Archive for January, 2008

Finally!

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

My portfolio is uploaded and ready to be shown to the world. It’s not 100% complete yet, but enough is there to allow you to poke around.

It was my first real and continued attempt at building anything in html/css, so it was quite the adventure; I’ve learned a lot, and hopefully with more practice and iterations, my portfolio will end up looking exactly the way I want it to. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got so far though, so be sure to check it out and let me know what you think!

Doing research isn’t all about what you have planned; a lot of times it’s about what you don’t have planned

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

I think one of the best parts about doing research as a designer is our ability to adapt. Adaptation is such a crucial skill for a designer, not only longterm adaptations as project progress changes, but also on-the-fly, spontaneous changes while talking research participants.

I spent most of my afternoon at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital today, as I finally got clearance to start my thesis project work. I had four hands-on design activities meticulously planned, designed, and crafted for families to do, and in my head I had an idea of what I wanted them to do, what I was going to say, and so on. When it came time to interview my first participant, it became obvious that there was no way any of my research activities were going to go as planned. My participant was in a chair holding her small baby, with tubes coming out of him in every which way, and the room was set up so that there was only room for me to sit across from her, with no tables, or any sort of furniture that could cater to any sort of design activity.

Luckily, I was familiar with the most important aspect of my design activities: the information that I wanted to find out from my research. I was prepared to brainstorm alternative ways to get this information without making it a boring interview session. I had my participant imagine being in different scenarios, I let her pretend for 10 small minutes that she had unlimited resources and money, and I had her picture what it would be like for new families coming into the hospital in a similar situation. The second family that I interviewed was in the same situation… all I got to do was to talk to them, but the father was so excited about imagining an ideal information-giving situation that he started designing in his head and telling me all about what they would’ve really liked, and how it could work, etc. While there is no substitute for handing my participants my laminated experience-cards that I made, or having them make little cards and creating their own welcome kit for other families, setting up scenarios and letting them play around and imagine in their heads did the trick almost just as well. Imagination is a powerful tool.

Contrast this to the many scientific tests I did as an undergrad, where everything followed a strict protocol. Sidestep this protocol in any fashion, and your results could be deemed scientifically invalid. Yes, scientific studies are important for a variety of reasons, but in design we embrace the fact that our research plays to the designer’s intent and whatever they want to do to get information.

Of course, adaptation really only works if the designer is prepared enough and competent (and maybe creative?) enough to be able to think on the spot, otherwise it could be pretty tricky. I am by no means perfect, but I think the increasing number of projects that I’ve done, and the way that we are thrown into unfamiliar situations in our projects makes it a lot easier now to be comfortable making things up on the go, and getting just as good of information as we would’ve gotten had we been able to stick with the original plan. Original plans are good, but when faced with an unexpected situation, so are the fifty other ones that are floating around in your head, waiting to be given a chance ;)

Hello, 2008

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

I started 2008 in sunny, happy, and freezing Orlando. Our family has somewhat of a tradition, traveling to Disney World every couple of years since I was born.

Let me first make one thing clear: Disney World is not just for kids. It’s a shame that most people think this way because while yes, the Magic Kingdom theme park mostly contains rides for small children, it is not the only theme park there. I guess it doesn’t help that most of the happy travelers flocking to Disney are families with children under the age of five.

Anyway. I didn’t vacation at Disney as the regular Carrie this time. Nope. Blame CMU on this one, but I vacationed as Carrie The Designer this time around. Whereas before I marveled at the rides, the endless amounts of Disney merchandise, and the three-hour waits for rides, this time I looked at everything from a different perspective: I marveled at what had to have gone behind the scenes to design the rides, the meaning and value of Disney merchandise to kids and adults alike, and the management and innovation that goes behind the design of ride queues.

It’s amazing what Disney does. Bypassing the more childish Magic Kingdom and thinking about my favourite Disney theme park, the EPCOT center, I like to think of Mr. Walt Disney as one of my personal design heroes. I mean, EPCOT stands for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”. How much more modern and design-y can you get? And he proposed this park over 20 years ago. Even though Walt Disney had initially imagined EPCOT as an actual community, it’s nice that The Walt Disney Company made it into a theme park, while still maintaining Walt’s visions. Now, the park contains different attractions that highlight some of the current and future innovations in different areas. It’s almost like a giant playground to introduce the public to what we do everyday.

Of course, Disney isn’t all fun and magic. The restaurant where we had dinner at Epcot was backed up over an hour. Customers were yelling and the lobby was packed full of people who should have been seated hours ago. There seems to be some sort of disconnect between Disney and its restaurants; Disney owns all the restaurants on its sites, but manages all the reservations without knowing how the restaurants operate.

In the end, the great things about Disney make you forget about all their mistakes. Their ingenious distractions while waiting to get into attractions and rides, their Fastpass system for shortening wait times, the way they create the Disney atmosphere using everything imaginable (but never overdoing it)… a lot of companies could use some service design tips from Disney (and it’s nice to see that some have).

Thanks to good ol’ Walt for providing me with my first design eye-opener of the year ;)