Beginnings of Design Recommendations

In December, along with my contextual interviews, I tested out some prototypes. I use “prototype” here loosely, meaning that I showed participants images and texts related to bottled water, and asked them a series of questions about their reactions. Images and texts were judged separately by the participants, according to four factors (see note at end):

  • Whether participants found the image/text interesting or uninteresting
  • Whether the message was understandable or ambiguous
  • Whether the participant felt encouraged to take action
  • Whether the participant felt likely to change their attitude towards bottled water

The images I showed to participants

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Findings from December contextual interviews

During the last weeks of the semester, I interviewed 7 people: 3 women and 4 men, ages 23–33. You can read and see details about the interview setup here. After some evaluation, I became aware of 3 key themes:

Efficiency, or “not being wasteful,” is a key value for many individuals.

Drinking water, whether bottled or tap, is a habit that most people don’t think about.

People don’t do things primarily because they’re good for the environment—being eco-friendly is a secondary reason, or a bonus (if considered at all).

If you’re interested in the details, read on for what I found to be the most interesting questions and answers:

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The real problem (as I see it)

Last spring, when I was writing my thesis proposal, I searched for research in the field of design about creating persuasive communications for environmental causes. I found very little. This is not to say that such research doesn’t exist, but rather that this is an area that needs more exploration. Certainly, the field of persuasive technology is beginning to acquire a substantial body of literature, and I’ve read a few papers dealing specifically with environmental issues. But persuasive technology does not usually focus on education and information—and while I realize these methods do not usually affect change on their own, I still think they should be a crucial part of a robust campaign.

This fall, however, as I began exploring literature outside the field of design, I found a plethora of articles and books from the field of environmental psychology. Many of these readings showcase the results of campaigns encouraging environmentally-responsible behavior. They show what works, and what doesn’t. Many include specific guidelines for the design of public service communications.

This lead me to a realization: The real problem is not that there aren’t any guidelines available for designers, as I originally thought. Continue reading

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Insights from the Poster Session

During the poster session, I talked to many people about my project, the research I’ve done, and the questions I’ll be trying to answer going forward. Nothing earth-shattering came up—which is a good thing—but of course there were a few key insights that came out of my conversations.

Four insights that stood out:

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School of Design Poster session

My poster for the 2010 School of Design poster session

Above is the poster I presented at the 2010 Carnegie Mellon School of Design annual poster session. This happens yearly to give 2nd-year master’s students a chance to present their thesis projects at the midway point, and to gain feedback from faculty members and other students. Click here to download a PDF version.

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Mental Notes cards by Stephen P. Anderson

Last week I received the pack of Mental Notes cards that I ordered for our graduate studio. The cards, designed by Stephen P. Anderson, are lovely—they come beautifully packaged in an embossed box, they’re nicely designed, and each card features a whimsical illustration by Kevin Cornell. But even better, I think they will prove to be useful. Each of the 50 cards represents an insight from psychology that can be applied to interactive design (see example card below).

Two sample cards, copyright Stephen P. Anderson

I’m thrilled that these cards so nicely tie together what I’ve learned in my readings from cognitive psychology and my Behavioral Decision Making class. For example, I’ve been struggling all semester to apply the theoretical principles I’ve learned in Behavioral Decision Making to my thesis project. The application ideas on the Mental Notes cards pose simple questions that I think will be quite helpful in bridging the gaps between theory and practice.

I’ve been going through the cards and have picked out some that I could using to come up with prototypes for my thesis project.

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Contextual inquiry interviews

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be interviewing people in their homes. Being in the participants’ environment will not only allow me to talk with them, but also to take photographs of where they keep things like waste, recycling, and bottled water (if applicable). I’ll ask questions about their shopping habits, waste management, and how much they consider the environment in their everyday activities.

I will also be bringing with me a few probes: various stock images, plus six short texts which I wrote, all dealing with the issue of bottled water.

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