Archive for the 'thesis project' Category

One Line of Service Design, part 2

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

Just a short update… I asked my mentor from this summer, Susan Spraragen (who is currently in Paris presenting our work on service blueprinting) what her service design one-liner would be. Here’s what she contributed:

Service design is about creating and taking decisive and deliberate actions that will promote, support, and sustain positive service experiences in order to strengthen provider-customer relationships.

I like the decisive and deliberate part. And especially the part about sustaining positive service experiences. Too often designers are asked to provide quick, band-aid solutions that may help in the short run; not provide solutions that will work in the long run.

The issue of sustainability is an interesting one. We’ve been discussing it a lot in my Designing for Management and Organizational Change class, in terms of how one would go about teaching/changing/designing an organization so that they can grow and succeed on their own without clinging on to a consultant.

This lead me to think about the issue of sustainability in service design. Especially in regards to my thesis project: how can I design a solution that will allow Children’s Hospital to continue thinking about sustaining the values (family-centered care, control, support) that I’m trying to enforce? Is a well-designed service or system enough to have a service provider convinced to keep practicing good service design? Or is there something more to getting someone clinched to always bettering their service offerings?

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 ;)

School update (or rather, wrap-up)

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

As I only had two days of classes this term, the entire term zipped by almost without me knowing. By the last day of the term, I somehow managed to finish my thesis paper (though you can be sure I will be using all next term to refine it), create the other two deliverables for my 5 Minute Break project (see previous post), create a bunch of research activities for my thesis project, spend $100 to print out my thesis project poster, redesign my portfolio website (have yet to complete it though), and relax the rest of the time.

Next term, I will be completing my thesis paper and project, and will be taking four classes: Dick Buchanan’s Design, Management, and Organizational Change, Kristin Hughes and Mark Mentzer’s Color and Communication, Shelley Evenson’s Conceptual Models, and I will once again be taking Repertoire Orchestra. Very excited about this lineup; I think it’s a really great mix of different types of design, and I think all will be useful with whatever I decide to do later on.

But before I get ahead of myself, here’s the update on the rest of the term since my last post:

Thesis project
After an oh-so-exciting four months of waiting, all my IRB problems were resolved, and I am finally allowed to go talk to families at Children’s Hospital. Too bad this came a week before school ended, which means I can’t actually go in until after the break, but at least I can go. Within these four months, I talked to the staff at Children’s and have a pretty good idea of what they believe to be the problem with information overload for the parents of patients. It will be interesting to compare the staff’s perceived problems with the families’ problems once I get to talk to them.

Thesis Project PosterAs Masters students we are all required to create a thesis project poster for a poster session that we hold at the end of the term. Mine mainly consisted of the models I created from talking to the staff, but it also includes the four research activities that I devised to get insight into families’ experiences at the hospital. For now I am mainly interested in comparing different emotional states throughout families’ journeys at the hospital with the information they receive at these points.

Thesis paper
After a crazy Thanksgiving weekend writing session, I mostly finished my thesis paper, then really finished in the couple of weeks after. It still needs lots of revision, mostly for writing style and argument coherency, but it’s mostly there (I think, and hope). The thesis paper has been one of the hardest “assignments” (if you can call it that) for me; I’ve never been comfortable with my writing style. But it’s progressing and I hope to have a solid Masters Thesis Paper by the time I graduate, even if the only two people who will read it are me, and my advisor ;)

Grad Type
I finished my 5 Minute Break assignment with mostly a bang. Created some mockups of a proposed website, and for my third piece I decided to make small and playful keychain tags, each tag containing an idea for something you could do on a 5 minute break. It was a fun project, and really useful too. I learned a lot about creating systems, and what mediums are good for what purposes. I learned how to treat visualizations differently depending on your medium. I learned more about hierarchy (you can never learn enough about hierarchy). Most importantly, I learned that I can create things I would have never thought of doing… thinking outside the box in terms of visual design, and not being afraid to do it is I think the one big lesson of this class for me. I feel like I can approach different projects without being confined to what I know and am comfortable with, and still create something visually appealing.

Because of the way the class was set up, I only got to play twice this term. Nevertheless, both times were great. With most things, I always forget how fun it is until I actually do it again. But with music, I never forget, which makes a lack of music in my life a problem. My first year of grad school was the first year in my life that I wasn’t pursuing anything musical; up until my first year of undergrad I was talking piano lessons, I played in my highschool’s jazz band, concert band, and pit orchestra, I started my own chamber quintet (that was later invited to play for Canada’s Governor General), I continued competing as a pianist in my hometown’s Kiwanis music competition… in undergrad I continued taking piano lessons (at the expense of some of my academics), sang in one of University of Toronto’s 1oo-member choirs, and played piano for one of my college’s cabaret productions. Then came my first year at CMU, when I did absolutely nothing. I couldn’t even find a piano on campus that I could play on. So, playing in orchestra this year was pretty refreshing. Sometimes it makes me wonder why I never pursued music as a career. But then I look at what I’m doing in school now, and am always reminded that maybe music is better served as a hobby ;)

I think that’s enough school updates for now. Over the break I plan on finishing my portfolio, looking for places that I’d like to work at, and refining my thesis paper. Fun!

A Change in Plans

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

I’m done a little bit more than a quarter of my final year in grad school. What’s the smartest move to make now? Changing both my thesis paper and project focuses, of course! Duh.

That’s what happens when you’re supposed to make decisions on your thesis topics at the end of your first year in grad school, without doing an enormous amount of research to figure out if it’s really what you want to do. So, now that I’ve done some more thorough research, and have spent some time mulling about in various topics, I’ve finally chosen something I think I’m comfortable pursuing.

New and improved thesis project focus

I’m still looking at the Intermediary Care Unit at the Pittsburgh Children’s hospital. But instead of focusing on patient experience, I’ll be focusing more on family education. Imagine this: your five year old child has just gotten an emergency heart operation, is recovering in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit where the patient to staff ratio is 1:1—each child has their own bedside nurse. A couple days later your child is transferred to the Intermediary Care Unit, where the patient to staff ratio is now 1:3. Being a parent who isn’t in the medical field, you wonder if the sudden decrease of care and focus for your child is adequate. Of course, you know that your child should be okay, otherwise they would’ve have put him in the unit. But in the back of your mind, you’re constantly worrying, because you’re not 100% sure about what’s going on. You’re trying to keep up with everything everyone has told you, but at times it’s just information overload. Your child is discharged a week later, and you then wonder whether that was enough time to recuperate in the hospital. More importantly, you wonder whether you’ll be knowledgeable enough to be able to give your child the best care possible at home.

It’s a hard problem to tackle. Where should you begin educating the families about the condition and care of their child? What sorts of information should you be giving them and when? Organizing the information is a challenge… you can imagine all the different types of new information that a parent can acquire: dietary info, physical therapy info, respiratory therapy info, general care info, etc. In what mediums should the information be delivered? Should there be multiple channels of information delivery?

So that’s what I’ll be doing. Trying to develop some sort of service that will allow families to feel more empowered about caring for their children. Allowing them to feel more comfortable about the entire process, and allowing a more seamless transition between information transfer and gathering.

New and improved thesis paper focus

Before, I had plans of looking at musical notation systems to develop a new service notation framework. But to do this would require an explanation of why one should even look to music in the first place. Why look to music for parallels for notation systems?

Here’s the rough (very basic) outline of my paper [the real outline is at three pages right now]. Apologies in advance for the weird wordpress formatting of lists:

  1. Service background
    • introducing service design as a new discipline
  2. Paralleling Music to Service
    • looking at music lifecycles
    • looking at music as a system
    • looking at musical style
    • first impressions
  3. Paralleling Music Roles to Service Roles
    • Introducing the notion of the following parallels:
      • composer = service designer
      • performer = service provider/frontline people
      • listener = customer
    • The Role of the Composer [or service designer]
      • master of elements
      • giving shape to ideas
      • keeping an organic relationship to his work
      • designing the unexpected
    • The Role of the Performer [or service provider]
      • reproduce composer’s intentions with conviction
      • supplying energy and movement to a piece of music
      • master of elements before taking the performance further
      • need to execute and interpret
      • need to be aware of performance conditions
      • establishing trust
    • The Role of the Listener [or customer]
      • role as an advocate/educator
      • four stages of listening:
      • hearing, enjoying, understanding, and discriminating
      • in the end, the listener wants an experience
      • role as a discriminator
      • Notation Systems
  4. Notation Systems
    • Introduction: notation is necessary to tie and ground all the roles together
    • How the composer, performer, and listener relate to the music score
    • How this parallels to service
      • need for fidelity and conviction to notation system
      • limitations of notation system
  5. Future direction
    • developing system notation systems by looking at music notation systems
  6. Conclusion

Phew. Long post. I will be impressed if someone actually got to this point of the post ;)