Prototype Portfolio – Journalist Companion (“Journcom”)

In Prototype Portfolio by Elsie Odhiambo

By Elsie Odhiambo. (Contributions from Liz Kneebone and Junzhou Liu)

Note: Click on this link to view a version with better pictures on google drive.

Prompt: Design something for someone who asks a lot of questions.            

To interpret this prompt, I considered groups of people that typically ask a lot of questions in their job capacities and I thought individuals from the following professions could be suitable users:

  1. Healthcare Practitioners – In their job capacity, healthcare practitioners normally ask their patients a lot of questions in order to diagnose people or understand the needs and health status of their patients. To pursue this lead, I reached out to nurses who work at the Health Center at Smith College to inquire about their work and whether I could work with them but I could not because the nature of their work is confidential hence I would not have access to a real life setting of their work
  2. Lawyers/Other legal workers – For this group of people, they normally ask questions (or interrogate) plaintiffs or defendants in order to collect information for understanding and building cases. Because of this, they fit the aforementioned profile. To this end, I reached out to the District Court office and left a phone message but unfortunately did not hear back. I also assume that the work legal workers do is normally confidential and I might not have been able to work with them anyway.
  3. Researchers – Ranging from field to lab researchers, these people normally ask questions almost always to complete the objectives that their work entails. This sometimes may involve interviewing people or conducting literature research online among other things. I intended to interview one of two researchers that I know who work as postdoctoral fellow at Smith College but none of them was available within the given time frame hence I was not able to follow through with this link.
  4. Media workers including journalists, editors and the likes – These people normally collect stories which they transform into articles and other productions that are then transmitted to various audiences. As a result, they interview different people to collect information about them or something else (like a field they are experts in or a phenomenon they witnessed). I reached out to the local newspaper (Hampshire gazette) but no one was free to meet within the given time. I then reached out to Hira Himayun (the editor-in-chief for The Sophian – an independent Smith College newspaper. She agreed to participate in my project hence I went forward with her.

Design Thinking Techniques

We followed the standard design thinking techniques highlighted below to identify a problem that Hira faces in her work and how we could solve it.

  1. Empathize – Here we placed ourselves in the natural context of the user’s world and gained a deep understanding of how she operates.
  2. Define – We identified potential areas of her work capacity that we could improve having analyzed the information gained during the empathize stage.
  3. Ideate – We came up with ideas that we could utilize to solve the problem(s) identified in the previous step.
  4. Prototype – We turned some of our ideas in to physical prototypes while using materials that are readily available to us.
  5. Test – We presented the built prototype to Hira, our user, and collected feedback on its performance as well as how we can improve it.

These steps were repeated as necessary throughout the iterative process of designing a suitable solution to solve Hira’s problem(s).

User Profile

To understand our user better, we conducted an interview where we first simulated a real working condition for our user and then talked about her general experience with her work. Hira interviewed one of our group members while the remaining two observed the interview. It was quite apparent that Hira loved interviewing people and journalism in general as illustrated by her excitement throughout the interview. She sat at the edge of the chair almost the entire time she was interviewing and and used hand gestures to express herself while maintaining eye contact with her interviewee. Hira told us that normally, she records such interviews on her phone and prepares questions on a separate notepad although she did not do so for this interview. Afterwards, we interviewed Hira as a group about her work and learnt that she is currently the editor-in-chief for The Sophian (an independent Newspaper of Smith College) where she interviews different people for articles to be written for the newspaper. Generally, she transcribes articles from audio recording of interviews at a later time. She is also passionate about journalism and strives to connect with the interviewee; this was a confirmation of the enthusiasm we had noticed earlier. She feels that she represents her audience and is keen to meet their needs especially by ensuring that their questions are answered. We also found that Hira is generally satisfied with current mode of story collection which involves using a phone to record the interview and a notepad (with questions) that she glances at occasionally. However, she would wish to have an integrated system for recording interviews, writing her questions and if possible receive questions from her audience when performing live interviews. We caught up with her the following day and witnessed a real life situation of Hira interviewing a Smith student: Natsai about the experience of being a double major at Smith.

Current User Technology

Hira Interviewing Natsai

As we observed from a real life situation, Hira currently uses her phone to record interviews while using a notepad to keep track of the questions that she needs to ask as well as record responses when needed. These two tools enable her to independently capture the interview while at the same time ensuring that she touches on the sections she wants to. Hira feels happy and comfortable using this system as it has worked well for her in the past. She also didn’t seem to face any major challenges as she performed her interview but we noticed that using a notepad to write sometimes prevents her from maintaining eye contact with her interviewee.

Journalism Landscape

I wanted to have a better understanding of other users in the same position as Hira hence I conducted research on the journalism landscape in contexts similar to my user’s (small college club). I found that, the two most used tools for recording interviews, are notepads and phones (or alternative audio recording devices). In analyzing these two different tools, I uncovered the major pros and cons for each as recorded in the table below.


      Digital recording devices      


Cheap Allows for more accurate reference at later time
Generally more welcomed by interviewees Promotes personal appeal as interviewer can focus on interviewee and not writing
No risk of malfunction
Easier to use when looking for specific phrases


Hard to write everything that the interviewee is saying More time consuming as transcription can only be done at a later time
Can malfunction (break, run out of charge)

Point of View Statement

After speaking with Hira and understanding the current relevant journalism landscape, we came up with an aspect of Hira’s work that we would like to improve which we express in the point of view statement below:

POV: Hira is a passionate journalist and editor who needs to easily collect detailed and fact-based stories to deliver to her audience.

In this case, Hira needs to integrate her audio recording system with her note taking system to help her collect stories easily and more efficiently than when she is using the two components separately.

Idea generation and Selection

Based on the above need, we brainstormed about some of the solutions that we can deliver to the user. After discussing the possibilities we listed, we isolated a couple of ideas to go forward with. The following main aspects were considered in determining the most achievable designs:

  • Technology readiness: Something that we could design and build with the materials and machines available at Smith.
  • Affordability: The final product should at least be affordable from the perspective of a college organization like The Sophian.
  • Feasibility: The prototype should be able to be built within the time frame I had.

Prototype 1

This prototype was developed in class using lego parts, a straw and paper.

Top view of prototype one showing a microphone slot and balancing stands underneath the phone.

Bottom view of prototype one showing balancing stands and microphone slot underneath the phone.

Prototype Testing: I presented this prototype to the Hira and she brought up a few concerns about it. First, she did not like the fact that there had to be additional stands to help the phone remain stable. She said “…the stands will kind of make the phone bulky, I don’t think I would like that”. From this point, I chose to focus on materials that would be more lightweight. Hira also mentioned her discomfort with completely eliminating a notepad element as she was concerned that sometimes the phone might malfunction or she may need to scribble some notes for easier reference when writing the article. This insight informed my decision to try and include a notebook component on the next prototype.  

Prototype 2

To build a second prototype, I used a straw for a pen slot and microphone slot then a magnetic strip to attach a notebook to a journcom. Magnetic strips were also attached to the bottom of the journcom to enable installation onto the phone.

Top view of journcom showing a notebook, microphone slot and pen slot.

Bottom view of journcom showing microphone slot and pen slot as well as magnetic strips that are used to attach the journcom to the back of a phone case.

Prototype Testing: I presented this version of the journcom to Hira. She preferred it to the first one but still had some concerns that she brought up. To begin with, she did not like the color of the journcom as she does not fancy black. She mentioned that something with an “earth tone” like brown would be great. She also mentioned that having the two slots (microphone and pen) on either side of the journcom would make the phone hard to hold in hand as it is bulky. To this end, she suggested that I could place one of the slots at the top of the phone which she rarely uses anyway. She also did not like the fact that this version of journcom covers her camera which she needs to use sometimes during or after interviews. Finally, Hira did not like the orientation of the notebook which was initially portrait but I quickly switched it to landscape as it is attached using a magnetic strip making it easy to move around.

Prototype 3

The following main criteria informed my third and final prototype:

  1. Lightweight material – As a journalist, Hira already has a lot of equipment to carry around. She would therefore prefer to have any additional equipment be as lightweight as possible. For this reason, I chose to use light wood as the main part of the journcom.
  2. Aesthetically pleasing – Hira loves dark colors and particularly likes brown. Luckily, the lightweight wood that I had access to is also brown in color. As confirmed by Hira, she loves the primary color of the journcom.
  3. Easily removable – Hira prefers not to bring extra equipment with her when she does not need it. In prototyping the journcom therefore, I made sure that as many of the components as possible were removable by utilizing the use of magnetic attachment that can easily be altered.
  4. Affordable – As a college student in a student organization that has limited resources, Hira would love to have a journcom that is cheap enough for her organization to afford. In my design, I use readily available and cheap material like straw and wood to make the journcom. A high quality microphone that would be needed to use the journcom might be a concern though.

Features of prototype 3 are shown below.

At the top of the journcom, there is a slot that can be used to hold a high quality microphone that enables Hira to capture long range sound. It is designed with two open ends such that wires can be strewn through it or clips can be fit onto it hence it can be used with different types of microphone.

Next to the microphone slot is a careful shaped and cut out section that enables the interviewer to use their phone camera 

The pen slot allows the interviewer to easily store a pen within reach and access it when required.

Top view of phone case where the phone would be installed

Bottom view of the phone case which has a magnetic strip for attaching to the journcom

Bottom view of the full journcom complete with a notebook, microphone slot and pen slot.

Top view of the full journcom complete with a notebook, microphone slot and pen slot.

The notebook part attaches to the journcom via a magnetic strip that is attached to the back of the notebook. The orientation of the notebook is landscape as requested by Hira for ease of use and seamless transition from the phone screen to the notebook. The magnetic strip allows the notebook to be easily removed from the rest of the journcom when not needed or when being replaced with a new notebook.

Full view of the journcom showing the magnetic strip, microphone slot and pen slot.

The journcom side by side with a phone case. The two are attached together using the magnetic strips on their backs.

Prototype testing: Hira really loved this design and was excited by the aspects included. She felt comfortable with the color and appreciated the fact that she could install and uninstall some of the parts as necessary. She was also happy that both the notebook and recording aspects of her current technology were maintained as she felt that in this way, she is prepared for electronic malfunctions and writing down specific phrases when needed.  She had a few suggestions for improvement which I have included below as points for future direction.

Future Direction

  1. Make other parts of journcom removable including the pen and microphone slot.
  2. Make journcom adaptable to different phones – e.g. make camera location and microphone slot adjustable for different phones. 
  3. Use better materials – e.g. use leather instead of plastic straw.
  4. Investigate effect of magnetic strips on the phone and other things like magnetic ID cards, which are typically carried around by journalists. 
  5. Build an app that can allow the journalist (user) to receive questions from the audience who typically do not have access to the journalist.

Conclusion and Reflection

In this project, I sought to understand a user in their working environment and by empathizing, I identified one way in which I could improve their overall user experience. I designed a product that combines two different equipment used by my user into one. Specifically, I devised a way to connect a notebook onto a recording phone, to enable Hira (a journalist and editor) perform her work efficiently while carrying around fewer things.

Throughout the process, I developed an in depth understanding of how important collecting insights directly from the user is when designing a solution for them. After all, the user is the one who will use the design. I also gained confidence in delving into solution development despite not having a perfect understanding of all the aspects involved in that specific design. With time, solutions evolve into better versions when user feedback is incorporated. Having worked with a team for the first half of the project and alone for the second half, I witnessed firsthand the importance of teamwork as well as the shortcomings of the lack of a team. It was great to be able to share workload with my teammates and most importantly, bounce ideas off of each other to include as many diverse perspectives as possible. When working alone, I often had to rely solely on my input (beside the user’s) and felt that this limited the scope of my ideas. Overall, this experience advanced my critical thinking skills with regards to effectively identifying gaps and devising designs to fill them.