Building confidence and the evolution of Love Intently — an interview with AC4D alumni Sophie Kwok

In this interview, Sophie Kwok (AC4D 2016) and I discuss her evolution as a designer and founder of a service, Love Intently, that empowers couples to build stronger and deeper relationships by taking the guesswork out of showing you care. Sophie credits the Austin Center for Design community for playing a key role in both her personal and professional growth — specifically by always providing a sounding board for ideas and critique, as well as being a source of unwavering encouragement. She possesses boundless positivity, a desire to nourish community, and a down-to-earthiness, can-do spirit that I admire greatly and know will always contribute to her success.

How did you find out about Austin Center for Design?

Randomly, I had a developer friend come into town, and he was talking to me about UX designers and Interaction designers. He explained to me how needed they were in the industry and the demand for them. The more he talked about what they did, the more I realized, ‘holy crap, that’s exactly what I want to do!’ So I started this rapid Google search and AC4D got on my radar. I was trying to scheme how to check out the school, and then ironically, a Creative Director in my office came by and dropped off AC4D Boot Camp tickets on my desk and was like, ‘Hey, I got some of these, I think you’d enjoy this, you should go!’ So, I went and realized, ‘This is exactly what I want to do!’

Toward the end of undergrad, I heard about IDEO and Frog. I was immediately interested and initially made an internal goal to scheme to get into Frog or IDEO through Interior Design and the spatial interaction piece of things. I knew they were hiring for architects for that, but as soon as I found out about AC4D I knew my ROI was almost 100% from an interior design salary to an interaction design salary, so I made the jump!

Tell me what you majored in during Undergrad and what you were doing before AC4D — and perhaps why it was the right time to make a move.

So I studied Interior Architecture with a minor in Sustainability, so I had exposure to all of these Wicked Problems. Coming from a small town in Houston, I just wasn’t exposed to a lot. I had no idea that two-thirds of the world live off of two dollars or less a day. Or the environmental crisis we were in and the lack of basic necessities so many people suffer from today. So during undergrad, I got exposure to what was going on in the world, and I just knew that was something that I wanted to impact in some capacity, whether it was in my work, or outside of my job. Then after undergrad, I worked at a large firm in Austin, and to be frank, it wasn’t a logical time to make the jump. However, I did anyways because I knew I didn’t want to be an interior designer forever. This was something I knew before I even graduated from undergrad.

Interaction design was something that I already wanted to do without knowing there was a title for it. For me, the fact that I found AC4D and then my Creative Director came by and dropped off tickets to the AC4D boot camp; those were signs that I couldn’t just ignore. After going through the Boot Camp, I knew it was something I had to do, and I would regret not doing. In short, I ran out of excuses not to take the leap. I am still single, young, with no kids, had very low-risk but extremely high ROI.

Tell me about your time at AC4D and your greatest challenge related to the program.

My biggest challenge was learning how to do Ethnography and Synthesis because it was just so different from what I was taught to do and what the Architecture industry allows for. The traditional education system trains you to have the right answers but doesn’t empower you to ask questions. When I think about it, being able to ask the right questions and handle ambiguity is critical in creating impact or entrepreneurship.In Interior Architecture, we never went and talked to people who are actually going to be in the spaces that we design, which is incredibly sad. The larger firms are trying to hire design researchers and become research-based, but the interior designers who are actually designing the spaces rarely have that knowledge.

Ethnography and design research was really difficult for me because it became extremely emotionally taxing. Empathy is something I felt strong in previously. AC4D takes practicing empathy to a whole other level, to the point that I actually take on participants’ emotions in an unhealthy way. I had to learn how to separate that and learn to process those emotions on my own. For me, my research topic in Q2 was extremely close to home — I was pretty much a research participant — because of that, by the end of Q2, I wasn’t even sure what was true of my life or the lives of our participants. I had been living in their world, emotions, and stories — the good and the bad — for so long.

Sophie in the midst of a synthesis process at AC4D.
Sophie in the midst of a synthesis process at AC4D.

As cliche as this may sound, another major challenge I think we all learn to overcome during AC4D is ourselves. You’re forced to ask “why” against every part of yourself and what you believe. None of it is easy, but if you’re willing to do the work, the outcome is invaluable. You learn how you work, your patterns, your triggers, strengths, weaknesses, and how to leverage all of it in the most impactful, productive way.

Can you tell me more about your Q2 research and how it led to your final project?

The initial research topic was mental health, and we were assigned the task to find a population to focus our research on. We chose to focus on second generation Asian Americans with refugee parents. This was a population that people would say, “they don’t need help.” We knew this was a population that didn’t get very much attention and if we didn’t do the research, it was likely no one else out there would. We had this opportunity where we knew we would get phenomenal stories and could generate powerful, meaningful insights. However, we knew there would be difficulty breaking down cultural barriers since these stories aren’t commonly shared.

We approached our research differently by inviting our participants to cook a meal with us that reminded them of home. During that time of making a meal with them, we got to ask them about their lives and relationships. From there, we naturally went into a lot of topics around family dynamics and family conflicts, dug into solutions around conflict resolution but recognized that conflict resolution within families is highly complicated because there are multiple people, personalities, none of which actually choose each other. They are just born into each other’s lives.

We kept running into problems and knew that we needed to pivot. Around Q4, we pivoted to romantic relationships since it was a relationship they chose. We believed it was a relationship we could create a meaningful impact in and it would overflow into their other relationships. We took a step back and started looking at the steps and build up before they ever get into conflict. Rather than a reactive approach, we wanted to create a proactive approach. Our focus shifted to what helps couples build strong and deep relationships daily, rather than concentrate on fixing relationships at their last thread.

Sophie and Meg working through a service mapping activity at AC4D.
Sophie and Meg working through a service mapping activity at AC4D.

What does your research show about what it takes to ensure a successful partnership? I’m sure a lot of people will be interested to know!

That’s a loaded question, and it wouldn’t be a wicked problem worth making an impact on if there was a simple answer! Most people will say good communication is the key, but I believe it’s mutual respect. Communication will break down at some point no matter who you are but once you lose respect, it rarely comes back. Two people who don’t respect each other have an extremely difficult time loving or communicating to each other well. You can always work on building communication, but it’s near impossible if mutual respect isn’t there.

Additionally, it’s not enough to love; you must choose to show it daily. Our generation is obsessed with making an impact in the world, which is amazing and we should be… however, it shouldn’t be at the cost of our personal lives and relationships. A lot of the time, people will work up to the big moments — like their anniversary and birthdays and think, ‘Oh, I’ll just make it up to them then,’ but it’s the everyday interactions that matter most. When we get busy, it’s so easy to forget to do the little things for each other, as simple as giving your partner a hug; people forget that. Love Intently empowers you to bring your intention back to your relationship. When you have time together, protect that time and give each other undivided attention. It’s also important to learn how your partner best receives love and show them in that way, not necessarily the way you best receive it. Humans are forgetful, so we frequently need to be reminded we’re loved. Lastly, it’s not always about the quantity of time you spend together but the quality of the time. I’ll bet you’d be better off if you spent less time together but intentionally made it special quality time.

Sophie walking fellow students through initial pilot concepts at AC4D.
Sophie walking fellow students through initial pilot concepts at AC4D.

Are there any differences in ages — as far as expression that you’ve seen? For example, many of my friends use Snapchat as a way to connect and share moments. Could Snapchat be the savior of relationships?

I think it works for some people in a lot of ways, and social media has helped, but there are a lot of things in social media that have caused strain on relationships too. For example, some girlfriends get mad that their boyfriends don’t post on social media about them. Little things like that, come out of insecurity and doesn’t have any true reflection on how someone feels about a relationship. I think Snapchat works well for someone who receives love through quality time. It’s impossible to be together all of the time, so Snapchat allows them to feel like they spent time with you or know what is going on in your day without having to physically being there. I also know some people well into their 60’s who love the heck out of social media and Snapchat, completely redefining how they connect with their kids. On the contrary, I know some people who can’t stand social media but that doesn’t change how healthy their relationship is.

What did you learn in Q4 about your idea that gave you enough confidence or desire to try to take it beyond AC4D?

In Q4, students are asked to pitch every single week. For us, it was really rough the first couple of weeks, because we legitimately did not have an idea — we were pitching what felt like nothing! We were trying to create a business model around an idea that didn’t even exist yet. But around week 3 the idea around Love Intently started to get some traction. Before we knew it, people started saying, ‘Hey, this really makes sense! Are you going to do this after school?’

I remember we immediately got wide-eyed and freaked out a bit. We were both planning to get interviews post AC4D, and I was starting to line up my network to do so. Prior to that, we hadn’t even considered taking the idea further, but different instructors and mentors at AC4D came in and sat us down. They asked us why we weren’t considering moving forward with the idea, that they thought I should, and that they believed we could. It was truly a community of people that believed in me and the idea, way before I could ever believe in myself. That’s something that I will be forever grateful for and what is so great about AC4D. Yes, we do critique each other and try to make things better, but at the end of the day, it’s about building each other up and creating meaningful things in the world. Everyone advocates for each other at the end of the day. While you’re going through AC4D, it’s the most uncomfortable refinement process that everyone goes through — it’s about pulling out the gunk that’s stopping you. In many cases, it’s ourselves.

Is there an explicit connection between your previous research and your concept? Our did your current concept come out of additional research?

There is definitely a connection. The insights and lessons from our research I will never forget is that everyone wants to have meaningful relationships and conversations, they just don’t know how. Secondly, everyone wants to talk about the harder things in life; they don’t think they have the permission to do so or know how to start. The connection between strong, healthy relationships and mental health is undeniable. Love Intently’s mission is to empower people by giving people tangible ways to excel at loving their partner. We want to help people create more meaningful moments with the people they love most. I believe that the stronger you are in your romantic relationships, the better you will be in the other relationships in life. Our focus is to build on emotional intelligence and self-awareness which helps in every relationship in addition to empowering us to become a better human in general.

How does the product or service concept work?

Love Intently empowers couples to build stronger and deeper relationships by taking the guesswork out of showing you care. We give you daily suggestions based on your partner’s personality type, love language, personal interests, how long you’ve been together, whether they have kids, whether they live together and other factors of your relationship.

We take away the stress of trying to figure out what to do so you can spend more meaningful time together. For instance, Eric would love a massage today, or five minutes of your undivided attention, or would love help cooking dinner tonight or his favorite band is coming into town surprise him with tickets. Something simple like that, that you may not necessarily think of otherwise, but would be super meaningful for your partner if you did.

Where is Love Intently at now, about a year out from AC4D?

I just got into a pre-accelerator program called DivInc, which is a pre-accelerator that empowers diversity in tech, so they take on minority and women founders. It’s an awesome opportunity with an incredible community of brilliant people that want to build each other up. The program starts in April, in Austin, and lasts for three months. I think it will empower me to take things to the next level. An important part of starting a company is learning how you work best. I realize that I needed accountability and people around me. This is one of those ways I’m building that in for myself and hopefully I’ll have a team soon.

Also, I launched officially to the public January 10th, and I had 11 couples come on, and test the first iteration — and paid for it. That was the first time I had ever experienced individuals paying for a service I crafted, and it was exhilarating.

Most recently, I got the opportunity to do a casting call for Shark Tank which was an affirming experience. To think back on where we were this time last year with a half-baked idea to being invited onto a casting call with Shark Tank is surreal to me. I feel confident about my pitch, and we find out in a week or so whether I move forward. Either way, the experience alone was a huge confidence booster.

I remember Jon (the founder of AC4D) saying to us that someday we would present so much it would just become another one of those things we did. I thought he was crazy because I was pretty awful at presenting, but he was right. I’ve pitched Love Intently countless amounts of times in a vast number of environments that none of it really scares me anymore. Melissa Chapman (fellow AC4D alum and mentor) mentioned last week how bizarre it was to think back on my very first presentation to now hearing about me pitching to Shark Tank and owning it. But that’s what AC4D is, a true transformation if you’re willing to put in the work.

What did you learn from the pilot?

There’s a huge learning curve in learning how to launch something successfully; what that looks like and all the phases of launching like pre-pre-launch, pre-launch, launch, and post-launch. They all require different strategies and content. This is also on top of building a website, figuring out recurring payment systems, integrating automation as much as possible and the list goes on. There are about a million things I would do differently now, but it’s OK. The last launch was the first iteration, and I know that there will be future ones. I’m working with people right now to make it an even better experience. Because right now, as an interaction designer, I know the experience can be greatly improved. There are problems that I know are there, so now it’s working to fix them and put the next iteration of Love Intently out into the world again. However, as Steve Jobs says “If you’re not embarrassed with your first launch, then you launched too late”. I also had a hard time asking people to pay which is a common occurrence for creatives because we all have imposter syndrome in one respect or another. However, as humans, we value things as they are priced. So by asking people to pay, Love Intently empowers more couples to build stronger relationships in a sustainable way.

Is there anything else you want to share about your AC4D experience?

I feel the biggest reason I almost didn’t apply was because I thought I was too young and inexperienced. When I entered AC4D, I was only 23 years old and had only worked for a year, which I think is the youngest out of anyone that has gone through the program. I thought I didn’t have enough work experience and I was worried I wouldn’t bring in a valid enough experience. Of course, I was also worried about taking on an additional financial burden — I know there are some programs out there that last 3 months and are the same price. However, understanding human interaction isn’t something you can “crash course” into. Gaining the ability to create wireframes but not to have a process in creating meaningful products is a steep trade-off.

AC4D was by far, the right choice for me because one, I think the “being young” thing is just bogus and is something people need to get over. If anything, I think I was easier to mold because I had less experience and ideas around exactly how design education should be. I was open to everything, in comparison to some approaches or concepts that some folks in my cohort struggled with. Secondly, the money — your ROI is high- you’re going to get a return. Ask any alumni; I think across the board we’ll all agree it was worth every penny. The community is amazing, the alumni network is incredible, you are guaranteed to get a position that pays decent, and it’s a matter of how picky you are after the program of what type of job you want to take. The alumni I know who are unemployed have been picky in finding work they care about, and they should be!

Whatever experience you have — just apply. Make it an option for yourself. If you’re accepted that means the faculty sees something in you that they want to sew into, and that you have something they want to empower and build up. They’ve already taken the commitment to invest in you. After that, you can make a decision to see if it’s right for you. You can always say no but if you don’t apply it’s an automatic no.

Austin Center for Design is a not-for-profit educational institution on the East Side of Austin, Texas that exists to transform society through design.

Power & Manipulation: How to Wield Design Thinking

One thing has become abundantly clear in these first two sections: design is manipulative. The last theory post talked about how the intention of a design does not necessarily match to the outcome. Design is unique in how it subtly changes thought patterns and impacts culture and ideology to their base without an overt statement. When designers create without thinking about the long term ramifications, they set loose an unknowable force. Sometimes these forces create good outcomes, sometimes bad. Or sometimes they are both as in Mark Manson’s article where he tells us the internet was supposed to be this beautiful thing, and kind of still is, but it’s buried beneath garbage.

How then can a designer ensure their intention is realized? How can designers coerce the change they wish to cultivate? Design holds coercion as a main delivery mechanism to the consumers of the design. In the article “Manipulation” by Jon Kolko, he talks about how the power of design lies within the manipulative ability designers have. He also talks about the duty of the designer to design for good, but qualifies that it is not to simply want to do good. “I intended to do good, so of course it was good that I would do.” Followed by “It is not enough to intend to do good. …That intent must be qualified, and the qualification happens at a micro, detailed, tiny level of design specificity.” He expresses how a designer should wield their power, using it to respect the user and respect the design as an artifact capable of making waves beyond your imagination.

When we normally consider the idea of manipulation, it comes with a certain connotation of deceit, or use. Manipulation through design is not manipulation of it is manipulation for. This qualification is slight, but meaningful. Manipulation of is when you manipulate people for selfish intention. For instance, the article talking about democratization and design in the workplace by Pelle Ehn, highlights the way design is able to be used to manipulate people into feeling more powerful, while robbing them of the little power they held. Another example of this comes in Assai Lamzah’s article “Urban design and architecture in the service of colonialism in Morocco.” Assai explains how “the French colonial regime used space, urban design and architecture in Morocco as means of power and domination.” The French built new infrastructure around cities in Morocco keeping the nationals in the city center and halting the growth and proliferation of their culture, and instead forced the French culture, architecture and bureaucracy on the indigenous population. The Moroccans were fed the French ideology from the mouths of their community leaders. In using the Moroccan population to their advantage, Assai states “This policy of association was designed to prevent Moroccan resistance to colonial rule,” meaning essentially, by integrating into the culture instead of overpowering it—as they had tried and failed doing in Algeria—they were able to more effectively control the population.

Facebook-Emotional-Manipulation-568x426

Design here is not overt, it is an accepted practice used by government structures still today to control and cull their populations. The design of these systems are not regularly vetted or designed for their users. They are designed to empower those designing. More contemporary and applicable examples of this are viewed as “dark patterns.” This are used to manipulate people into clicking on the wrong action, or unintentionally opting in. A great example of this is Facebook’s farewell page. It not only is difficult to find the way to deactivate your page, but they use emotionally charged tactics to make a user question their decision. Telling a user their friends will miss them, or that they will be missing out on updates from their friends.

Using social anxiety and emotional pain to control your user base is becoming more and more commonplace. In Brian Cugelman’s article “How companies use social pain, to stop customers from leaving,” he talks about how companies are using attachment anxiety to wield power over their users. This is a designed mechanism. There was testing done, probably A/B testing, to see which option proved more effective. Facebook, from the earlier example, employs psychologists whose role remains a bit of a mystery, but it seems this is at least one tangible example of their impact to the site. Cugelman states “The brand’s not sorry to see you go, nor is the website, as these are non-human things. They don’t have feelings. However, there’s no shortage of research that shows that people still feel the effects of human-like interaction, even when expressed by technology.” So tech companies are obviously using dark patterns like this to manipulate users into feeling bad or anxious about leaving a site. According to Jon’s ethical argument, the designers creating these mechanisms either were not aware of their impact, or simply did not care and are moving towards the side of unethical treatment of other people.

A question that comes to mind here is: What is a designer to do when in a situation such as this? Pressure from all sides mounting for you to increase the amount of users saved by the landing page. Having psychologists tell you to play off of their emotions and cause discomfort. In this situation, saying no isn’t going to create a systemic change. It has to be adopted by all designers for a better experience across the board. This is a lofty call to action, and it seems almost counterintuitive to the wants of a business. It seems almost easier to capture users like this on their way out, then to captivate them continuously through good design and UX. What does this all amount to?

In her article “The World that UX is Helping Create,” Lis Hubert talks about her realization that UX is creating a negative impact on human end users. She presents a call to action in the form of a question; asking “ Do you, dear UXer, like the world that you are currently helping to create?” Following it with her final question: “Are you ready to accept responsibility for the way your designs change the world?” She qualifies all of this with guidelines for designers to follow when creating. Nicholas Carr compares the users Lis is describing as compulsive and addicted. The devices were designed to do everything, including snare us and enslave us to the interaction of the digital realm. He states part of the problem is the data analytics we have, and their focus. Companies want data helping them to sell more, not the information of what a user needs. User needs are often contrary to what many would consider things to move a business forward. Investing in infrastructure or redesigning pages to be less confusing and allow users to spend less time, not more, on their product.

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 5.22.23 PM

This is a screenshot showing what it’s like to try to leave Facebook. It’s confusing and they use family and friends to try to pull you back in.

But money rules the world, and companies like Google, according to Nicholas “[were not founded] with the intent of spreading social anxiety and then capitalizing on it through surveillance systems—but it is now sustained by design…Rewards now flow to the competitor that is best able to maximize consumer anxiety in a way that spurs more compulsive behavior…” Nicholas highlights here how designers are missing the mark in standing up for the user on the grand scale. Designers are exercising their power, either with or without the knowledge of the ramifications (which is not an excuse), to the detriment of the public. News organizations pop off articles about how millennial are the least socially secure generation, and it is not a wonder in a world where there is so much manipulation of the emotions and considerations of this group, that they would be so unsure of the world they live in.

Making sure the work created is not contributing to the problem of the masses, that it is not a dark design. Lis makes a great point, similar to Jon’s, about how designers must think beyond the standard area of effect of their work and look to see what waves their single drop could create. Designing for the details is what becomes important; not holding to the values of the company, but holding to the values of the user. How then do we do this?

According to Jon, to move from the trend of manipulation of to manipulation for, designers must begin taking the ethical questions of their projects to the forefront, and ensuring they adhere to a set of qualities defined by user research. In Mike Montiero’s piece “Ethics can’t be a side hustle” he brings into question of what good work is. His contention is a designer has a responsibility to ask the ethical questions like: Is this for the good of the user? Does this hurt or disenfranchise anyone? How will this effect the people who use it? His example of designers working on Uber’s Greyball program, a tool used to help avoid run-ins with the law for Uber drivers, shows how people can create something without worrying about the true result, thinking “I know better than them.”

This mentality has moved down a path of the reification of user populations instead of supporting them with design. Montiero does not simply blame designers, though. He calls out anyone who touched the product. He places blame on the lack of ethics of all involved parties for allowing something like Greyball to be implemented. It’s similar to the Facebook designers who created the exit pages. They knew how their designs effected users, they knew the intention was tainted with greed and impure motive, but they made it and implemented it anyway. Probably blaming a greater “they” in power pushing for the change, only making the problem bigger.

Behavioral change has so long been used for nefarious purposes in business, government, and other sectors, it is seemingly a hard tradition to break. These examples of manipulation of a group of people illustrate how not to wield the power of design; but what of the other side, manipulation for? Now manipulation for is a simpler way of saying using manipulation for the benefit of the user. For instance, making changes to grocery lists with healthier items, gradually pushing a user to adopt a healthier diet with little to no overt change in habit. Or manipulating people to spend less time on their phones, making websites smarter and simpler, easier to navigate with less clicks and more time spent elsewhere. Is it difficult to think of things that are meant to empower a user for everyday life because there aren’t many things made in that manner?

In Richard Anderson’s piece “Go ahead—ask people what they want” he makes a case for designers to listen to users, and to hear them. he states “…users actually do often know what they want and need, and when they don’t (completely) know, answers to such questions often contain important clues.” With near certainty, no one told the Facebook designers they wanted to feel bad when they were leaving, and no one told Apple to make something so addicting there is no separation from self and technology, but they created these things with an unexpected, and potentially catastrophic, consequences.

Design is powerful, and the potential for manipulation is great. Many people believe if design thinking were a more prevalent school of thought, these issues would be eradicated. All people in a business would understand the emotional impact of their products and become more conscious of the effect they are having on their user population. In David Dunne and Roger Martin’s article “Design Thinking and How It Will Change Management Education: An Interview and Discussion” they speak about the necessity for change in the MBA program from the ground up. Their claim is MBA graduates should be learning about design thinking and empathizing their their users instead of being the numbers guys looking to crush constraints and opposition. A main point of their article is that the “analytical, quantitative, number crunching, deductive-inductive, self-oriented” typical MBA grad would be “weeded out in the application process” of this new program. This is based off of the idea that MBA would no longer be focused on business in so far as numbers and profits go, but instead on designing their business to serve customers the best.

From this conversation of the manipulative powers of design, and the ability to manipulate in a bad way unintentionally or without thought, what then happens when people utilizing design thinking choose to explicitly manipulate their users or customers? Things like the Facebook account delete screens, or other emotionally punitive options similar to this. These things are very superficial at this point, they are simple modules expected to elicit a visceral but general emotional response. If they were designed with the specificity afforded to design thinkers to be manipulative of someone, how would this be beneficial.

There are a lot of necessities for Dunne and Martin’s world to become true, so if a slow incremental integration is what happens, then do we not give the traditional MBA, someone who is part of the problem in enforcing dark patterns, enforcing number goals, and enforcing strict needs for profit margins, does this not give them more power to further exploit the user? Instead of having a designer as a mediator, the MBA would have the power, and arguably due to their logical and profit-forward views of the world, the motivation to wield design as a tool for their purpose?

The answer to this question will only be answered once the first wave of designer-businessman hybrids come out. Criticism of this is obvious, that design thinking, at it’s core, takes the user into consideration and holds their need above the other pieces. This is true, it is a current definition, but as with all things, it can be tainted and turned against it’s original purpose. Hopefully a strong ethic will emerge and push the design thinkers of the world to act with ethics in mind, but from our history, it seems ethics can be in short supply.

girl-1641215_960_720

All of these examples show how design is used as a tool of manipulation of people for a selfish purpose. Design should not be used in this manner. It should be used to empower and support, not to isolate and instill anxious compulsions. The power of design should be wielded benevolently and carefully. In Jon’s words, comparing each decision to a set of values, and taking responsibility for what we create. Keep the principles of your users in your mind and ensure you fulfill them. In this way, manipulation for becomes the guiding hand of a mentor, forming your experience to foster talent and drive away insecurity and anxiety. No agenda beyond making the experience better.

 

My final question will be left for you to answer, because I do not have the answer. There are arguments made very persuasively for design thinking to permeate every aspect of the world, but should design thinking be applied to everything, given the opportunity for corruption and manipulation inherent in it’s power?

Third Time’s the Charm

Quarter four has hands down been the most the demanding quarter as well as ambiguous. Thus far we’ve created over fifty vignettes, we’ve iterated upon our idea at least three times, and we’ve presented our idea twice now. It feels like it’s coming together, but it might just be a fluke. I’ve be reflecting on two main pieces of this quarter thus far, first the difficulty of keeping an idea small and the minute detail level decisions made when create a product and a pilot.

Our idea, like many others, has grown to try and solve not just one problem facing the population of interest, but many problems. We seem to have difficulty keeping out idea focused. The first time we has a single ideas; to provide direction and support for an individual to become connected with housing programs. We would surface a list of personalized housing programs that the Individual Experiencing Homelessness would be qualified for. Then by the presentation, we had added that the system would also help them apply to different organizations after applying to housing programs, as well as retain all their application statuses and help with single-night shelter options. After receiving feedback about this idea being too large again, we went back to cutting it down.

Ultimately, I have a better sense of when an idea is growing too much now. I can get a better sense of when the creeping in of additional tools or features are coming into the idea. This then helps me cut down on which ones actually make it into the idea. Garrett and I have also zeroed in, and now ask ourselves “Will this reduce an IEH’s time on the street?” when reviewing features or tools of our application.

The second learning curve of this quarter has been planning out a pilot and a product. Focusing on the pilot, I found that the detailed decisions I need to be more aware, feel buried in the first and second pass of the plan. Within the first two passes of the pilot plan, Garrett and I were making such big picture and zoomed out decisions, we couldn’t see the details we were glossing over. With the first pass we included the following: Participants, Recruitment, Testing, Evaluation. On the second pass we added a few addition sections, and expanded on the existing ones. For example, during the second iteration, we were able to more fully decide what kind of participant we wanted for our pilot. We were beginning to become more specific with who we wanted to target for our product.

By the third round, the details we needed to include were beginning to surface. I was writing out the exact script of what Garrett and I will be saying to the participants. Even though I’m fairly certain that the pilot’s script will likely diverge from this script after the first day, it stands as a reference for the tone of the messages for future reference. Again this iteration allowed us to more fully examine and scrutinize our decisions. Below is a link to our final Pilot Write up.

The final piece, which is still going on is creating the details of the product while still remaining centered upon the focus. This is an ongoing process. We have a rough hero flow for our product’s first half, but we need push through to the final end. Working through the first half felt familiar and productive, I think this is due to the similarities with previous iterations. Now we need to ask ourselves what we really want to lead our users towards as we build out the back pages. Those that include what a user will do with our app once they’ve gotten into housing.  I think the challenge here will be first to keep our product small as we iteration, and secondly to remind ourselves that each decision must be rooted in what our research has told us about our participants.

As we continue through the quarter, I’ll try to surface those details soon as opposed to the third iteration, especially with regard to the product. Those detailed decisions need to be thought through and iterated upon as much as any other.

Moving From Ideation to Evaluation

The first steps of the home stretch have been taken. We have been talking our idea into existence; it has been focused, and become more explicit. It exists, but it’s still got a way to go. Moving from our prior model from the end of the prior quarter, Kelsey and I have come from the complicated desktop interface and moved towards something simple. We haven’t completely decided on a name quite yet, but it exists, and for now at least, it’s called Quarters. More importantly, focused to ensure our product would actually be usable, instead of a multi-tool. Tackling a multitude of problems is not realistic, so we have focused to trying to help find stable, affordable housing for our population.

After last quarter, Kelsey and I realized we needed to make a change. But we felt pretty lost in all of the ideas, all of the things we wanted to do. Focusing on just one thing is probably the most difficult part for me thus far. We argued, and we talked, and we tried to focus. There are so many things we could do, but what should we do? We have been working on our wireframes and our testing plan to confirm we have made the right choice.

The ideal state of our product is to make use of, and potentially cultivate, a group of private renters in the local area, as well as other inexpensive housing options, who will work with individuals coming from the street for housing. Right now there is no way for people to directly connect with these renters, and the supportive organizations normally work with case management referrals. Our product would allow someone to connect with a housing organization or private renter they would be applicable for.

To do this, we want to use a natural flowing dialogue system, with simple answers, mostly yes or no to begin with, age and gender. We want to gather information and make it feel like we aren’t probing or being intrusive. Setting the tone of the messages becomes incredibly important, it has to be respectful and well thought out. Some of the screens are shown below, as I stated above, they are rough, but we’re working towards something simple and effective. 3screen

Ultimately, our goal from all of this is to decrease the amount of time people spend on the street. We have our sights set high, we’re working on figuring out if this would even help. We’re trying to answer questions on whether there is infrastructure to support this, whether we could tap into the network of landlords willing to rent to individuals experiencing homelessness, or if we would have to try to make our own. As we make the wireframes more real, questions just keep popping up, what if this, what if that, what happens here? It feels like it will be endless, but it’s also exciting.

I kind of get lost in the making and working something into existence. It’s akin to making pottery, you poke holes, push it all the way back down to a ball of clay again, pull it up, see something to change, make a ball, repeat, only once it’s well made do you allow it to dry for polish. It seems like I have been thinking about design in too theoretical of a way to this point. I spent too much time thinking and talking, and not enough time making a thing. It’s easier to work when there is something to work off of, and it has taken entirely too long to come to this conclusion. Feedback and conversations around a thing are always better (they tell us this all the time).

As we move forward to testing our idea, we move cautiously. Working with the population we want to target, it’s difficult to not want to over-promise a capability, or paint an inaccurate picture of what will happen. Deciding how to introduce our idea has been difficult. What to say about what we are testing, and how to ensure we aren’t making promises we cannot keep. It makes me feel like a bad person, but false hope is worse than none at all. Our test consists of to texts or emails our participants and talk to them about their past, and find out some basic information about their history. Using that info, we will contact housing programs in the city to see if they have availability if our participants are eligible or would be a good fit for a transitional property or something low-rent. We hope to assist with renters assistance, but this is all contingent on our participants trusting us and keeping in contact, as well as our rigor in research.

We have been setting expectations low, explaining who we are, and what we are doing, very simply. We started research, thought of this thing, and want to see if it will help. A barrier we seem to have hit here as well is narrowing our focus of participants. Our target group has been difficult to pin down, so we have participants over a range of demographics, but all sharing a few of the most key qualities.

Our pilot begins Monday, we have a few participants scheduled for the first week. As we round out the third week of this final quarter, anxiety is high. I want this to work, I hope it does, and if it does not work, I hope we know why and can make the necessary changes to make this a viable and useful product. Because ultimately our goal is to help people live stable lives.

Validating a Hypothesis: Grocery List Optimizer

My team and I have decided on an idea for our final project, which is to create a grocery list optimizer (the name is still a work in progress). The mobile app will look for money saving opportunities within someone’s grocery list as well as making healthier recommendations. Moving forward with this idea we need to validate that we are building the right thing.

I had the urge to want to jump to creating the product now that’s it has become more of a concrete idea, but this is idealistic thinking. For all we know our idea may make sense theoretically, but in the real world we could possibly be missing the mark. This is why we will be conducting a pilot for the next 4-5 weeks. The point of the pilot is to validate our idea through a simplified version using manual tactics rather than creating the mobile application. In the end, it could manifest into something completely different than a mobile application.

The first week we are employing a strategy of testing our idea in person while our participants shop to capture as much feedback as possible. There are also small nuances we may not be thinking about that we will be able to observe to better our product. Although I’m excited to start getting people’s opinion, my mind was jumping into simulating the idea as close as possible for “accurate” results. This landed our group into focusing on the wrong thing, which I may have been facilitating a bit. There are many grocery store apps on the App Store, most of very poor quality. As we continued researching what currently exists we learned that HEB has their own app with many of the features we have planned on incorporating. I saw two things happened because of this.

  1. Momentum in our creation seemed to slow because “someone else is already doing something similar”.
  2. It limited our mind as to what was possible and began to slightly feel defeated.

 

HEB App

Because of the similarities, my mind was wanting to try to leverage the already existing system to help us conduct our pilot. I was excited to test using something that was so close to our idea because I felt then we could really focus on the details that separates us apart from them. The point I was missing is that the purpose of our pilot is to not simulate our system, but simulate the core value our system is providing.

The advantages we are providing over the HEB application, and many others in the grocery store is that:

  1. We are being more proactive about money saving opportunities.
  2. We aren’t limited to working with any singular grocery store chain.
  3. Most importantly, we are helping people eat healthier in an incremental manner
How it works

During our pilot, we have some primary assumptions that we are looking to confirm our hypothesis and whether or not our idea should manifest into another form. After all, we could design an award winning mobile application, but if the application doesn’t meet people where they are at it will ultimately fail. The assumptions we are testing include:

  • People use grocery lists, and if not, they will use one
  • People will choose a healthier option if prompted
  • People will choose a lower price over a brand they like
  • People are willing to leave brands and items they’re used to
  • People generally want to eat healthier
  • People will eat new items they purchase
  • People will be more likely to buy a new item if they get the new item before they get the original item

To quickly kick start our pilot and start gathering data we reached out to our friend and family network and asked people to send us pictures of their pantries and fridges. The purpose of this is to further understand the variety of food people keep at home, as well as starting to identify opportunities where we can begin making recommendations. One realization this made me think of is that by looking at individual items it could possibly feel healthier than what the end meal is being created. But this doesn’t exactly tell us what is being created when items are combined. This should be a consideration moving forward.

 

fridges

 

After spending a week testing our idea out in person we want to back further out to see if we can have the same affect without being there in person. We acknowledge that by conducting our test it in person we are introducing a bias that wouldn’t normally be there if they were shopping by themselves.  So it’s important to learn from this first week then run the rest of the pilot as remote as possible. Our goal is a minimum of 15 tests, ideally we would work a number of people for multiple weeks to learn how they shopping habits might evolve, even if in a relatively short period of time. Just because someone eats healthier one week, doesn’t mean they’ll continue down that path.

There are so many small nuances in using coupons and trying to save money while grocery shopping, this might have started to distract a little from our primary goal: helping people adopt a healthier diet with small gradual changes. The money saving techniques are how we plan on providing more value to the user to have more inclination to use our service, but we can’t let that turn us away from our primary goal.

Lastly, a very important detail we are addressing is the fact that we aren’t subject matter experts within the food space. As we started fleshing out the pilot and were forced to start making recommendations on real lists, we learned when fact checking the recommendations that were coming to mind that they weren’t as healthy as we originally thought. This is where it’s vital for us to bring in nutritionists and/or dietitians into our pilot. We have a meeting scheduled with a dietitian this week to help us navigate recommendations within our pilot. When our product becomes a reality we will work even closer with a dietitian, if not hire one, to ensure the quality of our product is where it needs to be to make healthy food recommendations.

There are even more questions that are derived when trying to build an idea than when creating an idea. I am excited to receive feedback from our pilot and mature our idea into something that will help people adopt a healthier diet. If you’d like more detail of our plan you may read our pilot plan deck.

Finding direction through nebulousness & complexity

Health, in bite sized increments

The building of a socially focused service

Identifying problems is easy. The world is full of whistleblowers and I, admittedly, used to be one. Diving into the messiness and coming out with something valuable is difficult. Holding true to the principles a solution needs to ascribe to in order to wholeheartedly build services built on the empathy cultivated with the population you are trying to serve  is theoretically arduous. It is “easy” to build a generally good idea. Building one that subdues complexity is not. Of course, these are the problems worth solving, and the ones the world’s creatives need to diligently focus on. Our current global climate is ripe with these challenges. What an opportune time to be exiting a high caliber design school with a problem solving methodology on the tool belt. Opportunities are everywhere, but let’s focus on the one my team (Sally Hall, Conner Drew) and I have been parsing through for the last ~20 weeks.

The inspiration for the design of this service came from experiences in the field doing research with mothers on food stamps who have diabetes. This acute focus helped surround our thinking with the most drastic and relevant needs that exist in regards to diet change. The service we are building meets the needs of this acute population, however, the principles embedded in its inner workings support a much wider population: anyone that has a motivation or need to make a diet change. Therefore, in launching this service we plan to start with guidance that will assist anyone in their path towards health and, in the near future, plan to utilize subject matter experts like dieticians and nutritionists to make our offering for those with monetary constraints and dietary diseases as robust and tailored to the individual as possible. We want to truly provide tools for the problem we set out to explore.

 

How it works

The service operates on 2 main threads. Saving money and gradually eating healthier.

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 4.50.16 PM

We set out to assist low-income populations eat a healthier diet by unseating the common belief that eating healthier is more expensive. This noble outset is potent, yet it proved difficult to find ways to hook people’s interest. This is where money saving comes in. Everyone wants to save money, i’m willing to make that sweeping generalization. Therefore leveraging money saving techniques like comparing product prices across and within stores, finding deals and coupons was our hook. A trojan horse service if you will.

The money saving techniques we analyze are techniques that anyone can use but when considering how difficult it is to manage all aspects of life inherent in the human experience, something as trivial as clipping coupons or looking at the price of bananas, milk and bread at Walmart, HEB and Fiestas to find the cheapest price just feels extraneous and ridiculous. However, when considering there are ~$14 billion in food related coupon savings annually dispersed and ~$3.4 billion in redeemed coupons that leaves a lot of room for savings. This is why we want to house all of these possibilities in one experience and take the pressure off of the individual. To be clear, my aim is not to present this in a way that sounds like we will be the next billion dollar startup. The amount of work at our backs is trivial compared to the amount in front of us between our current standings and our north star design. Numbers are simply stated to express opportunity.w:o GLO V2

w: GLO V2

Money saving aside there is the healthier component. We, as a nation, generally know that we are in a public health crisis so I will not spend an exorbitant amount of time on this topic. Dietary disease is at the crux of the health of our people. The way that “the system” responds to these problems is anything but proactive. Blatantly, we tell people they have a disease that could kill them and provide them with minimal resources that preach drastic change all at once. This kind of care is not actionable and, based on our research, people diagnosed largely fall back into their routines and habits. The point I want to highlight is the drastic change that is encouraged. These ideas for change are not realistic. There is a reason we teach kids addition first in school, not calculus. Then add subtraction, multiplication, division and so forth. People need a foundation for knowledge and knowledge gradually builds with more experience and more input from the world. Our service mimics this truth about how people learn. Incremental steps for gradual change. We plan to meet the users of our service right where they are in their eating habits and start by saving them money to gain trust. Gradually, as trust builds, we will invite our users in the direction of health with small steps. Changing white bread for wheat. After wheat feels comfortable maybe add some seeds. This kind of guidance will provide stability. This stability is essential for the cognitive load on people trying to make change. Especially change with something as personal and ongoing as food requires patience. This sensitive guidance is our most essential component.


Why the way it works is important

 

The nuances touched on in the previous paragraph hold merit because of the time we spent in people’s homes, talking to them about food, looking through their kitchens with them, hearing their trials and tribulations, successes and prides. Developing empathy. We spoke with 18 people spending ~90 minutes with each of them. Marination in their words, finding patterns and anomalies across behaviors and perspectives informs design in a way that affords a “standing the problems shoes” approach. This ethnographic approach allowed us to largely drop our own world views and gain a wide angle view of food. These people have lived with me for the past 20 weeks. When I make decisions or come to new insights I reference their perspectives, their circumstances. It is pretty astounding what immersion in a problem feels like. I feel responsible for bettering this situation.

The gestalt around our service of incremental change was founded from experiencing people in the field that had had success in making a dietary change. These positive deviants had experienced change in a way that allowed them to build knowledge and change in behavior slowly. These were the only examples of change that stuck long term. For this reason we promise to provide value in the form of a gradual path of change towards a healthy diet.

Moving forward

The next phases of development require mayhem management and an astute focus on subtle behaviors. Food is so damn complicated. A different perspective everywhere you look. The majority of these perspectives are trying to share or enroll others in their ideology. This becomes paramount when it is backed by companies and money attempting to spread influence in the name of their products.

We have run one pilot test so far. During this initial experiment we gathered somebodies grocery list, found all relevant coupons and price reductions as well as healthy options we wanted to suggest and dove in. We got to H-E-B early and gathered all of the items we wanted to suggest. When our participant showed up we let her run the show. We followed her through the store in observation. All of our pre-thinking and planning got thrown out the window about 10 minutes in. There is such nuance in how people place value on food and in trying to make healthier suggestions that are very similar to what she already was planning to buy was much more difficult than it had seemed in the idealized picture I had in my mind.

The first difficulty surfaced quickly. The list she provided us was much too broad.

 Monicas list

With this lack of specificity we were very ineffective in providing options that were similar. She had written “bread”. Think about how many different kinds of bread there are. Now think about why you like your favorite kinds. Is it even possible to offer a suggestion that will be accepted with enjoyment when you consider all of these nuances that play into preference? This is an essential question that I have been wrestling with.

 

A quick short story from the field:

We get in the bread aisle and she picks up a relatively healthy bread. Our criteria for providing choices was to give 3 options: any product with relevant coupons, the cheapest applicable option, and a slightly healthier option that was similar in type and price (with an aim for cheaper). She picks up a whole wheat seed bread. The cheapest option in the store is wonder bread. That criteria for offering swap options goes out the window. Im looking at the nutrition labels of similar breads while my research partner Sally asks the pilot participant questions about her choice. She tells us she likes that bread because of the texture. I think “Well, we’re fucked then.” She values this bread choice because of texture. That means to provide a similar product I would need to put them all in my mouth. I decide not to try to offer her the bread i’m holding that contains 1 less gram of sugar than her choice and put it back. This example illustrates well the mayhem of the food space and leaves me with a hardset realization that, for this service to be successful we need to intimately understand our customers.

Taking intangibility into a form that is meaningful and consumable is the highest priority at this point in the process.

 

Difficulties of managing mayhem

In attempt to capture all of the relevant information from the pilot I crafted a spreadsheet that would house all of the items on her list as well as all of the swaps for healthier and cheaper items that we wanted to make.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 8.55.25 AM

This mental run through of the process I was expecting seemed viable. There is room in the above spreadsheet for all relevant information. When we got in the store with the participant reality proved much different.

pre-plan list

This obviously proved to be the wrong way to capture the results. The refinement of this capturing process was informative.

organized list

This refinement of the capturing process tells me, at this stage, it needs to be much more qualitative for the learning we are immersed in. To truly learn how our customers think it needs to allow for quotes and the capture of nuance.

Assumptions and how to test them

Our current hypothesis for why this idea will work rides on a few assumptions. Primarily believing that:

  1. People use grocery lists, and if not, they will use one
  2. People will choose a healthier option if prompted
  3. People will choose a lower price over a brand they like
  4. People are willing to leave brands and items they’re used to
  5. People generally want to eat healthier
  6. People will eat new items they purchase
  7. People will be more likely to buy a new item if they get the new item before they get the original item

As we move forward in our creation and refinement process we plan to map out our trajectory moving from operating in very close quarters with our participant’s experience to gradually removing ourselves from the in-store experience as we learn how to manage this complexity.

 

Northstar possibilities

As we are in the weeds trying to learn about initial needs and subtle nuances we also have our eye set on the future. In the future we would like to gradually create a trusted relationship with our customers. We want them to be able to count on our advice. We see ourselves as having the potential to be an essential component of many shoppers grocery store experience. It is exciting thinking about the arduous path towards this grandiose future. Now let me get off the computer and jump back in the weeds.

GLO CJ Map - Linear

 

Pilot Plan Presentation v1

Figuring out how to promote a healthy diet, one grocery item at a time

My team and I are developing a service to help someone gradually adopt a healthier diet. First, we will find the cheapest way to buy a shopper’s grocery list, and then, we will gradually suggest healthier substitutions or additions.

Testing our service

To refine the idea, we will recruit shoppers to test our service over the next several weeks. During our first week of the pilot, we plan to follow each participant through the store to learn as much as possible about their shopping habits, decision making, and meal planning.

IMG_0220

As the original idea took the form of a mobile app, this exercise will help release our minds from the design of “the screen” and help us focus on the value delivered. Even if the final manifestation is an app, interacting with the participant in-person will allow us to discover the ideal “conversation” to help the shopper receive the maximum benefit.

One drawback of this technique is that our presence may make shoppers more likely to choose the swap offered. Additionally, we will provide $5 HEB gift cards to thank shoppers for their time, which may make shoppers feel obliged to take our recommendations. Results may therefore be skewed. It will be important to lessen our physical presence as quickly as possible in subsequent weeks.

Recruitment

We will target people who go grocery shopping on a regular basis and need help adopting a healthier diet. This means that our recruitment efforts will span across socio-economic status. To quickly screen, we will ask potential participants to send photos of their refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, for a quick assessment of the kinds of food they bring home. 

part0-1 part0-2

If you think about health on a spectrum, from burgers to salad, we’re looking to help people who buy more food towards the burger end of the spectrum.

spectrum.001

As we aim for gradual change, we hope to recruit at least 5 participants who will test with us multiple times over the next month. This duration will help us project whether or not our tactics and suggestions will make a positive difference in the long run.

Coupons

Given our effort to help shoppers save money, we began to look into coupons. After a bit of research, we realized that we must be careful to ensure that we’re actually using coupons to benefit the customer, and not the corporation.

IMG_0192

According to Rice University professor, Utpal Dholakia Ph.D, the pitfalls of coupons boil down to four main factors:

  • Regular coupon users pay less attention to the actual price and often end up paying more money.
  • Regular coupon users buy things they don’t need.
  • Regular coupon users buy more than they need.
  • Regular coupon users spend beyond their budget.

IMG_0250

Indeed, when we ran the pilot for the first time, our shopper considered taking advantage of the “2 for $6” yogurt sale, but then realized that she could not finish all 8 yogurts before their expiration date.

When we suggest sales, coupons, or lower prices, we must make sure that we’re not distracting our shoppers from a more responsible choice. 

Subject Matter Experts & Nutrition

We know that there are as many different opinions about health & nutrition as there are people in the world. It seems there’s always a new study about why this food may be good for you and that food bad.

Given the complexity of nutrition as a science, we will engage Nutritionists throughout the process to 1) make healthy swap recommendations and 2) frame why one food may be healthier than the other.

When running through our very first test, we saw just how much we needed this expertise. This was particularly clear than on the bread aisle — so many different choices! Moreover, even if we find the “healthiest” bread, our recommendations must also fit the shopper’s taste preference as well as budget.

IMG_0223

The Paradox of Choice: Fighting the power of brands & familiarity

The grocery store can be an overwhelming place, which is no wonder why we’ve met so many people who buy the same thing over and over again.

Have you ever actually looked at all the options down the cereal aisle?

IMG_0235

There are 12 different kinds of Cheerios, alone: Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Very Berry Cheerios, Multigrain Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch, Chocolate Cheerios, Fruity Cheerios, Cheerios Protein, Frosted Cheerios, Cheerios + Ancient Grains (?), and Pumpkin Spice Cheerios (so you can be in the holiday spirit, all year long).

Because of the incredible volume and variety of grocery inventory, it’s understandable that a customer’s brand loyalty would be hard to break — why spend time analyzing a sea of options, when your current choice is sufficient? Observations like these also prompt questions like:

  1. Rather than trying to influence a shopper’s cereal choice, would it be better to focus our efforts on change that might occur on an aisle with fewer choices, leaving the shopper with more mental space to consider other options?
  2. Or, if we endeavor to tackle the cereal aisle, would it be best to introduce a new, healthier item before the shopper enters the grocery store, before she becomes too distracted by all the other choices?

The more I learn about grocery shopping, the more I learn about the marketing strategies and business behind it. For example, I had no idea that stores rent out shelving space, and that, depending on the shelf, companies will pay more or less; the most expensive shelving is “the bull’s eye” zone (usually the 2nd and 3rd shelves), as it’s in the customer’s eye line.

In order to help our shoppers, we will have to compete with powerful marketing techniques, and help our customers look above and below for cheaper, and healthier options. A benefit of our service is offering 1-2 healthy alternatives per the shopper’s original, unhealthy choice — still giving the shopper a choice, but not so many that lead to overwhelm.

Capturing Feedback & Results

To capture feedback and results, we will document the shopper’s entire journey through the grocery store via photos, highlighting different decision points.

IMG_0281

We will also note the shopper’s path through the store, presenting what other items they might naturally see or pass, and therefore be more open to try in the future.

Lastly, as the shopper goes through the entire process, we will check and update the following assumptions:

  1. People use grocery lists, and if not, they will use one
  2. People will choose a healthier option if prompted
  3. People will choose a lower price over a brand they like
  4. People are willing to leave brands and items they’re used to
  5. People generally want to eat healthier
  6. People will eat new items they purchase
  7. People will be more likely to buy a new item if they get the new item before they get the original item

Measuring Success

To measure success, we will note the following:

  1. How many of the healthy alternatives the shopper accepted and why.
  2. If we were able to save the shopper money, and if so, how much.
  3. If the shopper would like to use our service again.

Other reflections

Keeping our eyes on the prize: Given the fact that coupons, price comparisons, and sales are so immensely complicated, we’ve found ourselves focusing more on how we can help someone save money, than eat healthily. In order to make an impact, we must keep coming back to our core value — helping someone gradually adopt a healthier diet.

Impulse Buys: One question we’ve asked ourselves is how we plan for impulse buys. When surrounded by so many options, it’s only natural for shoppers to pick up items not originally intended. In that instance, how does our service push the healthiest, cheapest option?

Convenience vs. Stick: If we go ahead and pull the healthiest/cheapest grocery items, we believe the shopper will be more likely to adopt those items. On the other hand, giving the shopper a choice, prompting slightly more reflection and initiative, may make the healthier habit more “sticky.”

Grocery Pilot Plan Presentation v1x

Grocery List Optimizer – Turning on the engine

Sally Hall|Conner Drew|Elijah Parker

Project Backdrop

Dietary disease is at an all-time high — 27 million Americans have diabetes and 30 million Americans have heart disease. These are leading causes of death in America. This is an interesting contrast when considering the fact that the demand for health and healthy eating is, simultaneously, the highest it has ever been. The gap that exists between those 2 truths has a lot of niches to fill.

 

Articulating the Problem

The gaps and inefficiencies that exist in the current landscape sound simple to the ear but are exponentially confusing when trying to encapsulate them, in inverse, as solutions in a product. First of all, the food space is saturated with products, information, branding and marketing efforts that create a lot of mental work for customers to be able to ces out what is true and what they should do. This often comes down to people’s world view and generational influence because there are no definitively clear answers from trustable sources.

The next huge influencer is money. Healthy food is seen as being more expensive than less healthy options. This high cost of healthy food partnered with the high cost of services that offer dietary support adds to the monetary difficulty of adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. Clinics that serve low-income populations or government health care providers and systems are overloaded with clients and are inherently inefficient in thoroughly responding to clients needs. There are products and services out there that try to address this need. There are a gamut of diet plans and “lose weight fast programs” as well as shopping lists and nutrition trackers, however, these all require high levels of behavior change all at one time which is like a sprint and not realistic when considering long term change.

Lastly, there are a multitude of ways to save money on food: coupons, sales etc. These offerings are presented in a disorganized fashion, without consistency which makes them hard to depend on. The need for products and services that guide users towards health inside of a framework that understands their current context and prioritizes price and savings requires a level of choreography in planning and trust in company intention that does not currently exist in the digital market and that is what we set out to do.

Gaps and inefficiencies in the current market:

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 4.22.32 PM

 

Our product

We are building a mobile application. This application ties a thread through eliminating scientific jargon about the food space, meeting users where they are in the context of their food routines, and navigating progression with a gradual approach on the path to a healthy diet.

Value Promise:

We promise to provide a path of change towards a healthier diet

 

How it works

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 4.50.16 PM

 

Our product’s intention

The inspiration for this products design came from experiences in the field doing research with mothers on food stamps who have diabetes. This acute focus helped surround our thinking with the most drastic and relevant needs that exist in regards to diet change. The product we have built meets the needs of this acute population, however, the principles embedded in its inner workings support a much wider population; anyone that has a motivation or need to make a diet change. Therefore, in launching this product we plan to start with guidance that will assist anyone in their path towards health and, in the near future, plan to utilize subject matter experts like dieticians and nutritionists to make our offering for those with monetary constraints and dietary diseases as robust and tailored to the individual as possible. We want to truly provide tools for the problem we set out to explore.

 

Business structure

We are setting up to start a company with Benefit Corporation status. Being a B-corp is aligned with our mission as a business because at the core of our model is social impact, helping low-income individuals to adopt a healthier diet. This core value drives the engine and we want to be held accountable to that initiative staying consistently at the forefront. This status will also help us establish trust in our users. They will know our intentions are purely in support. Based on the service we’re providing, we need to have a consistent revenue stream to support our growth efforts and build out towards our north star design.

Here is our slide deck and written business plan:

GLO Business Plan Deck

GLO Written Business Plan

Quarters

Simple Beginnings

As students at AC4D, Kelsey and I were tasked with finding a social problem with the theme of sustainability. We were both passionate about the sustainability of affordable housing in Austin, TX. During our research into the space, we found that “affordable” housing in Austin still is not all that affordable. The price range for these units and homes are still only available to people who have income above $45,000. There are so many people who make less than this in the city, so many people who struggle to afford rent and need help or face living on the street. So we went to speak with those individuals specifically. At ARCH and around downtown Austin, we spoke with individuals about their experiences with homelessness and what it is like to try to get off of the street. We found that people do not always want to be off of the street, we saw how rapid rehousing services and permanent supportive housing services help the people who are most vulnerable. But we also saw how many people are left behind. How many people are lost by the system and do not qualify for these housing initiatives. We wondered: are there programs for these individuals? Do they have any options? They felt like they were standing still; like there was no where for them to go but down until they were where the system would pick them up again.

We found services who would work with nearly all of our research participants. We wondered: How can we connect these individuals to the support they need?

Enter Quarters, a web-based experience for connecting individuals with housing services near them. Using a responsive and dynamic dialogue system, we find what these people need to apply for housing programs, guide them through the processes, and connect them with the organization to apply.

Our Promise

We promise to connect individuals experiencing homelessness to stable housing. Using Quarters, individuals will be able to connect with housing programs catering to their needs and their situation. Quarters will also help individuals keep track of their applications, contact the organizations for their progress towards housing, and assist in getting documents required for some applications. The people who we are focusing on need structure, but do not receive any. Quarters is filling a gap left by the system and current case management, helping individuals who are in need and receive little help from the state as the system is now.

Our Business Structure

Current cost of an individual on the street is nebulous. Figures range from just above $14,000 to upwards of $30,000. One cost estimate stays the same: $10,000 to house, and give case management to, the chronically homeless of the country.
Quarter would help to reduce the cost of individuals to the state, regardless of case management. They would find housing faster, reducing their costs to emergency organizations and charities for homeless individuals. We hope to expand Quarter to include free legal, job, and financial organizations these people need as well. These additions will also help stabilize our target population’s lives beyond housing, keeping them housed, off of the street, and living for themselves.

To cover costs, we would use local, state, and federal funds appropriated for use in non-profits helping individuals experiencing homelessness. There are many funds available for people in this space, as well as a consistent public spotlight on the problem. Any lack of funding would need to be made up from donors. Whether corporate or private, donations will help cover overhead. Monetizing Quarters seems predatory; as our population is already marginalized. Funding for our endeavors would need to be appropriated from public monies or private funding. Our in-progress business plan can be found here.

The Best of Outcomes > The Best of Intentions

Designers have great power to shape the future of humanity, and with that, as Stan Lee would say, comes great responsibility. Therefore, at AC4D, we focus on using design to make a positive social impact. But how do we know if the change we wish to inspire will have the desired effect? Or worse, how do we know it won’t bring negative consequences?

The truth is, even with the best of intentions, we can’t know how our design will affect society until it’s released in reality. At that point, intentions become irrelevant, and outcomes are the only significant measure.

The Best of Intentions: One-Size Fits All

As Michael Hobbes writes in his article “Stop Trying to Save the World,” many well-meaning aid efforts have followed the trend of “exciting new idea, huge impact in one location, influx of donor dollars, quick expansion, failure.”

As a case in point, consider the clean drinking water project, Playpumps. It was an inspired idea — a water system that used the energy created by children playing to operate a water pump. People need water, children need to play, it seemed like a perfect combination. Although initially lauded for its innovation, it was quickly criticized for being too expensive, less effective than traditional hand-pumps, and reliant on child labor.

playpumps

According to Hobbes, “Many of the villages hadn’t even been asked if they wanted a PlayPump, they just got one, sometimes replacing the handpumps they already had. In one community, adults were paying children to operate the pump.”

Nevertheless, this idea should not be discounted altogether — in some villages, under the right circumstances, they were helpful, and are still installed as a “niche solution” on playgrounds and at schools in poor rural areas.

The real issue was not that Playpumps was a poor idea, but that it was poorly executed.There was little collaboration or research with the people the organization sought to serve, and the implementation was “one-size-fits-all” — based on the fact that since it was an effective solution for some, it could be applied to everyone.

The Worst(?) of Intentions: Corporate Social Responsibility & Cause Marketing

Corporate Social Responsibility
Advocacy is now rivaling sex as Corporate America’s main selling strategy. For example, in response to the Drumpf administration’s travel ban, Airbnb offered free housing to anyone denied entry and Starbucks pledged to hire 10,000 refugees. Seeing this primarily as a marketing tactic, Alex Holder writes that “it’s difficult to separate the fact that while these brands are showcasing pedigree social responsibility, ultimately they’re helping refugees because it sells milky lattes and cheap holiday accommodation.”

In another related example, Lyft donated $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union after Uber continued to pick up passengers from the JFK Airport amidst a taxi driver strike against the travel ban. Soon after, Lyft bested Uber in the App store for the first time.

While there may be ulterior motives to these corporate actions, the question is… does it matter? Free housing, jobs, million dollar donations… indeed, there is a clear benefit to the companies in terms of public favor and increased revenue, but would we rather do without these grand gestures?

Perhaps it would be stronger ethically for companies to contribute socially, but to do so quietly. But, if not for Lyft’s public donation, Uber may not have pledged to provide legal support and establish a $3 million legal defense fund for threatened drivers.

Cause Marketing
Product(RED) is an organization that recruits companies like the Gap and Apple to participate in cause marketing, donating a portion of product sales to the fight against AIDS. While Product(RED)’s intentions seem pure, some believe that corporate partners only use the charitable association to sell more goods.

beats

Apple donates a portion of its red Beats headphone proceeds to Product(RED).

Buylesscrap.com is particularly critical of Product(RED). It rallies people to reject the “ti(red) notion that shopping is a reasonable response to human suffering” and to donate directly to the Global Fund, without consuming.

Yes, we all need to buylesscrap.com. Yes, we’re destroying the environment. Yes, we’re screwed and the rich are moving to Mars… and, if Product(Red) can capitalize on a deeply ingrained behavior, and raise $465 million to help prevent HIV… can we really fault them for it? I’ll make buylesscrap.com a deal — if they can eradicate consumer culture, I will switch my position and insist that Bono find another way to save the world.

While it’s clear companies have something to gain from their social impact initiatives, their investments and corresponding promotions unquestionably benefit society.

The Worst of Internet: the Rise of Fake News

According to author Mark Manson, the early creators of the internet had good intentions.

“They worked for decades toward a vision of seamlessly networking the world’s people and information. They saw greater empathy and understanding across nations, ethnicities, and lifestyles. They dreamed of a unified and connected global movement with a single shared interest for peace and prosperity.”

Oops. Especially with the rise of fake news, and Facebook’s almost impenetrable echo chambers, we seemed to have missed the mark. 

161030122157-fake-news-stelter-00003403-540x304

But then I realize that the internet is a reflection of our society — “echo chambers” have always existed. We love to surround ourselves with like people, it makes us feel safe, secure, and validated. “Fake news” has always been there — the rewriting of history books, or (less severe), those “FW: FW: FW: Obama…” emails from your grandparents — the only difference is it can now travel exponentially faster through the veins of social media.

The good news is that now these very tribal tendencies of pushing out or dismissing the “other,” over perceived differences, are now out in the open. The public outcry against echo chambers and fake news is a call to get curious about the other, to learn about their hopes, their fears, their dreams, and perhaps find some common ground.

In a way, this is a signal for a new iteration of the internet. Designer Jon Kolko says that both the good and the bad are designers’ fault and their ongoing responsibility. I also argue that, as consumers, we have a responsibility to think critically about how we interact with a particular product or service. So, while the initial intentions of the internet did not become what 80s and 90s technologists dreamed it would be, designers and its consumers have a responsibility to create a new version, and keep moving towards the greater vision of peace and understanding.

Conclusion

Sometimes impure motivations can still bring great benefit, and other times, good intentions can bring about the worst of consequences. As designers, the best we can do is diligently research the problem we’re trying to solve, project all the possible implications of our proposed solution, and continue to iterate as the design interacts with the world.


Other Explorations

To explore the complexities of social impact, I created a simple board game that follows the development of a non-profit organization working to increase access to education among low-income individuals in Managua, Nicaragua.

The game requires, at minimum, two teams of two, wherein each team takes turns pulling out cards from the deck. Depending on the outcome of the card, the team would move closer or further away from the finish.

Profound Pursuit board

Research 1

Research 2

Execution 1 Execution 2 Funding 1 Funding 2  Sketch 1 Sketch 2 Sketch 3 & Echo Chamber