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Category Archives: Reflection

Iterations & Ideals

I want to introduce you to a story of the last 24 weeks of my life, introduce you to the individuals that I have met along the way, show you the places I have visited and how I learned the most powerful lesson of the entire year was the power of THE story and the ability and genuine curiosity and bravery to ask each individual tell me their story… to please keep talking. 

My focus was initially on the dealing with the issues surrounding healthcare, but through contextual inquiry found that access and the stigma surrounding mental healthcare was a much bigger problem, as it has been defunded completely by the government and left to individual philanthropist and donors to open facilities to help those who actually need help. 

I found AC4D as my opportunity put something good out into the world. My final product was inspired and dedicate to my father, whom I had barely a relationship with at all really. My father suffered from a depression that I don’t think anyone could understand, was truly stubborn, and never received any help for his condition. 

Looking back and having conversations with my mother I realized as an adult things that I completely did not acknowledge or understand as a child. How does an impoverished family of 5 living in a town of around 1000 people located 60 miles to the nearest hospital where you can birth a child deal with healthcare, let alone mental healthcare? 

That was the question and I went to find the answer. I initially went back to my hometown to do some detective work on the issues surrounding mental health in rural text. The last 24 weeks I’ve been interviewing, researching, building and creating life long friendships all with the purpose to create a “thing” that would help low income or non insured individuals living in extreme rural areas. My product first and foremost had to not rely on any individuals personal access to technology. Then meet the design insights and pillars I had established from my research. 


When it was time to begin actually producing a thing, I knew it would be a “journey kit’  of sorts that included both stories from individuals dealing with similar situations living with a mental illness, as well as a 2 week starter pill pack or holder. 

In interaction design iteration is the heart of everything you do. You create, test your creation, then iterate on the feedback to make it better. 

Do date my product has gone through I believe 6 iterations now. 4 of which I prototyped out

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Placing all these iterations against my design pillars and user testing responses, I found that the power of the human story plus a plan of attack for medication regimen would be the most effective tool. But something that is very easy to understand, inexpensive to produce, familiar enough to not be foreign or strange but interesting enough to insight curiosity and interaction.

My thoughts went back to one of my home interviews where this woman had 3 separate pill boxes, the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday types, and in a brain storming session one of professors threw out an idea – what if it’s a dip can and eureka. I could craft a round pill box  that includes a small mp3 player in the center with headphones.

Each time the “wheel” is turned exposing the medication, the user can put on the headphones and press play to hear the story that identifies with that days progression in the 2 week cycle.

Click to watch animation and hear sample audio




I tried to stay true to my design pillars, and to the core values that I tried to keep true to. My idea is that these would be distributed to MHMR centers, the centers that give psychiatric council and prescribe medication to individuals who are on medicare, medicaid or no insurance at all. 

I stayed silent to long in dealing with facing the difficult issues surrounding a low income family members mental health, so hopefully going forward my product may inspire behavior change to even the most stubborn individual. 


The Final Presentation.

AC4D set up the final presentation as a sort of museum situation where the public was invited and it was an interactive experience where people could see your entire process from start to finish.

My station included my research, my insights, my design pillars, ALL my prototype iterations. And the actual final functioning prototype, as well as a listening station where people could hear various short stories that went along with the program.

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Posted in AC4D Events, Creativity, Design Education, Design Research, Portfolio, Reflection, UX For Good | Leave a comment

The Months After AC4D

Congratulations, students.

Soon, you’ll be graduating in May. Your hard work this past year will have paid off in respect from your colleagues, your professors, and you’ll feel incredible. You also will wonder “what’s next?” and “how can I process all these feelings without reflecting on a blog?” You’ll figure that part out.

Seeing as I graduated from AC4D around this time last year, I’d like to share my story with you and some thoughts about the upcoming months. My hope is that you may use my experience as a guidance through transitioning to the next stage in your journey. Your experiences will differ from my own, but I’ve always felt like it helps to see how someone overcame a transition period.

To set the scene, here is my emotional journey map from this time in April to about mid-June. As you can see, the month of May was wrought with highs and lows and right about June is when things start to stabilize.


We’ll talk about each of these points in time and some things I learned from each event.

The Final Presentations and the AC4D Graduation Party

Two words: fucking awesome.

There is nothing more exhilarating for me than graduating from something that pushed me to grow intellectually and emotionally. There’s a period of anxiety that I experienced around my presentation skill and the fidelity of my work. But about an hour before people started coming in for the final presentations, I felt like I had been dunked in a bucket of ice water. I’d done this many times before, and learned. I had this.

Finishing the final presentation felt surreal. I almost couldn’t believe I was done.

Then came the party. Needless to say, we enjoyed ourselves. For the first time in the program, I let myself feel proud in the work that I had done, and the joy was overwhelming.


I’m very hesitant to praise myself without joking about it. My graduation from undergrad was less exuberant; I could only think about the uncertainty ahead and criticize myself for not figuring it out sooner. However, here at the graduation party I really celebrated.

I realized that if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t praise yourself, it can be overwhelmingly emotional to let yourself be vulnerable and excitable.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s a great, powerful feeling.

I left AC4D feeling empowered, like I could take on the world.

Coming Down Hard

This one is the hardest to write about. My boyfriend and I had agreed that after AC4D, once we went to Marfa, we’d be getting engaged, and after that, married. When we talked about it the weeks coming up to graduation, he wasn’t sure any more. In our 5+ years together, he hadn’t seen me this intensely passionate about something and worried that the rest of our lives would play out like AC4D.

I got that. We saw each other on Friday and Saturday nights, but mostly I came home after he went to sleep and woke up for work before he got up. It’s hard for AC4D not to permeate every aspect of your relationship. I ate, slept, and breathed it for a year, and in part it was due to the program, but the other part was due to the fact that I was very passionate about the work I was doing. We were helping the queer community, and it felt wonderful.

Marfa was supposed to be the trip where we got engaged, and we’d been planning it for months. I was crushed. I realized that I had taken a lot of relationships that were supporting me for granted, and in my passion to get the things I wanted, I had ignored the most important person to me.

I would say here that the lesson I learned was not to take others for granted, and that’s true. But also I think it’s that I expected others to come out of AC4D as self-congratulatory as I did. I planned the trip around the time when I would be the happiest, not when the both of us would be.

I understand that in the course of a long-term relationship that there will be times when one person takes care of things while the other pursues their dreams. But I took the road that because I was happy, other people around me should be happy for me without me having to give anything in return. I learned my lesson.

Going to Marfa

When we arrived at Marfa, we were both exhausted. He, exhausted from a year of supporting me without an emotional payoff. Me, exhausted from a year of personal growth with the knowledge that if I didn’t do something fast, I could screw up a relationship I really cared about.


We eyed each other from across a table in Marfa, not really knowing what to say. We had just spent a year dating for Friday and Saturday nights only, and here we were, spending a week together out in the middle of nowhere.

Marfa was a great place to be. Similar to us, it was at times a vibrant city and then others, a ghost town. It wavered between life and death that caused me to think deeply about how to use the time we spent there. We ate good food. We talked about what was going on in our lives. We reconnected and we cried.

Marfa put into perspective the time I had at AC4D. I realized that while the root of my happiness lived in me doing the work I wanted to do, the soil that held the root were my relationships. Both were equally important.


We made dinner together in the green and white trailer in the above picture. It was made of anything that we could snag from the Get Go and some orange soda.

As we were eating the food we made, we smiled at each other.

“I missed you,” I said.

“Me too,” he said. And we smiled big, genuine smiles.


The Big Takedown

I got a reminder email from Jon around the time when we were in Marfa to take down our projects for the next class so soon after leaving Marfa with my faith restored, I went back to AC4D with bags to take down the queery project.

When I opened the door to AC4D, I expected the same hustle-and-bustle I was used to. Students working, shouts of “hello!” and groans of frustration. Instead, I got silence. I peeked into everyone’s rooms—their projects still stood like a silent mausoleum to the activity that had been happening in the past year.


Looking around the room, I remembered the late nights that Alex and I had gone through to get to a working prototype that we tested with the community. It especially stung because Alex and I were no longer working on the project together, and I didn’t know what I wanted to to with queery after we had received feedback.

We had so many interviews, so many people open up their hearts to us to help us achieve something that could benefit the queer community, and as I was packing things into bags, I felt like I was letting everyone down. I didn’t know what I was going to say to folks who reached out to me for help or who asked about the status of the queery project. It was in a form where we could have piloted it, but I was unwilling to do it for the sake of my personal life and the fact that I would have been running solo.


I left AC4D with my life for the past year in bags and questioning where queery was going to end up. Would it even be an app? How was I going to face the queer community now when I felt like I had failed them?

I now can reflect on this point in my life and realize that in order to really help the queer community in the way I wanted to, I needed to be a more integrated part of it than just a passive observer. I wouldn’t say that for all design projects, but specifically for the depth of what I wanted to do I now know that supporting and generating ideas from within the community has been much more powerful. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past year, and it’s felt great. I never really abandoned queery. Myself and other members have piloted some activities and generated ideas that have been very meaningful to myself and others within the community.

At the time though, I remember feeling a lot of fear in abandoning the project and pursuing my personal interests in design. How was I personally going to help people by being a designer?

ATX Hack for Change

Things generally improved after my last walk through AC4D. I was working as a contract designer and loving my clients and gigs. I think the turning point for me in discovering the power of design was through the ATX Hack for Change.

The ATX Hack for Change is a day where tech folks get together with non-profits in Austin to provide to them a weekend of free work and ideas in exchange for being able to help non-profits, look at the inner-workings of their organization, and eat free food.

My boyfriend and I are hackathon nuts, so we thought it would be fun to work with non-profits over the weekend. I had signed up to work with the Capital Area Food Bank with some other AC4D students.

However, when I got there I saw that the Capital Area Food Bank had tons of folks signed up for their project, and the Girl Scouts of Central Texas were about to go home because no one had signed up for their project. Their project was to make a way for Girl Scouts to communicate with their advisors and track their progress to achieving their Gold Award. The Gold Award is a capstone project in the Girl Scouts, and similar to AC4D, it is done over a year, has the focus of helping others, and as an added bonus, must be sustainable without the founder’s help.

We caught them going out of the door and asked them if they needed help. They offered us cookies. A beautiful friendship was born.


The first task was to identify issues that needed to be solved in the MVP, and then outline what the MVP was actually supposed to look like. Next, we split into teams of designers and developers with some people floating between the two. My boyfriend taught the girls GitHub and Ember, and I taught them wire framing and systems thinking.

The girls were amazing. I can’t begin to describe how fast they picked up on the ideas that we were throwing at them and just took it and ran. We made icons in Illustrator on our first day and the girls were beaming. We got GitHub set up on our computers and the girls high-fived.


We reflected during periods of rest on team problems and how to better communicate between the dev and design teams. We lauded our accomplishments, and by the end of the hackathon, we had a functioning prototype of the site we wanted to create with wireframes of all the future states of tool.

The girls were disappointed that they hadn’t built the MVP in full, but we told them about how amazing the things that they did were. They not only made a thing, but mapped out future states of a thing. They essentially completed Q4 of AC4D in three days.

Watching those girls learn and grow ignited an even deeper fire in me to how I could use design to inspire others. I wanted to learn as much as I could so that I could help others. I felt like there was still so much to learn and I’d only just dipped half of myself in with AC4D.

The Engagement

Soon after that, my boyfriend said that he had a surprise for me.

We drove out to Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center and poked around the park, looking at the butterflies nestling onto the wildflowers. It was a calm day, and we were both feeling great.

Then, he pulled out a ring.

I can’t even begin to describe to you my emotions at that point. It was joy mixed with fear of disappointing him as I did just less than a month ago. The joy won out. I screamed yes, we held hands, and a crowd of onlookers applauded. It was perfect.


Reflecting on that point in my life, I think that I have come to realize that in seeking what I thought was an end point such as graduating AC4D or getting engaged, I was completely blind to the fact that I was simultaneously closing a door while opening a new one.

Just as the ATX Hack for Change inspired me to work harder to inspire others to do design, my engagement inspired me to realize that nothing really is an endpoint; it’s just a new door opening to another chapter of my life that has its own unique challenges.

So students, in going into the final weeks of piloting, in prepping for your presentations, in drafting your wireframes, remember to congratulate yourself. Remember to congratulate others for the support they’ve given you throughout your journey. Remember that the passion to do (or not do) design that you’ve gained from AC4D is just as important as the relationships you’ve forged during your time here. Remember that there are many paths to completing your capstone project and they don’t just involve starting a company or completely abandoning it. Remember that you have a lot to teach others and still much more to learn.

And remember that in ending your time here, you are opening up new doors. Which path you take will be entirely up to you.


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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.

Posted in Classes, Creativity, Design Education, Design Research, Interaction Design, Motivation, Portfolio, Reflection, UX For Good | Leave a comment

Shaping the Conversation: Designing for Family Discussions Around Aging


Over the last eight weeks, Laura Galos and I have been working on a design solution to help facilitate the difficult conversations seniors and their families have around the major changes that come with aging.

Last quarter, we spent eight weeks conducting qualitative research with a range of individuals in their 30’s to their 80’s. We started with a focus on how people are planning for and financing their post-work years in the context of increasing longevity. The subject of aging and the impact it has on finances led us to explore how age-associated life changes also affect health and family relationships.

We found that communication about aging-related transitions can be difficult, as the older family members faces changes in the way they live, while younger family members find themselves feeling the “role reversal” of caring for the people who had previously cared for them. The communication problem families are faced with crosses a range of topics–from limiting driving, to agreement on living arrangements, to health issues, and others.



For some families, broaching these hard subjects is too difficult to bring up until forced by external events. We wondered about the root cause of the avoidance in families. In synthesizing the stories our participants shared in research, we came to the following insight:

Elderly individuals fear asking for help because taking others’ time and resources will result in being robbed of their own independence.

We considered the need for a gentler “ramp-down” for seniors, rather than the abrupt changes that happen as a result of small problems growing into large ones. On the other hand, we clearly see a need to give the elderly as much control as possible in making choices about their lives. This was an opportunity to design a solution that allows communication between aging parents and grown children to embody more honesty, mutual understanding and a place of emotional safety for both sides.

In our exploration of the topic, we found that the journey of bringing up tough topics between younger and elderly family members follows this general path:


We found that the journey usually begins when the family member that is responsible for caregiving, feels the need to address a tough topic. They look outside themselves for help or outside advice and will often have discussions about these issues with siblings. This usually leads to the building of a “case” against the elderly’s need to change their behavior and is followed by an intervention-like conversation that can leave both sides feeling frustrated, angry, hurt or shut down.

We see our product as an opportunity to change this journey from building a case to building understanding on both sides. Along this desired path, the intent of our product is to breaks up the conversation into smaller units focused on building understanding between family members, rather than a large conversation based on a “case” for the need to change. This likely also means that younger and older family members might having these conversations over time, rather than all at once.


For both the younger and elderly family member, our value promise to them is this:

By using our product, we promise to help you stay on the same team as you make aging-related decisions together.

Our first iteration explored the notion of team by using game mechanics. Games allow the user to take on different roles, explore alternatives in a safe space, and have a lighter, more fun experience. They also have the ability to diffuse the responsibility of bringing up tough topics.

One of the concepts we came up with is called Balloon Bounce. The object of the game is to answer questions related to a difficult topic within a certain amount of time. Not answering the question within a certain amount of time results in a challenge that family members would complete together.


While this idea was fun and more playful, the use of technology was more than either side wanted to take on.

Still exploring game mechanics, we still went with something that was a more familiar form. Conversation Cards. Using a question deck and an answer deck, the object of the game is to learn about each other so the answers are about the person who is asking the question. To play this game, one person would ask the question while the other players provided an answer that they think most closely aligns to the person who asked the question’s preferences. The person who asked the question would then pick the winning answer and award the person who answered with the point.


There is a mix of fun, lighter questions, but also brings up harder questions that get the family members closer to the answers they’re really wanting to know. Users enjoyed engaging with a familiar form and coming up with solutions together. For older family members, the conversation is not centered around things being taken away from them. Because this started to get to answers family members wanted to know, we needed a way for them to follow-up on the conversation.

Veering away slightly from the game mechanics, but into that continuous conversation users were looking for, our team came up with a service called, Enveloop.

Enveloop is a web-based service that allows family members to bring up tough topics by answering prompts in the form of letters and sending them physically through the mail.


Some users that we tested this service with liked that this allowed them to do something they felt was more meaningful for their older family member and saw this as a way to gain empathy for the changes they were experience as they aged. They liked that the technology made using the service convenient for them, but minimized it on the side of their elderly family members. Physical letters are a form they are already familiar with. Where users were less clear on the value of our service came from managing different communication methods. How would bringing up difficult topics through letters in the mail be better than talking over the phone or having a discussion in person?

The intent behind our initial design iterations was to test how tough topics could be more approachable for everyone involved. While our idea is still evolving, testing each of these concepts with users that are having or anticipate having difficult conversations about age-related life transitions in the near future, provided us with a set of criteria that will be used in our next iteration to help us move the idea forward:

  • Feels non-threatening for older individuals
  • Feels approachable to family members
  • Leads to solutions, not just fun bonding moments
  • Uses a medium older individuals already enjoy
  • Includes a way to follow-up on conversations
  • Takes into considerations families who live apart

Shaping the manifestation of this idea has proven to be as challenging as shaping the conversation between family members and the elderly itself. Quarter 3 has been as much about learning how we can make the impact we intend to have in this problem space as much as it has been about embracing where we are in the process with an idea that still exists in multiple manifestations.

Hard to believe we’re moving into our last and final quarter at AC4D. In the last eight weeks, we will pilot our idea and get our product in the hands of potential users. Check back in another week to see where our next iteration takes us!

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About being human…

This week is winding down. There has been, on my end, a lot of interaction with new technologies which I thought I could find some clarity in what I am trying to do. To bring the compassion of group therapy, through a vocal documentation of real people going through symptoms that the user of the book I am making may be going through. Things like introduction to taking medication, side-effects, stigma, and making it through the though times.

In my case, I just want to bring the feeling that mental illness is not uncommon, or weird to those who, say in rural west Texas.

So I did A LOT  of user testing this week. Hacking a Hallmark “talk to me book” was actually a good idea. My users loved it. I loved i, well I hated it and loved it. It served as a good testing tool in bringing the stories of a real humans, with their real voices, inflections, stutterers, all somehow making this thing, this book thing, like a token. Like a virtual companion. It was like turning the pages to different bits and pieces of information told from someone who is not you, but still is like you.

The addition of the human voice makes it for some reason somewhat more real. Yes there will always be a stigma around being open and honest about mental health, that may never change,  but hopefully this will help, one person seeking help for them self to get through that day, a little easier. Bringing the patient self contained technology and not relying on wifi or cell phones is both genius and problematic. You have to look at it from both sides. There is a lot of potential for technical difficulties. But this week is all about the content.

The second part is the medication regimen, this to my advantage had been just a part of everyone that I have user tested lives. From last week you know that the carrot to keeping to the regime is by taking the pill out of the container it is in the user get access to hear the voices talking about the subject that page is addressing.

I am currently working on the content, the layout, the design that make the most sense to the audience I am trying to reach,  and doing user testing along the way.

I am focussing on a 14 day program, focusing on the major pain points of a 2 week program on a new medication.

1. An introduction to the program, and an indication of how the program works, and an introduction to the “cast of characters” that the user will be hearing throughout the journey.

Here are some quick sketches, of Please, Keep Talking.



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These are very rough, as I said more clarity tomorrow. I can say this however, what has resonated as a means to mundane user testing vocabulary has almost captured the essence in which I am trying to give an bring to those who feel they are weird or alone in a vast being of scarceness and isolation to which on occasion I can totally identify with. The next step is to get into illustrator yet, I need to do more sketching I know.


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Better Than a Phone Call

In our second to last week of Q3, our team (Laura Galos and Maryanne Lee) continued to build out or service, Meaningful Mail (working title). This service allows family members, from the web, to introduce difficult aging-related topics with elderly family members by sending them prompts and letters through the mail. To expand on our idea since last week, we created three main flows as low-fidelity wireframes, or sketched images of screens for the web part of the service. The main flows included:

Choosing a prompt MM_Topic_2_v3_1.4.A_blog Writing a long-form letter MM_Long Prompt_1.0.D_blog Writing small sections of a letter – 2 Approaches MM_Letter Chunks_1.1.A_blog Chunks of a Letter - Approach 2 Sending a letter MM_Send Letter_1.3.C_blogWe tested these flows by conducting think-aloud user testing. Think-Aloud testing is an evaluative testing method designers use with potential users to get a glimpse into what they are thinking and having them articulate this as they are performing a task. We began testing the wireframes with users that have aging-related conversations with elderly parents or foresee themselves as being the family member who will be faced with having these conversations in the near future. The testing was valuable in that it showed us breakdowns users faced in navigating the system, but it also brought up big questions we felt we have to work through as soon as possible for our service.

1. How is Meaningful Mail better than a phone call?

“I guess just like the purpose of it. What is the reason why this is necessary or easier than just talking.” – User Testing Participant

2. How does this service work?

“I guess I never thought of anything like this. Almost like talking about these issues through the mail. Interesting. Email is more how of how I figured it would be.” IMG_0927 Because we heard these high-level concerns, we went back through our testing from the last seven weeks to make sure that further iterations maintained the most important feedback we’ve heard this quarter. From that feedback, we formulated design priniciples to guide our work moving forward.

Design Principles:

  1. Product has to feel non-threatening to aging family members, and approachable to the younger family members bringing up difficult topics.
  2. Product should feel like a 3rd party in order to diffuse the tension that comes with bringing up aging-related conversations.
  3. The directness of the conversation should be adjustable, but in general conversations should progress from lighter to more difficult topics.

Our other focus this week is in creating a value promise and checking to see if our service aligns with the promise we’re making. Today we came to this version of the value promise that applies to both elderly individuals and the family members who help care for them by listing what the utility, emotional, and behavioral value is for each party. IMG_0935_blog We are currently operating under this value promise:

By using Meaningful Mail, we promise to help you both (younger and older family members) stay on the same team as you make aging-related decisions together.

When we held up each piece of Meaningful Mail to this value promise, it became apparent that there was far more opportunity for the users of the service to collaborate toward shared goals, rather than try to find a compromise between disparate purposes. As we move forward, we will continue to iterate on each piece of the service to make sure it maintains our value promise. If we can do that, users will not have to wonder why Meaningful Mail is better than a phone call.

Our full set of wireframes can be found here.

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The Trust Engineers: Please, Keep Talking

What am I doing:

Attempting to bring the community of help to those who need it in isolation.

Rural environments severely lack the resources to treat mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar, so I am attempting to make a group therapy and medication regime delivery service. The program (so far) consists of a recordable book of stories, guided by a (recorded) facilitator that explains the program and introduces and welcomes the program to the user.  Each book page includes a longer story series the person can listen to one piece each time they take their medication. Hopefully the larger story is compelling enough that it is a motivator to keep people coming back, to stick with the medication prescribed, while identifying with the storytellers providing the idea that they are are alone, that being different is ok.

This week I have written and re-written the statement above in the attempt to make a succinct 2 sentence description of my service, but have yet to do so. So, in any case, this week I have my semi-nameless recordable book, which I am currently calling “Please Keep Talking”.

I recorded some stories. I took my dissected Hallmark book and covered each page so I could begin to write and record my own story. I ordered electronic recordable equipment from Amazon for later use. I integrated my facilitator script, and recorded stories into my book with a “fake” peel-able blister pack for each pill that will expose the sensor to light and thus trigger the story.

Tomorrow I am testing what I have, by showing it to some folks here in Austin, and then next week (or later this week) getting this book in the hands of a person/s a little closer to the demographic that I am specifically targeting. Perhaps just heading down to Dripping Springs or Wimberley and asking people what they think. The opinion of an individual dealing with a mental illness in a city may be drastically different from someone in a rural or isolated environment. And I NEED to know

Something that might be an iteration for Q4 is the possibility of scrapping the daily series, extending the program to 30 days, and giving access to the full story up front with the “carrot” to refill your prescription and get a new story for the month. This was an insight brought to me by a new friend I have been running ideas by who thought that might be an alternate solution. Basically, keep it simple, and keep it real.

I’ve been interviewing and getting feedback this week about my “thing” from real people with real ideas, even on who and how to test an actual get my prototype in the hands of say a small town pharmacists to hand out to a personal connection, and somehow get feedback on usage and what they thought about content and if the technology worked.

There are a lot of what if’s to my isolated technology. The technology in a box could… get wet and die, it could get stepped on, it could just not work at all. It could also violate HIPPA regulations to which I am currently adamantly researching because that is certainly nothing that I wish to do in any way.

Please, Keep talking – a book of shared stories from people with mental illness, including information about how important medication is and how to deal with side effects and how to get through the tough times, is 99% complete.

Now I just need to see what people who will be using this actually think of this idea. User testing even in this context seems like an odd choice of words, but it is true, and it is research; however I would like to think of more as interaction observation taking vigorous notes on subtleties individuals may not say with their words but with their actions.

And iterate from there…

Please, Keep Talking – a study on the power of narrative/medication with individuals living with a mental illness

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So my new buddy recently shared with with me a quote that he thinks about a lot, about his battle with mental illness and his, well just “being” in society.

That ‘In this life all you have is this moment. Despite all of the stresses and pressures the only thing that matters is this, very, moment. An the best part of life is that by living in this moment you can actually acknowledge and change that person you want to become…”

Personally this sounds very difficult because I am always thinking a million miles ahead, but I get it. And I empathize. And I iterate.


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Diagnosis : The Chemistry of Affliction

What is your diagnosis? What is one good thing that happened to you this week?

That is how where my story begins – today.

In doing my prototype testing and scenario validation, I have been getting close with a group of folks. The people change week to week but the introductions are always the same, the explanation of what is to come is always the same. That is comforting in a way. A re-enforcement of some stability or normalcy before the next 2 hours of guided sometimes hard to hear, dialogue. I ask questions, and feel really grateful to get honest answers to my questions.

There is a relief that I have observed from people hearing other people’s stories, however mundane. Even if it is just about what the best meal they ate that week comes. There is a sincere connection from individuals who really do not know each other at all outside of the context of that room.

So again, where is my project my “thing” today? Re-capping from last week when I scrapped the concept of the advent calendar, and decided to test out my book of stories and activities that revolve around adherence to a medication program. I made some scenarios, and I showed the book to a few people and got some feedback that “man, that is a lot of words, and a lot of writing”. Which got me thinking yeah… the people that I have been interviewing and working with for the past 3 weeks who may not be able to get out of bed for a week, and who haven’t even been able to have a job for years might not be into.

When you are in a state of being down, from my personal experience even, I don’t want to do anything. I want to watch TV, I will listen to Radiolab for hours but I can’t read, I don’t want to read. I may want to write but I actually asked the question in my last session how the group felt about “homework” and WOW the reaction was f-no I’m not doing homework.

So that a little bit blew my “fun activities” along with stories as therapy for people with mental illness in west Texas needed to evolve.

How do you get the warmth of the sharing stories with another human in a totally individually packaged analogue package.

Pat, a professor here at AC4D threw out the idea of those talking greeting cards and EUREAKA! I can do this! I can bring the technology to the patient. Rather than relying on the assumption that someone possibly in the middle of nowhere has high-speed wi-fi or even cell phone connection, or even a TV. I can use these little devices to bring a persons story into their home.

So I rush out to destroy some Hallmark “tell me a story” books and recordable photo frames and greeting cards and began figuring out how they worked. The book is quite clever, it works by a series of light sensitive triggers that when exposed will playback a pre-recorded story. A different sentence by turning the page and exposing a new sensor to light by a hold in the side of the page.

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The card and the photo frame works by pressing a button to record, and then another button to play.

This week is a week of discovery. I want to introduce to isolated individuals the same feeling of being in a space with others like them. To use these technologies to connect perhaps someone alone in west Texas the opportunity to hear the stories of others from their mouths, with their inflections, stutters, hesitations and emotion to connect them through voice, with a little widget that cost probably 2 bucks to build.

This week is a week of definition of purpose, of order and specificity of content, iterating the medication regimen in the narrative, and finding that carrot that keeps the patient going. That keeps them excited about following through to the end. The book is still my book, just being spoken to the patient rather than the patient having to read the story themselves.

Activities for the week:

  1. New scenarios with this technology integration.
  2. Test scenarios.
  3. Develop a succinct description of my service.
  4. Plan out content in order or appearance.
  5. Play with technology.
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Learning from digital to create smart analogue: Where does the warmth comes from?

I have recently been struggling with the idea of simply making things that exists purely on a screen for the rest of my life maybe isn’t really what I want to do.

I grew up a painter and a dancer. For christs sake I got a blowtorch for my 12th birthday and started fabricating those cool little lampshades that teeter on the edge of a pin, circling slowly as the bulb from the light gets hotter and hotter. I created my Frank Lloyd Wright dream house out of an old box I found one day after school, with this crazy roof that looked like the peak of a Rocky Mountain AFTER running home to watch Bob Ross teach me how to paint happy trees.

Where am I going with this?? I know, I know I promise there is a point, and an epiphany of sorts. And it involves the inevitable connection of digital and analogue.

But first, I would like to introduce “The dawn of Midi”

A band existing between the intersection of analogue and electric sounds. Played live, and 100% acoustic, with patterns of sounds that if you tried to dissect each instruments noise individually, you would realize they are not really fitting together. They just sort of exist in their own rhythm and tempo.

But when you take a step back and soak it all in, these… noises come together to create something beautifully cohesive. The sum of it’s many very different parts actually have a point. Hearing this band, (which completely sounds electronic by the way) made me start thinking of how many things we have actually pick up from technology to make really cool analogue.

Now, as an analogue girl livin in a digital world, I may not always get that warm fuzzy feeling from something digital like I may from something tangible. It IS possible.

Don’t you want to think so? Doesn’t every interaction designer want to think so?

Now days there is no escaping the one from the other. Even most of the time in order to make many of these “things” that I am talking about first begin with the inspiration or even the use of some digital technology.  I make a box – I design it in Illustrator and print the cover on a wireless printer. Or I make an interface, and the design begins by introducing a full screen-moving image of an actual human in nature.

So dorking out a little and thinking of the notion of digital v analogue. In reality…no hardware is truly “digital.” All of it incorporates some amount of analog circuitry, for one, and it’s also the sum total of many many design decisions.

The fact that we think of computers as not having physical interfaces is perhaps itself a critique of the physical interaction design of computers themselves – we’re in a way so used to the mouse and keyboard that we may forget we’re having a tangible experience at all. Unless it’s a really bad one.

The advantage of interaction design can be to remind people that it is ALL an experience. The really good ones can take something digital on a screen, and make a person feel something human, something truly analogue. While something completely analogue may reach a person on an emotional level through touch, imagery, color, fonts and interactions inspired by, and prototyped with technology.

This is the part where “the point” comes in as promised. Good design is complex. Great design will always involve some sort of process that combines analogue and digital. Whether it is sketching, or storyboarding, or brain dumping on a whiteboard.

In conclusion… my fear of falling into a cold dark digital world can be tamed.

So hug your computer today. Then go make something.

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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.


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.

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.


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