Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Badgopolis: Form follows emotion

" Form follows emotion"
- Hartmut Esslinger

The design guru behind Frog design, Hartmut Esslinger hacked the design principle popularizied by modern architecture and industrial design in the 20th century "form follows function," to imply that at the end of the day a user wants to interact with products that they have some kind of emotional connection to - resulting in the charged credo of "form follows emotion." I am reminded of this as I kick off a prototype code named "Badgopolis" that seeks to build a stronger relationship between a learner and their data around learning.

In my last post, I wrote about how I sometimes don't see myself as a designer. Although this was unintended, as a result,  I got several responses confirming that in fact I am a designer. This post was fairly thought provoking for me because on some level I was projecting a very personal internal conflict that I have regarding my identity and work. I wrote the post because I was trying to understand my personal connection to badges, and what they could offer me - Jess Klein - as an individual. While I currently am employed in a job that I love, and surrounded by a community of intellectuals and design thinkers, I notice that I am constantly pushing myself to round out my work and to become what I consider to be a real designer.  This is a good desire, in my opinion, because I am constantly pushing myself to go further in my field and refine my craft. However, I also wonder if I will ever feel satisfied - because I have no perspective on what a real designer actually is: it's just this intangible goal at the end of a race that I don't truly have the directions of the course for.

When I look at the current Open Badges Backpack, I see a product that is functional and that can probably be liked, but I doubt that anyone would love it or find it a meaningful tool that they have some emotional connection to. So, I wonder - why would anyone use this? How would I use this? How will it help me to feel like a real designer and continue to enjoy my lifelong learning?

On a very basic level a Badge Backpack currently is a place to store open badges and share them out with the world - big deal. But there are a lot of reasons that this should be a BIGGER DEAL. For starters, learners throughout their lives are constantly creating their "data" around their learning for someone, but rarely for themselves. This is an opportunity for learners to reclaim their data and to use it as a tool for analysis, self reflection and wayfinding. I don't have an answer as to how we can evolve our current Open Badges offerings yet, but I have a few rough ideas and some teaser images.

1. Transform the backpack into a personal dashboard for a learner to track, analyze and inform their learning.


2. Make discovery a social and informed experience. 

Imagine that a directory for all of the public badges existed - alongside suggested pathways or courses that you could take to increase your interests and expand your skillsets, like an IMDB for Badges - how could you use that?  

3.   Customize the way that a learner can share their portfolios and data.

A learner should have full control over their data and have the ability to curate badges and metadata in such a way that they can choose to share select pieces of information - or keep that data personal. Most importantly, imagine if there were super simple ways to use the data to populate spaces that users are already inhabiting? With this line of thinking the backpack might become a tool, but not a landing page or destination.


These ideas were co-created  based on  a series of conversations with the Open Badges team and community - including several late - night prosecco - infused chats with Erin Knight and Sunny Lee. The prototyping team is: Chloe Varelidi, Emily Goglioski, Atul Varma and Carla Casilli

I look forward to hearing your thoughts as I continue to update with the prototyping process.  However, I do have one question for you - how might you change the backpack to make it more compelling for someone to feel connected to their data?

Monday, July 15, 2013

I am not a designer

I have a difficult time claiming to be a designer. I often feel like a fraud. Even at work where I come in on a daily basis and design tools for people, I feel like saying "can you believe I am getting away with this?!"

Just writing this makes me feel super vulnerable. However, it's the truth and I have been feeling it for some time now. The reason that I am bringing this up now is that I want to unpack "why." I believe that I feel this way because I did not go to college to become a designer - I studied art history and chemistry.  About 7 years after working in museums in the curatorial departments, I went to graduate school for design and technology. I got my masters degree and learned how to think like a designer, I believe, but not really how to be a designer.  On some level I definitely feel like a designer, but then I see real designers out there in the world and start to return to the thought that I am not a designer.

If you are reading this and a follower of my blog, you are probably rolling your eyes a little bit here. I worked at the Institute of Play, Sesame Street, National Geographic and now at Mozilla - as a designer - and created Hackasaurus, Thimble, Webmaker  and Rockaway Help - so how can this feeling be true? Why is Jessica so damn insecure and lacking of confidence. I actually think that the answer connects back to the work that I am doing at Mozilla on badges and validation. I think that because I never got the validation for being a designer, from my peers, from my professors etc, that it is hard for me to accept this.  And you know what - I am not alone! Many designers or people in the tech field who I talk to about this say that they feel the same way. I think that this is on some level the "impostor syndrome" - not feeling like you are good at something because you aren't great at everything. With the badges project, we are really exploring alternatives to assessment and validation, alternatives that may help me squash this nagging "I am not a designer" voice in my head. This brings me to this little social experiment that I would like your help with. Can you answer this question:

Am I a designer? 

I want to hear the kinds of feedback that peers will give me and see patterns in the kinds of responses that I get.  Please respond to this post, or if you feel more comfortable, shoot me an email.