Monday was our final presentation for our chatbot, “Charlie” for our Designing Innovation class.
For Qinyu and I, getting to this place was not easy but it sure was a lot of fun with loads of lessons learned along the way, but before I dive into those lessons, below is our final presentation to our class, our professor, Lien Tran and our guest, Rebekah Monson.
You can also view our prototype of Charlie.“There are some quirks, as it is only our second iteration but we think it gives a good sense of “Role and Look and Feel”, two types of prototypes and the relationship between them.  Implementation, a third type of prototype would be the next big leap; something I would love to make happen. (Note: as serious as this post was intended, I could not help but think of Captain Picard in Star Trek, “Make it so”)
Lessons learned is something I have lodged in my brain since teaching my own students at Newhouse. For nearly every project submission, I asked them to submit 3-5 lessons learned to get to know them at first; to understand what they need to learn, and to understand their thinking.
Now that I am a student (again), below are mine and I hope to write more and in more detail about these in the near future since during this project, I not only got a hairline fracture in my dominant hand but also severe tendonitis from repetitive trackpad use!
Anyway, here is one of the big takeaways so far. I’ll write more later as I’m eager to share in case others may find my experience helpful.
Conversation is the User Experience
I can no longer recall what my expectations (assumptions may be a more appropriate word) were when I came up with “Charlie” but I read a lot online about designing chatbots and while I was drawing out (ok, attempting to draw) out storyboards, it dawned on me that my time would better be used writing.
Given the minimal UI of a chatbot, the conversational flow between bot and user is mission critical. That seemed like a no-brainer when it hit me but up until that moment, I was still thinking visually.
So for anyone new to chatbot design, focus on the words and tone to give your bot the appropriate personality for your target audience.
 Houde, S., & Hill, C. (1997). What do prototypes prototype?. In Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction (Second Edition)(pp. 367-381).
After a conversation with Professor Tran and several conversations with my team partner, Qinyu, I decided to pursue my chatbot concept in full force.
Well, almost. I’m currently poking at the keys because I suddenly developed severe pain in the lower part of my thumb which makes typing and micro movements excruciatingly painful. This, after dealing with a hairline fracture … I mean, seriously??? The timing could not be worse. Anyway, I’m plugging along as much as I’m able.
I’m excited and nervous. There’s a lot to still learn and doing this on my own for a specific timeframe feels daunting. But, my excitement at the moment makes it seem doable. I have to present in less than two weeks. So much for Thanksgiving break. Eep.
So, what do I do when I know there are many tasks in a project? Make a list! Here’s my list of actions for Project Charlie (in no specific order):
Do more research.
Read more articles and gather more information about Alzheimer’s
Define an audience.
Is this for all caregivers or ?
What is the primary function?
Therapy? Coaching? Both?
Define a personality or persona for Charlie.
Character based or ?
What kind of language will he use?
Come up with a different name for the app. (Maybe)
Where will Charlie be used? How will users feel? (Maybe more of a journey map?)
Drawing may be a problem
Create a user flow
What will users really need? Try to avoid doing too much
Create several conversation scripts. (This is going to be the most important step)
Learn how to create them.
Understand the jargon more
Content types. What types of content will appear in the chat?
Gifs? Emojis? Video?
Determine a mockup or prototyping platform/tool.
How to make it feel as real as possible without an active database? (I don’t even know if that is the right term)
What do you do when you started down one path and all of a sudden another reveals itself?
Just before Thanksgiving break, I found myself researching two ideas. I knew this wasn’t efficient but I felt compelled to explore the second idea more after the interviews I had conducted. Five interviews later I found that perhaps the initial idea Qinyu and I came up with wasn’t the best path.
This is the beauty of interviews. They can enlighten you, challenge your initial ideas and lead you down a different path. Some may think this creates more work but I think it saves you time and money down the road.
What is the second idea? A chatbot I’ve nicknamed, “Charlie”.
Charlie isn’t really new. At least, not for me. He was one of the first ideas I had after the first interview but somehow during our initial concept meetings, Charlie was passed over for our smart entertainment system idea. So, Charlie sat on the sketch shelf for months, until now.
I hope to write more about Charlie and I’ve fractured my index finger so typing is incredibly slow and not easy. (I’ve developed tremendous amounts of empathy for people who lose digits or have arthritis … )
This is when our team really shined. Laura, Mackenize, Maria and I went full-on to design a prototype for our presentation last week. Laura especially took ownership designing the look and feel of Education Kitchen. I helped to guide and tweak a few things with the type and colors but Laura really deserves praise for the visual design. Our Slack group chat blew up for hours and it was a great feeling.
I think in terms of strengths, we complemented each other well and I appreciated how when it came to meeting deadlines and time to discuss direction, we showed up and we followed through. Forming these types of relationships is one of the great things about graduate study and immersive experiences; one I believe can be harder with online educational experiences.
Mackenzie also went to town on building a more detailed scenario for our presentation. I love the combined imagery/collage type effect. She has a knack for building and making.
For this phase, I suppose Maria and I took on supportive roles; making sure that our presentation had all the right elements; filling in where we were needed in terms of gathering , organizing and structuring content, checking spelling. plus making sure there was consistency in the language, content, design, presentation, among various other tasks.
All in all, we were at team in every sense of the word.
Effective functional and cross-functional teams do more than “divide and conquer” when confronting the never-ending queue; they harness that sparky, sometimes chaotic, energies of their members in a collaborative effort that we’ll call “thought partnership”.
You can think of a thought partner as an intellectual complement—a collaborator who shares your goals but comes at problems from a different angle, with a different set of skills.
“Creative Teamwork”, p. 146, Chapter 6,, About Face)
Maria, Mackenzie and Laura were my “thought partners” in every sense of the word. I feel fortunate and hope we’ll work together on many more projects in the future. I will add that anyone who hires them in the future will reap rewards.
Kit Mockups and AR Prototype
Here is Education Kitchen and a few examples of items that would be included in the kit.
Overall, Education Kitchen was well-received. Ideally we would have been able to connect with at least one of our stakeholders to present and offer them a chance to give us feedback directly as well as use the AR app prototype. In the near future, we hope to accomplish this after implementing additional feedback we received.
In addition to the previous suggestion to try BlippAR to create a working app, a suggestion to add illustrations to the recipe pages so that kids can also color those pages was offered. Perhaps while an adult in the house cooks, the kid can color. We received some nice compliments on the presentation and visual direction. Additional feedback included discussion about community gardens and how in underserved populations, land is at a premium with many most likely living in apartment complexes. This would shift the community garden to the schools but even then, land might not be available. Roger Horne spoke about this aspect and why he doesn’t see “community gardens” as a solution. Community gardens are not part of our solution but Clay’s point is a good one. Perhaps we need to include something about gardening in containers or hydroponics? A growing solution that doesn’t require land.
There were also suggestions about having a dinner party where the food from the kids’ community garden would be served … This is an idea we had as well but for development, raising funds to support non-profits or even schools; a way to bring the families, farmers, educators and officials together.
More and more, this leads me to think our pitch or messaging needs to be more clear that we are not advocating for a community garden or that kids encourage their families to start a garden. Perhaps the inclusion of seeds automatically suggests this. I think of the seeds as more of a science experiment opportunity.
On the tech side (AR), Clay spoke about “unlockable items” which triggered a memory that Lien also spoke about unlocking experiences. Perhaps we didn’t speak clearly enough about how the technology is a bonus layer. So, IF schools have access to wifi and a device that could support AR apps, then the students benefit from this feature. Still, he did encourage us to think about how the AR aspects could be more than nutrition information; something really special and I think this is where he was saying it could tie into a website layer as well; an opportunity to educate at a global scale from a local level. His ideas for a journal or “pen pal” concept was interesting and one to seriously consider moving forward.
Good feedback and more things to think about and re-process if we decide to move even further with this draft of a solution for the next iteration!
I would be keen on developing this concept further and some aspects I’d like to address in a future iteration include:
Understanding what visuals—color, typography, illustration style—and even paper feel would appeal to our target audience. While I love the current look and feel, it may not resonate with our core audience. I’ve made a mental note to remember that as designers we come with our own ideas and personal tastes that may not always align with others. More research definitely needs to be done.
Present our working prototype to Urban Greenworks and Urban Oasis to get their impressions.
Create a more detailed “map” of how a more personalized regional approach would work and what types of items would be included (e.g. Maine vs. Texas).
Think in more detail about postures for mobile devices. The prototype we created was for an iPhone. How different would the experience be on a tablet and on different operating systems? How would the experiences differ in the classroom versus outside the classroom? For example, if we created a prototype for a farmer who invites kids to the farm, how would the AR experience—assuming she/he has the tech resources—be different?
Explore the idea of a website where people could archive into a journal or create postcards to send to other Education Kitchen explorers.
Understand AR technology more and further develop the narrative of its use and inclusion in the kit. This is where “understanding technology” (Don Norman) is truly critical.
Adding more digital experiences would definitely require us to think more about addressing beginner users and experts plus get a better understanding of possible friction points. In fact, writing about this experience leads me to think we definitely would need to explore the AR app more closely from a user’s point-of-view. I don’t think we did enough analysis and testing.
Ah, lessons learned … I think it’ll take a while longer to process everything. I’m sure in the next few days and weeks, I’ll realize more we could do to refine and improve our first iteration. As a person who isn’t used to slamming through my work, I’m adjusting. Still, the lessons and takeaways will definitely be applied in future projects for this class as well as others.
Timeline for prototype build and presentation: Less than a week.
This is Part 9 in a series documenting my learning experiences developing a solution to address food deserts, food security, health literacy, and health for populations. This project is part of our Designing Innovation course with Professor Lien Tran at the University of Miami, School of Communication. I am an IMFA (Interactive Media Master of Fine Arts) candidate.
Based on our interviews with our stakeholders, our initial idea of a social media campaign came to a screeching halt once we realized the depth and breadth of the complexities even established non-profits and experienced public health professionals face in creating solutions for food security.
Once I realized the scope of the complexity, I realized we couldn’t simply design an app. While that may be the cool and current approach, not every solution requires a tech solution. This brings to mind the Center for Social Design at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) where designing with the community is emphasized and where designers are taught to focus on thinking and using whatever tools are available to create meaningful, positive solutions.
In fact, my interview with David, a public health professional based in Haiti, revealed his own attempt to release an app to address food deserts, while a graduate student in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, the app did not gain traction as there was little buy-in.
There is a joke in Portland, Oregon and if you want a product to sell, just put a bird on it. I wonder if the majority of designers think we can just throw an app on X problem and it’ll work magic. Hmm … The competition for attention is fierce. Thinking …
Proposed Solution: Education Kitchen Kit
Our scenarios in Part 7 were built around how our Education Kitchen kit would be used in each of our stakeholders’ daily lives and how it might help them realize their professional and perhaps personal goals.
Some of the items in the base kit would include:
An activity book (coloring most likely): This would include fun facts about various regional produce as well as recipes and information that would help students understand how food choices impact their (and their family’s) health and well-being. The book would be printed with AR scanning technology as an enhanced learning experience IF a school, teacher or student had access to devices and wifi. The app itself would be free and native (versus a web app).
Seeds: There would be enough packets for a class and teachers could use them to design an experiment whether it would be to teach them how to start a plant and take care of it over the semester or a comparison of different growing conditions. This would be a great lesson option for science classes.
Posters (or other supplemental pieces): The idea behind the poster is to present a vegetable or fruit that is uncommon to a region or may not be popular or traveled across the world to get to grocery store shelves. It would also have an AR feature and could, in the case of well-traveled fruits and vegetables, show distance and other data that shows the impact of shipping and driving our food across the country and the world (e.g. how long does it take for a tomato to get from California to New York out of season?).
In my ideal world, our kit would be used around the U.S. and personalized so-to-speak depending on various growing zones and seasons to reflect a region’s produce availability as well as the diversity of tastes and traditions.
In the early stages of design, pretend the interface is magic.
About Face: The Essentials of Interface Design by Cooper
In our case, imagine the impossible. Did we limit ourselves?
Below are requirements and rationale for our proposed solution. This list is more realistic than designing something without limitations and both are good steps to move through.
The solution shall address in a sustained manner the problem of poor eating habits and food choice decisions.
The solution will be a carefully curated collection of relevant and updated information about health and food literacy based on trusted sources.
The solution shall be easily implemented into teachers’ curriculum and students from middle school. (11 to 13 years old)
The solution shall be easily implemented into students’ home life.
The solution shall work around complex policy level red tape by working directly with community stakeholders.
The solution shall be inclusive to address cultural and financial barriers to food security and “personalized” per region (U.S.) to address the diversity and differences in food availability, growing seasons, etc.
The solution shall include technology and non-technology features that engage teachers, students, families, farmers, and ideally the community as a whole.
The solution shall include non-technology features as activity books for students to take home, recipes, seed with a guide and fun facts about food.
The non-technology aspect speaks to the fact that internet access and devices may not be available.
The non-technology feature (activity book) shall support lifelong learning and skills to promote good health.
The solution shall include a technology feature as an optional complementary item for the activity book; an enhanced learning “bonus”.
The technology feature shall be a native app that runs on both mobile and tablet devices. (iOS and Android)
The technology feature shall include AR functionality to scan images of fruit and vegetable images and illustrations which will unlock additional content such as:
Enlarged images of the fruit/vegetable
Fun facts about the fruit/vegetable
Nutritional information of the fruit/vegetable
Short Q&A with a farmer / grower
The solution shall include different subscription price options for schools, parents, students and farmers.
The solution will be affordable to encourage stakeholders to invest and itemize as part of their overall budgets.
The solution’s overall brand and marketing shall be appealing to resonate with stakeholders and communities.
Feedback: More Explicit Scenarios
Toward the latter part of class last week, Professor Tran provided us with some feedback regarding our presentation and scenarios. It was a good exercise to present them and be able to “think out loud” when faced with questions about specifics such as:
What age are the students?
What if people don’t have wifi?
Is the AR app native or does it require internet connectivity?
How does your solution being people/communities together in real time?
While our three scenarios gave a good overall picture of how a person or people would use our solution, our takeaway was that we needed to be more specific about details. Looking back perhaps they were too similar and perhaps too generalized?
In Don Norman’s book, The Design of Everyday Things he states that good design encompasses the following three guidelines (Ch 1, pg. 8):
Understand psychology (people and behavior)
Understand technology (tools and materials)
Good communication (meaningful information)
In this case, not many of us are versed in Augmented Reality (AR) so this was something we had to research albeit with no time to fully digest or understand the possibilities. Understanding AR is clearly a technology I personally would like to learn more about in order to design experiences for other people. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Sure, I’ve had some experience as a user of AR apps paired with printed materials but understanding how AR experiences are created and what factors to consider is out of my wheelhouse — for now.
A couple of apps and services did help to shed some light on what might be possible for our solution: Quiver and Layar. Professor Tran also recommended looking into BlippAR which has the BlippBuilder. I’m hopeful we’ll have time to dive into it to explore and create at least a rough concept that would communicate more accurately the experience we are planning than a prototype using Sketch. For now though, Sketch will have to do as I got the sense our combined experience in AR and coding is quite limited. (I’m beginning to feel the pain and frustration of not being able to make my designs and ideas come to life but that’s another post and really, one of the big reasons I’m back in grad school.)
All in all, I’m proud of our group, how we processed information, tossed around ideas, and how we came to our current Education Kitchen kit solution.
This is Part 8 in a series documenting my learning experiences developing a solution to address food deserts, food security, health literacy, and health for populations. This project is part of our Designing Innovation course with Professor Lien Tran at the University of Miami, School of Communication. I am an IMFA (Interactive Media Master of Fine Arts) candidate.