300 Design Ideas Inspired By the Trans* Community

Three hundred ideas. What does that look like?

For the past eight weeks, Alex Wykoff and I have been working on gathering stories in the trans* and gender variant community to inform and produce these design ideas. We are incredibly grateful to all of the generous people in and out of the trans* community in Austin who helped facilitate our design process.

Why the transgender community?
This is the question that Alex and I get the most, and I think it deserves its own attention. When we first started on this project, Alex had some tangential experience with trans* folks and wanted to explore his relationship as an ally to the trans* community.

I am a member of another community that is linked with the trans* community, and the topic was initially a source of many questions for us. We wanted to explore those questions and broaden our perspectives.

What we found during our many interviews and sit-downs was that transitioning is an emotionally draining, physically taxing, and mentally challenging experience. One of our participants, a young trans*woman who is just beginning her transition from male to female said,

“There are moments I wake up and think, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this, it’s so weird.’ …It’s just fear that it’s not going to work out. It’s hard, but this is it. It’s exhausting sometimes.”

Our design process and our passion for working with the trans* community is driven by heartfelt and emotional quotes such as this.

The Process
As designers, we are often advocating for the users of products, services, and systems.  This involves getting to know users in an intimate way, to talk to them about their lives and understand what they desire and need in their lives to know first where to begin. We were excited to see where the stories would take us.

Our process of gaining direct information via interviews, contextual photos (always with consent), cultural probes such as journals and writing prompts, and immersion allowed us to have an unfiltered view of the daily life and troubles in the trans* community. We worked hard to connect with not just a narrow part of the trans* population, but a diverse spread of people of color, ages, and stages of transition.

After our interviews, we broke down what we saw, heard, and experienced into  quotes and photos that we printed onto small slips of paper. Our quotes alone filled almost two full 10 foot walls.

We read and re-read each quote asking ourselves why this was occurring and what was the deeper meaning in each situation. We quickly found that while each person is unique, there were common threads which were intertwined throughout their stories. For each of these threads, we began to group quotes in what are known as affinity clusters—a cluster of quotes tied together by a theme.

We then asked ourselves for each of the clusters, ‘Why is this the case? What does this say about the trans* community and their interactions with themselves and the broader community? What does this say about society as a whole?’

This brought us to what are called insights, which are provocative statements of truth. Just as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, insights are greater than the individual quotes which led to their generation. We knew that to truly get to insights, we needed to again rely on the help of the trans* community and talk to them about what these stories meant.

One of our participants, a trans* woman, told us that holidays were always hard for her because her family kicked her out of the house when she came out as transgender when she was a teen. Without her family’s support, she was forced to fend for herself. Another participant told us that he worked over the holidays just to avoid the feeling of being alone in his own head.

The insight that members of the community designing with us landed on was that trans* folks are often forced to choose between who they are and who their social circles are. This brought us to a universal truth—If a person’s social circles are not healthy, their emotional and physical health will suffer because of it.

Each insight is an opportunity to inspire ideas, and we owe many thanks to the participants who so generously donated their time and energy of helping us process this information. From our insights we asked, ‘What can we make or do which would address this issue?’

In the story above, we talked a long while about what would be something that we could design and work with the trans* community. What would be something that we could design that would connect them to a stronger social circle and closer, accepting community, especially during the holidays?

Our tentative design idea was called Find a Family, a location-based app that allows open-minded families and individuals who have an extra seat at the table for holidays to invite others to participate in their holiday. The app connects people based on their location and interests, and facilitates a conversation that develops into a connection over the holidays. Below is a concept storyboard for the app.


We hope that by designing this app, we can connect people with one another during the holidays, and use that time as a time to make new friends and be welcomed into a home with open arms and caring hearts.

We also sketched out what is known as a Theory of Change, which is a diagram that shows the effect (in an ideal sense) of what the design would affect in the community.

There is still so much more for us to flesh out in the Find a Family app, but we are passionate about helping contribute to the emotional and physical safety of the trans* community.  We now have Find a Family and two other design ideas that we have narrowed down from our three hundred.

All of this would not have been possible without the help of the Transgender Education Network of Texas and the stories and journeys of all of the participants. We owe you a debt of gratitude for your stories, and your passion and strength has fueled us deep into the night working relentlessly on our designs. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

What’s Next?
Now that we’ve gone over why we’re doing this research, and how we did our research, how we processed that research, and how we created design ideas from insights, let’s talk about what we’ll do next. Our next steps will be in the new year, when we reach back out to the community with these ideas for them to help us design them into a solution that fits. It’s going to be another exciting journey for us, and we’re grateful to be working alongside the trans* community in Austin.

Thanks, and have a very happy holiday.