How Might Service Design Serve a Startup?

The Service Design course of the Austin Center for Design has spanned two classes with one per quarter. The purpose of the course was to assess a service or product through human-centered design processes.

Human-centered design focuses on the users because ultimately they become the experts through their repeated natural interactions with the product or service. Observing and paying attention to the users’ unique behaviors and stories offers the design teams intimate understanding of the values and issues that can align users with meaningful improvements.

The team comprising of Vicky Pridgen, Cristina Suazo and Gerald Codina chose to study the company, Lettuce, and their customers. Lettuce is a young local startup with a loyal environmentally conscious subscriber base. Lettuce is a food distribution network that sources food from local vendors and growers. Their primary service is delivering food in the form of meal kits which customers can prepare as recipes.

Lettuce Concept Model
Lettuce strives to create a local food ecosystem, from farm to table then back to farm.

Our biggest challenge and takeaway for our team from this project has been defining and delivering value to our client. We have learned how to explain what customers value, the value Lettuce provides, and how to identify the value our team would ultimately deliver to Lettuce’s leadership.

Read more about the details behind the assignment and methods we learned by visiting our project website and enter password “lettuceeat” to view!

Concept Model: Perceptions of Educational Outcomes

The concept models our team is presenting are two graphs related to working post-traditional students. The models titled, Perceptions of Education Outcomes, was created from early data from interviews with student participants. The graphs are describing a misconception about education. The graph on the left, figure 1, is the expectation that personal resources invested in college relate directly with future earning potential. Figure 2 is a graph that relates the educational journey with a perceived increase in vocational autonomy and benefits. We believe these graphs will shed some light on some of the expectations and motivations driving students’ career choices. After we dive further into the data, we can contrast these perceptions with the reality of the student’s journey maps.

Graphs showing student’s expectations that invested personal resources are directly related to earning potential, autonomy, and vocational benefits.

Design Thinking’s role and misconceptions

The presentation I will be giving today (Oct 11) features eight authors who discuss topics relevant to understanding design thinking.
Herbert Simon’s article, published in 1973, discusses issues initially concerned with artificial intelligence. This article and its examples provide a means for framing problems and solutions in the same manner as a designer would. He makes a case that traditional logic is ill-equipped to deal with the dynamic nature of ill-structured problems (ISPs). Edward de Bono (article from 1988), Rittle and Webber (article from 1973) similarly make the case that a misconception exists where logic appears to solve ISPs after the fact. Simon and de Bono both provide unique approaches to ISP solving, but both involve generating new information or a “dialog” that nudges the solution along in a new direction or new goal. These four men, Simon, de Bono, Rittle, and Webber, have helped us identify a new form of problems prevalent in our contemporary culture.
The other four authors, Pacione, Cross, Wyatt, and Buchanan, recognize that the old liberal arts of mathematics and science were particularly useful in the Industrial Age, but these traditional problem-solving disciplines fall short handling the complex problems of Experience Age. Design, as a discipline of the new liberal arts, has been argued as particularly suited to tackle the dynamic complexities of ISPs, therefore Pacione, Cross, Wyatt, and Buchanan are advocating for the teaching of a new design literacy so that a higher number of people could be brought to bear on a number of contemporary social problems. Pacione parallels a design literacy with how Fibonacci made mathematics useful and accessible with the book, Liber Abaci. Pacione makes a strong point about how Fibonacci’s contribution to teaching and explaining mathematics not just for mathematicians but to everyone else developed into an accessible math literacy, a scaffold on which Western Europe began to flourish and drive both the Industrial and Information Age.
My attendance at the Austin Center for Design was meant to build a more profound understanding of design thinking for me.
Pacione brings up a point in his article from 2010 that resonates with me as a designer. He says a pervasive misconception of design would hamper the progress of design thinking. I agree with this point and perceive a future need to define this problem more. I frequently deal with colleagues and clients who misappropriate the value of my role to bring design’s importance to the table. I think its pretty evident to anyone who has been in a working environment that teams will collaborate far better when roles are clearly understood.
Most people over-inflate the superficial value of style. Vitta and Papanek shared their concern for this misfocused emphasis. Style is but one communication tool out of many. Substance and real communication come to life through various forms like photography, color palette, tone, pace, rhythm, structure, motion, texture, auditory cues. Design serves content and content serves intent.

I attended a design school that called the program Visual Communications. The name helped me affirm my understanding but only after the true nature of design was genuinely understood by me years later. Although calling design, visual communications could help the public reframe design; I think we’re after something else.

I think that it’s more important for the design team to understand what they are defending and nurturing so that conversations with clients are reframed to push content value forward. “Make the logo bigger.” is a common enough demand that its a joke. Try explaining the logo’s size from the defense viewpoint of style. Would that defense sound something like this “A bigger logo would stylistically ruin the balance of the layout.” Either way, defending style is bound to come off like design arrogance, “My opinion is more nuanced than your opinion.” You’ll probably lose the interest or the trust of the client. The communication preference would balance the conversation towards involving the client in a discussion around the hook of the messaging or the order of importance on the page/screen (hierarchy). A designer could also include discussions of the other brand visual cues that already reinforce the company’s presence. The designer has likely nudged the client towards more meaningful input and design rationale.
I will continue to reflect on misconceptions about design and maybe even design thinking. Communication from the product or service point of view will always serve a vital role. A misunderstanding of marketing research and other scientific methods also exists. These reading are also essential because they touch upon this other misconception as well. I will have to find a different time to explore this more but hopefully before I need to explain this to a new client.

Design Thinking-Social Business Visual Story

The theories class was tasked with reading seven articles with topics ranging between design thinking, social work, and social businesses. The storyboard I’ve created will showcase themes I find to be critical and explain the positions of each of the authors. The primary theme and value that I take away is the idea of creating ecosystems. These ecosystems are not necessarily the biological systems but a self-sustaining system within a community and/or a social business. The reason a cyclical system is beneficial is that it can return value over the long-term. That is after all the big point behind any efforts involving the disadvantaged or wicked problems. Ensuring that the value being delivered to disadvantaged communities can continue to receive value long after the work began.

The other values I wanted to convey are; how “designing with” can build teams of growing collaboration and how challenging conventional thinking is key to identifying problems.

The link will take you to my storyboard slide show.

NIWeek2019_Artboard 2

Week Four: Who’s With Me?

Four weeks into the AC4D program, and I am figuratively mud doggin’ my way through this week. For those who are unfamiliar, “mud doggin’” basically involves running a pickup truck or 4×4 vehicle through a flooded field of deep mud with total abandon and total uncertainty of making it out. Style points apply for making a mess of everything and making a damn fool of yourself. This week has felt like going with full abandon to the other side as fast as possible, but spinning wheels, kicking up high rooster tails of mess and mayhem, and looking like a damn fool.

One thing I did not look like a fool at was when my team and I gave a presentation of real stories and quotes from our design research project to the client on Thursday. This project began on August 22nd, and the interviews started on September 1st. Our client is involved in community supported agriculture, sustainability, and distribution. It has been a gratifying experience. The participants we interviewed each had interesting stories and personalities. I have rethought my assumptions about social norms. It’s pleasing to know how willing people are to share their stories.

I wish I had reserved more time to rehearse my theories class presentation. From my days of teaching, I have discovered I have a sweet spot between under preparing and over-preparing. I did not reach my sweet spot. I was enthusiastic about sharing the epiphany I had about the Le Dantec and Dourish articles, but I rushed my information, and the argument structure collapsed. My big takeaway was to assume (moving forward) that all our opinions will differ and it is so much more important to make a stronger stance. My mistake was thinking I didn’t have to sell my ideas so hard. I feel vindicated in the next set of readings that I’m on the right path. Designing with has deeper and a more enduring reach.

I have a classmate who confused the difference between giving feedback and giving advice. It was frustrating because I wanted the trust and opportunity to resolve a particular issue about our presentation on my own. Providing feedback is to design with. Giving feedback grants the listener a choice or problem to solve with autonomy. Giving unsolicited advice is to design for. Giving unsolicited advice grants the listener an assumed solution. It is inappropriate to design from a solution rather than to design to a problem. This person was determined to get me to accept their advice (under the guise of giving feedback.) I will use this experience as a learning opportunity.

Design Research that Endures

I am writing today to discuss the role of design research. The theories class began with discussing our role and responsibility as designers to society and the ethical challenges. The course naturally followed up, to meet these challenges, with the role of design research, the perspective of how designers may conduct themselves and their team-oriented design research projects. The goals I want to emphasize are my desire to elevate my new profession (upon graduating Austin Center of Design) We can deliver values of many considerations with a broader reach, that is more enduring and value that is more meaningful. Furthermore, we are more directly seeking critical ideas to articulate benefits of and defense for our relatively new roles and methods. This class itself is conducted in a fashion that reflects the values we are learning.

The assignment for the past two weeks included ten articles written by eight thought leaders. The underlying theories focus on the role of the design researcher between to design with the user or to design for the user. We are looking to analyze and then synthesize the considerations in these articles to form a perspective on the role of design research. The authors of the articles are listed here in chronological order:

  • Jane Fulton Suri; 2000
  • Paul Dourish; 2003
  • William Gaver; 2004
  • Jane Fulton Suri; 2006
  • Jodi Forlizzi; 2008
  • Chris LeDantec; 2008
  • Liz Sanders; 2009
  • Jon Kolko; 2010
  • Donald Norman; 2010
  • Chris LeDantec; 2010

I have been able to draw a few themes about establishing the value promise shared among these articles. If one is going to choose which “tool” is most appropriate, one needs to identify the situational advantages designers can bring to who they design for and/or with. The benefit I have identified is that designers can elevate their profession in the long run while bringing value with a broader reach, that is more enduring and value that is more meaningful by designing with the user.

Considerations brought from the reading can be summed up as who benefits and to what range and scope are we concerned?

Who benefits? According to Fulton Suri, LeDantec, Dourish, Gaver, Sanders and Kolko the scope of bringing direct involvement with the users, participants, stakeholders, and design teams fosters a positive, cooperative experience that Dewey could subscribe. Sanders’s 2009 article argues that designing with can deliver longer lasting meaningful values from the outset of a project. LeDantec’s 2008 and 2010 report shows that his considerate and respectful involvement of the homeless could have positive repercussions beyond the success of his study. The publics, or groups of common interests, would have the immediate social self-actualizing experience that Vitta would approve of. Based on this I would argue that designing with your users is ideal for approaching wicked problems.

What range and scope are we concerned with when we talk about designing with the user? I am referring to multiple perspectives of reach in both scope of the problems identified, and the scope of innovation. According to Sanders, Fulton Suri, Dourish, Gavers and Kolko, the extent of problems identified is more significant with a social mindset or research focus. Kolko argues that focusing on human behavior and user-centric approaches open up a broader range of opportunities and potential. Norman, Kolko make an argument about incremental innovation is a strong consideration to make. Similarly, Dourish makes a case for the context and social conversation regarding how relevant and subjective something like how incremental or revolutionary an innovation is for instance. There is no benefit to assigning a Minister of Innovation to determine what is or is not revolutionary.

I have identified that designers who implement a user-centric, behavior-focused “design with” approach will elevate their profession in the long run while bringing value with a broader reach, that is more enduring and value that is more meaningful. Victor Papanek would approve the experimental spirit of cultural probes and experiential prototyping. John Dewey and Maurizio Vitta could support of the social value and the wicked problem addressing potential of designing with.

Metaphorical vantage point to observe more and cover greater distance in enduring design.

This graph shows the authors I discussed and the degree to which I believe they are either design with or design for and their potential to accomplish enduring design research.

Week Three: Finding Context

Three weeks into the AC4D program, and I am diverting much of my attention to theories class articles. As I process one particularly dense article by Paul Dourish called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Context” and how it applies to designers, my brain processors would be hanging up a spinning beach ball of death.

While the article renders in my head, (although not quite in a suitable resolution yet) it has afforded me other ways of assessing at my AC4D experience. I will be looking to find more meaning in practicing all the methods and skills we are pushing to the limits. I am making considerations about what is relevant in my educational dialogue.

I am getting more into the rhythms of all my classes. Timeboxing is revealing my “areas of opportunities.”  My most fruitful experiences this week was drawing 100 objects. For every sketch I made, the challenge diminished because my muscle memory was returning. I spent years practicing and developing my drawing skills and then years of letting that practice collect dust. The feel of having my dormant art school skills come back has been enjoyable. Now I have new demands to push my skills further but faster.

I have nothing nice to say about transcribing audio.

I am fortunate to have one aspect of the semester developing at a good pace. There are other aspects of this semester that demand more attention. My core belief is that there is always room for improvement so at no point will I think I am good enough. Considering where I need to be to view myself as an excellent design candidate with the autonomy to grow, I see that my most significant room for growth lies in my theories class. I want good tactical skills, but I am aiming for solid strategy and communication skills. Time to get back to work.

Week Two: Do No Harm

Two weeks into this unique learning experience. If there were a theme to synthesize of this week, it would be “Do no harm,” a fundamental ethics principal. I have my doubts if the patterns I experienced this week were designed, but it has been an interesting coincidence. There has been a pattern of pattern recognition. Over the course of the last two weeks, we’ve been asked to find common themes in several UX related exercises and assigned readings concerning design’s role in society. My brain has become primed to connect ethics with my social environment.

The week has included how to work, plan, delegate, resolve issues, move forward in the face of disagreement, brainstorm, and critique harmoniously. Its a theme of how to conduct ourselves interpersonally. An assignment in our theories class included ranking the assigned reading in order of importance and articulating our position in a six-minute presentation. Encompass common threads throughout the separate reading was very useful in forming my presentation’s angle. We had a lecture about how to uncover compelling insights from our interview data which involves finding patterns and themes. My team was fortunate to experience a couple of lessons with the instructor. He walked us through simplifying the focus statement of our research plan and the conceptual block we were having with that focus statement. This distilling is necessarily the same mechanics of finding a common denominator.

My wife complained that part of my blog had become too cryptic to follow along. I related the comment to Postman’s “Informing Ourselves to Death” article, and I thought about accessibility. A conversation with a mentor brought up issues from NPR’s stories about photo privacy issues with Facebook, hate speech and false information on Twitter, the implications of a single button or feature, and the proliferation the conscientious food companies. Declaring the awareness does not make me a complete designer. I accept the realization that ethics is not a simple promise. I am realizing I will need very thoughtful deliberate hard work on my part to fulfill this new design responsibility.

Rise Above Good

Today, I will have a presentation about the IDSE 102 class. This theories class focuses on the role of the designer in shaping culture and ethically positioning design in society.

This assignment includes six articles ranging in topics from design, sociology, marketing, public relations, education, to information technology, We had two class discussions about the articles and even molded a common theme from them. The final part of this assignment is to draw a graph placing the readings in order of importance. I do not believe the sequence is fundamentally essential but putting them in order forces the students to take on a perspective, form an opinion and justify that opinion.

Several connecting threads run throughout the papers. Society and culture play different roles in almost all the articles. There is the integral role of unchecked consumerism and mass production in the Papanek, Bernays, Vitta and Postman’s articles. Culture plays the role of perpetuating misconceptions and dated expectations (Meaning of Design, Manipulating Public Opinion.) Society in the form of manufacturing and marketing playing a role of resisting change (Design for the Real Word) or imposing short-sighted policies (Informing Ourselves to Death and. All of these roles conspire in some fashion to set traps for designers or diminish our profession.

In my journey as a designer, I have some experience dealing with the misconceptions and false expectations of design. This personal relationship with the some of the themes covered in the articles sets up my perspective in order of importance. The order of importance follows what I have learned and what I find critical in my path to growing beyond being a “good” designer.

To effect a good design process, the primary function must be considered. When conversations involved in the design process are distorted with cultural misconceptions and shift focus from function to aesthetics, the critical problems are left to persist. Although this is not a literal reflection of The Meaning of Design, it does parallel the issue. This point is just one of many that prevent designers from providing lasting value to society.

My graph begins with an extra line at the middle. This was to set some context for the discussion around which article is most and least important. I marked having a job because it is the most neutral thing in the context of a design profession. The line graph below represents my perspective as to how I and my fellow classmates should see the progression of their understanding of these readings and their relationship with culture and their careers.


We could start with Papanek as I did. Making a case for good design is developing the ability to persuade stakeholders what the most effective design goal is and how that could potentially affect their customers, brand and bottom line. Postman’s article, Informing Ourselves to Death, develops a healthy perspective about the pitfalls of technology and too much information. A tool is just a tool. What matters is who and how it is used. This segues into ethical questions. Bernays overly optimistic article, Manipulating Public Opinion, leads me to emphasize “doing good” is subjective, requiring subject strong ethical alignment. It takes more than being a “good designer”. Designers have a responsibility to elevate their work to ethical standards. Bernays and Vitta both made good points about design’s responsibility to society. The most important article to me is based on the strong effect emotional trust and positive trajectory his case makes for experiences in education.


First Week Inductions

One week into this unique learning experience and I feel like I’ve learned so much more than a week could produce. I also feel like I’m already a week behind. I’m already grateful for switching to part-time work.

The first class began with an honest brain juicer. We were asked to define value and how that ties into the human experience and why we (design thinking students) are bothering with user experience at all. Why we need to figure this out becomes critical when we will launch into a very challenging part of our first assignment, asking for a 1000 dollars compensation in exchange for our contextual research. My team will see if we have properly formed our value statement soon. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein. If you don’t understand it well enough, how can you convince others to appreciate the value we provide as well? Confidence will help too.

The class assignment included slide presentations introducing the business we chose to work with and the research plan we were going to execute. The presentations were a sweaty throat parching affair. I have made many presentations since college. Everyone in class could see we needed to elevate our presentation game. Every single slide, bullet point, physical detail and statement uttered was an authentic learning experience. Every presentation and critique became a chance to learn and gain something useful. The analogy that comes to mind is blacksmithing. We were each thrown into the fire and hammered everytime a team got up to present. Making peace with the learning experience quenches the fear and builds confidence.

The week wrapped in the studio class. The studio class will build our visual communication and visual problem-solving skills. When I wrote my school application’s statement of purpose, I wrote about my early love for drawing and admitted to losing a good deal of those skills by neglect. Confidence built up with every sketch and goofy stick figure. I am very grateful to need to dedicate myself to drawing again. I saw resistance and dread among some of my classmates. I find myself wanting to help and convince them any style, crude or simple, can have lots of character and be visually engaging.

There is lots more to learn and mentally articulate. I see opportunities to leverage a part of each class in another. I hope I can work faster and catch up.