The story of my capstone, pt. 1: a topic is born

in Design

I started this post two weeks ago, but like I said, I’ve not been so good at finishing things lately. But all that’s changing now! So here’s part 1 of a series of posts about my capstone work so far.

In the fall of 2009, I began working on my capstone project, the HCI/d program’s equivalent of a master’s thesis. It is a design project that I carry out on my own, over the course of two semesters, and required in order to graduate.

I began the process by asking myself what topics I was interested in and what problems I care about. Both of those questions have long lists of answers, so the trouble was figuring out something that would be 1) a design problem 2) appropriate for a human-computer interaction design program and 3) doable, given the constraints on my time and resources.

That turned out to be more difficult than I’d anticipated. I care about a lot of problem that are not easily addressable by some kind of digital/computing artifact, or involve issues or populations that would present logistical difficulties for me to work with (you should have seen my adviser’s face when I told him I was interested in prison reform and prison education programs). Really, the trouble is in my heart what I want to do is save the world, but my head is afraid of taking on the challenge.

So after quite a bit of fretting and feeling overwhelmed, I met with Erik Stolterman to talk about my problems, and after 10-15 minutes of him nodding and asking questions and looking slightly concerned, I mentioned that I had thought a little bit about my own problems with healthy computing habits and preventing repetitive stress problems, and his response was much more enthusiastic. We talked about the possibilities there for a few more minutes, and I realized he was right, and I really could do a lot with that topic, and it even tied in with my interest in embodiment and the importance of respecting our embodied experience and limitations, and in physical computing. And so, I had a capstone topic.

Next time: starting research!