Sorry for the dearth of posts lately. We've had our hands tied with works and lots and lots of writing for our thesis books. In an effort to refine our books further, we're to define the top ten terms that define our theses, to ensure that what we mean to say in our writing, is precisely what we end up saying. Without further ado, here are the top ten terms of Unbound: Psychophysical Design for Spinal Cord Injury and Disability.
Since Wednesday, I have had a loaner wheelchair from SVA in my possession. The chair was obtained through the school's film department, where they have a surplus of wheelchairs. Allan, our department chair, had originally put me in touch with the film department in the hopes of securing for me a wheelchair that I could modify - weld to, tear up, tear down, etc. This, of course, was way back in first semester, when we both thought that a wheelchair product would end up being part of my final portfolio of thesis designs in May. Now that my gears have shifted somewhat, I have no real need for a wheelchair for prototyping purposes, but I found myself arranging to borrow one of the film department's wheelchairs for a little over a week a little over a week ago. I think that part of me knew all along that my thesis wouldn't be complete without this exercise in empathy, especially because, back when my thesis was still in the research phase, I was told by at least one person that I interviewed that I should find a way to rent a wheelchair and go around New York City in it.
Throughout the course of the semester, we've been asked at various points what our thesis framing statements are. The framing statement became a special point of emphasis in our Service Entrepreneurship class taught by Steven Dean. In this class, we were walked through the basics of conceptual modeling, a useful practice that, while tricky and time-consuming to nail down correctly, paid off large dividends once the modeling work has been completed. The act of modeling itself is one that is deliberate and needs to be taken step by step - and in this sense is a meta practice, being more concerned with the structure of structures, i.e. the design of structures of thought, of understanding, of knowledge, than with the design work itself. The concept map below is the result of many, many iterations and many hours spent trying to distill Unbound into its constituent concepts with the aim of developing a lexicon marked by a certain economy of language that was still descriptive enough to avoid oversimplification. If the map seems simple when you read through it, I won't be offended; a good concept map makes the complex seem simple and somewhat obvious.
Something that I've been struggling with in the course of developing my thesis has been the concept of emic and etic and where my thesis experience fits into this binary positioning. For the unfamiliar, these terms come from the field of cultural anthropology, and refer to the positioning of the investigator, or in this case, thesis-er, with respect to the population that he or she is investigating. The form of investigation can take many forms, and in my case, the investigation that I'm in the process of completing is design. There are many dichotomies that can be used to position the two terms relative to each other: insider-outsider; cultural-scientific; subjective-objective. An emic account is one that is observed from within the culture, within the subject of observation. An emic observer brings into play the biases and cultural norms inherent in the very object of study. By contrast, an etic account describes the object of study from without, with a very deliberate aim of describing things impartially, as they are, sans bias.
As a follow-up to the speculative product assignment, we were tasked with creating a newspaper of the future, to fully flesh out the sociopolitical context of the worlds that we were imagining through the articles found on the front page of the newspaper. Opposite the front page is always a full page ad, giving us an opportunity to create an advertisement related to the product that we created. At first, I struggled with this assignment, realizing that the idea of a newspaper in the year 2075 was surely a conceit - in a world with bionic implants and devastating environmental damage from global warming, what place would there be for printed newspapers?
Futuring scenarios without the accompanying product or model misses the point. The idea behind futuring isn't merely to craft stories - there are enough astounding writers in the world, particularly those who write science fiction, who craft entire worlds out of words without needing to add futuring designers to the mix. It is the product that makes the futuring exercise real. It takes the otherwise fictional scenario and lends it a realness, a tangibility that has to be taken seriously. The product separates futuring from fiction. The reason that design is so well poised for the task of confronting people with visions of possible futures that scare and shock us into contemplation and eventually action is because design, whether it is graphic, product or anything in between, outputs real objects and things used in everyday contexts, and so, designers have the power of making anything look real.
In my dystopian scenario, I chose to focus once more on the theme of disability activism - a concept that I touched upon briefly in my co-designing futuring workshops before a more thorough exploration during the “thesis as a campaign” design sprint from the first semester. Additionally, the documentary “Fixed: The Science Fiction of Human Enhancement”, which I had the pleasure of watching in the name of thesis research, delves into the ethics of the practice of biomodification - whether the practice will eventually create a class of disenfranchised individuals, and whether it is a not-so-subtle indication to people with disabilities that they need to be “fixed”.
Design thinking is in vogue, being used in more contexts than ever, with periodicals constantly heralding this epoch in business as the age of design, and championing job titles such as Chief Design Executive. While this certainly makes now an interesting and exciting time to be a design student, it also incorrectly suggests that design thinking is the only methodology with which to approach product design. Sometimes, though, it's just as important to identify where society ought to be in the future as it is to identify where it is now. For those cases, futuring is a useful tool and design methodology.
As promised, here is the post about designing a postcard for my intended thesis event - a yoga session for able-bodied and disabled participants alike, with audio recordings of people reflecting on what their experience is like with the sensation of paralysis. Participants are expected to leave the event with a better understanding of their own bodies as a result of this visceral experience that is both within [the yoga itself, and the breathing associated with it] and without [the personal nature of the recordings]. For our second class of Design Delight, we were expected to come up with a postcard that informed people about the nature of the event.
Apologies for not posting again last week - I had a few applications to various things due and it was quite hectic. I'll try to post once a day this week, as there has been enough work done in the last week to warrant it. Today, I'll talk about personas - a useful analytical tool that designers use to keep the needs of the people that they're designing for in mind. These are abstracted characters that pull very specific details from real people and real experiences - they aren't real people but are more like an amalgamation of real people. For an exercise yesterday in class, we were asked to identify users [who we're designing for], experts, career helpers, and people that we want to make proud and rank them in order of importance in our thesis. I identified the three most important stakeholders for my thesis as people with spinal cord injuries, medical suppliers and doctors. If you remember back to my early posts about the thesis, one of my goals for the thesis is to make something real, something mass-marketable that will actually help people with spinal cord injuries arrive at that place of quiet determinism, of agency. My choice of key stakeholders follows directly from that. Today, I discuss what I'll need to do in order to develop personas for these stakeholders.
Well, you'll notice that I did not end up posting everyday the way that I said I would in last week's post. The reason why? Well as it turns out, the powers that be at SVA PoD are trying out a new system where only two classes at a given time assign homework, which means we can spend more time on each assignment. Today's post is about one of those two assignments, for a class called Design Delight, taught by Emilie Baltz. In it, we are to reframe our thesis as an experience, evocative of a feeling or a set of feelings that represents our thesis. Our first assignment was to create a postcard for the thesis event, thereby beginning its exploration and development.
I'm back from India and [more or less] ready to kick thesis into high gear in the coming semester. We just had our first class of five yesterday morning, called Thesis II. As you may guess from the name, Thesis II is primarily concerned with thesis, as are all of the classes that the second year students at Products of Design take during our second semester. What this means is that updates will be plentiful, blog posts will be lengthy, and I'll be blogging at least five times a week, to post incremental updates on our progress.
Happy New Year everyone! This will be my last scheduled post for the blog, and so I thought that publishing it today and speaking about next steps for my thesis in the coming semester would only be appropriate.
In conjunction with the "Thesis as a Campaign" sprint, we were asked to prepare business model canvases for our thesis, reimagining the thesis as a non-profit, a for-profit, a crowdsourced campaign, etc. For those of you unfamiliar with the business model canvas, it's a tool to layout and strategize how businesses operate - where they get their revenues from, what their key activities are, and so on. I didn't really realize how to use this as a brainstorming/iterative design tool until after this sprint was over, but now that I have, I'm actually pretty excited to use it to reimagine the same services, products and apps in different lights. Here are the business model canvases for some of the projects that I'm excited to move on with next semester. It helps to begin reading from the Value Proposition section, which summarizes the core of what the business aims to do.
For the final lens of our thesis design sprints, we were asked to conceptualize our theses as a campaign. For most of my peers, this mean isolating a service or product or screen or anything from the previous thesis sprints and developing a marketing campaign for it. Ever since my co-designing workshops, however, I’ve wanted to explore the concept of disability protest.
I only prototyped one more product for the two week product design sprint. This didn’t make onto a more refined model, despite this final prototyped idea also being one that I’ve been toying around with since the original 100 sketches that we did for thesis.
The other product idea that I wanted to prototype for the product design sprint was another idea that I had from the very beginning of thesis. One of the hardest things for people with spinal cord injuries to adjust to is the incontinence that they develop as a result of the injury.
It's been a long time hasn't it? I do have to apologize for not posting more regularly - the semester always gets super intense near the end, and I barely found enough time to scrape together my application to the MIT Medialab, and four final projects [including my thesis defense - a big event at Products of Design where the 2nd year students present their work to the faculty for second semester]. There was even a stretch of time where I didn't sleep for 39 hours straight. Three finals, one thesis defense, one 145 page thesis book, and one week of rest later, I'm back! But... I'm flying to India later today for a 3-day tourist vacation in Agra and Delhi and a 2 week stay with my family in West Bengal. I'm going to try to queue up some scheduled posts today, so that the blog can update while I'm gone. I typically have a ton of downtime when I'm with family in India, so hopefully I'll get a lot of reading and design work done.
To whet your thesis-related material appetite though, I'll post some feedback I got on the rollable ramp from Boris, one of the awesome staff at the Visible Futures Lab.
One of the first ideas that I wanted to prototype for the product design sprint was the rollable ramp. Longtime followers of the blog will recognize this idea as an iteration of something that Chris P, one of my users who participated in the co-design workshop, came up with. Chris, a New York City resident, told me about the problems facing wheelchair users in New York City, especially around food and restaurants. A ton of restaurants in the city are still not ADA complaint [a theme that I touched on earlier in the blog when talking about the service ADApt], and many feature [somewhat maddeningly] a single step up or down into their premises. The rollable ramp is meant to counteract that tendency.
A few things to note before I tell you what the latest and greatest sprint has been like for thesis. Those of you who come to the site itself to read my blog will have noticed that I redesigned my website! It feels less stark now, with shades of grey and a bit of what is known around the studio as "Souvik Blue" - my favorite shade of blue, found in a lot of my clothing and some of my drawing tools. Take a look around, kick the tires a bit and let me know what you think! For those of you on RSS or what have you, swing by and also let me know what you think!