Author Archives: Kim Campbell

Human Centered Design: Pt2- The Create Phase

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This is part 2 of a three-part series on how we applied IDEO‘s Human Centered Design tools to our Ed-Tech report. You can check out part 1 about the Hear Phase here.

After all the interviews, conversations, and observations that were made in the Hear Phase of the study, we were charged with the task of making sense of what all of it meant. This brings us to the Create phase of the work. The Create phase is all about taking everything that researchers and designers have “Heard” from their users, and using that information to build solutions that will help solve the design problem. In terms of our paper, it helped us form the building blocks of the finished product.

Making sense of data doesn’t just occur at the very end of the Hear phase. Synthesis and analysis is something that happens in several ways throughout the hear stage and afterwards. After every field visit, the research team would verbally review the most compelling or interesting elements of our interactions with the stakeholders by using “storytelling with a purpose”. It was important to be able to use storytelling as a tool to describe how we understood what we saw because it helped inform how we collected data, and helped identify themes to look for in subsequent field visits.

For instance, in our earliest school visits while conducting classroom surveys, we observed very gendered responses to questions about Internet and computer access. This was actually a bit surprising to us since APS  in Tier 1 cities like Hyderabad generally exhibit very gender equal enrollment, attendance, and performance among students. However, after our storytelling regroup in those first few sessions, we decided to probe stakeholders in ways that captured more information along gendered experiences of technology.  We also incorporated more explicit questions about gendered access to technology in subsequent in-depth interviews and surveys.

There was also the process of identifying primary themes and extracting insights which came through the process of affinity mapping—or in layman’s terms, going postal with post-its.


We took the independent ideas expressed in each stakeholder’s interviews and fit them on a post-it. Then we grouped the ideas by themes that were similar, related, and interesting. This helped us identify themes across stakeholders that were not so obvious looking at each interview individually. It also helped us prioritize which elements of information were most important to each stakeholder’s perspective. The process of  organizing all these pieces of information was daunting, but it helped bring us closer to interesting and important insights to share with our readers.

Lastly, we made diagrams that represented some of the processes and relationships that were important to the APS and ed-tech community. We wanted to use simple diagrams that illustrated how different components work together and influence one another. These diagrams came in at a later stage once we knew what the paper’s main ideas would be. We wanted to choose images that reinforced some primary ideas well and helped communicate the point better.

Making sense of what happens in the field is what paves a pathway for the products and services that can bring new innovations to communities like APS. The act of building those solutions takes place in the Design phase. In our next blog we’ll share how we’d like to see insights from this paper inform other company and entrepreneurs’ design phase.

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Human Centered Design Series: Part 1 – The Hear Phase

This research paper employs a number of Human Centered Design methods in order to understand the APS community and its relationship to technology. IDEO describes Human Centered Design (HCD) as a process that:

helps people hear the needs of the people and communities they’re designing for, create innovative approaches to meet these needs, and deliver solutions that work in specific cultural and economic contexts.

This concept is made actionable with a comprehensive HCD Toolkit that brings researchers through the three stage HCD process. We used a variety of tools in each of the stages and each one brought a different kind of value to the process.

The Hear phase of HCD is about listening to the community. It’s about deciding who we want to talk to and gathering the raw input of conversations, interviews, and observations we make with each stakeholder.  This is where a bulk of our field work was done.

Some elements of this phase were similar to more conventional aspects of  research, like interviewing experts. In the earliest stages of our research, we had in-depth interviews with Madhav Chavan, founder of the  educational organization Pratham, and  Country Director of Gray Matters Capital Pradeep Sharma. Both offered useful perspectives on education, weaknesses in low-income schools, and where technology could fit.

We didn’t stop there. We conducted observations of various classes in order to see first-hand the dynamics that play out between teachers and students, and to observe various pedagogical approaches in all subjects. We conducted group interviews with students in order to understand the boundaries that authority figures set on what they could explore in technology and to discuss amongst each other what they understood the motivations to be. We also conducted group interviews with parents to hear their initial reactions to tablets, their fears about the device, and what they expected from their children.

We conducted one-on-one interviews with school leaders to hear in depth accounts of what motivated them to buy technology, what was lacking in the existing technology solutions in their school, and the broader vision they hold for their students and their school. We also conducted individual interviews with students who represented extremes in the profile of tech users in APS.

Through in-depth conversations with students who were exceptionally adept at technology, and students with little to no exposure, we began to understand the different people and conditions in their environment that affected the level of access to technology they had. One of the most interesting exercises we conducted in the  hear phase was the aspiration exercise.

We presented students with a series of 30 cards (created by IDEO for their HCD toolkit) with a variety of simple pictures on them. Some pictures represented careers, some were pictures of items, and others were more abstract representations of people. Students chose pictures that represented their greatest ambition and their greatest fears. They shared their interpretation of the image and why they chose it, then discussed how technology related to the feeling they articulated.

The responses through this exercise were interesting and dynamic, and lead the children to discuss abstract ideas and feelings more clearly than if they were just asked direct questions.

Check back to see how we used the Create and Design phase of the HCD process to learn more about the APS environment in Part 2 and Part 3.

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What Education Can Learn From Technology

The user research approach that guides the APS and Tech paper is one that comes out of the technology sector. User research is the discipline of developing a deep understanding of users and incorporating them into every element of a product’s design. It is the process of learning users’ values, their goals, and how they interact with technology, then using this to inform how products and services can be best designed for them. User research is the groundwork for user friendly products but it wasn’t always like that.

Early stages of technology were more User Hostile than User Friendly and reminiscent of what’s represented in this Dilbert comic.

edtechindia UX dilbert

Computers were cumbersome machines built by engineers whose main concern was making it work…not necessarily to make it something people would want to work with. If the users didn’t understand the system, nor the complex user manual…tough. They just weren’t smart enough or willing to try hard enough to make the most of the device.

As the internet evolved and the technology market became more competitive, a computer that worked wasn’t enough. A shift occurred, where techies began to consider that there may actually be advantages to building things that people enjoy using. Rather than trying to guide users through how to fix the problems with a new interface, companies started learning enough about users so they could build better interfaces that didn’t have problems. By developing the practice of cultivating deep understanding of the people, technology ushered in the wave of devices that so many of us cannot do without today. With technology being such a competitive market today, understanding the user is no longer an extra element to give your product or service an edge. It’s a pre-requisite that is core to a company’s capacity to stay relevant, and competitive in the market.

UX iPad addiction

So what does this have to do with the hundreds of thousands of private school students in India and throughout the world?

Development has seen its own uncomfortable version of the “User Hostile” computers of the 80s. In development interventions across all sectors, from health and education, to infrastructure and agricultural sustainability, several well-intended projects have been funded, implemented, and sorely lacking in the positive outcomes it claimed to be trying to achieve.

In a review of more than 50 cases of unsustainable development projects in the world, the organization Globalhood notes that some of the major themes across these failures is

“a shallow understanding or complete disregard for the broad and often complex contexts in which projects exists; [and] a cultural paradigm that perpetuates unsustainable development based on narrow mindedness, uneven power dynamics, exclusion, rigidity and a lack of feedback and accountability”.

These are challenges that could have been minimized with a UX-like approach to understanding the users of the social services being provided by these organizations.

While I am grateful that good User Experience is the reason I can play angry birds, update facebook, and read three different books from the same device, the innovation and power of a well-designed product should not be limited to just recreational use. It is much more crucial for this approach to be applied to the products and services that help deliver on the promise to give children all around the world the chance to receive a quality education. Any endeavor to further develop the condition of human beings must maintain humans at its core.

This is a perspective that is growing in important ways as companies are finding their way to the intersection of social good, user research, and design. IDEO, a leading design and innovation firm has developed an arm solely dedicated to the pursuit of social issues through understanding the users or humans involved called Furthermore, they’ve helped make these principals actionable by developing an entire guide of robust human-centered design research methods that can be applied in field settings. These were tools that we used to build the foundation of our findings in Hyderabad’s APS sector.

The immediate objective of our paper is to arm external stakeholders with information about the APS community in India that will lead to better designed educational technology products. However, we also have a much larger hope that  asking these questions and understanding communities becomes as commonplace in development, social enterprise, and the nonprofit world as it has become in the  technology.

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