Research and design are two sides of the same coin. As a researcher, I do interviews, run focus groups and workshops, collect and examine text (like social media comments) and conduct surveys. I design with people, collaborate with designers and developers, prototype (paper sketching and Adobe XD), and watch people use stuff so that I can learn more about what they do and to figure out how to help them do it better. I’m interested in interactive systems/artifacts that support writing and scholarly communication, such as: Google Docs, Overleaf, Mendeley, and Zotero. In my current role, design is primarily a way of learning about people. This means that I design stuff to generate, synthesize, and communicate insights and ideas.

Generating insights involves designing something and then talking to someone about it. They’ll tell you what makes sense and what doesn’t and will share lots of details about their values, ideas, and practices that may not have come up otherwise. For instance, I sketched a version of the Mendeley mobile app that allows users to take pictures of paper documents or computer screens as a way of adding new entries to their library (Figure 1).

Mendeley Photo Upload
Figure 1. Using the fictional “take photo” feature to add new references to your Mendeley library.

The second screen includes a new ‘Take Photo’ option. After taking a photo of a paper document (or computer screen), Mendeley would process the text in image and automatically populate the appropriate metadata.

So far as I know, nothing like this exists, but this prototype could serve as the basis for an interview about mobile device use as it pertains to reference management and writing. Check out a video of the prototype in action here.

Synthesizing insights involves creating new design elements (buttons, pages, filters, etc.) as an interpretation of qualitative data. We created a discovery app for dumpster divers, as a way of synthesizing insights from a thematic analysis of Dive (Figure 2) is a mobile application allowing proponents of alternative economies to search for, and add information about, dumpsters on an interactive map. Kudos to Adi and Adam, two stellar design students, for the amazing analysis and prototyping work. Check out the clickable prototype for yourself.

Mock-ups of 'Dive' Made With Adobe XD
Figure 2. Dive Mock-ups Made With Adobe XD

Communicating insights involves leveraging designs in conversations or presentations to support the stories I tell about people. During my time as Penn State, folks in my lab were engaged in an ongoing participatory design project with local water quality stakeholders, including members of the public and local government. We hosted a handful of hackathons and workshops throughout 2017-2018 during which we designed, iterated on, and used a prototype data platform (Figure 3) to communicate findings about local water quality monitoring practices and to anticipate/probe possible design directions.

Figure 3. Prototype Water Data Platform
Figure 3. Prototype Water Data Platform


I use the following tools to conceptualize/prototype: paper sketchbooks and gel pens, digital sketching apps (Paper and Adobe Sketch on an iPad), and the Adobe Creative Cloud (esp. Illustrator, Photoshop, and XD). I also like keeping up w/other low-cost but powerful prototyping tools like invision. I teach these and a few other tools in the classroom. For instance, I use iMovie and Adobe Premiere for video editing, since making short films is a great way to communicate and test design ideas. Deciding which tools to teach depends on what practitioners in my network tell me is sought after / worthwhile for new designers to know.