Insights – APA!

An insight is built by asking “why?” – and answering with incomplete data. Insights should be able to stand on their own and elicit provocation.

This was our focus over the last couple weeks – turning themes into insights and delivering the information to Austin Pets Alive!. Christina and I are nervous about presenting this content – and who wouldn’t be? To summarize, we are walking into a meeting to present problems without solutions. Our hope is that we’ve built enough credibility with APA! to be able to deliver ‘hard truths’ and not insult our client.

Our first insight is centered around the culture at APA!. All the departments within APA! march to the beat of their own drum. They record information their own way and make little effort to proactively share data. As a result, management, researchers, grant proposal writers, and all others at APA! that make use of shelter-wide data are forced to aggregate the data they need from all APA! departments.

SpreadSheet

“I’ve chronicled up to 35 different spread sheets across the organization.”   – Pete (line 2)

Through the empathy we’ve built while working with the great people at APA!, we’ve come understand the daily frustration felt by people who perform such critical functions to the organization. While a universal data tool would clearly benefit APA!, we believe that the problem is with culture, not with technology.

The nursery, which is where we spent the bulk of our time, is not ready for the tech solution that management desires. They understand what they are doing but don’t seem to comprehend how their actions affect the greater goals of the organization. They are so caught up with saving Austin kittens now that they don’t adopt the tools that could lead to providing better future care.

Additionally, having many siloed micro-cultures can (and has) lead to mistrust of the information that has been shared. The image below shows someone who had found a mistake and is hand-checking pages to make sure other data wasn’t entered incorrectly. To complicate the matter, the data-entry person who entered the information works anywhere between 10 PM and 3 AM, remotely.

PaperTransfer

Insight: APA! is failing to unify its siloed programs, allowing departments to record data in their preferred way. As a result, it is impossible to access complete, shelter-wide information at a single touchpoint. APA should address the cultural idiosyncrasies between departments before prescribing universal tools.

Volunteers, both feeders and fosters, are an essential component of APA! mission to save the lives of companion animals. Who doesn’t want to save cute, cuddly kittens! And, thus, we arrive at the problem! During our theming stage we identified that people don’t always understand that volunteering isn’t about playing with kittens. People volunteer because they love animals, but a love of animals isn’t enough to be a good volunteer.
During our synthesis, we identified that whilst both are volunteers, fosters and feeders are treated very differently. Below is a diagram illustrating the time volunteer feeders spend training compared to the time fosters spend training (in red), and the time each spends with kittens during a given week (shown in blue). The large blue circle around the fosters illustrates not just time spent with kittens but shows how crucial the fosters are in APA!’s life-saving model. Fosters accept kittens as soon as they are ready to leave the nursery and typically keep them until they are ready for adoption. Fosters open up space for more kittens to be rescued from AAC and cycle through the nursery.
APA LAST
Unreliable fosters and volunteers divert precious resources in the form of human capital. Feeding the kittens comes first in the life-saving operation and when a feeder is missing, paid staff is diverted from their duties. When a foster isn’t reliable, staff needs to find new homes or space in the nursery.
Insight: APA! Is so stressed for resources that any animal lover is considered qualified labor. As a result, they experience poor care, high turnover, and increased stress for those who can provide quality work. APA needs to begin incentivizing valuable, non-paid personnel and increase efforts to discharge uncommitted volunteers.

Service Slices – APA!

IMG_4500

At this stage of our project with Austin Pets Alive!, Christina and I have created visual representations of our design research from the APA! kitten nursery. One of the major takeaways is that selecting valuable sections of the transcripts is key to creating an interesting narrative and identifying points of opportunity within our client’s organization.

We went line-by-line through our data and charted behavior and information exchange, power/policy/influence & emotion, artifacts, and the geographic environment.

As an example, here are the low fidelity sketches of the artifacts:

IMG_4513

It stood out to us that we were spending most of our time focusing on behavior, which we felt was the most interesting section. This is due to the disconnect between perception and the reality of APA!’s adoption strategy. If you were to ask anyone at APA! how they go from intake to adoption for any particular animal, their answer would look something like this:

Austin Animal Center  -> Austin Pets Alive  -> Foster Home  -> Forever Home

However, we found that the process looks something like this:

Behavior and Info Exchange_Final._smaller

Clearly, there is much more at play under the surface. The biggest area of opportunity seems to be communication. Communication is especially important for the kitten nursery given that they a siloed from the rest of APA! – both operationally and geographically. This will be one of the main issues we address as we move forward in the design process.

Emergent Themes – APA!

What does it take to get from this –

Transcribed_War_Room_

to this?

Themed_War_Room_Redux

It takes perseverance, cooperation, dedication, patience, long hours, and lots of caffeine.

Today Christina and I presented our emergent themes to our client, Austin Pets Alive!. We arrived at these themes through a process called affinity diagramming. Affinity diagramming is a process by which you take individual thoughts or ideas (in our case, quotes from participants in our design research) and group them based on thematic similarities.

At first, we were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data we had to work with, but we eventually hit our stride. Then, at around the half-way point, we had to start breaking groups into more specific themes. This is where our anxiety shot up because it felt a lot like backtracking. Below is a chart that graphically shows our level of anxiety throughout the affinity diagramming process.

Shape 9

Despite high levels of anxiety, we found a few interesting themes that connected into a cohesive story.

The first theme is ‘less-is-more’ if volunteer retention and skill is high. Training is expensive. This is true of both time and resources. The kitten nursery staff is not afraid to let people go that aren’t meeting expectations. 

“People are shocked [when we fire them], but the thing is the kittens’ lives depend on the schedule that we have set up and the policies and procedures we have.”

Sally (line 36)

Already we are touching on the motif of how important reliability is to a life-saving operation, such as Austin Pets Alive!. This connects to our second theme: lack of reliability gets in the way of APA!’s mission. Fosters are key to APA!’s success. However, in most cases, fosters undergo a 1-hour training and are sent home with any number of kittens. If a foster doesn’t uphold their end of the bargain, the staff is forced to take the kittens back and scramble to find a more suitable foster home. This problem bears a heavy opportunity cost: the nursery is slowed in placing kittens with other fosters, which means the nursery cannot intake more kittens from city shelters, which means kittens may be put down. APA!’s mission is to prevent the euthanasia of companion animals. If the nursery is unable to intake more kittens, there is a higher risk that some will be put down. Here is an example of that situation from our data:

“She basically said ‘I work full-time and I can’t feed these kittens every 4-6 hours.’ All this came out because she said she could only weigh them once a day, and we were like, ‘wait, what are you talking about?’ … I don’t know, but we ended up taking them back because – for obvious reasons.”

Michelle (line 130)

Reliability of people is clearly of paramount importance, but we noticed that reliability of tools and processes are similarly important. This leads us to our next theme: It’s easier to stick to the tools and procedures you know. Comfort with tools and protocol can impede peoples’ ability and willingness to adopt new tools and procedures. 

“… if they just kept it in ShelterLuv and everyone knows how to use it I wouldn’t have to go to every department and ask if they could share their master or whatever spreadsheet.”

Frank (line 111)

APA! employs an animal shelter-specific, CRM-style program called ShelterLuv. The goal when the tool was adopted was to make information logging and retrieval easier for everyone in the firm. However, as evidenced by the quote above, the various departments of APA! tend to favor their own system data management. This ties into our next theme: Being stuck in routine slows progress. With moderate turnover, staff members in new positions inherit procedures from their predecessors that they take as gospel. 

“I love our spreadsheets. This is our master spreadsheet … this is like one stop shopping. If I want to know about any kitten I can just look versus having to go to ShelterLuv to look for it.”

Karen (line 30)

The language here suggests that going out of this person’s comfort zone is an annoyance and not a valuable use of time. Part of the reason this practice continues is due to our final theme: The nursery employees lack connection to APA! as a whole. APA!, in our view, feels like a little archipelago where the individual islands interact minimally. Part of this is due to geography, but there is clearly a desire among staff members to feel included in the happenings of other departments.

“This is our vet EOD report from yesterday. I really like this report for a couple different reasons… I think its really fascinating to read the medical stuff, whats going on, and this is for ALL of APA and not just the neonatal department. ”

Michelle (line 57)

Presenting to our client was insightful and it was gratifying to hear them empathize with the themes we presented. Following the presentation, the clients turned to each other and began an exchange of their frustrations that our themes had captured. Although our focus was solely on the neonatal kitten nursery, the client confirmed our presentation addressed problems that were organization-wide. This was a moment of validation in our learning process because it spoke to the value of qualitative data; we were not capturing numbers and statistics so our information was relevant beyond our ‘sample set’. The client was enthusiastic about our utterances and asked if we would be willing to share the presentation with a team of Deloitte consultants studying the whole of APA!.

Poverty, Social Business, and Lasting Impact

Last week I spent a lot of time synthesizing the arguments of Micael Hobbes, Victor Margolin, Emily Pilloton, CK Prahalad, Dean Spears, Roger Martin & Sally Osberg, and Muhammad Yunus as they pertain to poverty. I learned a lot in the process, but more about social- vs. profit-oriented enterprising than poverty itself.

I think my favorite takeaway is Lesson 1 from Yunus’ Grameen experience: “Challenge conventional wisdom and basic assumptions.” I view this as the base for anyone that wants to start a business, social or otherwise. I’d like to take it a step further and say that this lesson is vital for the intellectual trajectory of humankind in general. Only by challenging norms can we possibly find better alternatives, and thus grow. We may find many worse alternatives through this practice. In fact, it’s likely that we find many more ‘bad’ options than ‘good’, but when someone finds that needle in the haystack, it makes all the prior failures worthwhile.

I’ve made a storyboard to visualize my understanding of the authors’ arguments, and to share my own thoughts on their central themes. The story is about a guy who is tired of being on the sidelines and finally decides to do something to help people in the favelas of Brazil. However, he has no idea what he should do, nor how to do it. I hope you enjoy!

sArtboard 1 sArtboard 1 copy sArtboard 1 copy 2 sArtboard 1 copy 14  sArtboard 1 copy 5 sArtboard 1 copy 7 sArtboard 1 copy 8 sArtboard 1 copy 9 sArtboard 1 copy 10 sArtboard 1 copy 11 sArtboard 1 copy 12 sArtboard 1 copy 13

Design Research with APA!

Over the past month, our group has been engaged with Austin Pets Alive! (APA) in order to use design research (specifically, contextual inquiry) to learn in real-time how employees and volunteers log their activity and communicate to achieve consistent care for the thousands of animals that pass through their programs.

APA is a no-kill shelter, which they define as 95%+ life outcomes. Basically when the Austin Animal Center creates their ‘euthanasia list’, APA steps in and takes those animals into care with the goal of nursing them, fostering them, and ultimately getting them adopted. We learned in this process that Austin is one of a select group of cities that can boast the ‘no-kill’ label, which is really cool.

We would like to share the stories of three people at APA that we feel illuminate some of the major issues APA deals with on a daily basis.

First is Brent. Brent is a researcher for APA but has held many roles over the last 6 years. He started as a volunteer when he first moved to Austin, and through that experience learned of a full-time position with APA. He has stuck with APA through a Masters program and now a doctoral program because he believes in the shelter’s mission.

“I guess just the overall satisfaction with the job and what I would consider good work being done by the shelter is what kept me here as more of a career rather than just a placeholder job.”

(Brent line 146)

However, Brent is routinely frustrated in his capacity as a researcher, mainly due to a lack of consistency around the way information is logged and shared across the whole of APA. APA pays for a CRM program called ShelterLuv, which was supposed to be a way to achieve paperless operations and to centralize information. Even after years of having ShelterLuv, this is not the case.

“We switched to ShelterLuv hoping we would go paperless. We didn’t. I dont think that any department is even close to being paperless.”

(Brent line 30)

A while back, Brent recognized inefficiencies and did his best to make changes. However, his pleas fell on deaf ears.

“My boss, at the time, wanted everybody to be writing out paper prescriptions for all these animals. So what we would do is take pictures of them, email them to a data entry volunteer … I basically wanted to go over my then-bosses head because I disagreed … we were wasting tons of money. It was thousands of dollars that we were wasting over a year, just in the incremental time and amount we were paying [a data entry person] … [the CEO] was busy with other stuff so she was like ‘no,’ … so I got the ‘follow your orders.”

(Brian lines 61-64)

It’s hard not to identify with Brent – having a good idea that could save money, with strong supporting evidence – then being brushed off. The feeling of not being heard can be crushing and can cause people to lose passion for going above and beyond.

Next, we have Gail. Gail is the manager of the kitten nursery. It is a new role for her this year. Gail had been working at a legal services firm for 17 years, which equipped her with solid organizational skills. Gloria loves her job,

“I love saving animals. Love it. I had no idea. Growing up as a kid I thought when you take your cat to the shelter they just found a new home. Like I had no idea that counties killed so many animals. So being here being able to save so many animals is why I do it.”

(Gail line 5)

Gail loves the “one stop shopping” for data provided by the spreadsheets she inherited from the previous manager. Keep in mind that this spreadsheet exists outside of ShelterLuv; this is the exact problem identified by Brent in his workflow.

One of the challenges Gail faces in her role is Panleuk outbreaks in the nursery. Panleuk is a deadly and highly contagious disease that is easily spread through physical contact. Once a room is ‘Panleuk exposed’ it becomes quarantined and kittens cannot be admitted or moved to a different room. This is extremely stressful because it limits the number of kittens Gail can intake and could lead to kittens being euthanized elsewhere.

Panleuk is one of the worst things to deal with. It’s always a challenge, it’s probably the biggest challenge Panleuk outbreaks brakes. When an outbreak happens, the entire room shuts down. So we will have a room with cages that we can’t use because Panleuk is in there.”

(Gail line 10)

Gail’s job is further complicated because the nursery relies heavily on volunteers so anything not completed falls on her shoulders. This problem is two-fold. On the one hand, reliable volunteers are needed to help feed and keep kittens alive. Feeding for “bottle babies” must occur every 2-3 hours. On the other hand, Gail has no operating budget, which means she must lean heavily on the community for bare necessities – bleach, paper towels, Tupperware, towels, etc…

“We have no budget. None. Even if we really need something, it all has to be donated.”

(Gail line 113)

After following Gail for a couple hours during an influx of kittens, I can definitively say she is a superhero. She would process a litter, wash her hands at the other end of the nursery, walk back and check the feeding schedules, bark a couple orders, process another litter, wash her hands at the other end of the nursery, and basically do this all over again until all the cats were in cages. She washed her hands 9 or 10 times, about 50 feet away from the action. Then she went right back to dealing with volunteers that “called out,” meaning they are skipping their shift.

She does it because she loves animals and it really struck me how much of her success relies on help from the community.

Finally is Betsy. As training coordinator at APA, Betsy’s role is essential to keeping the kittens alive. The neonatal kitten unit is a specialized operation and it is essential for volunteers to understand the importance of their role. One of the problems Betsy has to overcome is educating the volunteers they are going to get dirty and be in stressful situations.

“We want to set the expectations up front that [volunteers are not here to cuddle cute and fluffy kittens. You’re not here to play with them. You’re not here to socialize them. And bottle feeding isn’t always easy and it’s not all bottle feeding. What it is, is always rewarding and fulfilling, and can always be fun.”

(Betsy line 92)

If bottle feeding volunteers do not understand the importance of their role, it halts the neonatal kitten unit because vet techs, managers, and other staff need to stop their duties of administering meds and in-taking new kittens in-order to tend to the most important need of the kittens, being fed.

Betsy not only trains volunteers at APA but is responsible for training vet-techs from other shelters across the country who are setting up neonatal units in their shelters.

Next Steps:

Following the conclusion of our Research Phase, our next step is to synthesize the utterances from our interviews into themes. Identifying themes will lead us to meaningful solutions that allow us to work towards finding ways for APA to optimize how they chronicle activity and communicate important information to provide consistent care.

 

The Role of Design Research

What role does research play in the design process? Over the last week and a half, we’ve been digesting the writings of 8 authors that have contributed to the discussions surrounding design research, innovation, context, and value. While reading these texts, I’ve been forming an opinion about where these authors would fall on a spectrum between ‘designing for’ and designing with.’ This turned out to be more easily said than done, simply because the spectrum doesn’t address the question of ‘designing for’ or ‘designing with’ whom. Is the focus on designing for/with a person, a user, people, or even other designers? Because each option yields significantly different results. Ultimately I chose to focus on people and how they engage with designers during the design process.

Personally, I identify most with the writings of Jon Kolko, Jodi Forlizzi, Liz Sanders, Jane Fulton Suri, and to a degree, Don Norman. If the design process is one of problem-solving, surely there must be a section of that process that focuses on identifying a problem. I believe design research to be that section: a method of finding a problem, or problems, worth solving. It should acknowledge context that, in an experiential sense, cannot be separated from activity. It should be empathetic, human-centric, and subjective. Designers can get more out of the research phase if they involve others with diverse backgrounds and life experiences. When applied to finding incremental enhancements, it is a very powerful tool.

To illustrate my views, I’ve created a Cartesian plane with ‘designing for people’ and ‘designing with people’ on the x-axis and an analogy on the y-axis. This analogy draws on my time spent producing music. On one extreme is Pop, which is formulaic, often unoriginal, structured, and doesn’t push the boundaries of music. On the other side of the spectrum is Acid Jazz, which does push the boundaries of music, can be unstructured and chaotic, and experiments for the sake of experimentation. Both symbolize an approach to design research. Be it by-the-book as with Chris Le Dantec’s well-structured methodology or like Bill Gaver’s experimental style of research, which seeks to deliberately confuse participants, design research comes in many forms and flavors. Thanks to people like Jodi Forlizzi, designers are creating theories and frameworks to help other designers pick methods that lead to valuable observations. However, Forlizzi argues, and I tend to agree, that the true value is not in the observations themselves but in the quality of interpretation and synthesis that is applied to those observations.

Artboard 1

Rather than go through and justify each authors location, I’m going to stick with the analogy and talk about the four quadrants of the chart.

Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 6.05.20 PM

In the top right are the ravers. These are people who like to experiment but also have a pulse on the shared experience among everyone around them. In the bottom right is a theater concert. There is still a desire for a shared experience but it’s organized – people have tickets for a specific seat, there’s a defined start and finish, etc… In the bottom left, which I don’t believe any of the authors fall into, is a marching band. Music is written for them, everyone plays their individual part, and any deviation from the norm is highly frowned upon. This quadrant, for example, would house someone who uses a prescribed methodology to create an app for homeless people that the population neither wants nor needs. Finally, in the top right are dueling pianos. The structure is loose and the performers can improvise, but the experience lives for individuals – who often request specific songs.

Week 3 in Review

Last week was spent largely conducting interviews. I shadowed many incredible people at Austin Pets Alive and can say I’m thoroughly impressed by everyone I’ve met. From volunteers to the nursery manager, it’s baffling how they do so much with so little.

On the personal front, I finally got everything moved into our new house. Feels good to have one less ball up in the air.

Transcribing sucks. I believe it may be time to break out Mario Teaches Typing again. I have been realizing, though, that hearing the interview recordings helps put me back into the interview mentally. On hearing a memorable utterance, I can clearly recall the context.

We spoke earlier this week in our theory class about context. Before the program, I ascribed to the positivist view of context, i.e., it is something that can be observed and measured, and it’s something that is separate from the content it surrounds. However, I find what Dourish had to say on the subject – that context arrises from content/activity – very interesting (his article is called

“What we talk about when we talk about context,” by the way). Definitely something I’ll be keeping in mind while doing design research.

Last week, we also learned a lot about how to stand in front of a room and present. It’s one thing to learn, another to put information into action. Presenting is nerve-wracking; it may always be that way for me. But it’s an incredibly valuable skill. Here are the three biggest takeaways: 1. Every presentation is a chance to gain or lose something. 2. Every presentation is a structured conversation – even if you are the only one talking. 3. You feed the energy in the room. Your participants consume it.

See you next week.

Ethics, Responsibility, Experience, Technology

Over the last week and a half, we have been digesting the writings of 5 different authors that offer their perspective on ethics, responsibility, experience, and technology: Edward Bernays, Maurizio Vitta, Victor Papanek, Neil Postman, and John Dewey.

Whether in a direct or indirect manner, all of these authors’ writings have implications for the field of design. After much thought, I have made judgments on how important I think their ideas are and ranked these positions based on my own criteria.

The first thing I considered was relevance. How relevant are the writers’ points to the world of 2018? While Postman may have hypothesized it, I highly doubt any of the authors would have forecasted the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. as a principal way that people in the modern world create and maintain relationships and consume information (at least at the time of their writing).

The second criterion by which I ranked the authors’ positions is level of responsibility. All of the authors agree that responsibility lies with a certain group of people. Postman and Bernays would agree that responsibility rests with authoritative and influential people, Vitta and Papanek would agree that responsibility is the burden of the designer, and Dewey would posit that responsibility is held by the person responsible for educational experiences. What differentiates these positions for me is the of reach attained by the people that realize this responsibility. In my current and somewhat limited view, for example, influential people/groups that are able to drive market forces or cultural beliefs have more responsibility to adhere to an ethical standard than do individual designers of objects. As sad as it is, Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber have some of the best platforms to influence our culture.

Below is a visual representation of where I ranked the importance of each author’s position:

Assignment1_IDSE102_ImportanceChart_01_AS

I ranked Papanek highest in importance. The way he outlines what should be the focus of the design is pervasive to all industries, in that design is cross-disciplinary. Those in the field of design have great power to use their tools and skills to address problems of poorly represented people in a society. I also really liked his position on failure. An atmosphere that is conducive to experimentation (and consequently, a solid amount of failure) is absolutely necessary for creativity and problem-solving.

Postman is next in the line of importance. is subject matter, the computer age, is both highly relevant and has global reach due to the interconnectedness of the internet. I particularly enjoy the context in which I read his piece. The reading is a transcription of a speech he gave at a technology summit in Germany. I imagine him being the only speaker at the conference that offered some warning and alternative perspective to the field of computer science.

Postman is followed by Dewey on the ‘importance line.’ Dewey’s focus is mainly on education reform. Education is, and will always be, relevant in a developed society. While any individual teacher may not affect a significant number of students, all teachers in America interact with nearly 100% of the country’s youth. His theory on the experiential continuum and his focus on the context in which a student experiences different situations brings up an obvious point that often flies under the radar. “No one would question that a child in a slum tenement has a different experience from that of a child in a cultured home; that the country lad has a different kind of experience from the city boy, or a boy on the seashore one different from the lad who is brought up on inland prairies.”

Next comes Bernays, who talks about the power of propaganda and affecting change in public opinion. I think Bernays’ position is important but given historical events, people now associate the ‘propaganda’ with something negative and are therefore on the lookout for its application (however, this may just be my internal optimist speaking). When I hear propaganda, I instantly think of lies perpetuated by a partisan entity to convince others to conform to their view. The most obvious example is the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, who took inspiration from Bernays’ ideas.

Lastly is Vitta, who speaks to the culture of design as it pertains to mass production and consumption. While his position is important, I ranked it below the others since his ideas are widely theoretical and he offers very little in the way of ways to combat that which he warns against: consumption as a form of social communication. Honestly, his writing struck me as anti-capitalist, which isn’t a problem, but I don’t fully support the idea that objects should not be used to communicate. As a group, we discussed the example of Air Jordans, a shoe that is more expensive than others but serves the same purpose. I agree that by buying Air Jordans one is trying to communicate something socially, but the object is still being used for its intended purpose: it is covering someone’s feet. If for some reason people started tying the shoelaces together and wearing their Air Jordans around their neck, leaving their feet bare, I would agree with Vitta that we have a problem. However, at least as of now, this is not the case.

Week 1 in Review

One down, so much more to go. With week one in the books, I can honestly say that the pace here is intense. I was warned, but I don’t think any amount of words could have prepared me for this experience. However, being thrown into the fire is a great way to learn. Most bilingual friends I have only reached fluency by immersing themselves in another culture. I am immersing myself in design.

Week one was characterized by failure. The perfectionist in me thinks this is unacceptable, which is a hard thing to get over. But as Victor Papanek has taught me, experimenting oft ends in failure. And only through learning from our mistakes and failures can we truly continue to innovate and improve.

Our first presentation in the design research class was a little rough. It didn’t help that we heard a lot of “no’s” in trying to find a company to partner with, as it left us with little time to flesh-out a meaningful research plan. We’ve recently heard back from a couple other companies that may be interested in working with us. This is incredibly exciting since it gives our team the opportunity to work with a firm that more closely adheres to the project’s criteria. It also may be exciting for the sole reason that we heard “I’m interested” instead of the typical shutdown response. Originally we were planning to work with REI, but Austin Pets Alive! responded with interest and tomorrow we have a call with NurturMe to discuss the project.

One thing that was a pleasant surprise: I’m not as terrible at sketching as I had originally thought! This was incredibly welcome news since, as I said a little earlier, I tried and failed a lot in the first week. “Sat with Pat” or “Paturday,” (I haven’t yet decided which name I like more), proved to be a wonderfully enriching experience. I’m looking forward to building on that experience. Here’s a picture of a cat I drew!

IMG-3945

Our Tuesday/Thursday theory class with Scott is also great. It was pretty surprising to hear the range of opinions regarding the writings of Bernays, Papanek, and Vitta. For me, the hardest to digest was Vitta. Not only does his writing style make his ideas a bit difficult to understand, but the ideas themselves are cerebral and tend toward the philosophical end of the spectrum. I think my favorite was Papanek. I enjoyed his example of the toilet innovations in the context of cultural blocks.

To summarize: Papanek researched and suggested new ideas to his client, a toilet manufacturer. Despite great reasons for a redesign of the porcelain throne (even medical reasons!), the manufacturer shunned the idea due to our culture’s collective value to brush all things ‘icky’ under the rug.

My takeaway from this was that even if you have a great idea and solid evidence to support that idea, challenging norms can still be a major uphill battle.

To go back to the topic of failure, one thing has dawned on me. It sets the bar low which means that there’s a lot of room for upward mobility. Like the people who move to a foreign land to learn their culture and their tongue, achieving fluency in design requires immersion, practice, patience, and an atmosphere that is accepts failure as part of the growing process.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

We crossed the finish line. Not necessarily like a runner triumphantly breaking the tape, but more like a cannonball. As I said in the last post, I would share the results of our assumption testing. It was actually higher than expected, around 95%, but I believe that to be a failure of the test we designed. I would give us an ‘A’ for effort, but a ‘D’ for execution. The good news about this is: there’s a lot of room for growth. Basically, all we confirmed was the people want free stuff; this is a total no-brainer. What we failed to do is to see whether something free (a one-way bus ticket in this case) would be incentive enough to change a person’s behavior.

I’m not afraid of failure, but that doesn’t mean it sucks any less when it happens. All I can do at this point is learn from the mistakes and become better. If there is one true cardinal sin in this world, it’s making the same mistakes over and over again.

To my group from this week – I want to express my gratitude. Kim, Kay, and Susi – I truly enjoyed working with you all. What I loved most was having three very unique perspectives on defining a problem and creating a solution. We fought, debated, laughed, hugged it out… but most importantly, we persevered.

Orientation came to a close on such a high note. Hearing David’s path to the Federal Government was a bit of an inspiration for me. He has the opportunity to do good for such an overwhelming number of people. Plus it opened doors that I hadn’t seen before in terms of design application. We ran short on time for questions, but I had one that I’ll share here. In presenting his project with the VA, he clearly had an emotional connection with the people he interviewed. I wondered, especially in this case of meeting people who have made personal sacrifices for our country’s freedom, does he ever have a problem with ‘taking the work home’? If empathy can make a good designer a great designer, how does one protect their own sanity if they fully embrace empathy? This is something I plan to ask many alumni when I have the chance.