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Category Archives: Reflection

Hello Again, World: A Reflection of Post-AC4D Life

Hello, everyone.

After almost two months out of AC4D, and after meeting some of the new students who are going to be in the next year, I’ve collected my thoughts (albeit messily) on what it has been like post-graduation. This post is intended to educate the new students going in, to connect with AC4D alums, and hopefully to give comfort to the folks in my class who are still probably going through their own processing.

I’ll be the first to admit it, I was terrified of graduating. The last time I graduated from an educational institution, I had a serious disconnect with reality and fell into a depression. I actually recorded this story for RISK! podcast during my time at AC4D, and it was fresh on my mind when I graduated.

This time was different. Instead of feeling unprepared for the “real world” post-college, I felt incredibly prepared. I had productive thought patterns and artifacts and a killer portfolio and contract work; I had GANTT charts and efficiency to tackle even the most complex of problems. It feels amazing to be doing the work you’ve always wanted to do with the people you want to do it with. Without AC4D, I wouldn’t be doing what I love today.

On the flip side, I was entirely oblivious to how my year in the program had changed the relationships around me. There is something for me about the creative process that naturally distances yourself from others in its observation and analysis. I wondered if in the search to become closer to others by making and doing I was ending up alienating myself. I’m currently a terrific designer who is growing and establishing bonds with clients—where exactly was my passion in doing the same thing with my friends and family?

That, I currently don’t have the answer to, but like every question I ask that’s a wicked problem, I’m currently whiteboarding it out. I’m setting constraints. My fiancee will not let me make a GANTT chart to track the progress of our relationship (though I tried), and I don’t need or want to have that kind of predictability. I’m getting used to setting my own structure and pace in my own life, and what’s good for myself and those around me who I care about.

My year at AC4D seems like such a blur. I vaguely remember the emotional highs and lows, but every once in a while, I pick out a memory that I truly cherish, like first time I saw Alex’s baby over Skype. It was late and we were both bone tired, and Alex was holding his newborn baby and calling out design ideas over Skype to me. We both laughed at how ridiculous it was to have a kid in the middle of an intensive program, but I also remember having a deep well of respect for Alex for taking on possibly the two most trying moments of his life at the same time. I still have that respect for him.

My only piece of advice for students going into the program is that it is going to be possibly the most intense, exciting, infuriating, and empowering year of your life. You will feel all of these emotions, sometimes all at once.

Record it. Take pictures. Don’t trust your memory to remember it all because after this year is over, you’ll be thinking “what the hell happened to me?” It won’t feel real, but once you see a photograph or a video, you’ll remember again and know that you achieved something amazing with the help of some amazing people.

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Intent vs. Practicality: On the desire to develop Research Insights Databases

Many of the faculty have been in the position before: a client wants to maximise their research ROI by having you simultaneously conduct design research AND help them develop a means for efficient knowledge-sharing of your (and all future) research insights. I just wrote a little diddy on some of the reasons this is tough, and why asking for a more efficient means of sharing insights is missing the point.

http://www.laurenserota.com/blog/2014/5/4/intent-vs-practicality-why-a-research-insights-database-is-a-bad-idea


Commentary welcome.

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UX for Good: Meeting the team

A group in Kigali marches toward the memorial

This post is my third in a series on the UX for Good design challenge. Check out the first post: UX for Good Introduction to get a better understanding of what the UX for Good design challenge is about.

 

Today I watched part of the team visit the grounds of the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

It dawned on me that we externally worked through an issue that many observers & participants of the design process also have to work through: Just because you are studying X problem, doesn’t mean that your end output will be directly attributable to this problem.

 

I.e. – just because our design focus is “creating action that stops genocide”, doesn’t mean our design solution will be directly attributable to stopping a genocide.

 

Yesterday I asked a man at the memorial the following question, “What is this place to you?”

His response, “In one way, it is a home.  The bones of my mother and father are here… But in another way, it is hope.  Hope that the people who come here will be moved to see the hatred and intolerance that generated this – and take it upon themselves to say something when they see it happen in the future.”

He’s not stating he hopes people stop mass killings (not that it needs to be stated).  Rather, it would seem he observed a different problem altogether; that hatred and intolerance between individuals set the stage for the event to happen.

This is different than the problem that most of us perceive.

When you visit KGM, and other holocaust memorials, you will see a single statement at both of them – “Never again”.  Someone in our group made the observation, “this statement feels hollow… what makes this feel so hollow?”

We’ve had this decree since the Holocaust. Yet somehow there have been multiple instances of massive atrocities since then.  It might feel hollow because our awareness of these atrocities conflicts with our belief in the statement – in effect, exposing the facade.

When I reframe this concept within the context of our mission statement – I can’t help but ask a question.

 

“Never again”…  Never again what?

 

One answer might be that we find a way to generate a swifter response to future instances of foreseeable atrocity.

If there is mass killing on any scale, we should make a concerted effort to mitigate it as soon as possible.  But this is an obvious statement that everyone already largely agrees upon. And yet, history has demonstrated this isn’t enough.

 

What if killing isn’t the problem “we” should be trying to solve?  I.e. if the killing has started, “we” are already too late.

 

An alternative answer is that we find ways to design counter measures to the subtle forbearers that set the stage for an atrocity to flourish.

Design concepts in this problem space are difficult to craft.  More often than not, our “business minded” culture doesn’t permit taking action unless it is directly attributable to the end result.

I.e. If you can’t show that doing X will stop a pending atrocity, no one will take any action.

The result, as history has continued to show us, largely inaction.

This is the same type of thinking the plagues the companies I worked with every day as a consultant @frog design.  Business leaders want imperial evidence that making a move will result in all of the return.

“Guessing the future” doesn’t work like this. 

 

Edison knew this during the development of the light bulb. When asked about all of his failure, he responded, “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Edison would not have lasted in our world of quarterly returns.

Changing the future requires rigor, iteration, and sometimes a hopelessly optimistic attitude about reaching the end state.

I have hope. 

As a designer and systems thinker, my value to a team often lies in reframing a given situation.

Consider the following: if the subtle forbearers to a major atrocity are largely cultural undertones that have potential to evolve given the right circumstances, they inherently happen over time. Thus, they may have a higher chance of being noticed by someone who intimately participates in the culture in which they exist.

Designers often make reference to a potential solution as abiding by specific design principles.  They are a way of saying, we can create any product, system, or service; but if it is to be successful, it must do the following.. Design principles are the result of research, reflection, reframing and rigorous iteration. They guide us in crafting meaningful solutions that are not always directly attributable to the initial perceived problem.

 

It may be that the design principles for this particular problem read as follows (Note: this is purely a hypothesis that will change):

  • In-order to be successful, the person must be able to identify the undertones that led to a particular atrocity (any given person who visits an existing memorial).
  • In-order to be successful, the person must then be able to reframe these undertones within the context of their own culture; identifying similar patterns of action or behavior that act as a single block in an overarching foundation.
  • In-order to be successful, the person must then be able to generate concepts that have a purpose to achieve a more ideal outcome; and be able to execute upon these over time.

 

The solution we could then create would reframe the action we hope to generate as:

  • - a “thing” that is contextual (a person can apply it to their own cultural circumstance)
  • - a “thing” that is sustainable (the visibility of their action generates more action)
  • - a “thing” that may or may not be an external creation by the person doing the reframing – but solicits action towards the achievement of a positive outcome (Focus on crafting / executing small steps to the ideal state).

Tomorrow, we officially start research.  We will ingest the perspective of visitors, survivors, and hopefully perpetrators over the next 3 days.

These raw data points will be combined with our own understanding of the world around us, allowing the team to generate design principles that guide our creative thinking.

I hope to have another post sometime in the next three days.

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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.

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Build Scaffolds. Inspire Articulations. Make New Knowledge. And Repeat.

Access to information technology can make our lives easier, of course, but how people are affected and the sharing of their experience is where we can find meaning.

The diagram below maps 8 author positions around the roles and implications of technology and the meaning of experience and context. Click on the diagram for a full view:

 In What We Talk About When We Talk About Context Paul Dourish describes the interaction of information or object and activity as an alternate concept of context. Context as an interactional problem is the relationship of dynamic objects and activities.

But object interaction is more than the transmission of information, as Bohnear describes in Affect: From Information to Interactionit can be a form of social action, which achieves social ends collectively, in ways in which collective meaning shapes individual experience. 

So if you build scaffolds (supportive frameworks) people will articulate their own experiences that can be interpreted for new knowledge for others.

Posted in Classes, Interaction Design, Reflection, Theory | Leave a comment

The Special Nature of Ordinary

Ordinary gets a bad wrap.  Rarely do we celebrate ordinary.  Ordinary is the B student, the 3rd place finisher, ordinary is the domestic beer.  But within the ordinary there is something special, especially when we talk about design.  Ordinary is the nature of how we see the world; it is our default state.

Ordinary is often seen as being “not special” and this is a problem for  technologists and designers.  As designers we’re constantly asked to make something that will surprise and delight, but a thing can only be special for a limited amount of time; meaningfulness is a temporary quality.  Let us take a look at the default design example: Apple’s iPhone.  The iPhone was in many ways revolutionary, it changed people’s understanding of interactions with technology. It’s newness, however,  was short lived.  Smartphones have become interwoven in our culture to the point that they’ve reached the state of ordinary.  Rather than appreciating the appropriate and indispensable nature of the technology, we dwell on what’s the next big thing.

In their book “Super Normal” Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison purpose the concept outlined in the title.  Morrison argues that “The Super Normal object is the result of a long tradition of evolutionary advancement in the shape of everyday things, not attempting to break with the history of form but rather trying to summarise it, know its place in the society of things”.

What they are arguing for is a better understanding of design as something that should be, in its purest state, ordinary.  Ordinary is something special that should be revered.  So the question comes: What does it mean for an thing to be ordinary?

A thing becomes ordinary when it becomes ubiquitous within a group, both in use and cultural acceptance.  In this regard ordinary is a dynamic social quality actively managed through our use and interactions.  As a thing becomes ubiquitous in a culture it becomes ordinary.  We don’t look at everyday objects like chairs or utensils as being special, but at the same time we can’t imagine a world without them; the same could be said of the smartphone. Our collective sense of ordinary is shaped by our experiences over time, so as we learn new things our sense of ordinary changes and evolves.

In this way ordinary can be seen as an evolutionary mechanism in design. Ordinary isn’t a quality designated by a committee or marketing firm, nor do designers get to define what becomes ordinary.  Only through use, over time, will technology reach a state of ordinary and it’s that ordinary use that defines the requirements of the next round of technological development. Technologists can put things out into the world but only through use and cultural acceptance will a thing become ordinary, everything else falls off and is forgotten as evolutionary chaff.

Not only does ordinary highlight the useful nature of a thing, it reveals cultural appreciation and acceptance.  We have plenty of methods for measuring usefulness, but cultural relevance is much more difficult to gauge.  Ordinary can provide an opportunity to not only examine the usefulness of a thing but also the softer qualities, things like sentiment and emotion.  By focusing so closely on those things that are the most familiar it introduces an element of strangeness into the design process.  Strangeness can be a powerful provocation providing us a way of teasing out behaviors and patterns that might be normally overlooked.

As a design provocation, ordinary encourages us to focus on the longevity of a thing.  If meaningfulness is a temporary quality then by focusing on the ordinary we’re encouraged to make things that will last.  If a thing is built to be continually useful it provides the user with an opportunity to re-discover and reinterpret it’s meaningfulness over time.  In this way a thing can both grow with us individually and culturally.

Ordinary becomes a lens that highlights the things that are collectively important to us. In a time when cheap, temporary convenience and disposability are primary drivers of innovation, ordinary provides us with the impetus to pursue a more holistic and long-term view of design. Focusing on the special nature of ordinariness we get the opportunity to  better understand what makes a thing truly special.

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Let them Add the Drapes

Happy Valentine’s Day!  I bought a bacon rose for my girlfriend – #ihopeshethinksitsawesome?

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few days about how to design applications that give users the foundation – the house – but let them add character and flair in a way that isn’t obtrusive.  Even better, without doing much or any work on top of what they would be doing normally.  Those type of interactions done well are delightful.

For example, in the CareWell application I’m designing and building for caregivers and their families, any user in the family can add and change the group’s photo.  This will also update the background to the logo, visible on every screen.  I’m betting that users will change the photo, not only because it affects what they see – but that because they know other members will see that photo and delight in it.

My guess is that individuals become more attached to things that represent their uniqueness, and are therefore less likely to stop using them. Individuals are also more likely to use things that help them express that uniqueness to other people.

This is the anti-path/fb Paper approach to design.  They’ve gone ahead, curated, and built the whole shebbang.  With perfect pixels and manicured swipes, the apps look great (I’m actually extremely envious of their design team talent!), but I’ll never use them again.  There’s no room for me to make it mine.

This may very well be the fundamental difference between interaction design and industrial design.  I want something physical designed to perfection, because it is immutable.  It’s also easier to show off.  Pixels, on the other hand, are hidden and ephemeral.  Great design in this sphere requires thoughtful usability, restraint, and the respect to let the user co-create delight.

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Testing Timelines

Preface: I’m in a group with Meghan Corbett and Anna Krachey researching experiences around birth and labor & delivery. This post is the second in a series of updates on developing a product to serve pregnant women. You can read last week’s post here.

Last week our group worked on a timeline exercise tracking how women view milestones in their pregnancy – things like telling their best friends, notifying their job or certain medical appointments – rather than thinking just in terms of trimesters. We looked at each step and evaluated the value proposition, emotional value proposition and incentive / motivations for a woman using our app at each of her milestones.

The milestones we came up with were:

  • I’m Pregnant!
  • I’m Telling People (Close Family and Friends)
  • I’m Telling My Boss
  • Formalizing Plans
  • Labor & Delivery
  • I Have a Baby!

Using these milestones, we came up with a timeline exercise. We wanted to make sure we were thinking about these milestones, and how those events affect sharing information, the same way pregnant women were. In it, we asked women to map out:

  • Milestones during their pregnancy
  • When they told their best friends, their parents, and the rest of their social circle
  • When they informed their jobs, clients or anyone else dependent on them that they were pregnant.

We tried to keep things pretty open so women could make it their own. In addition to marking milestones, one participant also indicated her levels of stress regarding her pregnancy and how that related to what was going on in her life.

This week we spoke with a first time pregnant woman, a woman pregnant with her second child as well as a Doula. Our concept of milestones appeared to be correct. Yay!

During this time one of our participants shared an email she sent out to her family and close friends. She was planning a homebirth, and her email laid out what she wanted everyone to do, how to communicate with her and how they could help. Such gems included:

“Please resist any urges to bring things to the house, such as food or drinks, during labor. I may be very sensitive to smells and we also need to keep all of our space clean and clear.”

and

“[My husband] will be communicating to people if anything changes and we ask that feelings be spared if changes on the day affect you.”

This participant was clearly able to set boundaries and expectations so that she could get what she needed and her family felt like part of the team – even if they weren’t there. We realized, however, that many women may not be able to do this or even think to do it, and speaking with our Doula confirmed this. During our initial research phase we heard:

“I’m just going to go to the Hospital and see what happens.”

We wanted to come up with a system to set these boundaries and parameters, so that women could start mentally preparing as well as focus on their birth. We heard anxiety from some of our research participants like:

“My parents want so much to be helpful, but my father is obese and my mother has cancer. It becomes more about me managing them instead of them being helpful.”

The tests I wrote about earlier, as well at the email I just shared along with many sentiments about pregnant women dealing with family members resulted in our current design idea: InnerCircle – The Birth Plan for Everyone Else.

We’ll continue to develop and refine the idea, but here are the main premises:

  1. Women share different information with different people about their pregnancy. They need a way to manage all that information and the complex relationships surrounding it.
  2. Women also need a way to plan and articulate what they would like their family and friends to do during her labor & delivery. They shouldn’t have to worry about keeping their mother-in-law happy while they are trying to give birth to a baby!

We are currently doing user tests where we will validate these ideas and see how women to respond to writing out directions for those around them. We’ve also come up with a paper prototype test where we’ll have women create circles of people around them in the same way we are planning to do it in our app. We want to see how women pick and choose whom to put in their inner circle – those who are closer and get more information – and those they put in their outer one.

We are currently recruiting pregnant women and new mothers to help test our design idea. If you know of anyone who might be interested, please get in touch with me at james.lewis@austincenterfordesign.com

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Our Continuing Adventures at AmbiguityC4D: Q3 Progress Report Post 1

It has been a month since we presented our research, top insights, and the three design ideas at our final presentation for quarter 2. Since then, our group has been trying to settle on one idea to push forward to wireframe and test with.

This has proven to be harder than we had anticipated.

To get to the three ideas we presented at end of quarter 2, we used a 2×2 matrix to evaluate which ideas we felt passionate about against which seemed feasible. Daddy Doula, My Birth Coach, and the Doula Marketplace each originated from the intersection of high passion and feasibility, but were all so amorphous as to what they could do that we weren’t able to settle on one over another.

We revisited our insights and thought a lot about what we saw as the goals of our final idea.

On Wednesday, we made a breakthrough and came up with this idea:

The Peach Project is tool that enables the user to share information about her pregnancy journey with curated communities of her choice, while building a visual history and journey of her pregnancy experience. Through provocation, this platform will prompt her to externalize and articulate her feelings and then share them with her chosen community and the peach community at large.  Sharing tacit knowledge and stories also allows for feedback, support, and empathy from others, strengthening the mother to be’s feeling of confidence around her impending birth experience.

We finally felt we were on the right track and were pretty amped up about the numerous possibilities when we met with Matt Wednesday night. He pointed out to us that while certain aspects of the idea hit home, once again we were trying to incorporate too many features into one product. “What does this platform really do?”

Hmpf.

Yes, ideas are free. But ideas that we were excited about seemed to be few and far between. We were spinning our wheels on the same thought avenues time and time again. We needed a new framework to view our research through.

Jon suggested we chart out a few main phases of pregnancy and then think through the value proposition, emotional value proposition, and incentive for each of our participants through this framework. For example, we thought about Lily’s experience with pregnancy and asked “what was she probably thinking when she first found out?”, “what about when she started to tell people?”.

 

This exercise was immensely helpful in getting us out of our rut. It enabled us to really understand the changing needs of soon-to-be parents throughout pregnancy and what specific areas are most stressful/have the biggest area of opportunity. While each phase includes a certain amount of stress, finalizing plans and the actual labor and delivery periods stood out as an especially tricky time.

From there, we zoned in on these two goals for our idea:

  • The mother-to-be feels connected to and supported by her chosen network of friends and family by assigning communication responsibilities to her closest friends
  • Soon-to-parents are able to easily create boundaries around communication with wider circle friends and family, enabling the mother to better focus on the process of labor and delivery.

One of the provocations for this design idea is that historically, women were supported through their pregnancy and birth experience by a network of women relatives and friends. The introduction of hospitals into the birth process has led to a deterioration of this system. The internet allows us to use social media as a way to manifest a new kind of support connection. Although this connection is crucial, the ability to create boundaries with family and friends is equally important in being able to focus on the labor and delivery process.

Inner Circle will help mitigate the overstepping of boundaries by friends and relatives who mean well but cause anxiety to the mother by being overeager or over-communicative.  Minimizing these distractions and concerns will allow the mother to better focus on the hard and long task at hand.The app will also act as a tool to delegate and manage tasks such as child and/or dog care easily and clearly, further allowing peace of mind and focus.

We are now in a user-testing phase, meeting with participants and verifying that our assumptions about the usefulness and incentives we saw for this new idea are correct before we start wireframing possible manifestations of this idea.

If you have any thoughts about Inner Circle, please don’t hesitate to comment here or email me at meghan.corbett@ac4d.com.

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

Before and After: Honeywell Prestige 2.0 Thermostat Final Re-design + Design Process Overview

 

The Before and After: Honeywell Prestige 2.0 Thermostat Final Re-design + Design Process Overview 

Last week we presented our final design of a programable thermostat for Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving. Our problem for 8-weeks was to re-design the existing Honeywell Prestige 2.0 thermostat system using a collaborative and user-centered iterative design process.  For the final annotated wireframe iteration click here.

Understanding Complexities

As part of design research, we engage in a space to help us understand the complexities of a problem.  And we create artifacts such as a Concept Model of an existing system.

The Features List

The system re-design includes the features below:

  • Adjust temperature to warmer / cooler
  • Switch between heating & cooling
  • Turn the system on and off
  • Turn the fan on and off
  • Set / edit a 7 day schedule
  • Interrupt the schedule to adjust the temperature

 

 

 

Creating an Ideal System

By zooming in and out of the system details – I was able to conceptualize an Ideal System that rid unnecessarily complicated features and provoked ideas around energy consumption and efficiency, air quality and color as a visual language for temperature control.

Design Heuristics

1. 1950s Honeywell Thermostat by Henry Dreyfuss

Simple and ease of use

2. Nest

Motion sensor technology inspired me to move away from tediously programming the system for while you are away

3. Less but better… Dieter Rams.  

The lens used when designing solutions from user testing feedback

Design Process Diagram Overview

In Reflection

When we started this project 8-weeks ago, I thought the design process was to refine our initial wireframes by testing with people AND doing this over and over till I came up with a good design solution.

What I actually learned through the user-centered and iterative process was that it was less about me coming up with the right solve and more about the collaborative nature of the entire design process.

Good design happens in collaboration with people and makes sense to the people you are designing for.

For any questions/feedback please leave me a comment or you can reach me at  bhavini.patel@austincenterfordesign.com

Wireframe Iteration Archives

Iteration 6

Iteration 5

Iteration 4

Iteration 3

Iteration 2

Iteration 1

All Best,

Bhavini

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