Mira Kirvesmaki

Design with heart

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Week 2 of project

So here we are again, sunday has arrived. This week I’ve been trying hard to find that first stepping stone in finding the first step in creating the brief: a topic. While I have not succeeded in that, I am a lot closer and have now a lot better understanding of what I want and what I have to offer.

To summarize this week I’ve created another inspiration board and this time it’s filled with quotes that I find particularly interesting at the moment. They have mostly to do with small things becoming something greater. The whole becoming greater than the sum of it’s parts. I have found something quite interesting that fits this idea, that I’ll have to share with you, perhaps tomorrow.


The inspiration board of week two. Click on the image to see a larger version


Image source

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Emptying my head

Today I dedicated time to going through and really understanding what’s going on with the project right now. Instead of continuing to allow all my ideas and thoughts to swirl around in my head I decided to take the bull by it’s horns and force them out of my head and onto paper. Trying to really ground this project and hopefully get one step closer to finding that first stepping stone on my journey. In a way reproducing the knowns and unknowns exercise done during one of the tutorials, but in a more visual way.

I started by getting all the things I’ve been holding onto, all the things that have been thinking about, and getting them out of my head straight on to post-it’s (very designer of me, I know). Actually grounding all these thoughts, cutting their wings and identifying them for what they are really helped me to understand the bigger picture of where I am currently at. Getting a proper top-down view on the project.

After kicking everyone out of my head I did a bit of affinity diagramming by organizing the post-it’s that I thought were related into piles. I ended up having six different categories ranging from “what I can give to the project” to “what would I would like to get in return”.

The biggest aspect that arose from this exercise is the fact that even though I’ve figured out several details of what I would like my design response to look like (well crafted, people centered, etc.) and what I want to focus on and improve (my visual communication skills, understanding behaviours, etc) I really don’t have the topic yet. Something to start with, to concentrate on and that can lead to these other things or give the opportunity to do them.

Besides pointing out the, quite obvious, gaps in my thinking, this exercise also allowed me to really look at what drives me as a designer. I am really driven by my values, by trying to make a positive change through my work. I feel that my place is more in redesigning and repurposing existing products than in creating something new and novel. Trying to understand existing behaviours and being able to add new value to them or alter them for the better is something I feel passionate about. To me design has great potential to make a real difference in the world and I really hope I’ll be able to contribute to this during my professional life.

So all in all a very successful exercise. I now have a better understanding of the aspects that I really need to incorporate to the project, as well as what my next steps will need to be.

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Fishing for information

The second one of this weeks tutorials was about including people in our design processes. To get us thinking about how this could be done a pressure project for the day was introduced: we were asked to design and prototype a cultural probe.

Cultural probes are packages that are given or sent to participants and have been “deigned to provoke inspirational responses” (as it is defined in the original study that introduced cultural probes by Bill Gaver, Tony Dunne and Elena Pacenti, Design:Cultural Probes, 1999). These can include things like cameras, notebooks, postcards, maps, stickers, anything really that you think might be useful for collecting the kind of data you might need. Keeping in mind though that cultural probes are more for looking for insight and inspiration rather than exact data on something. You give people freedom to imagine and capture things they find important. Obviously some direction might be needed but as the probes are to be completed by the participant over time and on their own, the end result can vary quite drastically from what you thought it might be.

An example of an cultural probe Source

So to tackle the days challenge I started asking myself questions about what kind of information would be valuable to me. What area do I want to know more about? What would be something that I could not get through desk research or that would compliment it? I decided to make the mock decision of documenting small achievements people get through out the day, just to have a starting point. And with this I then decided for the cultural probe to be something that would have people actually do it, to record the accomplishments, and then reflect on this activity. I was arguing with myself about the level of detail that would be useful to me, but in the end decided that just noting down each time they got the feeling of accomplishment would be enough. As it would need to be something that people do, hopefully, through out the day I wanted it to be fast and convenient, something that could be done in most places and situations they were in. Then only when they get home, in the evenings, they would need to record how this was for them, how they felt about it, how they felt the day went and so forth.

The making of the prototype

What I learned from doing the prototype was that it’s really quite difficult to get the balance right between allowing space for people to express themselves and surprise you yet still giving them good enough framework that they don’t feel lost or stuck and that the information is going to be useful for the project. The tone of voice  and presentation of the probe proved to be quite important as well and I felt that in their experiment Gaver, Dunne and Pacenti really handled this well. They said:

“But although the materials were aesthetically crafted, they were not too professionally finished. This gave them a personal and informal feeling, allowing them to escape the genres of official forms or of commercial marketing. In the end, they revealed the energy we put into them and expressed our tastes and interests to the groups.”

The probes work best as a personal request that is meant for getting personal responses.  Their team had used the probes as a way to connect them to the users and were keen on the idea that they need to be designed in a way that reveals something of the designer as well. No two probes can be alike as they need to be designed for that particular project, those particular people and the environments they are in.

The rough prototype

Having completed the pressure project I have now moved to actually testing the probe on myself. I’ll get back to that once I get the results “back”.

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Inspirations: Jamy toaster

So keeping with my promise to update some of the things that are inspiring me right now, here is one that I feel especially inspired by today.

The Jamy toaster Source

The Jamy toaster is a concept by Nathan Brunstein that allows you to get the days weather forecast while going by your breakfast. It is a toaster that through a Wi-Fi connection get’s the days local forecast and then marks it on your toast.

What I particularly like about this concept is the way it utilizes already existing behavior and then adds a whole new value to it. Obviously this is for people who have toast as breakfast, it is something you already do, but then by adding this whole new level to it, the weather forecast, it also allows you to simultaneously do something you probably should do but don’t necessarily always remember/have the time to. This is the kind of design I like, utilizing already existing behaviors or products and adding whole new values to them.

I’m also fan of the tone of voice of this project. I like he design language used and the playfulness incorporated  into the design (the lights acting as eyes, giving the toaster a personality), the interactions (the eyes working as a feedback mechanism) and the accompanying visuals.  The concept is also simple enough, the core idea being something that can be easily explained in a sentence. Overall the Jamy toaster is a fun, quirky concept based on a brilliant and valuable insight. Inspired.


The concept board for Jamy Source


Topsy Turvy

So week two has begun and we’ve now had both of our weekly tutorials. I’ll start with the first one and leave the second one (a pressure project no less, so stay tuned) to another post.

The week begun with being introduced to two different approaches one can take with a project; the top-down approach and the bottom-up approach. The top-down way of looking things gives one a broader perspective on the whole of the project. It is about looking at the big picture as well as the wider context of it all. And not surprisingly bottom-up is quite the opposite driving the project through looking at details and being informed by the nitty-gritty of it all. As one might imagine neither is better than the other and really neither can excel without the other. The challenge comes from being able to join these in a way that works for your project.

Brilliant visualization of the differences between bottom-up and top-down Source

This reminded me a lot of a model that I’ve recently read about called the User Experience Hierarchy of Needs. This is a model conceived by Stephen P. Anderson and explained more throughly in his book Seductive Interaction Design. Even though it has been conceived to try and shift focus from tasks to experiences, in a way it also gives two choices on how to approach a project. If you start from the bottom of the pyramid and work your way up it gives you an opportunity to focus on the tasks and products and features. Where as if you start from the top and then work your way down you shift your focal point to the experiences and to the people, the activities and the context in which these two come together. Which one is more appropriate might depend on the project, but it’s interesting to look at it as a way to get you thinking at your project in two completely different ways.

The User Experience Hierarchy of Needs Source

So, back to the actual tutorial. A part of mondays agenda was starting to think about what might drive our own projects; could it be technology, people or a certain material or a process we were interested in. As you might have gathered from my previous posts I’ve been kind of treading water until now and so this kind of exercises that force me to make decisions have proved to be very useful. From the get go it’s been quite clear to me that people will play a great part in forming my project. I feel a certain kind of, well for want of a better word, connection, to user centered design. I want to work with people and it’s definitely something that motivates me and inspires me. So it would be foolish not to incorporate this into my project. As for the technology I have no clue. I want the project to have a strong digital aspect but I’ll have to give this a good thought before I’ll be able to pin down a certain technology that I’ll want to use. I definitely want to try and merge both bottom-up and top-down thinking into it, trying to keep the big picture always in mind but also allowing details the space to shape it. I’m also more interested in shaping an experience but I can’t forget that in order to create an experience worth having the project needs to have firm underlying structure.

Working with users on one of my previous projects

From the tutorials an excellent suggestion was made on how I could start my look for the initial starting points: roleplaying different decision. So here I could make certain decisions about my project, say that it’ll use smartphone technology and play around with that idea, see where it takes me and how it feels. These don’t have to be final decisions but rather make me think about all the different choices and how I feel about them and what might be the right direction for me. I really like the idea of this and have already decided to dedicate some time to this during this week. The goal is to try and form the first stepping stone on my route to writing the brief.

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Week 1 of project

So suddenly it’s sunday. This means that the first full week of working on my honours year project is almost gone. To reflect on this I decided to make an inspiration board that sports words and images that inspired me and/or sparked my interest this week. Basically it’s a visual way to capture what I’ve been up to. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up this habit and in the end have a collection of these that will reflect my journey.


So here is this weeks inspiration board (if you want to see it bigger just click on the image):




So many of the themes are familiar from what I’ve previously discussed here. My main purpose for this week has been trying to unearth the aspects that are important to me. Trying to understand what would challenge me, inspire me and take me one step closer to realizing a career as a designer. Even though I’m still quite far from being able to write my brief I feel that looking into what inspires me and why has really helped. I’ve identified some key aspects that I feel are important to me and now it’s time to start prioritizing them and piecing them together.


The image sources row by row starting at the top left hand corner:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

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Inspirations: Out of the box

So far I’ve been collecting anything that has sparked my interest (related to the honours year project that is) on a pinterest board. However I though it would be worth while to post them here as well and open up a bit why I found them inspiring. I’ll do this little by little adding things as we go on.

I’ll start with the one that inspires me today the most:

Out of the box by Vitamins

Out of the box. Source

Out of the box is a new concept for helping everyone get started with a smartphone. It uses the familiar medium of a book but incorporates the phone into it in a very smart way. The first book, the one explaining how to set up the phone, actually reveals the different parts of the phone as you turn the pages and helps you set up everything in a correct order. The next one, the manual, has a slot for your phone and then with the help of pictures and arrows helps you through different tasks you might struggle with. The concept video will explain this a lot better than I can:

What I enjoy about this project is that even though it has been conceived to help elderly adults it does not dumb them down. Unlike many of the actual phones that have been designed for elderly, this one doesn’t exclude but aims to empower. This concept actually won the 2012 Interaction Awards in the category Empowering. I also know from my experience of working with older adults who were in the process of learning how to use computers that physical notes were something that a lot of them found extremely useful and it was something that many of them kept and referred to whenever using technology. The designers have clearly used to their advantage the strengths and preferences of the target user group and really drilled down to what would work for them. To me this concept is just so simple and powerful that I keep wondering why the mobile phone companies don’t do this already. I would definitely not mind getting one of these whenever I buy a new pieces of tech.