Bulletin boards at Carnegie Mellon University are underutilized resources that have the potential to inform, connect, and improve students' lives. This design research group project focused on deconstructing and solving the major issues surrounding bulletin board and poster culture at Carnegie Mellon. I worked with Ji Tae Kim and Albert Yang on this project and drove much of the conversation and discussion around what our next steps should be.
Questions I addressed:
What are effective ways to explore and define a problem space?
How does a designer discover stakeholders' values through observation?
What is an appropriate intervention in a space?
How can a designer change societal norms and human behavior?
Mapping the Problem space
When first working to research the problem, our primary focus was understanding the patterns of behavior and motivations of stakeholders. Once we understood what the social norms of bulletin board culture were, we could then hypothesize ways to alter the current system. Most of my work on these process pdfs focused on the procedures the group would implement and less on the graphic design.
Current Bulletin Board Paradox
People post on as many boards as possible and don't take down their own posters
People post over others' posters, which are often outdated
Overflowing bulletin boards are difficult to look at
Bulletin boards lose value and the respect of students
Our research involved experimenting with a variety of research methods as a couple of our early efforts failed, however we were able to learn about the bulletin board system and culture from these failures. We shied away from relying on a centrally organized system as the university administration, who we considered a key stakeholder, didn't value bulletin boards as much as students.
We placed our survey and hung a pen on popular bulletin boards to gain the perspectives of people who post on boards, but our poster survey was actually covered up by more posters. We also submitted surveys to be posted by the administration, but these were never put up.
On an official university managed bulletin board, in which posters had to be submitted and stamped to be posted, over 40% of the posters were outdated.
Test Case: what is appropriate?
We tested out a potential design intervention on a small scale bulletin board, removing old posters and creating categories to give a sense of legitimacy.
In addition to avoiding relying on the university administration, we also wanted to avoid implementing a digital bulletin board. The accessibility of a bulletin board, being able to easily post and take "tear-off" slips, would be absent with a digital board, significantly altering the culture.
What We Learned
The majority of people who put up posters are neat and respectful
The Broken Windows Theory works in the opposite, positive direction (social proof)
Our design solution was to facilitate a slight shift in culture by increasing the value and respect associated with bulletin boards. People who appreciate and use bulletin boards will feel a sense of ownership and maintain them, resulting in crowdsourced maintenance.
We encouraged the disposal of outdated posters by placing a makeshift recycling bin near the board enabling people to recycle. Thus, while someone is looking for space to place a poster, they can easily remove and recycle any outdated posters they see.
Our group was split on this design implementation; I was in support of this direction, while another group member was in favor of a centrally maintained board. The final group member didn't take a position, so we actually presented our cases to our professor in order to break the deadlock.
New System rules
- One centralized bulletin board per building (supply and demand)
- Loose grid system for easy viewing, while maintaining freedom for creative poster design
- Outdated or overlapping posters can be removed by anyone
What I learned:
Methods for defining problem space and focusing on specific problem variables
How to fail quickly then learn and recover from those failures
Understanding stakeholder values and behaviors through observation
Difficulty of social innovating at only one level
Individual, Group, Organization, Community, Policy
While the organization of the grid has fallen into disarray due to reduced space because of construction, the recycling bin still facilitates an impressive amount of poster disposal. I believe the reasons for failure were the absence of uniformity in bulletin boards, this was the only system we established, and that we only intervened at the policy level.