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Experiments in Innovation: Week 1

I'm taking a graphic design class at Sacramento City College. The professor used to work for an innovation company called Ideo. She's teaching us to do design research the way Ideo does it (here's a great video about this stuff featuring on of the guys from Ideo Paul Bennett).
In class we learned invention is a totally new thing, and innovation is improving upon something else. Example: DVDs and the postal service were inventions and, Netflix is an innovation. My professor promised to teach us how to innovate, step by step.

Step one: get out and look for problems. We were required to go to a farmers market and record struggles and problems people were experiencing.

So this Sunday I ventured out with my camera and an open mind. Trying to leave behind my own ideas about how to improve the farmers market and look at my fellow man for inspiration.

This is what I found...

Problem #1: Burdens

Bags, bags, bags and sore fingers and shoulders. Humans heavily laden with produce swarmed the farmer's market on Sunday. Bags made of all types of material, but all heavy and burdensome. People lugged their groceries from stand to stand, trying to look over produce with their arms full. If they decided to buy the produce it was even more of a hassle, trying to put all the bags down without fruit rolling out.

(We aren't suppose to think of solutions yet, just observe problems... so we're on to the next problem.)

Problem #2: Currency

As the old wise man said, "Mo money, Mo problems." It seems that every vendor at the farmer's market used some ancient form of currency most people no longer carry or use, the locals called it "cash." Because of this cash people can not simply go to the Farmers market, they must pre-grocery shop at a store where they can use their normal plastic card tender and receive "cash back" then they can go to the farmers market where they will exchange their paper and coins for healthy fresh produce. This causes a great inconvenience for many of the shoppers and the vendors. Nearly every single transaction requires the counting out and giving of change, which the shopper - arms loaded down with groceries then either, shoves into his or her pockets, or has to get out a wallet and tuck it away again. Doing this every time they want to purchase a bunch of carrots here or a pound of apples there becomes bothersome, causes long lines and results in misplaced change and overall stress. One woman I chatted with has a separate coin purse just for farmers market days, smart move - but I think it could be improved upon.

Problem #3: Everybody wants attention

In a grocery store there is usually one location where the legal tender is exchanged for goods, not at the farmer's market. All the independent vendors have different check out areas, some have a couple people ringing up customers other have one guy. The problem comes in when you want to ask about the produce or find out a price, there are lots of people waiting to pay the vendors are busy and one has to fight for attention. There are often long lines for the vendors with the best prices, which is a good way to tell if the food is cheap, but it's hard to find out anything about where the food came from or if it's organic. One mother who was shopping with her child expressed frustration about the lack of signage regarding the organic state of the various food stands.

I also noticed a severe lack of efficient bike parking... but that's one of my long standing beefs with the farmer's market so I shall not mention it further.

Those are the problems I noticed at the farmer's market and I hope to innovate some solutions within the coming weeks.


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