Digital Self is a design research project I co-lead, to explore how we may help students make the transition into a life as a college student.
I co-lead a team of students who run a six-month-long marathon of surveys, interviews, and probes with freshmen at Carnegie Mellon. This research revealed that the first year of college confronts students with the transition challenges of building new lives as well as keeping their old lives. In harmonizing the new and the old, they go through five consecutive stages, aligned with their school calendar.
Students value communication products the most in harmonizing their changing roles & relationships. At the beginning of the study, they highly value products that fit to their future aspirations, such as an expensive sport car or music system. Over the semester, they shifted their focus to more practical, routine products, such as a solid coat for winter. As part of the design research, I developed transition personas and TIPs (transitional identity photos) to capture the richness and complexity of the transitions.
This project focuses on designing products to scaffold the social role transition process, in particular, the transition experienced by first-year college students as they shed their high school identity and discover and invent who they wish to be as college students.
We selected this specific transition for several reasons.
First, the transition from high school to college is generally viewed as a happy time (unlike the death of family or friends, for example), and students eagerly await the chance to re-invent themselves.
Second, since most incoming college students are between 17 and 25, they are still in the process of creating their life story and are more actively engaged in their self-creation process than older people.
Third, the emergence and rapid adoption of social networking software such as Facebook lead me to hypothesize that college students were already actively using digital tools in the creation of “digital selves,” using products that have not been designed with this specific activity in mind.
We tracked the students over their first semester at college. This included weekly screen captures of their digital selves including their blogs, photo blogs, online diaries, personal web pages, and social networking pages, as well as monthly interviews about their use of the social networking software and their perception of how they had changed since arriving at school.
We used this research to identify the challenges in designing for transitions, and to develop better design methods to address these challenges. The two main challenges we encountered were:
1) We did not have a design method that allowed us to capture changes in their self-perception over time. To connect our process to the consumer behavior theory on social role and attachment, we created Transitional-Identity Photos (TIPs).
2) When we transitioned from user research to concept generation, we did not have a design method for creating a shared vision among the design team of the transition process and of gaining empathy for the user’s experience throughout this process. To address this we extended Cooper’s method of personas into what we call Transition Personas.