Kat Davis is a woman of many titles. She began her career with the title “business analyst” supporting national marketing campaigns for a well-known technology company. Then, for two years, Kat was known simply as “teacher” to her students in Ecuador where she volunteered with WorldTeach. Most recently, Kat has enjoyed the title “interaction designer” where she fuses technology with social good.  In her free time, Kat goes by the title “improviser” and attempts to make the world a better place through laughter.

Even the most brilliant ideas are worthless unless well communicated. Interaction design is a powerful means of communication that gives the designer a framework to articulate problems without forgetting the faces behind those problems. My desire is to bring my ideas to reality through the study of interaction design. The Austin Center for Design infuses my experiences as a student, marketer, and teacher with the tools to meet my ultimate goal of working toward a better world.


Reflections

Recent Tweets

@iamgato: @steveportigal thanks! Very successful workshop, lots of laughter, lots of learning!

@iamgato: Kick-ass Brainstorming, slides from my #ISA14BA workshop #design #improv http://t.co/L2Xou5WTeo

@iamgato: "Strategy & Design: How Designers Create Value for Businesses" #sketchnotes from @nathanshedroff keynote #ISA14BA http://t.co/RPvNK0dyrd

@iamgato: "Designing the Problem" #sketchnotes from @steveportigal keynote #ISA14BA http://t.co/hncYYWIfNH

@iamgato: "Polish UX Designer in South America?" #sketchnotes from @WiesiekKotecki keynote #ISA14BA http://t.co/ojmxhSZkPY

Recent Blog Posts

 

A Look at Electricity in Ecuador

During my recent trip to Ecuador, I explored the attitudes around and the uses of electricity. The goal of the research was not to come up with specific design ideas around a particular product or service, but rather to lay an ethnographic foundation which can later be built upon.

Ecuadorian street

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Ecuador is an extremely diverse country, so my research took me into the homes of three different families to catch a glimpse of this diversity. These included:

  • A mixed American and Ecuadorian upper middle class family in Ecuador’s capital, Quito ( ~1,504,991 people; avg temperature between 49 – 67 F)
  • A middle class Ecuadorian family in Ecuador’s 9th largest city, Ambato (~354,095 people, 45 – 70 F)
  • An indigenous Ecuadorian family living in the Amazon ( ~3000 people, around 75 F year-round)

 

Family Profiles:

Quito:

  • Average Electricity Cost $95-$125
  • They use electricity mostly for heating water. They keep their two water heaters on all day because it takes 4 hours to heat a full tank of water which gives a hot 20-minute shower.
  • What they thought used the most electricity: Refrigerator

“I turn off lights all the time and it makes like a $5 difference. When we have a lot of visitors in town, the bill goes up to $125 instead of $95 or $100. We leave the water heaters on 24 hrs a day because there are so many people taking showers.”


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Ambato

  • Avg. Electricity cost: $25, have paid as much as $35
  • What they thought thought used the most electricity: washing machine

“I try not to use electricity because of the environment. Before we wasted a lot of energy, but now we don’t. Only where you are in the house you turn on the light.”


ambato

 

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Amazon

* Avg. Electricity cost: $15 – $18
* First got electricity about 15 years ago
* Had to pay for the power transformer to their house ($1500), municipality donated three posts ($3000)

“We use it to see at night, to iron clothes, and, let me see, to put music on the radio, to see the news on TV, and also to refrigerate the beer and food that we are saving.”

Watch here: Interview in the Amazon (find a parrot at 19:32 in the movie)

English transcript and translation here

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Around Ecuador:

In addition to speaking with and observing families, I photographed several places I visited and observed electricity usage, including the mayor of Ambato’s office, a roadside carnival, and a local market. This slide show captures these learnings.

See slides here: Electricity in Ecuador

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Insights & Observations

1. Conservation and lip service

An attitude toward the importance of energy conservation and protecting the environment is widespread throughout Ecuador. Global warming frequently comes up in conversations as a reason for limited usage of electricity. Most buildings use energy efficient light bulbs. However, in practice, conservation is negligible as a motivating factor in electricity usage and usage decisions rely much more heavily on cost savings. I observed a public university where conscientious teachers and students left equipment and lights on long after they were being used because the government paid the electricity bill. Small businesses, on the other hand, only turned on lights between the hours of 6pm – 9pm when natural light proved insufficient.

 

2. In the city, electricity is directly correlated with safety.


In Ecuador, crime happens frequently. Not only does electricity power fire alarms, neighborhood criminal warning sirens, doorbells, and electric fences, but more importantly electricity powers light. People know not to walk down unlit streets. In fact, when rolling blackouts occurred in Ambato, storekeepers shut down, pulled padlocked metal doors over their storefronts, and went home. Not only was this a safety measure, but even if they stayed open few patrons dared venture out. In neighborhoods, light shows the street that a house is occupied. While similar attitudes toward light can be found in other countries like the United States, with a limited and corrupt police force in Ecuador, light carries an even greater importance to safety.

 

3. Paying an electric bill in Ecuador is a nightmare.


Electric bills must be paid during a neighborhood’s five-day window and usually involves long waits in line. Houses with stores and restaurants, which is common, must pay two different electric bills at two different rates, one for the business and one for the residence. While online payment is an option, hardly anyone uses this option because they must pay their water bill in person, which can be paid at the same time as their electric bill. Given Ecuadorians usage of mobile devices, there is an enormous opportunity for an electronic mobile payment system.

 

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An Interaction Designer at 3-Day Startup

40 people.  3 Days.  5 startups.This weekend, I participated in 3-Day Startup with the goal of launching a technology company in three days, on no sleep, and with people I just met.

The weekend started out with everyone pitching their ideas and then voting with their feet which project to work on.   I chose Tripgather, a data aggregator for travelers because I liked the people on the team.  I am lucky to work with amazing, passionate people every day at AC4D and was happy to have a similar privilege at 3-Day Startup.

Our team:

  • Jonathan Spillman - UT MBA, awesome leader, idea man
  • David McCleary - UT Masters in Engineering, Mr.Make Things Happen in business and marketing
  • MacKenzie Seale - UT Finance undergrad, content guru, Miss “I’ve never talked to random people, but let’s do it.”
  • Garrett Eastham- Computer Science whiz from Stanford, who Jonathan rightly called the “Michael Jordan of programing”
  • Levi Lalla- Engineer from MIT who just happens to also front-end code with the best of ‘em
  • And me, AC4D interaction designer

What do you do with an interaction designer?

At our first team meeting when I announced my role, I got a few understanding nods from the programmers and understandably blank stares from the rest of the team.  What does an interaction designer do? More importantly, what do they do at 3-Day Startup?

My short answer – nothing and everything.  Here’s where I found myself:

  • Traditional Design:  An “agency” of three graphic designers worked with all the 3DS teams, and they were awesome.  I worked with them to help make our visual language matched our overall product message.

  • User Research: My heart leaped with joy when our whole team enthusiastically wanted to talk with customers.  I pushed for design research open-ended conversations rather than trying to collect quantitative data through surveys.    Steve Portigal’s got some great wisdom on the perils of bad surveys here and here.

  • User Flows:  What does a user expect to see?  What does a user want to see?  What user flow goes with our pitch story?

  • Pitch: Pull out the post-it notes.  Let’s craft a story that anyone can understand and that clearly tells the problem we’re trying to solve (Justin Petro would be proud of the post-its).

Looking back on the weekend, on the surface, it looks like I did nothing.

I didn’t present.

I didn’t code.

I didn’t do the financial model.

I didn’t do the graphic design.

Hell, everything I did was thrown away.

The home page I designed? Scratched.

The user flows and wireframes on the whiteboard?  Erased.

The post-it notes used to craft our pitch?  Trash.

But I couldn’t be more pleased. All that throw away meant that over the course of 3 days, we were iterating, reframing, and finding new and better ways to tell our story.  That’s what an interaction designer does and that’s what I brought to 3DS.

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On Design Education

Scott, Ruby, and Chap making things happen

The biggest takeaway from AC4D, and more generally design education, is the learned discipline of making.   Design exists not in thoughts and ideas, but in the practical implementation of ideas in the digital and physical realm. It’s really easy to live in idea land, talking about the possible.  Often times, conversations provide a false sense of accomplishment and progression toward an end goal without any actual movement. Design teaches that if there is no artifact during or after a conversation, the conversation might as well not have happened.  If nothing is made, nothing is accomplished.

Why is this?  The truth is that the best thinking takes place in the process of externalization.  Most non-design disciplines tacitly recognize this, which is one reason why there is such an emphasis on reports and documentation.  Synthesis happens in taking an idea out of the air and communicating it on paper. To communicate anything requires clarity of thought.  Design, however, distinguishes itself from other disciplines by stressing the importance of the visual vocabulary in addition to the written one. Based on the ubiquity of post-its, for a designer, even words are better understood when represented visually.  These visual artifacts help a designer process an idea but also give team members and clients something concrete to react to and evaluate.

Even once a project gets past the initial idea phase, it’s easy to get sidetracked by tangential ideas, the “wouldn’t it be great if…” conversations.  It’s easy to fantasize about how good or cool or useful an idea might be, but it’s quite another thing to actually solidify an idea and evaluate it.  In the former, nothing is proven or tested, and therefore nothing is learned, produced or accomplished.  In a way, this mentality protects the ego and requires little work.  The latter, requires a willingness to be proven wrong, to throw away code, or realize that a cool idea is not so cool after all.  However, none of that could have been learned just by talking about an idea.

Over an over again at AC4D, Justin Petro repeated the mantra, “Less talking, more making.”  It’s great practice in design, and it’s great practice in all of life.  Stop talking about what you are going to do, and do it already.

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Mommy’s Corner Pitch

Last Saturday, Saranyan and I pitched our idea for Mommy’s Corner (think the craigslist of trading).  We got some great questions around the legality of our site and the logistics of making a trade.  Stay tuned for solutions around how to make a trade run smoothly.

Here’s the deck for our pitch.

Here is the current version of wireframes for the site:
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