Visualizing the Gig Worker Experience

One of the best ways to make sense of your data is to visualize it. Make an artifact. This week our team (Allison, Michelle, and Laura) did just that as we further synthesized interviews with gig economy workers. You can learn more about our research with on-demand gig economy workers here and here. Through visualization, we add additional analysis, context, and understanding that will serve us as we head into our next phase: design ideation. We used several visualization techniques including temporal and semantic zoom to approach our data from a new perspective. 

Our concept models range from a wide view of the landscape of gig work to a personal look at how gig experiences can impact your emotional resiliency. 

Gig Lifecycle

Gig Worker Lifecycle

We created several iterations of this temporal zoom because it was a data-rich area. Rather than looking at this through a marketing lens of pre-acquisition (-2) to lapse (+2), we chose to view this from the worker’s perspective to get a better idea of what actions, strategies, and emotions they may experience at different stages. 


Worker Classifications

In the US today, there are only two worker classifications: 1099 and W-2. In Texas, there is a 20-point test to determine independent contractor compliance — and it is clearly not designed for on-demand work. As on-demand gig work continues to grow, we strongly see a need for a third category to help manage the nuance of these company / worker relationships. This semantic zoom quickly shows the different hierarchy of on-demand gig apps and the broad range of gig work as a whole. 

Gig App

Gig App Features

We saved every utterance where a participant explicitly talked about their in-app experiences. These helped us get a good understanding of which areas of the app are top-of-mind for them as they consider when, where, and how often they work. Through this, we also saw strong connections between key app features. Most notably, earnings, assignments, and status are highly interconnected.


Emotional Resilience

While many of our concept maps deal directly with the gig worker experience, there were common trends that transcended solely the gig worker mindset. One interesting theme we observed was the power of gig work to make individuals more emotionally resilient. Many people expressed anxiety or hesitation about doing gig work. From having people in their cars to constantly making a first impression, there were unexpected emotional challenges associated with the work. By acknowledging this discomfort and working through it, these workers developed a new sense of confidence. The cycle of gig work is so fast, workers were able to have several growth experiences in a short amount of time.


Short, Medium, Long-Term Goals

One of our core insights has been: 

“Shifting focus to long-term dreams helps us cope with the reality of the immediate, especially when the weight of short- and medium-term goals is too great.”

To illustrate this, we went through our interviews and visualized all of the short, medium, and long-term goals that were expressed by our participants. A key insight when developing this map was that there are common bridges that help shift focus to medium- and long-term goals. For example, a car was often mentioned as both something that required additional focus and a way to “level-up”. Similar attitudes were expressed around education or growing your social and professional networks. 

Additional Progress

In addition to visualizing our data, we also pushed to create more insights that can serve as inspiration for future design ideas. Questions we hope to answer this week are:

  • How are we organizing ideas on our wall to be more efficient? Can we shift to prioritizing insights and concept maps without having to keep all of our themes up?
  • How can we surface our best quotes to inspire us through design ideas?
  • How can we continue to push ourselves to create provocative insights?
  • How can we not constrain our ideas to just the gig perspective while still making use of our data?

The exercise of going through our blog prompt was helpful and we are committing to using that as a check-in guideline every Wednesday moving forward. 

the value of visuals: supporting sex workers

the value of visuals: supporting sex workers

Since October, Our team, Brittany and I, conducted design research to understand how the volatility and stigma, often associated with sex and sex-related work, affect the financial decision making of women in this industry. Moving into the second phase of our project, we have begun to transition from initial research and insights to design ideas and prototyping. Working towards this goal, we created concept models that visualize insights and explore areas of interest. These models ultimately serve as a tool for further sense-making and function as a translation between words and visuals to become a starting point for exploring design opportunities.

Our models captured the following ideas:

Sex Work: Exploded View. The goal of this concept model is to examine the direct and indirect value-offerings that constitute sex work. As part of our research, we believe sex and sex-related workers exchange just as much intimacy as they do sex. With this insight, we explore what sex workers are actually trading when they address the unique needs of clients. With an expanded understanding of what sex workers sell, this model produces opportunity for expanding job definitions and work descriptions.

Core Competencies. Our research led us to the insight that sex workers are actually small business owners, and that they, as well as society, should build them up as the small business owners that they really are. Typical organizations and businesses develop grounding statements that keep them in line with their internal values, mission and vision. Supposedly, having these statements built into their company brand gives them a competitive advantage over peers and contributes to their long-term success. In this spirit, we created a concept model (semantic zoom) that gathers and defines core competencies exhibited by the women we spoke with.

If we start with our most zoomed out phase, we will see the classic three pillars of a business model: Mission, Vision, and Values. We then zoom into Values, where we identify the four main values exhibited in sex-related work: Tenacity, Awareness, Determinism, and Entrepreneurialism. Next level deep, we zoom into each of these four values and get our breakdown of twelve core competencies of sex-related workers all of which came straight from the data. From there we zoomed in on one specific competency (creativity) and broke it down into a list of key qualities that define it.

Identity duality: All of the women we interviewed discussed the concept of creating a second identity or persona which they assume in their work. They must create these personas in order to establish a hard divide between their ‘real’ selves and the particular identity they perform for work. The existence of these personas is complex and nuanced but immediately helps keep the women safe by protecting their true identity and details of their real lives.

Our concept model showcases the internal experience of switching between the work persona and true identity. It shows that there is a massive loss of energy that occurs in the event of that switch. Going into a night of work, there is extensive mental and physical preparation that must take place in order to build confidence and set boundaries in inherently vulnerable circumstances. When women then come home from work and switch back into their true selves, they experience a quick and hard come-down which results in amplified negative consequences that are in polarization to the preparation stage (examples: shame, indulgence in spending or alcohol and drugs, and isolation).

Conventions of society: a mental model: Our research revealed self-reliant and nonconformist attitudes. With this mental model, we attempt to examine the relationship that sex and sex-related workers have with “the system” and conventional society. It navigates the different aspects of their lives that go unseen from conventional society. We identified and explored attitudes around government, finances, employment, and community, and believe that women in this work are both excluded from while living in defiance of certain norms in these categories.

Quick money: This concept model visualizes the relationship between quick money and financial emergencies. Our research exposed a cycle of quick cash that adopts an emotional identity leading to behavior that can trap women in financial emergencies. If we continue to isolate and study the different parts of this cycle, we may discover opportunity for support.

Sense of control in life and work throughout career: This temporal zoom compares one’s sex and sex-related work experience against their sense of control in life and work. The model visualizes levels of control at increasing levels of work experience: one day, three months, one year, three years, twenty-five years. We identify additional factors that influence levels of control including health, self-identified privilege, history of addiction, risk of violence, access to support, among other factors.

What did we learn? What was specific knowledge that we gained?

Scaling our work: By working through concept models before semantic and temporal zooms, we used them as play spaces and sources of inspiration for our zooms. This strategy ultimately deepened our knowledge by forcing us to break our own patterns of thought surrounding the data. The act of attempting to scale our insights was and continues to be a challenge, given the emotional qualities of our data. We continue to learn that because human-centered data is so qualitative, it is subject to being highly unreliable, and thus difficult to scale, in both meaning and time, while maintaining credibility and groundedness.

Grew industry knowledge: We gained knowledge about the scope of what “sex work” means throughout exploded concept map, and deepened our understanding of what the industry encompasses both in a physical setting and digitally.

Grew our understanding of the sex workers’ toolkit: Worked through a framework of ‘core competencies’ of sex work – Initially only had identified a few, but the process led to discovery of more hard skills that sex workers described as being in their toolbox.

Got intimate with intimacy: One of our core competencies of sex and sex-related workers that we dug into is a high level of intuition and empathy, which led us to zoom in on our insight related to the monetization of intimacy in sex work. This was one of our more mystifying areas of interest from the outset. We gained a significant amount of knowledge about the different types of roles sex-related workers embody when engaging in the sale of intimacy, which are different than simply selling the commodity of sex itself. We gained knowledge about how intimacy and the human condition manifest in this work for both the client and the provider.
Examples of roles: “girlfriend”, therapist, friend etc.

Creating more: Ultimately, we learned that creating more and creating fast leads to quicker clarity. We initially tried to confine ourselves to a strict plan of exactly what concepts we wanted to explore through this phase, but as we began to dig into them, other, potentially more relevant or on point areas of focus emerged. Like being an artist or songwriter, we learned that we have to create a lot of bad things before we can create one thing worth holding onto and working on. As we move forward with the work, we will continue to make more and more “bad” concept models in the search to find those little melodies worth playing out.

Progress: Did we accomplish what we intended to this week? Where did we fall short and why? What would we have done differently? What will we commit to doing differently next week?

In short, we started the week with a plan and largely executed what we set out to do.

If we were to do this work over again, perhaps we would have started digging into our temporal zoom earlier, which is rich with the potential for untapped insights. Additional synthesis can deepen our understanding of the relationships between experience, age, privilege, family circumstances, drug addiction, support systems, and degree of choice.
Next week, we will prioritize our areas of greatest interest and make more strategic use of time.

This week we also did not prioritize digitizing our concept models, which could be considered falling short. While this was an intentional choice, in the future we can do a better job at committing to work digitization into the initial plan of action.

Priorities & Commitments:

What are you committing to do this next week?

Learn how to use reframing and insight combination methods to generate new ideas.

Iterating Off Of Existing Insights

We’ve started off our Q3 Studio course full of insight re-definition and pushing provocations. These new provocations are the jumping off point and will eventually be the backbone for products we develop and possibly pitch to outside stakeholders. Through our insights we’ve been able to more clearly group together the commonalities and differences we heard throughout our interviews. Our concept maps are allowing us to infer further information from our rather diverse set of participant interviews.

One of the first concepts we began to dissect was the division of labor within the home. Ana created the below diagram highlighting the cycle of a day of one of our participants in contrast to her spouse.

It’s clear, even in our smaller data set, the stereotype of women doing the household work stands true. Women simply do more than men in the household, some of which, in addition to a full time job. There simply are not enough hours in the day or week in order to complete everything for some of these figures.

An additional concept we began to map out was access to federal assistance. Throughout our interviews we heard from single parents or couples that were reliant on a system for food or funding. These systems ultimately did more harm than good at various points in a family’s journey. We realized through examining TANF that welfare has taken on an entirely new, convoluted identity that is hard to make sense of. The below graphic highlights the rather basic yet invasive eligibility determination process a family must go through in order to receive benefits. The additional map show’s the many names of TANF across the United States, each with their own set of requirements and application processes. Confusing? I thought so too.


We’re learning more about the diverse set of hurdles non-traditional families and even traditional families encounter on a day to day basis. Whether it be from societal norms, or their desire to try and provide a better life for themselves and their kin. We’re focusing more on the motherly – woman powered side of things.

This week we fell short on developing concepts for a future product, we more so explored bigger ideas that we found interesting in our conversations throughout interviews.  Going forward we’ll be ideating about products and services that can actually provide aid to these people, not just ideas themselves. In all, it was a beneficial start to our Saturday classes.

Access to concept models:


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.

Under Armour has room to grow

Under Armour is an American company that develops, markets, distributes and manufactures footwear, sports, and casual apparel based in Baltimore, Maryland. Founded in 1996 by the CEO Kevin Plank (a former football player) who by the beginning of this year became the Executive chairman and brand chief, leaving the C-Suite role to Patrik Frisk (former COO) as a CEO.

  • Slogan “I will”
  • Mission statement “to make all athletes better through passion, design and the relentless pursuit of innovation.” 
  • Vision statement “to inspire you with performance solutions you never knew you needed and can’t imagine living without.”
  • Core values “love athletes, stand for equality, fight on together, create fearlessly, always connect, stay true, think beyond, and celebrate the wins.”

People started noticing the brand since the beginning, firstly, because they invented their own moisture-wicking apparel, which competitors like Adidas and Nike followed through and made the same type of apparel. Secondly, by the contract of big American football teams like Oakland Riders, NC State, Arizona State, making many others follow.

The products manufactured by Under Armour include athletic shoes, t-shirts, jackets, hoodies, pants, leggings, shorts and accessories such as bags, gloves, caps and protective gear for men, women and kids. They also produce uniforms for American football, basketball, golf and soccer. They now offer digital health and fitness apps built to connect people and drive performance.

Under Armour promotes its products by sponsorship agreements with many celebrity athletes, professional teams and college athletic teams, a field in which it competes with other sports apparel companies. However, for the last couple of years, their strategy has been to put the consumer at the center of everything they do: How is UA engaging customers? What do they see as their core strengths? How does UA deliver immersive experiences? What is their relationship with their brand?

Their primary goal for retail marketing strategy is to increase brand floor space dedicated to their products. Under Armour point of sale displays and concept shops enhance the brand’s presentation within their major retail accounts with a shop-in-shop approach, using dedicated floor space exclusively for UA products, including flooring, lighting, walls, displays and images.

They are combining the physical and digital product to help their customers achieve their fitness goals. For that, they just launched a connected shoe, the HOVR Infinite, which they designed with Dow Chemical, and connects to the UA MapMyRun app. The app uses machine learning to collect data from a sensor in the shoe’s footbed and calculates the stride length and cadence. After the first run, the app coaches the user on their running form. Another product that they have is the ArmourBox that you can use by going online and writing about your training schedule, your favorite shoe style, and your fitness goals. They then use advanced analytics to send the user new shoes or apparel on a subscription basis. Their future product and goals in clothing and footwear will provide that same user experience but with no digital phone nor watch, leaning on artificial intelligence and personalization.

The company appears to have substantial room to grow. In recent years Under Armour has acquired several fitness app companies as it seeks to integrate mobile technologies to bolster its brand. UA projects substantial growth in footwear sales and additional income streams from more sales directly to consumers. The company will also continue to enter new markets, most recently hiring a talented team to initiate a plan to enter the outdoor performance apparel market.

Direct competitors

Amongst their many competitors Adidas, Nike, and Under Armour are all in direct competition with one another in order to capture market share in this lucrative space.

  • Adidas is a multinational corporation, founded and headquartered in Germany, that designs and manufactures shoes, clothing and accessories. It is the largest sportswear manufacturer in Europe, and the second largest in the world, after Nike. While Adidas was initially known as a soccer brand, its ownership of TaylorMade and Reebok establishes it as a diversified player in athletic apparel and goods.
  • Nike is an American multinational corporation that is engaged in the design, development, manufacturing, and worldwide marketing and sales of footwear, apparel, equipment, accessories, and services. It is the world’s largest supplier of athletic shoes and apparel, and major manufacturer of sports equipment.

All of the competitors that I mentioned are now facing a market change, they now want to focuse more on the user experience and best quality. By doing that, each brand in focusing in some sort of differentiation for example, Nike is advertising its clothing and shoe apparel with the help of the Women’s World Cup (strong effort in fighting for gender equality). Adidas is also advertising for gender equality, in this case, with Beyoncé.

Overall UA plans to continue to grow their business over the long term through increased sales of their apparel, footwear and accessories, expansion of the wholesale distribution, growth in direct to consumer sales channel and expansion in international markets. UA’s digital strategy is focused

on supporting these long-term objectives, emphasizing the connection and engagement with their consumers through multiple digital touch points, including through our Connected Fitness business.


The product objective is to allow general fitness enthusiast and athletes to set goals, track their progress and set new ones. The differentiating point of view is that any kind on fitness in the sum of smart training, nutrition, and motivation. They product must contain:

  • Goal setting
  • Training content
  • Tracker integration
  • Progress visualization and data
  • Nutrition advice
  • Community

The challenge is to develop a set of viable concepts for visualizing a user’s progress towards their goals. The concepts must:

  • Show a user’s current progress to goal
  • Show progress over a period of time
  • Reflect the product’s differentiating point of view
  • Be relevant to both, general fitness enthusiasts and competitive athletes
  • Answer challenges inherent to the category (why they abandon their training)
  • Digital products are a wasteful distraction


Designing Modular Learning for UT

This week, we were given the challenge to research competency-based learning to ultimately develop viable concepts for the University of Texas as they test modular learning. Our brief suggested:

“As the amount of student debt reaches extraordinary levels, and public funding diminishes, many students are questioning the value of the traditional college degree.  Many potential students simply can’t afford to dedicate four years exclusively to attaining a degree, and must instead somehow both work and study. Furthermore, the traditional model itself is not particularly successful. Less than forty percent of students that begin a four-year degree finish at all.”

With more than 70% of students being categorized as non-traditional, it’s vital for universities like UT to maintain relevance by providing solutions that can meet the needs of working students who may have dependents or schedules that are less flexible than a “traditional student. 

What is a non-traditional student?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nontraditional is not defined by age or other background characteristics but focuses on behavior. Three sets of criteria were used to identify nontraditional students:

  • Delayed enrollment. Students who delayed enrollment in postsecondary education by a year or more after high school or who attended part-time were considered nontraditional.
  • Financial and family status. Students who have dependents other than a spouse, being a single parent, working full time while enrolled, or being financially independent from parents.
  • High school graduation status. Students who did not receive a standard high school diploma but who earned some type of certificate of completion.

What is competency-based learning?

There has been a shift away from traditional learning towards more flexible, student-led learning that is focused on competency. Competency-based education has largely been popularized by MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that allow nearly unlimited participation on the web. 

CompetencyWorks updated their definition of competency-based education to include:

  1. Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge, and how they will demonstrate their learning. 
  2. Assessment is a meaningful, positive, and empowering learning experience for students that yields timely, relevant, and actionable evidence. 
  3. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. 
  4. Students progress based on evidence of mastery, not seat time.
  5. Students learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing.
  6. Strategies to ensure equity for all students are embedded in the culture, structure, and pedagogy of schools and education systems. 
  7. Rigorous, common expectations for learning (knowledge, skills, and dispositions) are explicit, transparent, measurable, and transferable.

Major players for competency-based learning include Coursera, edX, FutureLearn, Udacity, and Khan Academy. Most of these MOOCs have traditional institutional partners like MIT, Harvard, or Berkeley, but are able to offer courses at a fraction of the price. 

According to the 2019 National Student Satisfaction Report, Online Learners report the highest level of student satisfaction, followed closely by Adult Undergrads. There’s clearly a trend of success in MOOCs, yet growth has slowed in the sector. In 2018, 29 new degrees were launched by key MOOC leaders, compared to only 11 new degrees in 2019

Questions and Ideas – Free Writing:

I’m excited by the potential of competency-based education, particularly it’s goals around equity. Competency-based learning aims to dismantle systemic barriers to opportunity (time, geographical access, funds, etc). It also breaks down seemingly nonsensical testing schedules and allows students to work at their own pace. 

Digital Readiness

However, the barriers to adoption are great as we have to adopt a new model for learning, and for some — learn digital tools entirely. In 2015, 52% of adults were relatively hesitant to use digital tools for learning. Only 17% of adults are considered digitally ready. So while MOOCs can encourage equity for some, these learning models can create even greater divides for those unprepared or cautious of digital learning. 


Because of the easy access to MOOCs, I fear that students will feel less invested and ultimately, less likely to finish. Traditional institutions with open admissions policies only graduate 25% of students within 6 years, but institutions with acceptance rates of 25% graduate 87% of students within 6 years

Without a significant level of investment, either emotionally or financially, I am concerned student churn rates will be too high. The most successful will likely be a model with a low barrier to entry and a high stickiness. If anyone will download your app — how do you keep them around? DuoLingo seems to be the most successful at this because they have gamified streaks so effectively.

Flow State

The second biggest challenge will be to get people in a flow state – matching their skills with their work perfectly, so they are not either too frustrated or too bored. Being able to test learners so that curriculum is well-matched is key. 

Additional questions as I continue researching:

  • How can you encourage students to adopt a growth mindset so they are inspired when they reach difficult concepts, rather than quit?
  • How can we bring celebration into the learning experience? 
  • Without traditional timing models like semesters, how should we design courses? Hours? Weeks? Months?
  • Do these models change based on a domain? Or can the apps and service models be interchangeable for an arts degree and a computer science degree? Most services are focused heavily on the popular tech skills of today. Is that based on demand, or are those topics better to learn in a competency-based model?

Rethinking Higher Education: The Online Shift

As education evolves to take advantage of new technological capabilities, the promise of providing quality education to the world’s youth looms large. An educated populace is something that everyone agrees is vital, but the best way to provide education is an ongoing topic of discussion. Traditional classroom settings have left some students bored at the pace of progress, while others struggle to keep up, lagging further and further behind.

Higher education, while pushed on all students as a gateway to career satisfaction and financial success, often proves difficult for many students to complete. In a study released last year by the National Center for Education Statistics, it was discovered that only 41% of first-time, full-time college students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, and 59% in six years. For first-generation students and historically underserved students, the difficulties of obtaining a college degree are even more pronounced.

To improve college success rates and ensure greater learning among students, educators are considering new approaches to teaching. Competency-based learning is one such approach. Competency-based learning focuses on teaching mastery of certain skills or subjects, evaluating students based on their ability to demonstrate their knowledge. Competency-based learning is being implemented at the secondary level in schools in New Hampshire, Michigan, Ohio, and elsewhere. (It was adopted by Maine in 2012, but abandoned in 2018.)

Colleges, too, are incorporating the approach. In 2015, the federal government began funding experimental approaches to competency-based education in universities nationwide, although it was announced in November 2019 that funding would cease. In a letter to universities, the government said that enough data had been gathered to “support conclusions and policy decisions”; no further detail has been yet provided.

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are a well-known alternative to the traditional educational approach. Born from the open educational resources movement and MIT’s OpenCourseWare project, they exploded into public consciousness in 2012 with the founding of many new online-education providers, including Coursera, Udacity, and edX. The New York Times labeled 2012 “the year of the MOOC” and educators (and entrepreneurs) began to look seriously to web-based courses as the future of learning.

The euphoria was short lived, as it quickly became apparent that there was much more to learning than putting videos on the Internet. Student success rates for MOOC courses were abysmal; Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun found that the completion rate for students taking the company’s courses was 10%, and only half of those students were passing. “We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished,” he told Fast Company in 2013. “We have a lousy product.”

But MOOCs have proven popular, with millions of students taking courses each year, and Udacity and other companies have found more successful ways to provide online education. Udacity partnered with AT&T in 2018 to provide education to the company’s employees. Older, working professionals have become one of the main audiences for online education, as well as international students.

Other organizations have found hybrid approaches to higher education that are catching on. edX partners with established universities to deliver online versions of their courses and degree programs; this year, The University of Texas at Austin welcomes its first edX cohort of students pursuing a master’s in computer science. Students taking online courses are provided with access to virtual office hours, and they form online discussion groups with fellow students for further support.

As educators learn how to make online education work, promises and pitfalls remain. MOOCS and other web-based instruction offers the potential for students to work at their own pace, freeing educators to focus on students who need help, when they need it. The technology, combined with a competency-based learning approach, has the potential to reshape education in a way that is more tailored to students’ interests and abilities.

The downside to online education is that students, when not in a physical location with human interaction, have demonstrated significantly decreased motivation. This is something that will need to be addressed as new forms of education are explored.

Modular courses delivered via app are being developed as the next phase of education innovation. To succeed, this approach will need to be mindful of the pitfalls of previous innovations, such as MOOCs. Retaining student motivation will be crucial. Progress visualization will be necessary, but may not be sufficient. It will be important to plan for ways to ensure connections with other students and instructors are properly formed, and that students feel that they have the support network they need to persist. Creating this environment digitally looks to be a significant challenge. Partnering with educational institutions, such as edX has done, to create trust and take advantage of existing support systems is one potential way to begin to address this issue.

Figuring out how to manage these conditions and prepare for them will be key to the success of a competency-based, app-delivered learning approach. With the right formula, such a program could be a powerful tool for helping underserved and nontraditional students succeed.

AT&T Tomorrow


The internet offers a realm of opportunities with which to exercise our free time. The attention of American consumers is increasingly pulled in new and complicated directions, but even with the abundance of platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Reddit, we continue to rely on television to seek fulfillment in our downtime.

TV Today

People actually watch just as much tv as they did before the introduction of smartphones and clickbait. According to Nielsen, Americans watch more than 7 hours of television per household per day.

And while we continue to enjoy tv throughout the era of ubiquitous internet, it comes as no surprise that the way we consume shows and movies has dramatically changed over time. People have cut the cord on cable in favor of subscription-based streaming services. With this shift, the expectations audiences have around television have transformed too. Today, consumers demand original content where and when they want, on whatever device they choose. We want compelling new content with zero wait time or interruption. Television watchers seek immediate gratification wrapped up in a personalized experience.  

Discovery Today

How we discover what to watch has changed too. The rising number of streaming platforms, like Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, and Disney+ paired with mass amounts of digital content has made television-watching unexpectedly challenging for today’s consumers. People are overloaded with options and more does not always feel like more.

According to NBC News, Netflix calculated that users will spend just 60 to 90 seconds browsing for content and will review between 10 to 20 titles before they lose interest and give up. Customized recommendations and unique search filters attempt to combat this problem.

 Netflix’s recommendation system accounts for 80 percent of the hours watched on Netflix in total. The remaining 20 percent comes from their search function. There, users can search by actor, genre, title, director, video quality, or language. If a user searches for content that is not available on Netflix, it’s recommendation engine can surface similar titles.

 Organization and curation through recommendation engines come with their own unique set of challenges. Recommendation algorithms must not only be accurate but generate options that promote diversity and invite serendipity while providing both novelty and coverage.

AT&T Today

This is where AT&T enters the conversation. As of 2014, the telecommunications company acquired DirecTV and officially stepped into the transforming business of television.

 As part of this mission, AT&T has developed AT&T TV, it’s new Over the Top TV service. With AT&T TV, the company strives to deliver a unified platform that satisfies the television needs of its 30 million AT&T customers. The service will offer live TV, “55,000 on-demand titles”, integration with premium channels, and the ability to record “500 hours” on DVR, all available to the user through a universal search feature. 

 At first glance, it isn’t entirely clear how AT&T TV will fit the television ecosystem of today. And as this product takes shape, AT&T is not only competing with other streaming services and television providers, but with any digital entertainment experience that draws viewers away from their services.

AT&T Tomorrow

With on-demand content at our fingertips, people are redefining their relationship with television. If AT&T can recognize the power of interactive media, the company may find itself at a unique crossroads for positioning AT&T TV as a television experience.

AT&T should take advantage of their userbase by delivering a platform that distills complexity, invites serendipity, and engages a dynamic audience in unexpected ways. AT&T TV is just beginning to define itself and the time to differentiate is now.







Reinventing AT&T TV for 2020 – Initial Research

What’s the scoop?

In short, AT&T seems to be in a tight spot when attempting to offer a unique and appealing product given the current market of services available to consumers in 2020.

While there are a number of products that offer streaming services for a monthly fee, even if we are just looking at the ones that offer Live TV streaming, there is still hefty competition.

The Best Live TV Streaming Deals This Week*

Hulu: 7-day free trial of live sports, shows
SlingTV: $35 for your first month (includes ESPN, CNN, TNT, more)
Philo: 7-day free trial of live, on-demand TV
FuboTV: 7-day free trial of live streaming

– PC Mag –


The quick snapshot.

Upon reading some written reviews and Youtube reviews of AT&T’s streaming service, there are a few reasons that it seems to fall short of 2020 standards.

AT&T recently significantly increased the price of their service and also made a subscription to HBO a mandatory part of the package. They require upcharges or premiums in order to access popular channels such as CINEMAX, SHOWTIME, AND EXIX, as well as international packages. They have recently stopped supporting popular hardware such as Roku, which creates a barrier in the minds of consumers who do not want to have to invest in the installation and learning curve of new hardware. AT&T has also dropped a number of channels, which only decreases the overall appeal of their service.

My gut reaction to the information that I have gathered is that AT&T really needs to make some hard, and potentially sacrificial decisions about how to differentiate themselves from the crowd, especially given their less than shining reputation as a company in general. This statement also includes my personal bias as a long time AT&T customer who also pays for, or has dabbled in multiple other streaming services.

Other products are significantly more affordable than AT&T’s cheapest package. They offer a discount if you bundle with their internet service, but this seems to me like more more of a barrier to new customers (who may be happy with their internet provider) rather than an incentive.

With so many options out there, there doesn’t seem to be, at a glance, an obvious reason to go with AT&T for your streaming service unless you are already a very loyal AT&T customer. Even then, their website is confusing when disguising between three different services (I’m still not quite sure if they are separate services), AT&T TV, U-verse TV, and DIRECTV. Furthermore, the services is only available in the small area of the US at present.

Live TV alone feels like a dying service as a millennial consumer, who would never consider watching live TV unless it related to a very critical live event related to politics or sports.

The echoed positive review of AT&T TV seems to be their sleek and user friendly interface, which is fun and easy to use. However, users have been known to tolerate less than sleek interfaces in order to view the content that they really want to access.



After getting a basic lay of the land for streaming services as they exist right now, it is even more important to look towards the future of the services, and the trends that will likely emerge given what we know about human behavior and television consumption in the modern era.

Trends according to Kelton Tech:

  • Digital Originals are on the rise
  • Mobile is surpassing TV as Primary Content Consumption Channel
  • “Content Fragmentation” creates competition – forging strategic partnerships with networks and production companies etc in order to feature content exclusive to your service
  • Users devices are becoming congested with too many services and subscriptions

My simple personal brainstorm for AT&T:

  • Focusing on live sports television and optimizing the platform for sports consumers only with the interface and features that make watching live sporting events even more phenomenal
  • Offering as many channels as possible
  • Unlimited DVR Cloud Storage for as long as possible (ex: YoutubeTV offers 9 months of storage, where as AT&T currently only keeps for 30 days)
  • Definitely drop the necessity for their specific hardware, and instead make their product as easily accessible as possible to anyone who already owns hardware that allows streaming apps
  • Given that all other live TV streaming services seem to still have commercials, create a NO COMMERCIALS option (unsure of the legality of this)
  • Offline viewing as a priority as well as viewing content your phone or other devices
  • Multiple logins for family and friends plans


Main points:

  • Lack of channels is a key problem
  • Cloud storage also a key problem
  • Mandatory HBO seems to be unpopular
  • Requirement of AT&T’s hardware is inconvenient and outdated
  • Price does not match the service being provided
  • AT&T needs to look toward future trends and get ahead of their competitors in the changing landscape, rather than mimic current service providers

Other sources:

Designing for Nontraditional College Students

According to a recent study conducted by RTI International, 74% of American undergraduate students are “nontraditional”. This is defined as:

Being over 24 years old
Having a GED
Having a child
Being a single parent
Waiting at least one year after high school to start college
Being a first-generation student (first in family to attend some form of college)

These nontraditional students are less likely to graduate, and if they do graduate, it rarely happens in 4 years. With the rising cost of post-secondary education, “nontraditional” students are carrying an ever-increasing financial burden. This burden is most significant for those individuals who do not graduate at all. In fact, those who do not finish their degree are three times as likely to default on their loans.

College, it seems, has been design for a “traditional” population that is now the minority of those actually attending these schools.

Over the next 8 weeks, I will be conducting research to better understand the experience of nontraditional students attending colleges and universities so that I can ultimately design products and systems that will support these students in their journey to graduate in four years.

The University of Texas is currently working  to support these students, and is in the process of developing a new learning model based in competency-based education.  It’s believed that this will work better for those students who are limited on time. To encourage these students to continue and complete their courses, I’ve been tasked with developing a set of viable concepts for visualizing a student’s progress through UT’s new education app.  Through both primary and secondary research, my hope is to take this assignment a bit further, and first validate that this app will solve the main challenges that “nontraditional” students are facing. I’ll use this research to define the problem space, generate insights, and ultimately design for improving the experience and graduation rate of “nontraditional” students.