Project Spotlight: Chicago Architecture Foundation – Research and Synthesis

This is the second entry in a three-part peek into how Fuzzy Math is helping the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) with their Discover Design initiative.

First and foremost, we (Fuzzy Math) and CAF held a kickoff meeting that identified a fundamental premise: that Discover Design’s success was all about winning-over the admiration of teenagers. (If admiration is too strong of a word choice, we can all at least agree that “attention from” might suffice as an adequate, if not accurate, replacement.) To investigate how to achieve this goal, we visited high schools all around Chicago – lots of them. We even video conferenced with some as far from the midwest as California, to see if sentiment varied across geographical regions in the states. It was important to see a wide variety of places in order to credibly identify common needs, uncover differences, and understand the factors affecting these qualities. We conducted group and individual interviews with students and teachers, sent out surveys, and observed actual work being done.

Since teenage life goes beyond schools, our research had to as well. We visited FUSE, a popular place for teens to “hang out, mess around, and geek out.” We also talked to some teenagers who had won awards in recent CAF competitions. Furthermore, we did comprehensive heuristic analyses of similar programs, companies, and services.

After we had a respectable mountain range from our stacks of notes, it was time to bring all the data together and see what emerged. We made an experience map to visualize how the current implementation of Discover Design is used, and to identify its existing strengths and weaknesses. We also covered a conference room in sticky notes grouped by affinities to detect patterns. (Bonus lesson learned: go easy on the neon-colored stickies.)

When we analyzed all our findings, we realized that getting as many teens as possible to use Discover Design wasn’t just about making the projects as appealing as possible for them. That was important, but the real key was to make the Discover Design useful for teachers because every one teacher that used a Discover Design project meant that somewhere around 30 teenagers would become regular users at least for the duration of that project.

To bring it all together in a tangible way, we made personas to define and “make real” the data we learned about the target demographics. Instead of just targeting the ambiguous and elastic “user,” we were guided and constrained by being “Jamal-centric” and “Lauren-centric.” We also distilled our recommendations into a set of design principles specifically for Discover Design.

Stay tuned for the final post in this series, where we’ll describe how we approached interaction concepting and interface design.

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