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.
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.
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!
My last design for social innovation utilized a mix of public perception and disruptive tech in order to combat ableism. Near school is a Juice Shop, one of those fancy places that offers fresh blended fruits and vegetables as a supplement or replacement for meals. That people would willingly forego full meals in favor of liquids in a world where hunger and famine are epidemics affecting people everyday is actually surprisingly [given how much I eat] an idea that has appealed to me in the past [though my grad school budget would never permit me spending $50/day on juice for an extended period of time]. On the topic of food, I also thought about what seems to be a perennially recent trend of blind eating - where people dine in the dark, depriving themselves of their sense of sight in order to be better able to taste their food. All of this combined and conspired in my mind and got me thinking: what if disability were rebranded?
Here we are at the last of the Social Design lenses - public perception. By way of an example, in Montana in 2005, an organization called The Meth Project used a hard-hitting advertising campaign targeted at current and potential abusers of crystal methamphetamine to educate state residents about the dangers associated with crystal meth abuse. As a result meth use dropped by an astonishing 72% amongst adults, and 45% amongst teens.
The penultimate lens of social design that we were forc-erm, asked, to consider was bright spots. These are easily replicable, scalable programs or interventions that offer simple solutions to complex problems. That sound esoteric, because it is. Bright spots are only bright because someone discovered them, otherwise they're as obscure as any other wildly effective solution that addresses social ills. I know, I don't sound bitter at all.
Sorry for being inconsistent with the posting lately - a combination of a Products of Design Collateral/Gallery committee dinner and the all day affair that is the Harvard Yale game consumed all of my time on Friday and Saturday. Without any further ado, here is the policy social intervention that I developed for class last Monday.
I realized that even though I told you last night that I would be covering the first lever of social innovation design from my assignment with you today, I didn't tell you what I identified as my issue, or what my insight was for this assignment. I don't want to jump the gun here, so I'll take you through my issue, insight, and further qualifying statements, before telling you about the actual interventions tomorrow. Sorry, I'm not sorry.
Sorry for missing the post last night. We had a bit of a monstrous assignment due this week, and as a consequence, I was up until 5AM working on my presentation, only to get up again at 7:30AM to finish things up [and I actually overslept - I was supposed to wake up at 6:30AM]. That's enough of the pity party though; there's a ton of content that's directly inversely related to the amount of sleep that I got that I'm excited to share with you this week. As is my usual modus operandi, I will share with you the prompt today, while working through presenting the work that I managed to get done over the course of the week.
My second app explore new territory for my thesis. So far, I think I've been focused on very practical things - my services and products all address the physical aspects of paralysis and wheelchair use, without delving into the psychological. My thesis interviews and additional reading that I've been doing on the side [design meets disability by Graham Pullin - a great read] suggest that I can't begin to design for my users without addressing their psychological needs as well. A lot of those needs originate in the physical condition that my users have, but that doesn't mean that addressing one necessarily addresses both. Recognizing this, I designed my second app to really try to get to a deeper and more profound place than any of my previous designs.
Today will be the last post [for now] about the services that I came up with as a part of my thesis. The original assignment asked for the 2nd year students at Products of Design to come up with two service ideas by using a presentation template as a generative tool for fleshing out our concepts. In addition to this, we were to brand the services in order to better convey the meaning and intent of them, and to make them seem more real. The human imagination is like a vine - if you put a structure in place that it can grow and wrap around, it can ascend to heights that are unbelievable [irony sort of unintended]. And so, I want to walk you through the decisions that I made when pulling together a brand for each of my services.
Today, I will share with you the first of two services for wheelchair users that I designed for last week's design sprint. We were tasked with "designing for service", a practice that seems initially seems straightforward. Uber, Lyft, Seamless, Amazon - these are services that we interact with on a daily basis. These are the types of ideas that seem so blindingly obvious once you've seen them, but can be tricky [to say the least] to design and conceptualize from scratch, not least because they rethink paradigms of what it means to ride in a cab, or order delivery or shop for cleaning supplies [among other things].