Making progress on Foresight

This is part six in a series detailing updates to our research into makers working contract jobs. To learn more about our research, go here. To catch up on what we did last week, go here

Design team: Sean Redmond, Lauren Sands, Kyle Beck

Overview

After narrowing down to focus on Foresight, we quickly ran into a bunch of hurdles. We have made a list of deliverables we are aiming to accomplish before the end of Q3 which is fast approaching, and tackled a handful of them over the past week. We were able to divvy up tasks and fortunate enough to get a previous alum to grab a coffee and give us some very solid advice.

Blue Sky Progress

Tested our blue sky idea with a prototype – We made a prototype model that personified the main component of deciding what percentage of your invoice you would like to be automatically split between a checking and savings account. We took it across the street to our friendly neighborhood bartenders to see how it would work. It was well received by both bartenders, both of whom do side hustles as carpenters, with an emphasis on putting money away for taxes.

Prototype for blue sky idea. The user spun the wheel to pick the two percentages that equal 100%. The money was then moved into savings on sticky notes, giving them the ability to compartmentalize them into savings goals.
Prototype for blue sky idea. The user spun the wheel to pick the two percentages that equal 100%. The money was then moved into savings on sticky notes, giving them the ability to compartmentalize them into savings goals.

Competitive analysis and feature comparisons – We looked at the landscape of other financial products and charted them on a 2×2 to get a feel for where we stand. We knew there were a lot of others in the space,  but were surprised with the breadth and depth at which they exist. We even found a company that gamified savings by siphoning money off of everyone’s savings and put it into a lottery. This was the same wild idea Sean had in our 200 concepts that we dismissed, but here it is.

We found ourselves in a pretty crowded corner of our 2×2, focusing on products for individuals with an emphasis on money coming in. We used “money coming in” because it was able to capture components of saving money and investing (as opposed to expenses or budget tracking aka money going out) as well as invoicing tools which are essential to make the money come in.

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Noticing we were in a cluster, we wanted to find what separated us from others, so we did a feature breakdown. This was very helpful to compare exactly what features overlapped with our people in our space. As crowded as the corner was, we think we can identify new axis for our graph based on the cluster to find where to best position our company.

Insights on Blue sky – We believe we are in a unique space with our concept because we are focusing on invoicing as a tool to generate savings, which is not an area blended by any other product we found. Our struggle has been to define our unique value proposition quickly and succinctly. It has been unclear if we are specifically helping people save for taxes, or to save for any general goal, or if we are alleviating their administrative headache.

Our meeting with AC4D alum Nicole was very fruitful, and she gave some good advice on how to better view our position in the market. Aside from sharing techniques for better approaching competitive analysis and feature breakdown, she also had ideas for how to think about revenue models where as we could partner with established products with open API’s to quickly increase our user base. While spit-balling our concept, she made a remark that stuck with me as a good jump off for our value proposition – Empower and enable new business owners. 

Next Steps – This coming week, we plan to focus on defining our unique value proposition and understanding the pillars of our brand. We also plan to create an interface prototype and conduct use case interviews to help define what differentiates us.

Minimum Viable Product Progress

Prototyping with a service – Due to our limitations of accessing bank accounts, and the liability of handling other people’s money, our MVP turned into a service. To try and replicate the benefits of Foresight, we launched a website that offers to generate, track, and send professional invoices as well as a follow up service to keep people accountable for their savings goals.

We built a service blueprint to identify the steps needed to provide some value to our users. We also built multiple customer journey maps to compare the current state of our original interviewees to our MVP and blue sky idea.

Journey map comparison of current state vs MVP vs blue sky
Journey map comparison of current state vs MVP vs blue sky. The MVP user follows the path of Responsible Saver after they receive payment.
Steps outlining the process for our MVP service
Steps outlining the process for our MVP service

To date, we have three users who have participated in our service, two of which are test subjects (thank you Dan and Britt) and one genuine user. Our follow up time-frame is 5 days after invoice request so we have yet to see if our process has helped the user put aside money for saving.

Insights on our MVP – One area we have struggled with over the week is trying to sell the value of our MVP, which falls short compared to the automation and peace of mind involved with our blue sky concept. Many of the makers we interviewed use an invoicing service like Square or Freshbooks, so by not being able to process payment we are actually an added step in their journey.

We also conducted two think-aloud tests while people used the service, which led to some insights about how we can rework our website and form. People thought the website was heavily focused on saving and less so on invoices and billing, and also got tripped up properly filling out the form.

We heard things like “I feel like I can learn how much I should save”, “Is this a free service or no?”, “I didn’t know I could hit return on the line items”, and “Does it actually put money in your savings account?”

On a positive note, we also heard “I hate doing invoices.” This is inline with the detest for administrative work we heard in our interviews. Small victories….

Next Steps – Some low-hanging fruit is to adjust the website copy and form to make things more user-friendly. We also want to get a few more user through the process to verify if the predetermined savings % and follow up is effective in getting people to take the step to move money.

Insights and Design Principles for AT&T Universal Search

Through Communications in Design so far this semester, we have been focusing on finding our voice and using it to be compelling storytellers. To exercise these skills we built a design brief around a problem with a conceptual client, and were then tasked with generating research insights and design principles.

The task given was distilled down to this –

how to deliver a universal search that distinguishes various content, responds quickly, and encourages exploration?

Getting to Insights

We had initially done the research and design brief individually, but to make sense of our various research the other AT&T focused members, Brittany and Leah, worked with me to synthesize our findings. Because this was not true contextual inquiry and a fictitious ask, we made utterances and statements about TV watching as we know to be true, or based them on the research we had done into over the top television and our competitive analysis.

We grouped them into themes and were able to generate some fun and provocative insights. One of my favorites was “TV let’s you in on the joke” – we got to this after realizing television has a community feeling to it, and it exists much past the hour or so it airs on TV. People take to twitter to live tweet reactions, others listen to podcasts to gain deeper knowledge about the plot, but all of them come back to the idea that people are interesting in having a conversation about the show as a way to connect to friends, family, and colleagues.

I came away with three main insights from this activity that would relate one-to-one to the design principles that followed.

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1. No single approach to search can check all the boxes for all the users

We noticed a variety of reasons behind the “why” people watch TV. Many users have changed platforms simply to follow a favorite show, showing a loyalty and interest in a specific set of content. Other viewers seek OTT providers because of their rich catalog of new and exclusive content, showing an interest in  exploration and discovery.

2. The environment in which we watch dictates how users approach a search

By being present with users in various circumstances, we noticed that the content viewed is often directly related to the surrounding environment. People who watch during a commute or lunch break opt for shorter length content on their mobile device, while movies and sport events are enjoyed in the home in a larger format.

3. People will watch shows simply to be a part of the conversation

The connected world has moved the needle on why people choose to watch TV in the first place. We have seen that viewers want to be part of the conversation that follows an episode or series by joining fan clubs, taking to Twitter to live tweet reactions, and listening to podcasts to gain deeper knowledge to share with others. We believe FOMO is alive and well when it comes to staying current on TV.

Design Principles

The design principles are the pillars that will guide the final design concepts. They are not intended to be prescriptive, but do need to be actionable. Our professor in the class led me to this article which I found very helpful as a checklist to test my principles against. As I mentioned before, these principles relate to a the research insights one-to-one.

1. Let them pick their path

We should provide various paths to the users end goal. In doing so, the user will decide the most enjoyable route to get to their end destination, which may differ from day to day even for the same user.


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Example: The AT&T search should prompt the user to select the journey they want to be taken on at that particular viewing session. If they would like to be taken to a recommended show based on their previous viewings, select Concierge. If they want their tried and true classics, select Companion. Or if they want to open up the search and discover what is trending at this point in time, select All the Rage.

2. Search should be aware

The search function should pick up on common signals. There are many factors that become patterns in user viewing habits, the search should provide the most relevant and curated content that fits the particular users situation.
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Example: Users watch differently when they are alone as compared to with a spouse or friends. They view different content on the bus than they do in their bedroom. The AT&T search should take the location signals from the user and begin to generate predictive habits.

In the bedroom + spouse within 15’ + after 6pm = The Simpsons

3. Keep trends in view

The search presentation should highlight popular content. Allow users to see popular and interesting material in a way that does not force them to partake,
but makes trending topics easily accessible to those who want to be included.

 

Capture

 

Example: The AT&T platform should allow users to connect a profile that enables their network of friends to see what they have recently or are currently watching. A “trend board” that aggregates what is trending among all viewers would also provide opportunities to discover new content that can be shared
with friends and colleagues.

Next steps

Our next task is to now use these design principles to create concepts for the final presentation, making sure that the principles laid out are the guides to the outcome.

Design Brief for AT&T Universal Search

The task presented for us in our new class “Communication in Design”, was to create a design brief based off of a fictional scenario randomly given to small groups in the class. The purpose was to make a compelling argument which would provide confidence to the client about our process and approach to tackling design challenges.

The challenge I received was from AT&T to help dissolve the issues that surround a universal search option for Over The Top (OTT) content. OTT content bypasses traditional channels and provides media to the user via the internet. Think Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, etc. This is massive emerging market and AT&T has found it’s way onto the playing field with it’s service called AT&T TV.

The goal for AT&T is to become the “go-to” provider for regular watching needs, such as live TV, news, and sports. It understands that Netflix and Disney+ are more specialized in the content, but that is not where it is choosing to attack. Instead, it’s maximizing it’s position as a traditional content provider to do the same in the OTT scene.

The challenge became clear when I started to think about the different type of content that can be provided in this scenario. Live television, recorded television, On-Demand shows and movies, as well as Premium channels like HBO that are incorporated int their platform. The search function will hold the responsibility of filtering through all of these titles and presenting them to the user in a way that is easily deciphered. This led to questions such as what visual cues will be given to designate each type of content? What kind of hierarchy will be set when a search could bring back options for shows On-Demand, but also live episodes that don’t run until 11pm tonight? The next question I wanted t incorporate into the design approach was how forgiving will the search command be? And lastly, with a database this big, how do you ensure that relevant and trending shows are prioritized and not forced into a deep dive by the user?

These questions all fed into the design brief that outlined the approach for tackling this scenario with AT&T.

IDSE302_Design Brief_v2_1.22.20

Taking AT&T Over The Top

Over the past decade, the way in which we consume media has changed drastically – this is especially true in world of television. The concept of traditional television is becoming archaic due to the expansion of smartphones and the advancements in technology and data transfer. According to a survey by eMarketer – 75% of content worldwide is viewed through a mobile device. This way of circumventing traditional service providers is called Over-The-Top, or OTT, and it’s a booming market.

With this shift in behavior, it is no surprise that many new faces are joining Netflix in this realm. Hulu, Amazon Video, and YouTube TV have all been chipping away, but recently even more players are getting a piece of the pie. Disney+, Apple+, Roku, SlingTV, and iTunes are all OTT providers getting in the game, and AT&T can be added to that list as well.

The Challenge

As AT&T joins the party, there are many obstacles that they need to consider to ensure a quality user experience, as well as looking for novel ways to differentiate themselves from the saturated market. The task given to us, is to look into the world of OTT and help AT&T create a viable concept for how user search for content, while also signifying the difference between Live TV, OnDemand, as well as Premium services like HBO that will be included in the AT&T bundle. A simple search for “game” will return information about a live sports game, any episode current, recorded, or upcoming from the Gameshow Network, as well as OnDemand Premium shows like Game of Thrones. In all instances, the way this information is presented will need to be quickly digested and understood and done in a manner that makes searching and discovery fun. With this in mind, I began the exploration into areas of interest that may be particularly useful as we begin to discover the problem space.

Areas of Interest

Searching vs navigation

Searching requires the user to have a certain understanding of what they are looking for. Much like the “game” scenario from before, they need to know a game is being played, their provider carries Gameshow Network, or have an interest in watching Game of Thrones. There is a taxation on the user to input the keywords, and do so correctly.

Navigation implies that the user does not know where they are going, much like a map at a amusement park. There may be some categories from which to choose from, but the results may be serendipitous – or they may fall flat and find nothing that excites them at all.

The combination of the two will be a unique way to alter the process in which people look for content.

Mobile Viewing

As noted earlier, 75% of the global population consumes their content from a mobile device. This is not surprising, as they are essentially mini TV’s in our pocket, and especially in less prosperous countries, they may be the only screen available to some people. As the speed of data transferring improves with 5G, more and more content will be streamed through our phones rather than a television set.

This is important when I think about a search function, because it greatly reduces the display size, and also changes the tools for interaction, from a remote control to just their hand. This may be to a user experience benefit however, as swiping and scrolling are much more pleasing than clicking through a cumbersome controller.

Future of Hardware

The last area I want to heavily consider is the emergence of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. As these both become more mainstream, it is worth considering what the process for searching and navigating in either scenario may provide. Utilizing 3-dimensional space has the opposite problem of a limited phone screen, but may be just as tricky to maneuver. I believe an effort to pioneer this space could be very interesting and unlock many opportunities for enjoyable user experiences.

Branded by an Ethical Framework

Throughout the quarter in Ethics, we have been building out an ethical framework as a means to test and check problem scenarios to, now and in the future. Getting to this point has been pretty challenging, it’s often felt like a dump of ideas, starred notes, and ethereal situations that are hard to ground in real life. I needed a way to bring these ideas together and build the rough draft of what should be my ethical framework as a designer for the future, and to do that I revisited a concept that I was familiar with.

I have always enjoyed branding and logo design, and thought the idea of attaching an ethical framework to a brand could be a powerful message. What if all of the brands we know shared the sub-structure of decision making that went into new product launches and deployments? I think some companies already wear a lot on their sleeve, but a mission statement is not the same as the thought process behind development. This is probably because a lot of the decisions that we throw at the framework may run counter to the idea of capitalism.

This is not to sound anti-capitalistic, but I do believe there is a level of greed and a myopic view towards investor earnings reports that has pushed ethics to the side. So what if a company was built around ethics in the first place? Would that change our expectations as consumers, and what about as investors? It’s an idea I want to continue to tease out throughout the remainder of my time at AC4D, but this seemed like a prime opportunity to think about it at a deeper level.

To explain the brand quickly, it is an idea that I have carried in my head for some time as a way to represent myself. The letters KNGSN are pronounced king-son or king-sun. This derives from two things, the idea that we are all beholden to the sun to survive. It makes the grass grow and the world go round, literally. The other half is that my father’s name is Kingsley and he goes by King, so I am King’s son. I couldn’t decide which spelling so I did the cool hipster thing and took out all the vowels. The icon represents a king’s crown and also a rising sun. I didn’t think of this solely for this presentation, it’s something I have worked on in the past, but this seemed like a great opportunity to put it to use.

For the rest of this blog post, I’m going to talk through the steps that I took to arrive at this framework, and hit on a few areas I feel are important to me.

Framework Presentation

Like I said earlier, trying to pull my cavalcade of ideas seemed a bit daunting. I had dug through my notes and found points of interest and quotes that spoke to me and tried to find a way to position them that made sense. I did a lot of digging around for existing architectures that inspired me, and found many good examples along with a few not so much.

Framework Presentation (1)

I experimented with different diagrams, thinking about how to work what was essentially a series of gut check questions, into an order that made sense. One idea that stood out was thinking about it through the phases of design. I tried categorizing the questions into areas like concept development, prototyping, and launch. It seemed decent, but it was not resonating with me, as some of it felt forced into a bucket that maybe wasn’t right.

Frameworkv1_12.2.19

So instead, I fell back on the branding, and put that at the center. The mantra “keep your island beautiful” lives below it,, which is a personal saying I like to reference to think about problems from a micro to a macro level. Your island can be your mind or your body, something you need to take care of to be in the right head space for design. Your island can also expand, being maybe your office desk, or  your house, something you care about and want to maintain. Further than that, your island becomes  your community, your state, your country. Moving outwards, we should start to share this compassion we gave to ourselves and spread it to others. Ultimately, our world is an island that we are all inhabitants of, and thinking globally through design is necessary when we view things through time and scale.

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After that, I took the highlights of the quarter and re-wrote them onto post-it notes and found themes between them or general sentiments they were conveying. This allowed me to think of aspects as self-reflecting, as well as projecting ideas outwards. I created the groups Present-Past-Future for myself, and Create-Grow-Plan-Reflect to project. It helped me to ground myself with a statement, to understand the location in the framework before asking questions. All of this came together in what is my current framework, but surely not the last edit of it.

Framework v2_v4-04

Looking ahead, I want to run more scenarios of what a startup company might look like if it followed a framework form the beginning, and especially if it put that framework out open to the public. I believe it would make for more accountability, more transparency, and a deeper connection to the products we buy and use. It would build trust and alignment, and in theory a more loyal customer base.

One thing I have taken away from this quarter of ethics is that having these conversations is important, and good to share with others outside of the design community. It is something we need to keep front of mind, and not let it slip away or just be lazy about. I believe, lack of attention is equal to bad intention.

Building trust

We are closing out our class on Ethics in Design by talking about emergent technologies. We read and discussed topics like filter bubbles which insulate our perspectives, biases being built into algorithms and their consequences, the battle between encryption and public safety, and the scary reality of facial recognition technology.

This thread of facial recognition is where I focused my narrative, but the overall theme spreads to all emergent technologies. They have a wildly massive power to change our society. As seen in China, this power is being harnessed for unethical reasons. Stories like this bring to light the very real threat that we are confronted with and need to be aware of. The flipside of this threat, is the potential they have to be used for good. If we imagine machine learning being applied to sift through medical records and find patterns of disease or cancer, the quality of our healthcare could be directly increased. The trouble I see in front of us is a lack of trust for those wielding the technological power.

Trust has been emerging as the backbone of my ethical framework. I think trust directly relates to being ethical, because it is based on the good intention of helping the greater society.

Take these examples. We will hear two pitches about a new hypothetical service that utilizes facial recognition.

scenario 1

We love to see your face at Starbucks – so much so that your pretty mug can get you a pretty mug of coffee, for free! Just sign up for Expresso Line, our new facial recognition software that will automatically order your favorite drink as soon as you walk through the door. No lines, no hassle. Sign up today with your smartphone and upload a picture of your pretty mug. Every 4th time you come in, the coffee is on us. Restrictions and exclusion apply.

(yes I wrote Expresso on purpose)

scenario 2

We are Beautiful Beans, a startup cafe that wants to grow our business with you in mind. Our goal is to use facial recognition to make your morning routine just a little less hectic. Our new facial recognition software will automatically order your favorite drink as soon as you step into the scanning zone. No lines, no hassle, just set your drink preference on our app interface. If you don’t want to be scanned, just order at the kiosk.
The images we take will be secured in our database and will not be shared with anyone else. If we go under, the data will disappear too, that’s our promise. We have also teamed up with BlueHealth to give you the option to have your skin data sent to their lab for review and we can alert you of early warning signs of cancerous cells. No charge, we just care about your health.

When reading these scenarios, we realize they are both using the same technology to do generally the same thing, but the feeling of trust is different between the two.

In this scenario, is there a point where trust will be built?

I can envision a consistency that a large corporation like Starbucks may have to help build trust, and deliver on the promise of every 4th visit someone gets their free drink. There is value to be had when you follow through.

So where does the trust break?

In scenario 1, it may start with the name Starbucks. Capitalism has proven that greed and the bottom line tend to rule all, so we may have a bigger hurdle to climb from the get go. They need to regain our trust. There is also the absent information about how and with whom my data will be used. The use of this system justifies their right to scan everyone who walks through the door, whether they are participating or not, as well as power dynamic of who gets the most value out of this transaction?

Contrast this to scenario 2 with Beautiful Beans. Where is the trust being built?

On the surface, it appears that they have a genuinely good intention of helping people remove hassle from their morning, and even offer the option of giving free health exams. It’s not blatant, but one could assume they receive value from the medical company who is looking for data to help deter skin cancer. The customer receives value in return  by being warned of any health dangers. Trust is further built by being clear about how your data will be used, and by giving people the option to opt out of being scanned. The user chooses if the value of no lines and medical screening is worth them volunteering their data.

So where does the trust break here?

First of all, who is Beautiful Beans? I’ve never heard of them, so why should I believe anything they say? When you have an initial introduction to someone, there is usually a lack of credibility. In this case however, they have yet to break our trust, they also have not yet earned it.

So what are the steps we as designers need to take to earn the trust of users? It helps to look at this through the lens of meeting a new friend.

First we need to have genuine, good intentions. We make an acquaintance, and can usually begin to see if the person has good intentions. Once we realize this person is decent, we start to give them our trust, but only a little. It takes time, and they have follow through with any promises they may have made. I’ll pick you up at 4pm – boom there they are. I’ll help you move apartments – well what do you know here he is. Finally, they need to do this repeatedly. Consistency on delivering a promise is what builds trust, so time and repetition are key to building trust.

Building trust in the use of emergent technologies is no different. Although at this point, most people would lean towards having to regain trust rather than build from scratch. That’s where a designers ethical framework comes in. These are my key points to building – or regaining trust:

Reliability – consistent positive experiences

Protectionminimizing the users exposure to risk 

Inclusiveness – knowing your intention is to help the greater whole, not select groups

Transparency – being honest about how you interact with the user

Accountability – taking responsibility for your actions now, and in the future

These can be applied to our daily duties as designers. Building trust with customers is valuable and we should leverage that with our employers, or employees. Showcase your ethical framework. Show your boss you have integrity, and that integrity adds value to the company. Focus on customers. Speak up when you see untrustworthy actions that may compromise your users trust. Public interest over personal interest will have more longevity. Stay accountable. Building trust from the ground up is hard, but regaining it is even harder. Make plans beyond on-boarding to support your user and maintain their trust. 

Emergent technology needs to be used responsibly, and done in a manner that people begin to trust in it. To me, this is the biggest hurdle we need to clear to be able to harness the positive power we can all receive from emergent technology.

Insights about “makers”

Following up on our blog post from last week, Lauren, Sean, and I have continued our research around “makers” as we wrapped up our 15th interview and continue to immerse ourselves in the data. Through this immersive process, we have been generating themes and building artifacts to help synthesize the interviews into useful information. The goal of all of this is to spark insights – the building block of innovation – which are provocative statements that combine what we know + what we heard to act as a bridge for ideas that will be useful in the problem space.

iterating ideas on how to make money "snowball" when it comes in unpredictably
iterating ideas on how to make money “snowball” when it comes in unpredictably

Insight One

Makers are unknowingly business owners, however they only trust themselves to make and not to manage

After talking to our participants, we began to see the theme that most of the makers operate in the same way as a small business would, except they have failed to recognize as such. They float between the lines of being hired for a gig one day, to hiring helpers for a gig they landed the next. Through this process, they have felt unprepared to fill the role of business owner in the world of taxes and managing workers.

Some see this as a hurdle to their income that is not worth the sacrifice.

“Administrative tasks are just not my bag, you know? I just want to have a thing and make it work, and make it nice.” – Pete

“People that are really successful artist….they are hiring people to make their work for them. I just don’t think that’s something I’m very good at. That also doesn’t allow me this like basic freedom that I really need from my life.” – Nina

Others have noticed the need for a different set of skills, but feel too uneducated in the field to be able to do it properly.

“We weren’t good at like, knowing about taxes. No one sat us down and said you should be putting away this percentage the whole time.” – Becca

Insight Two

Makers use chaos to fuel their creativity, but the consequence is sabotaging their financial well-being

We have already laid out the case that makers have the difficult task of trying to make financial decisions around a highly fluctuating income, but we have noticed a theme that many of the makers would forgo the financial stability to live a life with the freedom of expression they need to foster their creativity.

“Somebody who I had worked with years ago offered me the freelance position, and I thought about it for five minutes and I quit my job…that gave me freedom to decide what I do or what  I can make in the short amount of time I have on this world.” – Jared

“I kind of design this machine to  be very hard on me to help me grow I think…it’s either feast or famine, like I’ll either show up with tacos for everybody or like avoid you phone call….if it was about financial security I could just go get a job like next week.” – Rodney

“Technically I didn’t make a lot of money but I lived a rich life because it’s a life very full of very cool experiences.” – Lindsay

Next steps

In the coming weeks we will be meshing our insights with the rest of the class. As we move forward, we want to push ourselves on the question of why does this matter? By doing this research, what information can we glean that will benefit JUST and help to spur less stress, more joy? With JUST focusing it’s mission on Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs, we are seeing a unique correlation between our research participants and the business owners they help. We are looking for areas to build value around that could help budding entrepreneurs in mental health, the value of their network, better educating themselves in business practices, and financial habits that can help them achieve their goals.

 

Digital Identities: What Could Go Wrong?

A topic that is new to me that we have been discussing in ethics is called “digital identity”. This is the concept that we will each have our identity in one place in the digital realm which we can use to authenticate and standardize many common steps we take online everyday. Things such as unique passwords to each website and financial institutions will be held securely in your own private identity through the blockchain. While I’m familiar with blockchain, I am no expert, so this video may help explain in better detail than I currently can.

The intention behind digital identity is great. It would put the user in control of their information, in a decentralized system that would eliminate a central power figure. It would provide identification for billions of people who currently do not have access in arenas where formal identification is required such an banking, and offer inclusion into many other facets of society.

However, I question how this will ultimately benefit those not already in the privileged position of having access to the internet. There are currently 7.6 billion people in the world, but only 48% have internet access. More than half the world would not be in a position to capitalize on this new technology.

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On top of the large amount of people already excluded from access, a study showed that 14% of Americans are digitally “unprepared” – meaning they would likely not be able or willing to use this technology to it’s intended purpose. The conservative 14% number (likely higher in less developed countries) used across the remaining 48% leaves us with 41% of the world who stand to benefit from digital identity.

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To move forward with this technology, in my opinion, will create a greater divide in the already unbalanced equity of our planet. As an ideological solution it sounds great, but in reality the main selling point is “How many different places did you need to update your address information?” There are many unknown consequences of implementing a system that favors the few, and to be excluded at this point would make a large divide even larger.

But for the sake of entertaining the idea however, I decided to think about what a digital identity could mean to our research participants.  If you have not read about our project, here is our latest blog post for some back story.

As we conduct research on “makers”, we have noticed a trend that they like to live along the edge of the system. Often avoiding financial institutions, getting unconventional loans from friends and family, and finding ways to use their 1099-contractor status to their advantage. So I wondered, what would happen if they had a digital identity? Would it help or hurt their already unique lifestyle? Would they actually have the agency to limit what information they shared so as to not be targeted or banned from housing?

IDSE201_02_DiD control (1)

As I thought about my classmates who are researching the gig economy workers, I wondered would a digital identity impact their life if one mistake were to happen? What are the consequences if we don’t keep power in the hands of the user and companies like Uber and Lyft use the digital identity in their favor?

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And another group is focusing on understanding how sex workers are making ends meet in our society. An already marginalized group who depend on anonymity, would they no longer be able to protect themselves? Would the digital identity be secure enough to prevent stalkers and hackers?

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Another group is working with non-traditional families, that of single income households and how they are planning for the future. How does digital identity affect them, and their children? In a world of hackers and predators, at what point do we feel comfortable giving control of identity to our children?

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And lastly, our research partners through the project, JUST. What are the ramifications of a digital identity to a population who may not have proper immigration status, or who may be refugees fleeing from violence? Will this actually make them more included, or will these details coming to light actually push them further from mainstream society?

In my opinion, I think digital identity will be available in the near future, but I think it will have unseen consequences, which make me currently unable to support it.

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Privacy is not the standard

Last week I took my turn to facilitate a workshop to begin our ethics class. As we split the class in half, I took my group of four, plus two guest alumni for a 30-minute adventure into a portion of the readings that I found personally interesting.

This article by Josephine Wolff highlighted how location data falls into a “nebulous category” when it comes to our rights. There was one section in the beginning of the article that stuck out to me.

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The term “reasonable expectation of privacy” sounded every bit as nebulous as the location data she was talking about. So I decided to mold my facilitation around this concept.

To stay in theme, I held the workshop in the only closed door room we have in the school studio to give an extra layer of privacy as we talked about privacy. I opened the discussion by asking “what does privacy mean to you?” Some ideas that came back were “anonymity,” “safety,” and “passwords.” Then we discussed how often we even think about privacy. It comes to mind when you take a phone call and walk away from the crowd. Or when you go behind closed doors at the office to speak with management. But aside from a few instances where we actively seek it out, most of us put it to the wayside. If  you are reading this from the comfort of  your home, I bet you are assuming a certain degree of privacy as well.

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workshop handout

Next, I  handed out a “privacy-o-meter” diagram and asked everyone to label where they would rank certain situations as they pertain to their expectation of privacy. Situations like “publishing your browser history on Facebook” was unanimously not considered private, but ideas like “your location being used while using Maps” was viewed as much less of a privacy invasion. Everyone then charted their responses via color-coded marker on the white board to build out an affinity diagram. It enabled me to probe people who were outliers and why they felt differently than the rest of the group and unearth some feelings and views about privacy.

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affinity diagram of workshop responses

To round out the workshop, we dove into our phones.  We each took out our phones (by request I asked for my group to be all Apple users to make this work) and counted the apps that requested our location services and if they were granted the status of never, ask for permission, only when using, or always. We had a range of 15 to 67 apps that use location data, with a variety of permissions granted. This exercise opened the eyes to a lot of people about just how many apps use your location and at what time. Many of us had an app using our location during the workshop. This fed into the question of “what is a reasonable expectation of privacy?” If we have a multitude of apps that follow us while in our pocket or purse, how private do we really feel?

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everyone dug into how many apps use their location and what the setting was

When I was exploring this myself while thinking about the facilitation, I stumbled deeper into the rabbit hole and found even more location info that I didn’t particularly like. For those of you reading who would like to follow along on your iPhone we are in Settings>Privacy>Location Services to show you the list of apps using your location and their current permission. To dig deeper, go to the bottom and go to Settings>Privacy>Location Services>system Services>Significant Locations to see where you’ve been lately.  The list of toggles to turn on and off lack any information of what you are about to deactivate, which felt purposefully vague. If you are sitting at home, there is a good chance someone knows that.

screenshots of apps using location services, unknown toggles, and a unsettling history of my whereabouts
screenshots of apps using location services, unknown toggles, and a unsettling history of my whereabouts

For me, this was all an exercise in realization that my data is not as private as I might think, and I wanted to share that with the group. I’ve willingly given permission to these apps to know where I am simply for the ease of use and comforts they provide. As a group, we debated about how Google Maps allows us to travel faster and avoid traffic jams, making our life easier and more enjoyable, and how instances like this fall into the dilemma of privacy. It’s a catch-22 that technology has forced us into, and one we simply need to keep it front of mind as we move forward as designers.

For the workshop, in hindsight I would have done a few things differently. For starters, I feel as though I rushed into the program without properly settings the stage. As I work on storytelling as a tool, I think this was a missed opportunity to set the table for what was to come in the next 30 minutes. The other area I wish I had flushed out better were the transitions from exercise to exercise. A closing question to move us from thoughts about to privacy into the meter activity, and then a pointed discussion about our phones and locations would have served well to move us into the phone exercise.

I’m looking forward to a deeper dive into privacy in the coming weeks of ethics,  and I’m making sure to think deeply about it the next time an app asks to use my location. Thank you for reading. – Kyle

 

Can we codify culture?

As we rolled over from Q1 into Q2 at AC4D, our class transitioned from theory, thinking about the foundations of design and our methodology, to ethics, where we are discussing how our designs may manifest in the real world and the repercussions they may have. Throughout the quarter, we are building our own ethical framework, a personal artifact that we ourselves as designers can reference when we feel we may have veered off course, or are confronted with a situation that needs deliberating. Currently, my framework is a work in progress, morphing and growing as we dive deeper into the nuances of design in practice, but I want it to be the center point of my first presentation.

During class, I had brought up an article I read in WIRED which told the story of Canadian civil engineers, who after a tragic bridge failure galvanized around an oath to their craft which they have recited at graduation for over a century. My brother and father are both engineers, who both graduated from Queens University in Canada, and both recited this oath. When I asked my brother what this oath meant to him, he said “You are designing systems that take human life into applied scientific practice.” It is taken seriously, as well it should be for the very reason he stated.

But how does an industry like design, which is not held to the regulations and certifications of engineers, doctors, or lawyers, create a code of ethics?

How can we define design ethics in a world where it’s nearly impossible to define design? I recall from my first theory presentation, using the definition of design to say that everything is designed.

to do or plan (something) with a specific purpose or intention in mind.

To me this means our code of ethics needs to be broad, and reflect on all industries. Ethics should not be limited to a single profession with a single oath, it needs to permeate the culture of society and everything that is done with purpose and intention.

 


 

So I wanted to explore how this culture change could happen. How can we safeguard against poor ethical practices like dark patterns and against behavior design as a method to exploit our psychology for profit?

How could this look in different forms?

What does a policy change look like? There are already existing movements to penalize malevolent behavior. But is strong-arming even the right path? We have seen before that our representatives are not exactly fluent in tech, so could this actually be a danger?

Can we approach this issue from education? Design is so ambiguous, a single code of ethics would be hard to agree upon, and may not even be effective. Plus take into account unlike engineering, many designers are self-taught therefor circumventing the process. The emerging field of Progress Studies looks at human progress over history, and may be critical in establishing a code of ethics for best business practice which I would hypothesize does not include deceit of the clientele. This seems like a slow process, that may take awhile to find it’s way into our society. On top of that, it implies that only those able to get formal  education will be able to determine the best process moving forward.

What does this look like if we use technology to fight technology? As an example, what if we use crowd-sourcing to weed out poorly designed sites? Perhaps the hidden dark patterns wouldn’t be noticed, as is their goal, but for the most part a lot of us know a bad website when we see it. Or maybe we will spur a new wave of 5-star bots for a self-serving rating.

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There are already people at work trying to make the underpinnings of technology more transparent. The website algotransparency.org has made it’s goal to show people what the YouTube algorithm’s intentions are, and how they may be promoting misinformation.

How about the idea of making the cloud an open-source infrastructure? Advertising and metrics are the drivers of a lot of these dubious behaviors, done in the name of profit. By removing the incentive to collect our data, perhaps we can remove the ethical oversights so often committed and move away from a culture of greed by metrics.

 


 

To me, the only path I see for change is a shift in our culture towards technology. As designers, I believe we all have a duty to use our influence to make society better, and not get frozen by the daunting task of changing it all at once. If you build something, build it better. Lead by example. Be transparent. Give people the option to opt-in or opt-out. Be modest and put aside your 2nd vacation home to take less, instead of just give more. Any good business person will tell you the path to repeat customers is earning their trust.

Thank you for reading along with my journey towards building my own framework during this work in progress. If you are interested in your own ethical framework, this code of ethics has been the one that resonates with me the most and has been a great springboard for my self-reflection. If you are not a designer by trade, I urge you to consider just how much you actually may be a designer and how to bring these ideas into your professional world as well.

 

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