Category Archives: design thinking

Eve, my first persona.


Week 5

This week we have been learning how to create a bridge from the problem-finding User-System sector of Corinne’s model to the solution-finding Establish-Realise side through the use of personas and storytelling.

From User and System to Establish and Realise

By taking a group and using their characteristics to personifying our ‘User’ we will more readily be able to examine how they might react to changes in the system and preempt problems or predict resultant changes to user behaviour under different scenarios.

For our assignment this week we have been asked by Corrine to:

1.Move me with your own persona based on the system you observed. Tell me a story in a creative, detail-rich way in 100 words. Feel free to include photos, etc. The challenge this week is to be concise!

The system that I had observed was the (lack of) waste recycling in the post-grad cafeteria.

Here is my first persona, her name is Eve.

Eve is a 25-year-old post-graduate student living in the UK for the first time. She has just moved into a shared a house with other students and commutes to university by public transport. English is not Eve’s first language and she finds some of the differences in local customs confusing. Eve is vegetarian and considers environmental issues important. She would like to recycle more and is trying to find her local glass bank. Eve drinks bottled water and regularly buys coffee at the cafeteria. Eve is starting to find this expensive and is considering investing in a flask.

Having just written this persona I now realise that I had not considered the language issues in relation to the system I had observed. Does ‘landfill’ even make universal sense when translated? Do foreign students necessary understand what it means when they allocate rubbish to landfill? By adding a persona I have immediately identified another issue that I had not fully considered before: Language.

Reflecting on it more I am now thinking that perhaps if the university’s cafes offered a discounted option of ‘flask filling’ they could retain business that might otherwise be lost, reduce waste and incentivise customers with a suitable discount. There’s probably a whole load more issues that I could now consider to improve the system now I’ve got Eve.

The other thing I am thinking is that with regards to my observed system, to make it really work I would need to consider more than one persona. So, for example I could add Adam.

Persona 2Adam is a 21-year-old British student living away from home for the first time. He normally drives to university and only occasionally uses the cafeteria, preferring instead to nip down to MacDonald’s. He has heard of environmental issues but can’t be bothered with recycling. In fact, he and his housemates have regular disagreements about washing up and whose turn it is to take the rubbish out. He normally drinks coke and discards the cans wherever is most convenient. Adam smokes regularly between lectures and likes to hang out with his mates in the Student Union bar.

I wonder what Adam would bring to the mix?

The cobbler’s children have no shoes.


Studying for MACE has introduced me to the concepts of ‘Design Thinking’.

To the detriment of my sanity it has also made me consider the wider aspect of “Design ‘What were they’ Thinking?”

Kingston University is widely considered to have one of the best furniture and product design courses in the country. The University has a highly regarded business school; design, architecture, engineering and environmental sciences are areas of excellence. Yet, sometimes when I look around the campus I find this hard to believe.

My experience of the Frank Lampl building is a case in point. Here we have a modern purpose-built site designed to provide a venue for lectures. So why is the lecture room I sat in laid out in such a way that a proportion of the class can barely see the screens? Those at the edge are at too obtuse an angle and those in the middle have a large monitor in the way. What were they thinking?

This weekend I spent two days in a room full of Environmental Studies students with the heating on full and the windows wide open.

And… don’t even get me started on the room numbering and signage around campus.

Fortunately, our assignment this week is to observe a system and identify a problem that the user encounters. We must describe a few ways that this problem could be solved through changing or adding a role, a rule or an object based on Corinne’s USER System Model.

I am going to look at just one element of the University’s Environmental Management System.

I am going to examine the bins.

As part of the Kingston University’s Environmental Policy it commits to: the minimisation of waste through elimination, reduction, reuse and recycling.

How very admirable!

When one goes into the Postgrad cafeteria at Kingston Hill it is easy to see the policy in action.

There are a row of colour coded bins for recycling [Rules] that allow students and staff [Users] to divide their refuse [objects] into paper & card, plastics, cans and landfill.

Obviously we all want to avoid putting as much as possible into the landfill bin to the benefit of all stakeholders [community].

So when the genii [Designers] that came up with this plan decided on the best way to communicate, facilitate and implement this system did they use design thinking?

Consider the paper and card bin. We are in a cafeteria. The ‘objects’ that will be going into this bin are mostly paper cups (round) and sandwich cartons (triangular). Admittedly some people may also want to throw away some notes – but what will user normally do first? Screw them up into a ball (spherical). So, what shape did they make the hole for this refuse? That’s right – a narrow slit of course! So where do all but the most committed environmentalists put this waste? In the landfill bin naturally. Arrrgh!!!!

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I don’t blame them. With the bins as the ‘objects’ the ‘rules’ of this ‘system’ suggest to ‘users’ that their ‘role’ in this ‘community’ is not to recycle paper cups and cardboard packaging.

I’m sure with a little observational research and some quantitative research to measure what is actually being sent to landfill that could be recycled a pretty reliable figure could be ascertained; which when extrapolated across the campus and over the academic year would add up to quite a frightening/disgusting volume and a tonnage that makes a mockery of the underlying rules of the system – the environmental policy.

How could it be improved? Well we could ask a 6 month+ child. Making the apperature of the bins suit the waste going into them would be an obvious solution with the most significant impact. In fact, doing away with the ‘shape sorting’ all together would be the best idea. While we are at it, let’s get rid of the rigid bin containers all together and have strong transparent (biodegradable) bags that hang from frames with relevantly coloured rims. The ‘users’ could clearly see where their ‘objects’ are supposed to go on approach (some civic minded people might even be tempted to fish objects out if they see a mistake has been made). In fact, the social pressure on the ‘user’ exerted by the ‘community’ being able to clearly see where they are depositing their ‘objects’ might cause them to observe the ‘rules’ more closely. And, the relevant ‘role’ player in the community could more easily see when the bins are getting full and need emptying.

The colours coding is a good idea, but let’s at least apply a bit of intelligence to it and change the ‘rules’. The colour red is almost universally recognised as meaning ‘stop’, ‘caution’ or at the very least ‘pause and think’. So would it not make sense to apply the colour red to the bin for landfill? Then white for paper, blue for plastics and grey for cans. Would a simple change in the rules like this help reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill?

For the maximum efficiency we could play around with the roles within the ‘Community’. At the moment the onus is on the ‘user’ to classify and seperate the waste. But, what if instead of just disposing of it, the role of the refuse company was also to separate it all properly off-site? It might cost a bit more money [rules] but in theory it would be most efficient. If all these changes were made in combination the extra cost might be minimal in relation to the improvements and kudos of having an Environmental Policy that’s not just all hot air.

Yawn and the whole world yawns with you?


In week two of the Creative Economy MA we watched the RSA animated version of Jeremy Rifkin’s talk on ‘The Empathic Civilisation’.

Shortly after it began I started yawning. Not because the presentation bored me. Far from it! The yawning arose because I was thinking about yawning – or, more specifically ‘contagious yawning’. Rifkin was talking about the discovery of mirror neurons. These same neurons are also thought to be responsible for the contagion of yawns. It is these mirror neurons that Rifkin opines are responsible for empathy. In 2007 research by the University of Leeds suggested that the susceptibility to the contagious yawn is actually symptom of a high level of social empathy. Interestingly the research also noted that engineering students were less likely to yawn than the psychology students. Thus, inferring that the latter students have a higher level of social empathy. I wonder how creative and artistic students would fare? I must remember these considerations as empathy plays such a fundamental role in design thinking. It highlights the importance of collaboration in design processes – ensuring the user’s emotional, practical and concious needs are all evaluated.

However, I was surprised to note that Rifkin was unaware that research by Birckbeck University, London has already suggested that dogs have the capacity to empathise with humans. If one yawns in front of a dog, the contagion can jump between species and the dog will yawn too. The reason for the dog yawning was put down to a ‘primitive’ level of social empathy. So are dogs more empathic than engineers? All this talk of yawning may have you starting to yawn too. Who are you empathising with? Me? The dogs? Or, are you just bored?

Another aspect of the presentation that I had a problem with was Rifkin’s suggestion that we need to all start thinking like an extended family. He says that effectively that Y-chromosomal Adam and Database Woman are the Adam and Eve from whom we are all descended; and since we are all related we really should all just get along. I don’t see this as a good premise for global harmony. Consider Adam and Eve’s first sons, Cain and Able!

The third disparity I encountered was sandwiched between these issues. Rifkin points out that we now have the technology to think viscerally as a family. Rifkin then goes on to use the earthquake in Haiti as an example of how within three hours the ‘entire human race was in empathic embrace’ coming to the aid of Haiti. So why was this same embrace not extended to Pakistan when the floods struck seven months later? Did the entire human race give an apathetic shrug; a disinterested yawn?

The American Red Cross ran a text based donation campaign for Haiti that raised $32 million within days, generating as much as $200,000 per hour. A similar campaign by the Red Cross for Pakistan yielded just $10,000, about 0.03 per cent of what it raised for Haiti. Why? Donor fatigue? Were the images displayed in the media insufficiently emotive? Or, do the tribal blood ties, religious connections and national loyalties of our ancestors still run true?

I would contend that we have never truly ‘detribalised’ as Rifkin suggests. Has he never been to a soccer match? I suspect that progressions in technology simply allow us to form new coalitions and renew old ones. One of the more popular uses of the Internet is the tracing of our ancestry – to reestablish our blood ties.

Empathy is fundamental to trust. If we perceive a person is able to empathise with ourselves then we are more inclined to trust them. We trust that they will respond and behave appropriately. For example, we might share our passions, religious beliefs or national identity without fear of mockery, prejudice or violence.

In the study on yawning it was suggested that it was the capacity for empathy towards humans that was a trait selected in dogs during domestication. Put another way, the capacity for mutual empathy was a factor that helped our ancestors trust which dogs were allowed to join the tribe.

So why must empathy play such an important role in design thinking? The more empathic we are to the user during the design process the more the user will trust our product, trust our service and trust our brand.