Brainstorming with Gil and Nick

We are lucky to have Nick Durrant and Gil Wildman, two amazing, funny, smart designers from Plot in England, here this year as Carnegie Mellon’s Nieremberg Chairs (more info here). Last Friday, October 22, Gil and Nick met with several of us 2nd-year grad students for a few hours to help us come up with research ideas for our thesis projects.

All of us are in fairly different stages and have very different research topics, but it was still helpful to hear the personalized advice that G+N gave to each person. Especially because we can use some techniques now and some later in the year.

For me, G+N suggested that I do interviews with people in their homes. And that I interview couples, because, as I’m interested in behavior, couples should “keep the other person honest” and help me learn what people actually do, not just what they say they do. Interviewing people in their homes will allow me to use all my senses to gather information and to take lots of photos! For example, I can ask them to show me where they keep their recycling, bottled water, filtered water, etc.

G+N in general were not fans of surveys. They urged us to keep the research activities fun and creative. They reminded us that we’re not social scientists; we’re designers! So we don’t have to have the “right” answers.

G+N also introduced us to a really intriguing approach to summarizing research findings (from interviews, etc): the AEIOU approach. This consists of Activites (what people are doing), Environments (where/what’s the arena?), Interactions (between a person and something else—the building blocks of Activities), Objects (key elements—the building blocks of Environments), and Users—the most complicated; as they have emotions, behaviors, and needs.

I’m excited to do some interviews in peoples’ homes soon — in fact I’ve already filed a modification to my IRB. I might combine this in-person exercise with a chance to get feedback on some prototypes so it may be close to Thanksgiving when I actually do this.

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