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Category Archives: Methods

Coupling between thinking and actuation

As part of the creative problem solving process – designers research to understand a problem space, apply their own subjective point of view or intuition and create provocations to make sense of incomplete information.

Sensemaking is not about truth and getting it right.  Instead, it is about continued refracting of an emerging story so that it becomes more comprehensive, incorporates more of the observed data, and is more resilient in the face of criticism. – Karl Weick

However provocation without activity or movement is useless. The apparently crazy idea is not an end point, but only the first stage. It is what happens next that really makes all the difference. – Edward de Bono

In Discovering Design Ability, Nigel Cross states, some of the relevant information [in a design problem] can be found only by generating and testing solutions; some information, or ‘missing ingredient’ has to be provided by the designers himself this extra ingredient is often an ‘ordering principle’. These ‘ordering principles’ give people access to new information on the whole and can take on various activities, such as the diagram below for example:

In Theory of Interaction Design, we read 10 articles and discussed the relationship between creativity, knowledge, and strategy. The diagram is an overview of each author’s summary along with my own position.

And what is your perception of it? Can we design for an individual’s perception? Stavros Mahlke, in Visual Aesthetics and the User Experience, thinks we can and should by integrating ‘non-instrumental qualities’ like aesthetic and symbolic aspects and emotional user reactions with traditional user experience interaction design.

It is in our intent, activity and perception where solutions can be created and make sense.

 

 

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Building a pragmatic definition for sensemaking.

The one-year course at the Austin Center for Design is aimed at helping students build a framework for approaching interaction design in a way that builds autonomy for the designer while helping them address problems worth solving.  For me personally, some of the sharpest spikes in learning and independence have occurred when I am able to see how the practice that we are learning is also embodied in the design of ac4d itself.  Typically, we have already been applying a technique for a while in the program before the theoretical underpinning really makes sense.

Most recently, we have been exploring the role of perception and abductive reasoning in the sensemaking process.  After already going through sensemaking in a variety of different ways in the last seven months, I’m starting to develop my own ethic and practice as an interaction designer.  And so while the theoretical readings around perception were very dense, abstract, and seemingly unrelated… my tacit knowledge of the sense-making process made it possible to delve into them a derive my own meanings.

I think one question central to the question of design practice (of which sensemaking is at the core) is why it has largely eluded definition or refinement in the past.

So our understanding of design is in many way inhibited by our lack of understanding of the mechanisms of the creative process.  Because we see a linear causal chain, we are fooled into thinking that the decisions made along the way were the result of deductive reasoning or else just a spark of randomness that can’t be defined.  What we lose in this sort of retrospective is the context of each decision and how a pragmatic consideration of context results in a kind exploratory reasoning called abduction.  What we think of as creativity may in fact only be the result of practicality in the right context.

If it is possible to highlight some of the mechanisms that push us toward new insights, then of course it’s also possible to build a methodology that refines and enriches those mechanisms.  I tend to think of abduction not just as a lateral thinking process, but actually as a sort of filter that helps us select from all of the ideas in our subconscious from moment to moment.

And so the sorts of problems that are the most difficult to navigate–ones with complex external dependencies and incomplete information–are also the problems where a rigorous sensemaking methodology will differentiate itself as most useful because it’s the sort of sensemaking that puts the highest premium on a pragmatic, integrative approach to exploring new ideas.

Pragmatism is, of course, highly dependent on intuition.  And in order to be pragmatic in a way that is mostly likely to be relevant to a problem, designers must make their intuitive understanding of a problem space rich with of the context that is most likely to make their ideas relevant.  Perhaps most importantly, context can’t be abstractly understood, it is inherently informed by activity in the problem space with the affected people.

And while ethnographic techniques are widely used in design research today, I think there is a lack of definition around the sensemaking process that follows research.  Just as a perceptual layer exists between the interactions that users have with systems, there is also a perceptual layer that exists between the designer and the system they are designing.  In order to create an effective dialog with a design, the designer must externalize their ideas as often as possible in the form of iconic artifacts that allow for new projections and subjective reactions.  During our course on rapid ideation and creative problem solving, our class had a shared experience around the need for this sort of dialog as we rapidly prototyped and iterated on designs of thermostat systems.

Externalizations create a kind of relationship with a system and the system itself starts to impose its own constraints and shapes the designer’s understanding even as the design shapes it.  Resilient traits survive this dialog and a solution eventually emerges.

This articulation from the designer isn’t the solution it’s a solution: it’s an argument through a rigorous and methodical creative process.

Thoughts?

-Scott

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queery: “Is it working…?” and Our Ponderous Process

Hey everyone!

Alex and I have been touch and go on the blog posts, and I do apologize—today I’m making up for it by posting some progress shots to show you where we’ve come from, and what we have so far.

As Alex mentioned, we’ve come out of the end of this developer hole that we put ourselves through trying to build the application from scratch. Not a good idea, and I’m sure that the lesson Alex learned from that is when prototyping, build fast, and then iterate.

I’m pleased to say that our Google Forms, while perhaps too argyle, is working well:

So far we have a few responses, and enough to pair folks together via interest, so I’m looking forward to having folks meet with one another and gauge their feedback on the meetings! Functionally, it is doing what we want it to do, on a low-fi scale, and in the next four weeks, I want to bring up the fidelity of this bit by bit.

So about that argyle…
Currently, queery is lacking in visual design. Google Forms can only do so much, and in order to change the argyle pattern in the forms, we would have to host the form somewhere else and dig into the CSS. While it is possible, it’s not something I’d like to get into in the first version of our prototype, so Alex and I mutually decided that the next phase of queery will be built on top of a WordPress framework, which allows for decent customizability.

As a teaser, I’ll show you what we have in store for queery.

Our logo has shifted slightly, but has gone from this:

…to this.

We’ve shifted from charcoal and turquoise to navy and teal; our color palette is currently this:

We wanted to take the idea of the transgender pride flag and modify it slightly from baby blues and pinks to stronger, more mature teals and corals. We’re hoping that this palette conveys the friendliness and encouragement that we desire in the application while still maintaining a sense that this is a trustworthy, safe process.

What I’ve learned so far is to trust that we will probably not get it right the first time.  I have a lot of anxiety about how the coffee meetings will go because I so badly want to make a positive impact in the community that piloting this is a big deal for me. I also know that the designing process is an iterative one, and that through the stumbling and falling, we’ll pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep going.

Incredible thanks to the folks who are currently using queery—we wouldn’t be able to do this pilot without you. And to those of you who are in the LGBTQIA community in Austin, if you want to pilot queery, get in touch with me via chelsea (at) getqueery.com.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the coming weeks will hold.

Posted in Interaction Design, Methods, Reflection | Leave a comment

New Quarter, New Queery

Welcome to Quarter 4, everyone!

Alex and I last posted, Queery was a fully fleshed-out design concept that we presented to a panel of entrepreneurs and designers. The initial response we received was very positive, and overall, we’re pleased to see that Queery is resonating not only in the hearts of trans* folk, but in people who are interested in being allies to the trans* community.

As a reminder, Queery is an invite-only safe space for trans* and gender variant folks to discover their local community through face-to-face meetings. Queery aims to create a community around get-togethers and fuel connections through matching folks by common interest.

Where are we now?
For the past two weeks, Alex and I have been working on developing a pilot program that we can work with the community. We are looking to test out Queery with people who want to provide feedback on the service so that we can make it better. It’s one thing to test folks with paper prototypes, but another to test with a working website.

Below is a peek into the finalized wireframes for the Queery website.

Since we have started our piloting, Alex has been hard at work setting up an EC2 instance and a GitHub repository to make sure that we have all the development tools we need for future coding work. I’ve been working on making sure that we have all the pages and styling we need to match the wireframes.

Going forward, we are seriously thinking about our business plan and how Queery will sustain itself. Will we be receiving grants from LGBTQIA organizations for assistance, or will this be powered by its amazing users? We are hoping the latter.

Want to Help?
For any of you who identify as trans* or gender-variant, we would love your help in piloting Queery. Would you like to meet new people in the Austin area? We can set you up with one on one meetings with other folks based on interest. Please reach out to us at spectrumproject@ac4d.com if you are interested.

Posted in Methods, Startups | Leave a comment

Designing Meaningful Models for Interaction

Recently our class has been exploring modern design history and its intertwined relationship with computing technology and approaches to human and computer interactions.  Technology is both active and contextual in our lives and as a result any discussion of how humans and technology is characterized by both granular detail and broad societal trends.

Designers are rightfully wary of the effects of amplification that are possible through modern technology.  Industrialization showed us the immense power and terrifying unintended consequences of amplifying design ideas.  And in the computer age we have seen many of the same naive, shortsighted views that characterized industrialization repeated in new mediums.

In one of the articles we recently read, Steve Mann advocates for the use of a video capture device that will record every moment of our lives and act as a filter for our perspective of the world.

Having an on-demand photographic memory can help all of us by offloading, to a wearable computer, the task of memorizing now-mundane details that might only later become important.

I couldn’t help but think of the idealized representations of home life in mid-century advertisements for appliances and how they would free women from the arduous everyday tasks.  And while Mann’s perspective may have seemed extreme not long ago the introduction of google glass clearly demonstrates our willingness to continue to hand off tasks to automation.

In another article, Paul Dourish explores (among other things) how our everyday activities shape our view of the world.  Out of this view we begin to see technology that simply attempts to model and replace human activity more realistically: in severing out connection with the environment around us through our activity, we lose our ability to make meaning of the world.

Practice is first and foremost a process by which we can experience the world and our engagement with it as meaningful. As technologists, then, our concern is not simply to support particular forms of practice, but to support the evolution of practice—the ‘‘conversation with materials’’ out of which emerges new forms of action and meaning.

Dourish’s wider point is about how the people that we interact with and the social norms that we establish inform, shape, and ultimately collaborate with us to establish the context from which we make meaning of the world.

In another article that Dourish collaborated on this idea manifests into an important implication for designers who wish to affect people rather than divorcing them from meaningful experiences.

This requires a shift from designing systems to model and transmit emotion to designing systems that support humans in producing, experiencing and interpreting emotions.

As designers we design for people to able to understand and use our systems efficiently.  The computing mediums that interaction designers often bring ideas to life in are biased toward an information based approach to the world that relies on representational models.  And so designing for people by creating computational models that match the observational models we see in the world becomes a natural extension of modern mediums.  But over time this disconnects people for the everyday world and leads to hollow, filtered interactions with the world around us.

Liz Sanders explorations in co-design offer a relevant counterpoint to consider.

People are naturally creative. As designers of scaffolds, we need to give them participatory tools to promote generativity in their thinking.

Sanders describes the designer’s role primarily as a facilitator: a conduit for other’s creativity.  I think Sanders overreaches in pushing all of the active creativity out of the realm of the designer and so I think her model is flawed as a model for methodology in the design process.  But they may offer a powerful model for how to think about the systems that interaction designers put into the world.

As with so many themes in design, the ethic for a designer emerges as a tension between competing needs.  Our medium requires us to think about how to leverage information models and our subject requires to consider how to create interactions that lead to meaningful understandings of the world.  So our task becomes to explore interaction scaffolds that give people the opportunity to create their own meaning and then create models of these scaffolds that are appropriate for the medium.  In this way we design systems that embrace the new interactions that are only possible in new mediums rather than simply creating a virtual shadow of meaningful interactions.

Thoughts?

-Scott

Posted in Design Education, Interaction Design, Methods, Theory | Leave a comment

Charting Times of Change: Money Practices and Behaviors in Myanmar

Earlier this week, GigaOm published an introduction to some work I’ve been a part of in Myanmar, exploring money practices and behaviors in rural and low-income households. Conducting design research in other countries, especially those in development, is a reminder of the applicability of the design process and of the work we do. So few people (or institutions) strive to understand “why,” and despite a heightened foreign interest and influx of opportunity in this newly opened market, so few products and services have been designed appropriately, or adapted from other markets to consider the needs and values of the people they serve.

http://gigaom.com/2014/03/04/as-myanmar-opens-up-will-mobile-money-emerge/

I hope you enjoy the read.
We’ll be sharing out our findings in early April.

Posted in Design Research, Methods, Social Innovation | Leave a comment

The Spectrum Project Update 7: Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…

As my design partner Alex explained in his blog post, from CoffeeRoulette was born Queery, a service exclusively for the trans* and gender variant community for pairing people together for safe, one-on-one interactions with one another within a curated community.

When we last left you, we were going to test our wireframes with users—so far, we have tested three users and plan to test another two users by Sunday, and write up a full report by then.

The response has been extremely encouraging. “Where were you six months ago when I moved to Austin!?” said one of our participants while pointing at our wireframes. “You need to make this, invent a time machine, and then give me it.”

Our preliminary tests have also unearthed some usability issues of our wireframes—the confirmation screen for the application after the meeting has been set is unclear, and some of the icons on our navigation bar were not clear enough to convey meaning.

We have since updated our wireframes to not include the navigation bar, and to instead, have an easy, one-at-a-time flow that prevents the user from doing too many things at once. In our new organization, we will have singular flows where a user sets up a meeting, has reminders for that meeting, and only until they complete a meeting and rate the meeting will they be able to set up a new meeting.

Additionally, Alex and I have started asking the hard questions in terms of edge cases:

  • What if someone feels uncomfortable or unsafe during the meeting, how can we stop it?
  • How will we be able to monetize this service to pay for itself and keep it going for the community?
  • How do we pitch this idea to coffee shops, and how do we get more coffee shops involved in trans*issues?
  • What happens if someone who is not supposed to receive an invite is sent an invite (through a mis-typed e-mail address, for example)?

Before our presentation next Saturday, we want to think about these questions and more while we continue to refine our wireframes this week.

We’re also getting fired up for our own reasons—because both Alex and I are cisgendered, we get asked a lot by others, “Why make an application for the trans* community when you are not trans* yourself?”

We will never be able to fully understand the struggles of someone who is going through transition. What I can understand is the anxiety I feel when I walk into a new place with new people, and now I am suddenly expected to walk around to everyone and introduce myself, with no knowledge of how the conversation is going to go. I can understand wanting to stay online with my friends, as I have done that for years and years, only meeting my internet friends once in a while if I had money. I can understand the pain and awkwardness of a conversation going south.

I get giddy thinking about the folks who we have talked to and who are interested meeting one another and hitting it off. I trust that with the right advisors and with the support of the trans* community, we will be able to build something that the community can take over from us and call it their own.

Again, Alex and I are continually thankful for the folks who have been testing our wireframes, providing us feedback, and guiding us on the way to Queery. We’ll see you for a final blog post next week.

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Testing Our Concept through Scenario Validation

When we last left off, we illustrated how we used the power of storytelling to elaborate on our design idea Inner Circle: the Birth Plan for Everyone Else— a smartphone app that guides expectant mothers through a series of questions regarding their impending birth, empowering them to have authority over their birth experience.

Over the weekend, our group tested some of the features of Inner Circle through a user-testing method called scenario validation. Scenario validation acts as a litmus test for whether the intended features and functions of our application are viewed as needed and useful by our intended audience. To do this, we create multiple short stories with accompanying visuals in which a fictional user would use our application to help solve a specific problem at a specific time. These sketches contained the minimal flows needed to communicate the feature in order to test the idea.

To validate the concepts, we held one group session with a total of 4 expectant and recent mothers, some who had hospital births, and some who had homebirths. We read aloud one scenario and had participants fill out questionnaires about each scenario. We then held a group discussion with participants about the features and usefulness of this tool and how they had perceived it.

As we expected, this type of concept validation proved to be invaluable. The feedback we received about the core concept was overwhelmingly positive:

“I think [Inner Circle] would be helpful for somebody with their first pregnancy. It seems to ask questions that I wouldn’t even think to ask. It feels like it really fills a void.”

“There’s something nice about having a birth plan for everyone else. It’s something that’s needed and I didn’t know that I needed it.”

“Every pregnant friend that I had, I would tell them, this would go into the package they need to prepare for their birth.”

Most importantly, scenario validation allowed us to see what features might need a clearer value proposition:

“I don’t think it would be that difficult to just send two different emails. I don’t know if I need an app to facilitate that for me.”

The discussion and feedback from participants informed us that a tool that creates communication hierarchy should be secondary to a tool that provocates the creation of a birth plan for friends and family.

This week, our team will be concentrating on constructing the wireframes which prompts the user to answer questions related to the planning of their birth–the location, people involved, communication boundaries, and tasks which need to be delegated. This feature will be complimented by the communication hierarchies which will disseminate information to the appropriate people–all people will receive opt-in links to tasks such as food prep whereas other people will also be able to volunteer to pick up an older child from school (inner circle only).

At the same time, we will be reviewing previously conducted research with mothers to make sure our design addresses the issues they wished they had known to prepare for. Our goal is to present this information in creating a birth plan for future mothers in their planning stages so that they know what to expect and will be feel more confident and assured entering into motherhood.

“This empowers you to be the boss lady, which is an important way to feel going into becoming a mother.”

Look for another update within the week. As always, if you have any thoughts about Inner Circle, please don’t hesitate to comment here or email me at meghan.corbett@ac4d.com.

 

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The Spectrum Project Update 5: Validating Assumptions

When we last left off, we had presented the first iteration of CoffeeRoulette—a service that helps forge friendships between two trans*friendly people over coffee and a game.

CoffeeRoulette’s best features include:

  • a curated community of trans*friendly folks, initially seeded by the alpha testers in the trans*community.
  • a no-hassle 45-minute timed meeting to meet with others (but not feel bad if your time runs out and you don’t want to meet them again)
  • a way of connecting others in a generally anonymous, one-on-one way to protect the privacy of individuals.

This past week, we’ve been testing these features and more by using scenario validation. Scenario validation is a process by which we create multiple scenarios in which a (fictional) user would be using our application, along with screenshots of the application as they are using it.

Then, we give the users a feedback sheet asking questions to rate different statements about the application from 1-5 (where 1 is that they strongly agree with the statement, and 5 is that they strongly disagree with the statements). Statements can range from, “I feel like I can trust the people I meet through this application” to “I would like to use this application more in the future.”

We tested with folks inside and outside the trans*community—we felt that testing outside the community was important to validate our assumptions should we choose to expand our curated community from solely the trans* community. The responses we received were interesting and helpful. They ranged from:

“I really like the one on one aspect of this…I go to Meetups and it’s just hard to connect with one individual person.”

to

“Why isn’t this a dating app?”

It’s helpful to hear a validation of our design idea, and that, for the most part, we’ve been met with optimism and kindness. We also know how helpful it is to receive critical feedback on our idea to kickstart our thinking. We were provided that this Saturday when Alex presented our idea to a critical audience instead of a friendly one.

Some of the questions that were asked of us were, “How do we know that the games are in the coffee shop?” “What’s your business plan? How will you make money?” and “What if people steal the games?”

We had answers to some, and on others we had none. We knew our idea worked and people were interested in it, and it felt more “real” to us than ever before, but there are still more hurdles for us to jump before it becomes an actuality.

 This week, we’re working on incorporating the feedback, doing our last round of user testing, and finalizing our prototype in code. We’ll be taking in all of your feedback and making the idea more solid and more real.

Look forward to the next update, where we will have a more solid version of CoffeeRoulette to show you.

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Medium-Fidelity Storyboarding: My Process

Hello, everyone!

Some folks from AC4D have been asking me how I do my storyboards for classes. I haven’t had a chance yet to sit down and go through my process in-person, so I’d like to document this on the blog for everyone. I’ll go over my ideation process, the sketching process, and then shading and inking. Keep in mind that this just the way I do it—there’s no right or wrong about this. My hope in showing you my process is that you get inspired in your own storyboarding processes as well.

Thinking in Text Boxes
I’ll start out with Post-Its of what I want the storyline to be. Each Post-It is text box where that text will live. This way, I can judge how much text there is going to be in the picture and plan for it. Ideally, each box takes up about one Post-Its’ worth of text. If I’m using three or four Post-Its to convey an idea, that means that I need to simplify it or break it up into multiple Post-Its.

When I have a better way of phrasing the text, I’ll just put it over the old text. Usually, I don’t throw out any Post-Its until the end of the process, because I might come back to them later.

Planning out Panels
Once I have all of the text mapped out, I take a different colored Post-It and start mapping out the panels. In this example, the word “text box” is where text lives, and the word “panel” is where pictures live.

Notice that it’s not a one-to-one ratio with text boxes and panels. Multiple text boxes can be on one panel, and multiple panels can be on one text box. It depends on how you want to convey the information. Is it simple, or complex? I’ve found that if I am stating an action, like, “Elaine meets Wanda at a coffee shop,” that’s a relatively straightforward action that I can draw. However, if it’s a vague action such as, “Elaine searches for friends online,” I might have to draw more to convey the information I want, like Elaine logging onto her computer, inputting information, and then seeing the result.

At this point, my pictures are still stick figures, but it is clear what they are doing. As a basic rule of thumb, I should be able to see:

  • What action the person is taking
  • (If their face is visible) How the person feels about the action
  • Any main pieces of architecture or interface that they are interacting with

Similar to the text boxes, if I don’t like the drawing, I just overlap it with another Post-It. I’ve had pictures where the first Post-It comes out great, and then I’ve had pictures where I needed ten Post-Its.

Drawing on Paper
Here’s the fun part for me! Using a Prismacolor No-Photo Blue pencil, I sketch out a more detailed version of the scenes in the Post-Its. This is probably where I’d say my materials might be different than most people, because I’m a lazy cartoonist. No-Photo Blue allows you to draw on a piece of paper and then ink right on top of it. When you scan it or copy it, the blue will disappear, because it is a shade of blue that isn’t picked up by scanners/copiers. No erasing, no multiple sheets of paper!

I start out with the basic stick figure (which looks like a capital I with a head), and then sketch out limbs and expressions. I’ve found that with the face, drawing the nose first (which is a central part of the face) helps keep me centered and not go drawing incorrect proportions.

A Note about Characters
How do I make my characters look like people? As far as characters go, I try to remember noses of people I like, or perhaps choose a face structure of someone I’ve noticed on the bus or on my scooter. Usually what I do is observe people in a public setting, and think about their features, and what makes each person special in a visual sense. The more I look at people, the easier it is for me to pick out distinguishing features (a large nose, thin lips, wide eyes, a short face) and add them to my characters.

This process is much harder to illustrate, and could take up an entire blog post, so if you want to learn more, get in touch with me personally and I’ll talk you through it.

I draw each panel on a sheet of paper (usually 8.5″ x 11″). This means I don’t have to map out the layout of the panels until I put it all in Photoshop.

Ink it Up!
Once I’m finished with the blue pencils and I have everything where I want it, I go back in and draw over the No-Photo blue pencil with a simple Sharpie for lines. I’m continually surprised by the versatility of Sharpies—they have some great line weight (how thick or thin the line is)!

My rule of thumb for line weight is the thicker the line is, the more people will pay attention to it. So, if you want the attention drawn to someone’s face (as I wanted in this picture) I outlined the side of the face once or twice more with Sharpie, and then filled in her lipstick to focus the viewer’s attention onto her smile.

This also works well in the case of mistakes—if you mess up your inking somewhere, use thicker line weights to draw the user’s attention away from your mistakes. I use this all the time with my work. Sometimes a piece can come out perfectly, but usually there are a couple of mistakes here and there. Line weights are your friend!

I’ll shade in anything that needs shading. The same rule applies with line weights as it does shading—anything I shade will draw more attention to it. I used to take the “fine arts” approach to my work and shade anything I knew had a shadow, but unless I’m working in something really detailed, it usually ended up looking like a mess of dark lines.

As a side note, I always make sure that my lines are nice and clean. Because I’m going to be scanning these in and resizing them on an 11″x 17″ piece of paper, I want to make sure nothing bleeds in with one another.

The Finished Product

This is what the one panel of the storyboard looks like when it is finished. The storyboard is now at medium-fidelity, and I have all the pieces I need (text boxes, finished panels) to scan into Photoshop and add shading and coloring.

So, that’s how I bring storyboards up to medium fidelity! I hope that was helpful for you. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me either via email or on twitter @chostett.

Happy drawing!

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