Assignment #3


And just like that we're thrust out into the real world! Interviewing, observing, getting into other people's lives. Don't think a lot of people fully understood just exactly my goal was; turns out that gathering information without a defined end goal isn't common practice!

In fact I did have an end goal: defining what makes de-icing/de-snowing one's car in the winter so much of a pain. From my own personal experience I've found this to be stressful, hand-numbing, and overall aggravating. But I'll get to all that later.

Ask: Interviews

The first step in my research was conducting interviews with real world users. Although we are currently out of the ice and snow season (for a little while longer at least), nearly everyone I spoke to had experience with removing ice or snow from their cars. Except for the Cali-boys I ran into. Softies.

I interviewed two students and one elderly gentleman; I defined this older man as an expert in ice removal as he's lived through more than sixty Minnesota winters, over thirty of which he owned his own car. Here were several of his insights:

  • Tools haven't changed much, he said, except for changing shape they've essentially always been scrapers and brushes.
  • He used to be fine taking off his mittens for a few minutes to clean his car but that is becoming increasingly painful as he ages (he admits his circulation in his hands is below average).
  • Wishes there was a way to start melting the ice from afar.

The next student I interviewed doesn't actually have a car on campus currently and so was working from memory (although technically all my interviewees were, considering there has been very little snow lately). Here were his thoughts:

  • Often forgets to factor removing ice into his routine and so he oftentimes removes the minimum amount (maybe half of windshield, get snow off back windshield and parts of windows.
  • Also leaves ice on car for extended periods of time before removing
  • Depends on internal heat of car to remove or melt ice.
  • Sometimes leaves so much snow on the top of his car he can't see cars behind him because the snow blows off, blocking his view.
  • Has scratched car's paint with a shovel when he tried to use one. Was using a shovel because he thought it would be faster than the scraper.
The final student I interviewed has a car on campus but hasn't had to remove any snow or ice yet. Overall he was fairly satisfied with the current modus operandi, but that is in part because he has access to a garage and most often only needs to remove light snow. Here are his thoughts:
  • Wet snow on gloves sucks, if the snow is heavy and wet it often splashes onto his hands.
  • Wet snow makes both tools (brush and scraper) less effective. Brush is too floppy, scraper only removes small amounts at a time.
  • Thin layer of ice is the hardest to remove because it is hard to get a grip and only comes off in small chunks.
  • Knows a friend who was too lazy to de-snow car and instead stuck his head out of the window. Accidentally hit a parked car.
To summarize these interviews, here were the main issues users encountered:
  • Current tools are outdated and cumbersome (and only effective on certain types of precipitation, hard to operate with gloves if they get wet, can damage car's paint)
  • Current methods take too long because people forget about the snow on their car until they see it with their eyes and then are in a rush.

I learned a lot from these interviews, but I really did feel like I need to observe people in action. It's just been too long since people had to practice this behavior!

Observe: Survey


To gain information I put out a survey of students because I couldn't observe people de-icing their cars without ice.

Thumbnail image for _DSC2838.jpg

Here were the main points I found:

Items people use: ice scraper, mittens, defroster, brush.
They use these items because their parents used them, because they are cheap, and because they fit in their car.
People generally don't clear the snow off right away, most people said they would wait until the next day or overnight (~10 hours).
Most respondents remove ice and snow from the windows and windshield, with equal minorities stating they attempted to remove all the snow/ice, and removing just enough to see out the windshield.

On average they gave their tools a 2.9 out of 5 (where 1 is low no effort, 5 is exhaustive effort) on the effort scale as well as on the time scale (where 1 is very quick, 5 is a long time). And yes, it was weird but the averages came out exactly the same!
For both of these I used very subjective ratings because I wanted to know how people felt while removing ice/snow from their car. This tells me most people think it uses more effort than they would like, and takes more time than they would like.

And here were a few stories they shared:
"I tend to get snow all over myself and my hands always end up going numb. It takes less time if I warm up my car though."
"The hardest snow to remove is the pile on my roof, I'm short and it's a struggle."
"I hate having cold hands while I scrape my windshield!"
"The worst situation is when it rains, freezes, then snows. The ice on the windows does. not. budge!"
"It's frustrating to have to press down so hard on the scraper if you're short. It is difficult to get the leverage needed."
"The ice scraper broke my windshield wipers before winter even started."
"Once had to remove snow with just hands, it twas really cold but it worked!"

As a sidenote, here's an interesting phenomena I observed:


With just a bit of sunlight (small amount of heat) the snow removed itself from this sign! Maybe I could incorporate this into a product design?

Experience: Real life!

Once again I ran into some problems with experiencing my activity without snow or ice, but I went back and picked up my old scraper/brush combo.
Product design wise, it was smart to combine the brush and scraper into one tool, however these two tools are not perfect in cleaning cars. Like some of my survey takers noted, getting leverage on the top of the car and surfaces that are further away is difficult (hard to get downward force with such a long lever arm).
The scraper is ergonomic, but becomes slippery when wet. Gloves don't grip it especially well, although they work.
It looks over-designed; it is not beautiful.
Takes up more space than it seems it needs to. It is long and cumbersome, not designed for the environment it is kept: the floor of a car or the trunk.
The brush keeps snow and brings it into the car.
I know I've scratched my paint as well with the scraper if I've zoned out and started removing ice from the body of my car. No stupid users right?

Two problem statements that sum up most of the issues:

People who wait to clear their car off for a few hours need a way clear ice without using a lot of leverage because many people are short or do not have long enough arms to gain enough force to remove ice that has hardened over night.
Quote: "The hardest snow to remove is the pile on my roof, I'm short and it's a struggle." "It's frustrating to have to press down so hard on the scraper if you're short. It is difficult to get the leverage needed."

People with poor circulation need a way to keep their hands warm while they clear ice off their car because cold hands hurt and are less productive at removing ice.
Information came from the first user I interviewed and several of the survey responses, such as, "I hate having cold hands while I scrape my windshield!"

Part II: Bug list!


  1. Hair gets caught in glasses' hinge.

  2. Pants hit bike chain.

  3. Handlebars are cold/wet


  5. Cover up beautiful phone with cheap case.

  6. Constantly checking watch.

  7. How do you find houses in Dinkytown????

  8. Pocket buttons on jeans scratch phone screen.

  9. Getting applesauce out of a mostly empty jar.

  10. Water splashes out when washing pans.

  11. Garbage falls out of cans when transporting to large garbage can.

  12. Why are photo ID pics so bad?

  13. Why do we rake leaves twice whenever we rake leaves (once into piles, once onto the tarp?


Hey Josh,

First off - nice quote about the Cali-boys being 'Softies', I totally agree in terms of snow and cold tolerance! Now to the assignment:
I think you did a very good job incorporating ways to observe ice/snow scrapping in today's weather. Especially effective was how you integrated a survey. I would have liked to know how many people were in the survey (and perhaps a picture or summary of the actual survey?).
I also liked how you summarized your main findings/insights in each step. This made it easy to follow and keep up, and your summary looks to be very insightful!
The picture you included of the snow melting off the sign was a neat idea. I think it will help you in your future assignments.
I think that if you made this post more visual (pictures of surveys/participants/etc), the post would flow more like a story. The bug-list picture you included was a little bit harder to read because of writing visible from the back. I wonder if adding more contrast would help?
Good job overall.


Excellent beginnings to this project. Reading the text of your blog, you are able to communicate your process efficiently and effectively. I think it would benefit you're blog if you included more images, particularly in the "experience" section, it would be helpful to the reader to get some visuals of the products you were describing.

I thought your survey was well written as well, not to long but enough to get some helpful information. In the future, you should show some more data regarding the survey, number of participants, age, gender, years in winter environment etc...

Your problem statements are, in general, pretty solid. The first might be too specific though; instead of saying they need better leverage, you could say people need a less exerting way to scrape their car. This would open up more possibilities for solutions rather than sticking with the ice scraper model.


Extremely thorough documentation of process. I appreciate your use of both interviews and surveys to uncover some truths. You are casual in your delivery of your blog posts, which appreciate. It humanizes you and works with how you are looking to uncover an everyday phenomenon.

Your visual representations could be stronger. It was nice you included a sample of the survey, but the (nicely photographed) one with multiple sheets was illegible and didn't really add much to the post. Photos could also be a little smaller, they are overpowering and aren't paired to the greatest abilities with text at this size.

You seem to be tapping into key insights about something so ordinary and overlooked. Find ways to think outside of the constraints we have all put on ourselves with the condition of how we get snow and/or ice off our cars. I think the brainstorming session will really open things up for you. Try not to get too rigid, really open your mind up to crazy ideas.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Josh Thorson published on November 10, 2013 11:18 PM.

Assignment #2 was the previous entry in this blog.

Assignment #4 is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


  • Facility visits


Powered by Movable Type 4.31-en