I wanted to give those of you who are not in Texas a quick update; this year, I accepted an offer from Goodpatch, a global UI company at their Tokyo, Japan office. This means about a week ago I have left the wonderful folks at frog design and moved from Texas to Tokyo. Goodpatch is a wonderful fit and my coworkers are lovely–more on that soon!
The process of moving has been an interesting one; it is a process that doesn’t lend itself to too much self-reflection though from all outward appearances you might seem to be idle for long stretches of time. Whether it’s waiting for your visa to be processed or for Animal Services Quarantine to reply back to your request to import an animal, most of the time for me was spent preparing, worrying about preparing too little, and seeing off folks in Austin. If I didn’t get a chance to see you, please imagine me giving you a big hug. It’s the best I can do from here.
In the time that I have had to reflect, I recently have been thinking about ethics in my profession. We as UX designers are stewards of our users into the digital world, and as stewards I worry sometimes about our collective ethics. This isn’t new or novel, since we’ve been talking about the ethics of technology since before the field of HCI was born. However, I keep referencing Alan Chochinov’s Sustainable Design Manifesto which he wrote in 2007 and observing that we, myself included, are struggling with these concepts.
There are many outside reasons I have experienced: the business case for ethical design is not strong enough, the design case for ethical design is not strong enough (if it is a system fundamentally built on constant use such as Candy Crush or other “freemium” apps), or the organization itself does not support design as a whole. These, of course, are the reasons why these companies sometimes seek outside help. But I can’t help but think part of the blame lies with me, or us.
My vision as a designer is evolving all the time, but especially now, I wonder about what my definition of “user” is in “user-centered design.” Previously, I saw the user as an individual with her own thoughts and feelings, but now I’m starting to explore what a user is in terms of macrosystems and microsystems.
When I talk about macrosystems, I’m talking about the systems that we as individuals are a part of. This could be our community, our location, our company, our society, our universal laws of physics, etc. This is inspired by Clifford Geertz’s book on ethnography Interpretation of Cultures and through reading David Graeber’s Debt. Both are based in ethnography and anthropology throughout the ages and are excellent reads if you have time.
For instance, when I use Skype in Japan to connect with my friends, I am not only having an individual experience of the application, I am also real-time watching my friends struggle with the application. I am also sitting next to my partner, who, from time to time, will take over my fumbling through hooking up the audio to try out some of his ideas. Both groups are sitting in a space with different internet connection types and different ambient sounds in different time zones. In our case, we were much more relaxed in setting up our connection as it was only the beginning of the day whereas our friends were slightly more goal-oriented as it was late evening and they were tired. In the end, we were able to watch a movie together (which was our goal all along), but it took about an hour and a half setup and us collectively watching each other cringe and curse at the screen. I’d like to believe that we as humans are social creatures, and as such, we use technology socially.
Does this mean that we as designers, who are hard at work designing systems that personalize themselves to individual users or surface suggestions based on the user’s previous selections are potentially missing the bigger picture of how users operate with the things we design? We share our technology with others; we expect it to understand and distinguish in turn.
When I talk about microsystems, I’m talking about the concurrent systems running in our own minds that have shaped our reactions as individuals. This could be our own previous experiences, either socially or technologically, the way we grew up, our psychology, or our own nervous systems. This concept is from Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow and also Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational, as well as many esteemed behavioral economists and psychologists. Specifically, I’d like to focus on System 1 and System 2 thinking as outlined in Kahneman’s book. System 1 thinking is our first impressions of a new thing, and System 2 thinking is our longer-term, deep thinking part of our brain. System 1 controls instant gratification and immediate excitement and System 2 controls deep satisfaction.
The easiest example of this for me would be free-to-play phone games. A friend of mine linked me to one of these, to which I instantly became addicted (recovering World of Warcraft addict here). It was fun at the outset–I had so many new things to do, and new, shiny objects that jingled. But over time, my System 1 thinking had slowed to System 2 thinking and I found myself wondering, “What good is this bringing into my life? What am I even doing here?” And eventually, I deleted the application off my phone. It came with a sense of disappointment and regret one gets after going out for 3am donuts (no judgement, please).
I’d like to also point out that while free-to-play games are the easiest example, there are far more that have integrated into our daily lives. While Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr have enriched my life in many ways, I have personally spent more time far past the time I was enjoying myself. It is also part of the reason why I will delete and re-download these three applications constantly on my phone. I’m torn by my System 1 thinking to have instant gratification in knowing I am appreciated and connected to my community and my rational System 2 thinking realizing that even though these apps are powerful tools, they are taking away my mindfulness in reality.
Does this mean that we as designers, who are designing systems to be immediately appealing and intuitive to users, are simply appealing to their System 1 sense and completely missing the opportunity to enable deep and gratifying satisfaction in users? Can digital media provide deep and gratifying satisfaction at all? I’d like to believe that it can enable people to have more knowledge and connect with others who then can provide gratification, but I don’t yet know if the medium itself lends itself to pure satisfaction.
I don’t currently have an answer yet to these issues I raised. It is something that I have been turning around in my mind for some time and will continue to do so in the following months. As an eternal optimist, I still believe in Chochinov’s vision of sustainable and ethical design and believe others do, too. I believe if more people talk about design in terms of ethics and in terms of designing within systems, the idea will catch on. I will continue to do my best to work in both of these systems to help others. In the meantime, I’ll be fleshing out these ideas in more detail later.
Thanks for reading.
Now that you’ve read our story of love and mathematics, let’s get to the juicy part: how we made them! To start off our 3D prototyping, I started off with these sketches of the rings—I was inspired by the molding on this Indiana Jones ring to create an inlaid pattern with a smooth inside. The idea was for the rings to be as comfortable as possible, since both Matt and I use our hands for our work a lot, and don’t want to deal with inner engraving chafing our skin.
Matt then used Blender to whip up two 3D models, one of my ring, and one of his. We used a friend’s 3D printer to do the initial low-resolution prints (for sizing), and got about two tries in before we got to a good fit.
As a test, we wore the rings for a week around our left ring fingers to see if they were comfortable, and mine passed the test! However, Matt’s did not, so we need to go back and tweak his to be slightly smaller (his was sliding around a lot on his finger).
It’s funny to watch people’s faces when they see the low-resolution 3D print. It doesn’t look particularly pretty, so I’ve received looks from, “Oh…that’s nice,” to, “Why are you wearing that?” Well, designing stuff isn’t always pretty—the shitty prints have to come out first before the high-resolution ones do.
We worked on getting Matt’s ring up to a level that he was comfortable with, as well as adding siding to the edges of the ring to elegantly “end” the pattern and make sure the edges were smooth. Unfortunately, we could never get the rings up to a level of fidelity that we liked; the prints ended up looking uneven and jagged.
We learned an important lesson; when to stop prototyping in one medium when it isn’t working. In the 3D printing world, there are some things that are more geared towards 3D printing, and others that were not. 3D printing technology was not yet ready to handle the size and intricacy of our band pattern.
We decided we would take the opposite approach with our wedding rings. Instead of building layer upon layer of the rings like one would in a 3D print, we would take platinum bands and have them engraved down to the level of detail we wanted.
After looking over Yelp reviews, talking to friends and family, and getting quotes from our favorites, Matt and I decided to go with Calvin’s Fine Jewelry. Though most of the rings in their portfolio came off as too… diamond-y for my tastes initially, I’ve now learned not to judge a book by its cover. They did our engagement ring (cast in white gold from a 3D printed wax mold) and our wedding bands, and they were perfect. They have incredible customer service and an in-house person who handles engraving from CAD, so you’re not sourcing it out to someone who might have lower standards than the jewelry shop with whom you’re working.
We sent in the initial Blender patterns with instructions on how we were envisioning the rings to their expert, and the engraved results were fantastic!
These are machine-engraved, so we got all the perfect intricacies of the patterns—and they overlay perfectly, just like a dual. (Fun fact: the acrylic squares they’re laying on were laser cut by our friend Glisson for a tabletop game he ran with us for our bachelor[ette] party.)
We are really pleased with these; not only did they turn out exactly how we wanted them, in going through the process we learned a lot about 3D printing and prototyping. I’m looking forward to a future where 3D printers can print with this level of detail—I don’t think we’re too far off!
Many thanks to Matt Franks for letting us use his 3D printer, to Calvin’s for the engraving, and for Mike Reed Photography for the above lovely photograph! We’re so thankful to share our story and what we learned; if you have any questions about our process please comment below or tweet me @chostett.
Ever since I was a kid, I hated math.
I had a teacher, Mrs. Mayer, who told me that girls like me just couldn’t learn mathematics. She would keep me inside at recess to do math problems as punishment because I’d scored a 50 on my math tests. Subsequent teachers would remark that I was “a smart kid in everything else” and didn’t understand how I “didn’t get math.” Ever since elementary school, I gave up on ever understanding anything having to do with numbers.
Then I met Matt on a dating site where his profile said, “Message me if… you can define the complexity classes P and NP.”
Fuck, I thought, frowning at his profile. He’s a mathematician. I don’t know how this will work out. I hate math.
I messaged him anyway.
He’s a programmer and a mathematician—I am an artist and a designer. He taught me the beauty of fractals and showed me how confident I was in calculating budgets, tips, and fast arithmetic that had always escaped him. We spent late nights discussing art and mathematics merging and diverging in beautiful spirals. I fell madly in love with him, and he with me.
I came home late one night from graduate school to see that he had written equations on our whiteboard – equations that only years before I would have dismissed as something I never “got.” At the time, I felt a little like one does when they read someone else’s love letters. I had a special window into his mind, and through that window, I found myself able to grow in directions I didn’t think were possible.
That’s why when I suggested we design our own wedding bands, Matt thought that we should create bands that are mathematical dualities of one another.
For those of you who do not know what a dual is, it is when one pattern:
…is overlaid with another pattern that is a reversal of the dimensions of the original pattern. They mirror one another. They are complete in their individuality, but together, they are a phenomenal pattern—a perfect metaphor for love.
I was initially reluctant about the idea. I never had equated mathematics with love.
I thought of the time before I messaged him, when I thought math was nothing I would ever understand. I thought of our conversations and the equations on the whiteboard, and realized that duality was exactly what I loved about our relationship. I come from the art and design world, and he, from the mathematics and computer science world. We’re two completely different shapes, and yet, when we are put together, we are mathematically perfect.
“Yes, let’s do it,” I said. “And let’s 3D print it.”
And so, we began on our exciting journey of truly customizing our own rings—from sketching, 3D prototyping (in low res, and then later in high-res), and finally, casting them in platinum.