By: Drew Flanagan

I have really enjoyed the Understand phase of open design but have also found it a lot more challenging than I originally thought. One misconception I had about the Understand phase was that it would be rather passive: we would ask questions, receive answers, and continue on to the next interview. However, it is a more active process. Understanding is a highly iterative, collaborative, and thought-provoking process.

Our interviews have been more of a dialogue rather than one-way conversations. Our interview questions continue to evolve as we listen and learn. Additionally, our interviews push our participants to think more critically of their experiences. It has been really difficult for me to resist the urge to design; however, this has been key to gaining empathy for our users and staying present. Gaining empathy has been critical because it really allows me to design with a relevant purpose in mind. It eliminates some of my own personal bias in the design process and allows me to focus on what’s central to our goal: the user experience.

Listening without judgement has been a rather freeing experience and contributed to me having more of a growth mindset. I feel like I learn a lot more when I no longer have the pressure to pass a judgement, whether it be positive or negative, consciously or subconsciously. I feel like I made the most impact in my interviews with professors. While I can relate closely to the student experience, I am a student myself, the faculty experience is one I have little to no perspective on. It has been rewarding to talk with professors that I have been taught by before. While our past conversations have focused on course content or my own personal interests, it was interesting to have a conversation from their perspective.