I don't get it

While Ben is busy building version one of the Feast for Days product, I’m trying to meet with anyone who will listen and get feedback on our business idea. I reason that if I can make enough people fall in love with me (and our idea) prior to having a product, we’ll have the beginnings of a solid community of participants and advisors by our launch.

Even though I’ve given the Feast for Days speil a million times, I’m always terrified of hearing those four words that feel like a flaming arrow straight into my esophagus.

“I don’t get it.”


This past week I met with a chef who had successfully started and sold several restaurants. Because of some last minute shifts in schedules, we only had 15 minutes to talk. As I’m sitting there waiting for him to show up, I’m going over how to structure the conversation.

1. He tells me about what he does.

2. I tell him what I am doing and ask him three specific questions

3. He answers my questions.

4. I compliment and thank him

5. We shake hands and leave

Feeling confident, I sip on my espresso. The chef soon sits down next to me. He has tattoos and an edgy buddhist prayer necklace, I’m wearing pleated light blue slacks and a polo.

Me: “Thank you so much for meeting with me! To make the most of our time, I’d love to first learn about what you do, so I don’t go into detail about things that do not matter.”

Chef: “You tell me what you do first.”

Me: “Uhh…”

Being thrown off my plan, I launch into a quick explanation of AC4D and our business. When I finished, I look at him waiting for some sort of response.

Chef: “I don’t get it.”

I quickly try to gain an understanding of the aspects of our idea that he did not understand, but sure enough he had to leave and I sat there alone in my light blue khaki pants sipping on a cold espresso.

Lessons learned:

1. Always have a one sentence business objective or goal.

2. Always have a bulleted list of no more than three tactics your business employs to accomplish that objective or goal.

3. In order to mitigate the effect of discouraging experiences always have a discreet list of no more than 3 hypothesis that you are trying to prove or disprove. When feeling discouraged, look at those hypothesis. If you still do not have answers to them do one of three things.

-Continue doing what you are doing

-Change what you are doing to get answers faster

-Change the hypothesis you are testing

4. For times when looking at hypothesis do not help. Beer is always good :)




Technology as it relates the design process

Artifacts presenting the role of technology in the world and its importance.

  1. New technology advances slowly and new technology is available to a select few.
  2. People are influenced, constrained, and motivated by technology in every stage of the design process.
  3. The design process results in the creation of things in the form of products, services, and systems.
  4. Things shape people and some of those people are are influenced, constrained, and motivated by new technology.

  1. New technology advances rapidly and is available to a large population.
  2. Ubiquitous new technology allows more people to act as designers.
  3. People are influenced, constrained, and motivated by technology in every stage of the design process.
  4. The design process results in the creation of things in the form of products, services, or systems.
  5. Things shape people and most of those people now design things.

This is important because I value people and want to live in a world of things that do more good than harm.


Prototyping Food Find

It’s the first day of Christmas break and I still can’t stop thinking about AC4D :) Last night was our final presentation for our Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving class. See below for a summary and reflection. Enjoy!

Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem solving is basically a fancy way for describing an Introduction to Making. This course provided me with a filter and framework for the entire process of creating something that previously did not exist, which was helpful given my preexisting phobia of making. Below is a quick snapshot of the process with mini-definitions to follow. (Note: if this really excites you, you should google the terms in the diagram as I am simplifying definitions for people like me who are impatient readers :).

Use Cases: A top level view of all goals an artifact will help users accomplish. Note artifact is a fancy word for thing.

Scenarios: Stories of imaginary users and how they will interact with your artifact given specific situations, needs, and desires.

Storyboards: Sketches of the scenarios that visually (and more completely) showcase the essence of an artifact.

Process flows: A focused and oftentimes technical view of the steps that need to happen to make your artifact work.

Wireframes: Visual layout and diagram of the artifact that starts to communicate how the artifact will look and feel visually.

Prototype: A test artifact that has many of the same features as the finished product used for the purposes of communicating an idea and testing how users will interact with an artifact.


To better learn this process we came up with an idea related to our research, which we would then put through this process. My idea was Food Find, a web application that of functions like a Groupon or a deal of the day…but for FOOD!

Here is a link to an interactive prototype. Note you’ll most likely have to download it, and view using Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader X.


When reflecting on things that I learned about the process and my idea, Food Find, one of the first things that comes to mind is the importance of rigor. The creative process is oftentimes depicted as a single moment, much like the flip of a switch to turn on the metaphorical light bulb. This is far from reality, or if it is reality it is one small step in the creative/making process. And the subsequent steps (see chart above) can change the initial lightbulb idea completely.

This process also taught me the importance of visualizing ideas both through storyboards, wireframes, and prototypes. Oftentimes, I rely too much on my oratory ability which I think is much stronger than it actually is. But I was blown away with how ideas and concepts surrounding Food Find were much easier to grasp by others when it was visually externalized.

The next time I do this process, I am going to push my self to externalize and visualize even more. I was super impressed by my professors Matt Franks, and Lauren Serota, and some fellow students, Diana Griffin and Cheyenne Weaver’s ability to bring ideas to life through thoughtful and provocative visual design, and I definitely want to grow in that area.

Also next time, I will take more sersiously the beginning stages of the process, (writing stories and basic diagrams), which at the time seemed a little trite. The old adage you have to crawl before you run is definitely true in that one can’t design something big and complex until he or she knows the basic uses for it.

In summary, this was a great class. Many thanks to Matt and Lauren for teaching it, and I’m looking to seeing how what we learned manifests itself in 2K12.


Service design course leads to a great idea

Dentist’s Offices, The Ritz Carlton in Costa Rica, Coffee Shops, Japanese Bullet Trains, and purchasing an HP touch pad…

These were some of AC4D 2K12’s best and worst examples of a “service” which we then discussed, dissected, and diagrammed during the first few classes of our service design course taught by the man, the myth, the legend, Jon Freach (@jfreach).

Like other AC4D classes, wisdom and knowledge were not gained through lecture but primarily through reading, thinking, making, reflecting, disagreeing, drinking, then making some more. We learned from case studies and Jon’s first hand experiences with designing services such as the wayfinding system for MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas.

We also used insights gained from our research to design a service that would meet the needs of a vulnerable population of people. Ultimately, Ben Franck and I came up with the blueprint of a service, We Cook, we are going to try and bring to market next semester. See below for a description.

In short. We Cook is a service that facilitates groups of people cooking a week’s worth of food together for an affordable price. Below is a short case study of a potential user.

Meet Jane. She is a single mother who is stressed out because right now money is tight.

She hears about We Cook from a friend who tells her that it is an inexpensive way to get a week’s worth of healthy home cooked food.

Jane goes online and registers for a We Cook class.

During class, Jane meets a chef, who instructs/mentors students as they each prepare a bulk meal.

At the end of the cooking session the students swap meals so that every student has 7-8 meals to…

take home…

freeze, and then eat throughout the week.

While there are many design challenges associated with this service, we are super excited at the potential to leverage the economics of food purchased in bulk to change people’s behavior surrounding food.



Update from the field: Interviews in Public Housing Communities

This quarter my research is focused on interactions and behaviors associated with food purchasing and preparation among lower income individuals. I’ve found the most difficult part of the process to be recruitment. I intentionally decided to avoid organizations that work with lower income individuals because I’ve found the navigation of organizational hierarchies to be cumbersome and inefficient. Instead I’ve been hanging outside of grocery stores in parts of town where cost of living is low, and asking people if they would let me watch them shop and ask questions. While this has resulted in some great discussions and observations, it quickly realized that to gain better insight I needed to go to people’s houses and see the space where they prepare food. While most of the people I interviewed were happy to let me watch them shop, they were staunchly opposed to me coming over to their house.

In an attempt to watch lower income individuals cooked, last night I wandered around public housing communities in Austin. I was shocked/slightly disappointed in myself with how out of place I felt.  I was walking in neighborhoods and complexes that were 10 minutes down the road but I definitely felt like I did not belong. As I walked past groups of people sitting outside talking, conversations stopped, people stared. When I asked if I could watch them cook, the responses were either, “No,” or “Come back another night.” I had people come up to me and ask, what I was doing, if I was looking to buy drugs, or if I was an undercover cop.

I did have one good conversation with a young man who asked to not be photographed or recorded. Before letting me in his house, he made me lift up my shirt to show that I was not “wired.” He showed me his kitchen, his refrigerator, and his pantry, then we sat on his porch and talked about food, housing, and life. About 45 minutes into his conversation, he quickly stopped and said it was getting to unsafe for me to be there and that I needed to leave.

Off to do some more sense making of the data I’ve collected thus far.

We’ll see what happens tonight.



Mitigating complex problems through the language of design

Our final assignment for the first quarter is to describe the difficulties in solving complex problems. For those super-complex problems we affectionately refer to as “wicked problems,” there seem to be an endless amount of difficulties that continually shift as personal, cultural, and governmental environments are ever changing. 

Before getting into what Cheyenne and I would consider to be one of the main difficulties in solving complex problems, we have to start with the question, “Why does solving complex problems matter?” Even though the answer may seem obvious it is worth emphatically stating that complex problems are everywhere and they affect everyone, and as such we may, at best aim to mitigate rather than truly ‘solve’ them.

In looking at the seemingly infinite list of complex problems it is apparent that one of the main difficulties or hindrances to solutions being found is the lack of a common language among problem solvers.  This rest of this paper will provide an argument for what this common language could be and thoughts on how this language should be taught.

What should be the new “problem solving language?”
To quickly define our terms, language will refer to any set or system of signs, sounds, symbols, or gestures used in a more or less uniform fashion by a number of people who are thus enabled to communicate intelligibly with one another.

And problem solvers will be individuals who devote cognitive, financial, time, and/or skill resources to solving a complex problem.

With these definitions in mind, let’s turn to identifying what this common language could be. Being students at the Austin Center for Design it may seem trite to say that design and design thinking could be this new problem solving language. However, when looking at the essence of both complex problems and the field/profession of design it seems to be a natural fit. In his article entitled, Wicked Problems in Design Thinking, Richard Buchanan positions design as “an integrated discipline of understanding, communication, and action,” with practitioners being tasked with deeply understanding the novel intricacies of a situation or problem as to create something that affects human experience for the better. Since wicked problems are “complex”, and designers, according to Buchanan, are tasked with inventing new areas of expertise and understanding with each problem they have to solve, it makes sense that the language used in design could become the new language for solving, or mitigating complex problems. Chris Pacione of the Luma institute would most likely support this idea of design being a good candidate language of problem solving as he compares design literacy to math literacy in his article, Evolution of the Mind: A Case for Design Literacy. Pacione asserts that concepts and skills such as inquiry, evaluation, ideation, sketching and prototyping as foundational for solving problems.

So if design is to be this new language for problem solvers, what should be the foundational symbols of communication for this language? In addition to having an understanding of inquiry, evaluation, ideation, sketching and prototyping (Pacione), Cheyenne and I feel that another critical component to being fluent/literate in design is having a solid understanding insight. Insight by both designers and non-designers alike can sometimes be viewed as this mystical “aha” moment designers get seemingly on a whim. In reality, insight can be cultivated and better understood through rigorous methods in the areas mentioned above (inquiry, evaluation, etc). This understanding of insight is critical, such that furthering literacy of insight methods is a crucial part of innovation and argumentation. In turn, strong innovation is key to finding solutions to complex problems.

How should we teach the language of design/design-thinking?
When looking at how to teach the language of design and design-thinking we need to ask ourselves what is the end goal of our educational efforts? Are we trying to make designers out of everyone or are we trying to facilitate dialogue and collaboration among designers and non-designers? Cheyenne and I would argue the latter to be the goal. In his article on wicked problems, Richard Buchannan contrasts specialist professions that exist in science with the more generalist profession of a designer who seeks to have a broad integrative understanding of many different fields. Based on our readings and the discussions we have had with guest lecturers it seems that this movement of design-education within organizations seeks in some ways to turn specialists into designers. Cheyenne and I wonder if there are better ways to go about widespread design-education as to maximize the skill sets of great designers and great specialists in the purpose of collaborating to solve complex problems.

One of the ideas that consistently surfaces as we discuss the idea of teaching design to outsiders in the context of intensive seminars or boot camps is the fear of teaching people just enough to unintentionally design something that does more harm than good. It seems that there is relative consensus among classmates and instructors that people become good designers through interactions and feedback with people who are better designers than they are. This generally occurs over a longer period.

Cheyenne and I feel that a different and possibly more effective approach to design education could be:

  1. Establish more institutions that create great designers
  2. Teach all problem solvers (everyone) the value and basic tenants of design and what makes a great designer
  3. Create better channels and methods for communication between designers and specialists
  4. Create spaces and roles for a team of designers to exist in organizations that currently do not have said team
  5. Create platforms for apprenticeship for designers working in environments where they feel like they have hit a professional wall
  6. Help designers themselves with the skills necessary for more effective external and transparent communication of insights and non-linear thinking.

We’ll let you all know what our fellow classmates and instructors think in a future blog post.


Studio Week 8…The Fear of Making

Early in my education experience, I became painfully aware of the fact that the visual things I made were “different” from the other students. I dreaded the times when my teachers would come around and look at our individual pieces of art, smile and say what she thought they looked like. With other students, the teacher could guess whether they had drawn their family, or a monster, or a baseball player. When the teacher came to my drawing they had no idea what my haphazard collection of lines and dots were supposed to be. I always had to tell them. My teacher would then write what I drew at the top left corner of the page so other adults, namely my parents, would not be as confused. One time when I was in fourth grade one of my paintings mistakenly made it into a first grade art show…I didn’t win. I’ve avoided making visual things since elementary school.

This week, I made something…Granted, at some points I modified something that already existed (like my mobile app website), but I modified it in a way that did not involve clicking to plug something into a template. I actually did some coding! I also choose color palettes, and watched tutorials for the Adobe suite and used Photoshop and Illustrator to create a logo and a mock up of the opening screen. It’s a pretty basic website (with very limited functionality), but I feel like I actually created something that did not exist before, which feels pretty good.


Some Jonathan Lewis originals below. The title written by my teacher at the top of the page on the left is, “Once upon a time, there were Cowboys and Indians.”




Prototyping Week Two: Everyday Chef is now Burger Me

To recap, the past few weeks we’ve been creating business models and mobile prototypes based on themes we discovered during our first few weeks of research. My initial business idea involved empowering individuals to establish their own nano-enterprises by developing a platform allowing “normal people” with cooking skills to sell their dishes. It was called Everyday Chef.

Last week I spent about 20 hours creating the intro sequence of slides that allowed someone to register to become an Everyday Chef. During my conversation with Justin, he drew the Facebook icon right in front of me and said, “I’ve just solved all your problems.”

My attempt to stick it to the man is over. Facebook you are now a non-negotiable in our digital existence. Please be careful.

Also, my classmates and professors challenged me to “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.” They suggested I focus on one specific food and set one price point.

So what is one meal that most people love and is really hard to mess up?…HAMBURGERS!

I’m still wrestling with how this fits with my values surrounding obesity prevention, but the concept of empowering individuals to turn unused skill sets into a commodity that can be sold is intriguing. I think it could ultimately lead to building stronger local economies, cultivate stronger communities, and provide supplemental income to those that need it.

But for now, I’ll just stick to burgers.

Prototype video below, enjoy!