“So you want to think like a designer?…”

Here is a hypothetical conversation between three different designers (a engineer, graphic designer and AC4D student) and their thought process. This conversation strongly reflects the  views of Pacione’s “Evolution of the Mind: A Case for Design Literacy”, Brown & Wyatt’s Design Thinking for Social Innovation.

Engineer: What do you even learn in design school?

AC4D Student: I do what you do: “imagine something that doesn’t exist and then plot the path from imagination to existence” (In the words of Pacione)

Engineer: So you think you can do what we do?

AC4D Student: well, the similarity is that we all solve problems. Entertain this: “how would each of you design something to solve “Food Waste”

Engineer: Obviously people need a garbage can. Let see, an average person can easily pick up about 10lb of weight therefore a garbage can that yields 4 gallons would work. The dimensions would be have something like a 36″ height and 24″ diameter. I’d have to be made out of galvanized aluminum to be not only light weight but recognizable- you know that iconic silver aluminum trash can.

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The graphic designer reached for napkin to sketch on. 

Graphic Designer: “I would make a reciprocal that is pleasing to the eye and simple. I would label it “trash” in san serif font. I probably should add an interesting feature like a pedal to open the lid. I have a feeling that will be a big seller!”

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AC4D student: I like both your ways of approaching the problem. One solutions is subjective- rooted in what we know and designing how things are. The other more objective that utilizes intuition and designing how things ought to be. They answer the question: “What do we use to dispose food waste?” However what would you design if you answered the question: “How do people dispose of their food waste and Why?” I first must acknowledge that it is a wicked problem.

The student then highlighted examples of how “food waste” is a wicked problem as outlined by Rittel & Webber.

  1.  Managing food waste is not about a right or wrong solution but rather a good or bad. A trash can is a perfectly good solution and there are hundreds of different plausible solutions that fall on the scale of bad to good.
  2. Keep in mind that food waste is a symptom of a larger problem. For example, in USA, 40% of prepared food goes to the garbage. This mentality is an influencing factor to the problem of food waste disposal.
  3. “the designer has no right to be wrong”; He or she is responsible for any unintended consequences of a design. For example our current food waste system leads to turtles getting caught in soda can plastic thing. In a way, that responsibility is on the designer.


AC4D student: Once I’ve thought about the scope of the problem, I will try to define the problem. I will observe in the kitchen how people interact with their food waste and document their behaviors. With this information I would then make a prototype and iterate. This whole theory or method, if you will, is related to the practice of”design-thinking”. A solution that best reflects the design thinking method would be the garbage disposal. It is integrated into behaviors of the user. They are at the counter preparing food or washing dishes, and the sink is a very convenient location to put food scraps. Then it get transported out of the house through plumbing. This cuts out the step of taking the waste to the curb than a truck takes it to a landfill. I am not proposing that this is the most optimal solution, but only a solution based on human behavior.

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Engineer: So did you come up with these methods  yourself?

AC4D Student: No I’m borrowing methods from other designers who practice Design-thinking. Currently there is not a true formalized discipline, like your fields.



Phase 2: From Data to Themes

Over the past two weeks our team (Vicky, Gerald and Cristina) have been making sense of the data gathered when we interviewed individuals about their experience and interactions with Lettuce. Lettuce is an Austin-based meal delivery service that strives to create a sustainable, hyper-local ecosystem that grows and distributes food that is fresher, healthier, tastier, and costs less.

What’s our research process?

In our last blog post, we discussed how we recruited and interviewed 17 Lettuce subscribers and staff. Since then, we have transcribed each interview by breaking those transcriptions down into individual quotes (or “utterances”) which each reflect a single sentiment. This resulted in over 1800 utterances that we pinned to the walls of our studio space to begin the process of synthesizing the data. During this process, the quotes were moved around the walls and grouped together using post-its. As we “walked the walls” to make sense of all of the data, we looked for patterns by always asking “why” to discern the behavioral intent underlying the words themselves.

What emergent patterns did we find?

During our research process and through the process of synthesizing this data, we have noticed a number of behavioral patterns and interesting commonalities across some of the individuals that we interviewed. Some of the most salient patterns revolved around the different ways that people value the Lettuce service. Here is just a sampling of those emerging themes:

Theme 1: In an isolated world, people seek a deeper connection to food.

One of the first recurring patterns that came out of our data was the desire for a stronger connection to local food and the food system. Some of the Lettuce subscribers spoke about their desire to support their local community and farms. Some expressed a passion for sustainability and understanding food systems. What was most interesting to our team, however, was the pattern of people expressing a desire to develop a deeper connection to food.

During the interviews, we did an image association exercise in which we presented a number of photos to the participant and asked them to talk about their reactions to any particular images. One participant, Somme, picked out a photo depicting urban farms and said “this one resonates with me.” She imagined a future with farms and orchards interspersed with housing and said “I want to live on that side”.

urban farm exercise

When we drove to visit a new Lettuce subscriber in her home in Cedar Park, Pepper reflected upon she sometimes felt a sense of isolation living in her suburban community. She didn’t feel like she had a strong connection to local food system because she didn’t participate in community supported agriculture (CSA) or anything like that. When asked about her motivations to sign up for Lettuce, she said

“I like the opportunity to do something that supports our local economy and is a deeper connection to where the food comes from.”

This recurring pattern of desiring a deeper connection to food also came up later in our conversation. Pepper’s 18-month-old toddler was finishing his Lettuce Classic meal across the table from us, and she mentioned that she would like to bring her son on a tour to visit one of the Lettuce farms. She said “I think when he gets older, that’d be really fun. I think he’d really like that.” Pepper wants her child to have the opportunity to visit a local farm to begin to instill in him a sense of connection to our local food systems.

Theme 2: Healthy food and time are at odds.

We found an interesting ironic pattern among the interviews. We could sense that accounting for time was a common problem of enjoying healthy locally sourced organic food. One of our interviewee named Keegan declared, “I also like to cook a lot, and I like fresh food, but I really don’t have a lot of time to do it, so anything to shave off time for me.” We found quite a few people describe an earnestness for healthy organic food, but various reasons couldn’t make it happen. We found patterns of people equating Farmers’ markets and local fresh food with better quality and taste and yet subscribers were unable to muster the energy, shift priorities or squeeze it into their schedules.

Despite acknowledging a strong preference for quality food, one person admitted to going to the grocery store instead because of time. Interviewees like Margaret even said,

“There’s a farmers’ market right down the street, and so, I could very easily — if I had the mental energy and the time — go by myself to get things to make myself meals.”

Alicia also expressed a keen interest in shopping at a farmer’s market, “I have this [feeling of], ‘Oh my God, I want to do that today!’ But we’re more night owls, so getting up for a Saturday morning farmers’ market just doesn’t happen.”

These are otherwise simple problems to fix on the surface, but we also see there are more pain points associated with this behavior. The pain points are related to resource management such as time and energy tied to family, work and other cognitive loads)  We found that Lettuce had uniquely positioned themselves to alleviate most issues when a subscriber described Lettuce as a cross between a CSA (community supported agriculture) and a meal kit delivery.

Theme 3: Customers want to “eat sustainable” but need support.

Incorporating a sustainable life takes work. It’s hard to make this change. Customers seek ways to make it easier to live a sustainable lifestyle and they need some added support. When making decisions, people have this inner dialog about criteria of what is sustainable: local, seasonal, zero-waste. Here are a couple specific examples from our interviews that illustrate why it’s hard to make sustainable choices.

  • Dilema 1: Liz wants to by local organic produce but it is more expensive. Either she buy local and goes over budget or the alternative, she buys from an industrial farm in Chile. Both options will make Liz feel guilty .
  • Dilema 2: Liz researches what is in season- eggplant- but then does not know how to cook it and accidentally makes the eggplant too salty.
  • Dilema 3: Liz wants to compost but doesn’t know where to put it. Also is afraid of attracting bugs.

Situations like these make you pause and ask- it it worth the work? Lettuce alleviates these dilemmas. It provides local, seasonal produce and composting while also being affordable, tasty and zero-waste composting.

Theme 4: Customers subscribe to their ideals

Customers are subscribing to their ideals. When they click “subscribe” they are not only getting food, but also the means to achieve their ideals. When participants talked about Lettuce, they valued it for many different reasons. Those reasons are always in the context of how lettuce aligns with their ideals be it sustainability, health, time saving, quality- the list goes on. Here is an example of a participant comparing Lettuce to other meal delivery services. “I don’t know of anyone who’s doing it more sustainably. If I did, I might switch…”. It is interesting that she wouldn’t switch because she is unhappy with the product (i.e. the food) but rather the sustainability component: her ideal lifestyle.

Theme 5: Lettuce alleviates more grievances than it causes.

There was a pattern where customers voiced minor grievances where Lettuce come short. However they were not phased in a way that they were complaining. Instead the grievance would be qualified with saying “but it’s fine”. We found 15+ comments that said “but it’s fine”. For example, one customer suggested that it’d be nice to get more salad dressing with the meal. But it is fine because she just added more olive oil to stretch the dressing. Another said that the recipe card is flimsy and gets dirty easily, “you know that it was printed on a normal office printer”. But it’s fine because she actually finds it endearing, calling it “rogue” and “old school”.

A pile of utterances from multiple different interviews that have the phrase "but it's fine".
A pile of utterances from multiple different interviews that have the phrase “but it’s fine”.

These types of grievances are not complaints. The general sentiment is that customers acknowledge that they are in a partnership with Lettuce and are willing to meet them halfway. A customer will give this business leniency because he or she loved having Lettuce service integrated into their life. They trust the service and want to see them be successful. So long as Lettuce creates more value for subscriber than problems, then subscribers are happy.

What are next steps?

The above mentioned themes revolving around the various ways in which people value the Lettuce service are just a sampling of some of the patterns that have been coming up as we’ve been synthesizing the data. At the beginning of next quarter, we will be focusing on service slices, which is basically the process of making sense of Lettuce’s service design all the way from the farm to the subscriber’s table. We’ll also continue to synthesize our research to develop deeper behavioral insights. Finally, near the end of this semester, we will develop a few opportunity areas for Lettuce to improve their service based on our research synthesis.

The past two weeks in our methods class, we have dissected the views of five thought leaders in design: Bernays, Papanek, Vitta, Postman and Bernays. What would authors think about the impact of smartphone on society? Are they hopeful that it will give value to society or are the skeptical that it will do more harm than good.
We read a keynote that Neil Postman gave in 1990’s. He says that “[The computer] is presented to us, trumpets blaring as a technological messiah”. I can see Postman thinking that Steve Jobs presents Apple as a technological messiah that will make everything better. Postman ardently believes that having access to information 24/7 does not actually improve the individual’s life. “Our information immune system is inoperable. We do not know how to reduce it [information], we don’t know how to use it[information] . We suffer from a kind of “cultural AIDS”.

According to Vitta, he would be critical that pop-culture gets so hung up on the Apple brand as a status symbol. People buy iPhones because of the prestige rather then the pragmatism. They get caught up in the image and loose sight of the product itself. People identify as an Apple user or Android user.
For Papanek, he wants designs schools “to instill in the designer a willingness for experimentation, coupled with a sense of responsibility for his failures.”  Therefore I could see Papanek liking androids and their open APIs. allows anyone to tinker with an app and build off of others designs. We can create apps for the think that people actually need. Papanek urges schools to “ ‘suspension of belief in ready answers, and in the glib, slicked-up Kitsch that characterises most of the design work coming out of schools and offices.” He would hate that the iPhone upgrades that have “sex-ed up” kitchy features like animoji and portrait mode. Since consumers now care more about having a personal photo studio, designers at Apple have capitulated to the shallow trends of the consumer and now each irritation of the iPhone lacks content and substance.
Dewey is the father of experiential education. He would think smartphone are great if they give tools for student and educators to apps enable students to find tools that cater to the their different learning style. Help with note taking, document and reflect on their experiences find internships, connect with mentors. watch documentaries from the field. I think he would like snapchat because it becomes a habit for students to reflect and share every day about their experiences. However it should never be a requirement set onto students. He would not like apps that make flashcards or test their knowledge.
Although well before his time in 1920’s, Bernays, the father of public relations, would have loved to get his hand on a smartphone. He would want direct access to the ear of the people. He would say that smartphones enable anyone to have the freedom to influence and orchestrate the public opinion of society. With the smartphone in the palm of our hands, thought leaders can easily plan rallies. Attendees will have their all the information that they need. The possibilities are endless! We can disseminate information in a heartbeat. We can reach the people and get them the products and experience that they will want.

“How many designers does it take to fix a lightblub?”

Answer: "Why a lightbulb at all?"

In Day 3 of our design sprint, we focused on the question “why?”. Starting with quotes from our transcribed interviews, we then synthesised this data and identified themes. The next step was to rephrase the theme into a why statement. This simple change of syntax from statement to question enabled us to dig deeper and in turn create insights. Below is one example of this process.

1. Quotes from public transit users

“The only reliable bus is the Metro Rapid. All the other buses are sorta unreliable. If you’re trying to go to work on time you have to leave WAY before. You just, it’s really unreliable.” (Ben, a Austin local)

“I can go over to the office  [to get a senior discount card] but I’d rather go here [HEB] Sometimes they don’t have it [the card].” (Homero, senior citizen)

“I drive just because otherwise it takes an hour and a half to get here in the morning. Too many transfers. For me I have to go to Highland Mall, wait for a little bit, take another bus south. And I live about 15 minutes away. An hour and a half or 15 minutes. I end up driving”. (Gill, a Austin local)

2) Theme

Lack of predictability causes distruption

3) Why statement

Why does the lack of predictability cause disruption?

4) Insight

Users are adverse to uncertainty.  They want control and routine. Unexpected situations disrupt this feeling of autonomy. Systems should be held accountable to perform as they say the will in order to build trust.