Posts tagged “IIT”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Brains, Behavior & Design: A toolkit by graduate students at IIT Institute of Design – In the real world, people are often irrational. Over the past few decades, researchers have codified many of the patterns that describe why people behave irrationally. As researchers, how can we be on the lookout for these patterns of behavior when we go into the field? As designers, how can we use our understanding of patterned irrational behavior to help people make better choices? We are developing tools that apply findings from the fields of cognitive psychology and behavioral economics to the design process. These tools provide a head start on framing research as well as developing new strategies for solving user problems.
  • Reading on iPad before bed can affect sleep habits [Los Angeles Times] – Staring at the screen before bed could leave you lying awake. That's because direct exposure to such abnormal light sources inhibits the body's secretion of melatonin. Light-emitting devices, including cellphones and the iPad, tell the brain to stay alert. Because users hold those devices so close to their face, staring directly into the light, the effect is amplified compared with a TV across the room or a bedside lamp, said Frisca Yan-Go, director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center in Santa Monica. Some say e-ink is easier on the eyes than the screen on a computer (tablet or otherwise). However, the Wall Street Journal published a report this month to the contrary. Yan-Go was eager to point out the advantages of books over e-readers. Paper books are often lighter; they can be dropped when you doze off holding them; and if they get wet, it's not the end of the world. And they won't mess with your sleep cycle…However, "Kindle is better for your sleep," Avidan wrote in another e-mail.
  • A New Character in Archie’s Town [] – A new man is moving into Riverdale, the home of comics’ perennial teenager Archie Andrews and his gang. His name is Kevin Keller, and he’s blond-haired, blue-eyed and gay. Kevin will be introduced in Veronica No. 202, in a story titled, “Isn’t it Bromantic?” The inclusion of the character meets twin goals, one real world and one in-story. “Riverdale has to reflect the diversity of the world today,” said Jon Goldwater, co-chief executive of Archie Comic Publications. “We want to be all inclusive.” Mr. Goldwater also said he’s not afraid of any repercussions. “We think everyone is going to enjoy the story,” he said. “It’s completely in the tradition of your typical Archie comic.” Dan Parent will be writing and illustrating the story of Kevin’s introduction. “Veronica is always chasing guys and getting what she wants. Who could we introduce that she could not get?” Mr. Parent said Kevin would be more than a one-off character with future stories already mapped out.

Human Behavior

I was in Chicago last weekend for IIT Institute of Design’s excellent Design Research Conference, and spent a day walking around the city. (I’m happy to say I can now use the term ‘Miesian’ with authority.)

I ended the day in Millennium Park eating a hot dog and looking at Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture.


Actually, to say I was looking at the sculpture sells the experience short. I’d seen the giant silver bean from a distance earlier that day, but once I was next to it, the combination of scale, surface treatment, and form made it such an unusual and compelling object that I couldn’t help but start interacting with it. Chicago writer Lynn Becker’s article on Millennium Park sculpture-as-architecture delves further into the interactivity of Cloud Gate.

After a few trips around and under the sculpture, I decided to sit back and watch how other people were responding to it.

I saw people

  • photograph it
  • photograph themselves with it
  • photograph others with it
  • have strangers photograph them with it
  • use it as a mirror and check their makeup, hair
  • clean it and (while being photographed) lick it
  • fit their bodies into the smallest possible space created by the sculpture’s curves
  • smear their fingerprints along the mirrored surface (this seemed like a form of graffiti, a recording of presence)
  • pretend to be holding the sculpture up
  • use it to hold them up
  • pose suggestively on all fours next to it
  • talk about having come there other times
  • lie on the ground in poses to create specific tableaux in the funhouse mirror-like underside


It was fascinating to see how people reacted to having this functionless object placed in their midst. It struck me as a form of spatial/environmental prototyping, and I’m sure that noticing and examining what people do and what their patterns of motion around this object are and synthesizing that data could produce insights to inform many types of design.

In our research work, we periodically use objects to elicit responses from people to new concepts. Sometimes these artifacts take the form of storyboards, sometimes models, and sometimes we’ll just put something in a person’s hands to give them a starting point, something to react to. One time, I handed a person we were interviewing a CD box set that was on his coffee table, and he proceeded to talk us through a whole design for the product idea we were discussing. “It’d be smaller than this, I think the corners should be rounded, maybe this part could come off . . .”

We’ve been collaborating lately with a couple of our clients on the creation of storyboards and models for this purpose. It’s been interesting figuring out in each case the right balance of detail and abstraction; how to give people enough cues to get the basic concepts, while leaving them enough space to think about how they would like to see those concepts refined.

Of course, what gets created depends on where our client is in the development process and what we want to learn from the people we’re talking to, but I think that what I saw at Cloud Gate is a good model for what one hopes an artifact will spark in a research participant: the urge to experiment, to hypothesize, to test, to interact, to play, to see what’s possible.


Related posts:
On using objects for generative research

On noticing
On prototyping and fidelity

DRC08 Workshop: Tapping into super-noticing power


Last weekend was my workshop (“Did you see that? Tapping into your super-noticing power”) at the Institute of Design’s Design Research Conference. Most of the folks in the workshop completed a homework assignment where they went out and took photos of something they noticed (similar to the assignment I had given to the students I taught at CCA, discussed here). During the workshop itself, people presented their photos and stories, while I asked both speakers and listeners to think about the noticing process more than the details of the specific examples (all of which were interesting and enjoyable).

We did just a first pass at synthesizing the observations, and some of the things that came out may or may not be obvious to others. Here’s a sampling:

  • To notice, we filter on our previous experiences, our personal backgrounds, and our professional experiences
  • We react to something that evokes an emotion in us
  • Rather than noticing details, we may simply grasp the gestalt of the details in the moment
  • Taking the picture helps you notice, even if you go back to the picture later and notice things in that picture
  • The importance of slowing down, relaxation, being calm/still, having a time of contemplation (in contrast to “trying” to do a noticing activity…several people reported that they couldn’t do the exercise when they tried to do it, but then later on they noticed all sorts of stuff
  • In contrast, for some, there is no on/off button for their design research way of thinking/being
  • There’s a need to give ourselves permission to look silly by stopping to pay attention to something seemingly trivial
  • Notice similarities when you expect differences
  • Notice differences when you expect similarities
  • Most importantly to me, was that it’s okay not to know the “why” of something; this was tough during the workshop when some people had a strong urge to try and explain what others had noticed; to rationalize, clarify, or even solve it

I look forward to the next opportunity to lead this workshop again.

See also: Ever notice? by Steve Portigal and Dan Soltzberg at AIGA Gain

About, With, and For conference

For the fourth year running, I’ll be speaking at About, With, and For, organized by the ID in Chicago. This year it’s October 28-29, at Navy Pier. The details of my talk aren’t up, but I’ll be doing a workshop about the relationships between improv and ethnography and innovation. It’s similar to the tutorial I’m teaching at DUX in early November. AWF is always a great event, and the first set of speakers they’ve announced looks pretty good; check it out!

about, with & for – advancing the practice of user-centered design research

The about, with & for conference website is was up.

Now in it’s fourth year, AWF is a collaborative forum offered by the graduate students of the Institute of Design to address issues within design research. It is targeted at professionals and academics who develop ideas based on insights into people’s behaviors, perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes. Within this forum, we explore a range of methods to uncover insights and translate them into meaningful systems, products, organizations, services and communications.


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