Dialect – Full Blog Post

This is a collation of my entire blog content for easier reading. It reads in reverse chronological order, starting with my final outcomes and working backwards through the weeks.

Dialect – One Great Image

 

Dialect – Video

Dialect – Alice Horton from Alice Horton on Vimeo.

Dialect – 100 Words

Dialect supports the delivery of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy by improving the users ability to learn new skills. It achieves this by supporting the relationship between therapist and patient and making practising new techniques more effective. Dialectical Behavioural Therapy is especially good at easing the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As our understanding of these conditions improves so must the way that we teach these therapeutic skills. Dialect presents useful techniques in an accessible and clear way to remove common barriers between therapist and patient.

Dialect – Critical Reflection

 

It would appear that the time to take on the task of reflecting on the last eight months of my life has finally come. I have to take a moment to refocus my mind to begin to conceive of how to do this in a concise way (hint: I’m not a concise person). My personal identity and the way that I fit into the world has changed so much recently that it can be hard to separate my personal progress from my academic pursuit.

Back twenty-eight weeks ago I sat down in our brand new studio and just reflected on where I’d come from and where I was planning to go in the next semester. I was actually hugely disappointed that we never actually made it to the ‘4th year’ studio. It had always been a bit of a guiding light ever since I attended the Open Day way back in 2014. I’d always imagined being in that space working away on my honours and it’s truly scary how fast all of this happened. Now I’m 15 days away from receiving my honours classification and it’s not really all caught up to me yet. Even just being here, doing what I’ve been doing is a huge privilege to me. The people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had at DJCAD are by far the best I’ve had in my life and that it makes up such a core part of your life moving forward can be exciting and intimidating. Anyway, let’s take a look at what I’ve actually been up to.

Find

At the beginning of the semester, something that was weighing on my mind was human identity. This was because of recent events in my life and the process I’ve been going through since the beginning of third year. Even the fact it was the start of a new semester. I always end up comparing where I’m at now compared to where I was then. I was initially very shy to commit to this idea as I was fearful of the associations people would make and that at its core it’s actually one of the most important things in my life. Looking back this harmed my progress quite heavily as it took me around five weeks to really even begin to commit to the theme of identity, my dissertation topic helped a lot with this, it allowed me to realise that no one was making the associations I was making inside my own head and that the fear was unfounded.

My design work has always been focus on making people’s lives easier. Initially I envisioned that this project would achieve this by giving people tools to use to explore their identity to a fuller extent but as my research piled up I realised I was taking the wrong insights away from what they were actually saying to me. I saw that they were not exploring their identity and I just assumed that they wanted to explore themselves more. Turns out there are many reasons for not spending time being too introspective and that it’s not something for everyone. What I should have been hearing is that people struggle with identity their entire lives and that it causes them practical problems. The symptoms of not being confident in yourself affect many different types of people from many different backgrounds.

 

 

I realised the answer had always been staring me in the face throughout this process and my life in general. Therapy. I’ve always believed that the skills taught in therapy should be taught to everyone. Unfortunately, I was rather too many weeks into semester two when this became clear to me. It even took me a week or two to build up the confidence to make a decision so late on in the process. I was apprehensive about ‘wasting’ all the research I spent Semester 1 doing but it was largely still relevant. My project had changed form, but not theme. Being able to return to the always present hierarchy of needs really settled my anxieties and reminded me that I’m working for a position of great strength, experience, and knowledge.

Play

 

I had toyed with many different ideas over the course of this body of work, both in my mind and in reality. This started with designing a more intuitive way of gathering people’s opinions quickly and visually online, then passed through some objects such as a silent monitor inspired toy that would allow the user to represent themselves visually through their own flag. I created a new form of business card that would deliver different levels of information about you depending how the object was viewed. I thought about clothing that would display your interests or current mood, possibly against your will. Eventually I settled for a while on creating an interactive toolkit that helped people get a better idea of themselves and hopefully allowed them to build their self-esteem and confidence. I think each of these ideas did have enough merit to make a good degree show project.

 

 

I really enjoyed working on this idea while it still had legs for me. It brought together what I had already worked on and combined with the research I had performed and I really felt confident that the overall theme of what I was trying to do had enough strength in it to create something really great. Unfortunately, it became clear that I was creating two things, the object/toolkit that would be interacted with by my users but also the facilitation and the workshop style setting that the objects would exist in. I struggled tremendously with this for many weeks before deciding to move on. The fact I got to develop this idea a little further than the others serves as a good midpoint in my year.

It was at this point that I began to turn my attention to the idea of augmenting already existing therapeutic techniques in order to enhance their effectiveness. With the toolkit I was developing there was such a demand on my users for time, effort and attention. They had to create their own value within my product and that’s something that I didn’t like at all. I dove headfirst into trying to alleviate this by essentially treating my users like children, what a fantastic idea… I created a product for my mark I presentation that literally dictated that there were three activities, each taking a known amount of time to complete. I had essentially chunked my users learning process for them and was aiming to give them a reward after each chunk. This was overall pretty horrible but it allowed me to explore the concepts of time, commitment, and reward in a very straightforward manner that I could understand and learn from easily.

 

 

It was around this time that I realised that I was definitely reinventing the wheel in multiple areas and that I needed to take a step back and explore what was actually going on around me. I spoke to my therapist about their views on the best way for people to develop therapeutic skills over a short space of time. This allowed me to re frame the context of my product into group therapy. The NHS run CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) groups over eight week blocks with a group of 10 patients and 2 therapists. This is a process that I have been through personally and I have a desire to make that experience better. This is when things became so much clearer for me. I had context, I had facilitation and I had personal experience of what that service was like. It was time to make.

Make

I had decided that I wanted to replace the outdated and visually underdeveloped worksheets that are supplied during these eight week sessions with something that would make the patient feel more valued. The experience of entering a room with 10 strangers with the prospect of opening some of your deepest wounds is already incredibly daunting, taking your allocated seat and being handed worksheets infested with word art and comic sans is not a great first impression at all. This gets worse when all the material has ‘copyright 1996’ at the bottom. The therapy I had experienced was CBT however, I wanted to move away from my own personal experience just enough to be able to see what I was creating in a more objective way. I chose DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy) as I think it’s one of the most promising forms of therapy and that it is still in development. I wanted to create a product that would prototype what the future of therapy could look like.

My form was informed by the worksheets that I currently own. I find them incredibly hard to store. I have two options, place these A4 sheets of paper in various states of bound/unbound, in a drawer somewhere where I never see or think about them until I need them or I can keep them out and visible somewhere in my house. Unfortunately, neither of these storage solutions are appealing. I don’t want them on my desk as I only access the information contained in them perhaps once a month and having therapy workbooks strewn around isn’t a great look. Storing them in a drawer means they get damaged and when I really need them it can take a real effort to find them which makes it harder to access. This led me to drawing comparisons to books as I feel like they’re both accessed in similar ways. I really liked the idea of my object being on a bookshelf, visible and known to me but not to others. I was interested in creating that visual reminder of what you had learned, that randomness of familiarity really appealed to me. Many people struggle to actually engage in therapeutic skills post therapy when they need it and I think this reminder that you actually know how to cope with your thoughts is really helpful.

 

 

My thoughts turned to how to differentiate my object from the books surrounding it. I wanted it to draw attention from its owner but no one else. I wanted there to be this intimacy and privacy in the object, a feeling of security and safety. I liked the idea of this object being your own quiet personal cheerleader, quietly reassuring you that you’re strong enough to cope with this from the corner of your room. This led me to choose relaxing colours that would stand out from what colours you would expect to find in a bookcase. I created the material for the outside of my book by spray-painting paper silk with lilac and white paint. The original material was red and I was disappointed with this at first but in the end the red still shows through adding some hints of pink to the existing two colour mix which creates a really lovely tone. I had a lot of anxiety about how the silk would react to having such a heavy amount of paint applied to it but thankfully it retained its ability to flex and didn’t fall apart.

 

 

The next point of sheer anxiety was cutting into the material I had just taken hours to create. I’d never bound a book like this before so it was time for a short visit to YouTube to develop a new skill. I practiced with some paper first and I’m very proud of my results here. Once the material was tightly bound to the book the overall effect became really appealing. This boosted my confidence in my ability to create a visually strong product. At the start of the year I had said that I wanted to create a purely physical object. This moment exemplified why I had made that decision; I was out of my comfort zone creating objects that I could be really proud of using skills I’d never learned before.

 

 

While I was doing all of this there was a large 3D printer named Clouseau working away for a very long period of time bringing my vision for the internals to life. This skeleton is designed to hold information cards, a notebook and a pen. This is everything that the user needs to get the most out of therapy in one object that they can transport to and from the place they receive therapy easily. I wanted the inside to be distinctly different from the outside to create two states, one of storage and one of usage. Something like this would really help me as the object itself makes sure you don’t lose anything important.

 

 

The reason that Clouseau was working alongside my other work was well, the print was taking forever and the first one failed after several hours. I’m lucky I’m creating a therapeutic and relaxing product, it’s really carrying me through these last days of my degree. At the time of writing this my print still isn’t finished so let’s hope everything goes well. If it fails I do have other solutions though, I’ll just be eternally disappointed.

 

 

I used sublimation printing for the first time to print my logo onto a piece of material to brand my product, it was much easier than I imagined and I’d like to do it more often. I had been thinking about branding for a long time at this point. Again I was playing with this idea of privacy and security. I certainly didn’t want anything on the spine of the book as I was trying to differentiate it from other books that would be nearby. The branding I ended up with was louder than I originally intending, the original idea was to just have the symbol embossed on the front cover with no text. The reason I changed my mind was that while it was nice on the shelf at home after therapy it hampered that first impression of being given it. I wanted it to feel like you had just received something well developed and valuable so I upped the branding ever so slightly to support this.

 

 

Visually I think it’s fantastic. It has a very strong visual identity and stands out in its own right. I really nailed that feeling of being loud in some ways and quiet in others. It has such a strong sense of itself and I just enjoy being around the object. I think the branding suits the environment it exists in and bridges the gap between those two spaces. As someone who is mostly experienced in screen based design, I’m really pleased. I just need to see that the inside works as well as I have designed.

 

 

Talk

We had been told from the start of the year to work on something we are passionate about and that would help inform our future careers. I had thought for a long time that I had only met one of these criteria, that I was passionate about identity. It turns out that I ended up creating something that is relevant to who I am and my future too. Therapy has always been a cornerstone of my life and the desire to give something back to this amazing service that has supported me for so long has always been strong. I think there is certainly scope to approach local centres with this prototype and start a dialogue about how the overall experience of therapy can be improved.

If I was able to do this year again I actually wouldn’t change much about the way I went about it. I’d perhaps start resolving slightly earlier though. I’m tempted to say that I need to choose a project with conviction earlier, but if I had done that I wouldn’t have ended up with Dialect. I’m aware that’s a hugely naive and unrealistic idea, “I’ll just keep thinking until I have an even better idea”, but I think there’s a compromise in there between time, resources and quality to be learned from.

If I can get Dialect into just one eight-week therapy block I would consider that a resounding success. As for my future career I still want to be self-employed. I have Open Ears that I took to the Converge Challenge and the Global Health Challenge. I’m currently working on Apex with the Sporting Chance Initiative and I’m sure there’s room for Dialect in there too. I’m the kind of person who will keep chasing success for as long as I’m able to. The alternative is to move into user research as it’s what I enjoy the most, have the most experience in and I am most skilled in but I just enjoy being part of the whole design process too much to let it go. I’m always looking to improve life directly for people through my work and I think Dialect is a great example of where that desire can lead. I am very excited for the future.

 

 

Week 26 – Degree Show Build

Well would you look at that. It’s the Degree Show build week. It’s all very surreal to me. There are so many aspects of my life that have been bench marked to this moment of time. Those events are coming and going, the end of laser hair removal in particular has been a big deal to me and it’s just unbelievable that 15 months have passed since I started that. I have a real emotional attachment to my time spent on this course as it’s been where I’ve formed my new identity, fell in love, overcame hardships, and grew as a person. This week has been spent largely helping Jon and Finlay keep everything together. With multiple complications arising in the build process and not a great level of engagement from the majority of the year group the stress has been at an all time high. i really enjoyed painting the area for hours as it allowed me to transition away from grinding away at my project for some time.

 

I was always excited for the pegboard aesthetic that we all decided on but even I didn’t expect it to be this good. Being able to see through parts of the walls really makes the space take on a new dimension and it feels like a much bigger area than past degree shows. I’m practically vibrating with excitement to see all my friends projects hang on these walls in just a few weeks time. This really is a fantastic experience, I think its quite rare to have the opportunity to work together in such a large number or something where the stakes are so high. It’s really helped us grow into more rounded people and the confidence boost is not to be underestimated at all.

 

This is where I’ll be presenting my fourth year project. That reality gives me excitement and nerves in equal measure. I know that I’ll know my results before I stand here but I still have to present my project to family and friends, I’m apprehensive about showing off my work in such a first hand way to them. Speaking of my project, I have parsed the five DBT techniques I’m using in the final prototype and now I’m working on fitting them into my graphical style. Work continues in parallel on my A5 booklet, attempting to bring those visuals closer together. I have a little pen that I want to use so I can now finish the 3D model of the interior. Everything is really coming together, assuming I can get the model printed in time. Otherwise it’s full on panic stations but I’ll be alright.

 

Once all that is finished off its a case of filming and editing the video and creating the image. My vision for the video is just an overview of the user journey of the product. It will begin with a therapist handing the object out and then follow through the delivery of a new skill, the practice of a new skill, the recording of the experience and the storage of the product. I hope I can capture that cycle in one minute of well chosen footage but it will certainly be a challenge. As long as I don’t panic I will be fine.

Week 25 – Finding Objects

So week 25 is here. Things are getting pretty serious. The degree show discussions are reaching fever pitch and everyone in the studio needs something from everyone else in order to bring this all together. Taking a step back from this really let me become extremely proud of what this group of people have been able to achieve together. Seeing all those hours and hours of seemingly meaningless discussion about every minuscule detail actually work out is immensely satisfying. Jon and Finlay have designed and built a £7000 degree show alongside their final year work and it already looks incredible. Julie seems to have endless energy, constantly keeping us to deadlines and looking after our graphics and printing needs, never mind running the Indigogo campaign this last month. Connor, Nathalie, James and I have designed, redesigned, built and launched a rather fantastic website that will be a hub to promote each of us as individual designers for at least a few years to come, sd18.co.uk. I’m really happy to have provided a web space to each and every one of my studio mates as not everyone knows how to create one. The fact that we all have somewhere online to point potential interest is very useful. Not bad for being free of charge.

In all of this excitement it can be easy to lose track of your own progress on your project. My brain keeps slipping into that strange reward cycle where it’s like “Hey, but we did it, it’s over, lets relax.”. That’s not the case at all, there’s more and more demands on my time, I did expect all this as it’s been in my calendar for a few months but I didn’t realise how hard it is to create when you’re in a sleep deprived zombie state thinking of the seven different things that you need to keep on top of constantly. Luckily two things were able to help combat this. I attended the Earn and Learn Academy in Stirling on Thursday which let my brain think about something else for a day and I went shopping for books.

Book shopping is quite the different experience when you’re only interested in the aesthetics of the object. I’ve never really looked at books at purely decorative oblongs before. This may sound naive but for an object designed to deliver text, they sure come in an amazing amount of forms. There’s no real standardisation here, sure you have novel sizes and paperback/hardback, but that doesn’t stop people going crazy and breaking the mould. This really helped me think about what impression I wanted my “book” to have just as an object and nothing more. First impressions are always important and I want the user to feel like they have been given something of actual value to them when presented with it at their first (usually terrifying) therapy session. I found a book that served my wants and needs and now its time to perform surgery.

Week 24 – Prototyping

Week 24, seems a good time to get down to some more serious prototyping. So far I’ve only really managed to prototype the visual language and the work that I’ve done on the form has been quite abstract and mostly digital. This is unsatisfactory for such a physical object. I started off with quickly making my digital design physical, playing around with dimensions to get a good feel for how big or small the project should be before moving on. I’ve always designed this product from the outside in since the external elements are so important to me. I’m not sure this is the correct thing to do but I have enjoyed doing things a slightly different way from usual. I’m going to define what space I have available and then fill in that space restriction. Apparently I enjoy placing a lot of constraints on my work. It definitely makes it easier.

What I learned from creating these objects in real life is that what I had imagined was far too small to be of any use and the sections wasted a lot of precious space. I still enjoy the sectioning idea and think it’s an important part of the product but there are better ways to achieve the same effect than making a separate compartment for each idea (sorry cabinets of curiosity!). I can design these segregation’s into my graphic language later on. The purpose of my next prototype was to nail down the size that I wanted it to be. I took a book and recreated its dimensions in cardboard and checked to see what would be possible to comfortably fit inside it. The first book I chose did not have enough depth but was a nice size in the other dimensions. In my second attempt I created an artificially deep book, I liked the idea of having the proportions just slightly out of the ordinary, a spine that was too deep to really be a reasonable book as this could help differentiate this product more from the books that will surround it.

After I was happy with the overall dimensions of the space available to me I created a mk1 internal. I’m not really pleased with this at all but it would serve its purpose. I have some further ideas about how to develop this space, I’m considering 3D printing the interior to have more complex functions and to save space through accuracy. The 3D print would also make the product more stable and rigid which is very valuable in an object designed to last a long time and repeated use. I also want to package a pen with the product as using the same method of recording can be a key part of journaling and mindfulness. However before I can develop the internal space any further I would first have to work on the content.

Week 23 – Ideation

Week 23. I’ve been thinking a lot more about the middle ground between in a drawer, on a desk or on a shelf. I think it’s actually a really often overlooked part of product design. I need this object to feel at home both in therapy but also in the owners home five years later. I’ve been moving towards a shelf based product as its frequency of use is similar to that of a book. It’s something that you will use quite frequently for one period of time, never think about it for another period of time, then pick back up at some undetermined point in the future. In fact you don’t even know the next time you’ll interact with it.

 

The question remains however how do I fit my product onto those shelves while still serving as a frequent visual reminder to the user about the skills they have worked so hard to develop. I think at this point I’m certainly working within reasonable book dimensions. Then I have an object that is stored in one orientation but interacted with in another which will be interesting to cope with. What will the outside look like? It cannot look too much like the books around it but I cannot control that. Aside from shape I need to consider what material this “book” will be covered in and what kind of texture I want it to have. I think weight is an important factor too in the overall experience.

Alongside these issues I’ve been brainstorming what the branding of the product should be. If the outside has to blend in with a collection of various books then the external branding should be muted and low key, then the inside of the product can speak loudly when opened and accessed. Below are some sketches I’ve done for the brand on the front/back of the product. The symbols are inspired by common concepts in DBT, I like the } shape as this represents two seemingly opposing ideas being true at the same time. For example, I am a strong and independent person and I need the love and support of other people. The symbol shows these two thoughts coalescing into one idea. I prefer it on the top of the logotype however placing it at the start does serve the purpose of being the ‘D’ in Dialect and also looks like a face in profile, this seems a little too literal for me however and I’m not sure I could stomach something like that, but I’ll keep it in mind as I move forward.

Week 22 – Dialectical Behavioural Therapy

Week 22! Not far to go now. I thought I would summarise a little bit of what DBT actually involves. DBT is a set of techniques that are designed to calm the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Eating Disorders (ED) amongst generally combating unhelpful behaviours that manifest in people who have been mentally ill for a long period of time. These techniques often include mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal skills and wise mind.

 

credit: https://www.sunrisertc.com/dialectical-behavioral-therapy/

 

DBT has been growing in popularity as stigmas around certain types of mental illness have deteriorated. Especially Borderline Personality Disorder. As these illnesses become better understood their treatment becomes more widespread and more competent. Resources are developed which make treatment more effective and this then reduces the stigma even further. Mindfulness is about controlling your inner thoughts. It’s about strengthening your ability to focus your attention on what you want to be focused on. This can allow you to get a better picture of what’s going on in your mind and body and allows you to make better decisions. Mindfulness is useful because it can combat the intrusive thoughts and flashbacks that are commonly experienced after traumatic events. Emotional Regulation is a set of exercises that help you control your emotions, this is useful for sufferers of BPD as it can control the mood swings and give the person more confidence that they can cope with these unexpected changes.

Distress tolerance is a set of skills that allows you to better deal with unexpected events and outcomes in life, circumstances which can send vulnerable people into a crisis. This can involve avoiding certain phrases such as “Everyone“,”Always“,”Never“,”I can’t“,”There’s no way“. Avoiding catastrophising can help with crisis management. Interpersonal Effectiveness usually comes later into the therapeutic process, often once we learn to deal with ourselves other people can be the uncertain element that can often throw us back into old behaviours. This focuses on being able to have a functional relationship with another person, how to listen to their needs but also to protect and respect your own needs. It can be very easy to submit to the needs of others when you feel worthless or that you don’t care, so having a checklist to follow can certainly help avoid that negative behaviour.

One of the core ideas of BPD is wise mind or “Walking the Middle Path“. This is the ability to recognise that you have an emotional mind and a rational mind. This is something that most people accept but many people value one exclusively over the other. Wise mind is the idea that you can take your rational mind and your emotional mind and use them both to come up with the most positive outcome. For example, when you are angry people often put aside their anger entirely as it is seen as a purely negative influence. They then process to make the most rationally best decision without considering their feelings of anger. This repressed anger can often manifest in many negative ways if unresolved like this. On the other hand someone may react entirely emotionally, becoming irrational and behaving erratically, often making poor decisions based entirely on their anger and nothing else. Wise Mind is the middle ground between these, using mindfulness to recognise and control your anger in such a way that you can make healthy decisions.

 

credit: http://www.pbshealthcare.com/dbt/

 

Therapy is long term, especially when dealing with illnesses such as BPD, PTSD and ED. Treatment can last for years with different therapies and services being instated at different times. As a result I want my product to support the user in the long term. Therapy is not a straight line, you don’t graduate Stage 1 to never return. You could return to life-threatening behaviours at any time and you need to remember how you were taught to cope with those specific feelings. That’s where my product will record and store your experiences for you to reflect on in good times and times of crisis.

Week 21 – Indigogo

Social Digital 18 Indie Gogo from Social Digital on Vimeo.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/social-digital-18-design#/

This is our Indigogo video and page for SocialDigital18. This is a fundraising effort to raise (even more) funds to build our upcoming Degree Show opening on May 18th 2018. The degree show will showcase all work created by final year DJCAD students but as Social Digital we design and construct our own space. Our space will showcase the work of Product Design and Digital Interaction Design students.

I helped edit this video together with Sarah and I also created the subtitles and edited them in. I’m really proud of what we’re capable of together as a class group. I think what we created is a very valuable, professional video that is well shot, story boarded and edited. Although I’m still devastated how the subtitles came out after it went through Vimeo’s compression algorithm. They are unreadable in places which I’m very disappointed about considering how long they took to create. In the end the video was viewed 355 times over the course of the campaign which is more than I expected and the campaign raised £1,570 which is just incredible. Proving that we have such a wide range of fully developed skills is so valuable as a designer today. I’m very happy to have had the opportunity to show them off once again.

Week 20 – Mk1 Prototype Presentation

The start of this week was the Mk1 Prototype Presentation where I presented my self care box alongside some physical prototypes to try and communicate the direction I was heading in. I started off speaking about why I’d come to the conclusions I was presenting. I observed in my research that our personal and social selves are under greater pressure now than ever due to the pressures of social media and heavily increased connectivity in general. With all these ideas, personalities and opinions being sometimes literally forced into our daily lives 24/7 our sense of our own identity needs to be stronger than ever. We need to know who we are, what we believe in and what we want from the future. As a result activities such as meditation, journaling and mindfulness have seen an increase in popularity in the last ten years. Mindfulness in particular has gained lots of ground in medical and therapeutic areas as a more serious method of treatment.

 

There is a human desire to be stronger, more confident and more socially valuable and interesting, this can be seen through the constant popularity of services and products that promote this self-help style of self improvement. I think at the core of this is a strange disconnect. As someone who has experienced a lot of different types of therapy I firmly believe that the techniques and skills taught are valuable to everyone. These are powerful life skills that teach you how to deal with lots of what life can throw at you. I think if people were more prepared for mental harm and discomfort there would be less crises in their lives.

This is where my product comes in. Well sort of. Anchor is an object that brings the therapist and the experiences that test therapeutic skills closer together. For example, when you are attending group therapy for your one hour session a week, you’re not practising the skills you’re developing. Almost all the practice you actually do across the eight weeks is alone without the support of your therapist. When you’re practising exposure therapy, you’re all alone. At the moment there are poorly designed worksheets that try to bridge this gap at the moment. These are really patronising, largely due to association. You enter this large room and you sit down in your chair and the therapist hands each of you your own set of worksheets and it just feels a lot like school. I really dislike this experience because when combined with the already existing stigma around therapy in general it can allow someone to disengage with the entire experience before it even begins. The “Copyright 2004” at the bottom of the sheets doesn’t really help either.

 

I attempted to develop a form that would allow different skills to have their own compartment, to keep it visually coherent I kept each section the same size with the ability to change the shape of the interior. I designed a visual motif that would also allow the sections to be swung out for easy access. Each of these compartments would have textual information and instructions on the inner lid and would contain some objects to assist the learning process. After the experience is complete there would be the ability to record what had happened fully soon after the activity has taken place rather than having to wait until the next therapy session to recall this vital information. As a result of the discussion after the presentation I had my fears about longevity quelled and I was informed that in the prototype I could imply a larger volume of content rather than having to create every single skill from start to finish. This really made me more confident to take my idea forward.

 

Week 19 – Challenge

This week work continues on the Mk1 Prototype. I’ve decided to put less emphasis on longevity for now just to get an idea out there. I’m hoping that the discussions after my presentation will help guide me in the right direction and give me some next steps as I’m kind of burning out banging my head off this all by myself. I’ve been trying to find references online but there isn’t much to go on at all. Graham recommended to me Cabinets of Curiosities. These are incredible and one of the best references I have for embedding depth and longevity into a collection of objects. I’ll keep searching for a visual reference for therapeutic tools but it just seems to be comic sans or flowery self help, neither of which I find appropriate at all.

 

credit: Saudade7 at English Wikipedia

 

I want to take what’s in that image and condense it into a single shelf sized object. I want the object to be known by the user and to gain periodic attention from the user, but no one else. There needs to be the familiarity and security and privacy in the product. I want to find that middle ground between stuffing your therapy worksheets in a drawer to never be seen again, and having them on your desk permanently although you only access them a few times a month. Of course this requires a level of confidentiality, there is still a very real stigma around the concept of receiving therapy and I don’t think broadcasting your past to the world is particularly desirable for the moment. Although the stigma is something I’m interested in combating the scope of the project doesn’t allow me to do that alongside my other aims. The start of next week brings the presentation of the prototype so I hope that it is a useful conversation and offers up some new directions.

Week 18 – Worry

This week I’m still struggling with size, dimension and form. I’m still fighting with delivering a long term experience in a small shelf sized product. I don’t want to fall back on electronic recordings as there are many many applications for desktop and mobile that already achieve that. I believe that my users will already be using those services to augment their therapy regardless of the existence of my product. My current plan is to take already existing material and cherry pick what I think is good and well developed, then re configure it to deliver the same message in a more humane manner.

 

This is an example of the type of hand outs that are given to therapy users at the moment. This information has proven to be incredibly valuable in the healing process but its presentation hasn’t changed for twenty years. The core of my project is to change the way this same information is presented in order to make therapy experiences less intimidating and even sometimes less patronising. I’ve been looking into recipe kits that are delivered through mail to help people get into home cooking. I’ve always been inspired by their presentation of information as I genuinely think visual design is one of the weakest areas of many products and services.

The complexity and density of the information is a difficult thing for me to wrap my head around. A lot of the resources are intended for therapist’s eyes, not the users. Differentiating between the purposes of the material is taking up a lot of my time. I am enjoying learning more about the therapeutic process as it is important in my life but I need to be clear on where I’m spending my time. Working on my project is genuinely helping me develop my own skills and I think that is very promising for the future of the product. I’ve decided I’m going to select three to five techniques that I understand well and flesh those out in isolation. I’m just trying to get the idea across in my prototype, not finish the product in its entirety as that’s not my place as the designer, that’s to come with the support of therapists. Lots of challenges have appeared in front of me this week in particular. Time to take the time to work through them one by one.

Week 17 – Mk1 Prototype Preparation

This week I’ve been sketching form ideas and visual design language concepts a fair bit. There’s something inside me that really wants to make progress in these areas as it will help constrain my thinking at this point in the process. I’ve been looking at various packaging design companies for an idea of what’s really possible. At the end of the day I’m packaging existing therapeutic material in my own way and the form that this package takes will be crucial in stating the products purpose. The designs I currently have in mind have three sections, with each section engaging with one established DBT skill or technique. I cut it into clear sections to provide the user with knowledge of their time commitment before they even open the section. The size of the section informs you how much commitment you will have to give in order to complete it. I wanted to give the user that sense of satisfaction of achieving something after just a small amount of time. People engaged in DBT can often have low motivation levels so I want to avoid overwhelming them and causing them to disengage with the experience too easily.

To reinforce this idea I’m considering packaging relaxing or reward objects in each section, for example a candle with a relaxing fragrance to help you concentrate on the task at hand, or a small snack to keep your energy up. At the end of the day though I think packaging these objects within the product is quite unrealistic as these are objects that people have their own preferences about and are easily available for purchase from other places. I have concerns about the longevity and volume of the product. Even with just three skills the product is already quite large. I’m unhappy with this as it is supposed to be a precious object that has value over time. Everything I’m creating has a finite lifetime and finite space for growth and I’m not happy with that at all. This needs to be considered more in the future.

As for the visual design I’ve been working with a pastel colour scheme of white, purple, blue and pink. I’m concerned this may gender the product more than necessary but in my experience it is not seen that way in the therapy setting. The light and bright pastel colours allow the product to gently attract attention rather than demand it. The majority of times DBT is used to treat BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) and current studies show that there is a gender ratio split of 3:1 in preference of females. Although this is not full justification of my choice of colours I have decided that overall this should not be a factor in the final product. I’ve considered some logotypes and will continue to develop them in the future. I want the brand to be just as quiet as the colour scheme, gently attracting interest from the user.

Week 16 – Human Needs

credit: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

 

Week 16, and I’m calling all the way back to the classic hierarchy of needs. It’s a really useful starting point for refocusing my projects goals on more therapeutic grounding. In my opinion your mental health can affect every segment of this pyramid and that’s why being able to improve and heal your mental status is such an crucial part of life. I’ve decided to focus on the form of therapy offered under the Scottish NHS, especially CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy) group therapy. I think instead of having the aim of helping people explore who they are it is a much more focused goal to help people become more mentally healthy in general. Both CBT and DBT are perfect for this as they don’t focus on why you are hurting or why you are attending therapy, they’re much more focused on teaching you skills that help you cope regardless of what has happened to you in the past. This also allows them to be applicable to many people, regardless of where they come from which fits my goal of the project.

I’m influenced by my own experience of group based CBT and I would really like to draw on that first hand knowledge to cement my product in a real setting. To avoid reiterating something I’m already familiar with I have chosen to instead design the product with DBT in mind instead. I’m thinking about creating an object where you can record your therapeutic experiences in a more enjoyable way than the WordArt infested comic sans bearing worksheets that are currently widely used. I want to create a precious object that a therapy user can develop over their eight week block and enjoy using and referring to over and over again in the future. I hope to express these ideas in a more formal form in my Mk1 prototype presentation which is coming up in 4 weeks.

Week 15 – Dissertation

 

My dissertation module, Communication Futures has come to a close. I’ve been working on my dissertation, “Queer Communication” for one semester and I’m really happy with what I have achieved. I have researched and produced a 37-page magazine that covers relevant topics to the Scottish LGBTQ community over the last 70 years. I started by covering the entire timeline of events since 1950, to set the scene and get all my readers onto the same page and with similar levels of knowledge and perspective. One of the aims of the magazine was to help young LGBTQ people gain an idea of the experiences of older people. Sometimes I feel like there can be an overreaction and a constant sense of misery when we should be able to both lament the current issues and also celebrate the amazing things that have been achieved since 1950.

 

I wrote about the history of the Scottish city of Edinburgh in particular as I envisioned that this magazine would be independently produced and sold in LGBTQ bookshops particularly in Edinburgh. I also value having local knowledge of the cities history, often we can become veryupset by things that take place in other countries that are in completely different circumstances to our own. I also wrote an article detailing some well known and some not well known LGBTQ symbols and icons. This article was planned to have value for LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ people, with the more obscure icons entertaining even myself.

 

My final article in the magazine was focused on “Section 28“. Section 28 was put into action in 1988 and made “the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities” illegal. This bill caused a large effect on all sorts of places and services across the country. The bill was so vague that it was inconsistently applied and influenced how LGBTQ people were seen in society (if the law prohibits homosexuality then it must be bad.) and even influenced the two party debate in the UK at the time.

Overall the magazine was designed to be read initially by LGBTQ individuals but be open and engaging enough for them to pass it onto a family member or friend as a point of conversation. The message of the magazine was to be understanding about where you’ve come from so you can be better informed about the current situation. Many young LGBTQ people are often very defensive of their identity but if you look even just 10 years ago why it becomes much clearer why this attitude still exists today. Researching this topic really has helped to give me more of a background on how humans can express their personal and social identities and it is a strong piece of writing for many people to refer to in the future.

Week 14 – Reflection

Before the Christmas break I gave my Interim Concept Presentation to my supervisors Chris and Ewan. This allowed me to bring show all my ideas and research I had worked on in semester 1 and present it in a format that other people could come to understand quickly. To do this I decided that a storyboard would be the best method to do this as the visual representation of the idea is a quick way to get my ideas across.

 

The idea that I presented here was called Identify, this was a collection of designed activities that helped the users discover things about their own personal and social identities. It was envisioned that these activities would be presented in a workshop setting with accompanying facilitation. The aim of the workshop would be to provide long-term value to the user, allowing them to inform themselves and change their behaviours in order to live happier lives. I was happy with what I presented at the time but over the Christmas break my idea began to change.

I’ve always believed that the skills and techniques that therapy typically teaches people in order to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety were useful to everyone, not just those who suffer from mental illness. I realised that what I was trying to achieve with Identify could be much stronger if it was grounded in psychological theory. Before I could begin the process of transforming my project though I had to take stock of the work I had completed so far and take the time to reflect.

 

This is the reflection document I produced, it consists of four categories, strength, improvement, blog and ‘what next’. The sub categories are research, clarity of brief, idea sketching, concept development, prototype exploration, presentation and overall quality. I took the time to review where I currently was and then decided where I wanted to go next. I thought that my research was the strongest part of my project and it would carry my design in many directions. I was proud of my project outline and storyboard as I think they both effectively communicated my current thinking. However I am definitely lacking in concept development, I’m afraid of pushing the idea too far forward and I’m very anxious about failure and commitment. This is something I absolutely need to conquer in order to succeed this year.

I am pleased and content with how my blog has developed so far as it is actually part of my final project assessment, I’m not so happy with the way it looks but I don’t feel like I have the time to restyle my blog page as the current layout is functional. I need to take more photos of everything but my phone camera is very poor and is a pain to use, I need to start carrying my old digital camera as it produces higher quality images faster. I’m looking forward to physically prototyping my concepts and being more free and open with my ideas. I think the making will help combat my current fears and give me the confidence back that I can do this.

Week 13 – Christmas!

 

Christmas time! Not Dissertation time, I swear.

Week 12 – Interim Presentation

 

The end of Semester One (Oh gosh it’s that time already) is upon me. For this special occasion I am required to put together an “Interim Presentation” which summarises all the work I’ve undertaken in the last 12 weeks. This was the first time that I had to really settle on a name for my project and brush up on my visual brand to an extent, at least a temporary image. I thought it would be most convenient to start with a one slide summary of my initial research.

 

The snippets of my insights that I decided to use in this presentation were : “Many of us haven’t really considered our own identity seriously before.” “Maybe if culture was totally accepting of differences it would be more based on what you naturally wanted (Referring to personal identity)” “Our identity is influenced by both our physical and digital environment. Our social identity is uncontrolled and vulnerable where as our personal identity is stable and safe.” “We blend between personalities depending on what we believe is correct in the current social context.” “We often agree with the way others perceive us.” “Thinking about our identity can cause us to become upset.” I spoke about how these insights are informing my current work and the work I plan to undertake in the new year.

 

My concept can be difficult to explain as the idea is moderately complex. I overcame this by creating a storyboard. It is still a few frames longer than I’d like it to be but it does a good job at getting the concept across at this stage. I’m quite happy with how my drawing has developed over the duration of my course but there is lots of room for improvement. The storyboard describes the journey through my workshop that is part of my product toolkit. It shows a user completing the three included activities and hopefully taking something away from the experience.

 

A requirement for the presentation was to include a Project Plan to take us into next semester and keep us on track. I’m not that happy with my plan. It’s kind of a negative cycle. I’m poor at managing my time so I find making an accurate Project Plan very intimidating and difficult so I end up making it very vague, which means it’s not helpful with managing my time and so on and so forth. However it was required and this is what I generated. I expressed my desire to run a user testing workshop as soon as I can, but the very concept of that terrifies me so we’ll see what happens.

 

This week also contained the initial Discovery Days meeting for me. Discovery Days is an annual event hosted by the University of Dundee that aims to showcase the work that its staff and students have undertaken throughout the academic year. I’ve been chosen to showcase my work on Open Ears. This is a huge privilege and I’m so excited to have such a large audience. My colleague Charlie and I are the only students that are presenting and it’s a huge honour. Read more about Open Ears here.

 

 

Week 11 – Prototyping

 

This week I decided to start prototyping identity based objects to get weeks of thoughts and ideas down on paper and into something tangible that I could talk about and show people. After a few false starts I built what are horribly named “U-Cards“. These are a play on business cards if they were to be a little more personal. The idea is that these objects reveal more or less about me depending on the angle that they’re viewed from. I liked this as I think it emulated real conversation much better than a flat business card, they’re interesting objects to hold and observe and are great conversation starters such as, what would you write on them, where would you write certain things, how much are you willing to put down on paper about yourself. These are an object that not only allows me to have conversations with people but could also be developed to be part of a larger set of tools for identity exploration.

This week marked another Interaction Design lunch where we meet up as a course group across all four years. I really enjoy that these are organised, we may not be the most social people but it’s nice to put names to face and generally see what the rest of us are up to. I think having a separate identity from the Product Designers is really powerful in giving us our own motivations and goals as designers. Sometimes a little food and a chat can go a long way.

 

Week 10 – Guru’s Presentation

Week 10 started off with us recapping to Chris and Ewan how Guru’s day went for us. This was also a really handy opportunity to gather my thoughts about what happened as well. It can be hard to distil what the core of such long conversations actually are, or even remembering all the labyrinth of thoughts and ideas that are generated. I managed to mitigate this to some extent with my visual desk aid but I didn’t write nearly enough down, turns out staring at a desk while someone is talking to you is quite rude.

 

I’m quite proud of the presentation of my ideas, the visual language is strong and I love how many different aspects of identity I managed to physically represent in my space. The lowest board displayed three different directions I was interested in taking my project. Wearable Identity, Explorable Identity and Defined Identity. The first idea would be a critical design project exploring the way that we see ourselves and other people. This could take the form of a piece of clothing that displayed honestly how you were feeling or a wearable item that would display your interests and desires openly for the world to see. For me this was accelerating social contact, connecting people faster based on shared emotions and interests and skipping that awkward phase of conversation that I feel can be quite worthless.

The second concept was based around generating multiple objects that would help a person to explore and express their own personal identity. This was based off my research that said that the majority of people had never seriously considered who they were before in their lives which horrified and surprised me greatly. A secondary feature of these objects would be the ability to use them to easily describe yourself to another person, another thing that people generally suffer with socially. The third idea which is what I have decided to take forward consists of a kit which aims to help people feel more at peace about themselves. Due to the rise of social media many negative mental effects have become widespread amongst the developed web enabled world. I want to tackle these issues and help people cope with this frankly unprecedented level of connectivity that humans have never experienced before. At the end of the day I’ve always wanted to design products that directly help people so this is really exciting to take forward.

Towards the end of the week I attended a body image workshop held by another student in DJCAD for their dissertation project. The group of people that attended were all cisgender women, which is what I expected. It was really disappointing that no males showed up, I think body image discussions are almost exclusively focused on and cater to women but I understand that getting men to attend these events can be extremely difficult. Being the only transgender woman put too much of a focus on me for me to really be comfortable in that environment. I couldn’t relate to many of the things they felt about body image and I felt a little bit like a test subject for all their questions and ideas. Overall the experience was positive though, I was accepted and I got to hear many opinions first hand that I had not been exposed to before. It also allowed me to ask questions about how they feel social media and television affect their personal and social identities.

 

This week also marks the 4000 word dissertation deadline. For this portion I have been researching and writing specifically about the LGBT communities activities in Edinburgh alone from the 1950’s to the present day. I value locality as a human and I’d always wanted to take a deep look into a particular locations past to see what their version of experiences looks like. I feel that sometimes due to social media we can react to things that are happening very far away or gather the wrong perception of reality based on global data. Being LGBT changes based on where you are in Dundee, never mind which country you live in. I really wanted to get this message across and hopefully educate younger members of the community about what has happened even in the last 30 years and to provide a bit of perspective on current events in Edinburgh, Scotland and the world.

Week 9 – Guru’s Day

 

Week nine marks Guru’s Day in the calendar, one of the first big milestones of the fourth year project. I had the amazing privilege of having conversations with and showing my concept to six gurus over the course of the day. It was really nice seeing the studio come together in such a presentable way too.

 

Ryan Hutcheon and Hazel Wylie were both previous graduates of the Social Digital programme of study so their insight was most valuable to my personal development as design student. I spoke to Ryan mostly about my anxieties about my upcoming future career. I feel like it takes being in a job to get a real sense of the values of the company, I’m worried about ending up somewhere that I’m not happy with. I also feel like it isn’t a good idea to bounce from job to job as I may never find something suitable and end up not developing my career as a designer. Ryan did a good job settling these fears for me, he said to keep my initial placement for six months at least then use that experience to make switching job easier when its time to move on. Hazel had actually already done this in her career, moving from Prudential to the BBC within six months of initial employment. I spoke with Hazel about my fears about running a workshop and she gave me helpful tips and ideas on making that experience smoother from her own experiences in teaching.

 

I was really happy with how well my visual notepad desk worked. It allowed me to visually summarise what we had been talking about and to confirm that I understood what the guru has said to me. I found my conversations with Adam Todd and Jasmine Cox to be the most interesting conceptually. Adam, for example, introduced me to a product that was a dress with mechanical arms. The dress monitored your acidity of the sweat on your skin. When you are around someone you don’t like, your sweat becomes acidic, and vice versa for someone you tend to be comfortable with. As a result this dress would recoil from people you do not like and reach its arms out towards those you are fond of. I loved the honesty of the clothing and how it acted was completely out of your control, it was a very visual representation of how you truly felt about a situation. He recommended that I try foil models in my workshops as it is a creative visual medium that no one is going to be particularly good at. This avoids someone at my workshop being particularly good at drawing and intimidating the other participants into expressing themselves less.

I spoke to Jasmine for a very long time about identity.  I spoke about my experiences of gender and how I think empathy should really work in human society. I found her input to be incredibly insightful considering the pace at which I was explaining the mess of complex ideas in my head, it made me realise just how skilled she was. I thoroughly enjoyed our discussion about a wide range of issues surrounding human identity and allowed me to openly discuss some thoughts and ideas out loud with someone who was really engaged with me.

 

I also spoke to Finlay Craig and Loraine Clarke but due to time constraints during the day these conversations were cut short but still had valuable nuggets of information within them. I really appreciate how much work and time went into getting these amazing people into our studio, they were all incredible resources to be able to draw inspiration from.

Towards the end of the week I attended a writing workshop in the Cooper Gallery. The workshop was called TypeCast and was hosted by Kirsty Hendry. The workshop focused on using tarot card like prompts to encourage the user to engage in a certain type of creative writing.

 

The first exercise I was engaged in was called Auto Auto Biography which asked me to write the prompt “I was born” into my phone and let auto correct write the rest. This was really interesting as I’ve only had a phone for about a month so the responses were quite specific. I then tried it out with other prompts such as “I was reborn”,”When I died” and “Next Week I”. The text that was generated had some serious emotional weight to it which was really strange considering it was completely computer generated.

 

 

The second exercise asked me to respond to a photo from one of the other participants smart phone album. I responded to the above image of a greasy food fix. I saw this as painkillers or an alternative coping mechanism for human pain. I wrote about how we often procrastinate and chase short term solutions that are negative in the long term just to find relief, as in this tasty greasy food. The third exercise I took part was called Day Players and it asked me to write a passage in which the character is told through the history of someone else. I wrote about someone grieving the loss of someone they were once close to, following them recalling their qualities in their own mind.

 

I thought the workshop brought out some interesting thoughts that I would never have explored without the prompting. This made me think about how I am going to design exercises for my own workshops and what kind of responses I might get from them. The design of the tarot cards was really fantastic and I’d really like to have a similar deck of cards for activities in the future. I wish Kirsty well with the rest of her project and I’m really glad I got to explore some ideas with her.

Week 8 – Guru’s Day Prep

It’s Guru’s Day next week, which means this week is Preparation for Guru’s Day! One of the requirements for Guru’s Day is to present three A3 boards of information about the current status of your project. These boards are titled Context, Research and Concept. I chose to rename these to Understanding, Investigating and Designing Identity. The purpose of my boards was to kick start a conversation quickly between myself and the guru. I will have gurus assigned to me based on their own interest in my topic so I’m quite relaxed about having a meaningful conversation with someone who is already excited about my presentation topic.

 

I felt that making just three A3 boards was not enough. Some of the Gurus are travelling up from London so I wanted to offer them a little bit more content to look at. I chose to cover my desk in paper and supply the gurus with a collection of felt tip pens to draw with. I also have little prototype identity monitors to give them something to play with and keep their hands busy. The idea would be that my desk would act as a visual notepad during our conversation with the aim to make the conversation more satisfying for both of us. I’m also going to cover the page with little skittle sweets so we can keep our energy up throughout the day since we’ll both be standing and having conversations for hours. I hope they’ll engage and appreciate what I’m trying to do!

 

This week had the University host two Open Days for prospective student applicants. It’s basically a routine time where the university opens its doors and displays its students work for people to see and look at. They also employ student ambassadors to promote their course and host tours around the facilities. I think it’s really lovely that the current students get to present their University in a very honest way. I was employed as an ambassador for my course, Digital Interaction Design. I was really excited about this opportunity as I think the way our course is presented in the University prospectus is not the best and doesn’t really get the core of what makes it a great subject to study across.

 

I manned our stall for over two days and also ran departmental and facility tours of DJCAD. Digital Interaction Design is an often misunderstood and overlooked course so unfortunately we didn’t get to talk to too many prospective students. However the people I did get to talk to were very interested in what I had to say and I had a few conversations lasting between 30 minutes – 1 hour. I have a good feeling that the people I spoke to will show up for interviews later on, they were definitely the right people to study on this course.

 

 

On top of being able to say all the nice things about my course of study, I also got paid which is absolutely fantastic for a student and I will definitely be volunteering for future opportunities like this. It was also Halloween this week so I thought I’d take advantage and wear some black lipstick and spooky contact lenses. I’m all prepared and for Guru’s Day and can’t wait to see what insights will come from the conversations I’m going to have that day.

 

Week 7 – Time Management

At the start of the week Chris taught us some useful methods for planning our time and our project as a whole. He discussed how to deal with distractions an how to respect our own time and the time of others in the studio space. He helped us to arrange our to-do lists in a more useful format, introducing importance and urgency metrics. This created a set of four quadrants:

 

credit: https://tools.thecoachingtoolscompany.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Urgent-Important-Matrix-GRAPHIC-ONLY.jpg

 

We learned common strategies for beating interruptions such as only answering e-mails at certain times of the day or agreeing within our studio when we are available or unavailable, usually through visual aids placed in our work space, even simple things like don’t interrupt someone if they have headphones in. It became apparent that a lot of our time is spent dealing with other students problems and crises instead of our own, its easier and less stressful to work on someone else’s problems. It’s sometimes possible to spend over half your available studio time working on other peoples problems! We were also encouraged to create a project plan Gantt chart. I haven’t managed to get around to doing this yet but I can see the benefits and the focus it would bring.

I attended a student ambassador training session as the University is having some open days next week. This training will help me to greet prospective students and run tours around the university facilities. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to tell people about my course and what I do at University and I hope they will want to come and study the same course too.

Next week is Halloween but I haven’t really got anything planned so we’ll see what happens! It’s quite scary that it is the end of October already, time is definitely short.

Week 6 – Reading Week

 

Week 6 marks ‘Reading Week’ in our University Semester which is a little breather from our taught modules. I usually take this time to do something that isn’t directly related to what I’ve been spending my time with in the first half of the semester, this time I was not lucky enough to break away entirely from my Uni subjects but it was nice to have a small break anyway. I think being able to pace yourself and manage your time and interest levels is actually an important part of surviving fourth year as a whole.

 

First on my list was the Global Health Challenge 2017 launch. I was invited back this year to do a talk about Open Ears and my further experiences at the subsequent Converge Challenge (read more here). I was very proud of this opportunity and I was excited to share my passion with over 100 budding students. It was also a large milestone for me personally as it allowed me to gain more experience as a transgender person, being able to be taken seriously by so many people is a very important confidence booster for me.

 

To my surprise, it started with a Northern Soul dance session. It was a ‘dance like no one is watching‘ type deal, in a room of over 100 people. It wasn’t what I expected from an icebreaker at an enterprise event but it certainly put me at ease about my upcoming presentation later in the day. I had the chance to meet with my Deaf Link sponsors and meet the new team of students who had chosen to combat hearing impairment as their global health topic for this years challenge. The new team called themselves ‘All Ears‘ and certainly brought some new ideas to the table that I hadn’t heard of before. I made sure to jot them all down in my notebook to consider later. It was good making contact with old friends and colleagues again and to reignite my passion for the project as a whole.

Aside from that I attended the ‘Beyond the Binary: Tea With Trans‘ event which was organised as part of the Dundee Literary Festival. This was a really powerful thing for me to do as it allowed me to meet people of varied trans identities from Scotland, England and abroad. The first half of the evening consisted of trans individuals reading their personal stories of transition and surrounding issues. Some of these made me cry and others were incredibly inspiring. There was a story of a French woman who transitioned in her home country but was disowned by her family, she moved to Scotland and had nothing at all. She moved to a town called Kinlochleven in the Scottish highlands and built an entirely new life there. She spoke of finding a home and how the people of the small Scottish town had become her new family, she’s also a singer and sang one of her songs, ‘The High Road to Kinlochleven‘. I found this story really comforting as it showed that you can overcome extreme circumstances and continue to live a functional life regardless of who chooses to or chooses not to support you, even your own family.

The second half of the evening was a cafe setting where mostly cisgender people were invited to talk to transgender people in order to normalise us and our lives. I had some powerful conversations, my favourite being with a pair of gay men. We compared our experiences of coming out and the struggles that we face for being LGBTQIA through our own persona lenses. I had the opportunity to understand why gay people feel the need to come out public ally which is something I’ve wanted to know for a very long time. Unfortunately I feel this section of the event was too short and I only managed to have three real conversations. This event has inspired me to think about running a similar style of event in the Student Union aimed at students of the university during LGBT History month in February next year.

The end of reading week was neatly wrapped up with my 2000 word dissertation hand in. The initial articles in my ‘Queer Communication’ magazine concerned themselves with telling the story of the LGBT community since the 1950’s and explaining the origins and significance some of the symbols that are heavily used in the community. I’m really happy with the layout and visual style of the magazine that I’ve developed so far and I’m enjoying learning about a topic that is so relevant to myself and the people I know.

 

Next week kicks off with a session discussing Project Management where Chris will teach us how to manage our time more effectively and how to deal with distractions so we are more able of managing our projects. I’m really looking forward to what he has to say as I’ve not had much formal education on the topic.

Week 5 – Project Outline Presentation

 

This week started with the Project Outline Presentation. In this presentation I spoke about the topics of Motivation, Background Context, Investigation, Key Insights and my Project Outline in relation to my project so far.

It was nice to open with something so honest as my motivations and aspirations for my final year studying at DJCAD. I spoke about my desire to fill out my skill set and broaden my portfolio as a designer. I aim to avoid ‘traditional’ employment in my future and I am aiming towards a self-employment/enterprise based career. Aside from these more academic pursuits I am always interested in designing for individuals and human identity has been a lifelong interest for me that I have an particularly unusual perspective on. At the end of the day I want to spend my time improving life directly for real people in real ways and the whole concept of personal and social identity is very social digital I think.

 

I spoke about why I chose the subject area of identity in the first place, referring to the strong personal impact that Copenhagen Pride had on me. I then went on to talk about the 18,000 words of qualitative research that I spent hours analysing down and down into five key insights to take forward.

 

The conclusion of the presentation was my work in progress Project Description:

Design a product or service which allows the user to identify themselves in new ways to ease the tension between their personal and social identities, reducing anxiety and improving confidence.

As for general studio life, the web team, who I head and the visual team had their first meeting. The visual team had recently completed the branding for the SD18 studio as a whole which allowed the web team to begin designing and wireframing the website we are to create in the coming months. I’m really proud of what we came up with together and I’m looking forward to turning it into a reality.

I also had my first dissertation lecture of the semester. This was focused on the journalistic style of writing and it really helped focus me on what I wanted to write for my first 2000 word hand in on Friday.

 

I’ve chosen to write about how Queer graphic design has changed over the last 70 years. This will allow me to explore the history of the LGBTQIA movement in Scotland in particular and hopefully will spread a greater knowledge of the past to the readers of the publication.

Week 4 – Research Results

 

I really wish it wasn’t so cold. It’s hard to type when you can’t feel your fingers, never-mind actually get any productive work done. It’s just a constant need to move around and drink hot drinks which just eats the whole day away. It’s especially frustrating when I have so much work to do and most of that work consists of being a pleasant, smiling and front facing researcher for the University of Dundee. Coincidentally my table at the Converge Challenge was called Resilience so that’s what I’m drawing from right now. I need to get my Survey out there and get my interview method sorted out so I can have time to get some meaningful results, regardless of the temperature.

 

credit: http://medialabamsterdam.com/toolkit/method-card/1-on-1-interview/

 

So this is what the interview design method looks like and what I’ll need to apply to my project area. Today I’m going to try and have conversations around my area of interest, sort of a pre-interview with friends to help stimulate some ideas about where I would like to explore using my participants time. This will also help inform the more direct and targeted questions I plan to ask in my survey. Hopefully by Thursday I’ll have a nice mix of varied contextual research around the topic of Identity to derive my insights and brief from.

My survey was a great success, currently having received 78 responses so far. These responses consist of 18,000 words of responses as my questions were designed to collect deeper insights as qualitative data instead of quantitative data. The downside of this is that analysing it all will take a very long time. However I’m really pleased that I managed to get such substantial results and that people found it enjoyable to take some time to be introspective and complete the survey. Here’s a link to the survey.

On the other hand I had to amend my terms and conditions to address the emotional impact that my questions were having on participants. I’m guilty of finding the so called risks of taking a survey quite funny and unnecessary. However I’m obviously entirely wrong. The deep introspection required to fully complete the questions ended up affecting peoples mood after they had interacted with the survey. This was a surprise and I felt bad because this was not considered or intended at all. I didn’t want to change the survey as I was getting so much good information, but on the other hand I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable or upset. I ended up amending a simple warning and an offer of support and further conversation with me if desired.

 

So the long process of analysing the data and producing insights begins in earnest. In my initial read over there is a strong prevalence of transgender/non-binary individuals suffering from a gender dysphoria influenced identify crisis, almost 50% of respondents. This is interesting as I never directly ask the participant for anything related to those topics. These people have chosen to associate that as a main part of their identity and are obviously the type of people who enjoy taking surveys that question their sense of identity.

Beyond that there appears to be a large disparity appearing between how we identify socially and personally. For example one of my research participants said the following:

 

This quote has such an extreme dissonance with their previous expected “Name, Age, Profession, Location” introduction that it really stood out to me. The difference between what we are and what we say we are cannot be underestimated. This idea of the self and the social self will be important in the future of my project.

Next week is the Project Identification Presentation where we feedback to our lecturers a more specific idea of what we are to spend the rest of the year of study working on.

Week 3 – Context

 

Whew, week 3 already (technically week 4). Time flies when you don’t feel like you have anywhere near enough of it. I wouldn’t say that I’m stressed yet, I’m stressed somewhere deep inside myself it’ll come and get me soon. I know what I’m doing and I know how to do it, I’m just scared that it won’t move me forward in any meaningful or useful way. I think this is due to me not having a clear end goal in mind at the moment, I think I need to focus on sub goals so I can feel like I have direction and also have the security of progress. I like to think my project looks a bit like this moment:

 

This week started off with one on one tutorials with Chris and Ewan. We spoke about how my contextual research around identity could be made into something actually useful to me. This was using the same method that I was taught by Ewan last week with insights instead of objects. I would gather this large swathe of contextual broad insights then pick three at random and see what pops out the other side after a bit of brain work. This excites me because it forces me to move forward, almost at random, but random in a nice way, in a way that has grounding in research and in my area of interest the responsibility of immediate success is taken off my shoulders. After this discussion my project is a bit like this, which is movement in a direction, that isn’t around in circles I hope, we’ll see.

 

For the upcoming Converge Challenge awards ceremony on this Thursday I also got my Open Ears business cards printed at the print unit in the University. I was amazed by how good it was, it’s the first time that I’ve used their service, and it was cheaper than buying them online, highly recommended. I’m happy with the way they turned out. It took me a while to realise that my ‘business card’ for Open Ears is a different object to my personal business card as an Interaction Designer. Once I managed to separate those two ideas in my head it became much easier to realise their true purpose. To drive people to my website and to provide a method of contact, in this case my e-mail address. Read more about my business cards here.

 

We also had our first ever brand spanking new weekly class meeting! We were discussing the visual brand image for Social Digital (SD18). The visual team presented their ideas for branding and as a class we voted on our favourite colour scheme and our favourite typography. It was fairly straightforward with stand out winners. Now the visual team are to work on taking that information and turning it into our final SD18 brand in the near future.

 

Things are getting tough in our fourth year, between doing our actual project, writing our dissertation, fundraising a silly amount of money in a short space of time and all of this on top of living our actual day to day lives. As a result of this added stress we are trying to become closer as a group of people in order to support each other, the first way we are trying to do this is to have a ‘tea in the studio’. People are to bring along their own food or order a takeaway so we can just spend some time together outside of work time. Most of the time the whole cohort is in the studio is within working time and we don’t actually get to socialise much despite spending so much time together. Hopefully by taking some time out we’ll form a stronger support network to make it through the next year together successfully.

 

After Monday and Tuesday was wrapped up I turned my attention towards Thursday, the Converge Challenge awards event. This was the culmination of a process I started in April 2017 and was held in Glasgow Science centre. I had achieved top 5 in the Social Enterprise category with my business ‘Open Ears‘. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was in attendance along with 200 other prominent figures in Scottish enterprise, read more about the event here in this post. In the end I actually did not win a prize but I did gain valuable experience and knowledge from the people I met and the connections I had the opportunity to make there.

 

Towards the end of the week I made a quick plan on how I was to complete the Project Identification Brief due on Monday 9th October. This involved writing questions for both survey and interview purposes. Preparing myself to use the inspiration method Ewan taught me (once again) and considering the design of the visual presentation. Looks like next week is going to be really busy!

Week 2 – Down to Business

 

Alright, week 2! This week kicked off with a surprise change to the schedule, due to the London design trip only returning to Dundee at 8pm on Sunday night our inspiration moodboard exercise was moved to the Tuesday afternoon which left Monday an independent studio work day. So with my upcoming trip to Glasgow for the Converge Challenge awards, I turned my focus to tightening up my website and producing some business cards for the occasion.

 

Business cards are an interesting lens to view identity through. I was initially stuck juggling the fact this particular card was to represent who I was only specifically in relation to Open Ears. This was difficult as I haven’t actually produced a business card for myself as an Interaction Designer or as a person and the desire would be to do that one first. I attempted it briefly but realised that there was a lot of thinking and planning to do before I could be happy with that one and I couldn’t spend that much time on that at the moment. So I decided to focus solely on the requirements that the card had to meet. Display my Businesses name, my name and role, drive people to my website and to allow people to contact me. This simple card achieves all those points for the moment but I want to refine it a little bit more and print out some iterations before sending it away to VistaPrint for final printing.

So between filling in the initial posts on my blog and creating a business card that was Monday all used up. Tuesday was a more structured day with Ewan’s inspiration exercise which required us to use the mood boards we had been busy making from inspiration week. I was in a group of three, myself, Jon and Connor. We chose one image from each of our boards. A prosthetic leg, a colourful phone box and ‘Solo’, a facial recognition radio. Using these three objects as a starting point we defined their features then categorised them. We ended up with three main categories. Human Element, Aesthetic and Purpose, Or as I saw it, People, Design, Technology (haha). We used this information to write a brief and then a concept that would meet that brief.

The brief we generated was ‘something that created a space where users can express themselves in an empathetic way‘. Our concept was ‘True self expression is often taboo in our society, ProductX creates a space where the user is encouraged to express themselves and explore their identity in a safe environment‘. It was nice to see just how quickly we were able to travel from three images to a project brief that is able to be worked upon and developed further. I hope to be able to get going with my project with similar levels of speed.

The rest of the week was spent meeting with Christine and talking about my dissertation and Louise to discuss how to integrate Open Ears into the launch of the Global Health Challenge 2017. We also launched the Dundee University Motorsport Society (read more about that here). I managed to be second fastest in the club which I’m very proud of, the physical changes I’ve been going through require me to drive the kart in a very different way than I used to and it’s encouraging to be capable of keeping up such a fast pace. I have high hopes for some more wins in the Scottish Student Karting Championship and the British Universities Karting Championship this year! I’ve been spending the rest of my time at the gym and adding some more content to my blog, at the moment I’ve published 6,600 words with many more to come. This makes me more confident about the amount of writing I have to do for my dissertation. I also purchased a smart phone, which is both amazing and terrible for my productivity and life.

Week 1 – Inspiration

 

I started the first week by having our first taught tutorial session in the Studio. It feels good to have my own space back again, it’s so much easier to focus and to work for hours here over studying at my flat. We started with a short presentation from Ewan about inspiration and what forms inspiration could come in. I learned what ‘eclectic’ actually means, deriving ideas from a broad range of sources. This helped me think about my initial research in a different way, it felt that because I have a broad subject, identity, that I have a broad range of sources. This is not actually the case. I need to be less afraid about bringing my other interests into the project in order to broaden the scope of what I’m learning and taking inspiration from.

So, this week is named ‘Inspiration Week’ which is time set aside specifically to collect physical resources to draw inspiration from and deliver in the form of an A2 mood board. Some of the members of the studio are travelling around London for the rest of the week however I chose not to due to financial and comfort concerns. I need to think about what I can do nearby and cheaply in order to inspire myself, I hope the weather will be good! The most inspiring thing in Ewan’s presentation was Lumio, a light that looks like a book and is intuitively interacted with like a book. This thing is amazing, it gave me a physical reaction when I realised what it was. It would be an excellent quality to include in my work moving forward.

 

Credit: http://design-milk.com/lumio-portable-light-opens-like-book/

 

I also worked on my initial probe design. An online application that presents the user with a series of four images, each representing something to identify with. I completed my prototype which required me to learn some php and make it work on my domain. Lots of fun! It’s cool being able to send a url to one of my friends and having a text output to read remotely. Prototype Link

 

 

Now that I have the functionality working, I need to make the interface what I had originally imagined. Filling the screen entirely with 4 hand drawn images and when the user makes a choice, display the next 4, for 6-8 abstract questions. In the end a string is formed from their inputs and recorded on my web server for later analysis. I’m a little worried about kicking this out on the internet as my php isn’t secure at all, so we’ll see how I choose to distribute the link, perhaps just within the studio environment.

I also attended a lecture from the Sporting Challenge Initiative, which offered startup funding. I ended up entering with my Apex AR Idea. I’m hopeful that it will have the same success as Open Ears.

Week Zero – Identity

 

Week Zero. Seems a good place to start. I’m pleased to have an extra week for this project as I’m intimidated about the prospect of such long term work. Forming my initial proposal was easier than I expected as there was little pressure to get it ‘right’. However with the template provided it was actually easy for me to hang my mess of ideas on the framework provided.

I recently hit a large milestone in my life, which was one year undergoing Hormone Replacement Therapy. It was a point in my transition I genuinely believed I would never see. As a result I have had the rare opportunity to be able to explore identity, gender and human happiness in a fundamental way. I visited Copenhagen in the Summer with my girlfriend for Pride Week. I’ve always been sceptical of Pride, seeing it as a provocative, often over-sexualised parody of what I and other people struggle to cope with everyday. I wrote another post about my thoughts there, so I won’t repeat myself here. Link to Pride Post.

I have also been competing in the Converge Challenge 2017 with my Social Enterprise Open Ears. This has given me valuable insights into the deaf community and how others perceive them. I really enjoy being able to understand those little things that affect them and not me.

In my lifetime I have grown up through the emergence of social media and the idea of online personas. I try my best not to engage fully with this, I have no smart phone and don’t participate in Facebook/Instagram/Twitter as completely as most of the people I spend time with. However this is starting to hurt me as in a professional setting it is expected for me to have a website, blog, and a social media presence on many different websites in order for people to take me seriously. I find it challenging to know what to write where, how to interact and how much of me to present publicly. As a result of transition I have also deleted most of what was there before a year ago which leaves my presence feeling quite skeletal and empty.

A result of this is being in a position where I’m more in control and more aware of who I am and what I want to say online. It feels much more manufactured than I think is necessary and I wish I didn’t feel the need to engage with it all as I don’t think it helps me personally.

So between transition, Open Ears, the start of my final year of study. The question of identity has been at the forefront of almost every aspect of my life over the past year. It’s almost a selfish desire to want to explore this topic as I really want to be certain of my own identity and who I want to be before I enter my life after University.