Ash at CIID

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

Posts Tagged ‘user research

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

Screen-based solutions for eldercare – ‘PhotoCaring’ concept

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In my previous post ‘Screen-based solutions for eldercare – process and concepts’ I discussed the brief, process and concepts for the project that my team worked on in GUI class. Here are snapshots that present the rationale for the final concept we created and presented as a conclusion to the investigation. It is based on the field observations, interviews and user testing of the primary persona based on elderly resident Annie.

One of the main sources of inspiration was the many picture frames in the hallways of the elderly home, with photographic content supplied by the events from the daily lives of the residents, both from their time spent in the home as well as from before their admittance to the home.


Picture frames in the elderly home hallway with photographic content provided by events in the daily lives of residents.

Annie was enthusiastic about showing us her pictures and postcards, but she had to look at the descriptions behind them to tell us exactly who they came from or when (the occasion) they were sent. The investigation also revealed that  she would value having such information on a need-to-know basis, a device or system that helped her share such information (and compare it with similar information) with that of other residents.


Annie needed to look up descriptions behind her postcards and pictures to tell us more about their senders or content.


Annie was comfortable discussing interactions via simple buttons and menu options on picture frames in the hallways of the elderly home.

The final concept is designed to promote social interaction between residents of the elderly home. It consists of individual picture frames that are networked with each other via interactive digital wallpaper.

Interactive picture wall facilitates social interaction between residents.

Interactive picture wall facilitates social interaction between residents.

The interface elements on each individual frame provides feedback by proximity, using RFID tags. It allows the user to view similar pictures of other residents by theme and alerts users to the presence of other users who are also near the wall, thus providing cues to spark meaningful and contextual conversations between residents (snapshot of  frame interface prototype below).

Interactive picture frame

Interactive picture frame

The 1K Project

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One thousand video recordings of people playing Track Mania run simultaneously. That’s so cool ! Color code the cars in a spectrum of win-to-lose colors and we’ll be able to see the most effective ‘win zone’ for mastering this bit of  track.

Written by Ashwin Rajan

December 16, 2008 at 11:48 am

User Research in Elderly Homes in Copenhagen

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Some weeks ago, CIID pilot year students conducted user research in five elderly homes in Copenhagen based on the following brief: ‘the study aims to create a deep understanding of user needs in different situations between residents and staff in old people’s homes, in order to design screen based technologies that can make life better for both groups.’

The three themes we focused on were:

  • What is important for the elderly and staff in terms of improving the SOCIAL LIFE of the elderly?
  • What is important for the elderly and staff in terms of improving PHYSICAL ACTIVITY of the elderly?
  • What is important for the elderly in terms and staff in terms of creating AUTONOMY for the elderly in their everyday life?

The team I was with visited two old people’s homes: Plejebo and Aftensol. The observations recorded from the homes differed considerably. But in compiling a list of final observations, we listed those that seemed to stand-out and proved most ‘interesting’ – both in terms of capturing critical or core needs of the residents, as well as in defining a full-bodied ‘opportunity space’ for design.

An informal chat with a elderly resident.

An informal chat with a elderly resident.

The following are only some of the exceptional learnings and observations from the two field trips (not in order of importance):

– The carer was continuing a conversation with one of us when one of the elderly was choking on food.
– A carer reported how sometimes the resident men try to get one of the resident women into their room (indicating a continuing desire for sexual contact even at average ages of seventy and above).
– The residents have ‘olympics’ competitions against peers from other old age home, and look forward to such social occasions with enthusiasm.
– There is an old gentleman who is an alcoholic, but gets taken out to a bar from time to time by one of the carers for a break.- These places are the very definition of ‘assisted living’.
– A lady could not read the activity board (which was supposedly an important social glue bringing together people for events), and as a result didn’t know anything about the various activities going on in the home.
– A aged resident lady, who was a ballet dancer, was put in the elderly home by her younger husband, who drives a taxi by night and cannot take care of her.
– The residents are depressed during the first weeks of arriving in the old age home, the period typically understood as the most difficult in adjusting to their new lives.
– Emmy was angry she could not play bingo when she wanted to.
– One of the residents wanted someone to read aloud to her.
– There was a strong need for simple devices, such as simple and intuitive communication devices.
– It was clear they were losing the ability to remember day-to-day things as well as motor skills.
– The resident’s rooms or apartment are usually full of photos.

In a resident's room.

In a resident's room.

Some of the important quotes that inspired us:

– “Today is a good day” – Resident, Female, 83 years old
– “I never use it” – Resident, referring to the emergency tug rope in her room which pages carers.
– “Would be good if Tilde got on it and just pressed start …” – Gym instructor, referring to lack of customization options on the gym equipment like the treadmill.
– “She wasn’t able to stand … she has grown younger now.” – Carer, referring to the particular extraordinary case of a resident who had purchased a motor scooter, acquired the proper license and went riding it outside the old age home on her own.
– “These are the only things that I have left” – Resident, referring to the meager belongings in her room.
– “I miss my home” – Resident
– “They live so far away” – Resident, referring to her immediate family
– “There is not always room for all of us” – Resident, referring to the weekend car trips around Copenhagen that are run by the home.
– “The food was horrible, but it was so much fun”  – Resident, referring to
– “I can’t find the radio channels I am looking for” – Resident, referring to her digital radio
– “When you turn chores into activities, it keeps them going” – Carer, on making chores fun for the elderly
– “Everybody needs to be close to someone and that’s easier if they smell nice” – Carer, on caring for the residents
– “We need to help them to remember their identity” – Carer
– “Its important to give them a future” – Carer
– “They need to be stimulated by peers” – Carer
– “I want to go to Sicily. I want to propose is to the trip council” – Resident, commenting on her choice of holiday
– “I got my ceramics exposed downstairs” – Resident, proud of her work which was displayed in the ground floor hall
– “Sure, I like to dance” – Resident
– “We call ourselves the elite group” – Resident, who was one the few ‘elite’ – those considered most participative and good at working out in the home gymnasium.
– “My grandson, he is a graphic designer” – Resident.

Initial observations and evidence support brainstorming for insights.

Initial observations and evidence support brainstorming for insights.

In an effort to better understand our observations, the team re-framed the needs of the elderly based on observations in the following ‘Help-me-to’ statements:

  • Help me to cope with my first fifteen days in the home.
  • Help me to watch my favourite TV shows without interruption or disturbance.
  • Help me to spend more time with young people.
  • Help me to have familiar people come back.
  • Help me to view the activity board, and know more about the activities in the home.
  • Help me to remember my day-to-day present better.
  • Help me to keep active and have more happening in my life.
  • Help me to have more of the life that I did not have before I was committed to this facility.

What did it all mean – insights?

Based on its observations, the research team arrived at the understanding that the following needs were shared by the elderly and the carers:

  • Dignity
  • Pride
  • Ownership
  • Identity
  • Autonomy
Rough first draft sketch of the framework.

Rough first draft sketch of the framework.

The team developed this set of core needs into a ‘framework of interdependence between residents and carers’, as shown in the image above. The framework reveals the critical feedback loop between the elderly and the support staff. Inputs from the carers include help with everyday chores, appearance and hygiene, tenderness in caring etc. If this effort on the part of the carers is successful, then it works to fulfill some of the needs of the elderly as outlined above – a sense of identity, dignity etc. In turn, the joy, trust, and autonomy experienced by the elderly provide positive feedback to the carers, who experience a sense of purpose and motivation in life and increased job satisfaction.

Further, the team learnt that each elderly person has his or own unique needs when it comes to achieving this joy and satisfaction, in other words an enhanced sense of ‘autonomy’, and termed that subtle enabling point their ‘autonomy sweet spot’.

Chief insights framework illustration.

Chief insights framework illustration.

Written by Ashwin Rajan

December 16, 2008 at 12:03 am

People as instruction processors – extended implications

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An exercise I found deeply interesting that we did some weeks back at CIID was called ‘People as instruction processors’. Dennis and Patrick, gestalten at the unique ‘the-product‘, gave us this brief:

“Write down three instructions-sets. These instructions will then be dictated to three other participants. The other participants will process the instruction by drawing on a piece of paper with a red, green or blue marker. The exercise aims at introducing the participants to programming as an everyday exercise, a translation from intention into language into action. The result will be a set of very analog procedural drawings.”

A first-cut instruction I came up with ran something like this:
‘Start in the middle of the page. Mark the point.
Draw a circle with any one point of its circumference lying on the marked point.
Draw a square touching the circle …’ and so on

As you can guess, no sooner than you write out the first set of instructions do you realize that you will need to be much more precise in further iterations. What exactly is the ‘middle’ of the page? Does that refer to the center point on the page as plotted from all four corners? Or, in the second and seemingly more explicit statement – what should the size of the circle be? Each detail provided can set the context and nudge the ‘instruction processor’ to execute results closer to the original intention. When the same instruction set is executed by multiple people, the results can be very similar to, or more often, radically different from one another, depending on the instructions given, and its understanding and execution by the subject.

Some of the results that came out of the exercise looked like this:

People as Instruction Processors - Results 01

People as Instruction Processors - Results 01

People as Instruction Processors - Results 02

People as Instruction Processors - Results 02

I thought this was a very powerful exercise because it communicated the fundamental challenges of providing instructions to processors – whether human or machine – in a manner that achieves intended outcomes, while also underlining the importance of ‘syntax’ or grammar, specificity and detail-orientation, interpretation and translation. The exercise also gave me a fascinating glimpse of how instructions and their interpretation can facilitate (or stifle) emergent phenomena.

Extended implications: I can think of at least two other domains where interaction designers can benefit highly from exploring how people behave as instruction processors: user research, and robotics.

To elucidate the first, here are six examples of contexts from a user research perspective where I can see value in learning how people process instructions:
1. Road signals that control traffic and commuters
2. Call centers: where operators perform (and are evaluated) based on a wide variety of parameters which are essentially instructional in nature, commencing with basic training.
3. e-learning: there is a reason the work of creating e-learning content is called ‘instructional design’.
4. Car Rally: Driving based on navigation instructions
5.  Mass co-ordinated, precision, and time-sensitive operations such as the emergency evacuation of a building by a team of firefighters, or a combat situation – with an extended analogy into virtual worlds of MMORPGs and team gaming; any number of examples can be given here.
6. The patient as an instruction processor who is required to follow the doctor’s prescription of the medication-diet-exercise-lifestyle mix as precisely as possible.

My second connection to this exercise is from a robotics perspective. I will keep it short by pointing you to this video by Rodney Brooks. He pivots a significant bit of his presentation on human-robot interaction, so watch out for that. Half way through his talk, the professor demonstrates how he and his team build artificial intelligence to mimic human instructional processing capabilities by calling a member of audience to the stage. Brooks’ AGI (artificial general intelligence) stance that ‘humans are essentially machines‘ makes for compelling reading. His own take on the singularity contention is neatly summed up in his statement “the singularity will be a period, not an event.”

Jan Chipchase – connections and consequences

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” I don’t have a clue what the future is going to look like, but I have a pretty good idea how people will behave when they get there.” 

We are just past user research week at CIID and I found this video to be both inspiration for what we learned as well as a great capsule on user research. Jan Chipchase, researcher at Nokia, sniffs out underlying causes and trends in social behavior in the world’s most interesting markets. In his talk he provides unconventional insights into the role and power of the ubiquitous cell phone, with examples from regions as diverse as Uganda to China.  His presentation is grounded in an overall framework of ‘ownership to use’ of objects (depicted in the screen grab below), with explorations in response to the simple question “what do people carry?” 

janchipchase - what do people carry?

Thoughts I found particularly interesting:
– Even women who carry bags “tap their pockets” when they leave a room. 
– People usually have a ‘center of gravity’ in their homes where their most important objects (in terms of ‘ carrying’ value) are kept. 
– The art of delegation – ‘delegating to other people’ as an effective alternative to ‘delegating to technology’.
–  Studying how the illiterate manage and communicate utility-centric information, like phone numbers.
– Sente – the fascinating system of sending money as airtime in Uganda.
– Some great examples of ‘street-up innovation’ and informal social knowledge networks that radically boost competitive advantage – an area of increasing interest for me.  
– Taking the functionality of everyday multi-functional devices like mobile phones or laptop computers and redistributing them into some kind of a personal area network that is worn on the body – where would we choose to put what?  
 – What does it mean when the identity of people is mobile – i.e centered around their ability to be ‘reachable’, ‘connected’?
– Consequences of a fully connected planet – immediacy of ideas and objects, benchmark of a ‘big idea’, unanticipated social innovation, inclusiveness in the ‘global conversation’, and most importantly, designing for a future that is driven by that conversation.

Jan also provides a few good examples of abstracting field learning into broader frameworks such a placing the cell phone as a tool of survival and recovery in maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the power of mobile phones to help transcend space and time

Here’s another page about Jan on ‘Researching in the Field’. For your benefit, I have copied his tips for research below: 

  • “Question everything” – being attuned to every action, behavior, detail – insight exists in everything.
  • “The participants are in control” – Jan emphasizes the importance of respecting the time and space offered by those he talks to and learns from.
  • “What motivates the team?” – maintaining motivation within the team of researchers and participants to keep people invested in what the study is about and what they hope to discover.
  • “Visible equality” – offering equality among participants and researchers – meaning if he and his colleagues stay in a hotel outside of the favela they’re studying, the participants within the favela are invited to come in and share their space.
  • “Define and communicate boundaries” – being as transparent as possible and acknowledging immovable boundaries. Participants in his ethnographic studies are given something to keep from the study (i.e. a USB stick with data gathered) – which also gives the researchers a sense of accountability – which helps guide what and how they do their study.    

Jan Chipchase blogs here. Here is an extended report on What people carry.

Written by Ashwin Rajan

November 29, 2008 at 11:20 am