All posts in Professional

  • Part II: My proposed project

    Another pointless writing exercise.

    So when we left off last time I was discussing my circuitous path towards my resolution before I had to disappear to class. I had left you all with the oh-so intriguing argument that we should not get caught up in what approach to take when approaching design, but in how facilitate as creative perspectives in general. An idea, of course, that is not actually new, if you didn’t catch my facetiousness.

    My idea was to create a wiki where designers create entries describing tools for interaction design. These entries would attempt to break down all of the elements that designers have at their disposal in order to create interactions. I created these categories by thinking about how things are sensed (vision, sound, touch, etc.) and explored additional context information, like location compared to other people. Within vision, some examples of the smaller elements I described are the ones we’re most familiar with like type, color, lines, spacing—The basic elements of design that we all learn in school. Then we can break it down into how those specific elements are used. These are old hat for any designer: how different typefaces create different tones, how angles in a composition can create more energy.  But when we do the same exercise with something like sound or haptic feedback we intearction designers don’t have as clear of guidelines for using these non-visual elements. Instead, often sound and touch (e.g. vibration) are used as a last resort for designers to intrude on the user rather than enhance their experiences (an alarm clock or event reminder). Musicians and sound engineers might be more familiar with how to treat sound in a way that better blends into our lives or even making the sound we experience now more appealing. For instance, based on the knowledge that, in our culture, they might use discordant sounds to indicate an error or high sounds as a happier event in order to create a more sound-rich experience. It might hard to imagine now how all sound feedback could integrate into our lives without being obtrusive, but that’s because we’re not used to our technology emitting it. However, away from screens it seems perfectly natural for the devices we use to make sounds that we don’t notice. We’re used to car engine making noise, it tells us it’s working find and we get used to hearing the specific sound it makes. When electric cars came out, their much quieter engines became a hazard for pedestrians and bicyclist because they couldn’t hear the vehicle coming. I know that I can recognize the very soft hum of my external harddrive turning on and listen for it to stop to make doubly-sure that I can safely unplug the device from my computer. The future of interaction design might already be out there, it’s just not widely spread. Yet.

    The initial categories I had were:

    • Visual
    • Auditory
    • Haptic
    • Social

    I know taste and smell are missing. Perhaps I’m being closed-minded, but I personally didn’t want to explore them at this time. Anyone who wanted to contribute to the wiki is most welcome to explore the possibilities of those two senses.

    And I evaluated these elements by how they can function to accomplish one or a combination of the following for users in design by creating rhetorical categories. These are initial categories I created and, again, I hope that other contributors bring their own perspectives to the project.

    • Informational
    • Orientational
    • Feedback
    • Metaphorical
    • Performative

    It is my hope that this exercise in creating and editing wiki entries on the design elements would help designers break away from the same patterns they use to create interactions and see other elements at their disposal through the process of creating entries or viewing them.

    Read more

  • Reflection // post third semester

    So, I’m pretty sure standard protocol is to begin each post-reflection talking about how difficult the semester was and apologizing for not updating as much as I should have because of said trauma. Well, why change what we all know & love?

    It was especially difficult because, if you remember, I was leaving the heaven-on-earth that is Switzerland to go back into the trenches that is graduate school. I felt like I was working on a real project with a really great team and plenty of other designers to learn from and now I had to go back to school where most things were abstract. And I had to teach.

    I had been secretly pretty excited to teach since I had such a positive experience TA-ing for the class last year. I don’t quite know how to describe it and I probably shouldn’t since I have to teach again next semester. Overall it was still a good experience, but I didn’t realize how emotionally draining it would be. When I wasn’t in class I was constantly thinking about the class. What I could do, what I should do, what I did, what I didn’t do, what I will do…It took up a lot of space and didn’t leave much room for me to be concerned with my own classes.


    (interim critique)

    (interim critique)

    I ended up dropping a class I had really looked forward to taking: Time, Motion, and Communication. It was a class where our projects were in After Effects and created animated…stories, feelings, rhythms. I just was turning in work that I was ashamed of and I knew I couldn’t put anymore time into, because I had my other classes and thesis. The dream is someday I’ll re-do the projects I already turned in. I was glad for the amount of time I did have in the class though. Dan Boyarski is a tremendous leader of students and I got to see the depth of his kindness as a person too.

    Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 10.24.38 AM

    My Language & Culture class was really fun and interesting to me. I thought the repetitive format of the actual class kind of dragged on, but almost all of the readings were interesting and they settled on my brain nicely. It’s one of those moments when you’re realize with fear: I could have gone my whole life not knowing this perspective! What a scary thought. It felt a little indulgent getting to learn all this stuff not explicitly connected to design, but I ended up using the readings I did for my thesis (with questionable success, apparently).

    It is admittedly hard for me to separate doing well in academia to doing well in life since I am pretty academically driven, but I would say that getting the leisure to study linguistic theory was such a pleasure for me and there is no way I can erase the way it makes me think about the world now so :P. I’ve realized recently my favorite subjects are Design, English/language, and philosophy. I could read and talk about those all day. (Although, I’m actually really bad at reading philosophy, but if you lectured at me about it all day I’d be just as happy). PLUS, since I did so much independent reading this semester, I finally think I’m better at reading dense academic articles. I don’t know why people make their ideas so unpleasant to read. I especially remember the struggle or reading these kinds of articles as an undergrad.

    Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 10.23.03 AM

    You heard a little about my independent study. It was really rewarding project to work on since they were sincerely trying to make their project happen. But again, I felt a little constrained to find the time to work on it. When I did it was really fun to dive and I felt like I learned so much just by working on it and navigating through their issues. There are some aspects about this that didn’t turn out how I would have preferred, but I’m glad I worked on it. I ended working on their service system and creating business communication pieces for them. I also offered feedback on their user experience as they tested prototypes.



    ROUGHAnd my thesis, well, you know that happened at least. I ended up being really excited about it at the end, and still am even though the allure of sleep and my mother’s Vietnamese cooking are quite distracting. Getting feedback from other reviewers was a little discouraging. Part of it could have been my tense presentation where I decided to talk as fast as humanly possible…and part can be that people have existing ideas on design. Upward and onward, I suppose.

    SoThat was my review of my coursework, but school and life are obviously not the same thing. How am I feeling about design, me being a designer, etc, etc? 

    You know, I re-read my first reflection about what I wanted to get out the program and talked to my friend Igor over Thanksgiving (he is studying graphic design at Parson’s right now). He knew I was a designer and he knew, vaguely I was doing something different now. In talking to him, I realized what I was doing and was trained to do (and what I told people I do) was different than what I was used to do. It happened so slowly—creeped upon me realized—that when I suddenly looked around I saw that I learned a lot and I had these different skill sets, perspectives, and a desire to work on something else—Well, not to replace visual design, but to do something in addition to it. It was a weird and disorienting moment. When did this get away from me? Maybe during Confluence, our career fair. You tell your story so many times you start believing it. And then during your internship you realize it’s not just a story. But maybe also that you’re head is so down in graduate school and your’e trying to survive each each that you don’t get time look back and see what you’ve accomplished until you write a semester review blog post….So now I suppose I’m an interaction designer, I was hired as an interaction designer, and I like designing for interactions. But that’s not the whole story. I like getting my grubby hands on the whole user experience and design strategy, if I am being completely honest. I like doing everything from the high level thinking to comb out the tangles, to the moving and the shaking, to the painfully meticulous visual design work.

    I realized that not everyone likes this whole arch of design. I realize that some people really like the planning part and really hate the execution part (some of my students, for example ;) ). But I don’t. And I really don’t like that some (not all!) interaction designers look down on graphic/visual design. It really frustrates me because so many of the designers I admire are graphic designers. They do incredible work that is thoughtful and stunning. They impact and audience and make them feel something. They can incite behavior change through a static medium in the right place at the right time. The quality and skill that it takes to do what they do shouldn’t be undercut.

    All of design is hard.

    It’s noble and important to think about inciting change through design at the highest level: How a town, city, government can change by design perspective. But I still believe that design represents those ideas realized. So if you have a sloppy voter registration form you’re telling people that you didn’t think it was important. That care wasn’t taken into this experience for them. You’re telling them that design isn’t important. Does that make sense? Bringing design into the sphere of public conversation and governmental concern needs to trickle down into every aspect the public touches in order to speak to its significance. Because you read into the things you interact with. Nothing is neutral. That’s how I feel, anyway.


    Your favorite idealist,


  • Service Design exercise: Evidence of Service

    I’ve been steadily trying to work on the on the service design component of my independent study as well as the communication design and this is an exercise I went through with the founder today. He was really pleased.

    It’s basically organizing the tangible ways users (they have three) feel the service. Evidence that they’re getting value beyond just a feeling. It was really interesting for me to take the approach of not what the users have to do and what the website needs to have, but how create points of interaction and what that means for us internally. It kind of restructured what’s important in my head.



  • Communication strategy as design

    Rough as this semester is, I had a really heartening experience today helping a CMU startup with their communication strategy that affirmed several of my beliefs on the impact of design and my process:

    1. You need to spend time understanding the problem—the whole system—to the best of your abilities. 
    2. Written communication is design and is part of the experience of an audience’s understanding your service.
    3. The team is not your audience, test your ideas with outsiders.

    I am working on their overall design strategy and user experience throughout their serivce system and will be studying the interaction design on one specific chunk of the product throughout the semester. I told them my first step really understanding their product/service. They are so involved and wanted so much to explain the entire system to me that it really took some time to separate all the information they were giving me and think about it as a designer and a user. To think about the core values their service was providing to their intended users and how to communication and refine those areas. I spent a long time meeting with the team listening to their conversation and really challenging different areas of the service until I felt confident I could communicate it with conviction—that means not just understanding in it, but believing in what they were doing.

    Notes I took to illustrate my understanding of the process and general notes on what I needed. This mess is how I think about things.

    Read more

  • Summer reflections on design

    I wonder if I should stop calling things “reflections” when I really mean: “I haven’t written in a while, but here are some thoughts I had over a very long period of time.”

    So I had a really tremendous summer as an user experience designer at Google. It was really nice experiencing what it was like to work on a team on a big project. Other designers, other stakeholders…all going through the design process together. I learned so much about business strategy and then, within in my team, UX strategy and refining user experiences. Thinking about the way our small team ran, I think it was nearly the idea working dynamic that most companies strive for. Everyone was active and engaged with each other, designers were intermingled with engineers and both opinions were respected. They touched based frequently on a schedule, but were also never afraid to start a new conversation when one arose–and more importantly, that other person also took the time to help that other person.

    Read more