On the quest of a researchable question

It is that time of the year, I’m starting my second year as a graduate student in the graphic design program at NC State. This means that I have to stop just thinking about what I want to do for thesis and actually start working on it!

I’m living some exciting but scary times, trying to figure out the famous “researchable question” in which I will base my whole investigation. I thought it would be interesting if I document the whole process, so I can go back someday and laugh about it –ok, not really. I feel it is a nice way to reflect upon my work and also a nice way to share my experiences to anyone who is going through the same process. Who knows? Maybe you could find a little piece of information that is useful for your own research. Or at least a good amount of “not to do” lessons.

First of all I made a couple of list with keywords and topics that I’m interested in:

From these I got these overarching concepts:

Educational Content + Physical Activities

Social Interaction + Personal Mobility

Graphic Design + Interaction Design

Then I made my first attempt and tried to formulate a set of researchable questions which I’m calling a proto-questions, because I was thinking if a question is like a living organism, my questions at this stage would be like a protozoa. Anyway, this is what I got:

1. How can a toolkit of haptic devices be incorporated into a playground to stimulate learning in children (6-9 y/o) with cerebral palsy?

2. How can a design system promote physical rehabilitation through social play in children (6-9 y/o) with cerebral palsy?

3. How can a design platform track progress and provide status and feedback that encourages physical rehabilitation and knowledge acquisition in children (6-9 y/o) with cerebral palsy?

4. How can a design system using collaborative-competitive learning motivates children (6-9 y/o) with cerebral palsy to engage with educational content and physical activity?

5. How can a design system foster the involvement of family, teachers, and physical therapists with the physical activities and educational content of children (6-9 y/o) with cerebral palsy to provide encouragement?




I have to mention that this semester I’m taking a class called  Thesis Prep. Our professor asked us to bring our proto-questions to class written on a big piece of paper so we could discuss them as a class.

The general feedback: I need to be more specific! Of course! 🙂

Based on the feedback we got on class we spent some time refining our questions and narrowed down to two questions:

1. How can gamification using collaborative-competitive learning serve to understand mathematics while performing physical activities in children (6-9 y/o) with cerebral palsy?

2. How can a toolkit of haptic devices incorporated into a playground improve comprehension of mathematics in children (6-9 y/o) with cerebral palsy?


The assignment for next week: Rewrite again our main question and come up with three to five subquestions, which I’ll post soon!

Digital Quilt – A Method for the Study of Southwest Raleigh

In this specific proposal I used a research strategy in which different tools — such as a Twitter account, a smartphone, and a website — could deliver methods that yield insight on the students’ modes of communication with the downtown community in Raleigh, USA. The purpose was to reveal their frequency, and the spatial environment where they happen; all of these visualized through a website in the form of a Digital Quilt.




During the Spring 2012, I was part of a group of students from the Master of Graphic Design Program at North Carolina State University who undertook the study of methods for collecting citizen opinions regarding issues related to an area designated as Southwest Raleigh. Using anthropologist Dori Tunstall’s inventory of aspects that define communities, we set about proposing research strategies in which technologies (high and low) could deliver methods that yield insight on the community’s sense of historical consciousness; life goals; structure; relationships; and individual agency. Of particular concern to us was to gain information that is not likely to come from traditional marketing surveys.

This project is one of my proposals, an example of how the design of a strategy using technology could deliver research methods to gather insights on the community’s sense of relationships. And, even though it is a concept description only, is technologically feasible and scalable.



Research Method Used: Story Gathering

The Digital Quilt asks NC State students to share why they think downtown is special for them using their Twitter accounts, smart phones, and a website. This investigation explores students’ modes of communication with the downtown community, their frequency, and the spatial environment where they happen.

Story gathering is a qualitative research method that is usually conducted by recording oral or written histories and information. Story gathering can be focused on one specific moment or topic, or can take the form of an undirected life story. In order to impact the participant’s stories as little as possible, a researcher using this method generally takes a role as a nearly invisible listener if present at all. One method of story gathering is to give participants an audio or video recorder and instruct them to record their feelings and life events over the course of weeks, months, or even years. In this way, story gathering differs greatly from an interview, which has a course that is typically influenced by the interviewer. In the story gathering method presented here, participants are involved in creating shared histories of events and places in Raleigh.



Participants can interact in two ways, posting tweets* via smart phone (1–3) or visiting the website (4–5).


1. The participant is prompted with the question “What do you find unique about downtown and why?”  through his Twitter account. He composes a tweet using the hashtag** #DigitalQuilt and a phrase in response.

*A tweet is a text-based post of up to 140 characters from Twitter, a micro-blogging social networking service.



2. He/she takes a picture that illustrates his answer, now attached to the tweet.


** Hashtags are a community-driven convention for adding additional context and metadata to tweets. They are added inline to the Twitter posts with a hash symbol: #DigitalQuilt


3. The participant posts a tweet. The picture and phrase are published on the website.





4. A participant visits the website and looks through the pictures.







5. He/she posts a comment on that picture to show support. A virtual stitch is added to the quilt and the picture’s size increases, giving it a more prominent place in the digital quilt.








The project generates interest in an audience that may not be directly linked to the area. Uses the website as a resource to find unknown activities and places.




It uses social media as a tool to gather information allowing rapid data collection that can be visualized in real-time. It also serves as a tool to promote the area in social networking environments.


How Tools Help Students to Work In Open-ended and Complex Projects

When reasoning is difficult due to complexity or the open-ended nature of a project, tools can help students to understand the principles behind the assignment and implement the intended learning objectives.

  • Helping students to outline the project, create tasks, and organize their work.
  • Complexity is reduced and problem solving is more tractable.
  • Students identify important goals to pursue.
  • Automating aspects of a task enables students to focus on more productive parts of the project.
  • Student–tool partnership accomplish results beyond what the student could achieve alone.
  • Students focus more effectively on the conceptual aspects of the learning experience.
  • Helping to overcome the obstacles of unfamiliar approaches.
  • Identifying and implementing aspects of the process that students may otherwise neglect.
  • Students focus resources in productive ways.
  • Having an implementation plan reduces the overload experienced in the decision-making process.
  • Prompts and agendas can help students keep track of their plans and monitor their progress.
  • Reminding students of important goals to apply to their work.

Reference: Reiser, B. J. (2004). Scaffolding Complex Learning: The Mechanisms of Structuring and Problematizing Student Work.
The Journal of the Learning Sciences , 273-304.

Participatory Design for Educational Accessibility

This project explores participatory design models of design tools that support educational accessibility for people with physical impairments.



Participatory Design for Educational Accessibility is a proposal of a design principle, process, and method part of a studio course that asked students to “analyse, speculate, and forecast new design paradigms through the making of design artifacts”. This project explores participatory design models of design tools that support educational accessibility for people with physical impairments.



In this case I based this project on Conductive Education, a framework used to teach people with mobility impairments –such as Cerebral Palsy– due to its integration of education and rehabilitation goals through sharing experiences. This projects proposes ways to evaluate and develop design systems and artifacts that support or facilitate Conductive Education, making emphasis on how they should be evaluated for accessibility at every stage of the design process.



In order to analyze the current and emerging sharing movements and the ways in which design facilitates and fosters the culture of sharing we formed teams and used various methods to identify experiential, behavioral, and subject-related patterns within the culture of sharing.  Through affinity diagramming my teammates –Hayley Hughes, Alexandria Jarvis, and Hao Li– and I prioritized complex relationship among social, economic, political, and technological factors that influence current sharing norms, values, and identities; lastly, we described the role design plays in the emergence of the culture of sharing.

Contextualizing the Culture of Sharing
Contextualizing the Culture of Sharing
Contextualizing the Culture of Sharing

Trend analysis diagram organized according to the 9 leverage points (Meadows, 2009) on how design intervened with the aim of facilitating change.

Outcomes (Theorization)

The final outcome is the generation of a design principle, process, and design research method to support the design of sharing platforms. I proposed a principle to guide the design of systems for sharing; diagrammed a design process to support the design of systems for sharing; proposed a research method and sketched a research instrument to inform the design of systems for sharing.

Design Principle Statement:
Increase accessibility in educational communities for people with physical impairments, facilitating access and interaction of people with cerebral palsy to the educational system through technology.


Principle’s goals and progression.



  • Adaptability of the system determined by the general ability level of the group.
  • Build platforms that develop and change within self-evolving communities.
  • Participants engage collective rather than individual behavior.
  • Participants have a sense of belonging within the community.
  • The development of the system is based on feedback of community members.




  • Accommodate and customize the system according to participant needs and wants.
  • Incremental evolutionary change.
  • The use of a structured framework that can respond to change.
  • Levels of passion and knowledge.
  • Participants work collectively to encourage each other.
  • In case of utilization of software systems, they must comply with World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Guidelines.
  • Depending of the level of engagement of the participant, a different method should be used.


Design Process Statement:
The design process would support the design of systems for educational accessibility. In the diagram shown detailing stages, sections, or increments that collectively make up the process; and the direction that people and information travel through the process.



Diagram of the Design Process to support the design of systems for educational accessibility


Design Researcher, as a facilitator in evaluation and implementation phases.

System Architect, participates in the evaluation and analysis establishing the structure of a system.

Designer Practitioner, works with the participants and the system architect at the analysis and the contextualizing phases.

Developer, works with the designer in the contextualizing phase. Performs the core implementation and test functionality of the solution. Has participation in release and post-release activities.

Lead Participant, participants who have already explored innovative ways to get things done and are willing to share their approaches with others.

Regular participant, participant with a limited level of engagement. Will help to recognize the reasons why they have that level of engagement.

Newcomer Participant, a participant that have recently joined the system and can give valuable feedback especially on how difficult is for them to use it.

Potential Participant, people who are most likely to use the system but they not know it and/or are using an alternative.



Contextualization, through prototyping divergent  look & feel




Analysis, through revealing unanticipated visual communication needs




Evaluation of participants’ sensory inputs




Implementation and accessibility testing.



Design Method:
Reveal Unanticipated Visual Communication Needs.

Evaluate design’s accessibility at every stage of the process through proactive user feedback using a specific methods on participants with different levels of engagement to produce accumulative levels of accessible design. The method selected belongs to the Analysis Phase of the process.



Incorporate the best aspects of each design phase in the implementation stage. Change the tasks and environment not the people.


Roles Involved:

  • New comer member.
  • System Architect.
  • Design Practitioner.




This visualization of the instrument is a tutorial to learn how to use gestures and develop fine motor skills..


Wizard of Oz to test device concepts, techniques, suggested functionality, and identify new comer’s assumptions and reveal unanticipated visual communication needs. This technique is User-based evaluation of unimplemented technology where, a person or team is simulating some or all the responses of the system (Source http://www.usabilitybok.org/wizard-of-oz).


Due to the nature of the principle, which is meant to be for people who have a physical impairment and are not currently accessing the system, the team may need to simulate some or all aspects of the system, so it will be performed in person.



The team simulates the behavior of a theoretical educational computer application without the participant’s knowledge. The participants will receive a serie of tasks to perform. The team will provide missing system functionality which will be assessed in the Contextualizing Phase. (See figure below)

Anticipated Results:

Testing and fixing before implementation phase to prevent overburdening any of the stakeholders. The system and the participant grow together.


Help Dojo – Startup Weekend San Jose

Help Dojo is a community formed by software developers and graphic designers looking to facilitate the exchange of design and programming services developed during a Startup Weekend. There is no money exchange in Help Dojo — this community is based on reliability and a currency we have created named karma points.



Help Dojo is a community formed by software developers and graphic designers looking to facilitate the exchange of design and programming services. This project was developed during Startup Weekend San Jose (SWSJ) in April 15-17, 2011. The SWSJ is a 54 hour event where interdisciplinary teams build a web or mobile application to form the basis of a business over the course of a weekend.



Process work

This project was one of the pitched ideas and was worked on during the event. I was in charge of creating the visual concept and user experience for the website. We used Customer Development approach, part of the Lean Startup® framework. We had a hypothesis “Software Developers and Graphic Designers need help from each other in small tasks they cannot do by themselves”.

In order to validate our hypothesis, identify our audience, understand their needs, goals, and context, the team launched a landing page with a survey to define features of our Minimal Viable Product (MVP). With the information gathered we developed a business model.



Help Dojo Landing Page, Business Model, and Sign up page variations.


The MVP included a Sign Up page, User Profile and the functionality needed to ask and give help. There is no money exchange in Help Dojo – this community is based on reliability and a currency we have created named karma points. Each task has a number of karma points as a reward that can be used to ask for a favor in the future.

This project is still in development. You can ask to early access to the community’s beta version in helpdojo.com.


Team Members

Rodrigo Decena (MKT Research)
Lucy Kohler (MKT Research)
Marysol Ortega (UX Design)
Germán Rodríguez (Software Development)
Sandra Vázquez (Business Development)


Help Dojo MVP: Sign up, Profile, and Ask/Give Help Features.

Innovación Gubernamental de Sonora

In this project I did the Interaction Design, Visual Design, and front-end development for the Office of Governmental Innovation website for the government of Sonora, Mexico.



Oficina de Innovación Gubernamental (The Office of Government Innovation) was created to improve the citizens experience and their relationship with the government. This website was created to be a communication channel between citizens and the government; it was also developed to broadcast new models based on innovation which will add value to government affairs, economic development, and social participation.




The portal includes a discussion forum where citizens can express their concerns and propose innovative ways to go through government processes; a digital news room where citizens can access to multimedia content to know what is happening in terms of innovation in the state government; and finally, a space to expose the methodologies that are being used to take the state of Sonora to the tip of the technological age.


OIG Portal



Tangible Interfaces and Errors in Reasoning

Analysis of chapter 6 Moving Toward Design from the book Where the Action is by Paul Dourish

This week was all about tangible interfaces and in my case it was about a philosophical overview of  what Paul Dourish defines as embodied interaction in his book Where the Action is. The concept of embodied interaction is a combination between tangible and social computing. Tangible computing is how to move computing interfaces to the real world and/or how to enhance real world object incorporating technological aspects to them. Social computing is the way computing systems are integrated into social systems and how people give meaning to these systems depending on the social setting they are.

The following mind map is a compilation of the key concepts in chapter 6 – Moving Toward Design where Dourish tries to connect embodied interaction theory with design of new systems through a set of design principles that portray a variety of settings in which the embodied interaction approach is applied.


Errors in Reasoning

During class we continued to analyze the different types of reasoning processes. Last Friday we talked how easy is to commit errors in reasoning while writing and how to avoid them:

1. Dangers of a mindset.
Humans are ‘seeking pattern’ beings, it makes our lives easier. Personal experiences influence the development of our beliefs and values, which are the foundation of thinking patterns that guide the way we react to specific situations — also defined as mindset. A mindset is useful to help us get through the day but it can be counterproductive when it gets into a point where we see and hear what we want to and  we select facts that reinforce our ideas.
– Examine assumptions.
– Play devil’s advocate — try to become an external observer for a moment.

2. Jumping to conclusions. This happens when we don’t have all the facts and we are closed to new facts; create judgements based on circumstantial evidence because we didn’t see it happen and don’t know why it happened.
– Assume benevolence.
– Ask open questions.
– Have the courage to be wrong.

3. Misconceptions. Confusing the meaning of a relational word such as average. Are based on stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination. It is try to decide whether the glass is half full or half empty.
– Define terms accurately — sometimes definitions are too broad.
– Support conclusions with direct facts not inferences.

4. Wrong generalizations. The problem of generalizations is that there are too many exceptions to the rule. It is a biased selection of information. It is easy to fall into over generalizations — apply a generalization beyond its proper limits and likely will produce wrong conclusions.
– Define limitations (specify the scope).
– Contextualize statements.

5. Mistaking evidence for proof.Take generalized facts as the absolute truth. Beliefs become self fulfilling prophecies. We have to take into consideration that testimonies are not reliable because memories for witnessed events are highly flexible. A study performed by Loftus and Palmer (Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction: An Example of the Interaction Between Language and Memory) shows us how language can influence ‘memory accuracy’.
– Identify exceptions.
– Evidence must be overwhelming.

6. Circular reasoning. Is the rephrase of a statement you are trying to prove using a similar statement as proof for the original. The use of the word because makes this type of argument seem as if we were saying why.
– ‘5 why’s activity’ Start with one question of shy and look for five reasons to look for a deeper meaning.
– List multiple effects. Helps to establish a purpose.

7. False analogies. If two things are similar in one way, they may also be similar in other ways. A maybe gets converted into is. It is common to build strategies based on analogies by omitting important differences. We have to keep in mind that an analogy is only an hypothesis, a way to interpret a new situation; most of the time proverbs appear to be sage advice, but can support any side such in ‘make hay while the sun shines’ advising us to buy and ‘haste makes waste’ suggesting not to buy if it is not necessary.
– Identify assumptions.
– Identify concrete similarities and use these for guidance and apply them to the new situation.

 8.Misusing statistics. The use of information to argue for special interests avoiding the inclusion of outliers or discounted and not giving a clear indication of the distribution of the numbers.
– Learn basic statistical principles, know the process for statistical analysis and what words mean.
– Verify the population and the methods for gathering information.

9. Relative vs Absolute. Take relative judgements and make them absolute.
– Avoid absolutes.
– Relation to multiple examples.
– Plot examples along a spectrum.

10. Extreme judgements. Black and white interpretations of a situation. Convinced beyond a shadow of doubt and seeking for justice and/or revenge.
– Investigate the backstory.
– See the situation from multiple sides — be open to the gray area.
– Practice compassion.

Reasoning Processes

→ Mind Map of Visualize This by Nathan Yau — Chapters 5 to 9

Right now we are analyzing Dynamic Information Visualization. This time I read chapters 5 to 9 of “Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics by Nathan Yau. As a result I developed a mind map with the main ideas and arguments:

MindNode – Visualize This — Chapters 5 to 9

→ Reasoning Process

The map presented above helped to apply and practice in class the different approaches to either set up an argument when writing or question arguments when reading.

Questioning arguments

We used three types of reasoning process to test the validity of an author’s argument and have a more ‘reflective’ reading strategy.

  • Contradictions. We need to have always in mind that facts that seem obvious are not automatically true. Looking for contradictory cues and exposing them help us to challenge the truth and test the validity of facts.
  • Assumptions. These are arguments based on possible facts that are reasonably true — due to the author’s interpretation of a previous fact. A way to spot assumptions is to look for words like probably, presumably, likely, possibly, etc.
  • Generalizations. An argument that is in general ‘true’ because we observe many examples of specific instances; its validity depends on the instances we observe.
Here you can take a look at the three types of reasoning applied to four arguments from this week’s reading Visualize This — Chapters 5 to 9

Questioning arguments from Visualize This

Setting up an argument

As part of a practice to set up our own argument for this week’s essay, we analyzed our reading according to four types of reasoning process.

  • Inductive reasoning. Many observations of similar things/events form a generalization. We try to anticipate future instances based on these observations, but we have to be aware of the exceptions.  We use this type of reasoning starting from details → to a single generalization.
  • Deductive reasoning. This type of reasoning has the opposite train of thought, we start with couple — or more — generalizations or premises in order to infer a third. We have to be careful when using subjective terms because they could be seen as a prejudice opinion.
  • Everyday reasoning. A combination of deductive and inductive. It usually ends with a diagnosis which is why it’s commonly used to solve problems.
  • Analog reasoning. The use of analogies to back up an argument, in other words “if two things are similar in one respect, they may be similar in other respects”.

I created a matrix to analyze some Visualize This arguments according to the reasoning processes mentioned above.

DeconstructingReasoning from Visualize This


Also along with M.E. Miller created an idea comparison matrix of two book characteristics and their opposites:

Idea Comparison Matrix – Visualize This