Diana Griffin is a co-founder of GirlsGuild, as well as an interaction & communication designer, erstwhile educator, sometime writer, and always a learner. She has lived in four countries on three continents, speaks two-and-a-half languages, and loves the challenges of learning, working, and sharing across cultures.

In her work she is passionate about exploring the intersections of design, education, and culture in the context of social and environmental sustainability, and in play she is equally passionate about books, bicycle-riding, and experiencing the world with wide-open eyes, mind, and heart. Since moving to Austin from Vancouver, Canada, she’s practicing replacing her “eh’s” and “aboot’s” with “y’all’s”.


Recent Blog Posts

 

Marketing the CSA Cooks’ “Fresh Ideas Exchange” App

Fresh Ideas Exchange website

 

Check out the landing page for the “Fresh Ideas Exchange” app.

It’s also got:


facebook ad

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App Prototyping, Round 2

This time, a video demo of the app formerly known as ‘Community Cooks,’ currently known as the Johnson’s Backyard Garden (one of the local CSAs) ‘Fresh Ideas Exchange’. The animations have somehow gotten lost in conversion; working on figuring that out. In the meantime, voilà:

App demo video

App demo page

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Designing for “Deep Interactions”

Position paper #3 for IDSE 102 – Design, Society and the Public Sector, by Jonathan Lewis & Diana Griffin.

Experiences are important. They teach us what is right and what is wrong. They shape our beliefs and our preferences; they make us who we are and who we will become. Experiences can lead to growth or destruction. This premise should spark little contention, but we begin here because we believe that its implications are significant when played out in full. Consider the theory of John Dewey, in which experience is defined as the interplay between internal and objective conditions in a given situation. Experiences exist in continuity, building upon each other, leading always to growth, change or reinforcement, whether positive or negative. Because experiences have such pervasive effects, it is vital that we—in the collective and individual sense—examine the questions, “What are we experiencing?” and “How are we affecting what others are experiencing?”

So, what are we experiencing? To answer that question, we must look at the interaction between external and internal conditions that make up experiences. While internal conditions are unique to every individual, external conditions are, on a broad level, shared by all within a common culture. In our culture, where some digital device or technology is always within arms reach, most experiences are in some way influenced by digital technology. What effect does this have? In his speech to the German Informatics Society given in 1990, Neil Postman argues that technology has brought a bombardment of information of such relentlessness that ultimately we have become indifferent towards everything. He asserts that with millions upon millions of sources of information available to us, our foundational understanding of what should cause surprise, fear, sadness, excitement or joy is warped. He calls upon his audience to care less about information and more about things that matter, stating:

“There is no denying that the most prominent uses of computers have to do with information…The computer is an answer to the questions, how can I get more information, faster, and in a more usable form? But now I should like to put some other questions to you that seem to me more reasonable… If you and your spouse are unhappy together, and end your marriage in divorce, will it happen because of a lack of information? If your children misbehave and bring shame to your family, does it happen because of a lack of information? If someone in your family has a mental breakdown, will it happen because of a lack of information?”

In the two decades since Postman posed those questions, the pervasiveness of digital technology expanded, and designers and technologists came to recognize the reality of the information overload Postman described. To help navigate this ever-widening sea of information, many designers are turning to experience or interaction design as new approaches, hailed for their ability to humanize technology. By focusing on the human experience to create things that are: learnable, memorable, efficient, satisfying, poetic, beautiful, and usable, these emerging disciplines are expected to help us solve the problem of managing the constant flow of information around us. Now, we find that things created to facilitate this human-technology dialogue—in other words, interactions—are now everywhere. In short, ‘interaction’ is the new ‘information’. Consider your everyday experience of technological interactions, or take ours as an example: as we write this paper, one of us has 38 internet browser tabs and 14 computer programs currently open, while the other is conducting a one-minute experiment to see how many browser tabs can be opened on a 13-inch laptop; the result is over one hundred. Each of those tabs and programs offers a multiplicity of different interactions, and those are only on one device. We could also look at smartphones for another example; there are over 6000 applications in the productivity category of Apple’s App store—most of them created to help us manage the overwhelming number of interactions in our day-to-day lives.

Today, rather than “informing ourselves to death” (the title of Neil Postman’s 1990 speech), we are now interacting to death. Taking the above quote from Postman and substituting the word ‘interaction’ for ‘information’ yields equally valid questions:

“… If you and your spouse are unhappy together, and end your marriage in divorce, will it happen because of a lack of interaction? If your children misbehave and bring shame to your family, does it happen because of a lack of interaction? If someone in your family has a mental breakdown, will it happen because of a lack of interaction?”

You may see these questions and think, “Yes.” But rather than a lack of any interaction, such interpersonal breakdowns are usually due to a lack of a specific kind of interaction, and may be exasperated by the ubiquitous presence of other, negative kinds of interaction. If interactions are the molecules of experience, and our experiences are as often as not mediated by technology (at least in the culture within which we are writing), we must ask, what kinds of interactions are we facilitating when we create new technologies, and how do we facilitate interactions that don’t lead to breakdowns? What kinds of interactions lead to a life focused on the things that matter?

In an effort to create products, services, and systems that cultivate the right kind of interaction, the field of interaction design has turned to ethnographic methods to gain an understanding—or a “thick description,” as Clifford Geertz terms it—of users’ needs. Ethnographic methods originated in fields such as anthropology and have been modified by designers and “design thinkers,” as Jocelyn Wyatt names the interdisciplinary participants in the resulting collaborative design process. Such processes are developed to empower users by intimately involving them in creating solutions to the problems that affect them. The assumption is that if the people who will be affected by the design are involved in the creative process, they will direct the designer to create the appropriate kind of interaction for their situation.

These methods are not without flaws, though. One problem we see with this approach to design is that it still operates within the same value structure that created the problems it attempts to solve—in our culture, the value structure that believes that helping us manage the flotsam of interactions we find in a sea of information is the most helpful solution. We are not arguing against the use of ethnographic methods in design; these methods are invaluable for bridging the gap of understanding between the designers and the people affected by their designs. However, well-implemented ethnographic methods may just as easily have led to the creation of one of the 6,000 productivity applications available for your iPhone as to the creation of a truly meaningful and necessary design solution.

To create the right kinds of interactions, designers must have a strong understanding of the kind of interaction they are striving for and this understanding must transcend and sometimes trump information gathered using ethnographic methods. In a recently published article, Bruce Nussbaum claimed that, “ethnography is too shallow for what we now need. We need to go much deeper into the historic context and wider into the lateral connections of people in society.” We posit that such a depth of understanding leads to the kind of interactions designer should strive to facilitate—what we call deep interactions.

This concept of a deep interaction is grounded in the recognition that humans are finite beings whose cognitive, emotional, and physical faculties can only be directed towards a limited number of things. The framework for deep interactions is most clearly understood when viewed against what we consider to be shallow interactions. The following are comparative statements chosen to help assist in understanding the nature of a deep interaction:

  • Doing fewer things better. Whereas shallow interactions focus on enabling people to do more things (managing their multiple to-do lists, for example), only so more interactions can take place.
  • Enabling reactive emotionss. Whereas shallow interactions lead to a numbing of emotional reactions, making it difficult for individuals to experience surprise, joy, fear and sadness.
  • Focusing on local. Whereas shallow interactions focus on making infinite global connections, deep interactions focus on knowing and caring about individuals and the environment around you.
  • Encouraging mindfulness. Whereas shallow interactions lead to tasks being performed mindlessly, deep interactions lead to mindfulness of what you are doing.
  • Prioritizing thoroughness. Whereas shallow interactions make speed a priority, deep interactions make thoroughness a priority.

To illustrate how interactions can be viewed with an understanding of deep interactions, we will compare two of Google’s mobile platforms: Google Orange, an SMS application popular in Africa and the Middle East, and Google App for the iPhone.

Google for iPhone
Owners of Google’s iPhone application can access most of the features of Google’s online offerings at close to broadband speed. These include but are not limited to search, Gmail, reader, news, documents, calendars, and maps.

  • Doing fewer things better vs. more things easier
    - No: Gmail allows for multiple email accounts to be added at the same time, and gives notifications when a new email is received, enabling people to manage more and more accounts and relationships. Additionally, calendars allow for the scheduling of a day down to the minute.
    - Yes: Documents allow for the creation of one artifact that can be worked on collaboratively eliminating the need for time spent creating many versions of something.
  • Enabling Reactive Emotions vs. Numbing of Emotions
    - No: Google reader and google news contribute to the information/interaction overload that causes people to be jaded about all that is going on in the world to the point where nothing is surprising and nothing leads to action.
    - Yes: Users have the option to limit what they read through lists and filters.
  • Focusing on Local vs. Global
    - No: GChat treats users that are 3,000 miles away the same as users who are 3 feet away.
    - Yes: Maps allow individuals to navigate their local environment.
  • Encouraging Mindfulness vs. Mindlessness
    - Mindless: Google has a picture search that allows users to take a picture of something and search for it online, running the risk allowing individuals to gain most of their knowledge through visual picture searches.
    - Mindful: Google allows users to turn notifications off allowing them to be in the present.
  • Prioritizing Thoroughness over Speed
    - Thoroughness: Google searches are incredibly thorough.
    - Speed: Google prioritizes things for you in their searches.

Google Orange
Google Orange is a partnership between Google and the French telecom company Orange. It allows SMS phone subscribers in parts of Africa and the Middle East to access Google Services. One of the main features is conducting Google Chat conversations using text messages. Users will be given a certain amount of free text messages per month as an incentive to using this service.

  • Doing fewer things better vs. more things easier:
    - More: More text messages could lead to more individuals and relationships that need attending.
    - Fewer: SMS access to Gmail could allow for better communication in jobs previously unavailable to people without internet access.
  • Enabling Reactive Emotions vs. Numbing of Emotions
    - Numbing: Google news and Gmail could cause users to become jaded about current events.
    - Normal: Users have the option to limit what they read through lists and filters.
  • Focusing on Local vs. Global
    - Global: Google Chat treats users that are 3,000 miles away the same as users who are 3 feet away.
    - Local: Text messages allow for users 1 mile away to easily connect with each other if transportation is not available.
  • Encouraging Mindfulness vs. Mindlessness
    - Mindless: SMS enabled chat often takes a significant amount of time causing users to perpetually have their face buried in their phones.
    - Mindful: Google allows users to turn notifications off allowing individuals to be in the present.
  • Prioritizing Thoroughness over Speed
    - Thoroughness: Google searches are incredibly thorough.
    - Speed: Google prioritizes things for you in their searches.

These two examples illustrate the point that whether a product, service or system will lead to a deep interaction is oftentimes ambiguous. Yet the answer to this question is vital to the world that we continue to create through the experiences that we influence with our technologies. It must be our goal as designers to create things that lead to deep interactions, ultimately leading to positive life- and culture-shaping experiences.

References

Dewey, John. “In Need of a Theory of Education.” Education and Experience. 1938.

Postman, Neil. “Informing Ourselves to Death.” Speech to the German Informatics
Society. Stuttgart. October 11th, 1990.

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. 1978.

Wyatt, Jocelyn and Tim Brown. “Design Thinking for Social Innovation.” Stanford Social Innovation Review. Winter 2010.

Nussbaum, Bruce. “Want to Know More About Bruce Nussbaum’s Creative Capitalism? Read On.” Fast Co. Design. October 12, 2011.

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Quick & Dirty Business Model, Pitching and Prototyping

The Task, Part 1: Looking at the findings from our initial stage of research, pinpoint a problem area and develop a business idea that solves it. Ben and I had visited and observed local CSA farmers at work for our research, and one problem that had come up was the difficulty of recruiting new CSA members, due to the barriers people perceive around cooking with CSA produce – not knowing how to cook and otherwise use up all those vegetables every week.

My Solution: Community Cooks, a CSA-based cooking school in which the weekly classes are focused around the produce in that week’s CSA box. People signing up for a CSA could add on cooking classes with their subscription (either a full session to match the length of their subscription or a short session for the first month of their subscription), and people interested in trying a CSA could also try out the cooking classes by paying a drop-in price. The instructors would be recruited from the more-experienced cooks among the CSA membership, and would be paid per class taught. Check it out in more detail in the PDFs below:

Community Cooks pitch (PDF)

Community Cooks business model canvas (PDF)

The Task, Part 2: In class last week, we had a surprise trip to the farmer’s market to test our our pitches on real people. We went around the market in pairs and threes, approaching people and asking them to judge our pitches. Over the course of the morning we got a lot of practice with on-the-spot presentation skills, and learned mighty quickly to cut to the chase and be clear and concise and on-topic (although that is still easier said than done). Watch one of my pitches below:

The Task, Part 3: Our follow-up homework this week was to adapt/develop our business idea into a mobile app, create a digital prototype, and test it on at least 3 people. After a lot of rough sketches on paper, talking it through, and scribbling some more, I settled on an adaptation of the original Community Cooks idea to fit the context of a mobile app. Instead of cooking lessons, the app facilitates finding and sharing recipes based on local food. It has a focus on products and produce from local farms, which the farmers can update when things are harvested. When it came to digitizing the prototype and getting into the more formal testing style, I had a chance to refine the features based on each person’s feedback and reactions to the app. See a video of the latest test, and check out the full PDF prototype below:

Community Cooks app prototype (PDF)

Some thoughts on the process thus far:

1) Ideas are fun. Business ideas are hard. It’s one thing to come up with the grain of an idea as a potential solution to a problem, it’s another thing to flesh it out into a business idea, and it is a whole ‘nother thing to actually consider it in terms of viability and think about things like costs and revenue, distribution, and resources. My eyes actually glazed over a bit just typing that sentence. These are not things I’ve every really turned my mind to before, and it has been ridiculously intimidating and challenging trying to get my head around even approaching this kind of thinking. At the beginning of this quarter I posted about how I was setting out to embrace the idea of entrepreneurship, but embracing the actual gritty, grimy details of it is going to be the real challenge for me.

2) Ideas are fun. Talking about ideas is hard. Short and sweet still doesn’t come easily for me, and will take a lot of practice, rethinking, and revising, over and over and over.

3) Ideas are fun. Sketching ideas is fun, too. Stopping myself from going too high-fidelity, too fast (like, the second I touch a computer) is hard. I think I missed a lot of opportunity for feedback on the barebones idea of my app because people looked at the design-y rendering and got caught up in the details of layout and wording instead of considering the worth and usability of the actual functions themselves.

Onwards and upwards from here, I suppose.

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