Jen, Laura & Vicky’s Capstone Project Kickoff

Last week we learned the topic for our capstone project that will carry us through the rest of the year: College Persistence and Completion. We met as a group for the first time a few days before our first class and brainstormed on topics that interested us and questions we had surrounding the project. During our first class, Sarah Saxton-Frump spoke to us about her organization, PelotonU, and their goals regarding this partnership.

We then broke out into our groups to form our Focus Statements. One thing that interested us after hearing Sarah speak is how shame and, more specifically, impostor syndrome play a role in students’ education decisions. We wanted to focus our research on women’s experiences because we’re interested in women’s rights and gender in/equality, e.g. the gender pay gap that still exists in the workforce today. So our focus statement is How imposter syndrome impacts women’s post-secondary education trajectory, from cultural background to employment.

One thing we have learned since crafting our focus statement is about how the educational landscape has shifted recently and there are now more females graduating than males. We find this especially interesting since impostor syndrome often manifests when people are considered successful, so focusing on women should offer us a rich data set.

Right now we’re finalizing our research plan, narrowing our selection of participants, and deciding whether to interview only women or both women and men to provide an interesting point/counterpoint. We start interviewing this week and look forward to learning about these humans’ experiences!

 

Theory: Being a Designer

Throughout this Theory class I’ve been asked again and again to show my perspective. Regurgitating the info we’ve learned isn’t enough. And a lot of what we’ve read in this last section resonated with me more than the other readings. (I’ve heard the same from other students, I imagine this is by design.) And I’ve been thinking about what I should use for the presentation and whether I should tell a story similar to my Harry Potter presentation and if so, what device should I use? Mad Men? The Wire? Beyonce lyrics? Beyonce gifs?!

And all of that seemed like something else for me to hide behind. This reading section is about Problem Solving, Being a Designer and Process. I’ve been calling myself a designer for 20 years, this needs to be about me.

When I graduated high school, instead of buying the official graduation announcements I designed my own (mostly because my dad is cheap and wouldn’t pay for the official ones when we could do them ourselves). I opted to put a quote in the announcement and this is what I chose.

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
-Pablo Picasso

Maintaining this child-like approach to creativity I think would create the world Pacione envisions where everyone should be designing. Everyone should be thinking of ways to create something that does not yet exist, no matter what discipline they consider themselves to be in.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve been a designer at a print shop, a marketing firm and an ad agency and I’m frustrated. I get a new job (chalkboard artist/signmaker) at a company I admire (Whole Foods Market) and I’m doing work that feels important. At least, making local profile signs for local farmers feels more important than making business cards for oil company employees.

And in hindsight I realize that in that role–more than in any of my others–I got to use Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt’s concept of inspiration, ideation and implementation at a very fast pace. For example, I learned that chalkboards were not masterpieces, they were usually erased and redone quite frequently. It was better to try something quick and get the message up than it was to use several valuable hours attempting perfection. So if I didn’t like something, I’d have the chance to do something better in a week. They weren’t complete failures but I’d walk through the store and make notes, like, “Well, that doesn’t look as good from far away as I thought it might.”

A few years later I definitely got to use what Edward de Bono calls lateral thinking. I was in a new role, still at Whole Foods Market, that had never existed before in our region, supporting the store artists, and I was charting my own course. I hired two more support people, former store artists as well, and we set a plan to help hire, train and support store artists so they didn’t feel like silos. We didn’t adopt a system of colored hats but we had to constantly update and change our guidance and advice because what worked for one store didn’t always work for another store. (That sounds like Hobbes, too, while we’re at it.) And since the chalkboard artist role was so unique, we were the only members of the regional team who could truly empathize and help problem-solve.

Fast forward a few more years and I’m still at Whole Foods Market, but I’m the Regional Art Director. I have a team of 6 and I get to be part of exciting projects, like designing a whole new sign template for the Produce department. (I’ve actually inadvertently done what Pilliton suggests and I’ve immersed myself in a culture for 3-5 years so I can better problem-solve for with the users.)  But I wasn’t happy.

What was missing?

First, while some of the problems I was solving could be called ill-defined, none of them were even close to being called wicked. Second, Pacione’s model of learning/understanding/making really resonated with me but it’s not what I was doing at Whole Foods Market, or at many of my past jobs. His model shows a repeating cycle of looking at a problem, understanding it, making something to solve the problem and through that making acquiring a deeper understanding. Repeat. Through repeating that process, one arrives closer to a solution.

Pacione’s model looks like this:

Pacione_Iterative_skills

I feel like what I’ve been doing my whole life, not just at Whole Foods Market looks more like this:

Historical_Iterative_skills

There was no reflection or understanding after the making step and I know I’ve seen projects happen where there was no understanding before it.

So here I am at AC4D and I’m looking forward to using the creative thinking I’ve been using all my life and applying it across other disciplines.

 

Week Seven (Seven?!) Reflections

Two days after my last Reflections blog post we got an email from Ruby saying that they were no longer mandatory but if they help then of course we should keep blogging. And I thought, “I like them, I’m going to keep doing them.” And then three weeks went by.

After I felt like I needed to toss the rules out the window in Theory/102 I made my presentation using Harry Potter as my analogy to talk about poverty. I didn’t even mention the authors! And it was fun so I was excited to present it, which is something that was missing in my previous presentations. And besides getting good feedback from Scott, a guest faculty member and my peers after class, I actually felt proud of it. I really went home and gave the presentation to my husband because I was that excited about it. Poor guy.

In our 101 class, learning how to theme has been a challenge. We’ve had something like 2 weeks to be theming but I feel like today I’m starting to get it. This afternoon the advice we got from Jon/Matt/Scott sort of clicked for me. We present to our client in like 40 hours. We’re not going to be able to theme all of our utterances before presenting. We’re just not. Or, we’re not going to be able to theme all of them AND get the sleep required for a healthy lifestyle.

I’ve also talked to my mentor twice in the past few weeks and she’s really great. The first time we talked I joked that timeboxing was just another way of never finishing anything. She said that was true but also it was good because it means I’m moving forward in ALL the things. And it prevents me from hyper-perfecting one thing and letting everything else lapse. I agree with this in theory but when it’s crunch time I’m definitely only focusing on one thing.

We talked this week and I asked for her advice on theming and she gave me some great getting-started tactics. And she gave me two helpful bits of advice. For theming, sit with the data. It takes time and being there in the room and doing the thing. The second thing she said was, this is the fun stuff. There are plenty of parts of this entire process that she didn’t like but theming is something she really enjoys.

Next week is the final week before Q1 ends. Which means 3 presentations and a review with faculty. Am I already nervous? You betcha. But I keep reminding myself of Scott’s advice to our class on Thursday: to approach this week with kindness (for ourselves and others), with patience (for ourselves and others) and with rigor. Wish me luck!

Design & Poverty: The Harry Potter Lens

Sometimes when I want to understand something deeper I apply a Harry Potter lens to it. I’m a Meyers-Briggs ISTP, which Harry Potter character is that? Oh, it’s Harry. That makes sense: I’m in my own head a lot, I’m not trying to be the center of attention but when it comes down to it, I’ll get things done. And I’m an Enneagram 5, which Harry Potter character is that? Snape? Oh, well, that didn’t help as much.

So I did the same thing for this assignment. I created a comic strip called “Harry Potter and the Plight of the House Elves.” In adding my perspective, I chose to do it through Harry. The author’s perspectives I chose to have Harry represent were Hobbes, Pilliton and Yunus.

For the entire comic strip, click here.

Harry Potter spitting Hobbes realness.
Harry Potter spitting Hobbes realness.

I definitely agree with the idea that what is a good solution for one group won’t apply to everyone across the board. As a designer it’s a reminder for me to dream small and perhaps more importantly, stay flexible! In solving wicked problems I may never be able to dust my hands and feel like I’m done.

Harry Potter and the Words of Pilliton.
Harry Potter and the Words of Pilliton.

In theory I agree with Pilliton that you have to really immerse yourself into a culture in order to solve the problems worth solving and ensuring that they are problems worth solving to that community. But it’s terrifying and I don’t feel ready to commit to that level of work yet. I’m sure that if something arose that I was passionate about, I’d move in a heartbeat. But selfishly, right now, I’d rather find a problem worth solving somewhere cool, like Stockholm or Berlin.

Harry Potter and the Grameen Bank.
Harry Potter and the Grameen Bank.

Harry’s final solution looks a lot like Mohammad Yunus’ plan for the Grameen Bank- incremental freedoms (amounts of money in the case of the Grameen Bank) to help them lift themselves out of poverty. When I first heard about the Grameen Bank 10ish years ago I thought it was revolutionary. I haven’t looked into it recently, maybe as Hobbles suggests, the model has cracks showing now that it’s expanded and maybe it doesn’t work everywhere. (That would be my suspicion.)

In the end, Harry finds himself wondering if there were a magical school where he could learn to solve these wicked problems. In that regard, Harry and I are in the same place: school. But he’s learning magic and I’m learning methods. Hopefully one day, though, when I’m practicing what I’m learning here it can look like magic.

Week 4 Reflections

Apparently we’re halfway through Q1? Scott mentioned that in our Theory/102 class on Thursday.

We had another assignment and presentation due in that class this week. We had to take all 8 authors we’d read and place them on an axis of designing for/designing with and then create another axis of our own choosing and plot them along that axis as well.

It felt like I was making a very personal assertion. It felt vulnerable that I chose an axis of “where the designer is in the process” and then placed the authors on it. I can tell you now that that’s not what came across in my presentation. I still got the feedback that they wanted to see more of my perspective in my project.

I also realized I took a too-literal approach to the assignment. I could have taken the info I’d absorbed and placed my take on it regardless of the actual assignment instructions.

It reminded me of a design project in college where we had to do 4 stages of a page layout. Stage 3 was the final layout, Stage 4 was “break all the rules.” I went wild! I applied filters to my photo, I made my line slanted, I made the header neon pink! My instructor said, “No, that looks great, that’s your 3rd stage. Now go break all the rules.”

I’ll keep you posted on how I show more of my perspective in my next assignment!

103 Assignment 3: Life Drawing

I have a hangup about figure drawing. I was an art major in college and I had a 3.98 GPA in my major- I got As in all my classes except figure drawing, where I got a C.

So I went into this last studio session with more than a bit of trepidation. But Pat makes it fun. I appreciated that he went over the basics first before we started live sketching. I’ve also historically been afraid of drawing faces (so much room for error- obvious error!) but again, Pat made it fun. We don’t need to take a hyperrealistic approach to drawing faces, we just need to get across an idea: maybe a gender or age or emotion.

Faces we drew in class.
Faces we drew in class.

For this assignment we also needed to sketch out in the real world. I did a few of my sketches at Austin Bouldering Project both in real life and looking at a photo. With more time (less sleep?) I might have benefitted from doing one version where I traced a photo. I’ve found that doing that with my daily object drawings helps me focus on which parts of the drawings to highlight.

Austin Bouldering Project.
Austin Bouldering Project.

The Role of Design Research: 8 Authors, 2 Questions

Over the past 2 weeks we’ve read a variety of articles that touch on theories, frameworks and practices of design research. We were asked to consider if they were designing with or designing for. I interpreted that as designing with or for the end user. As a designer I was most curious about where each author would put the designer in the problem-solving process.

8 authors and where their theories land in the cross-section of these two questions.
8 authors and where their theories land in the cross-section of these two questions.

 

1. Paul Dourish
As human computer interaction expands, Dourish wants us to consider, or rather reconsider, context when we’re gathering data. I placed him toward designing with. And I doubt he envisioned designers being at the forefront of that process, though I don’t think he’d be against it so he’s in the middle.

2. Liz Sanders
Sanders extols the value of co-creation, which she defines as collaboration to create something not known in advance. She thinks there’s value in using co-creation at all levels of a company and at various stages of the design process depending on the goals. She does say that the earlier in the process co-creation happens, the greater and broader the likely impact so I’ve placed her in the upper left.

3. Jodi Forlizzi
Like Dourish, Forlizzi wants us to think about context. Her Product Ecology framework clarifies how we should select design research methods to solve problems. As her focus is mainly on qualitative research and product design I’ve placed her in the designing for quadrant with the designers entering the process later in development.

4. Jane Fulton Suri
In her articles, Suri illustrates the benefits of experience prototyping and corporate ethnography. In every prototyping, the designers are running the show but she’s absolutely designing for since she’s not utilizing the end user in her process. In discussing corporate ethnography, she acknowledges that it’s useful but still needs to go deeper in order to solve the wicked problems.

5. William Gaver
Gaver takes a wholly unscientific approach as he explains the value of using Cultural Probes. His point is that by posing open and even absurd questions, we’ll get surprising answers. He’s bucking the traditional system of being objective. So while he’s using designers at the beginning of the process and designing with the end user in his data collection, he’s not interested in doing anything with that data.

6. Christopher Le Dantec
I’ve placed Le Dantec at the top left because he’s out in the world using design research to design with. He describes his process to gain empathy from the homeless community and understand how technology affects their daily lives.

7. Don Norman
Norman argues that there is no room for design research in innovation. He points to random past inventions (planes, trains, automobiles) as proof that we don’t need design research. His tone is very get-off-my-lawn and I think he’s uncomfortable with the idea of designers at the helm of the innovation ship, a position he, as a technologist, has traditionally enjoyed. I don’t even think he necessarily believes his own argument but he wants designers to prove that they should be there.

8. Jon Kolko
Kolko wants us to use all research to learn from and emphasize people, not technology or business. It’s possible that lightning-strike innovation (of the kind Norman references) exists but design research + synthesis is a formula for getting us there without lightning.

When I first thought of making this graph with the vertical axis being the role of the designer, I thought it would make a straight line of dots from the upper left to the bottom right. Upon deeper reading + having deeper conversations I was both surprised and intrigued to find the outliers.

Making the Grade

In one of my earlier blog posts during orientation I wrote that I was worried about failing. We were told constantly that we’d fail in the beginning for the simple reason that we don’t know what we’re doing. After all, if we did, why would we be going through this program?

I’ve been graded on 3 assignments so far and on the first two I got a 54 and a 61. I texted my sister about it and she said, “OMG are you okay?” She thought that I would be devastated by my grades. I was not devastated at all! The 54 was the find a business/sell them your plan/develop a research plan/present it to the class in fewer than 48 hours project and, uh, we did it. 54 points is over half of the possible points! For a a thing I didn’t even know I could do!

The 61 was for a presentation on super dense readings we had done and I felt underprepared and uncomfortable, at best. So a 61 was better than I expected. Plus, room to grow, amirite?

Yesterday we got our studio/drawing grades back and I was fully prepared for my 50-something grade– and I got a 79. Y’all. Apparently I overshot- I got so good at failing that for a split second I was disappointed because 21 points is not very much room to grow!

Other notes on this week: I need to get faster at transcribing, stat. I need to prioritize the readings for the 102 class better because they take so long to absorb. I actually did all my daily object sketches! And I joined Austin Bouldering Project because I think 25 minutes on the wall or in their sauna just might keep me sane over the next few months.

Week 2 Reflections: Still not drinking coffee

I’ve always thought of myself as relatively laid-back. I prefer chilling to being active, I like my drama to be on television—not in real life, I’m calm in a crisis. But ask me to present a six minute presentation and I spend a whole calendar day spiraling into anxiety.

I don’t know what I’m so afraid of! Physical pain? Death?! I’ve literally been calmer when a bee has landed on my face or a coral snake slithered next to me while I’m hiking. Here’s the thing, though. If we were broken into groups of 3-4 and I had to do the same presentation? No nerves. I’d be so cool you could skate on me.

At any rate, what I learned in my feedback is that I made my presentation harder for myself. I made a simple Keynote presentation and relied heavily on my memory and notes. I should have made a more robust presentation and let that do the heavy lifting. (I was also told that while I presented the information in a clear way, I didn’t include my own perspective. Apparently understanding these dense readings isn’t enough and I have to actually form opinions about them?)

Other things that happened this week, in no order: we did our first interview! • I wish I’d put more time into sketching. I enjoy it so I made myself do my more unsavory tasks first but then I didn’t get to spend as much time as I’d have liked on sketching. • “Working sessions” are a procrastinator’s dream. Come to class and then do everything I should have done before I came to class? Fantastic.

5 Intellectuals on the Importance of Design in Society

In an alternate universe Edward Bernays, John Dewey, Victor Papanek, Neil Postman and Maurizio Vitta sit down over a glass of their beverage of choice to discuss the role of design in society. This is how I imagine that conversation would go.

Neil Postman weighs in first. He’s not against design, the same way he’s not against technology (as he argued in his speech in 1990 to IBM-Germany), but he is against design for design’s sake. Design has the capacity to make things “better” but, to what end? Technology has “amplified the din” of information to the point that we are drowning in it and have no idea what to do with it. If design isn’t problem solving, but is instead making a billion pretty things, what’s the purpose?

Victor Papanek slams his fist on the table and says that’s his point exactly! Why aren’t designers being held accountable for designing unsafe automobiles or garbage that ends up in a landfill? You know what the problem is? Designers are being forced by a quickly-accelerating society to roll with their first idea! Designers need to have both a sense of responsibility and an atmosphere permissive to failure in order to truly solve society’s problems with design.

John Dewey says he sees the merit in this and he adds that education could play a role in that “atmosphere permissive to failure,” but only if it’s an education that results in a student’s positive growth. If the teachers don’t pay attention to the experience a student brings with them to the classroom, their perfect lessons might indeed be a failure and not the kind they were intending. It’s the interaction that’s important: that ideal place where the teacher’s experience meets the student’s experience and the student’s growth is positive and she retains her curiosity and initiative in spite of setbacks she comes across in the future.

Edward Bernays looks around the table and laughs. Is everyone serious right now? Design is completely irrelevant, public opinion is what is driving society! In 1926 a public-relations counsel was utilized to completely reimagine the millinery industry. Everybody was involved! Beautiful women, artists, publishing houses, fashion designers: they all played a role in the creation of a velvet hat trend that knocked the felt cloche off of its pedestal. Then they used that momentum to bring velvet gowns to the masses as well, simply by photographing those hats and gowns on various countesses or duchesses. And if everyone here at this table thinks that’s old news, literally, he’d like to remind them of what happened when Carrie Bradshaw wore her Manolo Blahniks or when any product is posted on Goop.

At the mention of Goop, Maurizio Vitta coughs and takes a sip of his beverage. You’re all wrong, he says.  The only reason we’re designing anything at all is because we have a need to consume, driven by a need to work and be social. As more and more objects are created, they begin to lose their functional value and start to simply define the person using it. As such, they become cultural signifiers regardless of public opinion or the designer’s education or intention. Designers (and the objects they design) might be perceived as important in a certain moment but as culture is constantly changing, that moment is fleeting.

End scene.

Below is a visual of their positions.

5 positions on the role of design in society
5 positions on the role of design in society