Ash at CIID

Ashwin Rajan's blog while at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.

Archive for the ‘design process’ Category

Provocations: Making Sustainable Practices A Currency

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Based on user feedback on the Elevator Buzz concept for Intel, my team quickly realized that systemic solutions designed to generate and sustain conversations around sustainable practices had viability. Then our next concern became the issue that some users had raised around ‘incentive’ – “I think this is a good thing to part of, but whats in it for me?” This got us interested in alternative currencies – can sustainable choices made by individuals translate into a currency with the possibility for real world use?

As an impromptu exercise for provoking new perspectives when exploring this area, here are some word clouds I generated on Wordle. I used the Wikipedia Community Currencies page and the Kashklash project home page to find make three different wordles. Interestingly, they had different characteristics as seen below.

Wordle of five random articles from Wikipedia's 'Community Currencies' page. Made with

Wordle of five random articles from Wikipedia's 'Community Currencies' page. Made with

When five random articles from Wikipedia’s ‘Community Currencies’ pages were wordled together, the word ‘currency’ obviously stood out, with ‘eco-money’ making a surprise leap into the forefront.

Wordle of almost all pages together from Wikipedia's 'Community Currencies' page. Made with

Wordle of almost all pages together from Wikipedia's 'Community Currencies' page. Made with

But when almost all the articles from Wikipedia’s ‘Community Currencies’ pages were wordled together, ‘local’  was the clear winner, with ‘economic’, ‘services’ and ‘people’ starting to become prominent as well.

Wordle of text from's home page. Made with

Wordle of text from's home page. Made with

Finally, when the text from’s home page was wordled, the prominent words were even more interesting: ‘sharing’, ‘communities’, ‘people’, ‘future’.

Driven by exercises like these and others, my team began to explore the question about whether communities of practice could be built around sustainability, which could also exchange any ‘wealth’ generated between the individuals in the community.


Elevator Buzz Concept for Intel – Rationale

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On the Intel-CIID industry project: based on user research conducted with people in India and South Korea, my team decided to explore the particular idea that came out of brainstorming  – not as a final solution but as a critical exercise to understand the context for design better.

In retrospect, this turned out to be a very useful technique. In the constant challenge of choosing between zooming in or out, (reflecting on created material or designing forward) its nice to take the latter step now and then a little in advance of its time. Simply shifting into a ‘lets just build this out, shall we’ mode, while still in the process of understanding the design context, is a great way to prevent getting too bogged down by highly refined needs, and consequentially a stunted, myopic view of the whole opportunity landscape.

A work in progress - the sudio space while brainstorming

A work in progress - the sudio space while brainstorming

During our user research, we found that young educated professionals were a very appropriate group to work with for this project, mostly because our Indian and Korean subjects seemed to share many similarities in terms of lifestyles and aspirations. We also moved away from the residential context for several reasons. Firstly, there was much more consensus in the view of our research subjects in their office environments than their homes. Then, there really wasn’t too much common among ‘typical’ residential communities across India and South Korea. Also, office spaces seemed to offer much more potential to explore the main theme of the project ‘The Social Collective as an Agent of Behavioral Change”; office goers seemed much more a ‘collective’ of any sort, capable of exploiting existing group dynamics towards common goals. And finally, interventions to spark behavioral change in the office space had the potential to create huge impact on better energy management, as the huge (technology industry) office spaces in India and Korea with thousands of workers were not uncommon.

A work in progress - thought crunching.

A work in progress - me, thought crunching.

The key insight from user research we developed the idea from was:”How might we create opportunities for upwardly-mobile office workers to make visible contributions to sustainable issues?”

The idea was simple: how would a real-time information visualization in the office elevator motivate individuals to make better energy management choices. The concept and sketches to be discussed in a further post …

Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 17, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Brainstorming Based On Insights From Interviews – Intel

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Continuing notes on the Intel-CIID industry project. The following are some of the user quotes from feedback obtained via remote online interviews, on the issue of sustainability by energy efficiency practices.

  • “Long term costs of managing residences …. now seem to equal or out-weight cost of acquisition”
  • “I think it (energy efficiency) is a good concept for the future. But, wondering how this issue effects my current life… ”
  • “We need to get used to ‘self-sufficiency.”
  • “A thinking generation could make this (sustainable energy efficiency) work.”
  • “Costs for water, public lighting, lifts (elevators), and washing clothes can be shared among (residential) communities.”
Concepts from brainstroming

Concepts from brainstroming

At this point, we had spent a few continuous days in near proximity of users, hearing them out. So we thought it was a good point to zoom out a bit and identify dominant patterns in the thinking of our users. The idea behind this was to move away from the exact thoughts as verbalized by users, and carry those concerns forward to ‘open up’ the domain of opportunity for design.


To do this, the team used the quotes and resulting insights collected as inspiration for a series of  brainstorming sessions. The sessions were driven and managed by CIID and Intel faculty Vinay Venkatraman and Jay Melican, and consisted of a series of exercises with different goals. Switching to a ‘studio’ mindset, members from across the project class circulated between teams and helped put up ideas on walls by the dozen (and this is such an effective way of capturing the skills and perspectives of members across the studio). We were looking for associations, hidden meanings, metaphors, anything – however literal, visual, conceptual or semantic – that would help us move from the realm of concrete concerns into the domain of inspired insight. Here are some images from the brainstorming sessions.


Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 16, 2009 at 11:43 am

Remote user research – Intel industry project

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Here are further notes on generating insights from user research to inspire design concepts for the CIID-Intel industry project titled ‘The Social Collective as an Agent of Behavioral Change’. Doing background research on the concept of the smart grid, my teammate Mimi and I found ourselves in an fascinating conversation about how urban residents in our native countries South Korea and India seemed to perceive the idea of sustainable and energy efficient housing. We thought this was a very interesting target audience to explore further and design for.

Given a very short period of time (less than a week) to conduct user research to inspire us in our solutions, we decided to conduct online interviews with people we could reach in South Korea and India. The exercise was simple: address the issue of energy efficiency in urban residential apartment complexes and try to understand how aware people were of the concern, how they associated it with in their daily lives, and if they actually participated in making any sustainable energy choices.

In order to set the context, we used simple videos available from publicly available content online. The subjects were asked to watch a video (like the one shown below, made by one of my favorite design firms Xplane) and then take an open, informal online interview on Skype. Using an online tool like Skype helped tremendously as it was easy to work in multiple modes, exchanging links or references and text, while also speaking freely at length.

After setting the context for sustainability in general and energy efficiency in particular, we were able to dive in further with specific questions like:

  • Do you know the concept of a ‘green building’ or ‘sustainable construction’ ?
  • Do you know anyone who owns or lives in a ‘sustainable’ home or construction?
  • What are the points that are most energy-intensive in your apartment block or society?
  • What are the points that are least energy-intensive in your apartment block or society?
  • Are there energy costs that you think you can share with your fellow apartment or society residents?
  • How much do you think you can save on energy by changing the design of your apartment and the materials in it?
  • Which gadgets in your home do you think consume the most power?
  • Which gadgets in your home do you consider most dispensable?
  • Which gadgets in your home do you consider least dispensable?

Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 16, 2009 at 10:25 am

“Behavior is the medium of interaction design” – Frog

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Being a student of the behavioral and social sciences, I naturally appreciate this approach to the design of interaction. But there is also an almost unnerving practicality to it. ‘Behavior’ has been a chief concern of psychology since the earliest days of the discipline, and for good reason. The fact that what something or someone ‘does’ is so much more observable in the real world (and therefore measurable, ‘designable’) than any internal state that the person or thing ‘experiences’, is a compelling perspective. Such an objective view brings (what some would call a boring) predictability into the process, but don’t forget – predictability brings in a quality that others might call ‘value’. Don’t miss the great examples in this talk by Robert Fabricant of Frog Design.

On the other hand I am not dumping the idea of ‘experience’ as a medium of interaction design altogether. Art in various media has traditionally supplied our need for experiences. This approach makes immediate sense for say the design of interactive installations or even services like flight check-in, where there is time, a handful of touch points and space for the designer to work with. But how does the ‘experience design’ approach help set concrete goals when designing for instance a business tool in a mobile handset context? I want smooth experiences, pleasant experiences, effortless experiences, and …? It might finally come down to goals like “allow the user to check sales status with a maximum of two taps, while avoiding the chances of error in shaky conditions”. This is essentially a problem of designing the behavior of systems to serve specific human behaviors. Hmmm…..

Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 13, 2009 at 6:12 am