thoughts on design

About design education in Lebanon

The workshop around the theme of design education in Lebanon kicked off a few minutes past 12:00PM last Friday, with 6 design students, 6 design educators and 6 design professionals, at the Beirut Art Center, in Beirut.


During my studio projects in the last couple semesters, my team and i realized that it gets a little out of hand when a big group of individuals are discussing a specific topic — everyone starts talking at the same time and no one really listens to the other. For this exact reason we developed the “question/comment signals” that participants would use (raise) before asking a question or commenting on something, in order to have a more structured discussion. With a group of 18 participants, the use of this tool was inevitable.


The participants were Ronald Abdala, Danny Arakji, Marc Baroud, Salim Batlouni, Karim Chaya, Pascal Hachem, Rana Haddad, Pierre Hage-Boutros, Hala Hassan, Cyril Kallab, Diala Lteif, Joumana Matar, Simon Mhanna, Micheline Nahra, Rani Rajji, Elias Salamoun, Doreen Toutikian, and Mohamed Yassine.


It was very exciting to have 18 experts and key players in the same room, but it was also a little overwhelming.
The goal of the workshop was to compile a body of ideas and possible next steps we can implement, test, and evaluate within the coming months.

Once everyone was in the room (on the terrace, to be exact), I started by stating the goal of the workshop and setting some ground rules which we all agreed on, and continued with an ice breaker by going around the table explaining how and why we each became designers.
The activities were divided into 2 types: discovery/exploration and idea generation that would trigger discussions around design education in Lebanon. It was important for me to be as transparent as possible and explain the goal of every activity as clearly as I can, to avoid confusion.

We started our first activity by dividing the participants into 6 teams of 3 (a student, an educator, and a design professional) who were asked to pick a card that has 2 quotes from previous interviews about the advantages and the disadvantages of getting a design education in Lebanon and spend a few minutes to discuss and analyze the factors/reasons that, in their opinion, played a role or lead to the statement in the quotes, and list all the constituents that might have a stake in the mentioned statement.

After writing their ideas on post-it notes, each team stood up and read both quotes out loud and explained their analysis and thought process to the rest of the participants, by posting their notes on the wall. This generated great discussions and confrontations between students, educators and design professionals (using the question/comment signals), which shed light on major problematic areas as the wall got covered with post-it notes. Institutional politics, corruption, and lack of collaboration were some of the major topics that were discussed.

Next, new groups were formed: 3 teams of 6 — all-students, all-educators, and all-design professionals, for a generative design exercise: the future, backwards.

Generative design exercises engage the participants in creative opportunities to express their feelings, dreams, needs, and desires, resulting in rich information for concept development.

The purpose of this exercise was to allow participants to describe their long-term and short-term goals and possible roadblocks/obstacles relating to design education in Lebanon, in short anecdotes.
The teams were asked to start by identifying 2 or 3 descriptions that for them summarize the current state of design education in Lebanon, and write them on post-it notes. Once that’s done, they were asked to identify the most significant event in the immediate past that shaped the current state, and then, the most significant event that immediately preceeded that event that shaped the current state. This might sound a little confusing when read as whole, but imagine it as separate, step-by-step procedure.


After each group identified the current state and the “history” of design education in Lebanon, the fun part started. Each group was asked to imagine an impossibly good future — the heaven of Des. Ed. in Lebanon, and identify 2-3 descriptions that for them summarize it. Now, the teams were asked to make heaven happen, by identifying the most significant event in the immediate past that would have shaped heaven, and then work backwards, event by event, to one of the significant events that track back from the current state.

The same steps were repeated for an impossibly bad future — the hell of design education in Lebanon.


The teams worked very differently. The students’ team were the first ones to finish each step and wait for instructions on the next, whereas the other 2 teams spent a lot of time discussing and writing plenty of notes, having a hard time narrowing down to 2-3 short ones.
Once all groups were done, they each quickly presented their scenarios to everybody else, so we could all see the commonalities and the differences and prepare for the next exercise.

IMG_1826 IMG_1846 IMG_1855

Here are some of the notes that summarize the current state of design education in Lebanon, according to the teams–
“Disconnected from reality”, “curriculum doesn’t address problems; overall stagnation”, “no coherence between departments”, “lack of social responsibility and no culture awareness”, “implicit ideology of teaching”, “embryonic, misunderstood, alone, isolated”, “lack of tools and research”, “no preparation for the real world”, “time for opportunities”, …

The different heavens of design education in Lebanon was described by the following terms–
“New consumerism; new market”, “a design ecosystem is created”, “collaboration between university departments”, “interdisciplinary design centers in universities”, “transdiciplinary design”, “expand into new design disciplines”, “customize your major”, “professors become facilitators rather than lecturers”, “design instructors are also working professionals”, “constructive criticism”, “no separation between education and practice”, “partnerships with corporate and public sectors; funding for student projects”, “cultural renaissance”, …

And here’s how the teams saw the impossibly bad future (hell) of design education in Lebanon –
“Matryoshka”, “design becomes an adjective”, “teach [war] fighters”, “education by religion”, “illiteracy”, “designers as operators”, “totalitarian system”, “only technical and theoretical courses”, “no room for creativity”, “mass production in shelters”, “isolating design departments”, “governmental control”, “total private control”, “power struggle”, “unfit educators”, …

To put these insights into use, the teams were asked to split in 2 (total of 5 teams), pick their favorite step from the “make heaven happen” series of steps (not necessarily their own), and spend a few minutes to break it down to detailed, actionable steps. This would help us define and discuss actual steps we can take moving forward.


Once done, the teams advocated for their idea (and steps) by presenting them to the rest of the groups. To game-ify it a little, each team was asked to roll the devil’s advocate dice, twice, and answer the questions asked to test the feasibility of their idea. This is another tool developed with my team in our studio project, and it essentially turns the “Devil’s Advocate” role into an inanimate object: making it less threatening. The performative nature of the tool also encourages others in the group to give quiet attention to the person rolling the dice and answering the questions.

The idea is to get together students, educators, and professionals and have them work in groups by designing activities and games (like role playing) that would help them get into each another’s shoes and hear each other’s point of view. This will allow the different key players to communicate better, negotiate and reach a common ground, which would result in a more accepting, tolerant and open-minded group of stakeholders.

TEAM 2: THE STONERS (educators)
Quite often, the most surreal and silly ideas turn out to be the easiest to implement.
After decoding/solving a riddle-like, discrete invitation, select designers and stakeholders are asked to go to the Bekaa valley, into the fields, where illegal substances are grown, and get high and drunk. Once in the desired state, a sober facilitator will easily convince the people to drop the institution (together with its politics) and do actual “field” work.
It’s quite a nice metaphor of having everyone in the field (a big, outdoor place in Bekaa) drop the frame and the boundaries that the institution has put on us. In other words, it’s about letting go of these boundaries and going into the field.

The team aims to bridge high schools and universities by integrating design classes on high school (or middle school) level. Sadly, art classes are vanishing from schools, but “injecting” more design into them, where students would learn more problem solving skills to understand and embrace the practicality of design, would prevent that. On a university level, there would be more projects that reach out to the society and the environment around them by collaborating with high school students.
A joint exhibition of the different projects that link design students in universities with high school students tackling social and environmental problems will create awareness about the potential of design.

TEAM 4: NEW FOUNDATION YEAR (design professionals)
The team would like to start breaking the boundaries of design by hosting an open cooperative workshop with educators, professionals, students and creative minds to create a common foundation year for all universities to implement, or an external third party to administer. This would bring all design disciplines, old and new, to the same space, where students can deduce what they want to focus on in the future according to what they’re learning

Since a top-down approach doesn’t seem to be effective and very feasible, this team of students would like to reach out to other students and student councils and take matter into their our own hands. Planning group meetings and starting a design movement that would create a hype and grow through social networking, will result in a strike to take radical action to change the course of design education in Lebanon. Why s this idea effective? Because it’s been done several times before and it’s worked every time. It requires little effort compared to the drastic change it triggers.

“The only grounded and implementable solutions came out from the students, which is very significant, because as educators, our hands are tied by the knowledge of how the system is broken. It’s refreshing to see how the students remain hopeful, and we should encourage that more.” –Diala Lteif

We concluded the workshop by voting for the best idea out the five presented, in order to implement it next as our first step moving forward.
The “Student revolution” took the lead, followed by “Design in High Schools”, “Fostering Empathy”, “A New Foundation Year”, and “The Stoners”.

Let there be revolution!

Photo credits: Rizkallah Chaaraoui

A nice, warm welcome

Just a couple of days after my thesis declaration, I start planning my stakeholder workshop I was going to facilitate in Lebanon. My last 2 semesters were very helpful in planning and facilitating workshops and brainstorming sessions, since we did quite a few of them for our studio projects. So I wasn’t worried about it.

My main goal was to have a discussion around the topic of design education in Lebanon to validate my research findings, and start building a network of potential collaborators who would come together to explore the value of HCD in Lebanon.
My other ultimate goal was to start brainstorming ideas on how to move forward. I didn’t want the session to be one where we state all the problems and discuss the reasons that lead to them. I wanted us to generate solutions, possible next steps that we can actually take. Easy.

The workshops we facilitated with our studio partners were products of a team, not one person. And for some reason, that little piece of detail completely slipped my mind. There I was, brainstorming workshop activity ideas on my own, with no one to bounce them off of, no other perspective. Does this make sense to someone who hasn’t been researching the topic for the past five months? Will the participants be lost? Do the activities flow nicely?

I decided I’ll do a first draft of activities and go over them with 2 of my collaborators once in Beirut.

I land in Lebanon the night of the 25th. Around 9:00AM on the morning of the 27th, a car bomb kills a politician and a few other innocent Lebanese citizens in the heart of Beirut, right before my meeting Doreen, who’s a partner and the director of the MENA Design Research Center.
I warm welcome home gift. Talk about motivation.

I decide to completely ignore the incident and focus on planning this workshop. After all, car bombs, or just bombs in general, have sadly become part of our routine.
I meet with Doreen and later with Diala, another partner, and we go over the workshop plan and activities. Things start to get much clearer, but it feels like I’m packing in a lot for a 3 hour session. I’m having a hard time letting go of some activities/sections and the time we plan to spend on discovery and exploration is much longer than time we plan to spend on generative activities.

We set the date of the session for Friday, January 3rd, from 12:00PM to 3:00PM. And knowing how competitive Lebanese universities are, I had to find a neutral space to hold the workshop, or it would look like I’m taking sides. Luckily, Beirut Art Center was nice enough to let us use their space on such short notice.

Now that time, date and location are set, I start reaching out to design students, educators and established designers, and invite them to take part in our brainstorming session around the theme of design education in Lebanon through a series of co-creative activities and group discussions that would generate valuable insight moving forward.

For the love of design

Since last August, I have been researching design education in Lebanon as my thesis topic. I read a lot about the topic and I interviewed over 20 experts and stakeholders in the field to get as much information and insight I can, but for the first 3-4 months, I was all over the place and had a hard time focusing on a specific area. Things got a lot clearer as the date for my thesis declaration got closer. I guess I do work better under stress.

It’s December 17: Declaration Day.
Although Jordan and I had practiced several times before presenting in front of faculty and everybody else, I was insanely nervous and sweating like I had been running for the past 27 hours.


After explaining my project context, presenting my key stakeholders, and showing the results from the interviews I conducted, I argued that the design education infrastructure in Lebanon does not support human centered design because of the stagnation of its curricula, and more importantly, because of institutional politics. The solution, based on my research and findings, is not reforming or rebuilding existing design programs, but creating and offering something different that’s interesting and relevant to the Lebanese context and marketplace, and that plugs into the existing [broken] infrastructure of design education.

So how might we design an independent system that plugs into this existing infrastructure of design education in Lebanon, so that designers can see and appreciate the value of human centered design and practice it themselves?

I am proposing an independent collective of students, designers, professionals and partner institutions that will explore the value of human centered design in Lebanon. My role in this, as a designer, will be to facilitate and carefully orchestrate the creation of this collective by designing context specific tools and methods.
For my next step moving forward, I would facilitate a co-creative workshop in early January, in Lebanon, with my stakeholders and potential collaborators. The goal of this workshop would be to first of all validate my research findings by sharing them with the participants, start building a network and plan our next steps, together.

Since this will be a co-designing process, I am not sure what it might be or what it might look like before I work with the stakeholders. I can, however, speculate that the collective will explore the value of HCD in Lebanon and the creation of context-specific tools, through a series of projects, workshops and seminars. I do understand that this can change based on the collaborators, and I do understand that their buy-in will come with their participation.

Collaborative workshop

On the day of the collaborative workshop, my team and I headed to our partners’ facilities an hour early to see the space and set it up, since we hadn’t seen it before. During the design phase of the workshop, we had agreed that we will be very transparent with our work and will share all the data we had gathered, show all the steps we took and be as clear as possible. We also divided the different steps and parts of the workshop among the three of us.

We had a facilitation workshop last semester and learned that it’s best to set some ground rules and mention the goals and constraints of the workshop, so that everyone is on the same page. We wrote these on big pieces of paper, printed all the data we had gathered on post-it notes and grouped them by source, and headed towards the workshop space. We had to rearrange the room to fit a collaborative workshop setting and posted everything on the wall for everyone to see. It was like a small exhibition: hundreds of post-it notes, posters with ground rules, goals and constraints on them, photos of our processes and the tool we used.
Most participants arrived on time and even a few minutes early, but we had to wait for a few others to start the workshop. This, however, worked out very well: they had the time to have a look at all the data, loved how everything was very visual and were very impressed by the work we had done.

Once all participants were present, we kicked off the workshop by reading through the agenda. We followed by stating the goal of the workshop: to decide on one area of focus that will inform a prototype that can be implemented within the boundaries of our constraints, which are time, feasibility and funding. We made sure everyone agreed to the rules and there weren’t any additional constraints we had forgotten to include. To familiarize them more with our work, I explained that our design process follows divergent and convergent paths, where we start looking at things from a general point of view and get to more focused areas by synthesizing along the way. We followed by an icebreaker exercise to engage the participants and trigger their creative thinking.

We presented the data we had gathered and printed on post-its, explained what each group/color represents and asked the team to sort them out based on affinity, and try to name the new clusters they would create. We made it clear what this was for: to inform their final decision and focus area to move forward with the project. After sorting them out, a discussion followed and additional data was added to the wall.

The second part of the workshop started by explaining the concept of personas and creating 12 different ones, using the existing data. This activity was very engaging and the participants thought it was a great way to look at things from a user’s perspective.

After reflecting on the activities and made sure we didn’t leave out anything, several focus areas and themes were on the table.
Based on a voting method the participants had agreed on at the beginning of the workshop, they voted on the topic they would like to focus on to inform a prototype and move the project forward.


I understand we deal with machines more than we do with humans today, but sometimes I just wish I’m dealing with a person.

The self-checkout service at CVS is a great service: they have installed machines that allow the customer to checkout without having to deal with/wait for a a cashier. Not to mention the queue is much shorter.

Last week, after filling my basket with a few things I needed, I came to one of the self-checkout stations, turned off the music I was listening to, and took out my earphones. It wasn’t a silent machine this time; it spoke to me, and it was loud.

“Please choose a language.”
“If you have your ExtraCare card, please scan it now.”
“To start, simply begin scanning your items and follow the system prompts.”

I scanned my ExtraCare card, and continued scanning the items I had picked up. Each scan is confirmed by a beep, and I’m asked to place the item in the bag. The system has a weighing system that allows it to tell if the item placed in the bag is the same as the item scanned. After a few items and beeps, I scanned a bottle of shampoo, placed it in the bag, but I was told to “remove the item from the bag.” I looked at the screen and it had an illustration of an item, a bag, and a big, red X mark. I was confused. Was I not supposed to buy that shampoo bottle?

I took it out of the bag, but the illustration was still on the screen and the machine kept telling me to “remove the item from the bag.” It probably thought I was stealing it. It was loud. I wished it was one of the silent ones. Other customers were around and I was embarrassed.

I figured it should be okay, though: I could rescan it and move on. But no. The machine told me “Assistance is on the way.” Things got serious. I looked around, humiliated, to see if there’s anyone coming to assist me. The police, perhaps?

One of the cashiers from the “non-self-checkout” counters came over, swiped her card, tapped on the screen very quickly, and said “this happens all the time, you can continue now”. She was a nice girl.

I wasn’t sure what happened and even though she fixed the problem, I felt embarrassed. Not only because the machine thought I was stealing, but because I didn’t know how to deal with it myself.

If these things ‘happen all time’, then maybe the problem is not the customer. Maybe, just maybe, the system is broken, or needs redesigning.

A workshop

Six weeks have passed since the start of our second semester and our collaboration with our partners, and the time has come for our first ‘deliverable’.  My team and I will facilitate a collaborative workshop with our partners. I have been in several workshops and I believe they are a great way to achieve an outcome or define a direction to move forward with projects, but this would be the first one I facilitate. Although we had taken workshops on facilitation, only one member in my team has actually experienced it. The third member and I did not get the chance to design and facilitate a workshop last semester in our studio project.

To me, it’s a challenge. I won’t just be a participant this time; my responsibilities are bigger. The goal we would like to achieve in this workshop is to analyze all the data we have gathered together with our partners and decide on one area of focus that will inform a prototype that can be implemented within the boundaries of our constraints. Some of those constraints are time (with only 6 weeks left till the end of the semester), feasibility and funding. Apart from the general project’s constraints, the workshop has its own constraints, too: we have to go over all the data and make a decision in a matter of two hours.

My team and I started brainstorming the different steps of the workshop, having one thing in mind: to make all the data we had gathered from our research and interviews visible to everyone. It is also important to include the data and findings our partners had previously gathered through questionnaires and surveys, to emphasize on the ‘collaborative’ workshop, and show our partners that we acknowledge their work and include it in our design process. Moreover, my team and I decided it would be good to talk about our usual design process and the steps we go through, to give our Partners a better idea of how we work and get them more familiarized with the methods we adopt. Again, transparency is key.

Once we put together a detailed agenda of the workshop, we estimated how long each part would take and fit it in our two-hour time limit. Practice came next to make sure the steps would go smoothly and wouldn’t be confusing, and for us to know what to say and when to say it; we also prepared facilitation cards to avoid making mistakes.

This workshop will be a way for us to show our partners what we have been doing for the past 6 weeks and what kind of insights we gathered through our research. It will also inform their decision-making in terms of this project and where it’s headed.

Interviews, interviews.

I have come to realize that interviews are not always the best and most accurate way of getting information. Interviewees are not always ‘honest’ about the data they give and that might result in a less-exact synthesis. I’m not saying that if the data was 100% honest, we end up with a crystal-clear synthesis; we’re never 100% sure of our synthesis, as most of the time we ‘assume’ people think this way, or people ‘will respond to this design solution.’

As Design Council’s RED paper and Daniela Sangiorgi put it, designers don’t define good/correct design; we work on developing what’s good/correct enough.

Last week, my team and I went to visit one of our Partner facilities, where our Users work, to conduct interviews and gather more data. Our link (and host) was one of the Operators whom we had talked with over the phone, which meant she was the one introducing us to the Users. And that, to me, was not helpful to us.

We were introduced as ‘students who work for the Organization that gives you benefits and are here to ask you [the Users] a few questions.’ That automatically portrayed us as some sort of an authority, I think, which triggered in the Users both feelings of reservation and openness. We got answers that were very positive, but ones that also seemed like a reflex: like when a child who’s interrogated after doing a bad thing, and he/she would directly say ‘it wasn’t me!’ Other Users who were not exactly interested in what we were there for, and saw us only as students who have ‘power’, told us things like ‘I want a raise.’

We did, however, get a lot of data that fed our research, but then again, several factors affect the answers we heard: first of all, the environment. I’ve mentioned this before, but I believe interviewing people in their workspace, depending on the topic of interview, is not always the best environment. Another factor is the timing. Apart from the Users who were on a break, others were in a rush to get things done and did not have a lot of time to spare, and I felt they were saying what we wanted to hear (or what they thought we wanted to hear), fast, so they can get on with their jobs, which is quite normal when the lowest paid rate is $18/hour and the managers are constantly checking up on the employees and making sure they’re not ‘slacking off.’

We made the interviews more interactive and engaging by having two magnetic boards: one had the two interview questions and the possible answers printed out in small cards, and the other was just a surface where the interviewee would place the answers in order of preference. This tool was very helpful when interviewing people who were on a break, but it was a hassle with the Users who were running around or did not have time.

One of the questions addressed the Users’ personal benefits: whether or not they would be interested in going back to school. It was very satisfying when a User connected that to his career: he’s a locksmith and said if he could take classes relating to his job, he definitely would, that ‘things are constantly changing’ and he ‘needs to keep up.’

Partners, operators, messengers and users

After out first set of interviews, my team and I met with our clients to further discuss the project and our journey together, and to fill them in on what we had been up to. This time, however, was different: six of our clients were present in the meeting. I guess the term ‘client’ is not appropriate with this specific organization. It’s a partnership and they are our partners.

During our last meeting, they had given us a list of their sister organizations, which also play an important role in our project, since we’ll be visiting quite a few of them to conduct further research and interviews. We printed the map of Philadelphia and its suburbs and started marking the locations of these facilities to have a better sense of their location and see which ones are easier to reach out to. We continued this activity during the meeting with our partners and helped each other locate the facilities. It was a very good way to engage them in our work and emphasize that this is a collaborative project.

The meeting went very well and we were overwhelmed with all the information we received. Our partners had already conducted their own research a year ago, had a focus group and had come up with some recommendations. What was a little surprising to me was that they were more than happy to hand all that data (questionnaires, surveys, etc.) to us to look over and inform our research. They looked very excited. What surprised me and my team even more was one of our partners: she was speaking ‘design’. Her vocabulary sounded like she was a designer in her previous life: she kept throwing words like ‘current model’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘prototype’.

Apart from our users and partners, there’s another entity – let’s call them the Operators – that, in a way, link the two together. Our partners and the Operators reach their users through yet another group of people: we’re going to call them the Messengers.
To make things slightly clearer, let me point out that the meeting we had a couple of weeks ago at the Union Hall was a Messengers’ meeting. There, my team and I were introduced to one of the Operators who showed interest in our work and our project and got our contacts to schedule a meeting, which also went well.

I now started seeing the difference between these entities: our users are, well, the Users and they have a job; the Messengers are also users who have an additional job that doesn’t pay extra and consists of linking our partners and Operators to these Users; the Operators, who are independent from the users and our Partners, are employees with one job description: to make the users’ experience better and easier. In other words, they get paid to do what the other groups are expected to do pro-bono.

The first and the most natural tool is the human body

During the first week of school, the whole department gathered in the ‘middle’ room of the ID floor, in Terra Hall.  A day later, we had a class in that same space, only this time the large room was divided into two smaller rooms by a large partition wall, comprised of several panels.  During the rest of the week, I saw the smaller rooms merged and separated several times, but never saw the process of how it happened.  I was very curious to find out how it works and decided to try and do it myself.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1


I walk into the room and start examining the partition (Fig. 1).  Since I had seen the room with no partition earlier, it’s obvious that the panels afford opening. I look for a frame on which the panels might slide, but I can’t see any.  I assume they have pivot points hidden in the ceiling, on which they would rotate and slide all the way to one side of the room.  You would think it would be as simple as everyday’s push/pull door crisis: it’s either one of the two.

On the side where I was standing, I see hinges.  Based on the knowledge in my head and past experiences where I have dealt with hinges, I deduce that the panels are attached together and can fold on each other – each pair, at least.  I go to the other side of the partition to check for the same hinges, but I only see vertical joints, which confirms that the panels are attached in pairs.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

The next element that catches my attention is a handle-like hardware on the last panel, hidden behind the small dry wall (Fig. 2).  A proper hardware should indicate how a door is to be operated: it will exhibit the proper affordances.  This handle is a recessed receptacle placed vertically, indicating a mode of action: it cannot be used except by inserting fingers and pulling.  But the direction in which I should pull is not clear.  Pull towards me?  Or pull and slide to the left?  Or to the right?

I try to pull the handle in all 3 directions, but to no avail.  This is not as simple as I had figured.  On the bottom left of the handle is another recessed spectacle, only circular (Fig. 3).  It has a protruding metal piece with a hexagonal section, and has the words ‘Extend’ and ‘Retract’, with clockwise and counter-clockwise arrows, respectively. Extend/Retract what? It’s not clear.  Frustration builds up and I start blaming myself for not being able to figure out the system, when I should really be blaming the designer for doing a bad job.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

Physically, the metal piece does not protrude enough to be grabbed my fingers and rotated.  It does, however, have a gap around it.  Again, based on knowledge in my head and previous experiences, I deduce that some sort of a key or a tool would fit into that gap and rotate the metal piece.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4

I look around in the room for an object that could be a key and I find a z-shaped tool, which has a hexagonal shaped whole on one end (Fig. 4).  Based on semantics, I quickly understand that it would fit around the protruding metal piece on the panel, and it would afford rotation, although I’m still don’t know what that rotation would Extend/Retract.  My only option at this point is to try – another design failure according to Donald Norman: a well-designed interface should not require trial and error.  I try to turn the lever clockwise, it doesn’t move. I turn it counter-clockwise and the vertical piece that has the same height as the panels, hidden in the corner, starts retracting to the right, creating a vertical opening on the side of the last panel (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5

Fig. 5

This action, and the information I had gathered from the handle indicate a new affordance (sequential affordances): the sliding of the panel to the right.  I place my fingers in the recessed receptacle one more time and slide the panel to the right.  The adjacent panel (the one attached with the hinges), slides, too, and the pair detaches itself from the rest of the panels.  Another affordance is now confirmed: the panels can fold on each other on the vertical axis where the hinges are placed. Based on the placement of the latters, and based on mechanical logic (if such a thing exists), I deduce that the panels fold inward (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6

Fig. 6

I’m right. I fold the panels and slide them to the side. It’s now clear that each pair of panels has to be slid to the right to detach from the others, pushed inward to fold, and slid to the side, next to the first pair (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7

Fig. 7


None of the interfaces or tools we deal with today, or have dealt with in the past, is natural, or ‘intuitive’, as interface designers call it today. They are all learned systems.  As Marcel Mauss would say, the first and the most natural [technical] tool is the human body. Consider walking, running, dancing, grabbing things with our hands, etc.
The only intuitive interface is the nipple.

Take care, V!

For our second meeting with our non-profit organization, my team and I prepared a tool for our partners to help us understand and make better sense of the information we had gathered – mainly on the dynamics of the organization, and the different parties involved.

We printed titles similar to ‘employee’, ‘manager’, ‘coordinator’, and ‘director’, and asked our partners to help us and sort them out, and draw the existing links among them. The exercise went very well and was very informative, and they thought ‘the tool made it much easier to explain.

Our next step was to start interviewing the people involved. The users are hospital and healthcare workers, so we made sure we were present at their next meeting, at the Union Hall. Together with my team, we brainstormed basic questions we wanted to ask, and practiced (role-played) how we would conduct the short interviews.

With our 5-6 questions printed out, we headed to the venue. We had learned from our organization that it would be very crowded and people would be running around, and would barely have time to talk to us – which is why we only had 5-6 questions and hoped to get contact information from a few. But we got there early, when there weren’t too many people, and realized shortly that things were different than what we expected. People were very relaxed and extremely friendly. I would ask a question and they would talk as if we knew each other rom before. I felt our questions were a bit ‘dry’ and weren’t ‘personal’ enough.

After all, most of these people were healthcare workers. They care for others all day long and they were thrilled to have someone ask them about themselves. As I asked the questions, I added a few other ones based on some of the answers, or based on the interviewee’s reactions. The responses were much more positive and informative, and most of them gave us the answers we wanted to hear.

This made me wonder: were these members being responsive and cooperative just because we introduced ourselves as ‘students who are working with their organization’, and because we were giving out business cards? Were they purposely giving us the ‘right’ answers and the ‘positive feedbacks’ because they thought they should, even though they’re not necessarily ’right’ and ‘positive’? Did the fact that they were still in some sort of a ‘work environment’ affect their attitude?
I wasn’t sure.

It was a good experience, however. I learned that being very structured isn’t always the best way to go. Sometime I just have to ‘go with the flow’ and let the interviewee lead the discussion and guide my questions.

As a final note, I’m not sure if one of the members was very friendly or just following some sort of protocol, but she remembered my name (well, my first initial, since it’s easier for people to spell and remember) on my way out, and shouted: ‘Take care, V!’

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