Emergent Technologies And Thumb Scanning Out Of Work

Throughout this quarter we’ve been working on constructing our own ethical framework to better guide us through complex problems. I encountered an ethical dilemma I can’t seem to shake while living in China. I taught at a for profit school called Happy Goal Kids. It felt like working at the McDonald’s of English schools in Shanghai. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Throughout my time at Happy Goal my privacy was challenged quite often. I recall one point most specifically, a thumb scanner to get into work. I was required to scan in, and out, each time I left the facility. It felt like quite a risk to me. This company, who I already didn’t trust had the ability to know my whereabouts within their building. It felt strange.

China is even more prevalent in the news today in regards to it’s treatment towards Uighur people in the Xinjiang region. A new technology is being used against a group of people, for reasons that just don’t line up.

Something I wanted to pose to my ethics class at AC4D was their tolerance to low and high risk situations in emergent technologies. While China is using facial recognition to track Uighur people, we are logging into our phones, retinal scanning into schools, and thumb scanning ourselves out of work. Our physical attributes are being used as identifying factors. The things we are being asked to opt into may pose more risk than we’re able to recognize at this point in time.

I gave each member of the class the below strips of paper
Screen Shot 2019-12-05 at 5.38.34 PM

I then asked people to write down where they would feel comfortable using these factors of identification. Whether it be civic, personal, or professional use. From there I asked the class to get up and place where they felt each piece fell on a low-risk high-risk axis.

JUST Capstone Research Update: Part 3 – Understanding Non-Traditional Familial Decisions

This is part three in our ongoing Capstone project with JUST whose mission is to invest in low-income, female entrepreneurs to create more resilient communities in America and therefore to create a more just world where people have the chance to live with less stress and more joy. Ana and I shifted our focus to better understand the continued challenges women face today

Our Focus
We are looking to focus on non-traditional families and how they decide, navigate, and communicate financial decisions and division of labor within their home. Children limit a parent’s ability to work, there is a constraint on the actual amount of money a parent is able to bring in due to having less time.

Our Objectives
Our main interest was to learn and understand how non-traditional families go about making financial decisions and how they divide the household labors. We have found that the costs of housing, health care and education are consuming ever larger shares of household budgets, and have risen faster than incomes. Today’s middle-class families are working longer, managing new kinds of stress and shouldering greater financial risks than previous generations did. They’re also making different kinds of tradeoffs, like some that we found in our research like having part time jobs or no jobs at all because of the cost of Childcare, they prefer staying at home and taking care of their kids, but that has financial consequences, and other types of tradeoffs that we are going to find in the themes we mention in this blog post.

The objectives of this research are:
To understand how value is perceived in non-traditional families.
To identify and understand the emotional and monetary journey of parents.
To explore how a non-traditional family decides, navigates and communicates their monthly expenditures.
To explore how non-traditional families divide labor in regards to household tasks.
To understand how a non-traditional family’s access to their network benefits their livelihood.
To empathize in the decision-making process of a non-traditional family.

We spoke to ten participants in order to start doing the themes phase, which are patterns that emerged through the contextual interviews we conducted. We have stories that support the themes we have found.

Theme 1: There is an unarticulated gap between low and middle class

Many of our participants told us how much they struggle to get government aid because of the amount of money they make or having aid taken away because of a small income raise. They are expressing their concerns when it comes to food, health, education and other types of aid. We found that this is the case for many participants.

20191101_142341 (2)
Mary: She lives with her boyfriend Nate and they have a 2-year-old boy Eric. She has been living in Austin for ten years, after moving from southern Alabama, where she was born. She is the main bread-winner of the family, working for Government and Nate works part time at a bar, during the day he is a stay at home dad and takes care of little Eric. Childcare is very expensive and it makes more sense for him to stay home than to have him in a daycare. Mary expressed how saavy she is in looking for deals and other ways to save money. However, she and her family is having a lot of trouble because of where she falls in the “income bracket”.

“When I first got this job, Eric was six months old. And I did look into a lot of daycare options, and we make too much money to qualify for government assistance.”

Samantha: She is a single mom with two daughters, one is 17 years old and the other 7 years old. She lives in Austin, but had lived her entire teenage life in the Czech Republic where she got married to a marine, moved to the United States and had her first daughter. After a series of difficulties in her life she now has a full-time job that gives her the flexibility to work and also take care of her two daughters, which she is very grateful. However Samantha has experienced this government assistance issue many times. She told us a story of how she was granted a raise which rescinded her access to SNAP benefits. The minute raise did not add up, and she was left shortchanged in being able to provide adequately for her children., “That raise put me $50 a year over the poverty level. So, they canceled the $120 I was getting for food stamps.” She currently volunteers and works at her daughters’ school to offset the cost they have for attending.

Theme 2: I feel I’m stuck in the cycle of living in ‘survival mode’

Many of our participants expressed living in this constant cycle of ‘survival mode’. The money they make each paycheck disappears in the first few days because of the expensive debt, rent, insurance, childcare and other things they have to take care of. They feel stuck in this cycle of never having enough money, regardless of how many jobs they have.

20191114_214710
Sara: She is a new single mother with three kids that she has 50% custody of. The oldest is 12 years old, then the middle is 10 and her youngest is 7 years old. She just got separated but expressed that her ex-husband and her had good terms and worked together for their children’s sake. She currently has three sources of income, one part-time job at an independent bookstore in Austin, as a local children’s musician and monthly support from her ex-husband.
“Between that [singing] and book people in my monthly support from my ex husband, I’m able to survive. I’m not able to take a bunch of vacations or buy myself a new car or anything like that but I’m able to not be worried too much about paying my rent.”

20191106_115913
Ivan: Ivan is the male part of a marriage in which his wife is the primary earner, together they have a 3 year old named Brian. Ivan had been in the music industry in Austin and had a fair bit of responsibility at a popular establishment in town. The establishment unexpectedly closed shop and Ivan was left without a job. He is now working two jobs and seeks stability amongst him not being able to make ends meet. He juggles these two jobs and still struggles to make ends meet while not being able to be around his family.

We’re excited to continue our research and learn more about this unseen societal gap. As we continue we’ll update our themes and start formulating insights. Keep your eyes peeled for progress updates as we continue.

Ethical Implications on Data Rights in the Future

Having just moved to Austin it felt like a right of passage to check out Austin City Limits. I’m not one for big crowds, but I did it regardless. I purchased my ticket via their online platform and waited for it to arrive in the mail. Upon receipt I got a rather colorful wristband, with a chip inside. Alongside it were instructions to plug my credit card information in for easy checkout at the festival, less lines, more time… Our recent discussions in AC4D’s newest ethics class really got me thinking.

For my presentation this week I wanted to imagine the AC4D class of 2020 at South by Southwest 2030. A future Austin, full of even more bike lanes and driverless cars, scooters are more commonplace and hopefully safer than ever. I imagine our class is in full swing of the massive event. Ride-sharing, purchasing, and swiping our way through the event. This new cashless experience at south by is nothing out of the ordinary in future Austin. My classmates and I have our financial information, government identification, and personal information baked into our personal devices. These devices grant us access to and from venues, enable us to purchase things, and allow us to verify our identity at event check-in’s. It’s simple, it’s seamless, it’s easy.

future austin

South by Southwest comes to an end, and we’re back to normalcy. People return to work, fly home, and continue school.

Just a week later the SXSW servers have been hacked and we get the email. Your data has been compromised. Our banking, government and personal information has been hacked and is out and amongst the dark forces of the internet to use it at will. What do you do?

I posed the class with the chance to save only one of the three options posed above, and to share a bit about why. No matter what option people choose there are a myriad of things that could prove problematic later down the line with their other pieces of information out in the ether.

General Data Protection Rights are present in Europe and enable a person to know where and why their data is being used or stored. Did anyone signing up for ACL wristbands understand where and why their data is being stored?

Is There HOPE for HOPE Farmer’s Market?

Learning design methodology is a lot about trusting the process. When gathering data, it is not clear what will come of it. When patterns emerge, it is not clear if they matter.

Our project with HOPE Farmers Market was the first design project that Leah, Dan, and I have embarked on, and it has been a learning experience for all of us. This week, we were really excited to get to the why.

Throughout our first quarter at AC4D we developed a research plan and began interviewing with as many folks involved with the market we could speak with, eventually reaching 17. Our goal by having these conversations with people from the market helped us to see patterns.
Screen Shot 2019-11-13 at 5.49.35 PM
Surrounded by intense amounts of utterances at the studio we whittled down our data into more refined themes. We then moved to the service slicing portion of our research to further dissect conversations we had to make sense of the data line by line.
Screen Shot 2019-11-13 at 5.51.18 PM

Our insights:

Design insights are breakthroughs that reveal behavior patterns and drive bold decisions. Insights tell us not just what people do and when, but why.

We started with what we know:

The Vendor Experience
For vendors, the fee to get into HOPE market is low, and with this low barrier to entry attracts vendors with little experience. Vendors are paying HOPE to provide access to customers , currently the market is unable to provide an adequate amount of customers that come to the market.

A story we found compelling was from a longstanding vendor; Janet. Janet has a strong customer base and makes some fantastic juice. However, Janet’s story goes far beyond her product. Coming from the caribbean Janet is a single mother who started her business not just out of passion, but out of need. She was approaching a divorce and knew additional income was needed to support her child. Janet works full time in the mental health field but pours passion into her juice recipe, which she inherited from her grandmother. She saw her juice as an extension of her heritage, that she brings to market and benefits from. However, with the uncertainty of traffic that HOPE receives she realizes she could make more elsewhere.

Screen Shot 2019-11-13 at 6.17.26 PM

The Customer Experience
Customers of HOPE FM expect to see an abundance of fruit and vegetables, it being a farmers market and all. However, that’s not exactly what’s present in the market today. We heard from a variety of customers who were confused by the experience. We had loyal customers seeking their favorite item, which wasn’t there on any given Sunday. We spoke with someone who used to attend Mueller market but moved into the neighborhood and found the market to be sad. Something that isn’t being fulfilled. The market lacks actual produce, there is plenty of expensive snacks and an array of friendly faces, however this doesn’t entirely satiate the expectation of fruits and vegetables people have been bred to expect at a market.

People want to be a part of something that is thriving, not something that asks them to suspend their expectations about their imagined experience. In a society where “the customer is always right”, HOPE does not prioritize them.

These vendor and customer insights brought us to our problem statement; By calling this a farmers market, there is an inherent value promise being made and broken to the customers and the vendors.

We’ve synthesized several appropriate options for the market’s potential future. We realize that if the market is going the direction that is has been, there is no hope for its future. It is suffering and dying. It would be a viable option to simply let it run it’s full course and die. We are, however, aware that as design thinkers, generating alternative options is essential to our ability to provide value to their situation. So we have been working to take a step back and assess the larger picture that HOPE operates within.

We’ve been working closely with market leadership and have cultivated some real relationships. However, as our research and narrative around this project continues we can’t help but address the massive shift that’s happening in the area surrounding the market at Plaza Saltillo. Austin is weird, there’s no doubt about it. However it seems to be getting harder and harder to find weird along 6th street amongst the changing East Austin scene.

HOPE farmer’s market was housed in an abandoned artist’s warehouse not far from its current location, ten years ago. East Austin was a drastically different place then, with a high crime rate, and not nearly as many shiny condos in view. The condo’s that surround Plaza Saltillo house thousands of new-to-Austin residents and an entirely different lifestyle than the homes that surround it.

The entire neighborhood is growing and changing at a pace unmatched by any other city in the nation right now. The challenges this small market faces are in part, societal. If the market wants to be successful going forward you need to understand who the people are who are the new majority of residents in the neighborhood.

The competitive environment in which the market lives enables an exciting new space for the market to operate in. The concrete proof of growth in the area is changing the narrative of old Austin. We want to find out how the business’ of old have integrated into the community and find out what is working for them.

Here is what we want to know and who we would want to talk to in going forward with rebirthing HOPE in its new contextualized environment:

What do other old businesses do in this area? They didn’t all die, how have they survived?
Who lives in this neighborhood now? What do they want? What are the needs of the community that need to be met now?
It’s a controversial but time for change for the neighborhood’s economy and culture. We want to better understand what this means for businesses in East Austin in general.
What are some ways that budding entrepreneurs are being supported in Austin? What are the gaps in the current offerings?

Parent’s Please! – AC4D Capstone Research Project

Hey there,

My name is Dan and I am a current student at the Austin Center for Design (AC4D). For the next 8 weeks my team mate Ana and I want to learn more about financial inclusion. We’re interested in learning more about the day to day lives of parents and how they operate in today’s world. We we want to hear the stories only a parent can offer! Car seats, formula, and child-care are a few different things I don’t account for in my budget that’s for sure.

JUST partnered with AC4D to find other communities they can serve and to understand how other communities behave when it comes to financial inclusion.

WHAT IS JUST?
JUST is a non-profit organization whose mission is to invest in low-income, female entrepreneurs to create more resilient communities throughout America. Through their work they create a more just world where people have the chance to live with less stress and more joy. To further their mission JUST wants to change the narrative around the potential of low-income communities to be their own change agents. JUST provides loans exclusively based on trust to female, Spanish-speaking, entrepreneurs.

We are looking to focus on non-traditional families and how they decide, navigate, and communicate financial decisions and division of labor within their home. Children limit a parent’s ability to work, there is a constraint on the actual amount of money a parent is able to bring in due to having less time.

OUR OBJECTIVE
We are looking to learn more about non-traditional families and how they decide, navigate, and communicate financial decisions and division of labor within their home. Having a child limits a parent’s ability to work, there is a constraint on the actual amount of money a parent is able to bring in due to having less time. Non-traditional in regards to our research means we’re looking to hear from single parents, LGBTQ parents, or families where the female is the primary income earner.

WE NEED YOUR HELP
We need help connecting with parent participants! If you or someone you know may be interested in chatting with us, please reach out to team_da@ac4d.com to get in touch. Your perspective is incredibly valuable and will ultimately help in designing solutions for this unique group of people.

As students working with a nonprofit, we appreciate your willingness to help both us and our community.

Dan O’Halloran & Ana Toca
team_da@ac4d.com

Designing With Addiction’s In Mind

Through facilitating this exercise in ethics I was able to cultivate an understanding of my small design team. I posed questions for discussion to identify addictions people have faced in their personal life. We talked about spending too much time on instagram, to stalking ex boyfriends, to smoking. I strived to construct a discussion that highlighted personal experience to addictive behaviors that are implemented in services we use throughout our daily lives. We talked about overcoming our own addictions with things and feeling good about them, behaviors that had been construct that weren’t conducive to our well being, ultimately realized, and later deconstructed to live a healthier and happier life. Unfortunately we can’t always remove the addictive patterns engrained in our phone applications and other services that we use to make our lives easier.

We talked about establishing our values as a team to design for good. We created a discussion around self-awareness, meaningful connections, and good health. Self awareness brought people time and control of their day. Meaningful connections meant not swiping left and right on an app that claims to be designed to meet people, but to have a pleasant interaction while waiting in line. A healthier and happier life meant being able to go for a run and breathe clearly, instead of itching for something that does you more harm than good.

We brought our discussion towards prevalent services and organizations that capitalize from addictive behaviors. I posed two questions after developing our set of values the first was “Why Do Users Come To The Product Or Service In The First Place? followed by “How Can We Change an Organization’s Value?”. It’s easy to highlight the things that are wrong on an individual level, but putting minds together to work towards an actionable goal is far more beneficial in the design process. We brainstormed and white boarded through a myriad of solution spaces. Something that came to mind was changing the revenue stream or model of these services to better provide for their users. To developing check-in boxes in opposition to infinite play loops on video websites.

I hope to add more visual cues to explain my facilitation process in the coming days, but I truly found identifying with my team to have been extremely important in further the discussion around a hard topic. Addiction’s are tough, no matter what they are. It became clear and important that it’s important to recognize our own in order to better benefit the services and things we’re designing for.

If You’re Not Digitally Ready, Will You Be Digitally Robbed?

As we delved into patterns in design in the initial weeks of quarter two here at the Austin Center for Design an experience at a job I had came to mind. I hope you’ll read on to hear my story and learn as to how these patterns and your own experiences with systems can prove to be essential tools for a more moral framework.

I worked at a publication company that had a massive user base. The encyclopedias were in classroom’s all over the country, used for collegiate level research and even utilized by government agencies. This company had been putting a lot of focus on their digital platform and services. Through rapid expansion into the digital sphere things grew rather quickly, and from my view without much thought. In turn this once beneficial organization created a mess of a pay-per-use service that clients had no idea they were signing up for. Signed up for the free trial and didn’t cancel within the appropriate time frame? Too bad! The company clearly stated in tiny text at the bottom of the page that you had a seven-day window to opt out. How would a deduction of 120 dollars feel on your bank account as a broke student doing research? Screen Shot 2019-11-07 at 5.45.34 PM

My day’s at work were filled with responding to questions via email for refunds from students who did not know what they were being billed for. I heard from confused elderly persons who didn’t quite understand where they could opt out of the service, they didn’t even know they signed up for anything at times. They explained that they wanted to access the information online and inputting their billing information was simply a step for them to do so. I even recall a conversation from a woman who had just found out after three years that she had been paying for the service, as her son needed credible and citable source for a school project years ago.

This robbed these people of their time and their money. Whereas my role in speaking with these people provided me with a steady paycheck, on company time. I couldn’t help but feel conflicted at the end of my days explaining why this happened over and over again. This dark pattern I identified through direct experience as a customer service representative early on has stuck with me and become a vital tool in my toolkit. My entire role was to try and make a system that abused peoples trust, trustworthy again. It was cyclical and unhealthy. This service was excluding people who were unable to digest the “read between the lines” approach to providing a service. These users wanted to learn from a credible source, not be taken advantage of.

These people were being taken advantage of and according to some of the insightful readings in 2C I was able to see who I was speaking with on a day to day basis at this job in hindsight.

Screen Shot 2019-11-07 at 5.48.30 PM

Ethics to me is something that comes through one’s own experience. I’ve been putting things in and taking things out of my “ethical toolkit” for some time now. It’s in this quarter’s ethic’s class where formal construction is taking place and being talked about thoroughly with good intention.

It’s here where I’ve been able to assess what I want to bring to a future project. Do I want to carry a mindset driven by sales and growth? Or a mentally sound frame of reasoning and inclusion that supports a product or service. This experience at said company was something I’ve seen over and over again throughout other professions and stories. It’s something that I’ll always use to test my framework behind something I’m helping design.

An Improved Intellectual Toolkit

No designer’s toolkit is truly empty.

Throughout quarter one I’ve experienced a massive shift in how I’ve had to behave, think, and analyze. The term thrown in the deep end doesn’t even come close to how this program has worked in my experience. I’ve struggled a great deal in theory with the terminology used around design. The walls constructed around design in some of these readings I found entirely unnecessary. Some of these readings have been thick, and difficult to digest. At times I’ve felt better diving into the dictionary for readable material….

However, as we wrap up our theory course I now see the value in the readings we were presented with, most especially these unit four readings. Something that the readings before these have not explored was a space for inclusivity. I believe that design can be used to benefit humankind and should be accessible to all. I did my best to interweave the readings that spoke to me throughout my own experiences. After our last presentation our teacher, Scott, posed to me several questions that I could get much more value out of than the rubric that was presented to us.

The questions were;
What are the questions I am asking?
What are criteria I see for decision making?
What new intellectual tools have I picked up?

000076990023_2A
I start out my writing to with a story and photo about my voyage to Australia. I took this photograph north of Newcastle whilst “duning” with two friends of mine. The photo captures a woman with a board that we used to slide down massive hills of sand on. The photo represents what I think to be a common view of Australia, a beach, a board, a truck, and the ocean in the distance. I was sold on going to Australia for work from these friends of mine. I heard things about how easy it was to find a job, with an economy that strong, I could get a fruit picking job by just showing up somewhere. This to me, now sounds like the instagram version of my experience. What you might see on the surface is not exactly what is going on in reality….
000076990007_18A
My second photo contains a blurred view of a dog chomping on the leg of a kangaroo. This was my reality of Australia. Several months in Surat, Queensland in the middle of nowhere on a cattle ranch feeding the dogs and herding cattle. As I looked through my photos, I thought of defining the problem space I encountered abroad. This seemed to me like an ill structured problem I had created for myself. I was knee deep in a problem space that had no simple solution. There was no eject button.

A quote that spoke to me from Chris Pacione’s reading was “I’ll go a step further and say that design is like reading, writing, and arithmetic, something everyone should do, everyone can and should be taught to do, and many are starting to do.” I share the photo below of a child learning how to assemble a laser cut lamp I helped construct during my time at a fabrication lab in Spain. We held an open house, and all were welcome to assemble the flat cardboard lamp into a functioning 3-dimensional lamp in a matter of minutes! It’s activities like these that solidify my belief that design really is for all, it’s just a matter of how one is able to digest it.

Jocelyn Wyatt stated that “ One of the biggest impediments to adopting design thinking is fear of failure. I did my best to convey my failures above and in class. I’ve tried many “professions” and given career paths a go, however nothing has seemed to stick. The last two years I was able to participate in the construction of a temporary city in the Black Rock Desert two hours north of Reno, Nevada. I worked amongst a team of people who construct the Burning Man event. Essentially we’re posed with no guidance, only a single GPS point, to create a grid to house 70,000 participants. I feel my experience here relates to Richard Buchanan’s explanation of design is for all.

I reached a point where I’m able to understand and digest the readings in unit 4. I’m walking away from theory excited about being able to finally digest these readings. It took a long time but I feel confident about my newfound abilities in design literacy.

Theming Through a Farmers Market

Lauren, Leah, and I have found ourselves enclosed in a small black box here at Austin Center for Design. The black walls are covered in text, these pieces of text are on small white pieces of paper we’ve cut out called utterances. These utterances were pulled from massive word documents that we transcribed from hours of interviews we’ve conducted with people who are involved with HOPE Farmers Market (HOPE FM). It’s been a learning process for us, and we’re learning that the people we’re talking with are learning too. The farmer’s market contains an eclectic mix of self-starters, rebels, and passionate hobbyists. There’s such a diverse group of humans and businesses that attend the market. Everyone is having their own experience while others aim to provide an experience.

Through hours of interviews (30 plus) we are now at a point in the process where we are considering what our deliverables to our client could be. Amongst the walls of text exist “red trucks” obvious and pointed commonalities that have come across in our conversations with our interviewee’s. The Texas heat being one of them. Our goal at this point in the process is to develop themes. We walked into the market as outsiders, and although difficult, will remain outsiders in order to be able to provide more valuable insight. It’s been difficult to tip toe around without shouting out obvious problems, or easy solutions to some of the things we’ve seen. It’s bigger than that. This project is more important than that and design research carries more value than that. It’s finding out the things that lie beneath the surface. That is where our themes have begun to form.

Our first theme we’ve come across is this market provides a raw and experimental environment for people looking to try new things. People can bring their ideas to life, with few hurdles to jump over at HOPE. We’ve heard from those who had their product in mind long before they created it. Passion projects that started at HOPE have turned into profit for some, they’ve been able to leave jobs they didn’t like, and some walk past their products at local grocers in Austin. A vendor we spoke with has been coming to HOPE FM since its inception. Walter found a way to escape his desk job, via kombucha, and used the market to further propel his product. While others aspire to arrive there, renting kitchen space and walking the path to market from their local culture through food. A vendor named Jessie shared her story of working part time at a local taco joint while getting a grant from an incubator to help grow her business. She sell’s traditional Mexican candies and is now featured in Mexic-Arte Museum here in Austin. It’s been inspiring to hear from them, and it’s more inspiring to see their thoughts on paper clustered next to each other, in a way that only we’ve been able to see.

We continue to hear about a sacrifice of profit over people. Janet is a vendor who sells juice, she has such an intense passion for her product that she’s refused to scale up even though she was presented the opportunity. She said “In order for me to grow the business it’s going to need a longer shelf life. But I didn’t want to sacrifice the quality. In hot pasteurization you basically heat it up to a temperature to kill the bacteria, but also the flavor isn’t there.” This aversion to sacrifice of quality is present among other vendors at HOPE. Janet also emphasized that her recipes are from her grandmother, they’ve been passed down for generations and quality is the key. Janet is providing a piece of herself through her product and she’ll stop at nothing to leave a lasting impression.

This market has leveled the playing field for people to embrace their most raw experiments. A mother daughter rock duo plays their version of Little Miss Muffet, across Plaza Saltillo where the market takes place. Whether the customers of the market were stopping through for a cool beverage during their day or coming for a Sunday afternoon activity they’re going to hear some tunes, whether they like it or not. On the other side of the market, a renaissance storyteller has taken up a spot near the yoga mats where she recites folk lore and fairy tales from memory for tips. The market even has free yoga! A previous volunteer kicked off the program each Sunday and still returns to give instruction…. when they can. That being said these people are giving things a try, in a place of no judgement. HOPE Farmer’s Market seems to be much more than a market, it’s a platform, a playground, to try something different in pursuit of passion.

Something we also continue to hear is this polarizing magnetism for HOPE FM. There are people who have grown and are growing with the market, it’s their place, they have found a home for their product and in turn, themselves. People have been returning to HOPE weekend after weekend whether they’re profiting or not. The ambiance of the market plays into this polarization effect, and the people who are attracted may be unaware of the aversion people are experiencing as well. We heard from a local chef who used to visit the market finds it to be a market of treats, he doesn’t attend as frequently as he once did.. A neighborhood resident mentioned to us that the market seemed sad, and he doesn’t think he would go back.

Overall we’re looking forward to feedback so we can better develop our themes into insights.

A Story of HOPE at East Austin’s Only Farmers Market

A Story Of HOPE at East Austin’s Only Farmers’ Market

We’re a small team of designers on the beginning of our path to understanding interaction design and applying it in real world context. We’ve been conducting research for the past several weeks at a small farmers market in East Austin, Texas. The goal of our project is not to pick out problems or successes within the market but to observe and analyze the way this grassroots operation at Plaza Saltillo in East Austin functions as a whole. Myself and my team-mates, Lauren and Leah have visited the market weekend after weekend to better understand and embed ourselves in this ecosystem. We’ve spoken with the directors of the market, it’s vendors, and its customers. We have learned a wide variety of information from these parties and are reading into each piece with equal value to really get a feel for what it’s like to participate in this market.

As Austin grows in population day by day so do the dynamics of the city. East Austin’s number of multi-level apartments have started to cast a shadow on this once sleepy, sun-soaked market square on Sunday Mornings. As we’ve watched and documented the set-up of the market through tear down in the afternoon, we have seen that the clientele is just as diverse as the vendors themselves. Few farmers markets in the city offer the use of EBT and SNAP benefits like HOPE does. While some come to the market to utilize their SNAP and EBT benefits, others stroll through to purchase CBD products, juice elixirs and listen to eclectic tunes. There’s something special about HOPE that sets it apart from the rest of the farmers markets in Austin.

Through in depth one-on-one conversations with organizers, vendors and customers we’ve gained invaluable information into the happenings of the market. We are at a point where we are putting these people’s stories forward to paint a better picture of what HOPE Farmers Market really is.

CUSTOMERS

Melissa – “What the f*** is turmeric?!” shared this first-time market goer. Melissa and her dog Sunny sat with us for an interview on a balmy 100 degree afternoon. Melissa had googled things to do on Sundays the night before and ended up on a bench in the shade at HOPE. She sat down with us on a bench under the veranda and shared a bit about who she is and how she ended up at the farmers market that day. Melissa credits her sister as being the “farmer’s market person” in the family. She explained to us that she had trouble understanding how to “work a farmers market”, and that she didn’t intend on buying anything that day. She also explained that she usually shops by color. Once she became more comfortable throughout the conversation she openly admitted she was intimidated by the farmers market experience, but that she enjoyed the relaxed vibe of HOPE. She hopes to return once she understands the flow of the market a bit better. To her, HOPE felt laid back and actually appeared to be more of an artist’s market than a true farmers market. She also was interested in finding out more about the dog related products that the vendors had to offer because she leads a “dog-centric lifestyle”.

melissa photo

Lindsay – We spoke with a cyclist passing through the market on her way to Barton springs. She came to visit the kombucha dealer of the market but her voyage was to no avail. She was perplexed at there only being one cold drink vendor on this toasty Austin summer afternoon. She recounted with us the early days of the market and how it has changed from an eclectic warehouse spot to Saltillo Plaza over time. She explained that she usually makes an effort to stop by HOPE. She’s usually just passing through or meeting someone for coffee, but she elaborated that she finds HOPE to be a valuable asset to the community and hopes that it doesn’t die. When we went through her bag with her to see what she brought with her that day, she realized that she had brought a lunch with her to the market. She didn’t plan on buying any food there.

jennifer ss

Bertha – The third customer we spoke with came to the market with intense direction. A resident of the neighborhood for twenty years, Bertha walked through with her sickle in one hand and her son’s hand in the other. Bertha shared that she was coming by to shop for groceries and also to get her sickle sharpened at the knife sharpening stand. She uses her sickle to cut her front lawn and “threaten her neighbors”. Bertha made a few quick comments about the high-rise complexes in the area and her fear of drones delivering groceries to nearby apartment patios. She said that she generally didn’t feel like a part of what was going on in the neighborhood anymore and she generally kept to her own corner. That being the market and her front yard…

Our stories from the field continue with a glimpse into the lives of vendors of the market;
Jessie – We were fortunate enough to meet Jessie, an entrepreneur and immigrant with a personality as sweet as her products. We were able to visit Jessie in her place of preparation at a nearby commissary kitchen to watch her prepare the goods she brings to the market. Jessie shared her heartwarming story of why she uses the ingredients she does to provide a sweet yet health conscious treat to those who seek it.

Jeff welcomed us into his home, which also functions as his lab space, stock room and partner’s art studio. Operating out of a tiny apartment near downtown Jeff, an engineer by trade, shared his real reason for making quality CBD products. He and his mother have sensitive skin, and have always struggled to find products that they could use. He first tests all of his products on his own body. If he is personally happy with the product, only then will he sell it at a market. While he has plans to scale the company, and sell both white-label and wholesale, he says he will never leave the farmers markets behind. He’s in this business for the positive effects he can have on others, and nothing compares to being able to see that pleasure on his customer’s faces. He explained how much he has learned about the CBD industry as well as his excitement for a booming new industry. It’s a time for CBD, he explained, that is very similar to the days of the wild west.

Lastly, we spoke with an employee of the market, Amber. Amber is a roaring ball of energy who openly shared many details of the market, her love of farmers markets in general, and her personal motivation for showing up every Sunday, even in the heat. She and her family come in from their own farm out of town to run the show. Amber brings her shining personality and passion for humans weekend in and out. She sees to it that the front and back end of things are taken care of, so that vendors have the ability to focus on their products. She sees her role in the market as an opportunity to let others flourish.

Through these deep conversations we were able to learn much more about what motivates humans to return to this tiny farmers market on the east side. We shared a few of these stories with our client and we were met with a positive response. The staff of the market works tirelessly, and doesn’t often have time to step back and evaluate. They loved hearing vendor and customer feedback. As we work towards synthesizing the data included here along with 12 other interviews, we hope to find threads and patterns that will generate insight into what the market can do to evolve.