Quarter 1 – A full introduction to rigor | Quarter 2 – Applying Q1 learnings


A full introduction to rigor

This blogpost will be a combination of what we are currently doing in Research & Synthesis mixed with what was learned last quarter and how I am carrying it over into this quarter.

The course so far has been an intense whirlwind of a process. It seems we were taught all things at once, full on, in the first quarter:

  • Sketching and how to communicate your ideas through a wordless medium.
  • Theories about the role that design plays in our world. Accompanied by trying to wrap your mind around such mind bending ideas, we were tasked with refining 6 articles at a time into 1 storyboard comic of our own creation. This teaches us how to portray just the really juicy, potent and key aspects of the material to facilitate an understanding of the gestalt of a given space without needing to dive into the overly granular details and sectors that such theories entail.
  • Research & Synthesis methods for gathering data and insight about a given space. Our assignment was Short-term loans.

All of the classes appeared somewhat isolated and discombobulated at the beginning. Yet after a few weeks into the program, they all started to merge together. I see how the 3 skill sets of storyboarding, research and synthesis, and sketching tie together nicely to be able to cultivate persuasive arguments pointing towards new ideas. For me they were, all 3, almost entirely new categories of learning. It was a steep learning curve.

The purpose of this method and structure seems to be very deliberate. It seems to be set up the way that it is so that we are thrown into head-high water and are made to figure out how to handle complexity and rigor in our own way with rapid fire instruction. After trying any given task or methodology once we then are told, look for this next time, there is this method, for [said scenario] you can use these types of tools, this is a really useful way to think about [said subject]. The way it seems to work is that we have to try things ourselves. Through this trial and error finding the way that would feel most natural to us. Then from there we receive instruction for using methodology that we can integrate and use to reinforce our natural thought process around the task or issue. This style, whether intentional or not I still don’t fully understand, really helps with not just having a methodology drummed into your head. We didn’t learn a list of rights and wrongs. Instead, having tools handed to you that you can put onto the tool belt that you already have made for yourself, for the process, to make you more effective.

Following that, this cadence of ‘try, then learn the tools’ also seems to help with another facet of the world of design that has been taking shape in my knowledge base over the last couple months and that is that we, to a certain degree, were set up to “fail” in various ways. Which got us used to the fact that “failing” is the most immense opportunity for learning, and in design you need to have people tell you things you did wrong or better ways of doing things so that you can make whatever the thing is, better. It seems that this cycle will persist through anybody’s career in the design world. For the fact that, in applying design to complex social problems, you can’t ‘do it right’ there is no one-size-fits-all solution for such large scale, complex problems. So, try, learn, repeat becomes increasingly important and valuable in those types of messy situations.


Research – Applying Q1 learnings to ‘Food is Freedom’


 In terms of Research and Synthesis I am entering this next phase of Research in Quarter 2 with much more comfortability. When recruiting research participants, I have put feelers out in as many directions as possible at the very beginning and have observed which ones are getting the results that I want. Which is funny because it’s still not working very well. It seems that working with any different ‘public’ requires completely different recruiting methods. The nature of this topic of research is a significantly different space. We are diving into access to food and low income populations’ relationship to food. In particular, healthy food. Last quarter I just mentally banked on that our first ideas would bring in all of the participants we would need, which was not the case. So, for that reason exactly I cast a wider net. However, it is seeming like more active, physical recruitment is what is proving fruitful for our team so far.

The team, being Sally, Conner and myself, chose the focus on low-income individuals and food access because we understand that food is one of the most essential building blocks of every person’s life. That alone illustrates the importance that it holds for each person and they can resonate with the conversations we are facilitating. We are defining ‘low-income’ as earning less than $10/hr or less than $18,000 annually. We defined it in this way because in Austin the living wage is $9.52/hr, minimum wage being $7.25. Another of our criteria that presented itself as a needed parameter was to state that we are looking for participants that have housing. We thought about, researched and found that when people do not have housing it fundamentally changes the food conversation. When you do not have a consistent place to live, in a very general sense, you are taking things day by day. It is hard to really be able to discuss routes for getting food and how one thinks about or values food when living day by day.

This topic is interesting because it has so much traction here in Austin. We have been in contact with multiple organizations that have their heads in the space and are taking some pretty potent and powerful steps. The Sustainable Food Center, Caritas, Foundation Communities and The Central Texas Food Bank are all taking initiative to educate people about healthy food as well as provide it to low income and at risk populations.

So far we have interviewed 1 stakeholder to get our minds in the space and discover what is possible and where we can go for effective recruiting. Accompanied by 4 participants that fall inside of our defined bracket. We have found an interesting array of ways of managing and relating with food. I have some further assumptions that I think I will hold onto until further data informs the truth.

I’m continually trying to remind myself, ‘during interviews, ask the hard questions!’ When someone shows emotion, dive into that! Throw all societal normality’s for conversation out the window. The uncomfortable zones is often where the juiciest information is. Don’t be afraid to take control, stop them in a ramble, hold them off on a tangent, lead them in a new direction, interrupt.

We just revamped our discussion guide based on our first couple interviews. After our last interview I became very illuminated about my lens about this topic. We had some questions in our discussion guide that were heavily pointing towards eating out, which work in some situations, but in some situations that is not even on the table of possibility. So to reestablish our questions based on a more wide angle lens of what we possibly may find felt like a step that will bring confidence and rich data out of any interview in any environment.


A question I have been continually asking myself is ‘How fully can I get in their environment?’ Once we got into the data last quarter I felt like I had been an observer of the space I hadn’t been IN the space, I hadn’t BEEN the space.

Now I will momentarily speak to myself. Synthesis, data sense making, takes more time than I think, synthesis takes more time than I think, synthesis takes more time than I think. Give it the time it deserves. During synthesis, write down all of the facets of the mechanism, write, write, write, draw, write, write, write, draw, draw, draw feel confident in what you find. If you’re not confident, it’s not there yet. Metaphors are the best for helping you step out of the space and still see the trueness of the behavioral mechanism. Utilize them! When presenting, be intentional. Tie a cohesive narrative through all participants. What is your point? The findings don’t matter unless you have come to some focal point. You build the walls and frame prior to handing somebody your gem through the box and frame you have established.

Overall, the nature of the way subject matter is delivered in this course is easily consumable and digestible for me because I thrive on experiential learning and putting things into my own context.


I and we are excited to share our further findings and creations for the next 21 weeks.