Ah! The Beauty of Order.

Chuck and I continue to work on wire iterations for Careshare.  The latest version provoked a conversation on order and structure with Professor Franks.  As you can tell, the first one is a bit floating – and that led to it feeling somewhat off, but at first I wasn’t sure what to do.  After working through some of the issues with Professor Franks, I realized there were some simple modifications I could do to have the site begin to sing. I include below a sample page from before and after.

1)Use a grid system.  I was trying to line up everything more or less by eye, which is not an easy or accurate way to go.  I in fact imported a layer into Illustrator of bars, 30 pixels wide, and spaced 30 pixels apart.  Then, I made sure all elements lined up with edges of the grid.

2)Don’t use fully “black” fonts.  I was using them all over the page, and they are a bit harsh.  Lightening them up even a little bit makes them softer on the eyes, which is certainly part of what we (and any site or app) should do.

3)Decide on a color scheme – use kuler (a tool provided by Adobe) or something similar to give you ideas on colors that work well together and fit your overall vision for the site. In terms of color, we wanted to include a warm and inviting, yet airy feel.  We felt good about the turquoise and the red-orange, but needed other colors to complement them better.  Kuler helped us find colors that did so.

4)Keep equal spacing and padding around all elements.  For example, if there are 15 pixels of space between font above a line and the line itself, there should be the same amount of space below.

5)Stay aligned the same way throughout the site.  In the first example below, the first two sections are left aligned and the final, centered.  This can through a user off.

6)Have a different color for clickable links, and use that throughout.  You can see ours is a dark gray – while subtle, we think that users will intuitively pick this up.

Next steps for us include more iteration, testing, and adding in “orphaned” pages.  In the past week, we have conducted clickable prototype testing with 2 users, and over the next week we hope to do the same with 2-3 additional caregivers to continue to get feedback on how to improve.


How designers change their surroundings

For this position diagram, I focused on the following three articles:

Edward de Bono. “Serious Creativity.” Journal for Quality and Participation Sept. 1995: 12-18. Print.

Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe. “Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking.” Organization Science July/August 2005: 409-421.

Donald A Schön. “Problems, frames and perspectives on designing.” Design Studies July 1984: 132-136.

Through the lens of these three articles, I laid out a diagram of the process of designers changing their surroundings. The color overlays indicate important junctures in this process. Each is explained/laid out in quotes below the accompanying detail images of the diagram.

The full project with details and quotes is hosted on my website, a preview is below:


And here’s one detail image as a teaser just because it’s my favorite part of the diagram:

Out for a Walk with Charles S. Pierce

For this position diagram, I attempted to translate “The Three Cotary Propositions,” a 1931 lecture by Charles S. Pierce, into contemporary language. I wanted Pierce’s views, which I consider quite transcendent, to be accessible to someone with a modern attention span and understanding of language. This is why I chose to illustrate a few of Pierce’s points, generously seasoned with my own views, in the format of a comic strip. Given the nature of the argument Pierce makes, I feel comfortable not only modernizing his points, but adding to them, as the frontier of these concepts have expanded considerably since 1931. Nonetheless, his work continues to be relevant and clarifying the polemics’ stance was a refreshing, fun, and engaging process.

Above is a random sample snapshot of Pierce’s lecture, which, at around twelve pages,  demonstrates the need for translation. Fortunately for me, my grandfather, the poet and St. John’s professor Charles G. Bell, who was friends with Einstein and was barfed on by Dylan Thomas one wild night, actually spoke like this. I was exposed to this type of language from an early age and understand it. However, in an effort to not default into the same highfalutin wordage, I translated the lecture, paragraph by paragraph, into Spanish and then back into English using Google Translate. I knew that translating it this way was crude, but I wanted to see what other word choices surfaced and be forced into articulating it myself.

My favorite part of this process was that “Abduction” consistently becomes “Kidnapping,” which is hilarious because I don’t think I could define the intended meaning of the word anyway. This process made distilling paragraphs into sentences very simple, I suppose because it was now a foreign language, the essence of which I understood. Like listening in on a Scottish conversation about something you are familiar with. I then started a comic strip from the paragraph sentences and presented it to the class last Tuesday.

The feedback was that it was too verbose (STILL!) and could better utilize illustration and the comic strip medium. It was also going to end up being insanely long and meandering. So, I continued the distillation process and came down with a few points that I wanted to illustrate. I got braver about my illustrating and more particular about the execution. I became clearer about my ideas and more comfortable sharing them in this way.  I would love feedback about the work and continued editorial suggestions from anyone who is interested in giving it. The final product is below….


Position Diagram 2: Infographic on Education

This diagram is not meant to tell a story that traditional educational systems are going away.  The purpose of the position diagram to show how innovation currently happening within education can disrupt larger institutions and get them to start thinking outside the box as well.  The opportunities come from design strategy and risk which lead to innovation.  It takes a few leaders to think outside of the traditional ecosystem in order to start to disrupt traditional systems.   In this case education had remained lecture based, top down, and within classrooms for decades.   The creative thinking which leads to innovation allows smaller educational startups with less resources the ability to disrupt the current system and create ripples of impact.

Where should we go, and how do we get there?

I’ve really enjoyed discussing Strategy over the past few weeks in the IDSE 302 – Theory of Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship.   I spent a lot of time doing case studies and strategy evaluations while studying for my MBA with a focus in Strategic Management. At the time, I understood strategy as  “Where do we want to go, and how do we get there.”  I was taught Blue Ocean Strategy, Porter’s Five Forces, and PESTLE Analysis. Those tools are great for evaluating the market to determine strategic intent, or where a company “should go,” (strategic intent) but don’t add value when determining the strategy of  “how to get there” at a product level. Instead, we learned how to communicate intent and to steer the ship, but not how to design the next product or service.

Enter AC4D.

The past 5 months, and particularly this class at AC4D has give me the ability to design the strategy at the product/service level with high confidence. This stage of my education is exactly where I hoped I would be.

In my latest Position Diagram, I highlight the process to get from a solid Strategic Intent to the creation of the Product Strategy.



Where the Things Have No Names

If you are reading the AC4D blog, you have probably encountered the single most excruciating side effect of being a designer. It can attack anywhere. It strikes when you’re with grandparents, at cocktail parties, chatting with a well-meaning clerk while you wait for a price check.

You, too, may have been asked to explain what the hell design thinking is. You, too, may have walked away from an encounter knowing full well the person you were just with is convinced you are a semi-delusional interior designer.

The latest batch of readings doesn’t cure the dilemma, but they did offer me a bit of palliative care. Nigel Cross (citing one J. Daley) provides a comforting insight:

“The way designers work may be inexplicable, not for some romantic or mystical reason, but because these processes literally lie outside the bounds of verbal discourse: they are literally indescribable in linguistic terms.”

Well, mazel tov to you, J. Daley! We’re supposed to be hard to explain.

In creating my diagrammatic salute to this thought, I aimed to incorporate other findings that seemed key to me.

1)    Riffing on Cross / Daley, I’d go so far as to say that the better a designer is, the more innately incomprehensible they are. However, the readings are incontrovertibly stern on one point. The burden of communicating all the goodies from the great nonverbal beyond rests squarely on the designer. Design involves drawing, making, iterating, drawing, making.

Yes. I know, that is officially not a newsflash. But what I hadn’t considered is that all that drawing, iterating, making is a very specific sort of contribution to the world. If designers are better able than most to dive into the realm where certain forms of wisdom reside, then there’s a certain moral requirement to do our best to make the insights broadly accessible.

What’s juicy here is that we not only iterate on what we-the-designers learn from our insights, we also iterate on designing the methods of unearthing them. I am slightly wonderstruck at the thought of a world in which designers keep creating better and better methods of subverting the thought ruts into which the brain naturally falls. I started thinking of designers / artists as the early adopters of generative lateral thinking. And of course, designers are also the group who have the tools to make things irresistible, attractive, easy to use and inspiring. Chocolate, peanut butter, world change. With innate skills and ever-more sophisticated tools of unearthing, translation and attraction, we may well be able to topple the cognitive patterns of the world.

2)    In homage to the concepts above, I went through a ton of iterations and also started building in Flash, which is a new tool to me.

Innovation happens in hindsight

Our class recently read a series of articles that dealt with the relationship between creativity, knowledge, sensemaking, and strategy in design. As I went through the articles, a theme kept jumping out at me: Innovation happens in hindsight.

More accurately, I should say we recognize innovation and consider the design solution to be logical and straightforward (or as an obscure failure) when we look back. In Serious Creativity, deBono writes that if an idea does not appear logical in hindsight, we won’t appreciate it. However, he argues that this post-hoc reasoning means we place too much emphasis on logic and not enough on lateral thinking and creativity as the way to develop new design solutions.

In Discovering Design, Nigel Cross writes that, in contrast to fields like logic and science, “design initiates novel forms” through abductive leaps. The “solutions” a designer proposes don’t necessarily answer the “problem” in an expected, straightforward way. Good design is often surprising.

I wanted to create a simple visualization to process my thoughts around the place of hindsight, surprise, and logic when it comes to designing product ecosystems. I’ve mapped out the current state of a number of products and services in Google’s ecosystem in the current state, but many of these products have moved down the Y-axis since their initial launch as the surprise factor wears off. I could see using this kind of tool on my own projects in the future to evaluate components of a product system–and to remind myself that time judges innovation.

Innovative design solutions often come through surprising leaps of reason and make logical sense only in hindsight. Over time, the surprise factor drops as solutions either fade into obscurity or become more ubiquitous and utilitarian.


IDSE302 – Position Diagram: Describe the relationship between creativity, knowledge, and strategy.

As always, the readings were the inspiration for tonight’s post.  I was particularly affected by Don Schon’s writings around reflective “practitioning”, as well as Cross, who both indicate that a designerly problem solving process is both reflective and iterative in nature.

The relationship between knowledge, strategy, and creativity is a fluid one, which is hard to demonstrate in a static 2 dimension artifact – however try I must!  To me, creativity is really a combination of intuitioned problem framing (what “feels” like the right way to look at a problem), verbal provocation, and making/modeling.  These things constantly are happening inside my head as I work toward ill defined problem solution “jousts” around our Care Share product.  While I may have many creative ideas, that actual strategy that I choose to employ is first cleared by my existing knowledge – of what worked before, or what definitely did not work.  Creative strategies then must go through a filter of logic at some point.

After trying it out, I have to review what I’ve done and see if it “worked” which for me, is a rough sense of it.  As the sensemaking article explains, generally in design we are looking to understand if the solution leaves the problem at least in a more desired state then before; always with clues on how to proceed in subsequent iterations.

Position Diagram 2: ISDE 302

Below is the 2nd iteration of Position Digram 2 for ISDE 302. The image is based on a quote from the assigned readings. Using competitive innovation, as opposed to competitive imitation, designers are able to create better products for the end user. Which in turn will result in greater buy in from the users.


That which you should control

There are things you can control and those you shouldn’t. There are things in a design setting that are in flux and those that are fixed. For this last round of position diagrams in Chris Risdon’s Theory of Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship class, I attempt to parse out these concepts in relation to where creativity and strategy intersect.

Nigel Cross, in his essay Discovering Design Ability, talks about the importance of creativity and intuition and how the missing ingredient is the designers’ input – that which he calls the ‘ordering principle’. Others refer to this as the ‘design magic’. Another tenant of his argument which I find compelling is how closely the problems and solutions are interwoven. Both can change dynamically, but are tied. We can decide as designers that the solution a client is asking for is answering the wrong question and in turn, design around the proverbial starting point as opposed to an ending one.

In the essay Strategic Intent published by Gary Hamel and K.C. Pralahad, the authors discuss lots of smart ways to arrange a successful team dynamic. They unravel the magic of “motivating people by communicating the value of the target, leaving room for individual and team contribution, sustaining enthusiasm by providing new operational definitions…and using intent consistently to guide resource allocations”. This falls under the ‘not up for debate’ and ‘fixed’ part of the whole in my mind.

In the diagram below, I’ve attempted to show the relationship between operational procedures, the in-flux states of problem and solution and the four standing pillars of any design equation: this ‘team enthusiasm’, constraints, strategic intent, and the ‘ordering principle’.

In a business setting, it would be natural to first think about controlling the amount of staff time and resources spent. In a design world, while those things need to be managed efficiently, it’s not where we look first.

This is my recipe for attacking design situations with a balance of creativity and strategy, both necessary parts of the concoction.