• Trey Hahn

Reflections on Steps to a Master's Thesis Proposal - Part 1

Writing an academic research proposal for a master's was not easy, and it did not end up as I expected it to. Now I’m reflecting on and sharing what happened for me. This is part 1 of 3. You can see part 2 here and part 3 here.

It was the last semester of my bachelor’s degree, and I was taking a design and technology course called Designing for Usability while writing my thesis. I felt I had hit the idea jackpot when I saw the connection between usability, user experience, and how people feel about a product. I thought this was extremely applicable to cycling and why people cycle or not. Behind the infrastructure, policy, and social constructions that influence cycling lie people's personal feelings, and to be able to design for those would be powerful. In the thesis, I translated what I was learning in the usability course to cycling: I conceptualized the practice of riding a bike as a product and the users as everyday people. By using methods that were traditionally used in user experience design and usability contexts such as a heuristic evaluation, personas, and directed storytelling, I explored how we might design for how people feel while riding a bike.

From there the Bicycle User Experience (BUX) concept was born. I began to take what was started in the thesis further: I explored more methods on how it might look in practice, made a website to represent the concept, and started blogging about it. Over the next year and a half, I continued to think about and develop the concept when I had time until I decided to go back to school for a masters program at the University of Amsterdam.

Riding a bike is the most common way to get around inside Amsterdam, and I thought that while doing a masters there, it was a wonderful opportunity to see how I can get closer to using the Bicycle User Experience methods in practice. So, I brought the idea to a thesis supervisor and it seemed to fit well into other research going on at the UVA around cycling. I'm even told that the city of Amsterdam is trying to take the experience people have while cycling into account as part of their policy. Great, I thought- there is potential.

Source: Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management

However, in the subsequent weeks I struggled to translate this idea into a clear research question that could be operationalized. It just wasn't sticking, and I was frustrated. Meanwhile, I explored a parallel interest (an agile way of working) as a potential theoretical framework, and this seemed to work much smoother as a research topic. Then, after much reflection I saw how much it and the Bicycle User Experience approach actually had in common. As much as I made the BUX concept as a set of methods for designing for how everyday people people feel while cycling, I realized I was also advocating for a process- a more human-centered way of working that produced infrastructure that aligned with people's needs.

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