Pocket++: Changing Pants to Fit Phones

A very long time ago, I complained that women’s pant pockets are too small for a smartphone. Since then, smartphones have only gotten bigger! Here’s what it looks like when I try to fit my phone in my pocket (that is a regular iPhone 6, not a 6+!):

My phone won't fit in my pocket!

My phone won’t fit in my pocket!

Since then, I’ve created a number of rough prototypes to address this issue and finally came up with a solution that I see as the most efficient way of dealing with it. Namely, change your pockets! Here is what the solution looks like for me:

Now, my phone fits in my pocket!

Now, my phone fits in my pocket!

It fulfills my criteria of being comfortable while both sitting and standing, not being something I have to carry (i.e., a purse), and being easy to access. You can do this yourself if you have a sewing machine (hand-stitching won’t hold up to long-term wear, as I found out). However, the good news is that it’s also really easy to “outsource” the solution. Simple steps:

Measure how much of your phone sticks out and add one inch. That's how much more pocket you will need.

Measure how much of your phone sticks out and add one inch. That’s how much extra pocket you will need to add.

  1. Put the phone in your pocket and measure how much is sticking out with a ruler or tape measure. Add one inch to this amount (for comfort and future phone size increases). Do this for every style of jeans/pants that you want to alter (since pockets seem to vary drastically in size).
  2. Take to a local seamstress to alter. All they need to know if how many inches to extend each pocket (which you should have from step 1). You just need one pocket extended on each pair of pants. Image below shows what the pocket looks like from the inside. If you’re in the Twin Cities area, I recommend Blue Serge (the cost is $10 per pocket, but you could get a bulk discount to $7 if you bring more than two pairs of pants).
A well-sewn pocket is a thing of beauty!

Final outcome. A well-sewn pocket is a thing of beauty!

My favorite thing about this approach is that not only was I able to finally solve my smartphone problem, but that I was also able to support a wonderful seamstress in my local community. If you are the kind of person who doesn’t have a million types of pants and hates carrying a purse, see whether this solution works as well for you as it has for me!

Note: Mini blog post this month as I’m pretty caught up in teaching, an apartment move, and the upcoming wedding. But, I hope to be back in full force in June!

Cross-Cultural Parenting and Technology

My parents had two primary sources for parenting advice: my grandparents and the Dr. Spock book. If you are a parent today, you know that this is no longer the case! Millions of sources in printed literature, online, and in your local community all have opinions on how you should parent! How do parents manage so many diverse opinions? What happens when the values of the parents conflict with their community, with other family members, or even with each other? We thought that cross-cultural families (where the two parents are from different cultures or who are raising their child in a different culture from their own) may have a particularly salient perspective to offer on these important questions.

The idea for this project grew out of a workshop on family technologies. Over the last two years, I’ve had the honor of working with three great collaborators — Sarita Schoenebeck, Shreya Kothaneth, and Liz Bales — to try to understand cross-cultural parenting and to find opportunities for technology to help. All four of us are members of cross-cultural families (in one way or another) and we wanted to learn more about this fascinating phenomenon, so we interviewed parents from 18 cross-cultural families all around the United States. We investigated how these families respond to conflicts while integrating diverse cultural views, as well as how they utilize the wealth of parenting resources available online in navigating their lives. In our upcoming CHI 2016 paper (available as a pre-print here), we share what these parents told us about how these families find and evaluate advice, connect with social support, resolve intra-family tensions, incorporate multicultural practices, and seek out diverse views. But, what I want to share here are three design ideas for new technology that were inspired by these interviews. We think that they may not only be good for cross-cultural families but may help all kinds of families better integrate multiple cultures into everyday life. We show some very preliminary sketches of these ideas below:

Some ideas for new technology inspired by our interviews with cross-cultural families!

Some ideas for new technology inspired by our interviews with cross-cultural families!

For me personally, this project was fascinating because I got to talk to so many interesting families. It was gratifying to think that maybe cross-cultural families could inspire ideas that could help all families and bring us all a little closer. What do you think, would you use any of the ideas we suggested in the paper if we went ahead and built it? Let us know below!

Designing Technology for Major Life Events Workshop

High emotional impact and the value of the journey are two big aspects of designing tech for major life events.

High emotional impact and the value of the journey are two big aspects of designing tech for major life events.

While at CHI, I got the wonderful opportunity to help organize the workshop on Designing Technology for Major Life Events along with Mike Massimi, Madeline Smith, and Jofish Kaye. We had a great group of HCI researchers with a diverse range of topics: gender transition, becoming a parent, dealing with a major diagnosis, bereavement, and more. My own interest in the topic grew from my experience designing technology for divorce and technology for recovery from addiction. In one of the breakout groups, we discussed the challenges of designing technology in this space and some of the ways we’ve dealt with these challenges in our work. In this post, I want to highlight a few of these:

Building Tech is Risky. Building a system requires the designer to commit to specific choices and it’s easy to find something that wasn’t adequately considered after the fact. In tech for major life events, this challenge can be exacerbated because the consequences of a failed design might have big emotional repercussions (e.g., tech messing up some aspect of a wedding). Sometimes, it is a big question of whether we even should try to bring tech into a given context.

Ethics of Limited Access. Building technology to support a major life event may mean excluding those without the financial means, skills, motivation, language, etc. to use the provided intervention. Additionally, we frequently stop supporting a prototype technology at the end of the study which can be really problematic if it was providing ongoing benefits to the participants. Again, because of the high stakes involved, issues of ethics of access to technology may be exacerbated when designing for major life events.

Tension Between Building Your Own and Leveraging Existing. Many systems we build require some critical mass of adoption before they are really useful. This is particularly important with tech for major life events because there may be relatively few people facing a particular relevant context at any point in time. One of the ways to deal with this is to piggyback on existing systems (e.g., building a Facebook app instead of a new SNS), but this may cause problems when the underlying technology makes changes outside of the researcher’s control (e.g., privacy policies change, APIs stop being supported, etc.).

Asking the Right Questions about the System You Built. The final challenge is understanding what kinds of questions to ask during the system evaluation. On one hand, it is important to go into the evaluation with some understanding of what it would mean for the system to be successful and the claims you hope to make about its use. On the other hand, it is valuable to be open to seeing and measuring unintended side effects and appropriations of the technology.

I think my two major take-aways from this discussion were a greater appreciation of how difficult it is to actually build something helpful in this space and the insight that many of these problems can be partially addressed by getting away for the type of study that focuses on evaluating a single system design using a small number of metrics. The risks of committing to a specific design solution can be mitigated by providing multiple versions of the intervention, either to be tested side-by-side or to let participants play around until they decide which solution is a better option for them. The ethics of access can be ameliorated by providing low-tech and no-tech means of achieving the same goals that your high-tech approach may support (e.g., Robin Brewer built a system to let the elderly check email using their landline phones). Planning for multiple solutions when building using others’ APIs can lead to a much more stable final system (e.g., the ShareTable we could easily switch from the Skype API to the TokBox API for the face-to-face video). And lastly, the problem of figuring out what to ask during and after a system deployment can be addressed by combining quantitative methods that measure specific predicted changes with qualitative methods of interviewing and observation that are more open to on-the-fly redirection during the course of the study. Overall, diversity of offered solutions, flexibility under the hood of your systems, and diversity of methods used in the evaluation lead to a stronger study and understanding of the target space.