From an early age, Eric was interested in how people learn over the web. Throughout high school he worked for a learning management and e-Learning course development company, building courses and designing graphics for online consumption. Eric was a premed and Latin American Studies major at Tulane University in New Orleans. After Katrina, he found new meaning working on problems in healthcare. Today, Eric is a healthcare IT project manager and Consultant by day. He enjoys foreign travel to Central and South American countries where he can practice Castellano. He has a penchant for surfing, which he will sorely miss while in Austin.

I am not a designer by trade, but I understand the vast potential that design thinking has to change the way people approach their health. I see interaction design as a vehicle of discovery, an opportunity to qualitatively understand people and the issues that they face. By combining formal interaction design education with my existing skills and knowledge of the healthcare industry, I will design new interactive products and services that will help improve health and wellness around the world.


Reflections

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Recent Blog Posts

 

Kicking Off the First AC4D Alumni Design-a-Thon

On Wednesday, October 8th, I jointly kicked off the first AC4D Alumni Design-a-Thon for Social Good.  A Design-a-Thon is a term that I use loosely to describe a shared design process, similar to a hackathon, with “appropriate” time set aside for each phase of design.  Over the next month, our core team of 4 alumni and 12 part-time alumni will be exploring the topic of Linguistic and Cultural Barriers for Hispanics in the city of Austin; a very large and diverse, but seemingly segregated group in our city.

I am so excited to interact with this community, to learn from them, and hopefully come up with an exciting product or service concept that we can actually build.  Y finalmente, yo tengo una oportunidad a usar el lenguaje en lugar de solo preguntado por tacos!  I joke, but there’s definitely something about getting “stuck” in one’s place in the city as I sometimes lament; in not expanding or growing, but seeing things the same way and falling into routines. There will be more posts in the future by other members of the core design team, including Melissa Chapman, Chuck Hildebrand, and Bhavini Patel, tracking both arcs of personal and project experience.  I want to take my time to focus on the expansive nature of this Design-a-Thon, and give context on what it means to me.

First, connection.

I remember Ruby Ku (’11) and I (’13) discussing alumni engagement over coffee at Cenote, one of our favorite spots in East Austin.  The intensity of the AC4D program – working day in and day out, for long hours with the same group of 10 people – feels so imbalanced to the post-program experience, where we haven’t had structured ways to keep involved and connected with each other. That’s disappointing, and something we agreed we should work to change.  The Design-a-Thon was born over that discussion, realizing that we should work together for fun: as a chance to retell stories and laugh, as well as grow professionally.  We can learn so much from each other and build our talents further. Many of us have been apart for 1-2 years, working on different projects and with differing methodologies across Austin.

Second, potential impact.

I remember my first design bootcamp.  I was a non-designer, trying to figure out how to do the process of design, without the actual time to process what I was really doing.  Now, with training and the design toolkit under my belt, I feel more confident in the design process.  Design gives me authority to be in places I don’t belong, and ask questions I should not – what my work colleague Briana would consider the privilege to be “nosy”.  These experiences lead to insights that are the seeds to ideas that through refinement and testing can have great impact and value to individuals.

I think all of us who’ve come through the program define impact in part as working on projects that have the potential to effect reduction in community ills.  We perceive them as the issues that “really matter” to quality of life, and to the largest number of people.  That is the allure.  We all experienced it going through the curriculum, through our own projects or watching ones that other alumni have continued.  We want to follow it now that our skills are growing up.

Many say good design is achieved through design; namely, repetition.  I’m excited to see what we can deliver on during this iteration.

 

 

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Let them Add the Drapes

Happy Valentine’s Day!  I bought a bacon rose for my girlfriend – #ihopeshethinksitsawesome?

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few days about how to design applications that give users the foundation – the house – but let them add character and flair in a way that isn’t obtrusive.  Even better, without doing much or any work on top of what they would be doing normally.  Those type of interactions done well are delightful.

For example, in the CareWell application I’m designing and building for caregivers and their families, any user in the family can add and change the group’s photo.  This will also update the background to the logo, visible on every screen.  I’m betting that users will change the photo, not only because it affects what they see – but that because they know other members will see that photo and delight in it.

My guess is that individuals become more attached to things that represent their uniqueness, and are therefore less likely to stop using them. Individuals are also more likely to use things that help them express that uniqueness to other people.

This is the anti-path/fb Paper approach to design.  They’ve gone ahead, curated, and built the whole shebbang.  With perfect pixels and manicured swipes, the apps look great (I’m actually extremely envious of their design team talent!), but I’ll never use them again.  There’s no room for me to make it mine.

This may very well be the fundamental difference between interaction design and industrial design.  I want something physical designed to perfection, because it is immutable.  It’s also easier to show off.  Pixels, on the other hand, are hidden and ephemeral.  Great design in this sphere requires thoughtful usability, restraint, and the respect to let the user co-create delight.

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Young Designers Should Start Companies

Designers should start a companies.

Fact is, junior designers have no influence in a corporation.  I don’t want to be a part of that.

You can take the traditional corporate path, or you can start a company.  It’s different, and different is scary, but my design education prepared me for iteration and solving difficult problems.

This isn’t a walk in the park.  Making decisions, project managing myself, and taking responsibility isn’t easy.  I think many people are afraid of that responsibility.  I know it because I live it everyday, as I’m trying to grow both my design and business skills through bringing a product to market.  It’s unnerving, but exciting.  I prefer excitement to a structured trajectory as long as it’s economically feasible.

And I prefer it to the the cost of most graduate school education options.  You aren’t going to make any money at the start of an enterprise.  But  let’s compare that to MBA education.  What if you just paid yourself 60K a year (well, maybe in time equivalent) instead of putting it into school coffers?  And if you’re smart and have saved some money, why not?

I may or may not make it at this entrepreneurship game this time around.  Experience from my program indicates that those who start their own companies are likely to fail in the short run.  This shouldn’t be surprising.  The best business leaders in the world fail for a myriad of reasons.  But the worst case isn’t bad.  I’ve seen my fellow business designers (“biz des”ers?) skip the corporate crawl.  One individual who just 2 years ago entered IxD is now a UX director at a local Austin company.  That doesn’t happen out of grad school typically.  It happens after running your own business.

Talk about showing grit to your potential self, supporters, and users.  Pay it forward now by starting something that’s your own.

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Contextual Loops – A Nascent Tool For Design

I’ve been reflecting on a design research project I completed with a colleague at Whole Foods Market.

We were asked to focus on the healthy eating customer journey – how customers make decisions on what to buy based on in store signage.  What we found was surprising.  In sum, customers rarely paid any attention to signage – there was just an overload of the senses, as anyone who has been in a Whole Foods Market can attest to.  There were multiple factors at play, from not feeling able to stop and assess because the hordes of shoppers might run one over, to the inaccurate assumption that all WFM products are healthy.

Each barrier that we found was directly related to what I would call a contextual loop – slowly moving cycles that are part of the customer’s day to day interactions.  In common customer journey maps and service design blueprints, these cycles – of repeat service use, intermingled with contextual factors such as common calendar cycles and seasons, night and day, and the changing goals of customers during these cycles, are ignored.  Yes, customers in fact arrive at grocery stores and follow a similar journey over and over to identify the next product needed, target a section, then hone a choice before ultimately making a decision.  And yes, this could be considered part of one larger customer journey from arrival to departure – but the fact is that so much about how a customer ACTUALLY shops and experiences a store is based on their accumulated experience outside of a store.  This, we know, is an ebb and flow, and on the whole, one trip to a grocery blends into the next for a shopper, treated by the store as just another divorced experience.  But it isn’t truly a divorced experience, or certainly doesn’t have to be.  What if I had a delightful, personalized shopping experience that paid attention to my shopping habits over time?  What if, when shopping at night, the service could cater to me by offering valet service for safety?

These types of ideas come from what I would call contextual loops.  Contextual loops are, brilliantly enough, cycles that occur during repetitive product or service use.  They can be customer driven – i.e. cycles of being a “good” and “bad” eater; company driven, such as  quarterly sales or seasonal products; and temporal cycles, such as temperature, time of day, or holidays.  Obviously these can overlap, and one of the goals in creating these loops on paper is to identify those interaction points.  Contextual loops can get us thinking about not only what we see during initial research, but allow us to grow our potential set of insights, as well as create delightful moments for customers.

To Start

First,  you’ll need a canvas, a standard customer journey, and a couple blank sheets of paper/stickies to start using contextual loops.  I do agree that even for most companies or services, taking a look at one abstracted journey may offer a lot in the ways of understanding current major gaps. But this tool will make sure that you don’t miss higher levels of gaps.  Now wrap that customer journey into a circle (you can just create a circle, don’t actually take a huge CJ and force it into a circle) and place it onto the canvas.  On a separate sheet of paper, keep a running list of ideas of customer goals and business goals, and start with a list for that initial journey.    On a third piece of paper, keep a list of potential touch points or business ideas.  You will move between all three, and they will build off of each other.

Canvas

Canvas

Time to get meta

Try to think of the next contextual level up.  There may not be one thing that’s more “right” then another.  Put yourself in the customer’s shoes, and use your own intuition.  If you are having any trouble, place some more customer journeys on the canvas and start asking yourself – what is, or could be different, from the first journey to the 2nd? The fifth?  The hundredth?  For example, in our food related example, some issues between the first and second trips could be “food waste generated”, or “family gave shopper feedback on purchases” among others.  See if those thoughts highlight any customer or business goals, as well as generate any additional insights or ideas for future touch points.  Continuing with the example, an insight might be – customers continue to think about the brand as long as the bags stay in the house or are used.  How can we ensure more use, thus inspiring more people to see our brand?  Or, how do we support our shoppers when they have to deal with kids and a husband who won’t try a new food item without ridiculing her?

Meta Loops

Meta Loops

More Contextual Loops

Starting to think in multiple journeys will no doubt inspire you to think about the other contextual loops that are going on during these cycles – and seeing where they harmonize with customer and business goals can create valuable ideas.  Let’s look at a common contextual loop for the customer – a work week.  Our customer’s goals may vacillate during the work week vs. the weekend.  We may quickly start to see that a work day trip is all about getting in and out quickly, with food to fuel the day.  Having displays, set ups, and maps for hungry hunters vs. experiential shoppers is clearly more important on work days then it is on the weekends.  Trying to grab the attention of a shopper on a week day may be close to zero.

Continue by building out that initial contextual loop in both directions – in this example, to the day vs. evening loop in one direction, and months and years in the other.  See what you find.  The color is added to highlight, but you could easily just think of concentric circles and brainstorm.  The end goal isn’t visualization – it’s insight.

Date Loops

Date Loops

These ideas and assumptions can then be rapidly prototyped.  This is a nascent method that can help rapidly identify avenues worth testing along the way to superior product or service design.  Please let me know your thoughts or questions!

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