In April 2014, our team of researchers from MIT was presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity: the chance to travel to Lima, Peru to work with some of the country’s most promising entrepreneurs in the digital creative industries. The event, called the Creative Industries Prototyping Lab (CIPL), was a whirlwind three-day introduction to design thinking methods. Along the way, we would lead workshop participants through the UX design process and introduce them to a diverse toolbox of UX techniques. The goal of the event was not to teach everything about UX, but rather to give these entrepreneurs a sense of the human centered design process.
The idea for the event started small and grew through our local connections. It was the brainchild of Eduardo Marisca, one of our team members from MIT, who is also a native of Lima and an expert on the Peruvian video games industry. In the course of his research, Eduardo noticed that while there was emerging educational support for computer science and engineering in Peru, human computer interaction, user experience, and other related fields remained largely unknown. We saw this gap as an opportunity to plant a seed—to give workshop participants the toolset they needed to create innovative products and services tailored specifically to their local context.
As the applications started rolling in for CIPL, it became clear to us that this first class of participants represented an incredibly diverse set of interests and competencies. From scientists looking to craft a social networking site for their research community to entrepreneurs looking to build the next big e-ticketing platform for Peruvian theater, the range of projects proposed was truly staggering. We also quickly realized that we would be working across a wide range of technical expertise (from talented engineers to those barely knowing how to use PowerPoint) and with varying levels of familiarity with English. So how could we craft a curriculum which took all these contingencies into account?
To begin tackling these issues, we drew on our experience working with Frank Bentley, a senior user experience researcher at Yahoo Labs. Every year, Frank teaches a course at MIT that leads engineers through the human centered design process for building apps. The core philosophy for the course is to never start your design process with an idea for an app in mind, but rather to start from scratch, researching your community of interest and letting the ideas for the appropriate technology or solution flow from there. In following such an approach, Frank’s students have built successful applications for a wide variety of domains, from grocery shopping in the U.S. to navigating public transportation in Venezuela.
With CIPL, we knew that it was important to take a similar approach. By grounding design practice in research and placing human needs and cultural context first, we knew we had the greatest chance of helping our participants create products and services that would fit into everyday Peruvian lives. We eventually settled on a program broken into four stages: generative research, ideation, concept development, and refinement. The final deliverable at the workshop’s end would be a coherent and fully-fleshed out concept pitch complete with wireframes and mockups and backed up by qualitative research.
After the workshop, participants would then present their concepts to a public audience at the Ministry of Culture in Lima. We hoped that by preparing a concept pitch, participants would then be prepared to pitch their idea to potential partners or funders and to eventually bring their concepts to tangible fruition.
About a week before the workshop began, our team sent out an email to the participants asking them to conduct field research on their community of interest. While qualitative research methods can, of course, take a lifetime to master, we wanted to give participants a sense of how they might use ethnographic research to generate ideas for usable design concepts. We did this by encouraging them to observe target users in their homes, schools, churches—anywhere that they could observe target behaviors in real life contexts of use. We gave them a list of starter questions and asked them to write down each piece of data on a single Post-it so that they could be easily shared and clustered on the workshop’s first day.
When the participants reported back we were astonished by the quality of their findings. For instance, one group from a local non-profit was interested in designing an educational tool for school children concerning the violent history of Shining Path and MRTA terrorism in Peru. For their ethnographic study, the workshop participants interviewed middle schoolers about the methods they used to learn about the conflict. While most of the students confessed that they were bored when they learned about Shining Path from a textbook, many also said that they were emotionally invested in learning the history when they heard these stories from their parents and grandparents. So the group decided to shift the focus of their project from merely designing an online educational resource for children to designing a resource to facilitate intergenerational dialogue about the event between kids and adults. This team’s ethnographic research had caused them to discover new insights about their users and to shift the focus of their project entirely.
After everyone had shared their insights with the group we began the brainstorming and ideation process. If the ideation session had been something of a data deluge, the brainstorming session was an attempt to understand the collected information more systematically and to try and connect research to design.
We began this portion of the workshop by teaching the popular UX technique of affinity analysis, a technique for brainstorming ideas through the clustering of collected data. Participants would look for similarities or affinities among the individual data points and group them into progressively fewer and fewer piles, each representing a single theme. Once these piles had been established, we encouraged the participants to try and root their design concepts within these themes. That way they could be sure that their concepts were derived directly from insights and pain points they had identified from their earlier studies.
Unfortunately, this process of “grounded” or research-driven brainstorming was not necessarily intuitive for all of the workshop participants. For instance, one group of engineers came to the workshop with the idea of creating a virtual reality head-mounted display, but had thought very little about potential applications or even cultural contexts in which the technology could be used. This idea of using a technology simply because it was cool rather than because it was appropriate was a consistent problem through the first stages of the workshop. It took some time before many participants were willing to accept a low tech over a high tech solution because it was more appropriate for their target user’s needs.
If the first few phases of the workshop were dedicated toward generating and narrowing down to a single coherent design concept, the third phase was dedicated to developing and revising those ideas. We aimed to facilitate this process primarily by introducing a powerful UX tool: the customer journey map.
The customer journey map is a graph that represents the different touch points that characterize a user’s interaction with a product or service. Our team found the customer journey map essential in our workshop instruction as it encouraged participants to think about their entire user experience holistically and across multiple media platforms.
One instance where the customer journey map proved especially useful was with an entrepreneur who was interested in creating an e-ticketing platform specifically for Peruvian theater. As a businessman who had worked in the theater industry for 10 years the entrepreneur had deep knowledge of his target domain, but when it came to crafting a user experience flow for his ticketing platform, he needed some help. We encouraged him to create a journey map that detailed all the points in which a user could buy a ticket for a live event. The diagram he eventually generated was an incredibly complex but holistic system that encompassed mobile apps, web, phone services, and kiosks both in the theater and convenience stores (where tickets are commonly sold in Peru).
Clearly, he had all the domain knowledge he needed to create a successful product. He just needed the UX techniques and framework to help refine and ground his thinking.
Paper Prototyping + Refinement
After identifying all the points of interaction between their product or service and their potential users, the teams finally began to sketch what their concepts would actually look like. Because the majority of the workshop participants were interested in developing screen-based digital media, we decided to focus on teaching paper prototyping. For us, paper prototyping provided a powerful method of testing the usability of an app or service without any unnecessary technical overhead.
For this portion of the workshop we let our participants loose with markers and construction paper. We encouraged them to develop sketches for all the screens in one of their apps or websites and assess the flow of their application’s user experience with testers from another team. Although many of the workshop participants had no previous experience creating apps or websites, many of their wireframes were remarkably innovative. In particular, one team of graduate students from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP) had developed an incredibly interesting solution for fostering interdisciplinary research at their university.
Their app was called Huatia (referring to a traditional Peruvian oven in which many different kinds of food are mixed) and they billed it as nothing less than a “research Tindr.” Huatia would allow researchers to create a profile with their academic skills and interests and to swipe through a series of other researchers in order to find a match for their project team. Although basing an app for building a research team on the same UI as a dating app initially seemed like a far out idea, the team was able to provide a convincing case that the UX flow for finding a potential researcher and the UX flow for finding a potential romantic partner might in fact be strikingly similar. This user interface idea came only after many cycles of failures and iterations—revision was, of course, key to eventually arriving at the most suitable solution.
Final Thoughts + Future Directions
Looking back at the final outcomes of CIPL, it is clear that we had done at least a few things right. The final presentations at the Ministry of Culture were stellar and received positive feedback from many local tech industry professionals in the audience. CIPL was featured in the Lima-based newspaper Gestion, and was even featured in an hour long special on Umbrales, a show on Peruvian national television. Word of our workshop quickly spread to entrepreneur networks throughout Lima and we have since received invitations to conduct the workshop again in Lima, as well as in Buenos Aires. And perhaps most importantly, workshop participants found each other through CIPL and have since begun to create extensive networks of sharing and support.
However, many things could also have been improved. In surveys given after the workshop, participants suggested that there was not enough hands-on engagement with specific technologies and tools during the course of CIPL. Participants also suggested that given the wide range of interests represented in the workshop, some of the methods taught did not seem like a good fit for the needs of their project. In future iterations of CIPL we will perhaps address these concerns by holding a longer workshop that would allow for the introduction of a prototyping process. We could also focus on UX for a specific domain area of interest (for example, financial or educational applications) so that we could tailor the curriculum more specifically to fit that workshop’s specific needs. Yet for an introductory workshop in UX methods, we believe that CIPL was overall a great success. For our team, the workshop operated as an opportunity to make a tangible intervention by teaching and creating interest in human centered design.
The Creative Industries Prototyping Lab (CIPL) is a design education initiative of the graduate students in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. It was first held in Lima, Peru in April 2014 and was sponsored by the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, the Intercorp Innovation Lab, and Casa Andina, Peru’s largest hotel chain.
You can learn more about CIPL at yolab.us/cipl.
List of Workshop Projects
Memora.org: A moving digital humanities project documenting the violent and tragic history of Shining Path and MRTA terrorism in Peru. Aimed at educating generations of Peruvians born after this conflict, Memora fosters inter-generational dialogue with an interactive web platform and other in situ digital installations, all providing spaces of reflection and remembrance.
Figure 6. The Memora project home page.
LaBoleteria.pe: LaBoleteria brings e-ticketing to Peru, working with a network of theaters and venues to digitize the entire process from purchase to performance. The project features a beautifully designed website and an option to make the process entirely paperless.
Ticket Lovers: Get outside and go play with Ticket Lovers, a new game you can play with others while you wait in line at the local bank. This game company is creating a series of games staged outside in public spaces.
Cientificos.pe: A social networking site building a community for Peruvian scientists. Cientificos.pe is a platform to promote connection and collaboration, create mentoring relationships, and combat Peruvian “brain drain” by reaching out to Peruvian researchers who’ve left to find work abroad.
Electrocleta: A hybrid manual/motorized bicycle to take on the headaches of heavy traffic in Lima. The Electrocleta team prototyped a product and laid out a strategy to gain traction with Lima residents by marketing the bike as a hip new alternative.
Lazos Nexos: Lazos Nexos is a data visualization tool inspired by Bruno Latour’s work in actor network theory. Using the contacts in a person’s phone as its raw material, it creates dynamic, force-directed network graphs which visualize the connections between these various contacts.
RoboCuy: RoboCuy is a robotic guinea pig aimed at reducing the spread of disease in rural Peru. Building off the Peruvian tradition of petting a guinea pig (“cuy”) for good luck, the RoboCuy aims to use this proximity to test for ailments like diabetes and cholera, using low-cost sensors and computer vision techniques.
Figure 7. The RoboCuy robot.
Tullpi: Tullpi is a hybrid physical-digital game that aims to teach young children about math. Using brightly colored bottle caps as its tangible interface, Tullpi allows the player to control on-screen characters (like the turtle, Mr. Tortellini) through the movement of the bottle caps.
Huatia: Huatia is an initiative for creating more spaces for interdisciplinary thinking at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP). It consists of a physical playspace for collaboration and creation as well as various online and digital components for facilitating interdisciplinary interactions. One artifact that Huatia was interested in creating was what they called a “Research Tindr.” This app would allow researchers to create a profile with their research interests and swipe through a series of other researchers in order to find a match for their team.
Sistema: Sistema HMD is a sophisticated head-mounted display system that works solely through the camera on your mobile phone. Unlike other HMDs which are incredibly costly, Sistema HMD allows much of the same functionality, but at an extremely reduced cost. The Sistema HMD team has already built a functional prototype and has imagined various use cases for their augmented reality. These use cases include everything from teaching anatomy in science classrooms to helping doctors complete surgery.
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