• Speed Dating as a Design Method

    Scott Davidoff of CMU gave an interesting presentation today at Ubicomp on a design method for rapidly exploring application design – Speed Dating.

    He and his colleagues had conducted ethnographic studies on families and their children. Like many ethnographic studies – theirs uncovered many needs. Their main finding was that managing kids activities is stressful for dual-income families.

    Scott and his team were interested in how ubiquitous technologies in the home could help activity management for these families. He explained that they came up with countless concepts. How do you know which concept to make?

    He continued that the common approach might be: Why not build it and see? There were several key reasons why this was not the best approach, namely:

    – Timing. His team was uncomfortable deploying technologies at such an early stage in the development process.

    – Immature design patterns. Unlike more established technology applications, ubiquitous computing does not have established design patterns to leverage.

    – High cost of failure

    – Unpredictable consequence: Scott and his team were conscious that they were introducing technologies in social contexts and didn’t know what the consequences of that might be.

    So he explained that he looked in the design toolbox for some tools of the trade to help. There are a lot of tools designers use – such as sketching and prototyping – for getting the idea right. But not a lot of tools for getting the right idea.

    What are the design tools to help designers find focus and strategy?

    Speed Dating Design Method

    Speed dating was a dating strategy born out of a need for busy professionals to optimize the time they spent… well, dating. The theory goes that if you’re going to invest an hour of your life to romance, why meet just one person… why not meet 2, 3, 4…

    While arguably speed dating may not be a sound strategy for finding love, the one can’t deny the logic: experience with more people will at the very least give you a better understanding of what you want.

    Scott’s speed dating concept simply replaces potential romantic partners with concepts. His theory is that multiple low-cost engagements with a wide variety of concepts allows a broader perspective to emerge.

    Scott’s Speed Dating design process employs two methods

    – need validation

    – user enactment

    Principles the method embodies are:

    Ubundance brings perspective

    Easier to compare something relative to other things.

    Cross boundaries to find them

    How do you ask users how they feel about a technology?

    Easier for users to tell you about a boundary is once it’s been crossed than predict.

    Need validation:

    Scott then described how the next step in their process was to show the families in their study concepts like the ones shown here:


    Lots of concepts…22 concepts in 2 hours!

    He praised paper is a wonderful media to show concepts because it is cheap and stressed that scenarios should be engaging.

    He then talked us his teams process for getting the right idea:

    Observations = Kids’ activities cause stress -> Strategy: this is a problem, so fix it.

    But what should they fix? What should be the focus?

    Scott’s team realized that while they identified there was stress around kids activities, the team didn’t have a clear understanding of what was causing the stress.

    He then explained user enactments:

    Scenarios that people liked were made more tangible through low-fidelity prototypes in order to test and identify boundaries in acceptable behavior.

    He showed a common scenario that had raised questions with the families from the study.


    A father is suppose to pick up his kids from an activity. His car breaks down. Features of the ubiquitous home coordinate this task and finds a new person to pick up the kids.

    Several families didn’t like this example – something about the home just pro-actively coordinating the activity didn’t sit well with people.

    The question then became: are there levels of home’s pro-activity that are acceptable? The suggestion of the home coordinating an activity was a boundary that had been crossed – people were able to talk about what levels of pro-activity in the system were acceptable “because the crossed boundary gave them a point of reference from which they could talk about.”

    He then talked about interactions with risk factors and how his handy matrix helped.


    He explained how a matrix can show lessons about individual themes but can also reveal large themes.

    Scott then used his study as an example to illustrate the larger themes that emerged, such as:

    – Kid’s activities not “problems”

    – Kid’s are in activities to learn lessons about life

    – Actions have consequences

    – Parents want to protect their kids

    – Also want kids to learn responsibilities

    Implications for design of their system were:

    – can’t approach activities to “fix” problems

    – systems need to help kids learn to help themselves

    – kids have to learn about consequences and responsibility

    – in some places, assistance in inappropriate

    – parent must be part of the loop

    Understanding of the right idea from his project was that they needed to change their design strategy.

    Changed strategy:

    Managing activity and parenting are inseparable – teach kids responsibility, function as a safety net

    Tradeoffs for adding his process to your design pricess?

    – It adds an extra step.

    Scott then stressed that he doesn’t expect speed dating to replace prototyping. Once you’ve found your idea, it’s important to get it right.

    In summary:

    – Finding the right concept + strategy is important but largely unsupported

    – His Speed Dating concept is a possible process that can be added to the design toolbox between sketching and prototyping

    – Speed Dating is Low-cost + engaging

    – It allows you to learn about unpredictable consequences

    – Can help you evolve your application

    – Can help you focus on what matters most.

    There are 9 thoughts on this idea

    1. Kevin Makice

      Thanks for sharing this. I’ve seen this speed dating model applied to other domains, like small businesses and sports fans. It’s great to see it applied to design.

      I love what seems to be a recent surge in creating interesting design activities (Comicboarding comes to mind), and this looks like a winner.

    2. Speed Dating London & UK

      […] adaptive path ? blog ? Rachel Hinman ? Speed Dating as a Design MethodScott Davidoff of CMU gave an interesting presentation today at Ubicomp on a design method for rapidly exploring application design ? Speed Dating. … […]

    3. shiny

      Yeah!speed dating may not be a sound strategy for finding love.Guess this theory can definitely optimize the time and money.The principles and design process methods are really amazing.Hope every one can enjoy..




    4. latin lady

      yah, speed dating is a low-cost type of engaging people of different characteristics and i think this is good for the many…

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