The Conundrum

External Authority Subdues Empowerment

Empowerment Unseats Outside Authority

How do we navigate our way through power struggles?


 The point: Intangible outside authority subdues us and often makes us feel “wrong”. Empowerment is the only thing that effectively unseats this psychological and sociological oppression.


Exploring the Intangible Power of External Authority:

Example: “Women Shouldn’t Yell and “Men Shouldn’t Cry”

This idea and ideas like this are prevalent in our society. We grow up “knowing” these things that have a subduing effect on our consciousness and ideas. This starts on day one. This idea occurred to someone originally as a viable one. That person probably did not think about how extensively their compartmentalized thoughts would be adopted. Or maybe they did. Either way, as a result, it often feels like we can’t do it “right”. There is an inherent sense of outside authority that knows better than we do. These are ideas that are often unacknowledged yet are very wide spread in the societal mentality. They become unconscious beliefs and the roots stop being explored. Throughout this article, in which I explore power, I would like to look at the roots rather than the external manifestations. The roots seem to be at the heart of people’s internal conflicts that are perpetuated by the silent subjugation that the intangible power of external authority creates.

We may ask: Is there an alternative to this? Gandhi shows another path.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” –Mahatma Gandhi

This quote illustrates the need for fully owning an initiative, fully embodying what you believe in and see is needed, an initiative that has its seeds and fruit in the core of your being; an initiative that you could never change your mind about. I’m convinced that everyone has this spark inside of them. Yet, the imposing beliefs of the world, which impact us from inside our own mind, and from outside our door, are a very effective and silent ‘candle snuffer’ to those struggling sparks.

Getting your fire snuffed out is an experience that can make you want to harden and never feel that again. Then, through closing up, a spark-less life may ensue.  In not allowing that internal seed to blossom and bear fruit, we are likely to feel insignificant and seek some type of worldly validation or power. These inauthentic substitutes can become easily disappointing and leave us hollow because they do not grow from our true nature and passion, but instead, are often attempts to fit in, look good, or feel good. Or they can become monsters because substitutes never fulfill our real needs so we will keep trying to get more and be more. When power is actually empowerment of our own spark, it is rooted in being true to ourselves – even with life’s hard decisions. This sincerity can be readily felt by others, and, in resonating with such authenticity, love can be felt. On the other hand, when power is a ‘candle snuffer’, there is a deadening of the spirit and people feel like they can’t trust – not even themselves. This creates internal and external division.

It is important to realize that power is a very intangible thing. There is always an entity that has power over us in some capacity and we always have power over something as well. It typically feels like we have less power over our domain than other people have over us. I have the impression that even the highest executive feels similarly. This has a drastic impact on our sense of self and our decision-making. Powerlessness can feel like we are out of alignment with the way things are “supposed to be,” as defined by many un-chosen internal and external authorities. And also out of alignment with our own organic impulse, our selves, our intuition.

This division between our internal and external worlds is the problem. Unifying those worlds would allow us to feel integrated: in integrity with ourselves. Closing that gap would free us from the desire to manipulate our way to validation and power.


Home Life vs. Work Life | Home Self vs. Work Self

There is an observable gap between the ways people operate in their lives due to this division. It is the difference between your true self and your projected self. This manifests in a few ways, I will outline two theoretical possibilities here:

The first is when you sacrifice the passion or calling in you, to do “the thing” for the paycheck and then you go home and you are the loving spouse and parent. (Perhaps a troubled spouse and parent?)

home self

“We design databases for collecting information, without giving a second thought to what that information will be used for.” (Ethics –Mike Monteiro, 2017)

This quote is in reference to the design and development of databases created to round up immigrants. When you are robotic in your execution or are in service to a corrupt entity at your day job, it is impossible that the effects of that work will not follow you home.

My mom used to have a similar message when I was taking my first course in entrepreneurship selling marijuana to put myself through community college. My argument was always “If I’m not making the money, somebody else will.” That justification was obviously just that, justifying the actions that I knew, on the interior, was not my highest calling.

“Just because the person next to you might be an asshole, that’s not a very good excuse for you to be one.” (Ethics –Mike Monteiro, 2017)

 Again, I want to tap into the intangible patterns of power.

The second way this can look: Someone rides on the ego of their job as a substitute for taking full ownership in the actions of the rest of their life.

work self

“Nearly all men (& women) can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” –Abraham Lincoln

We are all aware of abuses of power. It is fascinating that in all of the articles I have read on power the writers were, for the most part, trying to tear apart manipulative initiatives and practices – using these examples for what not to do and how not to operate. There were not articles written advocating for manipulation. But we do see how it is used to play on vulnerability.


The traveling salesman is a well-known example of manipulation of power. The unknown salesman would ride into town with a lofty slogan on his wagon, “Watkins Remedies”, and say that he was there to help. However, he was often there to sell falsity and make a profit on the people’s lack of ability to truly understand what he was doing. When he was found out, he would pack up and leave town. This was a common occurrence. That is what you do when your business is corrupt. This looks different now with the modern complexity of global markets, massive companies and customer bases. However, the core of the traveling salesman concept still persists and this dynamic furthers the trajectory of internal separation for the person that is the decision maker in a company when things go wrong. We may again be caught in: The Home Self vs. the Work Self; the True Self vs the Projected Self.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –Martin Luther King Jr.


An Example: My Story

 In attempt to close this gap for myself I will use examples from my own life.

I came into this life as the product of an affair. My father chose not to be a part of my life. I never could understand why that happened to me without the blame somehow senselessly falling on myself.  In order to avoid feeling that pain, I largely categorized and dismissed him. I became angry and depressed, essentially disempowered. I tried getting life-satisfaction from outside myself instead of growing on the inside, because inside was pain, partially caused by rejection.

Then, at 16, I got a girl pregnant. It gave me a visceral understanding of how it feels to not want to take responsibility for something you inadvertently created.

“Fundamentally, its about taking responsibility for the things we unleash in the world.” (Manipulation -Jon Kolko, 2013)

I could finally empathize with my father. I was seeing him as bad, and myself as rejected, until I had an experience that provided a platform for me to personally understand. Empathy changed my sense of him and of myself.

Consequently, I want to explore the possibility of cultivating empathy for people creating and directing huge endeavors and often seeming to sell-out for power. There are significant parallels to this idea of taking responsibility across personal life and business decisions. Shit can go unexpectedly sideways, fast. And when serious problems occur, people scramble for anything that will make it right again. We saw this in the design of our product bitesized that helps people eat healthier. My team and I were working on a way to provide people with incrementally healthier recommendations for the items they were already purchasing in the grocery store. When our first couple pilots were failing, we got scrambled with the intention of our initiative and were considering paying people to buy the healthier items, to prove that people would accept our healthy recommendations. This is not behavior change and we did not go forward with it; but it expresses a blatant form of manipulation, conceived when our initial motive was unsuccessful. I now understand that temptation. However, ‘what-will-work’ is the wrong approach.

Institutional power. Societal power. Manipulative power. The big powers of the world subdue individual empowerment. This seems like a given, like we have no choice. But this is actually unnecessary. On the contrary, personal empowerment is the only thing that can undo this subjugation and unseat external power. Which founds evolution. But we must answer the question; how do we fill the gap between the two? Can we fill it?


The Realization Moment

What often happens, when these cycles go on for long enough, is the most intriguing part. There is a moment of realization: “do I like the world I am helping to create?”

Empowerment 2

Empowerment lights up and people can see how they can be influential.

Empowerment 3Everyone’s realization point comes at different times, for different reasons but the prevalence of this pivot is observable. From that point, it is exponentially easier to see what is possible.Empowerment 4Empowerment 5

Filling the Gap: Authenticity

I sit on the Board of a non-profit called the Amala Foundation. We bring young people, ages 14-18 years old from ~30 different countries and we live together for a week. The week is facilitated on a foundation of cultural exchange, self-exploration, and authenticity. Watching young people be witnessed by each other, in the expression of the parts of themselves they wrestle with the most, is jaw dropping in and of itself. Kids from Israel and Palestine have the opportunity to see eye to eye in a neutral and supportive environment. But to see the lasting impact that is created is what is truly astounding. They may have hated themselves and the world before they went into our programs (I did) and yet, after rejoicing in the “humanity calamity” together, all they want to do is provide that unity to others. When I found Amala (or got bribed by my mom) (healthy manipulation) (nice move ma) I was a cynic – cynical about myself, all of you people, and the world. And when I stood up in front of a global village, tears running down my face, and explained things I had never put words to… getting a girl pregnant at 16, never knowing my own father, being addicted to drugs, the ownership of those truths triggered a newness in me. It merged the projection of myself with the truth that was inside, for the first time in a long time. Speaking your truth will make a lot of people cringe. It may make you lose your job (or make certain company leaders not want to hire you or me). But in a world that is being destroyed and created every day, where everything,

Both the bad and good are our ongoing fault and responsibility.” (Misguided focus on Brand and User Experience -Jon Kolko, 2009)

can we really afford to live low and take orders for six figures? Or is it time to live out the seeds sprouting on the inside and embody what we’re here for? The answer to this is what my “newness” through Amala taught me. It’s not easy and its needed.

In the creation of the world we need to be abductive, inductive, and deductive; in other words, we need to take into account what is now, what has been and would could be – because if we don’t strategize around what could be; then we won’t have a part in what will be. Being over analytical is perilous. It limits our minds to what has already happened as the only reference point. You can only reorganize the furniture in the house so many times before you need to throw something out to make space for a new piece.

 “We are biased, then, against new ideas – based on the way we have been trained to see the world. Moreover, our bias toward analysis of past data. But when we look ahead, the proof is only robust to the extent that the future is identical to the past.” – Roger Martin (2017)

I will take a moment to offer a space for the reader’s internal reflection.

For this moment, I invite you to stop defending your idea and perspective for a minute to consider, thoughtfully – if you are fighting, why you are fighting. What are you fighting for? Are you working for the world you wish to see? If you can’t answer that question due to having never come across it…. take the day off tomorrow. Go out into nature. Sit down. Yes – leave your fucking phone in the car. Put your feet in the dirt and contemplate what you stand for. It’s pretty scary to not know the answer to that question. If you had to fight a fight, what cause would you stand by? What problem just won’t let you go? Ask yourself the hard questions and pause long enough to answer them. Learn about yourself. Stop sprinting for a second. If you had power, what would you do with it? This is a critically essential question… because one day, when you’re the head of a company or are elected president… you should know what you want to do with that power and be able to intelligently articulate why it is important to you, so you are empowered to actually do it. If someone asked you what you wanted, would you say a faster car? Or would you be able to articulate your dream of an electric autonomous vehicle? Would you say a big house and a bounty of good food? Or would you be able to articulate the disruption that you see as possible in relation to the way houses are constructed or how we operate and maneuver our food system? Think and feel big and deeply. Now think bigger. Trust yourself. You’re not a human doing. You’re not a human thinking. You’re a human being. Integrate your being into every act of thinking and doing. Embody your values.


Finding Empowerment

In the past, the intangible internal and external power of societal norms kept me subdued from truly sharing myself. And I didn’t even know it was happening. It felt like my truth was not “okay,” and wouldn’t be accepted. I won’t get the job. And now I’m realizing that if I wouldn’t get the job because of what is, at my core, true for me… then I probably don’t want the fucking job. This is self-love.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” -Mahatma Gandhi

 It may sound unfathomable in our culture, but imagine if everyone loved themselves. The world would be full of passion and beauty rather than cold competition and dishonest manipulation. People would be following that internal spark of what they feel they are here for, supporting each other along the way and not need to simply surrender to the powers-that-be, or sell-out with a divided self. When you love yourself, that love spreads out – to others, to your work, and to the world.

This paper is a statement of my truth. Before this Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship program, I was working on myself, discovering myself, spending time by myself, exploring what was most true for me. I was exploring how I could get comfortable in an inherently uncomfortable and messy experience. (To provide context: After leaving a $10m start-up that was inspiring and failing, I was driving for Favor and pushing packages in the warehouse at FedEx immediately before my acceptance into the program). I was graced by this school and will be forever grateful for it and speak highly of the curriculum, experience and faculty. But also, for me – learning subject matter has been very different from learning about myself and human nature. At this point, in the name of authenticity, I feel the need to bring those two worlds together. It is necessary right now in order to love myself and my life and the world, fully. I want to own my past and all that I am, including the struggle and the pursuit of self-knowledge, which felt mostly on the back burner over the past year at AC4D, as I stretched my mind and self-discipline in order to have capacity for the rich wealth of information I absorbed.

Originally, I was exploring this blog through pure academic synthesis of articles relating to power. I soon felt my essence triggered by resonance with all of the authors’ potent explorations of how and why people manipulate others. So, it felt entirely congruent to include my personal process. I believe this introspection is an integral part of what makes me an effective designer, specifically in design research extracting important patterns. I have looked extraordinarily deeply into my struggle as a human. This lens allows me to see past the external manifestations and get to the core. It allows me to take leaps into the deep of the “why”. It allows me to ask questions into the spaces that feel most “uncomfortable”. It empowers me. And that empowerment is what this article is about.

I want to share my theory that if we were all willing to take the deepest parts of ourselves and lay them on the table for others to witness we would not be able to design data bases for rounding up immigrants because we would have a visceral experience of what it feels like to be raw and vulnerable. This is the experience I carry which has helped me become an integrated human being; empowered instead of subdued by power. However, this is where academic practice fails me: I can’t substantiate my theory with hard evidence. I just know through intuition. I have seen this process be true, time and time again… in myself and in others from countries around the world.

I could have merely regurgitated points from these articles, strung together in a way that made sense, which is what I started to do. Instead, I chose to use my own voice because I want to show these insights on power, embodied through a human process.  And I want to start to cultivate my voice more thoroughly. I have my own ideas and I want to hone the craft by which I speak to them. This is a personal practice of empowerment: My own transformation from being unconsciously dominated by intangible power to speaking my independent realizations and theories. I will never learn and grow unless I venture to put my experience, thoughts, ideas and visions out in the world. I will never feel that I can be a pillar in society unless I can make a habit of taking that risk.  I’m pretty sure no one has ever become empowered or successful by hiding.


What limits what we can imagine?

Sensibility & Passion

There are many things limiting our imagination. We have been ingrained with a set of varying beliefs and varying perspectives built on every experience we’ve ever had. In the game of innovation, evolution, moving society forward, what are the values to strive for?

Senseless passion is like a bull with a rope around his nuts trying to unseat the rider holding the rope.


The passionate person has blinders on in a way that makes her/him have tunnel vision. “I can only focus on the motive I have at this moment, this is all that I can believe in and I can see it all working over there in the future.” This person, often, forgets about all of the things along the way, the important details that will deter or support his/her initiative.

Passionless sense is like a professor that has been professing for too long. She/he can kill anyone’s dreams with their sense.


This is equally as dangerous as the bull because they have blinders on in the opposite way. Only able to see their periphery, based on what they have seen before, time and time again.  It is difficult for them to suspend disbelief long enough for a new idea to have a breath of fresh air and a chance.

““The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Health care, in its legacy form, is populated by noble, reasonable people trying their best to operate within the confines of an irrational system. To realize true progress, we need to adapt the world to our needs, to manipulate the system that surrounds us for our collective priorities. We need unreasonable revolutionists. Or maybe, just designers.” (-Stacey Chang, Health Care 2017)

We get stuck in a frame. Stuck in a way of thinking about a certain idea, thing, or system. It is often very difficult to move our “sense-liking” minds from this place. It needs to make even more sense, OR be vastly more enticing. Or both. While I agree with Chang’s statement of needing a radical view at the table, that view needs to be partnered with practicality. Whether that balance is inside of one person or collaboratively polarized, by members of the team, the bull and the professor need to work together to bring imagination into tangibility.


The Health Care System


Health: the state of being free from illness or injury.

Care: the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.

Americans are spending billions of dollars on alternative forms of well-being each year. Dell Medical School in Austin, Texas is in the middle of a paradigm shift in health care. They are trying to change the very definition of healthcare. They are trying to provide an entirely new frame to think about the health care system.

“Self-management has always existed. Americans spend billions of dollars each year on health foods and diet programs. A doctor reported, “20% to 30% of my patients are into some type of supplements or ‘nutraceuticals’”. Deloitte reported that 20 percent of consumers used alternative therapies. Kaiser reported that 33 percent of consumers had “relied on home remedies or over-the- counter drugs instead of seeing a doctor” in the past 12 months because of cost concerns. Several factors have begun the process of reframing health as self-management. The U.S. healthcare system is out of control; managing costs requires a focus on what the medical profession calls outcomes. The public has a growing awareness that well-being is more than healthcare.” (-ACM – Interactions – Volume XVII.3 – May + June 2010)

This is a blatant alarm that our health care system is not administering health. And, even more importantly, it is not thought of as a place that can assist in preventative measures. Healthcare has positioned itself as merely a curer of acute disease based on the tendency towards a transactional experience between practitioner and client. The push towards tests and exams using big ticket machines and technologies alienates those interested in a well-rounded healthy lifestyle. How to reconcile a familiarization like this?



To defamiliarize from a very entrenched ideology or pattern of thought takes 1 of 2 things. Either the purest of sincerity to do a better job and a team to back it up;

“the established structures make change very difficult. “What we’re trying to do here [at Dell Medical] is to collect innovative thought leaders who are themselves determined to do things differently. That’s liberating for the kind of person we’ve been recruiting.” He believes the opportunity to build a new model from the ground up has attracted faculty, staff, and doctors who have the same ambition, along with the dedication to use that model to serve the broad Central Texas population.” (-Michael King, Future of Health Care 2017)

or introducing a new attribute into an ecosystem that serves as the first stage in a theory of change towards a new paradigm of familiarity. This often comes through changing the meaning or frame of technologies that already exist. Making good ideas digestible for the masses is the difficult and important part.

“Apple, however, did not invent either multi-touch interfaces or gestural control. Multi-touch systems have been in computer and design laboratories for over 20 years and gestures also have a long history. Moreover, several other companies had products on the market using multi-touch before Apple (Buxton 2007). Although Apple’s ideas were not radical to the scientific community, they did come as a radical, major shift in the world of products and how people interact with them and give meaning to them. Similarly, Edison’s development of the electric light bulb resulted in a radical, major revolution in home and business, but he did not invent the light bulb. Edison improved the existing bulbs, extending bulb life, and equally importantly, recognized the importance of providing all of the necessary infrastructure: the entire system requirements of generation plants, distribution systems, and even indoor wiring and sockets to hold the bulbs. Thus, his efforts did revolutionize the product space and the living and working patterns of households and businesses.” (-Don Norman & Roberto Verganti, Incremental and Radical Innovation, 2012)


Immersion in the Problem

To be a problem solver (or designer) do we immerse ourselves in the problem or not? Some live and die by yes, some vow no. Some say you must get close to users and problems to understand the nuances that are present. This would increase the designer’s capability for sense. Some say this makes designers’ thinking constrained by what currently exists. I believe it all lies in the way you use the information you have at your disposal. If you are somewhat familiar with a system and can see gaps in it even when it is running “ok”, you have enough context to attempt impact through innovation, no need to get closer. If you have just lived with a tribe for 4 months to understand their malnutrition issues, you are not too close, this is also not a problem, IF you can temporally zoom out and abstract what you’ve found. This is the essential piece. It is the difference between reactive design and responsive design. Reactive design says x=2 in the equation 2+x=4. Here, take the 2, it’s the answer. The responsive, abstract way to observe the problem is to say something like well what if I housed this problem in a framework that can solve this problem and any other problems that are similar? Here, take this framework, now you can solve this problem yourself and hopefully all problems that are similar.

“Shelley Evenson and others talk about creating conditions in which users become designers—creating spaces in which people can learn and grow. That means professional designers become meta- designers, designing open-ended systems, languages, platforms, APIs, construction kits, or kits of parts, which others con gure or re-con gure to their own ends. Wooden blocks, Legos, and train sets are classic examples, kits of parts with which we may play—and design. Herman- Miller’s Action Office is a kit of parts designed for others to design offices. (Sadly, it gives little design control to the office’s occupants.) Programming languages and code libraries like Java and Flash are kits of parts for others to design software. (How much design control can the resulting applications give end-users?) Even simple services like restaurants offer a menu of choices from which patrons may design a dish or a meal.” (-ACM – Interactions – Volume XVII.3 – May + June 2010)


Togetherness in Variance

Not everyone is like us. The abnormal for you is very normal for someone else. And along the same thought thread, abnormalities can always, easily, become normal. With these constraints, how do we even approach design for such complexity? Here lies the battle between strategy and trust. Again, both are needed. Strategic use of imagination, trustful use of sensibility, and trust when sensibility is not useful or imagination is too outlandish.

The point is that balance is needed with all of the above. Where sense and passion merge is where new ideas are founded.

“1) Incremental innovation: Improvements within a given frame of solutions (“doing, better, what we already do”) 2) Radical innovation: a change of frame (“doing what we did not do before”)” (-Don Norman & Roberto Verganti, Incremental and Radical Innovation, 2012)

When sense and passion are operating in unison is when innovation can manifest.

“Maninder “Mini” Kahlon, Dell’s vice dean for strategy and partnerships, is a whirlwind of big-picture conversation about how all these Dell programs fit together in the very large project of transforming the “ecosystem of health care” in Central Texas – from prevention at the front end to finances at the other. Wearing her “strategy” hat, she reiterates the school’s primary goal of changing the structural emphasis from “care” to “health.”” (-Michael King, Future of Health Care 2017)

Falling too far on either side of sense and passion is where limits in imagination or execution occur. This is when newness can’t fully manifest as innovation.

“Radical innovation brings new domains, new paradigms, and creates a potential for major changes. Incremental innovation is how the value of that potential is captured. Without radical innovation, incremental innovation reaches a limit. Without incremental innovation, the potential enabled by a radical change is not captured.” (-Don Norman & Roberto Verganti, Incremental and Radical Innovation, 2012)

Balance yourself. Balance your team. Balance your methods.

Health in Bite-Sized Increments

Conner Drew | Sally Hall | Elijah Parker

Bite-Sized is a digital tool for dietitians to expand their reach and impact by allowing them to have input and influence with their customers on a more consistent basis.


Project Backdrop

Diseases influenced by diet are at an all-time high — 27 million Americans have diabetes and 30 million Americans have heart disease. These are leading causes of death in America. This is an interesting contrast when considering the fact that the demand for health and healthy eating is, simultaneously, the highest it has ever been. The gap that exists between those 2 truths has a lot of niches to fill.


Product Introduction

Bite-Sized Health is aimed at making dietitians more effective in their work with their clients. The dietitian relationship to the client is a potent one. They are the point person helping people steer clear of disease. The problem is that, on average, dietitians meet with their clients once every 3 months. At best once every month. That leaves between 30 and 90 days of unaccounted for food consumption. Dietitians commonly ask for a food log of the intake in the last 72 hours. This log is not fully representative and potentially inaccurate. Therefore, Bite-Sized Client Relationship Manager bridges that gap by allowing dietitians to have consistent contact and influence with their clients.

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 5.03.57 PM

The in person check in to start off the interaction is key. This is what differentiates BiteSized from other leading competitors in 2 ways. There are some services that offer similar information but do not have the person to person interaction to ground the interaction. There are other services that are explicitly softwares for dietitians to manage client information, lacking the capability of continued support. The personal nature and continuous support creates a cultural awareness as well as a personal touch to an otherwise entirely digital service. It also creates a space for help with food support that users can depend on. Achieving a level of comfort that other dietary and nutrition based apps struggle to meet.

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 5.06.32 PM

Target Population

BiteSized will be marketed to dietitians to expand their reach and impact. Dietitians will be able to prove the boost in their effectiveness through the ability to tangibly track their clients food intake and measure the changes they are making. The price will be $39.99 per month per dietitian.

In total, there are 66,700 Dietitian and Nutritionist jobs in the United States. Of these, we will focus on dietitians and nutritionists who could benefit from our service, meaning, those who work in an organization that could effectively implement our tool. Such establishments include:

  • General Medical & Surgical Hospitals: 17,840 nutritionists/dietitians
  • Outpatient Care Centers: 6,870 nutritionists/dietitians
  • Specialty hospitals: 1,460 nutritionists/dietitians
  • Psychiatric & Substance abuse hospitals: 780 nutritionists/dietitians

Therefore our total target market is 26,950. We will reach 5% of this market by the end of the first year, and 5% of this market will adopt the product which is 162 dietitians and/or nutritionists.


The projected revenue from our first year is $49,303.94. We are expecting not to come out of the red and into actual profit until the 18 month mark.


Currently, we are thinking $200K in seed funding would suffice to go towards development costs, founder salaries, and overhead expenses.

We plan to establish ourselves, initially, as an LLC so that we can get off the ground and into action as smoothly as possible.

Attached is our written Business Plan.

Finding direction through nebulousness & complexity

Health, in bite sized increments

The building of a socially focused service

Identifying problems is easy. The world is full of whistleblowers and I, admittedly, used to be one. Diving into the messiness and coming out with something valuable is difficult. Holding true to the principles a solution needs to ascribe to in order to wholeheartedly build services built on the empathy cultivated with the population you are trying to serve  is theoretically arduous. It is “easy” to build a generally good idea. Building one that subdues complexity is not. Of course, these are the problems worth solving, and the ones the world’s creatives need to diligently focus on. Our current global climate is ripe with these challenges. What an opportune time to be exiting a high caliber design school with a problem solving methodology on the tool belt. Opportunities are everywhere, but let’s focus on the one my team (Sally Hall, Conner Drew) and I have been parsing through for the last ~20 weeks.

The inspiration for the design of this service came from experiences in the field doing research with mothers on food stamps who have diabetes. This acute focus helped surround our thinking with the most drastic and relevant needs that exist in regards to diet change. The service we are building meets the needs of this acute population, however, the principles embedded in its inner workings support a much wider population: anyone that has a motivation or need to make a diet change. Therefore, in launching this service we plan to start with guidance that will assist anyone in their path towards health and, in the near future, plan to utilize subject matter experts like dieticians and nutritionists to make our offering for those with monetary constraints and dietary diseases as robust and tailored to the individual as possible. We want to truly provide tools for the problem we set out to explore.


How it works

The service operates on 2 main threads. Saving money and gradually eating healthier.

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 4.50.16 PM

We set out to assist low-income populations eat a healthier diet by unseating the common belief that eating healthier is more expensive. This noble outset is potent, yet it proved difficult to find ways to hook people’s interest. This is where money saving comes in. Everyone wants to save money, i’m willing to make that sweeping generalization. Therefore leveraging money saving techniques like comparing product prices across and within stores, finding deals and coupons was our hook. A trojan horse service if you will.

The money saving techniques we analyze are techniques that anyone can use but when considering how difficult it is to manage all aspects of life inherent in the human experience, something as trivial as clipping coupons or looking at the price of bananas, milk and bread at Walmart, HEB and Fiestas to find the cheapest price just feels extraneous and ridiculous. However, when considering there are ~$14 billion in food related coupon savings annually dispersed and ~$3.4 billion in redeemed coupons that leaves a lot of room for savings. This is why we want to house all of these possibilities in one experience and take the pressure off of the individual. To be clear, my aim is not to present this in a way that sounds like we will be the next billion dollar startup. The amount of work at our backs is trivial compared to the amount in front of us between our current standings and our north star design. Numbers are simply stated to express opportunity.w:o GLO V2

w: GLO V2

Money saving aside there is the healthier component. We, as a nation, generally know that we are in a public health crisis so I will not spend an exorbitant amount of time on this topic. Dietary disease is at the crux of the health of our people. The way that “the system” responds to these problems is anything but proactive. Blatantly, we tell people they have a disease that could kill them and provide them with minimal resources that preach drastic change all at once. This kind of care is not actionable and, based on our research, people diagnosed largely fall back into their routines and habits. The point I want to highlight is the drastic change that is encouraged. These ideas for change are not realistic. There is a reason we teach kids addition first in school, not calculus. Then add subtraction, multiplication, division and so forth. People need a foundation for knowledge and knowledge gradually builds with more experience and more input from the world. Our service mimics this truth about how people learn. Incremental steps for gradual change. We plan to meet the users of our service right where they are in their eating habits and start by saving them money to gain trust. Gradually, as trust builds, we will invite our users in the direction of health with small steps. Changing white bread for wheat. After wheat feels comfortable maybe add some seeds. This kind of guidance will provide stability. This stability is essential for the cognitive load on people trying to make change. Especially change with something as personal and ongoing as food requires patience. This sensitive guidance is our most essential component.

Why the way it works is important


The nuances touched on in the previous paragraph hold merit because of the time we spent in people’s homes, talking to them about food, looking through their kitchens with them, hearing their trials and tribulations, successes and prides. Developing empathy. We spoke with 18 people spending ~90 minutes with each of them. Marination in their words, finding patterns and anomalies across behaviors and perspectives informs design in a way that affords a “standing the problems shoes” approach. This ethnographic approach allowed us to largely drop our own world views and gain a wide angle view of food. These people have lived with me for the past 20 weeks. When I make decisions or come to new insights I reference their perspectives, their circumstances. It is pretty astounding what immersion in a problem feels like. I feel responsible for bettering this situation.

The gestalt around our service of incremental change was founded from experiencing people in the field that had had success in making a dietary change. These positive deviants had experienced change in a way that allowed them to build knowledge and change in behavior slowly. These were the only examples of change that stuck long term. For this reason we promise to provide value in the form of a gradual path of change towards a healthy diet.

Moving forward

The next phases of development require mayhem management and an astute focus on subtle behaviors. Food is so damn complicated. A different perspective everywhere you look. The majority of these perspectives are trying to share or enroll others in their ideology. This becomes paramount when it is backed by companies and money attempting to spread influence in the name of their products.

We have run one pilot test so far. During this initial experiment we gathered somebodies grocery list, found all relevant coupons and price reductions as well as healthy options we wanted to suggest and dove in. We got to H-E-B early and gathered all of the items we wanted to suggest. When our participant showed up we let her run the show. We followed her through the store in observation. All of our pre-thinking and planning got thrown out the window about 10 minutes in. There is such nuance in how people place value on food and in trying to make healthier suggestions that are very similar to what she already was planning to buy was much more difficult than it had seemed in the idealized picture I had in my mind.

The first difficulty surfaced quickly. The list she provided us was much too broad.

 Monicas list

With this lack of specificity we were very ineffective in providing options that were similar. She had written “bread”. Think about how many different kinds of bread there are. Now think about why you like your favorite kinds. Is it even possible to offer a suggestion that will be accepted with enjoyment when you consider all of these nuances that play into preference? This is an essential question that I have been wrestling with.


A quick short story from the field:

We get in the bread aisle and she picks up a relatively healthy bread. Our criteria for providing choices was to give 3 options: any product with relevant coupons, the cheapest applicable option, and a slightly healthier option that was similar in type and price (with an aim for cheaper). She picks up a whole wheat seed bread. The cheapest option in the store is wonder bread. That criteria for offering swap options goes out the window. Im looking at the nutrition labels of similar breads while my research partner Sally asks the pilot participant questions about her choice. She tells us she likes that bread because of the texture. I think “Well, we’re fucked then.” She values this bread choice because of texture. That means to provide a similar product I would need to put them all in my mouth. I decide not to try to offer her the bread i’m holding that contains 1 less gram of sugar than her choice and put it back. This example illustrates well the mayhem of the food space and leaves me with a hardset realization that, for this service to be successful we need to intimately understand our customers.

Taking intangibility into a form that is meaningful and consumable is the highest priority at this point in the process.


Difficulties of managing mayhem

In attempt to capture all of the relevant information from the pilot I crafted a spreadsheet that would house all of the items on her list as well as all of the swaps for healthier and cheaper items that we wanted to make.

Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 8.55.25 AM

This mental run through of the process I was expecting seemed viable. There is room in the above spreadsheet for all relevant information. When we got in the store with the participant reality proved much different.

pre-plan list

This obviously proved to be the wrong way to capture the results. The refinement of this capturing process was informative.

organized list

This refinement of the capturing process tells me, at this stage, it needs to be much more qualitative for the learning we are immersed in. To truly learn how our customers think it needs to allow for quotes and the capture of nuance.

Assumptions and how to test them

Our current hypothesis for why this idea will work rides on a few assumptions. Primarily believing that:

  1. People use grocery lists, and if not, they will use one
  2. People will choose a healthier option if prompted
  3. People will choose a lower price over a brand they like
  4. People are willing to leave brands and items they’re used to
  5. People generally want to eat healthier
  6. People will eat new items they purchase
  7. People will be more likely to buy a new item if they get the new item before they get the original item

As we move forward in our creation and refinement process we plan to map out our trajectory moving from operating in very close quarters with our participant’s experience to gradually removing ourselves from the in-store experience as we learn how to manage this complexity.


Northstar possibilities

As we are in the weeds trying to learn about initial needs and subtle nuances we also have our eye set on the future. In the future we would like to gradually create a trusted relationship with our customers. We want them to be able to count on our advice. We see ourselves as having the potential to be an essential component of many shoppers grocery store experience. It is exciting thinking about the arduous path towards this grandiose future. Now let me get off the computer and jump back in the weeds.

GLO CJ Map - Linear


Pilot Plan Presentation v1

Grocery List Optimizer – Turning on the engine

Sally Hall|Conner Drew|Elijah Parker

Project Backdrop

Dietary disease is at an all-time high — 27 million Americans have diabetes and 30 million Americans have heart disease. These are leading causes of death in America. This is an interesting contrast when considering the fact that the demand for health and healthy eating is, simultaneously, the highest it has ever been. The gap that exists between those 2 truths has a lot of niches to fill.


Articulating the Problem

The gaps and inefficiencies that exist in the current landscape sound simple to the ear but are exponentially confusing when trying to encapsulate them, in inverse, as solutions in a product. First of all, the food space is saturated with products, information, branding and marketing efforts that create a lot of mental work for customers to be able to ces out what is true and what they should do. This often comes down to people’s world view and generational influence because there are no definitively clear answers from trustable sources.

The next huge influencer is money. Healthy food is seen as being more expensive than less healthy options. This high cost of healthy food partnered with the high cost of services that offer dietary support adds to the monetary difficulty of adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. Clinics that serve low-income populations or government health care providers and systems are overloaded with clients and are inherently inefficient in thoroughly responding to clients needs. There are products and services out there that try to address this need. There are a gamut of diet plans and “lose weight fast programs” as well as shopping lists and nutrition trackers, however, these all require high levels of behavior change all at one time which is like a sprint and not realistic when considering long term change.

Lastly, there are a multitude of ways to save money on food: coupons, sales etc. These offerings are presented in a disorganized fashion, without consistency which makes them hard to depend on. The need for products and services that guide users towards health inside of a framework that understands their current context and prioritizes price and savings requires a level of choreography in planning and trust in company intention that does not currently exist in the digital market and that is what we set out to do.

Gaps and inefficiencies in the current market:

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 4.22.32 PM


Our product

We are building a mobile application. This application ties a thread through eliminating scientific jargon about the food space, meeting users where they are in the context of their food routines, and navigating progression with a gradual approach on the path to a healthy diet.

Value Promise:

We promise to provide a path of change towards a healthier diet


How it works

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 4.50.16 PM


Our product’s intention

The inspiration for this products design came from experiences in the field doing research with mothers on food stamps who have diabetes. This acute focus helped surround our thinking with the most drastic and relevant needs that exist in regards to diet change. The product we have built meets the needs of this acute population, however, the principles embedded in its inner workings support a much wider population; anyone that has a motivation or need to make a diet change. Therefore, in launching this product we plan to start with guidance that will assist anyone in their path towards health and, in the near future, plan to utilize subject matter experts like dieticians and nutritionists to make our offering for those with monetary constraints and dietary diseases as robust and tailored to the individual as possible. We want to truly provide tools for the problem we set out to explore.


Business structure

We are setting up to start a company with Benefit Corporation status. Being a B-corp is aligned with our mission as a business because at the core of our model is social impact, helping low-income individuals to adopt a healthier diet. This core value drives the engine and we want to be held accountable to that initiative staying consistently at the forefront. This status will also help us establish trust in our users. They will know our intentions are purely in support. Based on the service we’re providing, we need to have a consistent revenue stream to support our growth efforts and build out towards our north star design.

Here is our slide deck and written business plan:

GLO Business Plan Deck

GLO Written Business Plan

In design, learning is omnipresent

Hands Brains, Zoom & Scope.

These are the primary tools.
There will always be someone who disagrees with how we use our tools.

Sometimes success. Sometimes failure.
No rights. No wrongs.


What does social impact mean?

            Social impact is inherently a problem of definition. Everything has an impact. Slavery did. As well as Adolf Hitler, Rosa Parks, Thomas Edison, Amelia Heirhart, Henry Ford, and Ruth Handler, the maker of Barbie. All of these people have influenced the way that we operate, think, and discern good and bad. “Doing good” has spread rampantly across pop culture and throughout the millennial generation. If something is slapped with a label of social impact it is generally revered as an honorable initiative. But what does it really mean? There are no metrics for it. There is no guide book for it (however, there are many), there is no framework to say you have completed your social impact initiative. There is such nuance when it comes to social change, much of which is implicit in our personal experiences as people. So how do we measure effectiveness? How do we know when we are done? These are essential questions that I seek to explore throughout this post with a lens of no right and no wrong. As an emerging designer interested in social impact (and for all designers really) these are questions that are at the crux of all of our decisions. What is being created by this design?  

A Paul Polak quote appeared on Social Impact Design’s Twitter account in February of 2017 that read:

“90% of the worlds designers spend all their time addressing the problems of the richest 10% – before I die, I want to turn that silly ratio on its head.”

 A noble statement that represents a sentiment that many millennials (and an increasing number of the population in general) would rejoice to hear. However, Dan Saffer, another renowned designer, rebuttled;

“Shaming people for working on products for the 10% is counter-productive. Probably what they’re working on will eventually affect everyone.”

 So, what do we do with these opposing viewpoints from 2 respected thought leaders in the design world? After all, a reported 1,800 children die globally every day due to water sanitation issues (Unicef, 2013). This seems like a problem we should be solving. A counter to that is the fact that we are seeing the beginning of a solar panel adoption across developing countries.

A solar panel on a roof in Bangladesh:

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 5.23.34 PM

I am not a solar panel expert but the invention was, undoubtedly, incepted in a well-funded research institution somewhere. How do we quantify or qualify which problem is more important? Saving the lives of children or harnessing the power of the sun to power our inventions that have the potential to solve other problems (like water sanitation)? The difficult part is that we are human. And there is an innate desire to fix a problem when we see other humans hurting. When you temporally zoom out, however, there is merit in passion and intent. The team that invented solar panels would have, most likely, been unfit for the job of solving water sanitation problems. All we can do is take the next most obvious step, the wisdom that informs this fateful step is ingrained in our experience. At an ethereal level, intention is all we really have. Execution follows intention and that is of course where everything gets exceedingly messy as well as the place that strategies for success are honed. If we take the second quote from Saffer as valid the choice is still not easy, the question then becomes ‘how do we bring our beneficial inventions to a global scale across race, culture, geographic location etc.?’ A tall, complicated order that is a design problem in and of itself.

I would like to offer a definition for Social Impact:

The act of seeing a social problem, absorbing the context of the social problem and implementing ideas that are steps in the direction of eliminating anywhere from one element to the entirety of the problem. 

Where does this leave us? It seems to be that to actualize social impact we need to have thought through our solution using a methodology called Theory of Change which is a mapping practice to associate how your decisions and designs will have impact over time.


What does it mean to “solve” problems?

Everything that gets made is trying to solve a problem.

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 5.25.55 PMScreen Shot 2017-03-16 at 5.34.37 PM Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 5.26.46 PMScreen Shot 2017-03-16 at 5.58.44 PM

Think about it. You can’t bring anything to market unless it benefits a circumstance or streamlines a process whether that is implicitly or explicitly. Yet, as we see in the market, there are varying degrees of effectiveness. The questions that need to be rigorously explored are things like; How thoroughly have you defined the problem? Do you know it inside out? Upside down? Have you cultivated empathy with the people that are experiencing the problem you are “solving”? Where are you assuming and where are you truly aware? We all have grandiose ideas of what the world “could be” like according to our world view which has been crafted by every experience we have ever had. To put our individual grandiose ideas into perspective, we each are approximately 0.000000013513514% of the perspectives in the world. How do we integrate that into the increasing complexity and grueling reality of circumstance? An article titled “Stop trying to save the world” explores this issue beautifully. Michael Hobbes discusses multiple examples of international “social impact” developments. He outlines a project called PlayPump which utilizes a familiar playground structure to pump water out of the ground. Amazing idea!

“PlayPumps were going to harness the energy of children to provide fresh water to sub-Saharan African villages.”(Hobbes, 2014)

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 6.01.52 PM

“…to provide fresh water to sub-Saharan African villages. They didn’t.”(Hobbes, 2014)

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 6.03.54 PM

 I say this is beautiful not because it proves my point, which it does, but because it is such a widely-used example of how international development initiatives can veer away from the intention. It was ineffective in its intent, but as a design community and broader network, we are learning from the assumptions that PlayPump made. It makes us think critically and strategically about similar ‘great’ ideas. It was a novel idea that addressed a very relevant problem, yet, because there was no immersion in the problem, critical thought about the longevity of the project, or strategies for integration into the existing culture, their solution did not have lasting impact. This brings up the humanness factor again. This time talking about the outcome of acting on the desire to help people that are hurting, Akhila Kolisetty calls it “the desire to feel warm and fuzzy inside” which she is correlating with the desire to do good. Her full statement which appeared on Richard Andersons Blog post “Reflections on Gratitude” reads:

“We cannot donate or volunteer just to feel good about ourselves. Social justice will only come if we … give up any desire to feel warm and fuzzy inside…”

 This brings up a few provocative perspectives to look at the social impact space through. First I want to compliment her statement by talking about business plan and social impact competitions. In the article “Rethinking business plans” by Michael Gordon and Daniela Papi-Thornton they discuss the nature of short format competitive creation for social impact.

“Social business plan competitions typically honor the first trend while overlooking the second. There is an opportunity to rethink these contests and use them to help students identify a range of ways to create social value, beyond just starting a business. Most importantly, these contests need to foster genuine understanding of problems before asking students to design solutions.”

This segment illustrates the surface level to which these competitions commonly dive. When I say surface level I mean they have not considered the layers of complexity and integration past initial impact, they are in a competitive environment which advocates for speed at the expense of detail, and they commonly have close to no true understanding of the gestalt of the problem let alone the nuances that will overthrow or prove a “solution”. This approach to thinking about social impact and innovation makes us feel “warm and fuzzy” but takes no true steps towards actionable understanding.

Does social justice require selfless altruism? I don’t know if that question is answerable. Though my sense says that if we continue to take a masturbatory approach to social impact it will become an increasingly diluted topic that is hard to find value in speaking about. We have the potential of destroying the verbiage that represents beautiful endeavors and intentions across the globe. To build a solid foundation from which healthy products and services grow that invokes thrival and prosperity is a slog of epically rewarding proportions. What really creates foundation? (Product) Red is a revolutionary initiative that leverages consumer habits partnered with the human desire to do good and “feel warm and fuzzy”. It skims the top off of the profits of other companies with the (Product) Red brand on it. This money gets donated to HIV and AIDS relief. Abstractly, let’s think about how it does this. There is no visceral contact with the population (Product) Red is supporting. The money gets donated to not-for-profit organizations that are the “facilitators of impact”. Now we get into the confusing conversation of resource allocation and sustainability. What happens if (Product) Red goes under? Do the communities that it was indirectly serving get their support cut off? Now we are in the complexity of responsibility. In the last paragraph, we have layered multiple pieces of the “equation” for effective social impact on top of each other. This illustrates the magnitude of rigorous thought that it takes to hone a project that will work in congruency with the intention behind it. They are called problems because they are hard to solve. Not just hard to solve, but hard to even get your mind around the multiplicity of factors that affect any one piece of subject matter. Yet, (Product) Red is generating large amounts of funding for these social impact organizations which would not be generated if we were not leveraging the desire to do “good” and “feel warm and fuzzy”.

Let’s enjoy an abstract metaphor:

If you know your horse is thirsty, and you lead him to water. Even if he is truly thirsty, that’s potentially not the problem that needs solving first. He’s tired and stressed from riding so long. He doesn’t even think of water as the problem. All he can do is romanticize about the time when he gets to stop riding.

This begs the question, are we solving the right problem? The Highline “linear park” in New York City represents an interesting example of this. This project turned an elevated railway on Manhattan’s West Side into a high design “linear park”. In an article titled “The Highline’s Next Balancing Act” written by Laura Bliss, she quotes Robert Hammond, the creator of the park;

“Instead of asking what the design should look like, I wish we’d asked, ‘What can we do for you?’ People have bigger problems than design.”

Monetarily the park is a wild success beyond all projections, however Bliss explores Hammond’s reasoning for the above statement;

“Locals aren’t the ones overloading the park, nor are locals all benefiting from its economic windfall.”

“anyone who’s ever strolled among the High Line’s native plants and cold-brew vendors knows its foot traffic is, as a recent City University of New York study found, “overwhelmingly white.” And most visitors are tourists, not locals.” (Bliss, 2017)

We cannot know precisely what the outcomes of our designs will evoke, however, setting out with no definitive social intention, which Hammond admits, means that anything you come to is the “right answer”.

“During the High Line’s planning stages, Hammond and David set up offices inside a local community agency in order to make themselves accessible to public housing tenants, and solicit their opinions on design. But the questions they asked at their “input meetings” were essentially binary: Blue paint, or green paint? Stairs on the left or the right? They rarely got to the heart of what really mattered.” (Bliss, 2017)

Participatory design and co-creation should be respected. The sentiment behind it is potent because it effectively removes assumption (at least that is the intention) and the way that Hammond and David used it is a disrespect to the power it can hold and their outcome proves the difference. However, how much co-creation or user participation is too much?


Putting matters in the hands, brains and context of the people

           People need to make decisions for themselves. I think most people would agree with this statement. Of course, I will offer a counter. Drastic examples prove points more explicitly, so, imagine a heroin addict who is eating little and injecting a lot. Should this person be making decisions for themselves or do they need assistance and guidance in figuring out what they truly need? Aneel Karnani discusses a similar notion in “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: A Mirage”;

“Hammond and Prahalad (2004) cite the example of a poor sweeper woman who expressed pride in being able to use a fashion product, Fair & Lovely, a skin cream marketed by Unilever. “She has a choice and feels empowered.””

This Fair & Lovely whitening cream, marketed to low-income populations in India, is directly reacting to the desires of the user. There is a pop culture of lighter skin being more beautiful. This is the interesting difference between reactive design and responsive design. But, whats missing? Karnani goes on;

“Indian society, like many others, unfortunately suffers from racist and sexist prejudices. This leads many women to use skin lightening products, sometimes with negative health side-effects (Browne, 2004). Hammond and Prahalad (2004) argue that the poor woman “has a choice and feels empowered because of an affordable consumer product formulated for her needs.” This is no empowerment! At best, it is an illusion; at worst, it serves to entrench her disempowerment.”

This design problem requires empathy. An empathetic perspective would inform response rather than reaction. If you read into the nuance of this issue it is an issue of feeling. The women that use the Fair and Lovely product feel like they should have whiter skin because of the projections from the world. Of course, the reactive, money minded approach is to give them what they’re asking for. A responsive solution may hold principles of self confidence in character, willingness to explore why light skin is valued, a motivation to spend money on things that truly develop them as people etc. So continues the conundrum of good design and solid intention. I am reminded of a piece by John Dewey titled “The Need of a Theory of Experience”;

“Does this form of growth create conditions for further growth, or does it set up conditions that shut out the person who has grown in this particular direction from the occasions, stimuli, and opportunities for continuing growth in new directions?”

I will allow you to ponder and will say that a design only has true social impact if the outcome being aimed at is intentional and intentionally open ended, providing a foundation for further growth, freedom and interpretation.


Design is constantly clashing with duality

           We live in a dualistic world. It seems there will always be someone who disagrees with your choices and perspective. This is the reason for critique, to see what other ways your creations can be viewed that your singular perspective couldn’t dream up. There will always be a critical voice and always be an advocate. We need all of it to make a robust, well rounded design. Design what the world needs and see if it works. Either it is a successful product or service or it was a successful learning opportunity. Let’s prioritize learning over shaming. Shame perpetuates competition, which is inherently a cultivator of messiness.

Sprinkled throughout this piece of exploration I discuss the power of pure intention, the merit that social impact has regardless of its success, and the fact that learning is constant and every failed attempt teaches so many other people how to think about the given situation next time. WE need to start using our observing mind to step back and see that we are all shooting at similar targets. When someone writes an article that is in controversy to a previous writing, they are interested in the same thing and are learning from their analysis of the “failure”. Therefore, is failure a true failure? “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Sometimes this simple quote spans across generations. Revolutions are short lived. Evolution doesn’t stop.

“I want to make sure other people don’t make the mistakes we did, and learn how to deal with these issues,” says Hammond. “We certainly don’t have all the answers.”

Testing the hypothesis

In class, during the presentation of this material, I sent out a GoogleForm to my classmates and professor with a set of questions associated with the examples of products, services and initiatives that were outlined and discussed in the articles we read over the past week and a half.

The questions were structured to explore perspectives on the organizations intention, design decisions and how much we learned from analyzing the examples:

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 4.20.27 PM

This idea came from a desire to tangibly test my synthesis about the variance in the perspectives of designers. Our perspectives are a make up of every experience we have ever had so the set of values placed on design decisions and levels of intention will differ. My hypothesis was that this would be true, and also we can all agree that these examples of “failure” or “success” can be ubiquitously learned from.

As a class, we explored many products, services and initiatives. I purposefully pulled out a diverse set of these ideas. Diverse in the variance of pure intentions and design decisions.

The 5 that were tested:

  • PlayPump – A water pump that operates like the familiar playground turnstile. (sub-Saharan Africa)
  • Fair and Lovely – Skin whitening cream marketed to low-income populations.(India)
  • Highline “Linear Park” – Revamping a raised railway in West Manhattan. (New York City)
  • Lyft – The decision to donate $1m to the American Civil Liberties union after Trump’s immigration ban. (USA)
  • New Story Charity – Leveraging local laborers, resources and networks to fund and build houses as post disaster relief. (Haiti)

The answers to the first 2 questions regarding design decisions and purity of intention were relatively strewn across the board.

The answer to the last question about learning, in every case, was either a 4 or 5 with one exception of a 3. Primarily 5’s.

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WE are a design community. Im starting to feel like I have merit to be able to say “we”. We really need to learn to make it a definitive WE. Lets learn from each other and be able to own our shortcomings so that others can throughly learn from our mistakes.



From myAT&T to yourAT&T – Design Strategy Feature Brief

AT&T is a complex product that needs to do a lot of things. Things like pay bills. Buy devices. Observe different types and levels of data etc. An application that spans across commerce, finances and data usage holds a lot of complexity and therefore is inherently difficult to make in a simple fashion while still scoring high on usability tests.

The steps bringing our designs to this final stage have been arduous and many. They include conducting research with people who currently use the myAT&T product where we gain a comprehensive understanding of how it feels to be a person in direct relation with the various attributes of the product.

From there we mapped the connections between attributes and tasks. Understanding what features and components were and/or could be related to each other was key to making an experience that makes sense. Then came development of the wireframes from sketching to digital.

It then got exciting going to meet with a developer and get the creation sized up for a development timeline and then thinking critically and strategically to put those timelines into a roadmap and action plan.

In creating the Feature brief, or final document, the process is to pull the most essential and impactful pieces out from all of those processes and aggregate them into a story. This was the most clear example of always having more information than you can articulate concisely.

It was cool to see how fluent I was in this product. When you’re in the thick of a certain part of the process, its often hard to see the full value of what you gleaned from each step. Creating a Design Strategy Feature Brief is a sure way of making sure that you have dumped each portion of your knowledge on the project at hand, onto the paper or screen in front of you.

In research I was noticing 3 main things:


  • The AT&T mobile application is not a place where users go to “hangout” for pleasure.
  • The existing in-app experience feels like a conglomerate of different development efforts that have been “patchworked” together.
  • Users are confused by the multiple routes there are to the completion of a task.


The first one is pointing towards the PURPOSE of the application. How do people naturally use the thing?

The second one is regarding CONTINUITY. The current state of the application feels like it was trying to cram all of the needed attributes in the experience without thinking about things like flow, continuity, number of steps, recognition vs recall etc.

The 3rd one is regarding the actual FUNCTION of the app. How does it relate with itself? For example: There are 5 different ways a ‘+’ sign is used in the current experience.

These observations informed my design decisions. The abstraction of these observations told me what I should do…

  1. The product should provide the ability to quickly complete actions
  2. The product should feel like a cohesive, trusted experience
  3. The product should provide clear pathways to the tasks users want to complete

All of these behavioral insights and design principles are pointing towards an overarching theme of efficiency and trust being held as the highest values. Therefore with all of my thoughts I was trying to condense information. Provide more streamlined ways of moving through the experience.

The value that I promised to deliver came to this:

I promise to help AT&T customers rapidly accomplish tasks with ease while feeling in control of their account.

This massively influenced my UX and UI decisions. Especially because of the discombobulation of the current experience I was set on making it fluid and easy to be fluent in, as well as quick to develop. I was looking at this project as relatively start-up style. If I was on a guerilla team trying to get this product out to the AT&T customers because the current experience is so “broken”. Therefore I changed much of my navigation to standard iOS components to be able to get it out the door more swiftly.

In considering this drastic of a change. What, really, is a change of company posture and approach. I started to think about how a company would launch a change like this. A Feature brief could be the perfect spot to initiate that kind of conceptual, company perspective change.


yourAT&T Feature Brief V3

Road mapping from Design to Development

In my last blog post I discussed the process of going to an application developer and estimating how long a build would take. Specifically, the redesign of the mobile experience that myAT&T offers for iOS.

Since then I have mapped out the road map to bringing the design into reality based on the estimations that came out of the developer meeting.

I approached this task through 2 lenses simultaneously. The first was assessing what unique capabilities and benefits does using your AT&T application on mobile have as opposed to a brick and mortar store or the online web application. The mobile application is unique in that you can access it anywhere, at anytime. Filtering through the tasks deemed most important from our user research:

  • Make a payment and set up Automatic payments
  • Suspend or remove a device
  • Change a plan
  • Set and update account security
  • Compare usage to available plans


  • Upgrade a device.

What is most important? How does the mobile app make any of these more valuable?

Changing a plan

The reasoning behind a user changing their plan comes down to how much they are using their phone. Usually people use more data than they have allocated for themselves. Therefore when you are nearing your data limit, if your phone reminded you of that unfortunate event and you had the myAT&T application you could change your plan right then and avoid future charges.

The second lense that I assessed things through in parallel to the first was the fact that this is a mobile application. It being a mobile application that houses sensitive data and potentially vulnerable actions means it needs to be secure. For this reason, partnered with developing the Change a plan flow I developed the Login, Add Card, and Add billing address  flows simultaneously.

This development method of moving forward the functionality that was pertinent to the mobile medium as well as functionality that was pertinent to the user felt like an effective plan for providing value to the parties that really matter.


myAT&T Product Roadmap

Scoping Development – Timeline & Resources

-Tying the process together-

In my previous blog post I discussed the processes associated with evaluating a mobile application. The application we are redesigning is the iOS version for myAT&T. From the usability evaluations of our wireframes we furthered the redesign. Correcting all of the usability issues that we found. Our main goal was to be able to bring it to a developer and get it estimated for cost and timeline. Development is exciting because you start the conversation about making it all real.

The core takeaways from the evaluations were as follows:

  • The experience feels discombobulated. There is little to no feeling of continuity. The user always feels slightly unsure if they’re doing it right.
  • Attributes and/or Features are not effectively communicating their purpose. The design does not provide clarity.
  • Visibility, control and freedom are huge overarching issues. Each screen is separate with separate actions and it is relatively arduous to go back a couple steps to change something.
  • Hierarchy and priority are not clearly visualized. Everything feels the same. The design does not draw the users attention to the next step.

I tied together all of this feedback and redesigned my tasks to compliment these findings. From there it was time for development.

I took my giant printouts up to the 14th floor of a downtown office building and sat down for a development estimation meeting. In preparation for this meeting I compiled all of the flows, showed where the user was interacting with each screen and broke out all of the key components, controls and features within the application onto a separate print. In describing the attributes and functions of each component, feature, and control I started to see where I had gone wrong. It is hard to foresee issues when immersed in the core of 1 phase of a process (Design) but now that the conversation was turning towards development I was easily able to identify what would be a misstep in terms of engineering my design. In design I felt like I had been gearing everything to the user (good right? Not so good for development) and attempting to make the flow as seamless as possible. So essentially I was basing my decisions for what to build off of the prior screen and the task that was needed. Now development comes in, which means money and time are ringing loud and clear.

As I sat down to this meeting I was excited to hear what the developer would have to say about my designs.

I gave him the shpeel;

“We are redesigning the mobile experience of the AT&T iOS application. The reason this is a significant build is because, currently, in the experience it feels like someone duct taped multiple apps together. You can accomplish the same tasks from multiple different angles, there is conflicting navigation attributes etc. My value promise for this build is founded on the idea that someone’s mobile phone account management application is not one that they want to “hang out” on. Sure it needs to be good looking in a trustable way but a user should be able to accomplish their task quickly and simply with as few steps as possible.” And with that brief background we began.

While walking him through the flows he pointed out all of the controls that I had made custom that could use standard iOS features which means the code is already written and open source. Less build time for simple things = a faster delivery to the user as well as the ability to put development resources towards more important functions. Therefore I said yes to his suggestions. Further down the line I can bring custom elements in if I wish but at this stage, to provide value to the user, custom features are not essential. This also helped because, within my design, it leveraged the same simple attributes for different uses.

I had built out radio buttons:

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 5.02.04 PM   

I had built out a selector:

   Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 5.02.27 PM

I had built out a different kind of selector:

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 5.03.01 PM

All of these can be streamlined into the usage of an iOS picker, similar to the one below, for all of these use cases:

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 5.04.27 PM

From these changes a design language seems to be emerging in the form of

If there is one choice…  it’s a click.

If there are multiple choices…  it’s a swipe.

A click is commitment

A swipe implies freedom

The developers next question stumped me because it was one that slipped my mind and I hadnt even considered it. “How long do you want it to take before it “times-out” and logs you our of the app”? This is an interesting piece of the story because, in terms of the pathway through the flows, it was meaningless. However, to the overall customer experience it was highly important. Imagine if you were in the middle of buying your new iphone and got kicked off because you were trying to pick between silver and rose gold, not cool! He said it really wouldn’t take a different amount of time to code a different time-out duration but it did need to be defined. Good to know.

*Learning: In design you can’t just focus on your specific task, you must push your mind to consider all of the surrounding influences and potential scenerios.*

We then assessed my custom features:

Usage/usage progress bars:

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 5.07.20 PM Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 5.07.30 PM

A phone selection carousel:

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 5.07.07 PM

These we isolated from the estimation of the other flows and gave them a timeline by themselves. Another thing is that there are billions of people on the planet.. Someone has probably made something similar to your idea before. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use the resources that already exist. It is fine and awesome to craft your own designs, but make sure that that is realistic for the scope of the project. Is the company you are working with strong in branding which makes that a very important consideration? Or are you trying to get the product shipped out the door and the importance lies more in the functionality and initial value to the user. This is something that I couldn’t have been aware of before building my first set of screens for an app.

The output from all of the above is an estimation for the scope of the work, both price and time. We were delegated 2 (theoretical) developers working full time. So…

Resources: 2 Developers @ 40 hours per week

Salaries: $200,000 each

Estimation (in man days):

60 days to complete the project (30 days per man)

Timeline: 6 weeks

Price: $44,609.67 in total

To explain the work; I have run my system through 3 types of evaluations (Heuristic Evaluation, cognitive walkthrough, and think aloud protocol), I met with a developer; understood the way development is thought about and executed and now am moving into the phase where I need to think about the features i’m delivering and why, this phase aggregates the importance of all of the prior phases and makes me see how important it is to take all of these things into account at once. Which, from my understanding, is why at the Austin Center for Design we are learning them all as a fluid skillset. There are exponentially valuable details that are lost when a project gets handed off from one step to the other. In conversation with a developer when asked a question I am referencing all the way back to when I did research with users of the current experience to discover their most painful interactions with the myAT&T application. That reference spans across 3 disciplines.

I am looking forward to the next time I go to begin an app build because from project launch I will be considering the user, their needs, what they think about and are used to (Design Research), the goals of the service, what the criteria and principles for creation are and designing for and within those parameters and requirements (Interaction Design) as well as development and the pace and price by which my designs would be developed (Product Management). It’s all coming together!

The full collection of artifacts (task oriented screen flows, features and components broken out of the flows, estimations on cost/time, summaries, insights and conclusions are Development estimation – read out.

myAT&T Re-design

-Getting into evaluation and usability engineering methods-

A brief recap of what has happened to bring us to the evaluation conversation

Last quarter we took a head first dive into the myAT&T mobile application. We talked to people about their most painful interactions with this application and plotted our findings against each other.pain points chartThrough this ranking of difficulty, we came to understand the most common pain points. From there we went into the app itself and studied the ways those actions are executed in the current experience. It was a patchwork of an experience. There were multiple ways a simple ‘+’ button was used, to give 1 example. It truly seemed like developers had stitched together multiple different attributes created at different times.

We then went into sense making. Plotting the verbiage that was particularly important to this specific experience and the 6 tasks we had identified. We plotted these nouns in terms of their relationships with each other. These connections needed to be thought about critically. It was not just a site map, it was connections both tangible and intangible, what was the back and forth of attributes to accomplish common tasks? Noun matrix v2After this initial sense making, we made concept maps which I blogged about and you can find that here. This allowed us to map the connections within the app in a way that imprinted them into our minds. This activity is exponentially important so that moving forward with creation, ideas and redesign we could quickly reference the important details and how they connected to other key components to enable action. After fully understanding the ins and outs we consciously tried to strip away all constructs of what the experience currently looks like. Divergent thinking. Push your mind into new territory. What would simplify? How could this action be streamlined? How can we innovate? In this phase, we allowed ourselves to be unrealistic, no constraints. To translate this expansion back into the applicable context is difficult but needed, to be effective. Here is the blog that I wrote regarding the portion of the process walking you through divergent thinking and into initial paper prototype sketches.

Bringing this comprehension into digital space for the first time, I felt confident. I was quick to learn that I did not have the capability to see all of the details yet. There are things that one cannot be aware of until their attention is explicitly pointed towards the details that are imporant. And often the most important details are the hardest ones to see.

Evaluation Explanation

Which brings us to evaluation and product management. In this class, we are learning how to evaluate the learnability, usability and, essentially, effectiveness of a digital interface. The methodologies we are learning are the best-known combinations of effectiveness while also being inexpensive. The methods are called Cognitive Walkthrough, Heuristic Evaluation, and Think Aloud Protocol. These methods, in combination with eachother, provide a holistic view into the issues that prevent ease of use for a digital interface.

Cognitive walkthrough is a method for observing and assessing the learnability of a product. This method is based on a theory about the way that people analyze and solve problems. The way that I have started to think about it is like the signage of a grocery store. If our user wants some cheerios what words are they going to look for? What other things would they naturally associate as surrounding products? etc. It is performed by walking through the digital experience, screen by screen and asking the series of questions as follows:

  1. Will the user try to achieve the right effect?
  2. Will the user notice that the correct action is available?
  3. Will the user associate the correct action with the effect that user is trying to achieve?
  4. If the correct action is performed, will the user see that progress is being made towards their goal?

From this, a designer gleans the knowledge needed to make sure that the experience invites the user into it in a way that makes sense to them.

Think Aloud Protocol and Heuristic Evaluation are for gauging the overall usability of the interface. Think aloud protocol is a process that a designer facilitates with actual users who have never seen the product before. This is to create an unbiased set of responses. The user is asked to run through a prototype and verbalize the actions they are taking and their thought process to get there. To give an example, if I was opening a door handle my thought process may go something like this “Alright, I am going through the door, I see the door handle, I know that I need to turn it, I turn it, go through it and close the door behind me.” The only words the evaluator uses are “Please keep talking” if the user falls silent. This verbiage is so that they don’t go into introspection, they continue to be focused on the interface rather than think about their answer or if it is good enough. The reason you want to avoid the introspective effect is that this activates a different part of the brain than operational, task oriented thoughts do. The way I think about this one is it is like the grocery store signage designer observing real shoppers walking through her/his systems. Is it being used the way the designer hypothesized? Everybody’s brain works differently, in different patterns, with different values. Then, on the contrary, there are those things that make sense to everyone and everyone can relate to, understand and abide by. Which leads us into Heuristic Evaluation. A metaphor to illustrate the way I think about viewing a digital product through this lens is its like the rules of the road. The heuristics of the road. You have your different kinds of lines (double solid yellow, dashed etc.) on the road that mean different things. There are guidelines for what to do and what not to do. Similarly, there is a common language, and a common list of best practices for mobile applications. Do’s and don’ts. You can build the most gorgeous car ever but if the size of the product is the width of two lanes of the road, your car will not be effective and will never be used. The same goes for heuristics in mobile applications. The heuristics to hold a creation up against are as follows:

  1. Visibility of system status
  2. Match between system and the real world
  3. User control and freedom
  4. Consistency and standards
  5. Error prevention
  6. Recognition rather than recall
  7. Flexibility and efficiency of use
  8. Aesthetic and minimalist design
  9. Help users recognize, diagnose and recover from errors
  10. Help and documentation

These are exponentially useful for understanding applications in general and the common language that is behind the creation of any digital products. These are the kind of details, again, that are the most important…. So important, in fact, that when they are well executed, the user doesn’t even notice they are a thing that someone has to think about.

The utilization of evaluation

As explained, the 3 kinds of evaluations are valuable for different reasons. I used them in a particular sequence that I found to be very effective.

During last quarter, we did multiple iterations of our screens and in between the last few iterations we used Think Aloud Protocol. This quarter, I knew that I had some screens missing. Such as, when something needs to be typed in with a keyboard, I had the keyboard appear fully expanded without a screen for the tapping action that precludes the keyboard being on the screen. The screen on the far left, below, is the iteration before evaluation. I then added the screen to the screen in the middle to preclude the screen on the right to mitigate this keyboard issue as well as protect users passwords because I realized that showing a users password from the get-go was a major security issue.

 Screen Shot 2017-01-19 at 9.11.04 PMScreen Shot 2017-01-19 at 9.10.04 PM

So, for this reason, and knowing that Cognitive Walkthrough is for checking the learnability of a product, I used this method to find the places in the experience where I needed to add less important, filler screens such as the keyboard example. This worked well because it opened my eyes to other details that felt abrupt. The things that I didn’t make the user ready for.

After adding these screens and noting learnability issues I moved on to heuristic evaluations. I had 5 evaluators look at my screens and log the feedback in a spreadsheet. As I got comfortable in using this evaluation I started to not have to reference the list of heuristics, I would just start to see the issues and why they manifested that way. I think learning these methods alongside actually building an app is such a valuable cadence for learning because on both sides of the equation; evaluation vs creation, the learning is applicable. I am excited to rebuild the rest of my screens for this AT&T redesign and am even more excited to begin on the creation of my own application from scratch with all of these “rules of the road” ingrained into the way I look at interfaces now.

Lastly, I did a few Think Aloud Protocols saw that in a lot of ways, users were doing what I thought they would do, and in a lot of ways, they weren’t. Work to be done! Improvements to be made!

Breaking down evaluation findings

I’m going to start at a high-level description of the synthesized take always and then break them down in terms of where they came from and how they inform redesign.


The experience felt discombobulated. There is little to no feeling of continuity. The user always feels slightly unsure if they’re doing it right.

Attributes and/or features are not effectively communicating their purpose. The design does not provide clarity.

Visibility, control and freedom are huge overarching issues. Each screen is separate with separate actions and it is relatively arduous to go back a couple steps to change something.

Hierarchy and priority are not clearly visualized. Everything feels the same. The design does not draw the users’ attention to the next step.

From Cognitive Walkthrough I learned a lot about verbiage. The wording and phrasing is so important to afford the right actions findable. This also ties in with difficulties in navigating. Navigation flaws are very often linked with the wording that is used to inform movement. Navigation was also inhibited by screen length, mostly in regards to where the screens were getting cut off. I did not think about screen length or scrolling at all in my first phases of design so this was a huge learning. And lastly Cognitive Walkthrough was an excellent method for finding screens that were missing as I said before.

From the Heuristic Evaluations I began to see the gestault of failure in overall visibility of the app and where users were in completing tasks with multiple steps. I found that my users, often times, did not have full control of their experience. There were actions and buttons that were the end all, be all of a task and the user did not have full freedom, I was mandating them fitting into my ‘template’ of actions. And lastly from Heuristic Evaluation I more fully understood the importance of users being able to recognize something as opposed to recalling it from previous usage. This is especially significant in the context of the AT&T app because I assume that users don’t interact with the experience more than once per month. Compliment this with the fact they users probably want to get in and out fairly quickly, recognition should be highly valued.

Lastly, Think Aloud Protocol made me understand more thoroughly the power and importance of word choice. What is applicable to the greatest number of people? I was approaching the initial creation of the application with a  very minimalistic mindset. I felt, and to a large degree still feel, that at this day in age simplicity is largely important. However, when it comes to sensitive information, money, or actions that are difficult to reverse, customers are very tentative and protective of their space. Therefore, enough information needs to be handed to them so that they feel they have full comprehension of what is happening. And sometimes, in the right circumstances, that is a short text block. The combination of explanation and action is important.

Redesign based on evaluation

I will illustrate the redesigns I have made in the context of a flow of screens that are about the action of ‘Upgrading a device’. I chose this flow because it housed all of the issues identified above in some capacity.

First let me break down some of the changed attributes…

I changed the attribute that compares the data used by individual users on the account to the amount of data the account as a whole has. This was informed by a misunderstanding of the comparison of its initial, more boxy, vertical format, with the other ways that timelines and data were visualized.

This first visual is how the billing cycle and data are displayed:

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 6.26.55 PM

Take that into account when looking at how individual users data usage are compared with each other. The formatting is utterly not the same…

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 6.26.21 PM

Which brought me to the following design:

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 6.27.53 PM

I changed the boxy attribute to be the same shape as the other barometers to provide ease of mental digestion of the information.

In terms of wording, I changed quite a few things. To give a few examples, I changed:

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 6.24.43 PM

ToScreen Shot 2017-01-18 at 6.24.28 PM

Because I learned, in think aloud protocol that this could be perceived as a positive amount of money rather than an amount that needed to be paid.

Another wording change was from ‘Devices’ to ‘Devices & Users’ on the tab bar.

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 6.23.50 PM


Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 6.24.08 PM

This was significant because people were going to the “plans and usage” tab for actions regarding individual users’ information in regards to data rather than to the ‘devices’ tab. Which is fine, but not intended and in 1 circumstance was detrimental to the desired action to be achieved.

To give you a full sense of the changes I made and how they manifest here are my old and revised flows back to back.

First is the old version of ‘Upgrading a device’:

Upgrade a device 1 - originalUpgrade a device 2 - original

Then here is the redesign:

Upgrade a device 1 - redesign Upgrade a device 2 - redesignThe umbrella goal of the revision is to provide ease of back tracking. Buying a phone is a complicated transaction with a lot of steps and a lot of details and it is satisfying being able to see all of the things you have chosen while you are making your next choice.

To summarize my takeaways; this is how I will be thinking about these methods of evaluation going into the future.

Cognitive walkthrough:

What invites users in the experience in a way that makes sense to them?


Think aloud protocol:

What doesn’t make sense at all?


Heuristic Evaluation:

Structure and guidelines – what are people used to?


In combination, these provide clarity and insight into how to make products that people love to use.

You can see my full presentation AT&T Evaluation Deck here.