How I built a system to help users save money

This week, I had a whole new experience when the bank I have been building wireframes for chose to integrate a new core product as fast as possible. The new product has four key features: user financial trends, analysis of specific transactions to see if they are historically anomalous, a “what-if” financial modeling system, and an ability to figure out when it is safe to spend at any time. The last time I wrote, I said I was going to build out my screens, do usability testing with 8-10 people, and build out my flows. Though I did accomplish this, I am going to focus on how I developed the new product, how I tested it, what I learned, and present my new screens.

In this week’s post, I am going to discuss

  • my process,
  • revised information architecture concept model,
  • testing,
  • testing outcomes,
  • screens and
  • next steps.

My Process

Since the new product I have been tasked to incorporate in the mobile banking application is about financial analysis, I decided that its fundamental purpose is to help a customer save. Thus, at its core, the mission of the new product is to help users save money. After doing some background research, I found out that Americans are not saving a lot of money at all. To me, this means the product should help Americans move from living paycheck-to-paycheck to a state of financial stability which I will define as having saved three times the amount of money you spend each month.

So now, I have framed the challenge in a new way. I am not longer trying to fit four different products into my banking application. Instead, I am going to determine how can a banking application help a financially illiterate person gain the confidence to begin saving their money and get out of the situation where they are living from paycheck to paycheck.

This led me to ask questions like, “Why don’t people save money? What are barriers to financial planning? How can a mobile application support decisions that lead to long term saving?”. There are products out there that help a user budget. So why isn’t America jumping on board and living within their means, putting away a little bit every month, learning to invest and take on other habits that will lead to long term financial stability? Of course, there are many factors a banking application has no control over. It can’t change the very real circumstances that Americans live everyday. What can it control? How can it help users to change their behavior in simple ways?

Thus, I started to reframe the challenge again. I asked myself, “How can the banking application create a situation in which the user feels like saving’s support is invited? What circumstances would a user be in, in which a he or she would more likely value a little nudge that would lead to better financial health?” This was a fruitful line of questioning because I recognized that though a user may intellectually recognize that saving money is better, he or she may not emotionally be able to grasp it. There are many barriers to behavior change and there’s no way a banking application can help a user to become better at saving if it does not take those into account.

To help me systematically think this challenge through, I built a service blueprint using sticking notes. Along the vertical axis in purple sticky notes, I wrote the headings: triggers (data), system triggers, triggers (user), system’s response, customer service response, and next steps. By triggers (data), I am referring to all the data a banking application can track including frequency of a kind of purchase, location of purchases, the collective spending habits of users in a similar location and income bracket, and individual user spending habits. By system’s response, I mean what is the frequency, quantity or time that will lead to a moment in time a user may want help. By triggers (user), I mean what will the user be doing in the real world as well as in the banking application when the system is stepping in. By system’s response, I mean what will the system say to invite the user into the interaction. The rest of the terms are about how the user will go about accomplishing the new goal instantiated by the system’s response.

For example:

Triggers (data) – system is tracking how much the user is typically earning each month (biweekly paycheck) as well as when bills are usually paid

System triggers – a user does not get a new paycheck for 1 month

Trigger (user) – user logs in to the banking application

System’s response – a modal pops up and makes a friendly comment in which it says it has noticed that something isn’t okay and ask if the user would like some help figuring out how to make sure they have enough savings to pay a bill coming up in two weeks. Sign up for our new service.

User response – sign up later or sign up now.

serviceblueprint
A visual representation of how I thought systematically thought about Safe to spend

In the end, I built out the product with a few use cases in mind. I specifically focused on a person who is living paycheck-to-paycheck. I wrote a few stories to figure out what the user may be doing and what his or her goal may be. I used this to help me revise my information architecture map. Then, I sketched my wireframes and built them. Finally, I ventured out into the field to do my usability testing.

Revised information architecture map

In order to revise my information architecture map, I first tried to incorporate feedback I’ve gotten that the original map was unsightly and seemingly disorganized. Though I’ve used the map for my own sensemaking, it also needs to be something I could hand off to a developer so that way they can understand the lay of the land, so to speak. After I revised its appearance for clarity, I added in the new feature I developed called Safe to Spend.

Revised information architecture map
Revised information architecture map

Testing

I attempted two forms of usability testing this week. First, I tried usability testing as I have always done. This was super pertinent since I am just at the beginning stages of building up my idea. It is important to get other people’s perspectives – to see if they can make sense of the flows. Getting to hear someone think aloud as they attempted to figure out the new feature, I learned about what I did not consider, about how I displayed information, and the copy I wrote. Getting a handful of people to test my screens, I get to learn about where I need to make design considerations in a rapid and cheap way. I was able to get really actionable feedback.

A user tests Safe to spend with a paper prototype
A user tests Safe to spend with a paper prototype

 

I learned a lot of important ways to revise. I chose the top three. They are visualized below in the next section.

The second way I tested my application was through cognitive walkthrough. This involves trying to use the application from the perspective of a first time user to try and understand if he or she can achieve their goal. I tried to figure out if the user wants to save money, would they understand how to move their way through Safe to spend. You can see how I visualized this process below. Using this method, I was able to reflect on cases that I had not previously considered including user states of mind and cash flow.

Cognitive walkthrough visualization
Cognitive walkthrough visualization

Testing outcomes

Below, I have visualized the top three errors I revised in my screens.

Test documentation 5-01 Test documentation 5-02

Test documentation 5-03

Safe to spend screens

Below are the Safe to spend screens. I labelled each flow with the task that it accomplishes plus indicating which of the requested features it addresses.

A flow for how a user turns on Safe to spend
A flow for how a user turns on Safe to spend
What if I want to cut down on spending - flow
What if I want to cut down on spending – flow

 

What if I delete subscriptions? - flow
What if I delete subscriptions? – flow
What if I spend less frequently - flow
What if I spend less frequently – flow
Get a snapshot of my trends- flow
Get a snapshot of my trends- flow
Intercept messages that tell me when I've spent more than usual, can save or how many more times I can do something during the week.
Intercept messages that tell me when I’ve spent more than usual, can save or how many more times I can do something during the week.
What happens when the system doesn't recognize your transaction
What happens when the system doesn’t recognize your transaction

Next steps

For my next steps, I want to develop my banking mobile app into it is fully complete, revise my information architecture map so that it is both clear and consistent, as well as build out the safe to spend feature. My hope is to create a full product that I can use in my portfolio.

Iterating to awesome: How to do Usability Testing

In this week’s blogpost, I am going to describe my process for iterating on my Navigation and Information Architecture Map and the wireframes for the TD Mobile Banking App. This builds on two previous blog posts; the first was on my process for creating the original concept map and the second was for my process on developing the wireframes.

In this post, I am going to discuss and present:

  • Usability testing
  • Revising the Navigation and Information Architecture Map
  • Revised wireframes
  • Next steps

Usability Testing

Last week, I developed my wireframes using a process that hinged on imagining a flow through the application that would help well-defined characters achieve a goal. This week, I set out to see if real people could achieve those goals. To do this, I first created a digital prototype using Sketch and a plugin called Craft that links my wireframes to Envision. Then, I went out into the field to find at least five willing participants, primarily in local cafes. Last, I looked back at the data I had accumulated and found the top three design issues that I wanted to revise.

I knew that in order to get feedback on the usability of my application, I would need to present participants with a low fidelity prototype. One recommendation I received was to use a paper prototype. However, I decided to try and learn how to create a digital prototype since I know that people in industry do this. The process was arduous. It made me think more about each step of a user’s flow. Questions like, “What will happen if a user does not fill in a field properly?” or “What sequence of screen would a user most naturally flow?” came up.  I also had to learn the idiosyncrasies and limitations of Craft and Envision. I thought that the time spent on this part of the prototype development was worthwhile because I thought that organizing a paper prototype would be overly onerous, especially when working with participants in real time.

Once the digital prototype was developed, I set out into the field to find willing participants. I had six predetermined tasks: checking a balance, transferring funds to an external account, paying a friend, setting up a new alert, paying a bill, and depositing a check. I wrote each of these tasks down on a separate sheet of paper so I could hand them off during the testing session.

I also prepared myself to follow the Think Aloud Protocol. The steps in the protocol involve first, telling the participant what they are about to do and that once testing begins, all I can say is, “Please keep talking.” I tell the participants that I want to hear what they are thinking as they attempt the tasks written on the sheet of paper. The Think Aloud Protocol is based on a theory that people can explain how they solve problems and that though it will slow down task completion, won’t have an impact on potential task completion. As participants will work through the task, I will take notes and record what they say so I have a reference for later synthesis. I also had my participants fill out a SUS score which is their rating of the application flows. My hope is that as I iterate on the wireframes, the score will go up.

A participant tests the digital prototype on his mobile phone
A participant tests the digital prototype on his mobile phone

A key takeaway from usability testing with a digital product was that a lot of the feedback I got was actually about the limitations of Envision. People got stuck on different screens because Envision is limited in how systematically accurate a user can interact with the product. I also found greater success when users could test the product in its appropriate environment, a mobile phone, and not a desktop computer. I also found that digital prototypes are limiting because they constrain how a user can walk through the application since the sequence is pre-determined. When doing this again, I could of course make a screen and flow for every single way a user can walk through the application, but I think that user a paper prototype may allow for more user control and thus, I can get even better data.

Some key takeaways from my first round of usability testing using the Think Aloud Protocol was that when I write the tasks, I should give users more information about what they may need to enter into each field. I also found that having a setting where I could clearly hear the participant is super important. I sometimes struggled to write good notes because of this. It was also challenging not to step in and help sometimes because Envision made it hard to tap on a field and move to the next screen. I would sometimes end up helping a user because it was just too frustrating for something that didn’t help me get any useful information. Also, after getting feedback from 5 people, I had confirmation that getting many more participants to try the application would not add to the accuracy of what I would learn. I saw patterns emerge already and can imagine that anymore than 10, I would not learn much more.

Of course, I was also able to garner some key issues that I would want to fix in my prototype. They are documented below.

Test documentation-01 Test documentation-02 Test documentation-03Revised “Navigation and Information Architecture” Concept Map

There were two key revisions I made to my concept map. First, I wanted the concept map to reflect the complexity of the application system. My first map was too simple. A future software engineer would have a lot of potential to make up user flows because so many details were missing. So, this necessitated a complete overhaul of my concept map. Second, the concept map would have to reflect the revisions I made to my wireframes.

In order to do a complete overhaul of the map, I started fresh. I went through three paper sketches, getting feedback from classmates on clarity and hierarchy. I made sure that I had different shapes to reflect different kinds of screens and operations. Squares represent places a user goes to. Ovals represent the functions you find in each of the “places”. Circles represent the flows a user takes to accomplish the function. Working through this process made me have a much clearer idea of all of the screens I currently have as well as the screens I still need to develop for a complete application. The feedback I got from my classmates helped me to make a better visual hierarchy. At first I made the ovals a much thicker line weight but this confused my classmates because it made them more important than they should be.

In order to reflect revisions that I made to my screens, my concept map includes a shortcut to get to the main functions a user may want to apply to an account. Also, redoing the concept map made me realize that my I never included a way to logout of the application in the original wireframe set. It also helped me to see what screens I would add a home link to for a user to get to restart faster.

Revised Concept Map
Revised Concept Map

Revised Wireframes

Below are the revised wireframes. First, I highlight the key screens that I revised based on the top 3 problems I chose to revise. Second, I present all of the screens. In addition to the revisions I listed above, I also revised a several other elements. I did these revisions based on what I learned from the critique session in class.

The other revisions were:

  • Graying out a button if it should not afford clicking if all required fields are incomplete
  • Changing the titles of buttons to more accurately reflect what they do (ie changing “Deposit” to “Another Deposit” on the success screen for deposits) or to be more natural (ie changing “Return Home” to “Home”).
  • Adding a logout option on the main menu
    Revised Account home screen
    Revised Account home screen

    Revised View bill - added a home screen icon
    Revised View bill – added a home screen icon
Revised flow for adding a new alert
Revised flow for adding a new alert
Revised login flow
Revised login flow
Revised deposit flow
Revised deposit flow
Revised bill pay flow
Revised bill pay flow
Revised view bill flow
Revised view bill flow
Revised check balance flow
Revised check balance flow
Revised alerts flow
Revised alerts flow
Revised quick pay flow
Revised quick pay flow
Revised transfer flow
Revised transfer flow

Next steps

Next week, I plan to build out my application according to the concept map. I will also do usability testing. But this time, I want to focus on particular flows and to get feedback on buttons and font.

 

Reimagining the TD Mobile Banking Application: from sense making to a future state

In this week’s assignment for Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving, I practiced systematic knowledge creation in order to develop a vision for the future state of a mobile banking application. The process to come to this vision was driven by my own sense making and belief that when a digital product is developed with higher order systems thinking, the product will be more effective, designed with a user’s experience in mind.

The first step I took was to build my own background knowledge on banking. I listed all the banking concepts I could imagine, systematically found relationships between the terms, and built a backbone for the fundamental purposes banks serve. From this foundation, I was able to create a hierarchy of bank knowledge that would fuel my future vision of what a mobile banking application could be. Ultimately, this process led to the banking relationship concept map linked below. Constructing my own mental model for the purposes of banks, what functions and sub functions they perform, and how they fit into the larger financial ecosystem provided me with a framework to make decisions later in this process.Bank Relationship Map

The second step I took was to create an information architecture map of the current TD mobile banking application. This involved physically recreating the entire user flow of the app. I navigated throughout the whole application to create a schematic of the application. I learned how a user would interact with each feature, making notes of breakdowns, and possible opportunities for optimization. I was also able to learn TD banks current hierarchy – what “features” are most important, where are different applications linked more than once, and what functions a user would have to hunt for. This led to the information architecture map linked below.

InformationArchitecture-01

After taking a step back to reflect on how I conceptualized banking and how the TD bank currently designed their banking app, I was able to make new connections. In the above map, you will see that TD bank does not have a clear hierarchy guiding their user interactions. Different applications can be navigated to in multiple ways but it is unclear why this is important. There are also different functions that appear to be higher order and yet, are confusing and don’t appear to serve the user.  I first sorted the features into categories that made more sense, specifically, account management, services, support and profile. These categories matched what I believe to be the purposes banks serve and also matched TD bank’s current application functions. From this, I could easily sort all of the functions into these categories. Thus, you will see a future state of the mobile banking application that has clearer hierarchy. I also made a few decisions including making support easier to access, as well as making security a higher priority from the user’s perspective.

InformationArchitecture-02

Creativity and Design Thinking in the Age of Robots

In the past weeks, we’ve been learning more about the role of creativity and design thinking in our world, and the ways to increase the amount of creativeness and designers around us. The more design thinking is happening around us, the easier it is to attach wicked problems.

Please see the video made for this assignmend here.

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This story happened in 2097 in LaCountry. Group of scientist invented robots, who were able to do everything or almost everything. There was no need to work for anybody else and the government of LaCountry paid equal amount of money to all its citizens. The President of LaCountry by the way decided to keep his position and not give it away to the robots.

IMG_0024

Citizens of LaCountry were very happy for several years. They enjoyed clean streets, delicious dinners and new houses. There was no homelessness anymore.

The life was perfect… Until they forgot what they live for. Without jobs, without any work to do people lost sense of their lives. The amount of suicides went up so drastically.

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The President of LaCountry gathered the best scientist who worked on robotization and asked them to find a solution to saving people from losing their minds in the new reality. Scientist were coming up with more and more logical ideas, but nothing really worked. The country was dying.

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One day, Mr. President was sitting in a park thinking about what he did wrong and how to save the country. He saw someone familiar walking around – it was Edward de Bono, the psychologist who worked with him a while ago but moved out of LaCountry before the robots took all the jobs.

They were so happy to meet each other. Edward told that his is just visiting his old friends in the country. Edward immediately noticed sadness in Mr. President’s eyes and asked if he wants to talk about it.

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Mr. President told about all problems the country has got because of robots and that scientists with their novelty ideas make everything only worse. Edward said:

Oh, Mr. President. If everything was so easy. Novelty is not enough, idea must make sense and work. Your people try to be more logical, but really they should be more creative. Sometimes people can come up with great, creative ideas from ignorance, but not often – so don’t hope on it. You need truly creative people. And creativity is unnatural. Creativity is a skill that can be learned, not the result of serendipity or logic. But cutting across patterns is not natural behavior. However, since creative ideas always seem logical in hindsight, people tend to think that you could come up with them just by being ever more logical. To come up with creative ideas, you should not use logical thinking, but lateral thinking (Cutting across patterns is what I have called lateral thinking); you should provoke your mind out of its existing pattern by forcing yourself to come up with weird alternatives to the status quo. Then you should take those weird alternatives seriously and play out their implications. This allows you to approach problems in an innovative way. Really, Mr. President, with all due respect to your team, logical scientists and engineers won’t make it work; you need to hire designers to work on this type of problems.

Mr. President wasn’t sure what to make of it.

But what type of problems is it? What is so special about it?

Edward said:

I have a friend who can tell you better than I do. Let’s facetime him. His name is Horst Rittel.

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Edward called his friend who lived in another country (and whose job wasn’t taken by robots). He described him the situation and how Mr. President is trying to deal with it by giving all the power to hands of scientists.

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You are definitely having a wicked problem there. Edward is right: Making solutions to social problems cannot just be left to a faceless group of professionals because social problems are not like Math or Science: there is no universally agreed upon formulation of any one social problem, and even if there were, there would be no set of steps that could be used in every case to solve that problem. Every social problem is unique. Neither, however, should we abandon the social arena to chaos.

You should let people in your country to participate in finding the decision of this problem. Co-design with the people affected by this wicked problem. But what does “wicked” even mean? Wicked problems cannot ever be totally solved because they are too complicated and they are caused by humans, who keep changing. Furthermore, wicked problems never have just one right solution; there are always many solutions, and they can only be judged as good or bad. Judging a solution, though, is sticky in and of itself because there is no value-free way of assessing whether a solution is good, and solutions have such far-reaching consequences that it would be practically impossible to figure out their value in the short run. Also, wicked problems are all mixed up together.

But let me aware you: don’t hope to find a solution which will work forever and for the whole country. Social problems can’t be solved – only resolved over and over again. Humans change, and they are complicated. So there can’t be a simple solution. Wicked problems are never done. You will resolve one and immediately get another one. There is no objective measure of whether solutions to wicked problems are right – only good or bad. No way to know if you have identified all possible solutions to a wicked problem. Every wicked problem is unique – no matter how similar a problem looks, can’t be certain ahead of time that the same solution will work again.

President:

Oh, it all sounds very depressing, but I think this is my only hope! But where I can find designers to work on it if nobody is willing to work?

Edward:

Designers are always working, even when they don’t have to. I’ll help you to gather the team of the best professionals.

They met each other again in a week in the White House. There were The President, Edward de Buno, Horst Rittel, Nigel Cross, Chris Pacione and Tim Brown.

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Nigel Cross gave his advice first:

Mr. President, let me tell you what you should expect from us, because we are going to work very differently from your team of scientists. An engineer wants to test and measure, this is not something we are looking for in our process right now. We need to be creative because “the solution” is not always a straightforward answer to “the problem”. We need to use sketches, drawings, and models of all kinds as a way to exploring problems and solution together, and making some progress when faced with complexity of design. Yes, that’s right, I urge us to go and work with people outside of White House on resolving this wicked problem.

Design ability is inherent in everyone, we need to dig it up and show the people their natural power! Design ability is a multifaceted cognitive skill, possessed in some degree by everyone. If we help people to get it back – they will be happy again!

Mr. President responded:

And so, what is your job is going to be? Are you going to make people’s ideas look beautiful? Tell me more about it.

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Mr. Brown and Mrs. Wyatt helped Nigel respond to that:

Design in fact extends beyond making things pretty, it comes into a series of techniques we call design thinking. Design thinking is a way to work at the strategic level that involves techniques such as ethnographic research, ideation, rapid prototyping. Designers also have the ability to be intuitive, recognize patterns, express themselves in graphic media, and persuade others using storytelling. Everyone has these capacities to some extent.

I believe that we should teach people to do it first to work efficiently together.

Our approach is based on some foundational things:

Design thinking process is inspiration, ideation, implementation.

For inspiration, don’t just listen to what people have to say – look at their behavior to see opportunity areas. In ideation, come up with as many ideas as you can; great ideas will rise to the top. Then implement, prototype, use storytelling to communicate solution to all stakeholders.

And so, collaboratively the designers has created a research plan, and went into the world to talk and co-design with the people.

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Shortly after, they stopped trying: they were in complete shock. The vast majority people around them has completely lost their creativity! That skills has gone away because there was nowhere to apply it.

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More than anybody was touched Chris Pacione.

Folks, design is a new human literacy. Today we must all be designers. Design is too important to be left to designers. Design will have its greatest impact when it is no longer perceived to be in the hands of people who are professional designers and it is put back into the hands of everyone.  Design should be one of the basic skills we teach to everyone, like writing or math, because the Information Age, with all its complexity, automation, etc., demands that. So much more of our lives than ever before is designed, so it’s important for everyone to have some familiarity with inquiry, ideation, sketching, and prototyping so that they can engage in strategic thinking and evaluate the designed elements around themselves. So, people will be able to solve their own problems and call us when they meet really big challenge. Professional designers, then, would be left to tackle the truly difficult design problems, engaged in strategic thinking.

But how we can do that? How we can bring creativity into people’s heads? Mr. Cross and Mr. de Bono will agree with me that creativity is not a magical process but a learned skill that can lead to innovation and real problem solving.

Edward de Bono had a real suggestion to helping people become more creative.

Let’s integrate the 6 hat system – a mental tool that I have created to allows people shift their perspective whenever needed. There 6 metaphorical hats, and when you “put” them on, each of them encourages the person to use a different type of thinking. Here are all 6 types: data gathering mode; intuition & emotion; logical negative, judgements and caution; logical positive and benefits; provocation, alternatives and creativity; and, finally, overview and process control. I’ve helped people in large corporations get used to wear a specific hat at a time, and change hats when a change of perspective is needed, and noticed a significant rise in productivity, idea generation, and overall creativity.

So, let’s choose a town or a village and teach this technique to the people in that place, and see whether it changes anything.

They went on and over 12 months applied the concept to every citizen in LaVillage, a small village that had an increasingly high rate of suicides, and an extremely low rate of creativity.

And it was a great success! Suicide rate went down; people found the meaning to their lives, even when they didn’t have to work and robots were doing everything for them; they were applying their creativity and design thinking to improving their life in a variety different and unexpected ways that were not destructive, overall making LaVillage one of the best places to live in LaCountry.

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Richard Buchanan has moved into LaCountry from overseas and saw the progress made so far. He had a suggestion that took it to the next level.

I think that design should be considered the new liberal art to suit the modern age, there’s no denying. I believe that everyone should be educated the basic skill set of design when they’re very young, and all the way to the higher education. The improvement in human’s thinking process will make the lives of everyone around better and better.

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And together, they made it work. Now every child has their own 6 hats and practice design thinking every day, bringing the value into people’s lives, and making everyone more happy.

Jaime by Design: The boy who failed design

For this quarter’s last assignment, the class was tasked to analyze and synthesize articles on how designers think.

Design practitioners such as Chris Pacione, Nigel Cross and Edward de Bono, analyze what is known about the particular skillset of a designer. These have to do with the ability to recognize ill-defined problems and how they go about understanding and testing an idea quickly without much structure to start from.

Jocelyn Wyatt, introduces the concept of “mindshift”, which targets mostly organizations that have always done the same things the same way, or different things the same way, and how design is a practice that could help a organizations, be it big or small, to start designing the right things for the right people.

For this assignment, I found the concept of “design as a new way of literacy” which many of these authors suggest throughout the readings, particularly interesting. The idea of design being taught as a part of a traditional school curriculum in order to instill design abilities to all humans alike resonated with me personally. Envisioning a world of humans that only had to interact with systems and things that were designed solely with them in mind is beyond of what I or maybe anyone can even imagine. This is why I created the following video that narrates the story of a boy who was bad at Design in school and the reason he why he decided to overcome this: Jaime by Design

I found this assignment to be particularly entertaining since I studied Industrial Design. So I guess that makes me one of those people that “think in a particular way”? and that has skills that other people would like to have and potentially should have for the long run? One thing that I do have to say is that, even though I am more comfortable than many working with uncertainty, and find the process of putting things to paper before saying them out loud the most helpful practice ever, design methodologies are something that you will never stop learning from. Because, just opposite to how math has ways to find a definitive answer to a problem, design needs a myriad of tools to help designers or creatives, or inventors, to help them try to solve the unpredictability of systems created by humans for humans, otherwise known as Wicked Problems.

Why Design Thinking Ability is more than an Auxiliary Skill

The above video is a story simulating the beneficial outcomes of design thinking being taught in school. But the implications of increasing design literacy carries far more weight than just solving problems at an amusement park.

What if design thinking was a subject available to everyone? It would be taught in schools and treated as a discipline in it’s own right with it’s own set of skills – those of prototyping, creative thinking, ideation, inquiry, evaluation, and sketching. Everyone has the ability to learn these skills and the world would be better off with a more design literate population.

The ability to use design thinking to solve contemporary problems is incredibly important, because the types of problems design thinking works best for are the same ones the world suffers from the most. Disparity in education, poverty, and healthcare are examples of the complex, systemic problems we face and they are riddled with interwoven root causes.

The designer is perfectly positioned to solve for these types of problems, for she has been trained in the ability to think laterally and cut across patterns to develop solutions.

Each one of these systemic, or wicked, problems encompasses a unique situation, and must be approached artistically. The designer layers her knowledge of multiple subjects across the situation, blends in her intuition, and begins to define the problem as she solutions.

Let us not forget, these problems are human centric and necessitate input from the recipients living within the problem space. These large societal problems have no correct solution, but in order for a designer to devise a good solution, she must rely upon the experiences and knowledge of the situation’s human experts.

Additionally, the fact that these problems are human centric means that all proposed solutions will constantly need to be adapted to account for unexpectedness or change in human behavior. Solutions will require iteration and continual re-solving, so the designer will never run out of problems to solve for.

If we were to devise a world in which design ability was taught as a primary liberal art, then the master designer could more easily be assisted by the insights and experiences of a design literate populous. This would create stronger, more powerful solutions to the wicked problems that beset us all.

A Neighborhood in Los Tangeles

In the past several days, we’ve been learning about one of the most challenging topics: poverty. There’s no easy and fast solution to it, and every country, every city in the world tries to find their own way of dealing with it. It’s a part of our society, it needs definition, and it needs to be addressed. Another topic in the readings – social entrepreneurship – comes in handy when discussing the topic of poverty and homelessness.

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Ten years ago a group of scientists were coming back from a big conference about Social Entrepreneurship and Poverty in the city of Los Tangeles. Very famous people happened to be in the same bus: C. K. Prahalad, Christopher A. Le Dantec, W. Keith Edwards, Dean Spears, Roger L. Martin and Muhammad Yunus.

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They were on their way to the airport to fly home when their bus got broken. It stalled and wouldn’t start. The battery seems to be dead!

Scientists tried to use their phones to ask for help, but there was no connection.

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“How is it possible? We are within the city limits – and no connection?” – they asked the only local person there – the driver.

He answered: “Oh, yes, this is the poorest part of the town. 2 years ago the only wireless network operator left this area – because nobody could afford to pay phone bills, and this is not the area other people can happened to be on purpose. Nobody comes here, because everybody is scared of poor and homeless. But we need to find a way to fix our bus, so we have to ask for their help.”

Scientists looked around them. It was clear that the area is very poor and nearly abandoned.

Christopher A. Le Dantec, W. Keith Edwards didn’t want to go and talk with the people directly, they offered to try to find some kind of social organization to talk through them, but nobody listened to them, everybody wanted to just catch their flights and get home.

They were walking around for 15 minutes trying to find people to ask for help, and finally came to the local market with lots of people. Right, it’s Sunday – the market day. Everybody was looking at them, because they looked very different from locals.

It was clear that people here are actually hard workers, but are still were very poor. In the group, there was the scientist who did research on this interesting phenomenon. His name was Dean Spears. He shared his insights with everybody:

Can you imagine how many hard decisions people have to do here, shopping on this market? They don’t have much money, but they need to feed their families.

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Poverty appears to have made economic decision-making more consuming of cognitive control for poorer people than for richer people. Poverty causes difficult decisions, which deplete behavioral control.

Poverty is depleting because it changes the consequences of decision-making. The theory of ego depletion proposes that willpower is limited, and is consumed by resisting temptation or inhibiting behavior.

Economic decision-making had negative effects on performance or behavior when participants were poorer. This may be because for poorer participants, decisions required more difficult trade-offs, and were more depleting of cognitive resources.

If, as the lab experiment suggests, even routine food decisions are costly and difficult for the very poor, then their depleting effect is more inescapable.

“Bad” decision-making by poor people may undermine support for anti-poverty programs and policies for two reasons: deservingness and effectiveness. Understanding how poverty influences decision-making and behavior is important for both of these reasons.

Many offers of tempting purchases that are easily affordable for richer people require a poorer person to use willpower and save their money instead. If willpower is limited, and if a poorer person can afford less indulgence, then poverty will deplete self-control when the poor face expensive temptation.

Even a poorer person with the same amount of willpower as a richer person must resist temptation more often.

it is cognitive control — which is the process producing both inhibitory willpower and attention — that is the key limiting constraint.

Everybody agreed that this theory sounded right.

Right in the moment Mr. Spears finished his story they had reached the table where the owner of the Market sat. Scientists introduced themselves and asked for help. The owner made a sign to everybody. The whole market stopped doing what they were doing and agreed to help.

They came back to the bus and pushed it, and so the driver was able to start the bus and get everybody in.

Scientists thanked the local people and jumped into the bus. All the way back home they thought about this accident, and they were very grateful to the people from this very poor neighborhood. Soon after getting back home, they jumped on an online call to discuss how they could help those people get out of poverty.

Christopher A. Le Dantec started:

Thanks everybody for sharing the desire to help those people with us. I am sure that it all needs to start with research. We have already done the research of the role of technologies in homeless people’s lives, and it’s huge and more important than one could imagine! Poor and homeless often struggle with technology, but they really need it.

Let me tell you a bit about our research. We were performing research on homeless population, but it still can be very insightful even if we don’t talk about homelessness exclusively.

We discovered a social phenomenon of information poverty — a dearth of access to useful information resources. But at the same time there is another problem – overwhelming by information.

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One of the main goals of using technology is staying connected to family members and friends. And mobile phone is the best way to do it. The cell phone is also a valuable identity management tool for the social value it provided. They talked about the desire to not appear homeless, about access to information, social networks. Can you imagine their lives without mobile connection?

We believe that thoughtful technological interventions can be deployed as a part of the larger effort to reduce homelessness and help the most at-risk members of our society.

However, every area, every community is very unique, and we can’t just extrapolate our knowledge. Let’s go there and see whether they’re having these struggles!

Keith Edwards continued the conversation:

We believe that co-design is the method we should use in this case as well. We also believe that we should bring interactive experience and technologies to a wider public for participation, expanding the boundaries of inclusion, and answering the siren song of technology as instigator and mediator of social and political revolution. Democratizing technology however, goes beyond simply increasing the role of technology users and involves bringing different social groups into discourse about technology, its place in society, and its potential for enabling actions, facilitating connection, and providing access to information. We believe that they need technology – but we need to think carefully how to create something they can easily integrate in their lives. To do that we need to design “with” them not “for” them.

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We should create for small homeless or poor communities and not for all the homeless in the world. Homeless DO understand mobile phones as a technology!

For example, one we have created a product for a homeless shelter – CRM (Community Resource Messenger) for better communication between 2 groups of people – homeless and care providers – and it was a great success.

Everybody supported the idea. Christopher A. Le Dantec, W. Keith Edwards and a group of other scientists came back to that same neighborhood in the city of Los Tangeles. They spent 2 months ideating and co-creating with the people of the neighborhood, and came back with the insights that they were able to confirm:

Yes, that’s true, they haven’t had cellular connection for more than 2 years! However, almost everybody has a phone there, even if it’s very old, but you can’t really do anything with it. They are familiar with the technology! It’s the wireless network operator who left; they were very traditional and couldn’t figure out a way to make a profit in this area.

  • Sure! – said Mr. Prahalad, he was very excited. He continued:

Guys, I know you all are very charity-oriented here and my idea will not be popular, but I have to say: stop regarding the poor people as victims and start eyeing them as consumers. For decades, corporate executives at the world’s largest companies have thought of poor people as powerless and desperately in need of handouts. But turning the poor into customers and consumers is a far more effective way of reducing poverty.

There are 2000 people in that area, it’s incredibly hard for them to interact with the global economy without their phones being able to connect them with others.

Perhaps the greatest misperception of all is that selling to the poor is not profitable or, worse yet, exploitative. Selling to the world’s poorest people can be very lucrative and a key source of Growth for global companies,even while this interaction benefits and empowers poor consumers.

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We need a way to sell them mobile connection for an affordable price for them! It requires some work, but I’m sure there is a way to make it still profitable. B-Mobile will cry!

Mr. Muhammad Yunus, the most experienced person in social entrepreneurship had something to say here:

I do have another plan. I believe this is an amazing area for social entrepreneurship, not for typical entrepreneurship. Research has shown that, if managed strategically, CSR (corporate social responsibility) projects can indeed pay off, both socially and financially. And I think we can make it work in this case.

Think about the social business concept: a self-sustaining company that sells goods or services and repays its owners’ investments, but whose primary purpose is to serve society and improve the lot of the poor. In organizational structure, this new form of business is basically the same as profit-maximizing businesses: it is not a charity, but a business in every sense.

There are some similarities with conventional business model innovation:

  1. Challenging conventional wisdom and basic assumptions
  2. Finding complementary partners
  3. Undertaking a continuous experimentation process.

And some specificities of social business models:

  1. Favoring social profit-oriented shareholders
  2. Clearly specifying the social profit objective

I would not be so enthusiastic about possibility to hope on typical entrepreneurship in this strategical question. With our rich experience of social entrepreneurship we can do it by ourselves.

We should ask the opinion of our theoretical expert in entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship and social activism, Mr. Roger L. Martin.

Mr. Roger L. Martin has shared his thoughts:

I agree with Mr. Muhammad Yunus, I think we should find a way for it to be social entrepreneurship. From 3 options we have: entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship or social activism – this is the best one in this particular case. Where entrepreneurs have money and extra-profits as a goal, social entrepreneurs are driven by altruism, while still keeping it profitable.

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We define social entrepreneurship as having the following three components: (1) identifying a stable but inherently unjust equilibrium that causes the exclusion, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity that lacks the financial means or political clout to achieve any transformative benefit on its own; (2) identifying an opportunity in this unjust equilibrium, developing a social value proposition, and bringing to bear inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage, and fortitude, thereby challenging the stable state’s hegemony; and (3) forging a new, stable equilibrium that releases trapped potential or alleviates the suffering of the targeted group, and through imitation and the creation of a stable ecosystem around the new equilibrium ensuring a better future for the targeted group and even society at large.

The social entrepreneur should be understood as someone who targets an unfortunate but stable equilibrium that causes the neglect, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity; who brings to bear on this situation his or her inspiration, direct action, creativity, courage, and fortitude; and who aims for and ultimately affects the establishment of a new stable equilibrium that secures permanent benefit for the targeted group and society at large.

So we should find another, better way to bring the phone connection back to this area and make it in our unique way.

The scientists worked together and came up with an idea that had the poor population in the neighborhood in mind, but was still sustainable and didn’t need to rely on donations.

They used new technology – a self-sustainable hot air balloon that flows in the air and picks up the connection from the closest cellular tower, expanding the connection further, enough to cover the neighborhood.

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The hot air balloon didn’t cost too much and wasn’t hard to maintain, and the costs were easily covered by an extremely modest monthly payment that every person could easily afford.

They then tried this brilliant idea in other neighborhoods and towns that have little or no cellular connection, and it worked well! Then scaled it up to cover hundreds of cities, bringing this social entrepreneurship project to success.

You are a Homeless Entreprenuer

Watch the presentation! https://youtu.be/36nnf6wZ2XU

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Homeless Entreprenuer [Recovered]-02 Homeless Entreprenuer [Recovered]-03Imagine for a moment that you find yourself in a pinch.

You have just graduated from AC4D and for months you’ve been working on the business you started in the program and it was going really well at first, you even took out a loan to jump start production on your idea, but things started to go downhill and suddenly lost all of your money. The bank has come to collect, you can’t make rent any longer so you’ve been swiftly relocated to the street.

You have a sticky relationship with your family. Your parents always wanted you to be a lawyer or a doctor or “somethings respectable”, but you had moved across the country to pursue design and you told them about this business you had started and how great and they doubted you, and you had failed, so they were right. And now you can’t bring yourself to go crawling back. How could you even afford the ticket home anyway?

In fact, you realize that you don’t actually know Austin all that well and you didn’t spend any time trying to make friends these past few months because you have been so immersed in your business that there is no one you can call.

All of your possessions of value were reposed including your cell phone since you can’t pay that bill either, so tonight you are lying beneath a tree in the park beside the new condo that’s being constructed trying to fall asleep, but actually just batting away mosquitos and clutching the $20 that represents the entire sum of money you have left.

So when the sun cracks through the pecan tree’s leaves the next morning you wake up sore and stiff decide to walk the 3 miles to the part of town you’ve seen homeless people gather, back when you used to drive by and avert your eyes from their presence underneath I35, seeking information.

When you get there you realize finding out how to get help is going to be extremely difficult. First of all these people smell bad and they are complaining and anyone that will actually talk to you just tells you a whole bunch of stuff that someone else said and you feel like your swimming in a big muggy soup of nondescript information that doesn’t actually inform your ability to make any decision about how to help yourself.

You read from Chris La Dantec how homeless persons experience restricted access to information and technology which keeps them excluded from not only society but their ability to find employment and securing housing. Now you are experiencing what he meant first hand.

Not only this, you haven’t eaten or slept well in almost 2 days.  The fact that you have to decide whether you should spend your $20 on a taco or buy a ticket to one of the social work offices someone mentioned — which let’s be honest, how can you trust what they said anyway?— is too taxing so that all you can do is sit down and cry into your shaking hands. You weep until you fall asleep in your despair on the side walk in a small piece of shade.

What you are experiencing now is the phenomenon that Dean Spears found in his studies that poverty causes stressful conditions that hinder cognitive function.

When you wake up you hear a voice say “Ugh that smell, these people! They have no self respect. And to think just lying there, not doing anything! How lazy.”

You sit up and look around and see a lady and her husband walking by and realize, they were talking about you. This lady is operating under the folk belief that poverty is the result of bad choices, and not the other way around as described by Dean Spears.

BUT WAIT.

That’s unfair!

You do have self respect. You even started a business for pete’s sake! You are an entrepreneur, and an entrepreneur as defined by Martin and Osberg has an innate ability to sense and act on an opportunity.

So all you need to do it look for a suboptimal equilibrium…..

So you sit and you think and you have no ideas because you are so hungry your brain is quite literally not working.

But then, you happen to overhear a conversation between two homeless men. One of them mentions how they know about some work on the outside of town. This man says that he can’t get out there because he can’t figure out nor afford the three bus tickets it would take. He says that there are actually a group of foremen that need to clear land for several construction projects. The foremen are willing to pay anyone who shows up so long as they bring their own shovels and rakes for clearing the land.

This peaks your interest.

All of the people around you need money, yourself included, and none of them can afford to get the bus ticket, go to Home Depot, buy the rakes and shovels, find out where the job site is, get the bus ticket, switch buses, get the second bus ticket, and show up on time. They don’t know how much that would cost them so they can’t budget for it, which you read was very important aspect as noted by Le Dantec, so they are disinclined to even try, 

If only you could get them the tools and transportation….??

From reading Yunus you know that banks operate under the conventional wisdom that poor people are not entrepreneurial and they don’t give loans without collateral.

So you opt for plan B —You steal.

Sure stealing a car and some tools is probably not the greatest thing to do, but like Spears observed, your poverty is actually causing your bad behavior. And besides, you aren’t that worried about a criminal record ruining things for you given that you have very little going on that could be ruined.

With the car and the tools you start selling rides for a low cost and renting tools to the homeless to take them out to the job sight and it works really well. First of all you realize that not a lot of them had access to this information that there were jobs to be had at these land clearing sites. Secondly, getting there by bus or walking was almost prohibitively difficult due to it’s location. And third of all, no one wants to buy the tools and have to lug them around all the time, but renting them for a low cost was a very appealing option.

What you’ve done is something Prahalad describes as unlocking the purchasing power of the poor, by finding a way to sell to them that meets their unique needs and empowers them as consumers.

You used to think of yourself as an entrepreneur, but now you have embodied what Martin and Osberg call a social entrepreneur because you’ve identified an unjust equilibrium that causes exclusion and provided a solution for a segment of humanity that lacked the means to achieve transformative benefit on their own.

What’s next? Do you turn this business model of renting to the poor into a social business? Do you take on shareholders that are socially minded and care about your cause? Yunus would say you should. He would say you should find partners and dig in. Martin and Osberg would say you should push for scale.

You, however, are still thief. And any business you’d like to build now, whether social or not, will always be tainted and hindered by the crime you committed under poverty. So despite the fact that you are inspired, creative, and courageous your entrepreneurial spirit, innate or not, is not enough to lift you out of your circumstances. 

When in darkness, follow the light

 

For our Design, Society and Public Sector class, we read articles by Donald Norman, Jon Kolko, Paul Dourish, Liz Sanders and Bill Gaver. The articles provided perspectives on the place design research has in innovation, and the importance of including end users to be – not only the subject of the research – but also a key collaborator in the activities that make part of the research methodology.

For this second assignment, we were tasked to illustrate in the form of a story, the key points of view of these five authors.

 


 

Norbert is a mechanic from the quiet and small village of Middletown. One day, right after dinner, he was working on his truck when he saw something fell from the sky.

He walked a couple of miles and reached a big crater. A huge meteorite had crashed and, with the impact, had burst into thousands of pieces. To Norbert’s surprise, around the crater left by the impact, he found a few pieces of branches and trunks that appeared to light up as if they were lamps, odd sound waves were also transmitted right when Norbert approached one of the branches. It appeared like when in contact with a piece of meteorite, a piece of wood would become energized and made it emit light and sound.

After a few tests and experiments, Norbert thought of designing some cool, never before seen musical instruments. He was convinced that the village would love his new inventions. He announced the news to the rest of Middletown and everyone seemed excited for his discovery but, much to his surprise, they had no interest in acquiring any of these instruments.

 

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Donald Norman claims that technology comes first, designers and users assign meaning and use to it after, therefore, technologists are indispensable and drive revolutionary innovation. In the other hand, designers only drive incremental innovation by engaging with users at the end.

Dorbert, the village’s electrician and philosophy teacher was one of the few people that felt truly intrigued by the discovery – He was certain that a source of power like the one Norbert discovered could be of great use only if it was applied in a way that corresponds to the needs of the people in Middletown.

Dorbert decides to reach out to Kolbert, the village’s private detective.

Kolbert, the detective – throughout his lifetime, has learned that by immersing himself in a particular context and understanding the people’s struggles and motivations can, not only help define problems in a particular space, but also, help detect opportunities and potential areas of improvement. It is by doing this immersion and synthesizing his findings, that Kolbert discovers a particular insight that he had not been aware of: A large part of the Middletown population have to walk across the woods every night when coming back from the factory outside of their village. This made villagers feel anxious and paranoid.

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Paul Dourish claims that it’s challenging to translate observations from participatory research into technical requirements, but elemental to adapt to an ever changing environment. Participatory research is helpful to get a sense of what should be taken into consideration when designing for a person’s context.

In “the Value of Synthesis in Driving Innovation”, Kolko claims that it is by immersing oneself into an end user’s context, and focusing on gathering data related to the user’s behavior and emotion, that makes design research so valuable for innovation.

Inspired by Kolbert’s findings, the village’s government representative, Gabert, decided to reach out to several villagers. He asked 10 of them to draw and describe the favorite and least favorite part of their routine for one week. The results were interesting, and consistent with detective Kolbert’s findings, most of the villagers’ least favorite part of the day had to do with their commute back from the factory . With these artifacts the villagers handed to him, Gabert was able to familiarize himself better with the people from Middletown and get a bigger understanding of needs that were not being met involving their commute to their village from work.

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Designers engage end users to participate in activities that help them visually document their environments, interactions and relationships. With these probes in hand, designers gain empathy for their users and, according to Gaver, are able to “predict with confidence which systems (their users) might prefer”.

 

During his immersion, Kolbert was able to empathize with the villagers as they walked back from work every day for a week. Listening to ominous sounds and screams, and darkness so absolute, no torch could light up more than a couple of inches out. On the same note, with his artifacts, Gabert was able to get a sense of what the villagers inherently hoped and wished for: a feeling of safety when walking back home from the factory.

With all of these findings at hand, Lizbert, the village’s architect, brought 10 other villagers together for a creative session. By having everyone ask themselves “How can we improve the commute experience for Middletown villagers when walking back home from work?” Lizbert tasked the villagers to describe how their ideal commute to the factory looked like. “Safe”, “light”, “comfort”, were just a few of the words that villagers came up with when describing their ideal road.

 

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According to Liz Sanders, people are creative beings and seek an outlet to express their creativity in diverse ways.Continuously involving end users in the design process gives room to uncover problems that users didn’t perceive as a need or opportunity before. This makes the collective design process more engaging and precious.

Dorbert, who was part of these creative sessions, suggested how these findings could be addressed by Norbert’s newly discovered source of light. By applying an array of purple meteorites to the roots of the trees surrounding the walk to the factory and back, the trees will light up the path, providing a sense of security for factory workers, and the beautiful music coming from the trunks will numb down the ominous sounds coming from the rest of the forest.

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Creative collaborative techniques and a deep analysis of a community’s way of life, which are methodologies used in design research, helped Middletown villagers improve an aspect of their daily lives that they were so used to, they forgot it was a daily nuisance. This is how Middletown used design to follow the light while being in the dark.

 

 

The Land of the Underlings

After reading 5 assigned articles in IDSE 102, our theory class, I spent some time pulling out ideas from the authors and pairing them with my own thoughts and questions surrounding their theories. From there I attempted to make connections between various statements and sentiments as I worked towards synthesizing all of this information. The result was the story you’ll find below, which is a highly interpreted children’s book style tale that reflects on value, innovation, models of thinking about the world and models of researching for design.

You’ll find my notes in red that point out some specific thoughts sparked by the authors, but I encourage you to create you own meaning from the story based upon your own understanding of design.

The Land of the Underlings

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Here are the articles referenced in the story:

The Value of Synthesis in Driving Innovation, Jon Kolko http://www.ac4d.com/classes/102/2A.kolko.pdf

Technology First, Needs Last: The Research-Product Gulf, Donald Norman http://www.ac4d.com/classes/102/2A.norman.pdf

Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty, William Gaver http://www.ac4d.com/classes/102/2B.gaver.pdf

A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design, Liz Sanders & George Simons http://www.ac4d.com/classes/102/2B.sanders.pdf

What we talk about when we talk about context, Paul Dourish http://www.ac4d.com/classes/102/2B.dourish.pdf

*Please note you’ll need the AC4D log in to access the articles

-Kaley Coffield