About this thesis project

In May 2011, I graduated from the Master of Design program at Carnegie Mellon. Over the past years, I developed a deep personal interest in environmental causes. This led me to wonder how information about the environment can be used to persuade individuals to change their behavior and live more sustainably. This blog documents my thesis project, as I explored the design problem, generated solutions based on research with participants, and eventually created a resource for designers who are creating communications for environmental issues. Find out more here.

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Presenting at greenID in Vienna on July 1

I have been accepted to present my final thesis concept at the greenID forum in Vienna, Austria, on July 1! I am honored to have been invited, and am looking forward to meeting other designers and researchers who are also passionate about information design and green practices. The forum is organized by the International Institute for Information Design (IIID).

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Final design: a roadmap to creating campaigns for environmental issues

My final solution is a resource that designers and other stakeholders can use when creating communication materials for environmental issues. The Designer’s Roadmap is a book that compiles research from my own studies and from existing literature in other fields, such as environmental psychology, decision sciences, and persuasive technology.

The book includes observations and practical tips people can put into practice throughout the design process, as well as a set of ethical principles that should be followed when designing for behavior change. My hope is that it will help designers use communication to empower individuals with knowledge, encouraging them to begin and sustain a journey toward positive behavior change.

Please visit www.designersroadmap.com to download a preview of the book, and to stay up-to-date about possible future publication.

Sample page from the Design Roadmap book

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Poster presentation

We had our final poster session on Thursday, April 14 and presented our posters to a wide audience, and then gave a presentation to a jury made up of three faculty members. This was a great way to receive feedback on our final designs while we still had a few weeks to make some changes. Now it’s just time for the final push and writing the documentation.

You can view the final presentation below, explaining my design concept and some of the research that led me there. Or download a PDF of the presentation.

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Content for design recommendations

I’m beginning to work on the design recommendation part of my thesis. Here’s my first pass at jotting down all the tips and actionable insights I’ve found throughout the year, in my literature review and from my own participatory research studies.


An explosion of Post-its! (recycled of course)

And I’m sure there will be more to come. Right now I’ve tried to loosely organize the tips and insights according to theme. But I will be thinking of other organizational principles that could be helpful for designers. For example, perhaps different tips are most helpful at different stages of the design process.


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Presentation of latest research findings

While in San Francisco during spring break, I presented the current state of my thesis project at a local design agency’s “Lunch and Learn.” This was a great chance for me to practice presenting my work in front of a receptive and engaged audience.

The presentation (below) focuses on my latest study; I’ve included screenshots from the final design, the results of the study, and some key findings. Please take a look, or download the PDF.

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Communication Piece Variables

During my study, each participant will view a communication piece, based on their answers to a pre-survey, and each communication piece will contain a mixture of 3 major variables (one from each category):

  • Medium: interactive or motion
  • Tone: humorous, matter-of-fact, or dramatic
  • Topic: animals, waste and efficiency, or money

For example, a participant might see a humorous motion piece about animals, or a dramatic interactive piece about waste and efficiency.

In addition to these major variables, there are other details that I must consider when making the pieces. In order to visualize the similarities and differences, I’ve created a matrix. I plan to use this matrix as a checklist to use as I gather everything I need to create the communication pieces. I hope it will also come in handy for my thesis documentation to visualize my design process. (Click image below to view larger)

Matrix showing which variables are the SAME and which are DIFFERENT for each piece

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Plan for next research activity

I’m moving into the prototyping and testing stage. In December, I found that people are drawn toward images and text based on their interests (for example, animals, nature, or exercising), and based on their preferred rhetorical style. For example, do they like highly emotional messages? Or neutral ones with practical advice?

I’m curious as to how these interests and preferences could affect behavior, if they are used to tailor a communication design campaign. So, I’ve come up with a new question which I will be testing out in my next study:

How does an environmental campaign affect a person’s behavior when tailored to his or her interests and preferred rhetorical style?

Plan for my next participant research study (click to view larger)

I created a colorful diagram to show how my 2-week study will play out. Not just because it looks nice, but because the study will be a bit complex. The plan shows how each part of the study will answer a particular part of my question.

I need to measure actual behavior change, which I’ll do by texting participants every day for one week. I also need to find out how the design actually plays a role in that change (or lack thereof). In addition, some participants will receive a brand-new reusable bottle after viewing the campaign, and some won’t. This will help me see whether this type of nudge, when combined with the communication piece, will affect behavior more than the communication piece by itself.

In addition to designing the campaign (!) I also need to write the questions which I’ll use to tailor the communication piece to the participants. Looks like I have a lot of work to do in the next few weeks.

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