I’m into my second week with Sigma, and on Monday they published a blog post with the news. I wrote the bio (the middle part), and they wrote the first and last bits. I feel really honoured and grateful to be so well thought of, and delighted to be working with such great people. If I weren’t already highly motivated to finish my thesis, the knowledge that I’ll have more time to spend with these folks would put me there. Can’t wait to make this move!
My guilty pleasure is that I watch murder mysteries on the web, mostly BBC and ITV shows that come available after the broadcast via their “Player” online services. I especially enjoy watching the ones filmed in and around Newcastle — of which there are at least four that I can think of off the top of my head. It tickles me to spot familiar places among the filming locations, and the other evening I hit the jackpot. I was watching an old episode of “Wire in the Blood” (they’re all old, actually, but this was an early one) and at one point I sat up straight and ran the video back a few seconds. Yep, there it was. My neighborhood. A street close to mine and parallel to it. I’ve seen that view a gazillion times, mostly heading to the supermarket or to the bus stop for the 15/15A.
What makes this especially interesting is that this was the second time I had watched that episode — but it was the first time I had noticed and recognized that location. My first viewing must have been fairly early in my time here, before I had built up enough of a “sense of place” of the neighborhood to “feel” such a view as home. But now, after four years, there it was.
The amazing thing is that there are probably thousands of streets in the Newcastle area that are lined with the classic Tyneside flats. But there are precious few — possibly only one — that have that particular configuration of high-rises in the distance and industrial building along the left side.
Nope, it’s my neighborhood all right.
Fortunately, it’s not my street. I would not have chosen to live in a place that looked out onto such an unappealing industrial area, nope nope nope. Its not being my street has the added advantage of letting me give you an idea of where I live without being too specific about it. :-)
Here are three screenshots that show the area.
I should have waited until today before posting the abstract, but I was too excited about it to let it go any longer. Today I had a meeting with my second supervisor, who explained the feedback he had emailed me and told me I didn’t have to stick to 300 words. So here’s the revised version. (I’m leaving the original version up because I did say it was the original version. <smile>)
Design Strategies for Transcendent User Experiences
This thesis presents a study of spiritual and transcendent experiences (STXs) — experiences of connection with something greater than oneself — focusing on what they are, how artefacts support them, and how design can contribute to that support. People often find such experiences transformative, and artefacts do support them — but the literature rarely addresses artefact support for STXs. This thesis provides a step toward filling that gap.
The first phase of research involved the conduct and analysis of 24 interviews with adults of diverse spiritual perspectives, using constructivist Grounded Theory methods informed by relevant literature and by studies performed earlier in the PhD research programme. Analysis found that STXs proceed in three stages — creating the context, living the experience, integrating the experience — and that artefacts support at least two stages and people desire enhancements to all three. This STX framework supports and extends experience structures from the literature: it recognises the top-level categories as stages in a cycle where integration alters future contexts, and it extends the structure of STX by incorporating the relationships of artefacts and of enhancement desires to the stages of these experiences. This extended structure constitutes a grounded theory of transcendent user experiences.
The second phase involved the design and conduct of three “Transcendhance” workshops for enhancing transcendence, which aimed to elicit speculative design ideas in an atmosphere of fun and play. By playing a game that incorporated themes from the grounded theory of transcendent user experiences, workshop participants sketched 69 design ideas for techno-spiritual artefacts. Analysis mapped the ideas to the stages of STX and drew on relevant research to inspire possible extensions to the workshop-generated ideas. By far the largest number of ideas mapped to the STX stage Creating the Context, with very few mapping to Living the Experience, which suggests that context may be easier than lived experience to understand and address directly. This point is especially important for experiences such as STX that are tricky to define, impossible to arrange or anticipate, and thus unsuitable for straight-forward “classic” user experience methods. Transcendhance workshops approach techno-spiritual design peripherally, “sneaking up” on the lived experience by addressing the context.
This thesis combines the grounded theory of transcendent user experience with the Transcendhance workshop process, presenting peripheral design as a promising strategy for facilitating design to enhance spiritual and transcendent experiences.
My supervisor says it’s OK for me to post my abstract here. What you see below isn’t what actually went into the Assignment of Examiners form, because after I wrote it I learned that the committee that reviews that form is very picky about language, so although there is precedent in my faculty for writing a thesis in the first person, I changed it for the form. (Man, I hate passive voice.) So what I’m posting here is what I originally wrote, before I revised it to use the third person. I may revise and/or expand it a little for the thesis itself, but this accurately conveys the gist.
This thesis presents a study of spiritual and transcendent experiences (STX) — experiences of connection with something greater than oneself — focusing on designing to enhance them. Such experiences can be ineffable and transformative and artefacts can support them, but the literature rarely addresses the connection between artefacts and these experiences. This thesis provides a step toward filling that gap.
I conducted and analysed 24 interviews with adults of diverse spiritual perspectives, using constructivist Grounded Theory methods as informed by relevant literature and by studies conducted earlier in my programme. I found that STX proceed in three stages — creating the context, living the experience, integrating the experience — with artefact support and desires for enhancement applying to all stages. My theory supports and extends experience structures from the literature: it recognises the top-level categories as stages in a cycle where integration alters future contexts, and it adds artefacts and desires to the structure of these experiences.
I designed and conducted “Transcendhance” workshops for enhancing transcendence, employing play to stimulate design ideas. Using themes from the grounded theory, workshop participants sketched 69 ideas for techno-spiritual artefacts. I mapped the ideas to the stages of STX, building a framework to guide techno-spiritual design. Living the Experience and Creating the Context showed a large disparity in mappings, suggesting that context may be easier than lived experience to understand and address directly, especially for ineffable experiences that are tricky to define, impossible to predict, and thus unsuitable for straight-forward “classic” user experience methods. The workshops approach techno-spiritual design peripherally, essentially “sneaking up” on the lived experience by addressing the context. Even fanciful ideas provided insights for techno-spiritual design.
Combining the grounded theory of transcendent user experience with the Transcendhance workshops, I developed peripheral design as a promising strategy for facilitating design to enhance spiritual and transcendent experiences.
Throughout my PhD program(me), the title I’ve been using — which I always have to enter on administrative forms — has been “User Experience and the Human Spirit”. That title captures the spirit, the motivation, but gives no information about the content of my research. Today my supervisor and I settled on what I am going to use for the title of my thesis:
Design Strategies for Transcendent User Experiences
I also had to write a 300-word abstract for the purpose of assigning examiners for my thesis. I’ll find out if I can post that here too.
When I find myself thinking that two-days-plus was a very long time to take for only 300 words, I console myself with the famous quasi-quote: “I’m sorry this letter is so long, but I didn’t have time to make it shorter.”
On Wednesday I met with my primary supervisor to discuss the draft of my Methodology chapter. In his written comments he described the chapter as “a thorough and meticulous account of your research process with an [enviable] attention to detail and rigor in argument” and “a fantastic first draft”. More specifically, he said, “It provides a very robust defense of the methods chosen and makes a strong case for a coherent and theoretically informed approach. It is well structured, clear about claims and superbly well referenced.”
He wanted to see more discussion of a couple of things, he said, and we talked about those. But on the whole that chapter is in great shape and I have agreed to send him the final draft on Tuesday. Day after tomorrow.
I have drafted a timetable for finishing the drafts of all my chapters over the summer, and I’ve got my work cut out for me. Good thing I had already decided to forgo my usual holidays — a week of singing Renaissance polyphony in the East Midlands in July and a couple of weeks in Italy in September. I may take a weekend or two and go somewhere, but basically it’s The Summer of Writing Up.
Wish me focus and persistence!
I’ve just turned in a car I hired for the weekend, and the UX part of my mind has, naturally, had some thoughts about its design. These thought are prompted by the trouble I had in downshifting from fifth gear. The arrangement of my hire car (see image) has fifth gear directly opposite reverse, and every time I needed to downshift into fourth I was afraid I would put the car into reverse (in fact, I almost did it once). This car had a weak spring that encouraged the lever toward the middle: when the car was in neutral and I was not touching it, the lever stayed in the middle. But the mechanism wasn’t strong enough to help me keep it from going into reverse when I was trying to downshift from fifth. This of course leads me to conclude that the gearshift is not well designed.
My first thought was that the problem is a poor arrangement of the gears — having reverse opposite fifth is risky because accidentally going into reverse from fifth is far more dangerous than doing it from first. Some cars have reverse in the upper left and first in the lower left, with some sort of mechanism that makes it easy to slide from first to second and difficult to go into reverse; my first new car, a 1976 Datsun F10, had this design. I don’t recall ever accidentally trying to go into reverse with it, but perhaps automakers rarely use this arrangement because first-to-second is a much more common move than fifth-to-fourth.
But then I thought about the cars I’ve owned (all of which have had manual transmission), and the last two (Toyota Corollas both) had reverse in the lower right, opposite fifth, just like this weekend’s hire car. So I’m thinking that the human factors issue may be a matter of which hand and arm are doing the shifting. Moving from fifth to fourth involves pulling back on the lever and moving it to the left. When you’re shifting with your right hand, reverse is away from your body and the more natural movement when pulling back is to pull toward you as well, so the danger of going into reverse from fifth is small. But when you shift with your left hand (which is for me the hardest part of driving in the UK), reverse is closer to your body than any of the other gears and it takes more effort to push the gearshift lever to the left while at the same time pulling it back, so the risk of going into reverse from fifth is much greater and a stronger preventive mechanism is needed. (I wish I had time to make diagrams of these movements.)
Some cars have a ring on the lever, just below the knob, that you have to lift to put the car into reverse; some require you to push down on the lever. Still others have a rather strong spring (or something that behaves like one) that will slide the lever from fifth to fourth when you pull back, unless you maintain substantial rightward pressure to force it into reverse. The strong spring is what my Toyotas had, as I recall, and I’ve driven cars with both of the other mechanisms.
Now, I imagine that people who learned to drive in the UK might not have any problem with the arrangement that my hire car had, as they’ve developed from the beginning the habit of the pull-back-and-push-away-left movement and their muscle memory works in their favor. (Or else they just don’t downshift. But I seriously doubt it’s that.) Nevertheless, this movement is, I maintain, less natural than pulling toward the body on a diagonal, and the gearshift should have something more than a weak(ish) mechanism to guide the lever away from the “reverse” position.
I am not sure whether I favor the ring approach or the push, but in any case the Ford Fiesta’s mechanism is not enough. And it’s not simply because I’m profoundly right-handed.
I’d be interested in hearing from people who work in automotive design, especially those who have experience in human factors of both right-hand-drive and left-hand-drive vehicles. What are your thoughts?
Update: A friend has pointed me to some info that indicates that it’s not possible actually to GO into reverse while the car is moving because reverse gear is not synchronized. So maybe I have overstated the danger here. However, it could still cause damage to the gears (I did hear a godawful noise when I accidentally tried to do it), and that could be dangerous for one’s pocketbook. Certainly it’s no good for peace of mind.
Early last week I wrote a long post about my first experience of airport wheelchair assistance during my recent trip to the US. The following day I wrote to Bruce P. Heppen, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), as the incident where the wheelchair assistant had inappropriately tried to help me with Global Entry had occurred at Washington Dulles Airport. Here’s what I wrote:
Mr. Heppen replied very quickly, apologizing on behalf of MWAA but saying that under Federal law it’s the airline’s responsibility to provide wheelchair assistance and the airlines have subcontractors for this service at each airport.
Now, I have no clue how individual airlines could be responsible for hiring their own wheelchair service providers, and I really thought it was the service provider that needed to be providing the training. But he said he would pass it along to BA, so I waited.
Tonight I heard from British Airways. They completely misunderstood my complaint — they apologized for the behavior of the wheelchair handler, and they got her to apologize too. I will grant them an attempt at empathy — they said they understood “how upsetting this must have been” for me — but even this statement misunderstood the issue. BA got in touch with Air Serv Corporation, the service provider, who had the assistant’s manager talk to her, and they all relayed to me an apology from the assistant, who “was just trying to help” but “now understands she overstepped her boundaries” in assisting me with Global Entry. BA told me that if I didn’t feel the matter had been resolved I could file a formal complaint with the US Department of Transportation. BA told me that according to my account her behavior
…did not comply with US Department of Transportation § 382.141 which states (a) As a carrier that operates aircraft with 19 or more passenger seats, you must provide training, meeting the requirements of this paragraph, for all personnel who deal with the traveling public, as appropriate to the duties of each employee. (2) You must also train such employees with respect to awareness and appropriate responses to passengers with a disability, including persons with physical, sensory, mental, and emotional disabilities, including how to distinguish among the differing abilities of individuals with a disability.
Hmmm… The regulation says that the carrier must train all staff in how to treat people with disabilities, but it says nothing about a requirement to train them in how they should behave while a traveller is using Global Entry.
Admittedly, I did not convey to Mr. Heppen that I thought the responsibility belonged with the assistant’s employer, who had failed to provide adequate training for her regarding this area of assistance. And I really didn’t mean to get the assistant in trouble! I suspect it had never occurred to her that she should not even be watching me use Global Entry, let alone helping me with it, and I don’t blame her in any way for not being aware of the privacy and security issues. The only thing I fault her for is intruding into something that was none of her business, but that pales in comparison to Air Serv’s failure to train her properly.
So here’s what I sent to British Airways in response to their email:
The “update” I mention at the end of my letter to BA is the one you are reading right now. Stay tuned.
Note to Air Serv: Your website is dreadful. And have you noticed that your logo and typeface look eerily like Global Entry’s? Hmmm…