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Disclaimer: All information posted in this blog are original unless otherwise stated and remains valid for as long as I have not yet thought of a better way to present them. They are not meant to be prescriptive and used rigidly without forethought.
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25 January 2013

Finding Design Opportunities 'On-Location' and Using 'On-Location Photographs'

Finding Design Opportunities using 'photographs' and 'observations' on-site are pretty similar where you use your eyes and 'observe' what you see and use your mind to make sense of what is happening on the ground.
Record your observations in detail using more photographs, various forms of illustrations and annotations. The difference is, the former you can do it at the comfort of your home, and the latter, you do it, well, ... on-location!

Using on-location photographs are useful strategies to identify genuine needs and design opportunities
Firstly because the source - the photographs -  came from a real location.
And secondly, the activities happening and the people involved in them are also genuine. They are happening in the real world in real time

Nothing gets closer than experiencing problems first hand. No drama. 

The best sources of information gathered from researches are from primary researches
Using a photograph that you take on your own is as close as it gets to primary research.

Fig. 1: A (Fictional) Sketch showing People in a Satay Club and the Activities Around
STUDENT: "I have the photograph(s) now. What do I do with it?" (see Fig. 1, 2 or 3)

Step 1: A General 'Scan' of the Environement
Cover every corner of the photograph or the chosen location, stop and observe (in detail) at the activities that is going on. Identify objects and products that people interact with. Identify the Target Audiences (Targer User or Target Group) as you go along. Anaysing activities with the Target Audiences in mind is more useful than with a generalized group of people.
  • You can begin anywhere in the photograph or the scene, or
  • You can select a point and go clockwise or anti-clockwise, or
  • You can begin by imagining how you would start walking as if you are in the picture from left to right or vice versa.
Look at what is in front of you and ask, 'What do I see?" then ask more questions (keeping the theme in mind) to 'dig' out more information from the scene. You can use  '5W1H' to help you with this activity.

For example, you ask:
  • "Who are the people there?"
  • "Where are they going?"
  • "What are they doing?"
  • "Why are they doing ....?"
  • "What (products) are they using to do...?"
  • "What problems might they be facing?"
  • "Why do they have this problem / inconvenience / frustration?"
  • "What could have caused the problem / inconvenience / frustration?" , etc.
  • "How does this or that work?", etc.
Or you may have spotted someone's expression and then ask,
  • "Why does he/she look quite frustrated?"
  • "What happened actually?", etc.
The number and the type questions you can ask is limitless. One question will lead to the other as you try to dig out what is happening at that moment. The more questions you can generate to grill the activities in the photograph or the scene, the more information and insight you will get. 
Step 2: Use P.I.E.S. to Identify and Make a list of Needs

  • Begin with the Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Social  ('P.I.E.S.') Needs analysis tool to make a list and categorize the different type of NEEDs on the activities that is going on in the scene.
  • Start from identifying Physical Needs, follow on to Intellectual Needs, Emotional Needs and finally Social needs that either present or required based on your observations and interpretation of the photograph or on the scene.
  • From identifying and recording the various types of NEEDsDesign Opportunities can be identified.

Step 3: Use  'Activity Mapping' to Study Processes and identify Objects for Improvements

To start using the 'Activity Mapping' tool, you should first select an identified NEED area from Step 3.

For example, your target group are the Elderlies and you target location is Home. There are so many areas around the home. You may choose to focus on the Kitchen.

There are so many things that can happen in the kitchen and you may have identified some 'physical needs' related to activities happening in the kitchen. You might choose to focus on one of activities which happens to be 'pouring a cup of water' from a kettle in the kitchen.

Due to aging and poorer eyesight with less agile hand-eye coordination, you find there was frequent spillage of water on the table. So this is a 'Physical Need' area that needs to pay attention to.

You can then use 'Activity Mapping' to study how an elderly would interact with the cup and kettle and how he pours water out of it into the cup.
  • The Activity Mapping is an excellent tool for working out processes and procedures, and also for identifying Products in use. Which in turn is excellent for identifying potential product improvements.

Step 4: Identify the Root Causes
  • If you do follow faithfully from Step 1 to 3, I am sure you will by now gathered quite a bit of investigations and insights about what has gone on within the environment concerned. 
  • You will also be loaded with quite a bit of identified Design Opportunities after engaging 5W1H, the P.I.E.S analysis & the Activity Mapping  tool to identify NEED areas and the products involved.
However, not every problem or design opportunities you have identified are good for solving. Design Opportunities may refer to all identified 

a) problems or potential problems to solve,
b) areas for product for improvements,
c) design challenge for an alternative or another clever idea, or
d) opportunity for an invention.
  • In reality, some 'problems' you identified may not even be problems as it seems! They are in your potential design opportunity list because of your 'assumptions' and 'good guesses' that they are problems. 
  • Next, you should be concerned about finding the root causes of those 'problems' you have identified to making sure your design opportunity is really worth spending the next few months solving and subsequently working out a solution.
  • To 'find the root cause', you'll have to engage the 'Five Whys' technique to test your assumptions and to get to the root cause(s) of those so-called 'problems' you have identified. 
  • The ultimate 'Five Whys' questioning technique is almost a full-proof litmus test to reveal the real problems from your initial assumptions and from those that were thought to be problems.
  • By the end of this step you should have at least 3-5 confident potential Design Opportunities for selection.
  • Even if you end up with 1 or 2 design opportunities it is fine. Because you will be very sure you have found genuine needs to solve.
Step 5: Existing Product Research and Product Analysis

Identifying the root cause of the problem in Step 4 is important. An equally critical step next is to do an Existing Product Research to study existing products and solutions that may have already been designed for the 'problems' you identified.

  • Existing product research is probably the second most important step after the Five Whys
  • Even if you have found the root cause of the problem and that may potentially be the ideal design opportunity, there is still a possibility that you might not be aware of existing solutions that have already been designed. You do not want to end up creating stuffs that has already existed. Do you?
  • Research and study all existing products that are directly or indirectly related to the problem you have identified.
  • Understand and compare their functionalities.
  • Seek to understand how and why they are designed they way they are and what problems do they solve.
  • If you discovered that solutions for the problem already existed, you can still transform that into a design challenge to design and create a better one. 
  • But before you do that, you got to study every possible existing solution in the market.
  • Do Product Analysis on them to identify all the features and functionalities, the good and the bad points and their 'hidden' potentials.
  • The P.M.I. technique can be used here.
  • 'Hidden' potentials refer to possible 'functionalities' that the products could have done to cater to the problem better but is have not yet realized as a designed feature in the existing solutions you have studied. If you find 'hidden' potentials they are probably the most valuable Design Opportunities you can ever find.

Step 6: Selecting Design Opportunities using 'Benefits' as Criterion for Selection
  • Finally we arrived here. You've got a few Design Opportunites now. How do you go about selecting the best one for your coursework?
  • One way is to make a list of 'benefits' for each one of them. 
  • Assuming if a solution is found, what are the benefits and who benefits. etc. 
  • Then compare the benefits and select the one that benefits the most people.
  • In other words, you want to compare the 'catchment area' of the benefits. Does this solution only benefit me? Him or Her? Or does it benefit a wider group of people? A family? A society or community? The neighbourhood? The nation? Or internationally?
  • The Design Opportunity that has the widest 'catchment area' should be the winner.
  • But also bear in mind time, ability and technological feasibility. That means even if you choose the most promising one, are you able to design and make it with your current ability, knowledge and time, and using what is available in the school to realize your product solution?
Closure... more examples...
Fig. 2: A (Fictional) Sketch showing Tourists in a Hotel and the Activities Around
Fig. 3: A (Fictional) Sketch showing a Bell Boy Moving Luggages
All figures 1, 2 and 3 can be used as practice for the six steps described in this post.
Now go and plan where to go for your observations or to gather photographs for identifying Design Opportunities.

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