At the end of the fall semester I made a presentation to publicly share with classmates and professors my thoughts, process, and ideas of what I will make my final project to be.

What follows are the slides of such presentation, and the text after each slide are the notes of what I said on each one. This represents my moving forward on this final project, which I hope to conclude by the end of the semester.

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The beginning of 21st-century represents a new era where contemporary social roles, identities, and ways of thinking are re-shaping (and are being re-shaped by) how we think of others and of ourselves. In time, we have become aware of behaviors that not only influence our daily activities, but in some cases, have become the activities in themselves. We now consider, call, and acknowledge that we act as social consuming beings within contexts of our daily experiences.

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Our rights and our powers derive from our standing as consumers; our political decisions are votes for those promising us the best deal as consumers; our enjoyment of life is almost synonymous with the quantities (and to lesser extent qualities) of what we consume.

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Our success is measured in terms of how well we are doing as consumers.

As such we can be irrational, incoherent and inconsistent just as we can be rational, planned and organized. We can be individualist or may be driven by social norms and expectations. We can seek risk and excitement or may aim for comfort and security. We can be deeply moral about the way we spend our money or quite unfettered by moral considerations.

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Such fragmentations and contradictions should be recognized as core features of contemporary consumption.

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Yet, amongst the multiplicity of behaviors, there is one underlying commonality… our right to choose.

What sets modern consumption apart from earlier patterns is not merely the growth of spending power across social classes and strata, but, more importantly, the experience of choice a as a generalized social phenomenon.

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No earlier period afforded social masses the choice of what to spend surplus cash on after the means of subsistence had been met, and more importantly to this study, no other period offered consumers such a variety of options when it comes to spend their income.

Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, looks at how credit card behaviors in the United States have lead to an average debt of about $9,000 per average card–using-family; and shows how seven in ten households borrow on credit cards to cover such basic living expenses as food, utilities and clothing.

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In 2004 the Census Bureau reported that there were more than 1.4 billion credit cards for 164 million cardholders—an average of 8.5 cards per cardholder, out of which 115 million carry a month-to-month debt.

The use of credit cards has changed how we think of our monetary assets, adding an extra layer of abstraction to an already abstract relationship with money, further disconnecting us from possible reflective moments and concrete connections. We no longer see our money decrease when we use it. We have an idea about what we are spending, but any physical correlation is now denoted in a pile of receipts and swipes of a card.

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For the next few months I will embody the role of a choice architect. Through design I will try to take the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions. I will begin by asking…

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In what ways can consumer behaviors inform the design, interaction, and experience of a set of tools to manage, control, and personalize fiscal activities?

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I will focus on these five specific aspects.

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As said before, consumers behave very differently. There are also a set of forces that affect those behaviors:

loss aversion: tendency to go to great lengths to avoid possible losses

value attribution: our inclination to imbue a person or thing with certain qualities based on initial perceived value

diagnosis basis: our blindness to all evidence that contradicts our initial assessment

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As a choice architect, I want to frame and work with those behaviors and forces from an Experience Design point of view, particularly looking at Interaction, Service and User-Centeredness for assistance and guidance. These are particular areas of interest that I’ve developed since I’ve been in the graduate program.

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Consider Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase’s investigation into the ways in which we interact with technology. His research, carried out around the world, studied hundreds of event schemas embedded in the activity of leaving a place to move to another. It led him to conclude that if you ask people what are the three most important things that they transport, across cultures, and across gender, and across contexts, most people will say: keys, money, and if they own one, a mobile phone. “Why keys, money, and a mobile phone? It boils down to survival: survival to us and survival to our loved ones. Keys provide access to shelter and warmth, transport as well. Money is useful for buying food, sustenance, among other uses. The mobile phone turns out to be a great recovery tool.” Based on this and other research, I am beginning to focus on the mobile device as a point of interest…

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Eventually, as the project moves forward, I focus on a particular behavior of the consumer experience.

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Trying to make larger systems visible… during particular consumer moments.

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And how will I reach the larger understanding? Three smaller investigations will help me elucidate the larger picture.

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So, in conclusion, the phenomenon of Consumption is not just a means of fulfilling needs but permeates our social relations, identities, perceptions and images. I want this final project to operate within such a system with hopes or being able to reveal parts of it that may be of benefit to us as individual actors in this contemporary cultural landscape.

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2 Responses to The Final Project: The Initial Presentation

  1. Valentina says:

    This sounds soo exciting Alberto!
    Congrats and good luck!
    In italy we say, “In culo alla balena”

  2. […] first presentation serves as a public unveiling of our interests to the entire graphic design department. At this […]

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