Designing Without Training Wheels

Post by Chi Hung Chong

One of the most interesting sessions of the class throughout the quarter occurred last Tuesday. Each group wrote their POVs on their board before a 15-minute ‘feedback’ session. During this session, we walked around the room, inspecting POVs of other teams, and posting comments on colorful post-its. The solitary and fluid nature of it was inspiring – we were given the time to stand in front of each board, take in the silence to gather our thoughts and mull over the masterpiece in front of us, write down our own individual notes on colorful post-its and tacking them on (akin to art-gazing at a art museum).

 We then went back to our own boards, read through the notes by the other class members and came together as a group to talk about the issues. It was interesting when many similar points were brought forth – for e.g. one of our users was a VA who formed the fringe community in a predominantly Latino community. We inferred his need through our conversations for his need for purpose and meaning. The same comments echoed throughout – the phrase was too vague and did not contain much meaning in and of itself. When we later presented our POVs to the teaching team and a different group, we were able to unearth richer insights through the stories we shared, and buffed up these insights and needs. It is always easy to get caught up in the world of vagueness and abstraction, and finding a concrete need that paints an immediate picture to anyone reading the POV was crucial.

Another important but easily overlooked aspect was the importance of good descriptive words of the user. When you do not have pictures, being able to eloquently capture the ‘soul’ of the user through descriptive words was important. For example, one of the composite set of users were users disgruntled about the insecurity in EPA. When we started describing them in further detail through the descriptive adjectives, we realized that they were all busy parents, and had this natural family-instinct (or as Jenny says best, Momma-bear gut feel) to protect their family when push comes to shove. Being able to capture the ‘busy-ness’ of this set of users added an important element when we later proceeded to the How Might We (HMW) statement phase, but more importantly, allowed us to understand better the rich dynamics within the user group.

Nadine came in a couple of days later. Explaining to someone so deeply involved in the EPA issues that we had only been working on for the past few weeks was intimidating, but it was helpful that she was able to lend her experience to deepen our insights. She redirected our attention to certain POVs (vs the rest) which seem to be prevalent issues to her during her time at EPA. While these ‘more prevalent’ POVs might or might not offer the most interesting solution space, to vet these POVs through Nadine offered us a sense of priority on which area to start first.

We later brainstormed on the HMW statements for the 2 main POVs that contained these insights – disgruntled users who were willing to act but whose responses have been previously ignored, and the commonality of projecting a positive image that cuts through a wide strata of society.

For the 1st brainstorming, we took on an approach that was very similar to what we had previously done for the DP#1 project. We set a time limit, individually came up with ideas on post-its before coming together at the end of it all to cluster the ideas and build on the ideas. One of the interesting ideas that came up was a smartphone app that would allow users to report crime happening around them. We were cognizant that the main goal of the project was to build a sense of community amongst, but were equally aware that the main complaint that kept coming forth was the lack of police presence and security. 


The app was interesting as allowing users to report crime issues seem to hit at the security layer, but there was this inherent unspoken need of being able to monitor the crimes going on and have been reported to by your neighbors. There were definitely many key assumptions surrounding this idea, the most basic premise of which is – would people actually use it? Jenny was awesome in this regard – she helped us to develop a full storyboard for the different users.

Key questions that came up during this phase – think of the flow of the story, what happens at each point in time (what type of app interface should the user expect to see). Drawing it up on the board ala style definitely crystallized our thinking, and we were able to fill in the gaps with some hypotheses which would be later tested.


We were also enthralled by the possibilities that this app unfolds – could this be a seed upon which dissemination of information (community events to increase sense of pride etc) could be done, could the ease of dissemination of information incentivize Equity Residential (the property landowner) to participate? Could the app be crowdsourced or developed by EPA residents, akin to the Palo Alto Online article detailing how a group of EPA girls came up with a graffiti monitoring app that hit at a pressing community issue despite all the odds. But it was important to test just the first part – the part that deals with security.

For the 2nd brainstorming session, we decided to jazz it up by putting in place 2 extremely diametrically opposed scenarios. For Julian, the HMW statement was to increase the pride in the community. We set 2 different constraints for the solutions, one chunk has to be free (or incur a very small amount of financial investment), and the other chunk involved unlimited resources at your disposal. The solutions for both were wide-ranged, and potentially gave us interesting ideas to talk about and build off on.


As for today’s class (21st May), we took a step back and did some group reflection. Almost halfway through the project, team alignment is important. We wrote about the aspects that we liked (‘I like ..’) and minor changes that could have been done (‘I wish …’) for each person. Personally, considering that my group has been great, it was a challenge to try to think of places that each person could improve on. As always, I realized that I had much to learn and improve myself. 


Stay tuned to our next post on prototyping in EPA!


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