Anna Krachey is an artist and university lecturer. Originally from Boston, she came to Austin eight years ago for graduate school at UT and has no plans to leave. As an artist, her photographs investigate, through off kilter humor, the ways that the familiar can be flipped into the strange and unexpected. She believes that connecting with others is the most important thing in life. Teaching fulfills an important part of this equation for her because it allows to affect other people through an empathetic process.

Anna is a total coffee snob and loves horses, subarus and her extremely charming dog, Bea. She is ready to learn everything ever at AC4D.


Reflections

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@akrachey: @ForeignDomestic Catherine and I came in and the chef is out! So sorry we missed you.

Recent Blog Posts

 

Understanding Our Inner Circle Application Through Context and HCI Design Theory

Our design team is knee deep in piloting our design idea around pregnancy, labor and delivery called Inner Circle: The Birth Plan for Everyone Else.  You can read more about it here.  In Chris Risdon’s Theory class we started off the quarter reading about Human Centered Interaction (HCI) and context in which technology is used. Because we are in the process of thinking about designing the interactions within our product, and how context may affect its use, we wanted to apply the concepts that we learned from these readings to think about strengthening our own design.

We constructed a 2×2 axis based on how we understood each author’s perspective to relate our own Inner Circle concept and execution.   The x axis plots how closely each author’s view point on technology relates to our concept (doesn’t at all, or strongly relates). The y axis plots how we see each author’s perspective relating to the execution of Inner Circle (relates closely, doesn’t relate at all).

It was really important to our product to think about how technology inserts itself in our society and its relevance and impact on our culture because it is our objective for our product to serve as a bridge in communication and connection, and not a disconnector.

One of the most interesting author perspectives was that of Steve Mann, inventor of EyeTap, the predecessor of Google Glass.   Mann was insistent that the capability of a camera that records all viewer perspective experience would offload some of the mental ram needed to remember trivial things.  Mann hypothesized that this would allow us to retain that ram for more important memories and thought processing.  Our group really strongly considered this vantage, because we think of Inner Circle as being able to offload some of the mental ram that goes into worrying around organizing a birth.  ”Don’t forget to tell Martha to feed Phoebe when we head to the hospital to give birth” might bounce around in one’s head for months before the event arrives.  Using Inner Circle to send out a plan to everyone else informing them of the organization and plan around the birth would act as a way to clear an expectant mother’s mental plate, much in the way that Mann talks about not using mental ram to remember trivial details.  However, we also think that defaulting on committing something to memory is in a way defaulting on processing fully.  Leading pregnant women through creating reminders to send later and making decisions around their birth experience forces them to process these things.  At the same time, it releases some of the anxiety of having to remember these decisions when the time to focus on the labor at hand arrives.  This mapped to our agreeing with Mann on concept- in that we both agreed that the ability to offload mental energy could help one focus on more important things.  However, our execution of making pregnant women process decisions through the use of our app is directly the opposite of how we see Mann’s execution- that one could fully disengage from processing things with the thought that they could return to the footage later.

This is prime example of the process we used for dissecting each of the seven author’s theories relating to HCI and context in technology and then relating their point of view to our own design.   You can see the full 2×2 below.

We’re currently recruiting pregnant women for our pilot!  If you know anyone who would want to participate, send them to www.innercircleplan.com.  Thanks!

 

 


Posted in Theory | Leave a comment

The Impact of Storytelling: An update on our design process around pregnancy, labor and delivery

James Lewis, Meghan Corbett and I are pushing ahead with our design idea around pregnancy, labor and delivery.  You can read our last update on the blog here.  Our design idea which is becoming a “thing,” is called Inner Circle: The Birth Plan for Everyone Else.  Our research last quarter pointed so strongly to our culture managing birth as a scary procedure that often needs intervention (get the baby out!!!) instead of a hard, long, completely do-able and natural process that our bodies are designed for. We were motivated to design towards the notion of making this concept more accessible to women.

We were so inspired by hearing women’s stories around their birth experiences; both good ones and not so great ones.   The women that had had great experiences felt so empowered and strong; that this experience had set a tone for their start of motherhood in such a powerful way.  The women that had less great experiences felt bowled over,  like the choices about their own birth experience were being made for them, around them, and not by them.

We’ve spent so much time processing and brainstorming what we could do to bridge this divide; how can we design to support women in having a more positive birth experience?  How can we translate the stories of the empowering experiences and offer some of the components that supported those women to women who may not otherwise have access to them?

Our last blog post detailed the intent and function of  Inner Circle: The Birth Plan for Everyone Else . We started out with the idea that women needed to be able to clearly delineate lines of communication to pull supportive people closer and keep the people that pull at them or need boundaries set kept further away during the labor process.   We started building the skeleton of the interface, called wireframes, last week and presented it in class in a formal presentation.  We’re now in the idea validation phase, where we are creating short scenarios of how a user might use our tool.  These scenarios will be accompanied by short storyboards to help accentuate the emotional value proposition of using our tool.   We’ll use these documents in user focus groups with pregnant or recent mothers to give them a good sense of what our tool does and we will use discussion questions to provocate ideas to further improve the concept.

The ask??!  Help us!  We need your story and your thoughts!  We have two testing sessions at AC4D this week: Thurs at 7pm and Sunday at noon.  Here’s a link to our doodle schedule if you’d like to sign up: 

Testing will take about an hour, and you’ll get a chance to connect with other women around your experience with this important issue.  And there will be snacks!

 

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Addressing Birth as a Process Instead of a Procedure: Our Q2 Research at AC4D

James Lewis, Meghan Corbett and Anna Krachey have been doing design research around pregnancy and child birth decisions over the last eight weeks at AC4D.

We became interested in doing research around pregnancy when we read about some surprising statistics in The New York Times. The United States has the highest cost in the world for both traditional, vaginal deliveries and cesarean sections. We have a low rate of the use of midwives and a high rate of C-Sections compared to many European countries. Yet, The US also has one of the highest rates of both infant and maternal death among industrialized nations. So, what is going on with pregnancy, labor and delivery in the US if it’s so expensive and the outcomes are not so great?

We did contextual inquiries with participants to learn about why there is this discrepancy in our birth procedures here in the US.  We talked to:

  • Expectant mothers
  • Public health workers
  • Mothers who had been pregnant as teens
  • A Doula
  • We visited a birth center
  • OB GYN office
  • Pregnant teens Social Workers

Our initial focus centered around how socioeconomics affect pregnancy and birth plan decisions, thinking that socioeconomics could be tied to access to information. As we dug deeper in our research, we realized that there is a pervasive sense of fear around birth in our culture, and we became very interested in how we could design to mitigate that.

After we talked to participants and took a million pictures and saw all of the pregnancy pillows and toy model pelvises in the entire world, we transcribed the interviews, and cut all of the statements into utterances (800 utterances, woah).  We slathered the wall with them, and got to work on synthesizing: separating utterances into categories and then making affinity groups (observations about human behavior) and then eating a whole bunch of peanut butter so that we could create some brain power to churn out INSIGHTS.  Insights are provocative statements that combine what we see in the research we’ve done with what we know as human beings with experience in the world.

Our over-arching take away from our research is that our culture sees birth as a scary, out of control thing that needs to be addressed as a procedure.  We’ve started to manage pain and fear instead of accepting that birth and labor is a hard and long completely do-able and natural process.  With that really heavy and provocative statement, we worked to refine and pare down our many insights into these three statements.

Insight #1: Taking care of a baby gives teen moms a sense of purpose and motivates them to take care of themselves.

By talking to a teen mother and a program administrator for pregnant teens, we were able to see a common trend that many teen moms seem to find a sense of purpose that they had been lacking up until that point.  We talked to Amy, a teen mother who moved to a new town and felt like she didn’t fit in with the students at her high school. Although she did very well in sports and was offered some scholarships, Amy told us that she didn’t feel compelled to take the SAT and go to college. Her lack of direction went unaddressed by her parents and she was basically left to her own devices.  Our research has pointed to sexual activity as a way many teens look to feel loved and supported. This was true for Amy who told us that she went through a very promiscuous period, trying to feel loved in the wrong ways. Amy thought her boyfriend was using protection when she got pregnant at 17.

As the reality of her situation sunk in, Amy made the decision to wait to tell her family and friends about the pregnancy. She knew that ultimately it was her responsibility to make the decision either way. Even though her family shamed her, she decided to keep the baby. She said “I [knew] this would give me a sense of purpose in that if I didn’t do anything else well, I knew I could be a good mom.”

Through our research we identified the second trimester through 6 weeks postpartum to be the critical period of time that this sense of purpose needs to realized. This is the time when childbirth gets strangely real for the teen and could lead to panic and further disconnection if they don’t get the support they need. Amy had a sense of direction, but her boyfriend walked out on her and she was forced to become a single teen mom. Rebecca, a program administrator for pregnant teens told us is that 80% of teen dads aren’t around after a year. This negatively affects the child and decreases the mother’s chance of overcoming a low-income potential.

One design idea we are considering is that soon-to-be teen fathers could be trained to be a “Daddy Doula” (birth coach) through a series of training videos and an on-demand doula skype service. Through this program, fathers would become informed of the physical and emotional challenges of birth that their partner endures and learn how they can best support and assist them during labor. Teen fathers would then be empowered to take an active, supportive role in the birth of their child. which would form a stronger connection between them. And teen mothers would feel supported through what could otherwise be a very overwhelming process.

Kim, a doula we spoke to supported this idea. She said “We give dads and partners lots of things to do, lots of little massage techniques and just encourage them to feel like they’re part of the process too because you need that support. No longer do dads have to just sit in the corner and hang out.”

This design idea was solidified by a recent conversation with our classmate Alex Wycoff. His wife had a baby just a few days ago and Alex mentioned that he felt empowered that he could actively advocate for his wife during labor because he had a sense of what the correct care should look like. This lead to his wife feeling more supported and less fearful that her pain would go unrecognized.

Our second insight addresses the fact that our birth culture in the US is not doing a good job accepting that birth and labor is a hard and long completely do-able and natural process and is instead focused on managing pain.   Mentally preparing and planning for the process of birth may mitigate the postpartum PTSD that seems to be happening because of this.

Insight #2: Birth plans and informed mothers act as preventive medicine against postpartum depression and trauma.

From talking to a doula about the mental game of birth, a mother who felt very prepared, and a mother who felt very out of control, we were able to begin to see how information and preparation really contributed to how in control a woman felt towards her birth experience.

When talking to Kim, the doula, she gave us a lot of perspective on what she considers some of the different “camps” of thinking around pregnancy, labor and delivery.  A lot of women’s birth plans ends up being “I trust my doctor.”, which is true, but they’re also so scared about the thought of a human exiting their body that they don’t actually even want to know what’s going to happen.  Those are the women that end up with birth trauma and feel totally bowled over by the process.  A lot of times new moms walk away from their birth experiences feeling like “what just happened?” Research is indicating that between 5% – 15% of postpartum depression is actually turning out to be PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from birth trauma and feeling out of control.  The media has constantly fed us images from popular films such as Knocked Up, in which the mother is screaming bloody murder, cursing the father, and seems completely terrified and out of control.  That’s what people think birth is.  People ask doulas all the time: is that what is going to happen to me?  Am I going to want to strangle the baby’s father during this process?  Kim has attended 65 births and has never experienced anyone laboring like that.  She says there’s just so much misconception around what birth experience is actually like.

Kim, a doula, shows us an educational video of a calm birth.

Tammy, pregnant with her second child, talked about feeling very prepared mentally and physically for a natural birth, and the response around her being very unsupportive and negative towards that decision. She designed her birth plan, which is a written record of what you would like to have happen during your birth process, to be an unmedicated vaginal birth.  She and her husband took a birth class where every couple went around and introduced themselves.  Tammy was last and was the only one to announce that she was planning a natural, unmedicated birth.  Everyone in the room looked at her like “wishful thinking.”  Her preparation later helped her deal with what ultimately wasn’t a great experience at the hospital, but her knowledge and commitment helped her stick to her natural birth plan.

Awareness and preparation empower women to better endure the physical and mental marathon of labor and delivery. It prepares them to handle the challenges that can occur. We are interested in designing in the area of mental and physical preparation and expectation of labor and delivery.

Our design idea around this is beginning to take shape.  The service of hiring a doula is not available to everyone and is often cost and circumstance prohibitive.   We are interested in a design that pervades mass media and begins to replace the negative images about birth that we have been fed through media.  Understanding that labor and delivery is an incredibly long and strenuous process, but one that the body is designed for, makes us believe that there could be some crossover in the way that one trains mentally for an endurance event like a marathon.   We propose an app concept that is pervades social media and provides visual stimulation and cues of peaceful, positive birth experiences.  There would also be a physical coach component that would provide manageable exercise that would facilitate connection with the body before the very intense process of labor occurs.  Both of these things would help mitigate fear and would promote confidence in birth.

Our third insight addresses the consequences that are happening because we address birth as a procedure.

The third insight from our research is that Hospitals and OBGYNs prioritize money and convenience over the patients well-being which leads to birth trauma and fear.

Consequently, alternative, more natural options have become unattainable because they are not covered by insurance.  We’re not saying OBGYNs don’t care about their patients or are just doing it for the money. What we do believe is that the medical system around labor and delivery incentivizes interventions like using pitocin, epidurals and c-sections. Birth becomes a procedure and women get lost in a mechanized system.

We think one of the ways to deal with that system is to make doulas regularly part of the process. Doulas not only act as coaches for women to deal with the physical and mental anguish women might experience during labor, but also as ambassadors. But when we spoke to Kim, an area Doula (birth coach), we heard that with all the expenses expectant parents have to deal with – Doulas are often left off the list.

Our design idea would be an online marketplace providing financing and business tools for Doulas and independent midwives. By getting the money out of the way, Doulas can focus on doing what they love. This would allow them to serve more clients and guide them through the labor and delivery process, as well as providing postpartum care. Adding more Doulas into the medical system could potentially decrease healthcare costs; for example by preventing unnecessary cesarean sections when vaginal delivery will do if a mother has assistance. When new parents have positive birth experiences and are able to process what is happening, they can be better caregivers for for their child.

Lily, who is expecting twins, launched a go fund me campaign to help with the piling costs of her pregnancy and delivery.

After 5 weeks of research, swimming through sense making of 800 utterances into 35 insights, we condensed those into 3 big rocks.  The statement that our culture sees birth as a scary, out of control thing that needs to be addressed as a procedure umbrellas our three primary insights. We have arrived at three spaces that we are interested in designing for and three concepts as initial solutions to these problem areas.

In the upcoming Quarter, we will be further understanding these spaces, choosing one idea, iterating on it much like we just did for 8 weeks with thermostats in Matt Franks’ rapid iteration class.  We will create a service blueprint to understand all of the moving parts of the idea and how they relate to each other as we did this quarter in Chris Risdon’s Service Design class.  We will apply all of these theories and methods that we have been learning to all of this research we have done to create a design idea that we are passionate about working on.  Totally what we signed up for.

Posted in Design Research, Startups | Leave a comment

Honeywell Thermostat Redesign FINAL Crack At It!

As a user, I am willing to try to learn the navigation of an interface to a certain degree the first time that I use it.  Then, I expect the learning curve to significantly drop as I have learned the primary behaviors that make the system work and am able to apply them to secondary functions in the interface.  The iPhone navigation system is a great example of this: the swipe feature that you use to open the phone for use (indicated with an arrow) is the same motion that you then use to navigate through the pages; the system has trained you and given you a mental model that you can carry throughout the rest of the system.

“Mental model” was a term that we beat to death throughout the iterative design process in redesigning the overly (to put it kindly) complex and complicated Honeywell thermostat.  The concept of a “mental model” calls into question the previous experiences that a user has had using a system.  In the case of the iPhone, they really made their own mental model for operation of a smart phone and introduced you to a behaviour that would be repeated throughout from the system from the first interation with the phone.  With the thermostat, I was bringing forward the previous experiences that I’d had (and later my users were doing the same) using a thermostat.  Pictured below, you see the beautiful Austin Energy issued “energy saver” thermostat that I use daily in my own home.  It’s so awful that I’ve never actually figured out how to use it.  You have to dive so deep into numerous screens to manually enter each day’s schedule that by the time you’re on Wednesday, you have this sinking and frustrating feeling that you’re an hour away from done and that you’re not even really sure that you’re doing it right.

That is exactly the opposite feeling that I wanted my user to have when using my system.  I wanted them to feel like they had an awareness and control of all space, temperature and time at any given time.  I started out my first iteration not really being able to identify this strategy.  I knew that I wanted very clear and direct paths to the spaces within the system, and to greatly reduce them.  I started out by creating a concept model of both the existing system, and then of how I wanted to redesign the system.  A concept model is an abstracted visual model of the spaces in a system and how they relate to each other.  If you look at the post that I wrote about these models , its apparent how I wanted to simplify navigation of space for the user by reducing them.  I shaved a lot of function out of my design that I viewed as clunky and frankly, not useful.

I also wanted to add a “learning” feature; this feature would automatically record the climate control behaviour of the user and then play the recorded behaviour as a learned schedule.  I loved this idea because I was using the mental model that I had learned from my own terrible thermostat at home: scheduling a thermostat is harder than it’s worth.  So, great, I’ll have the system do it for me.  I have to admit though, that I was really defaulting to ignorance is bliss, and I later realized that I was actually choosing a perceived control over actual control.  If I can design to have real control, I think that’s ideal.  My first wireframes, which are a very basic tool for creating an interface skeleton design so that we could test and rate the function with users, featured the learning function and several climate control spaces within the system with which to navigate through.

My first wireframes actually tested pretty well.  We use a user testing method called “Think Aloud Testing” which I detail in a previous post here.  This method requires the user to speak aloud each decision they are making in regards to reaching the goal in each flow of the system.  This method is great because they actually say out loud what they are thinking when they choose the right path to reach the goal, and, even better, the WRONG path, called a Critical Incident.  A Critical Incident is what happens when the user cannot complete their goal within a system.  It is great feedback for the designer.  It is through this testing that I stumbled across a great and slightly depressing insight: a design that works and scores well is not necessarily a good design!  I detail this realization here .

Upon realizing that I thought that my own design, which scored well with testers, was not a system I was interested in using, I really had to assess what my priorities were in my next iteration.  I remember Matt Franks, our professor and leader in this venture, saying at the beginning of the quarter that the first iteration would be the hardest, because we’d be creating each frame in Illustrator and then the following iterations would just be edits on this variation.   Reflecting back, I think I made 6 completely different designs and one measly iteration!  I did get a lot faster at iterating, though, and my design acuity really improved (if I do say so myself:).

I realized that it what I really wanted was to have all of the information about what was happening in my thermostat in front of me at all times.  The current temp and the schedule needed to reside in the same space.  I would feel like I could SEE what was happening at the current time and at any given time in the schedule with a swipe or a drag, NOT a million and one click throughs and guesses.   To conceptualize this space, I used one of the mental models that I am used to using in part of my daily life.

When I’m not iterating on thermostat wireframes and doing design research, I am an artist and I teach college students photography.  This involves a lot of Photoshop. One of my favorite features of Photoshop that I am constantly preaching about to my students is the Curves adjustment layer.   It looks like this:

The histogram in the background shows every tone in the photograph.  The line traversing the space diagonally can be moved to manipulate any one of those tones in the photograph.  This is done using dots on the line.  You click on one with your cursor, and pull it up or down to manipulate the line and therefore the tones that correspond to that point.   I liked the idea that you could have that kind of finger to screen control in a thermostat interface.  Click the line.  Push it up to raise the temp.  Pull it down to lower it.  Release and you’re done.   It seems intuitive to me. I resolved to try the mental model of Curves in my user interface.  My first crack at using it can be viewed HERE .

I was all excited to test it, thinking that I was really getting closer to the interface that I wanted to design and as a user, wanted to use.  The testing failed miserably.  My users were just not intuitively wanting to move the dot to change the temperature.  They didn’t know what to do with it.  

 

I anticipated a pretty bleak review session with Matt, but he actually pointed out that I had used a mental model that I was familiar with from using Photoshop, but that my users probably didn’t have that same mental model and there was no visual indication on the actual screen that those dots correlated to actual degrees and to temporal space.  Duh!

This was an exciting turning point for me in realizing how to make my interface more “human”- I needed to think about how to conceptualize the user seeing the interface and realizing that the space that they are navigating through is actually time and temperature and that that cue is actually a mental model unto itself.

So, without further ado, I present my final iteration of my thermostat:

From this screen, the home screen which is also the only screen-you can change the current temp, the scheduled temp (by tapping the top menu of week days or simply by scrolling forward- you then add a point on the day and time that you desire by double tapping the screen).   All of the buttons on the left hand side are touch buttons- each is indicated on by turning gray or off by turning white.  The screen falls dark when the system is off.

 This system really only has one space, and it’s the one you’re looking at.  I’ve modeled it into a concept map for quick visualization of the space:

Shown below is the flow to change the current temperature.  When the user double taps on the current temp bubble (the large one with the number in it), a hotdog shaped track appears that allows the user to drap the current temp bubble up and down.  The sliding number also then juts out to the side so that it can be read while the user’s finger is covering the number inside of the bubble.  

When the user removes their finger, the track disappears and leaves the set temp in the bubble and the current running temp just below it in gray. See below:  

This flow is designed, like the iPhone swipe maneuver that I detailed in the beginning of my post, to be a quick and easy behaviour for the user to learn to be able to repeat to then navigate the rest of the system.  I think it’s important to note that a user is ok with a slight learning curve in the beginning of using a system, as long as it is short and easily learned.  The thing that I learned in this round of user testing, however, is that a user can’t learn the behaviour of a touch screen and react to it on a set of paper wire frames.   Paper doesn’t react to touch.  So, the user looks at the interface and guesses which behaviour is appropriate, instead of touching the screen and seeing its reaction and then responding to that.

So, when my users tried to change the current temp, some assumed the arrows meant tap up or down because the screen couldn’t react.  It would be like trying to test the slide feature on the front of iPhone and tapping the arrow that is pointing to the right instead of sliding it bc the system couldn’t react either way to correct your behaviour!

So, this is where I am in my system design.  I’m happy with the space of my system- the user can see all of the information at hand and manipulate it in what feels like a physically and mentally intuitive way.  However, I feel at a little bit of a stalemate about the gap between the inevitable learning curve of using a new system, and the inability of the paper wireframes to react in order to teach the user those behaviors.

 

Link to the full PDF of my final wireframes is HERE

 

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