Laser Cutting = Magic

Wellesley Magnets

This semester involved a lot of building and coding in the name of physical prototyping (like that time I built a game box!) The opportunity to work with my hands was a welcome departure from my usual hours in front of a monitor situation.

You know how they say that as soon as you get a tattoo (or eat a cookie) you can’t help but think about your next one. It’s an immediately addictive experience that opens a world of possibilities. Laser cutting in the same exact way. Once I learned to laser cut, I wondered what else could I make (answer: everything) and that would look cool (answer: everything).

I made a set of four Wellesley-inspired magnets based on the saying: “Look like a girl. Act like a lady. Think like a man. Work like a boss.” This language is problematically gendered and condescending, not truly expressing the full potential of what it would mean to look, act, think, and work like an amazing being. In my experience, when I think about what it means to be the best, I think about Wellesley…so I modified the quote.

Wellesley Magnets


P.S. I’ll let you know if I make more. I’ve been approached about selling a small batch and would use the money to fund my research next semester. You know how much I love a good side project…

P.S.S. Before I laser cut another batch of magnets, I would definitely fix the typo. Oops!

Maker Faire Atlanta 2015

Laser Cut Wooden Robots

Maker Faire Atlanta, in Downtown Decatur, is the perfect opportunity to satisfy all of my craft and hobby-fantasy needs. At the Maker Faire, I want and am encouraged to see, touch, do, and create everything in sight. I found myself making paper from cotton fibers and shredded dollar bills, solving a community crossword puzzle, assembling wooden robots from laser-cut pieces, and building simple circuits. As fascinating as it is to be an adult at a Maker Faire, it’s far more entertaining to observe the children both attending and presenting at the faire.

I spoke to two nine-year-old boys with separate tables at the homeschooled tent. Their parents brought them to the Maker Faire as a chance to share their crafts, hobbies, and passions. Yes, passions.

One boy created and sold collectable clay monsters. He imagined a monster, crafted it with clay, baked it to harden the mold, and sold them – obviously – along with a collector’s coin detailing their name and favorite item. I collected Geeko, a lizard-like monster that likes mangos; Slosher, a blob with eyes that likes soft drinks; and Gunk, a three-eyed glow-in-the-dark fellow that likes skunk meat – the creator is nine, remember.

Collectable Clay Monsters

The other boy built finger skateboards; going into great detail about the competitive advantage his finger skateboards have over others on the market (spoiler: the foam on the top of the board increases rider comfort). He also described his journey to find the perfect wheel for a smooth, wobble-free ride (spoiler: wheel bearings do the trick). He also sold Harry Potter wands made of different materials, shapes, and sizes, because wands are diverse and very selective of their wizard.

I started asking each boy real questions to get them thinking about their craft and the world around them. Though, as it became apparent that they were experts in their craft, I felt my questions transition. Instead of pushing their learning, I was asking questions to learn. What’s the advantage of clay over other materials? Why do wheel bearings change the ride smoothness? What wand is just right for me?

Independent of their ages, these two boys represent the true potential of the Maker movement. They are young and passionate about sharing their creations with the world. They are experts in their craft and have spent a lot of time thinking about the authenticity of the product.

As I walked back to my car on a rainy but exciting Saturday, I thought about how much I love seeing people create things with their hands and be passionate. The Maker Faire was an opportunity to recharge my brain and get the creative juices flowing. It’s also a leveled playing field where a nine-year-old can teach a grad student the intricacies of authentic monster creation.

UX Essentials

MS-HCI Alumni: Monet Spells,  Lee Farabaugh, Jeanie Barker, Florian Foerster, and Erica Newcomb.

I attended a UX Essentials workshop hosted by PointClear Solutions, a consulting company reimagining healthcare technology. The workshop was made possible by a scholarship opportunity extended to Georgia Tech MS-HCI students. Fun Fact: The two workshop facilitators, Lee Farabaugh (CXO) and Erica Newcomb (Director, UX) are graduates of the Georgia Tech MS-HCI program!

MS-HCI Students + Alumni: Monet Spells '16,  Lee Farabaugh, Jeanie Barker, Florian Foerster '15, and Erica Newcomb.

MS-HCI Students + Alumni: Monet Spells ’16, Lee Farabaugh, Jeanie Barker, Florian Foerster ’15, and Erica Newcomb.

A word at a time. To kickoff the workshop, we did a group-story building exercise. We went around the room and each person said a word to build onto the previous words. “I once rode a kitten on a trampoline because magic…” would not be an uncommon phrase from this activity. The primary purpose of this activity was to stress the importance of listening to the story being created so you can contribute in a meaningful way. The same of true of UX design: to understand improvement strategies, you must understand the ways the users and the company understand the product. The secondary purpose is to appreciate the results of a collaborative environment. The story may take an unexpected turn, but diversity of thought is a key to success.

Design Thinking. For the first few hours of the workshop, we did a design-thinking activity to understand an empathetic approach to product planning and design. For the activity, we broke into pairs to understand how our “client” navigated the gift-giving experience to design a product based on their wants and needs (pulled from a series of 4-minute interviews). This fast-paced activity gave the perfect glimpse into what it means to take an empathetic participatory-design approach. This activity is based out of the D-School at Stanford.

Lean UX. We created proto-personas to make educated, empathetic guesses about target users in a Lean way. A proto-persona is an educated guess about a user type based on the designers’ personal experience. While it isn’t based on real information collected from users, it offers the opportunity for quick-UX research that allows for user reference-points throughout the process. Of course, putting a concept or prototype in front of users is imperative throughout the process, but proto-personas can start the ball rolling.

Mobile UX. I have a confession: I was once very skeptical of the value of the mobile experience. Throughout my time in Georgia, especially in this HCI program, I understand that one should consider the implications of any design decision they make – mobile versus desktop experience included. In the workshop, we discussed the process of evaluating the need for mobile and the various possibilities for mobile development (native, web app, hybrid). Each of these impact the user experience and should be taken into consideration. For example, native apps can access phone-features such as GPS and tilt-functionalities but updating requires a user-download, so the releases should be well tested and strategic. Web apps can’t take advantage of phone-features, require wireless access, but have the benefit of continuous deploys, so releases can be small and highly iterative. There are pros and cons to everything, so consideration and informed decisions are key.

The workshop was informative, interactive, and well conducted. The participant group was professionally diverse (product managers, developers, entrepreneurs, medical nurses, UX designers and researchers, etc.), providing a great backdrop for the workshop discussions. It’s refreshing to see that so many people are interested in and understand the value of user experience! It also provided context for the things I’m studying in HCI. We constantly talk about the value of empathy, users, research, usability testing, etc., and it’s refreshing to see that these concepts are still valuable in an industry setting.

This post is based on a Facebook summary post by Florian, the other workshop scholarship winner. Thanks!

Revision Path

I got to geek out with Revision Path’s Maurice Cherry about UX, HCI, women in tech, design trends, travel, networking, a design-driven approach, and my experience speaking at PRO/Design. To say it was a great interview is an understatement. In line with most things in my life, this opportunity came about through a series of conversations, events, conferences, and happy hours, talking about the things which I’m most passionate. I have to send a huge thank you to Adekunle for putting Maurice and me in contact!

In their own words, “Revision Path is a weekly interview show that focuses on showcasing Black graphic designers, web designers, and web developers. Each week, we explore the stories, processes, experiences, insights, and creative inspirations of these awesome creators from all over the world.” In my words, Revision Path is a wonderfully curated podcast allowing the Black-tech community to voice their passions and show the continuous beauty of diversity (in tech and beyond). The work they’re doing is important and I’m honored for the opportunity to contribute!

This will also go down in history as the day my face appeared on the front page of a website in the tech section, thanks to EvolveUX!

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 2.50.41 PM

Listen to the podcast at:, SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher Radio

Mobile Privacy

I think it’s interesting to base an entire body of research on the technological consumption of a population (teenagers) so heavily affected by authoritative figures (their parents). Teen tech consumption is based entirely on their parents’ involvement and support, usually in a financial sense (e.g., purchasing cellphone plans, buying a home computer, etc.). The authors also took some liberties in the study design, using data from privileged, early-adoption populations living in areas with high tech influences (e.g., Silicon Valley) and higher-than-average household incomes. I’d be curious to see a similar study play out with another, less skewed, population.

There is a brief comment in the beginning of the Grinter piece about early opinions about technology.

…in 1929, in their study of Middletown, the Lynds reported that the telephone and the depersonalized communications it offered were in part responsible for the increased sexual liberation of teenagers

At it’s core, this is not a unique or profound claim. This is an evolved version of the “Back in my day, children respected their elders” argument – everyone thinks their generation was more wholesome, respectful, and positive than later generations. However, there is something interesting that occurs with the introduction of technologies that can help parse one’s time and social opportunities; there are several implications here. I first thought about the possibility that these technologies increase teenage communication, which leads to more sexual liberation, assuming that more opportunities to communicate lead to more opportunities to establish relationships (romantic or otherwise).

Though, I think the bigger question is what happens when communication becomes easier and more discrete without trading off authenticity? Before technology, when all relationships were established with good old face-to-face time, it was arguably easy to understand how social groups were constructed. Everyone knows your friends because you eat lunch together every day. With the introduction of landlines, I imagine it was simpler to maintain existing relationships and easier to establish new relationships in private. Talking on the phone with a new classmate each evening is a private way to establish a relationship. Of course, this action is visible to your immediate family and those sharing the landline which leads to, as Srivastava points out, parents “knowing” their children’s friends. Then came SMS and IM technologies. Now, people can maintain existing relationships, establish new relationships and talk to complete strangers with less outside visibility. Those in your immediate vicinity may identify that you’re communicating with someone (though Grinter mentions some stealth texting practices) without identifying the person outright.

Back to my original question: what happens when communication becomes easier and more discrete without trading off authenticity? Does it lead to a more trusting society, because you can “meet” new people and develop strong bonds? Does it lead to a less trusting society, because you don’t have the benefit of the context that face-to-face communication offers? I think the answer is that it depends. Early-adopting teenagers forged a way for these technologies to leverage freedom, communicate social popularity, and control their availability; a fact that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Referencing recent class discussions, I think it is increasingly important for technology designers to consider these factors as they’re creating the next big things. I mean, did cellphone manufacturers intend to create an innately flakier society that will use SMS to bail on plans at the last minute? Probably not, but they may have intended to make it easier to tell someone when you’re running 15 minutes late.

Of course, I wonder how technology has changed or evolved since these times. Both of these papers were written in the mid-2000s (2005 and 2006), with the latter assessing mobile usage data collected in 2000. What would these authors say about the upcoming technologies teens are using today? How does Yik Yak’s anonymous communication change the social interactions of knowing the people you’re communicating with? How does Tinder evolve the concept of an extensive buddy list, when the people in your address book are less tied to shared experiences and may be one-off contacts?


Grinter, R.E., Palen, L., and Eldridge, M. Chatting with teenagers. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 13, 4 (2006), 423–447.

Srivastava, L. Mobile phones and the evolution of social behaviour. Behaviour & Information Technology 24, 2 (2005), 111.