The Truthful Art: Math, Science, The Mind — Oh My!

Literacy, Articulacy, Numeracy, and Graphicacy

Confession: I am one of those designers who is “terrified by math and science”. In fact, I’ll admit last week I had a bit of a math and science panic while trying to complete a weekly assignment. Still, I’m not sure it is without good reason. As well as I can remember, I loved science; biology in fact. If memory serves, I enjoyed math, too; geometry and algebra, I believe. I think I got as far as pre-calc but alas, didn’t do well.

Looking back I wonder: At some point in high school did math and science become boring or was it that people — teachers and fellow students — who insisted because I was Asian I had to be great at math and science? What was wrong with me? Or, was I so turned-off by the idea that I had to fit some stereotypical Asian mold that I avoided it at every opportunity? Both? Does it matter anymore? Not really.

What matters: my future with my husband and my family. Learning. Growing. Reinventing. Frankly, I don’t want to become beige. You know, boring, dull, dated, lacking flavor—stale, white sandwich bread. These are a couple of reasons why I uprooted from my comfortable and cozy life in Syracuse, New York to pursue an MFA in Interactive Media at the University of Miami. (Ok, and maybe get a break from the cold and grey for at least a year or two.)

But after reading, You Aren’t Qualified to be a Professional Journalist where Professor Cairo bluntly tells journalists, “If your level of numeracy is so abysmal, you aren’t qualified to be a professional journalist” and to “stop with the I’m-not-good-at-Math bullshit”, perhaps this is why I am here as well. This time and this class with Professor Cairo may just be my moment of facing my fears when it comes to numbers and science; my efforts to “[cultivate] the main skills of an educated person”—Literacy, Articulacy, Numeracy, and Graphicacy.

I thought I knew my knowledge gaps.

I became a student again specifically to learn how to code (again) and to learn UX research (I am learning this semester). Last semester, however, I learned about empirical research and experimental design through an intense Human-Computer Interaction course taught by Dr. Barbara Millet.

I was not prepared for independent variables, dependent variables, randomizing tasks, prototyping, collecting data, Likert scales, analyzing using SPSS and writing, writing, writing. For, as Dr. Millet frequently stated, “If you don’t write about it, it didn’t happen”. I believe that class to have been the most challenging academic learning experience of my life—so far. For experienced researchers, you may think I’m being dramatic. Please allow me the drama because that list and more is a first for this BFA-photography-student-turned-on-the-job-trained-designer. The more I learned, the more I didn’t know.

OK, I complained. I was exhausted. I thought I wouldn’t make it through the semester. But, I am thankful beyond measure for the academic rigor of Dr. Millet’s class. Because of her class:

  • I can apply what I learned to UX research methods — equally rigorous class.
  • I could understand the language, structure, and findings of the research presented at the Computation + Journalism Symposium.
  • Rightly so or not, I measure all research papers to Scott Mackenzie’s writing.
  • I can speak with researchers about their work and I hope, gain insight as to how their research could be applied to industry or potentially affect our daily lives.

“Science is a stance, a way to look at the world, that everybody and anybody, regardless of cultural origins or background can embrace”.

Alberto Cairo, The Truthful Art, Chapter, 4, p. 100

A couple of years ago I was faced with a decision to surgically remove a “small” chunk of my breast as a preventative measure for what, according to some research, could be a linear progression to breast cancer. I went into research mode; Googling anything and everything I could find about treatments, standard protocols, and alternatives. Why? Because I had loads of questions. There were contradictions everywhere but the primary drum beat was surgery.

from: Breast Cancer Awareness | Stages of Breast Cancer – Johnston Health.  There are no sources, no explanation in the article other than how to do a breast self-exam. This visualization is too simplified and potentially harmful.

I’m fortunate to have a relation whose research is in breast cancer at the University of California at San Francisco. Based on my conversations with him, I was pretty sure I did not have early indications of breast cancer. Yet two surgeons were insisting I do surgery. So, I felt comfort in the medical research that questioned existing research and the mainstream clinical practice. My mind caught all three bugs — patternicity, storytelling, and confirmation. I found everything that would support my position (wait and see) and make me feel better.

I’ll spare you the details of that crazy summer and autumn but eventually I agreed to do a test that would either confirm or refute what I believed to be true. I was scared. To my relief, my gut feeling was confirmed, but what if I didn’t do the test and the results were more serious? What if I had blindly done the surgery? People don’t talk about the chronic, often debilitating problems that can happen post-surgery.

One of my brothers is a doctor and Professor of Emergency Medicine. I asked him why my doctors wouldn’t talk to me about options and risk assessment for me; not the average woman; talk to me about uncertainty. He simply said that people don’t visit doctors for a discussion. People go to doctors for concrete, immediate solutions. Apparently I’m an exception (and to some a pain in the butt).

So my questions include: Why do many stories about health leave out the measures of uncertainty? Are we as a society so uncomfortable in the grey areas that we need a quick, easy-to-share headline that supports our preferences? Why do seasoned professionals blast research that question the norm?

This experience was just one in a series of personal experience that lead me back to design. What can I do as a designer? How can I improve my skills as a designer (and a person) to contribute to positive change on high-impact, “wicked” problems? 

You Aren’t Qualified to Be a Professional Designer

The answer to that last question requires circling back to the I’m-not-good-at-Math bullshit … perhaps the same could be said about designers: “If your level of numeracy is so abysmal, you aren’t qualified to be a professional [designer]”.

OK, no one wants to hear that. But I agree, the I’m-not-good-at -Math excuse for designers has got to go. So, say this out loud:

I am a designer and I will learn statistics, brush up on math, learn basic coding skills, and understand the underpinnings of controlled experiments because it will help keep me from becoming beige.

Hell, if Matt Waite, a professor at the University of Nebraska can do it (so inspiring), so can we. If you can take a class at your local college, make the time. If your schedule is so packed you feel like you don’t have time for an in-person class, Professor Cairo has complied a nice list of books to get you (and me) started. Find a learning partner. Keep each other accountable. It’s time to ditch the bad at math badge of honor and keep cultivating your skills.

Crossroads: This Idea or That Idea?

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 … )

More soon …

Designing Innovation: Teamwork, Prototypes and Feedback

Creating the Education Kitchen kit Prototype

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.

The evolution of the Education Kitchen logo. Once Laura established a direction, I offered some suggestions to tweak the type choices and relationships between the script and sans serif. The last row became our final choice.

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.

Team “Food Fresh 4”: Laura Miller, Me, Maria Aguilar Valez, and Mackenzie Miller

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.

Education Kitchen Packaging Prototype

Initial Feedback

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!

A small update to one of the recipe pages with an illustration to match the recipe.
Stylistically, this isn’t a match but it was a good suggestion and we’ll need to address this in future iterations.

Moving Forward

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.

Designing Innovation: Concept Maps, Design Requirements and Proposed Solution

Concept Map: Connect the Dots

Design Concept Map
Our concept map showing how our different ideas are directly connected or at least related in some way; some have more than just one connection.

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

Design solution
The Education Kitchen concept poster which came out of the Rose Thorn Bud exercise and our Statement Starters, a Luma Design method for Human-Centered Design practice.

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?  

Design Requirements

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
    • Fruit/vegetable anatomy
    • 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?

Understand Technology

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.

Screengrab from Quiver’s homepage.

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.

Designing Innovation: Rose, Thorn, Bud and What if …?

In an effort to gain greater understanding of our stakeholders, the barriers affecting populations who lack food security and how these intersect with the many ideas our team has put forward, we did an exercise in class last week from Luma Institute’s, Innovating for People: Handbook of Human Centered Design Methods called Rose, Thorn, Bud. According to Luma, it is a process adapted from the Boy Scouts of America [1].

The exercise is best executed in person with a team using different colored post-it notes as a key. It helps to have the key visible from every part of the room especially if there is more than one group moving through the exercise.

Red = ROSE  = Positive
Blue = THORN = Negative
Green (or yellow) = BUD = Promising

Rose Thorn Bud Example
Image capture from the book, “Innovating for People: Handbook of Human-Centered Design Methods” by the Luma Institute

Design Precedents

Prior to our class, our team did some research to audit and review design precedents that could inform our decisions as we narrow down our concepts and solutions.

A few precedents stood out for us:

Food subscription kits and delivery services:

  • Thrive Market
  • Hello Fresh
  • Blue Apron
  • Gousto (UK)
  • Plated

Fetch Rewards App

Fetch Rewards is the quick and easy way to earn rewards on all your grocery receipts. Simply scan ANY grocery receipt from ANY grocery store and earn points EVERY time you purchase any of the thousands of popular products in our app show up. That’s right, just scan any grocery receipt, and Fetch Rewards does all the work. Fetch Rewards is free, simple to use, and gives you quick rewards all on your mobile device.

https://www.fetchrewards.com/

Augmented Reality Apps

Arloon Plants

Kabaq

Based on these design precedents, we decided to take those ideas through the Rose, Thorn, Bud method based on our interviews, research, and personas. Below is our exploration for Apps, Rewards App, Meal Subscription Kits, and a print campaign.

What if … ?

Professor Tran came by while we were exploring the rewards idea and as the conversation continued, the ideas started to merge together. We started to ask ourselves questions … “What if … ”

Our big “What if …” included merging the kit with the app idea modified to accommodate the fact that smartphones are most likely not common in underserved areas. Even then we asked ourselves, “What if we considered the evolution or progression of technology into the home?” Meaning, what if, at some point, technology entered the home. Could our idea, our solution, address interaction over time?

Meeting! Google Hangout

The RBT exercise gave us a bit more direction so I decided to get some thoughts out of my head and on paper.

I shipped this off to my team mates and we scheduled a meeting to figure out next steps.

We knew we wanted to focus on health literacy but given the depth and breadth of the problem, how do we narrow it down? We knew students and teachers (schools) would be our core audience.

Storyboards

We came up with three storyboards based on our three personas:

  • Teacher
  • Student
  • Urban Farmer

1. Anna, an urban farmer, gives a group of students a tour of her urban farm and shares with them all the different types of food she grows plus fun facts about how food gets to the store.

2. Inside her barn, Anna teaches the kids about food choices and how these foods help different parts of the body.

3. After, Anna offers students a taste test of the produce she grows, giving them a sense of all the different types of food that can be made with produce.

4. Anna gives their teacher an Education Kitchen kit (our working title). This version has an activity book, seeds, mini planters, recipes. She informs the teacher that there is an interactive layer to the activity book for use with a smartphone. As a bonus, Anna gives the teacher a basket of various foods.

5. The next day, the teacher gives her students a chance to plant the seeds from the Education Kitchen kit Anna gave her. They get dirty, plant seeds, and the teacher tells them one day they will take them home.

6. The students who are most excited about what they have learned share with their parents about planting seeds and give them recipe cards from the Education Kit asking them to cook together and passes along what they learned about healthy eating and food choices.

These storyboards are helping us gain more clarity about how people would use our kit which we have temporarily named, “Education Kitchen”.

We’ll see where this takes us …

This is Part 7 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.