looked like this:

Pilot Card for Blog

Our testing showed that hypotheticals are a great way of getting older individuals to open up about facing difficult situations. One pilot participant was very honest about how she could identify with one situation—about buttons and zippers on clothing becoming difficult to manage—and sharing with the other card player how she manages those difficulties. Another participant mentioned that she would like to use these cards with her daughter, who was making financial decisions our participant was worried about. In sum, older individuals not only felt comfortable with these cards, they identified them as useful for addressing difficult topics with their younger family members as well.

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Feels approachable to family members

In our discussions with adult children of aging parents, we found that there was a great deal of fear around broaching aging-related topics. That fear stemmed from angering their parent. One participant we talked to, aged 61, with a father in his 80s, said, “If you bring up the subject of driving, Dad will terminate the conversation. He will become extremely angry and stop talking. Particularly as your parents age, you don’t want to alienate them at the end.” We think that by providing a product that is comfortable and approachable for older individuals—something that will probably not make them feel threatened or angry—we increase the approachability to younger family members. When we introduced the idea of playing cards to another participant, she saw them as “Something I would do day to day with my Dad. My Dad would think its fun finding out about each other or the solutions to problems.”

Leads to solutions, not just fun bonding moments

Our pilot iteration, Playffle, was geared toward adult children and their aging parents at a very specific stage—one in which the adult children were already concerned about the changes their parents would have to make due to aging, but before a crisis had yet occurred. These adults are understandably feeling a lot of pressure and seeking quick, sure solutions that would alleviate their anxiety and make their parents as safe and well-cared-for as possible. Playffle was pretty direct about coming to solutions, not just fun bonding moments. However, the cards felt clinical—a major reason we moved toward our current product iteration. We doubt that Playffle was an enjoyable enough product for people to want to use on their own without us sitting beside them. So we made a decision to broaden the possible usage of our cards. Our current iteration, True Stories, is less direct. It is not meant for adult children who need answers immediately. It is meant as a game different generations of a family can play together to hear stories they would not otherwise have known, get a sense of how the other person/people think and make decisions, and bring up “taboo” topics, such as health and finance, long before a crisis forces the issue. However, in exchange for directness, True Story offers an enjoyable experience that increases the likelihood people will actually use it. One participant in our early testing is caring for her father, who has dementia. Increasingly, she must make decisions about her father’s care on her own without her father’s input. She told us that she wants to make decisions based on “what would my Dad do?” By creating a game that families like to play—and as a secondary benefit, helps family members get to know each other, how they think, and what they value earlier—they can help each other make aging-related decisions together later.

Includes a way to follow-up on conversations

One of the strengths of True Story is that by playing it, the game ensures that taboo topics, such as health, are aired before a crisis happens. A question such as “Tell me about a time you had a health scare” means that families will have heard a story about ill health and have some perspective on the thoughts and feelings around that topic. Later, if and when tough situations arise, each of these stories acts as a tiny window through which the conversation can be re-introduced. By the time a serious conversation about these topics needs to happen, the silence around the subject has already been broken.

Takes into considerations families who live far apart

Many families today live far apart. Partnerships, job opportunities, and geographical preferences can result in families members that live thousands of miles away from one another. In our research, many families we talked to see each only for visits on special occasions. We know that the time spent together under these conditions is valuable. True Story honors the family time together by focusing on the collection of family stories. Additionally, it’s portable—not a small consideration in cases where families must travel to see one another.

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Based on the design principles we laid out at the end of last quarter, we are confident that True Story can help families set the stage for open communication based on mutual understanding as they face major transitions, including those that occur with aging, together. Please feel free to explore our pilot version, Playffle, in the clickable prototype below. We will continue to pilot and evolve True Story until pencils down on May 2nd, so we welcome any feedback you have on our project in the comments section. Thanks!

Playffle Clickable Prototype

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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:

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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)
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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.

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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.

Q3 Summary

After 8 weeks of research, and 8 weeks of prototyping and scenario user testing, I am currently in the process of developing an audible book that brings the compassion of group therapy as well as the encouragement of a medication regimen to individuals living in isolated environments, such as rural West Texas.

This idea has the goal of bringing the voices of individuals who may be suffering the same condition to someone who may not have the resources to talk to anyone about their condition as well as the provide them with a 2 week starter pack of their prescribed medication, with information about that medication as well as intervention moments for the patient to reach out to their health care provider if they are experiencing any negative or positive effects from the medication. Ultimately the goal is to get the new patient confident enough through de-stigmatizing mental illness that they themselves reach out and talk to others, and continue the conversation through their recovery.

Here is a link to a wrap up of the research and prototyping done in quarter 3.

Q3 Wrap Up

User testing and observation

After creating my “Thing” which I describing now as a journey kit for individuals diagnosed with a mental illness focussing particularly on the various ranges of depression, to bipolar, and anxiety disorders.

My first round of user testing was incredibly enlightening and educational. My assumptions that something playful and interactive proved to be a bit too foreign and confusing to my users. No one came out and directly said that, but by reading facial expressions and their interactions with the kit, I could tell that the whimsey surrounding the idea may have come off as not taking the user seriously.

Before I go any further I will introduce first the journey kit, in a very rough prototype that I tested with. Then the series of questions I asked, what I learned, and how I am currently moving forward.

The kit.

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I should say first that as I passed around the kit, I also passed around a potential user scenario in that described what it might be like if your Dr. gave you this thing rather than a bottle of pills. This scenario was accompanied by a one frame image of a woman being handed this box:

IMG_4281With this scenario:

“Jane has just been diagnosed by her psychiatrist as having major depressive disorder. She has been feeling overwhelmed yet hopeless for a while now, so the psychiatrist has suggested that she try out some medication as well as her therapy immediately.

Jane is pretty anxious about taking medication. She has heard a lot of horror stories of side effects, or the zombie effect, but at this point she is really just looking for some relief so she is willing to try anything.

Jane goes to the counter of the psychiatrist office to check out and is surprised when instead of the dr. giving her a sample pack or a bottle of pills she is handed a box.

All that the box says on the top is “Hello. I am here to help”, she is intrigued as to what could possibly be inside. But also confused, “Is this medicine?” she thinks.

The dr. explains that this is a starter kit for her. That having a diagnosis of depression is not the end of the world, getting to a place of self-acceptance is a journey and she would like her to give this kit a try. If the medication and kit process is working for her she would like to keep her on the program, and validates that she is not alone. She is here to help.

She explains that inside she will be guided through the process of taking her first week of medication with this kit. Inside it has day-by-day pull out pill packs, like and advent calendar, clearly labeled “Day1, Day2 etc.). There is her phone number inside the inside cover of the box if she is experiencing any side effects or just needs to talk her number is always there, and on the 4th day she would like her to use the included pre-posted notecard to answer 3 simple questions about how she is doing and mail it back to her so she can keep in touch when they are not face to face in a therapy session.

She also explains that inside there is also a book called “My Story” that has stories of people just like her she can read, and blank pages where she encourages her to write down her story, and to record her thoughts or feelings each day in the “My Story”.

She describes how to take the medication and tells her that the instructions and info about the medication is on the bottom of the box if she ever needs it.

Jane thinks to herself, “my this is different. I hope I can keep up with it all this”, but is uplifted a bit that she is not just being sent home alone with a bottle of pills. ”


This activity was followed up by a short questionnaire regarding the accuracy of the scene, if there was anything that would make the concept more relevant, or more simple, if there was anything missing, and what might you do to improve up it if you could do anything.

The answers were group based, and was a very enlightening discussion.

One woman – age 54 – described the scenario as being seemingly accurate, but definitely hopeful that the Dr. would guide her through the process of using this “thing” because there really was not much direction in the prototype. Rather intentionally actually, a choice made by myself to try to be very clear yet still have a sense of discovery.

Another man – age 47 – thought it was an “interesting” idea, that the postcard was nice, but really the action of taking each pill out of the box, ripping it off of the card and taking it with you was a bit unrealistic and tedious.

My sessions are so far being held in a medical facility where you are not even allowed to bring in your phone, but one man was nice enough to go out to a cafeteria and fill out his scenario there.

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So with what I observed, listened too, and got in hopefully honest writing was that I need more focused content.

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What I came out of my session was this:
People WANT to tell their story. Affirmations are nice, but the content needs to be packaged more familiar, and the actual content needs to better encourage a few key items.

  • The idea that they are not alone.
  • That they are not weird.
  • That other people share their same story.
  • That the idea of being “normal” is such a stretch perhaps it is more of an acceptance that not being normal is really ok.
  • People rely on their medications, and switch meds a lot until they find the one that works for them.

GOING FORWARD:
The box is staying. The innards are changing a bit, but really just becoming more robust around the narrative listed above. I am now moving forward with the “notebook” kit rather than the advent calendar approach, which I believe will gain me more access to be able to provide guided content, as well as it being a much more familiar and portable solution for people who may need to have their medications with them on the go. I am now focussing on a 2 week solution rather than a one week solution.

The week is moving fast, I just got my second round of just feedback, no scenarios, from a few new people that I will share next time, and hopefully have more people to comment on the actual included narrative of the item, as well as the construction – next week.

 

TippingPoint: Doughnuts & Beers | Smoke & Mirrors

We finished last week by testing low-fidelity wires with one group of strangers to elicit feedback on our overall idea, as well as to understand emotional responses to different scenarios and tones.  We learned a lot from that test and we wanted to continue to test these screens with a few more individuals to gain even more perspective.

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2 of the screens we tested

Beer & Doughnuts

Our first stop was the University of Texas campus.  We arrived at a sunny picnic table on the north side of campus armed with a box of doughnuts to be used as compensation for people’s time and opinions.  We set up camp, wrote “Free Donuts:  Help With Design Research” on the box and put on our best smiles in an attempt to lure people to our table.  We quickly realized that offering free doughnuts doesn’t get nearly the response that offering free beer does (our tactic from last week)… despite that lesson learned, we were finally able find two college students willing to sit with us and give us their opinions.

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Free Doughnuts… Anybody??
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Yay, participants!

Our major takeaway from this set of tests was the need for our messaging to be tailored to the person using the service.  The two girls we spoke with were both 20 years old and did not drink or go to bars, so the series of screens we showed them aimed at an audience that spends too much money going out to bars wasn’t applicable to them, so it elicited negative feedback.  They also did not have credit cards or debt so they got stuck on the idea of using a service to pay off credit cards.  This was useful in its own right, and got us thinking about different ways we might tailor the communications and how we might be able to test that.

Later that afternoon went to a nearby bar to find more participants.  Not surprisingly, offering beer worked like a charm and we quickly found four participants eager to share their opinions.

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Sam with a test subject

A lot of what we heard echoed our first round of tests:

  • People enjoy a playful tone and a relatable voice
  • They want messages to be short and sweet
  •  They want to be able to customize the characters
  • They want to know specific dollar amounts (not just percentages)

We also heard some new feedback:

  • People want some sort of option to turn off the messages, especially if they do not currently have enough money to pay towards their credit card or savings
  • They want clear language telling them where their money is actually going
  • They would like us to push the funny character voices even further (fun!)

Smoke & Mirrors

In addition to these tests, we also reached out to our AC4D network, and were able to find three alumni friends willing to let us pilot a “smoke & mirrors” version of the service with them.  This involves a hacked together process of using their bank account alerts to send them an email every time they make a purchase over $1.00, and then setting up their email to forward those alerts to us so we can then send them a text message asking if they want to contribute money to their credit card or savings.  Make sense?  See below:

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flow diagram: smoke & mirrors

Our goal for this method of testing is to determine:

  • What it feels like to receive a message
  • With what frequency people prefer to get messaged
  • What tone is most effective
  • How much money a person using this service might save/put towards debt

After one week of sending & receiving messages, we had our first follow-up interview today.  The participant told us that she really enjoyed receiving our messages and preferred when the messages were more playful and personal as opposed to cold and professional.  It was her opinion that about one message a day would be a good frequency and any more than that might get annoying.  She wants us to keep it fresh and “keep the wins coming.” This means we will need to figure out ways to keep the reminders from becoming stale;  learning about our users to personalize messages, upping the ante, using variable reward structures, and helping people track their progress might be some methods we can use to keep the thrill alive.

The Next 7 Days

This coming week we will be continuing the “smoke & mirrors” testing with our alumni volunteers focusing more on testing different tones.  We will also be doing a series of Scenario Validation tests which we are currently recruiting volunteers for.  Please feel free to share the link above with your networks or if you or anyone you know fits the bill please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Tune in next week for more testing fun!