Final Project | Research, Brainstorming & Concept Statement

Final Project | Research, Brainstorming, Concept Sketches

Research & Inspiration

In order to start the process of narrowing down what I wanted to explore in my final project, I needed to first get inspired by the flow of the readings we have digested this semester and other current “grey-literature” (hate that term) that has been published, reflecting some of the major breakthroughs, possibilities, and concerns at the intersection of design and technology today and moving forward into the 21st century.

That sounds like a huge statement, but honestly in order for me to feel inspired, I first have to get really excited, or really angry about something. Several times throughout the year I have felt this way, both for the good and the bad. I wanted to go back and remember what these things were, why they made me excited/pissed of, and how I thought I could expose them to provoke attention and/or redesign them or part of them.

To begin, I went back over several readings including “Leverage Points: How to Intervene in a System” by Donatella Meadows, Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge (a book I found particularly inspiring this semester in terms of extrapolating current trends toward techno-futures), and the most current readings assigned “Why Twitter is Dying(And What you can Learn from It” and
“A Feminism Where ‘Lean In’ Means Leaning On Others”

I also picked up two books from the library – yes library – when visiting my Mom on Long Island last week (miss my hometown library so much!!!) that have been inspirational in different ways. The first is called Reference Shelf: The Digital Age and is a selection of stories from news, media, magazines, websites, and somewhat academic (although definitely not peer-reviewed) pieces. It seeks to identify some of the biggest current technological trends shaping our culture today, examine the good and bad of the change, and pull in related current articles (all within last few years) that take various stances on the issue. I liked this book because it helped me to pull together some of the topics that interest me into mental frameworks/themes. The other book Press Start to Playa collection of short stories based on video games,  was somewhat for fun, but ended up also being very inspirational in a more thought-provoking “what if” kind of way.


One thing we have learned this semester is how to pull ourselves through brainstorming exercises. After reading all my books and articles, I was brimming with ideas and needed to get them organized. So I set to narrowing everything down.

  • First I went through each of the readings and wrote down, by hand quotes and ideas that inspired me – it just works better on real paper, and I felt it an ironic but appropriate counterpoint to the topic at hand.
  • Next I read through all of these ideas, set my kitchen timer for 5 minutes and proceeded to just write down whatever came to mind about these topics on post-its, adding them to my kitchen wall decor.
  • After this, I took a couple of the best quotes from my readings, mostly just provocative statements, and added them to the mix.
  • I then tried to get organized, rearranging the ideas under some common headings and issue areas
  • Next I did another 2-minute short brainstorm, and from the topics and ideas on the wall, tried to come up with research questions I could explore for my final.
  • Finally, I added the questions to the wall (I managed 3 that I liked) and rearranged the notes I needed around each to get some directions for further exploration

Check out the process in the below gallery.

Domain Mapping

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.29.51 PM
Next I did a quick domain mapping exercise to see how I could frame my research question in terms of current academic domains and communities of practice.

Research Question

At the end of the day, I could only pick one area to focus on, and I liked the idea of looking at how we construct our own digital identities in new technological ecosystems that are based on the sale of our data to corporate interests for targetted advertising. It was sort of a combination of how we construct our own digital identities, and how we are profiled through our online and increasingly in-person activities.

I am studying the intersection of Psychology, Sociology & Information Science because I want to explore how we understand virtual identities when our data is owned and controlled by competing corporate interests.

I want to better understand how we define our sense of “self” virtually versus how our virtual (and increasingly biological) data defines us to those that collect it, in order to make users think about what their data says about them, and which is the more accurate representation of who they really are.

Research Precedents

As advised, I set out to see what the precedents were across mediums and domains, in exploring my research question and issue areas. I found several pieces which can be referenced in my presentation below, but I will pull out one talk here that I particularly liked.

“Fake It to Control Your Digital Identity” – TedxOxford – Pernille Tranberg

I was particularly struck by the part of this talk at 3:21 where she discusses how data brokers work and that they have 1500 data points per person for many of their records. I also liked her discussion of the difference between “transparency” and “openness” at 7:30.

Concept Sketches

    • Idea 1: Through a Screen Darkly – Through a Screen Darkly is a digital technology that allows users to see themselves made up of the data points that comprise information collected about them.
    • Idea 2: Guess Who Reimagined Guess What is a table-top game that recreates the classic “Guess Who” experience, but only uses characteristics that metadata can track: purchase history, location, preferences.
    • Ideas 3:(DE)CODING US (DE)CODING “US” is a short web series designed to introduce young adults/teens to ways in which current digital technologies shape our human experience. It would cover topics such as information, algorithms and data-tracking, remix culture and creativity, cyberpsychology and gamification etc.


You can find my full research presentation below!

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