Saturday, January 8, 2011

Crash course on design - Stanford d.School

One of my colleagues from WorkerExpress, Joe Mellin, invited me to join him for a design workshop being put on by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. Joe is a former graduate of the d.School's masters program. I'm interested in design and I even taught principles of user-centered design for a Human Computer Interaction course at the University of Victoria, so I was keen to join him.

I really had no idea what the day would entail, I just knew to show up at 9am and I'd be done sometime around 1pm. Arriving at the workshop, I discovered there were to be over 100 people involved. We were instructed immediately that we'd be breaking up into three different groups. Once in those groups, we were told that we would be led through a full design cycle with a target demographic of potential users (see picture of design process below). Our goal was simply to design a new holiday experience for kids. The d.School had arranged to have approximately 80 students ranging from around 11 to 17 years of age to be our volunteer users.

After this brief instruction, we were put into groups of four, where we quickly introduced ourselves, and then had to come up with interview questions to ask the kids that would soon be arriving to talk to us. Each group was also assigned a "d.leader", i.e. a student at the d.School, to help guide us through the process.

One of the really interesting things about the d.School is that it brings together people from very diverse backgrounds to teach them how to become design experts. The workshop today was able to mimic that as each person in my group had very different backgrounds than myself. One was an MD now doing his MBA at Stanford, one was currently working in the medical school at Stanford, one works at Google, and finally there's me, a reformed academic now working at a start-up.

We only had about 5 minutes to prepare for the interviews, then we interviewed two different pairs of students for about 15 minutes each. We asked them about their holidays, what were their likes/dislikes, did they miss school during the holidays, what was their favorite holiday ever, were their family around during the holidays, and so forth.

Actually talking to users is always interesting and usually surprising. We had two very different groups of users. Our first group were two 12 year old boys. Their parents were generally quite busy with work over the holidays so family time was limited. They were basically left to their own devices. In contrast, our second group were two 12 year old girls that spent their holidays traveling all over the world with their families.

Here's a picture of the notes we took during the interviews. Although difficult to tell, the sticky notes are organized into four different groups: feeling, quote, thought, and action.

Following the interviews, all the groups came back together to be quickly introduced to the next part of the design process: defining our user, their needs, and the insight about the problem. Although the users from our interviews had very different holiday experiences, there were some common themes. For example, all of the students mentioned that they sometimes get bored during the holidays. They sometimes miss school because they get to see their friends at school, but not as regularly over the holiday. They also sometimes didn't seem to know what to do with their time following Christmas celebrations.

Taking these themes into account, we determined that our users were extremely bright, junior high students that needed interaction and socialization in a world where they did not know how to choose what activities they do during the holidays (or something to that effect, can't remember exact phrasing).

After our point of view was established, we brainstormed ideas for how to possibly address it (see picture below). We had crazy ideas like group travel for kids, city-wide laser tag, to more tangible solutions like a community center that organizes activities. We eventually settled on proposing an online application that was able to combine a lot of our ideas. The idea was to create a market place for kids to be able to express interest in participating in certain activities. Once enough kids expressed interest in a particular activity, all the leg work for actually making that activity happen would be handled by us, which could include transportation, equipment, some supervision, and so forth. Another way to think about it would be summer camp, but coordinated completely online and based on your personal interests.

Using this idea as a basis, we designed a prototype and then interacted with different students to test the prototype. This time we had three high school girls as our users. These girls were pretty incredible, one even stated, "this seems to add a level of complexity that's unnecessary". Only in Palo Alto, California would that statement be in a 17 year old females vocabulary!

All in all, it was an extremely fun and interactive workshop that I highly recommend if you get the chance. I'd love to have all WorkerExpress engineers participate in this workshop as they join the company. It's a great way to learn the basics of user-centered design.

Check out the video below. As an exercise to get us ready for brainstorming we played rock, paper, and scissors. Everyone starts as an individual competitor. When you lose, you become the winner's biggest fan. The video below is at the end of the day when there were only two left standing.

1 comment:

  1. The process is one that will effectively bring about the desired results and accomplish the goals faster. How astute the observation of teenagers are with statements like - "this seems to add a level of complexity that's unnecessary" - still, they tackled the task on hand.

    This learning experience will serve them well. Thank you for sharing this interesting post.