Reflection 4: When Real Constraints Come

Lucid Project Team I(Hope Kerkhoff, Manas Singh,Jiaqi Zhuo,Tian Dou)

We have been talking about design constraints for a long time during my HCI/d master program at IU, but it’s not until this project 4 when I realized, clearly and strongly, the pain of constraints. However, thankfully, it’s also the first time I pushed myself so hard to really understand users and put myself in the users shoes: I had read the user data Lucid provided at least 20 times that I even dreamed about it during night(I am not kidding). Because I know, If I didn’t do this, there is no way I can pull out a vivid picture of our user from only three survey charts and 4 pages’ comment. There are two things I feel quite enlightening so far about project 4.

Contradictory Data?

“To do so(synthesize the different data points) you must look at these data points through the lens of a user journey. Put yourself in the users shoes and try to get an understanding behind their decision making process. “
-Bhavesh Anand, Stakeholder from Lucid

When I first heard that we were given real user data from Lucid stakeholders in this project, I imagined it to be a huge database which we could play with and get whatever we want from it magically. Well, It turned out to be a super condensed data. When I read it, I felt like I was playing “hide-and-seek”: I was aware that our users were hidden behind all the simple sentences, but somehow something was missing and I couldn’t connect with them. At the beginning of this project, I kept complaining about what Lucid gave us was not enough and even contradictory. I had to fight with my thirst all the time: I need more explicit data to better understand the problem.

What Bhavesh, one of our stakeholder, replied to a question about the data being contradictory on Slack channel changed my mind completely: “This problem occurs every now and then with qualitative data — is the classic issue of ‘the users don’t know what they want’. This is where you as a designer have to synthesize the different data points.” This is so true! What’s the point of being a designer if we can always get well-organized and clear needs statement from users? Then we are just mechanically solving problems instead of designing for imagination. The data provided is an assembly of thousands of user behaviors. It’s inevitably being vague and contradicted (even trying to use one model to describe how our cohort reacts to HCI Foundation paper is almost impossible, let along thousands of Lucid users.) As a designer, It’s our job to abstract meaningful insights from all the chaos. But how can I do that?

Connect the dots

The “beautiful” picture Marty drew in class on Tuesday about connecting the dots suddenly makes a lot of sense: In most of the time, design work is not a perfect narrowing-down tunnel. Instead, it’s an unveiling and connecting process of all the hidden insights. That is to say, it’s totally acceptable to put all the small ideas together into an overall design picture, rather than the other way around traditionally.

connect insight dots into a design picture

Before this week, I had a rigid understanding about design way: the Big Idea (design concept) should always come first than specific solutions. For example, at the beginning of this week, I struggled a lot on how to differentiate different user groups (like “inspire me” people and “know what I do” people as well as new users and experienced users). I tried several diagrams to define them clearly so that I can put them in a workflow and see their behavior pattern. Undoubtedly, I failed because of the data “chaos”. I remembered during one meeting, we all got stuck at describing who is our target user. One of the teammates just jumped out of this loop and started talking about one small problem we found during competitive research, which seemed have nothing to do with the big picture we were trying to articulate. However, suddenly, this small “dot” sparked a conversation: Everybody started to build on this idea and we end up finding a lot of “dots”- small design opportunities. We looked at the whiteboard full of insight dots, feeling so positive because we had the faith that there is a connection among them waiting for us.

Sometimes, the design is letting things (ideas, thoughts, doubts, arguings and so on) happen and collide all the way, regardless of the so-called design process.

Ps: I really love my team!! I think we all learned a lot from the previous projects and hopefully start to get a hang of design teamwork. we are so productive and I feel there is even a tacit agreement among us. Before we finished today’s meeting, I even start to look forward the next meeting!! We had a nice brunch at Tutor Room in IMU and a wonderful walk with the gorgeous autumn scenery(right before the tornado). Everything is so perfect, except the portfolio. Good luck on my portfolio.


Special thanks to professor Marty Siegel and all the teammates!

If you have any question or suggestion, please reach out via email: doutian@iu.edu

More about my work at www.iamdoutian.com