Thermostat Version 1: Perfection Kills

In our ideation design class, we are designing the interface for a fictional thermostat. We started off by studying and modeling a Honeywell thermostat. Now we’ve come up with our own. Unfortunately for me the lesson I learned wasn’t how to come up with a kickass interface design – it was that striving for (theoretical) perfection can kill my creative flow.

The screens below are wireframes, which I like to compare to architectural blueprints. A wireframe is the skeletal framework of design, with minimal focus on the visual design. It shows the function and how major features of a design relate to one another. You may view these frames on google docs.

The first version of my thermostat interface.

Sometimes when I design I have the habit of thinking about all the details and problems I have to mitigate, before I’ve really worked out a general direction. Rather than focus on designing for a hero flow

The concept for the home screen, which shows the temperature read at 72°F has up and down arrows, as well as a settings icon. The main idea was that most users just want to click up or down to set the temperature to the desired state.

The settings are placed on another screen because those are features that a user might rarely use and if the want to they will likely be more motivated.

However, I got stuck when thinking about my thermostat design in relation to the nest. I wanted that killer interaction that informs all the design choices and unifies the controls. In the nest’s case, its the turning of the dial. When getting to my scheduling screen I wanted something elegant and simple. Everything I came up with didn’t match the nest – and of course it wouldn’t! It was my first iteration.

After working with Matt Franks, and sketching flows rather than complete screens, it let me get out lots of options. This helped me do things incrementally and (metaphorically) die in the quest for perfection. I used these designs in version 2 of my wireframes.

Keep It Simple Stupid! Thermostat Concept Model Redesign

For the Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving class, taught by Matt Franks, our class will be looking at re-designing the user interface for a Honeywell Thermostat.

To begin with, we created a concept model of the current thermostat interface to understand how the features are laid out and relate to one another. Below is my mockup of the main spaces of the interface below – make sure to click on the image because the screenshot below is just the first level of this complicated interface!

Part of this exercise is to understand where the interface system stands so that we may understand the problems and complexities which would arrive for a user when interacting with it. This allows us to design our own initial concept model for the interface design we’ll be iterating on in class this quarter.

A few problems I noticed with the current Honeywell Thermostat:

1. It’s Ugly and Confusing: There are so many options and ways to have complete control, that it’s visually and technically overwhelming. The majority of users – whether contractors or consumers – probably won’t use many of these features.

2. Heirarchy: The thermostat has four main tabs at the top of the screen, visible at the upper levels. They are: Home, Menu, Fan, System.

The Fan and System levels have very options to control, and their hierarchy of features only goes one level deep. The Menu screen is a mess – it has tons of options which allow fine grained control. Some of the options on the menu screen only go one more level down, except for the preferences option which then has a ton more options. They are so hidden it’s easy to miss them (which might not matter anyway).

3. Unexpected responses: When first touching the up or down arrows on the home screen to change the temperature, it will just wake and brighten the screen from sleep mode. After hitting up or down again, the large temperature reading doesn’t change – that’s because its the current temp. The desired temperature reading is located between the buttons, is smaller than the current temp. reading, and is often blocked by a user’s hand.

Secondly, buttons throughout the various screens labeled “Done”, “Okay”, or “Previous Menu” might behave differently or place in different locations depending on the current screen the user is interacting with. The language and location of buttons of these vital navigational functions are (literally) all over the map. Users aren’t sure what to expect, and may not be able to get to home.

Future Concept

The concept model for my future thermostat interface is all about keeping it simple. Most consumers will just want to know the current temperature, and click and up or down button to easily move it. I also want to add optional icons which would indicate current settings such as when the system is off, in an energy conservation mode or following a pre-set schedule. These icons would add additional information to the user, without visually crowding up the screen. Users who don’t know or care what the icons mean, can still easily use the system.

By hitting a “settings” button, they are given simplified options to control their thermostat. Most use binary functions like “on” or “off”, and at most give the user three options.

Third level screens are only used for more complicated functions like scheduling. An “auto” scheduling feature would learn from the user’s behavior and automatically adjust the temperature based on history of preference.

I’ve purposely removed or simplified functions found in the original Honeywell concept model. My intuition is that 95% or more of users don’t care about these options. By keeping things simple and easy to understand, I’m betting that users will be more likely to use the additional thermostat functions like scheduling in the first place – rather than give up.

Pregnancy, Plans and Socioeconomics

I have partnered with Anna Krachey – with whom I did the AC4D startup challenge – for the original research which will influence the rest of our work during the remaining quarters in our program. We’re looking at understanding pregnancy and birth plan choices, and how they are effected by socioeconomic standing.

(A Short Interruption to your regularly scheduled blogging: If you know a pregnant woman, an OBGYN/Nurse, Midwife/Doula, social worker or researcher involved in pregnancy, birth or childrens health – would you get in touch with me? )

What does the journey from pre-pregnancy to getting pregnant, making plans and critical health decisions, all the way to birth and the postpartum period look like for women and their partners? Why does one woman schedule a C-section with an OBGYN and another plan a homebirth with a midwife? Does a woman’s socioeconomic standing, her education and cultural background influence the decisions she makes (or has made for her)?

We started off by creating a timeline from pre-conception to postpartum (the period shortly after birth). We’ve identified a few potential stages to apply a kind of framework to the timeline. It starts from thinking and trying (or not) to get pregnant, to finding out your pregnant. It then moves into a phase we call “hard conversations and decisions” – that time where women and couples have to decide if they want to continue the pregnancy and keep the child after birth, or if they want to explore other options like adoption or abortion. For women and couples who actively wanted children, the pregnancy might force a multitude of decisions; everything from how to find a doctor they like and what kind of birth they want, to future parenting styles, dealing with insurance coverage (or lack there of) to decisions around finances / careers, living situations, etc..

It’s a lot to think about! We hope by starting off with this flexible timeline, it will help us understand the periods of emotions and decisions a pregnant woman and her partner might face. It’s also a great way to track the different people she might come into contact with during her pregnancy. We’ll be using this to help us brainstorm with the recruiting process.

We have our first contextual inquiry with a pregnant woman at her home scheduled for Wednesday, and I can’t be more excited. I have no idea what kind of product, service or system Anna and I might come up with at the end of this 24 week process, but I think that’s the fun of it. While the amount of work and research we have to do is daunting, I’m feeling optimistic and glad to research a topic which literally everyone in the world has been involved with in one way or another (except all you cyborgs out there – you know who you are.)

Thinking about Value

For my quarter 1 startup business challenge, I’ve been working with Anna Krachey on a professional headshot and photography business called PictureDay ATX.

One of the challenges we faced was gaining enough customers. One of our original strategies was marketing towards co-working spaces in the Austin, TX area. The idea was this: we would partner with a co-working space, and market to their members via in-office flyers and internal email lists. We would then come to the co-working space for an afternoon, take headshots one after the other of their members, and make a bunch of money!

As a former member of the co-working space WorkBar in Boston, MA, I saw a photographer use this very model quite successfully. *HOWEVER* things didn’t work so smoothly for us. It turned out many co-working spaces either had photographer members who provided these services to the other members for free or discount, or the space provided headshots as a perk.

Thinking about value, we realized that we couldn’t provide much value if any to co-working members. How can you compete with free?

So we focused on the personal value we provided to our customers. Being able to see yourself in the best possible light – both literally and figuratively – provides tremendous value. Additionally, many people don’t like having their picture taken. So, being able to provide a comfortable and enjoyable experience for our customers while getting their picture taken, also added a great amount of value to our service.

While we did fewer headshot sessions than we would have with co-working members, and spent a long amount of time with each client, we were still able to make a significant amount in sales. We also found that the positive experience we provided clients resulted in our customer spending an average of about 63% more than they originally planned – they had a great time and loved the photos Anna shot, that they wanted to purchase more photos or additional retouching services. While customers might have ended up spending more, compared to established competitors who do this full time, we were still a bargain. We ended up providing value – both in the product we delivered and the experience we provided – to our customers, and both Anna and I came out enjoying it at the end!

Alternative Education & The At Risk Student Final Presentation

What a quarter its been! As we come to the end of our first quarter at AC4D we’re finishing up our research project on alternative education and the at-risk student.

So far we’re gone through the research, synthesis and work modeling phases. We’ve met lots of interesting folks – from teachers, mentors and former alt-ed students. Using contextual inquiry we heard lots of stories with different perspectives on the alternative education experience. One participant, Kyle (name changed), was a recent alternative education student whom we found particularly engaging. His insightful, descriptive stories really helped our group empathize with his experience at an alt-ed school, and provided context for stories told to us by other participants.

We’ve included a link to the scrubbed version of our final research and synthesis presentation below (scrubbed meaning we’ve changed names and identifying characteristics to protect the identities of our participants.) We focused on Kyle because his experience and stories lead us to significant insights and gave us meaningful data and work models. If we continue next quarter, we’ll use his data and insights as provocations for building a system or artifact with the goal of helping to solve the wicked problem of educating students with behavioral problems. More on our work models below.

View our Final Design Research & Synthesis Presentation on Google Drive

Work models give us a visual representation of the user data. The five different views of the data assist in sense making, seeing the points of data and stories told to us by our participants through different lenses. We used our research participant Kyle (name changed) to make these work models. Click the thumbnails below to see the different models we created.

Work Models gallery:

Perspectives on Problem Solving & Methods

Recently in our theory class we’ve been reading about understanding problems, and how to solve them using heuristic thinking or computational, algorithmic methods.

We read Herb Simon who described well structured problems and Ill-structured problems. Well structured problems follow clearly defined rules, have a goal and can be tested. Ill-structured are often quite complex. Existing situation and desired goal aren’t fully clear.

Philip Johnson-Laird wrote about the benefits and power of heuristic problem solving, which refers to experience based problem solving like a rule of thumb.  This was contrasted to mathematicians Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman who scientifically demonstrated that heuristic problem solving can often lead to incorrect conclusions by humans, and that computational thinking is superior.

Chris Paccione proposed that widespread adoption of design thinking will have massive positive benefits to society the same way that widespread math literacy has had. Paccione’s praxis of design thinking describes a heuristic, iterative process of problem solving. By going through these multiple cycles of observing and making, you gain new experience will builds upon itself.


Hustlin' $50 Headshots

The notable 21st century rapper, Rick Ross, opined “Every Day I’m Hustlin’.” I have used this intellectually challenging thesis as inspiration for my AC4D $1000 Startup Business Challenge.

I have teamed up with fellow classmate and photographer extraordinaire Anna Krachey, and together we started to offering $50 Head shots in the Austin, TX area. Our first public session will be this Wednesday, October 9th at the Chicon Collective. I hope the AC4D community will spread the word. You can get more information and book an appointment at our website. Updated: We had to cancel our shoot at the Chicon Collective. More to follow soon.

Part of the challenge is to go out of our comfort zone. I’ve been busy networking with co-working spaces, getting Austin area friends to spread the world and (trying) to sell our service to anyone who will listen. Making the ask or proposing an up-sell has been tough, but I’m pushing through it. I won’t get better without practice. So, like Rick Ross, I’ve been hustling our $50 headshots even if I’d prefer to sit behind my computer and write silly / sales pitch blog posts like this one.

I’ve also attached some cool examples of Anna’s work and retouching skills. The guy in the photo is me :)

Understanding the relationship between information and progress

In our theory class we’ve been reading about human experiences and technology: whether it is in education, understanding privacy or designing in developing countries. After each section of readings, we’re asked to plot a 2×2 diagram as a way to synthesize the author’s perspectives through a broader lens.

While some of these readings might focus on different topics, I found the idea of understanding information to be an overarching theme. We started with John Dewey and Neil Postman. For Dewey, it was how we gain information or knowledge through experiences in education. Writer John Postman looked at information as filtered through technological innovation.

Dewey and Postman suggested that information, labeled as experience or technology, was either good or bad for the individual. Information therefore needs to be filtered or curated so that an individual may gain benefit from it. Our readings concerning privacy by authors such as Paul Dourish, danah boyd and Emily Nussbaum got me thinking about information as open and public, rather than filtered or private.

This inspired the first axis on my 2×2 diagram as contrast between information being filtered for an individual or whether information should be open and chaotic, with the individual finding meaning in it on their own terms.

Readings by C.K. Prahalad, Erik Hersman and Jocelyn Wyatt concerned designing in developing countries. With diverse perspectives influenced by their backgrounds as a marketer, entrepreneur and design researcher restively, they looked at understanding designing for the world’s poor. Prahalad took a very pro-capitalist perspective; expanding consumer choices for the world’s poor is empowering for them and profitable for corporations. He gave an example of rural Indian soy farmers gaining information about world commodity prices through new technology to allow them to make more money.

I made a leap from Prahalad who saw open information as progress back to Dewey, who saw filtered information as leading to progress. This set my second 2×2 diagram axis as whether an author favored change as progress or valued tradition as benefiting society.

This created a noteworthy dynamic between how information, whether it be open and chaotic or filtered and curated, is valued in relation to how societies focus on either progress or tradition.

Get out of here, you are ridiculous!

Recently in our studio class here at AC4D we’ve been assigned a three week startup business challenge. The short of the long of it is that we need to make $1000 in three weeks going outside of our comfort zone. Understandably, most of the students in class we’re thrown for a loop. But like good little entrepreneurs, we put all that fear and anxiety aside, and got down to work!

I have a terrible habit of relating my life to pop-culture. Recently, I’ve been reminded of a great quote from one of the Bridget Jones movies.

Bridget Jones: [Diary] Oh God, I’m very worried. What if someone says, “Bridget Jones get out of here, you are ridiculous”?

And you know what? Every time I have to go out of my comfort zone and do some hustlin’, the first thought in my mind is someone is going to call me out and tell me I’m a ridiculous dilettante who has no idea what they’re doing. It’s actually happened a few times to me, more or less.

"I already feel like an idiot most of the time anyway"
(Because every blog post on the internet needs to reference a meme, or no one will read it. I think that’s BuzzFeed’s whole business model)

But, I can either wallow in self doubt or push ahead, and politely ask for what I need. I’m working with my fellow classmate and teammate for this project, Anna Krachey. We’re doing a professional headshot photography business called PictureDay ATX. Anna is a pro photographer extraordinaire. She’s taking headshots and doing retouching. This is outside of her comfort zone because she’s commercializing her photography skills and because of the nature of the business, can’t spend the same amount of time and effort as she would on her fine art prints.

I’m going outside of *my* comfort zone by hustling up business, getting people to pay hard earned money for Anna’s terrific work and asking for lots of help and favors along the way. Basically, my nightmare.

So, to combat my fear of being called ridiculous, I role played making cold calls with my teammate Anna. We’re approaching co-working spaces here in Austin, TX and asking them to let us set up shop for a few hours to offer headshot services to their members. I practiced with Anna explaining that I was a student with this startup business challenge (something many in the co-working space can probably relate to), and if it would be possible to come in for an afternoon to offer affordable and professional headshots to their co-working members.

Surprisingly, on my first cold call to a co-working space, I got a great response. While they already have professional photographers as co-working members, they are still willing to let us set up shop. Plus, there are a bunch of other co-working spaces in Austin that I am in the process of connecting with too. That response, plus the awesome response we’ve been getting to Anna’s work is making me feel more confident we are on the right track and will make our $2000 ($1000 per teammate!) goal.

Wish me luck and track my progress here on the AC4D blog and at our website

The changing roles of designers resulting from varying design philosophies.

Recently in IDSE102 Design, Society and the Public Sector, our class has been reading about different approaches and philosophies on interacting with users when conducting design research and creating new products or systems.

While reading A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design by Liz Sanders, I was struck by how her approach to co-design changes the very role of a designer. Rather than being someone who interprets and makes decisions with a degree of removal from the end user, a designer becomes a facilitator that leads users throughout the process of creation. The designer teaches the user how to make design decisions rather than making those decisions for them.

This philosophy was related to readings by Emily Pilloton and Chris LeDantec. They see designers as people who must be embedded in a users experience, empathizing with them and involving them in the design process albeit with varying levels decision making power.

This vision of co-design is in contrast to the views of academic Donald Norman. He sees design research and co-creation as impediments to innovation and original creation. Innovation is born out of new technology discovered by the individual, not through the collective processes of design research and co-creation. Users are all but disregarded.

Selections from Forlizzi and Fulton Suri show the importance of empathizing and considering a user. However, Forlizzi’s Product Ecology Framework focuses on how a designer can decipher a user’s behavior and all the factors which might influence their experience. The designer is still a decision maker, with allowances for participatory design exercises that act more as probes for feedback. Fulton Suri places emphasis on the process of synthesis, rather than design research. This leads to the designer having power as a decision maker, while still placing an emphasis on designing with empathy.

Gaver uses tools in the design research which might be associated with tools of co-design, but his interaction with a user is minimal. He sees the artifacts users create as abstract and for the benefit of provocation. While the designer might sympathize with their research participants, little emphasis is placed on empathizing with their experiences and viewpoints. This results in a philosophy of designing for one’s own self, rather than with a user community.

While these authors mainly fall on opposite ends of the spectrum, I found readings by Victor Margolin to be the outlier. He proposes a model of equilibrium, “a system of ecological checks and balances which consist of finite resources”. While his equilibrium model may sound similar to Forlizzi’s, I see his model creating a design system that facilitates design beneficial to society. His ideas of re-inforcing a grassroots design culture place the designer as facilitators of the larger systems at play for the good of the user, rather than involving said users in the design process.

You may view a corresponding visual presentation I created to understand these readings below.