The End of the Beginning

Several months ago, before our research began, Nicole and I had very little understand of what civic engagement in Austin even meant. We knew the system wasn’t perfect, what government system is? But we didn’t realize how excluded and marginalized so many people felt every single day.

Our capstone project, The Pulse of Austin, was born out many, many conversations and iterations on a simple premise: Government should be collaborative. 

Decisions and policies that govern a whole body of people, shouldn’t be made to benefit only those that speak the loudest and hold the most power.

Yet that’s often the way it works.

How can we expect the government to shape policy to meet the needs of its residents if it doesn’t hear from them? And how can we expect residents to chime in, if they never see the benefits of doing so?


We believe that cities can be shaped collaboratively. But it’s not easy. Collaboration requires both residents and stakeholders to come to the table and interact.

What we are pushing for is a cultural and behavioral shift. We must make working towards a shared vision of Austin a more common practice. And that means people must speak up regularly, and not just the same voices that have always existed in city hall. And we must make city council accustomed to hearing from its constituents. 

There is a very little intimacy between the city and it’s people. The disconnect is startling. Yet we are all affected by policy every single day.

There is clearly a space for The Pulse of Austin to live and bridge this divide.  I believe both the personalization and guidance the mobile app provides are significant differentiators that can push towards our vision of collaboration.

A system as large as civic engagement, was never going to be redesigned in the course of a school year. We have much more work to do.

Nicole and I are building partnerships with city stakeholders and learning from experts steeped in the field of civics, while keeping our feet on the side of the residents. It’s their voices we want to make clear, and this is the balancing game of a true human-centered designer.

Our time at AC4D is ending, but we aren’t done yet.

Our next move is to apply for a fellowship with Code for America with the hope to get funding so we can keep the lights on as we continue to build.

code for america

Mobile App Strategic Feature Brief

This quarter I’ve taken on the role of a product manager for a mobile banking app. First, I met with a developer to size and scope the app, then I sliced the original product into an MVP version by removing the non-essential features. This was done so that we could build the product as quickly as possible (and still provide value!). Next, I rearranged the most important features into a product road map. The roadmap is a sharable document for both the design team and the engineer team. I also created a version of the roadmap that is mostly just for me, so that I can track the different components and features and prioritize which to build.

Now I am presenting a feature brief to the board. The brief will live as a document that our entire team can refer back to as we move forward. It helps our team to stay grounded in why we are building certain features, and how we are prioritizing them.

For example, when the bank first decided to create a mobile banking app, it was to serve specific user needs. Many of our customers are college students and young working professionals with little time on their hands. Here are some of the things we heard from our customers:

Banking Strategic Features User Quotes.001

Customers are negatively impacted when they can’t make it to the bank.


Banking Strategic Features User Quotes.003Customers make personal tradeoffs to fit banking into their busy schedules.


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Customers only go to the bank when they absolutely have to.

This led our research team to the insight that taking time out of one’s day to go to the bank feels like a hassle and causes our customers to resent banking.

Since we are in the banking business it’s in our best interest to make banking enjoyable. Even more so, our bank would have a competitive advantage by accommodating the needs of our users busy schedules.

Given this, we are guided by a very simple value promise.

Banking Strategic Features value promise.001

The following are 9 core features that will be built into the app.

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Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 7.28.26 PMScreen Shot 2018-04-15 at 7.28.52 PMScreen Shot 2018-04-15 at 7.28.37 PMScreen Shot 2018-04-15 at 7.29.29 PMScreen Shot 2018-04-15 at 7.29.41 PM Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 7.29.03 PMScreen Shot 2018-04-15 at 7.29.19 PMScreen Shot 2018-04-15 at 7.29.55 PMIt may seem strange that we included making an appointment to go to our bank a core feature, but what we realized it that sometimes user do want to talk to a banker face to face. Money often makes people feel insecure and there is comfort in the physical interaction. Being able to make an appointment easily and in advance helps a user avoid extra wait time that they might find when just dropping in.

The product roadmap was update slightly from the last version in order to highlight our core features and bring the chat functionality into the third release, whereas it was in the last two releases in the original map.

Product Roadmap Simplified SMALL-01


Here is a closer view of the strategic releases:

Product Roadmap Simplified-03

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To see the full strategic feature brief document, you can go here.

Shaping Reality

“Reality” is the way that we experience the world, and as such, there is no one reality. There are as many realities as there are human beings, and we all construct our own whether we are conscious of it or not.

I believe there are four main things that shape reality.

4 reality shapers@3x


Let’s start with education. Education is a reshaping of the way people think (and therefore behave). We are trained at a really young age on how to see and interact with the world. More often then not, we are trained in non-integrative thinking, which philosophizes that the boundaries of the world are set and we must accept unattractive tradeoffs when resolving conflict. We tell young children, “life isn’t fair” and “that’s just the way it is”, but we don’t often ask them to imagine how might things be. 

At other times education is focused on retraining the brain and getting us to see the world in a new way. Byron Good speaks about how medical students start to see people as a compilation of anatomical parts. This is really useful for someone learning to be a doctor, so long as they have the ability to switch frames and see people as people.

Design education retrains the brain to see and understand new realities. We ask that question that wasn’t posed to us often enough as children – “how might we reimagine the world?” In design training, we are given the tools of empathy building, design research, and defamiliarization so that we can see the world with new eyes. It’s essential to understand the realities of the people we are designing for. But much like how doctors must see humans as both anatomical parts and as people with feelings and fears, designers must dance between the realities of those we serve and those in which a solution lies. We are warned by Don Norman and Roberto Verganti to not become trapped in the current paradigms of a problem space, and lose your ability to see new ones.

Language and thought also shape reality.

Authors Dubberly, Mehta, Evenson, Pangaro give an example of how education reframes language. “The way we usually think about healthcare is bound up in the language of our healthcare system.” Which means the way we approach healthcare is limited by the paradigms of the system. These authors advocate for a shift, a reframe, in the way we think about and approach healthcare. They advocate for giving the responsibility of healthcare back to the patient, and have the patient envision themselves as the healer.

Language is another construct of the world we are taught at a young age. Keith Chen’s study on language tells us, “Languages that don’t have a future tense strongly correlate with higher savings.” Which means Eastern languages see higher rates of saving money for the future. This is as simple as saying “I will save for a house” versus “I save for a house”. The omission of the word “will” reframes the way the speaker thinks about their actions and in turn correlates with higher savings. 

future Tense

Steve Rathje says, “Metaphors can reframe the way we think.” He gives the example of a recent Stanford study, in which half of the participants were told that crime as a “virus infecting” the city. For the other half, crime was described as a “beast preying” on the city. The two different groups had very different ideas on how crime should be dealt with. Those with the “beast” metaphor thought that crime should be dealt with by longer jail time. Those with the “virus” metaphor thought crime should be dealt with using more reformative measures that addressed the root causes of crime.

Language and metaphors don’t just reframe the way we think, they reframe the way we behave.


Keith Chen wonders, “Why is it that we allow subtle nudges of our language to affect our decision making?”

I believe that we allow this to happen because we are not conscious of it. Rarely do most people monitor their thoughts and take the time to understand the outcomes of their thoughts.

Sunni Brown, is the author of the Doodle Revolution. She talks about we can use visualization to create new imagine realities. She says, “I believe that we contribute to our current situations more than we’re often comfortable with accepting.” 

She is referring to the fact that our thoughts dictate the way that we experience the world. That we actually create reality through the way we construct our thoughts.

As designers, it’s important to remember how we are shaping and reframing the world through design. Ian Bogost warns that technology has it’s own purposes. He says that humans are ceding their lives to the world of machines and that human goals are now being influenced by technology’s goals. 

This is dangerous because it steals from us our agency as humans. As designers, I believe it’s our responsibility to help people become unenslaved from the realities that have been created for them, and to be given the power to see the world in new ways. To see the world how it might be.


Thoughts World


What subtle nudges are shaping the way you behave?  How might we take control over our realities?

Testing the Pulse

The vision of The Pulse of is constantly evolving and solidifying. This past week we were lucky enough to share our vision in front of an audience and simulate the concept with real users.

Our goal for this week was to define and create for users the “magic moment”. In our case, this is the moment when a user (or rather, resident of Austin) learns something they didn’t know before and has an “Oh, wow” moment. This is the point in time they start considering their city in a way they hadn’t before.

The magic moment is crucial because it’s also the catalyst that kicks off our larger theory of change.

User Testing

We invited a few people to meet us at a coffeeshop, and they answered a few questions about themselves prior to our meeting.

What neighborhood do you live in? 

How do you travel to work?

What places in Austin are important to you?

Knowing a few things about the users allowed us to create some content to share with them that felt personal. We created personalized maps that correlated with small info cards and the users were able to “click” on the map and then read the cards.


“Is this really who my representative is? I had no idea.”


It was neat to see how people responded to information, what they already knew and what was new to them.


Testing Phase Two

Our next round of testing will more closely simulate the experience one would have actually using the app. We will be sending out text messages to users once a day giving them different types of content. We want to see how users will respond to:

  1. Content that relates to locations nearby
  2. Content they can “vote” on
  3. Content they can respond to with an emotion

Most importantly we hope to track how many of the testers respond back to us and find the messages valuable. If it doesn’t feel valuable, or worse, it feels bothersome, then we will have to find another way to get people to care about local government.

Recruiting Users

We decided to launch an ad campaign on Facebook and Instagram. We are trying out several versions as experiments, to see what people respond to.



Beyond just gauging interest we believe these ads will be hugely valuable in sussing out where to find our early adopters. We still hold a major assumption that people would download an app to learn about civic matters. So making some of the ads “app centric” will help us test out that idea.


Today we met with a developer. Actually building this as a native app would be a huge time and financial investment. Although anything less strays from the original vision, time and money are two commodities we don’t have a lot of. Luckily there are other ways we can build this product and we are exploring which option is best.

Stay tuned to hear the update next week on which path we are choosing.



Creating a Product Roadmap

Last week, I worked on sizing the features and components of the banking app I am redesigning. I met with a developer and we went over in days how long different features would take as wells as how long the key flows would take to build.

I estimated the total app to take around 5 months for 1 developer to build.

This week I have been focused on creating a roadmap for exactly how this app will get built. In order to prioritize which features to start with, I asked myself: What is most essential for a banking app? What would be most valuable to a user? and What features are “nice to haves” that can be skipped for now and added in later?

Step 1 – Prioritize

First I prioritized the key flows by writing them out on a list and shuffling them around.


Some of the prioritization is debatable, and I actually did move things around some when I late went through features. For example, I changed see transactions to come before mobile deposit because that made more sense for both capability and the timeline of the features to be built.

Step 2 – Thin Slice

Next, I went through the wireframes of all the key flows and eliminated the parts that were non-essential.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 8.23.18 AM

The main features/components removed were those that the developer mentioned would take longer, and also didn’t detract from core value.

The first to go were: scheduling, a carousel for the accounts, touch ID, search and filtering for accounts, adding a non-Wells Fargo account, and a lot of the navigation from the menu and section screens were removed and added in along with the corresponding features.

Each of the new “thin slice” was saved into it’s own file so it could be shared with a developer.

Step 3 – Documentation

From here, I created an excel document and put all the flows in order of priority, typed in the features to be removed, how many days it would save, and the rational behind that decision.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 8.34.20 AM

Step 4 – Product Roadmap Version 1

For the first round of the product road map, I put all the features and components for each flow into a column and marked which features would be removed in red. This way I could make sure to add them back in to a later part of the road map. I also noted how many days it would take for each flow.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 9.50.30 AM

Step 5 – Add in Release Time Frame

Then I added up the days and figured out when we would be able to make a product release based on days and coherence of the features.

I decided that the first release could happen after one month of work, and then after that we could develop a 2 week release cadence. For the first release, the user would be able to log in, create an account, see their balance, view account transaction, and even make a mobile deposit. I felt really good about providing all this, which really is the core of what a banking app should do in my opinion.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 9.55.09 AM

I incorporated buffer days into each release. If two weeks is 10 working days, a lot of my release timelines were 8 days. However, the 3rd release has a 12 day timeline, and I worried the buffer from the first release (2 days) and the 2nd release (2 days) wasn’t enough.

Step 6 –  Add a Developer

Next, I reorganized the product roadmap thinking of how I could utilize two developers on a project instead of one. For the most part it was simple.

I thought about keeping the developers on the same type of tasks. For example, one developer does “mobile deposit” while the other does “view account transactions”, as opposed to having them both work on the same task. There were a couple of times when I had to move order of items around in order to make work days fit a timeline and keep core functionality together. I didn’t want to have “pay a bill” built and released at a different time from “view bills”.


Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 10.09.48 AM

I kept some buffer days in the release timeline so that the different parts could be wired up.

At the very end of this roadmap, there were really just a few more features to be added in. At this point, the release cadence can switch to a one week cadence and we can update, fix bugs, and add small features even more regularly.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 10.13.20 AM

On second thought….

The total time line for two developers is only 3 months. I think that’s relatively low, and allows space and time for other aspects of the app, like a “safe to spend” feature to be built in. I think what I would do, is have one developer work on the updates and bug fixes and have the second developer work on new features that can be released on a slightly longer time line.

Hopefully this way the app will always be improving.


A Designer’s Dilemma

Designer2You just got hired at a design agency called Wingo. It has an excellent reputation. You’re a junior designer but you know that after a year here you can get a job just about anywhere.

You’re boss puts a new project on your desk one day. It’s for a healthcare agency called PharmaWorld.

PharmaWorld is best known for creating important new technologies, like insulin regulators, and selling them at 5x the market price.

Choose your own Adventure BLOG.001

Your decisions have consequences, and depending on your choice, here is what happens:

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Next, you need to pick a partner to work on this project with you.

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Choose your own Adventure BLOG.005

Choose your own Adventure copy.001

Either approach you take, doesn’t mean you forget the importance of synthesizing and seeing underlying patterns of behavior.

The people you spoke with told you, “I don’t know what I want, I’m just lonely all the time.”


You discover a pattern of social isolation among the depressed.

You decide to solve for depression by creating a robot that can provide emotional support. You remembered that people feel the effects of human like interaction even when expressed by technology (Cugelman and Weinryb) and really think this idea will work. Choose your own Adventure copy.003


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Choose your own Adventure copy.007

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Choose your own Adventure copy.009

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Robot cleaning

This design really excites you because it aims to create what is possible but does not yet exist (buchanan)

Choose your own Adventure copy.001

Choose your own Adventure copy.002

The reality is that design work is complicated, and often the “right” answer depends. Even when a designer starts off with the best of intentions, they can get lost in the process. It’s important for designers to find an internal “North Star”, a guiding set of principles that influences their work.

We must ask ourselves: What change am I really out to create? Who am I here to serve? And, what is the impact of the artifacts I unleash into the world?

The Pulse of Austin Goes Mobile

After a short break The Pulse of Austin is back in action and we are finally building out our design! Nicole and I did a lot of spinning our heads this past after a couple of meetings with local stakeholders that did not go as we’d hoped…

As a brief recap, we’ve been looking at civic participation in Austin and how residents reach out to local government and their experiences in doing so. During our research we learned that there are a few primary sentiments that serve as barriers to being civically engaged:

  1. “I don’t know how it works”

One woman we met expressed interest in letting her local government know about a concern at her grandchildren’s school. However, she didn’t know to whom she should reach out, or how to go about it. As a result, her efforts were unsuccessful, and she is now angry and disengaged with her city government.

2. “I have a job and two kids. I can’t attend a bunch of meetings” 

Educating oneself on local issues can take a lot of time. The city’s website is filled with hundred-page PDFs that aren’t reader-friendly. Attending a meeting at City Hall or even a neighborhood association meeting isn’t reasonable for a lot of people due to work constraints and family obligations. Existing opportunities for citizen input are typically during work hours or on weeknights, and they consume at least one solid hour. This doesn’t fit with people’s schedules, nor their priorities.

3. “Government doesn’t feel like it relates to me”

Many people are concerned about local issues, like traffic, but they don’t see their connection to a potential solution. People do not feel a strong sense of agency in creating change at the local level.


Initially we wanted to focus on closing the feedback loop for residents. We focused our goal this week on simulating a topic driven complete feedback loop with a community advocate.

We met with two people specifically we hoped to pilot with. However, after meeting with them, we were forced to reevaluate our original design. What we learned is that we can’t predict the best time for a resident to chime in with their opinion in order to receive timely feedback. The unfortunate truth is, if residents speak up at a city hall meeting, they aren’t likely to make an impact. Agenda items often have already been decided upon by the time they make it to city hall. We don’t want to create a scenario in which a resident voices their concern and still feels unheard because their timing did not work with the issue’s lifecycle. There is something more broken about the system than just a feedback loop solution can address.

While we still believe the feedback loop is crucial to building trust between residents and local government, it doesn’t feel like the best place to start in order to create lasting change and encourage more participation.

Instead, we are starting with the basics.

Pulse of Austin Logo-15

Regardless of education or income, I can’t tell you how many residents in Austin we’ve met that have no idea where city hall is located, who their representative is, or the fact that Austin is divided into 10 districts.

What if we start by educating residents on how local government works, and in a really personal way? What would civic participation look like in a world where everyone knew what issues were being discussed, who to reach out to with a concern, and even how budgets were decided upon?

Theory of Change

If residents gain more civic confidence, then they will be more likely to participate in their communities, engage with local government, and contribute towards solutions. As Austinites engage with city government more regularly, their voices will carry more influence in shaping their city.

Our concept

tag review

We are creating an an app called the Pulse of Austin, as a way for Austin residents to keep a pulse on what’s happening in the city. Conversely, our hope is that it will also be a way for city stakeholders to better understand the residents’ concerns and sentiments. Not only will users get bite-sized chunks of information about how the city around them functions, but they will be able to weigh in on the things they care about as well as see the perspectives of others.

Topic Home

Submitting a Voice Flow smallWhy an app?

Although it’s admittedly a bit cliché to for a design solution to take the form of an app, we thought this format would prove especially powerful. With a mobile app we can leverage the GPS within a phone to provide the user with tidbits of information that relate directly to their lives. Making government feel personal will start to build the missing connections between individuals and their city.


For example, if an Austinite regularly takes a walk on the trail around the lake, they might see an alert like this:

iPhone 8 Trail Alert 1

And if they choose to learn more, they are given small chunks of information about the trail.Pulse Trail Flow-02

What’s next

Over the next couple of weeks our main focus will be to build out the design and create some of the content that our app will provide. Additionally we will be conducting user testing to seek regular feedback and adjust our design accordingly.

Questions we are still asking

In the short term can we create something valuable enough to keep residents coming back?

And in the long term, is our theory of change correct? Will creating civically confident residents lead to a more collaboration in shaping the city?

Sizing a Design

A couple of months ago I was working on redesigning the Wells Fargo banking app. I restructured it, simplified it, and created wire frames for all the essential flows a banking app should include (in my opinion), as well as some additional capability that Wells Fargo currently doesn’t offer.

Now it’s time to talk to a developer and size the design.

Sizing is the process of understanding how long it will take to build out different components and features of the app. A component would be something like a dynamic list, such as this transactions list below:

Checking Account - 1 – 2@3x


A feature would be what that dynamic list does. In this case, the transactions list populates and displays the latest transactions from a designated account. For each screen created, I marked the component, gave it a name, and described the feature below the component name.

Artboard 1@72x-100

When I met with a developer to discuss the design I printed out all of the screens and taped them down onto big sheets of brown paper. This way we could write on them and look at them all at a glance. I put a small pink sticky note next to each component and a small blue one described the feature.


Mark, the developer, made his estimations according to flows. He thinks in days and carefully nodded along as I walked him through each screen. We marked up how long things would take on orange stickies along with new things to think about for different components.


Mark was great, and I had been particularly interested to learn what it’s like to work with a developer. He pointed out several holes in my design, things that hadn’t been thought through. I knew he was going to try and do this. In fact, right before I went to meet with him, I threw together some quick ‘error state’ screens, and patted myself on the back for being well prepared.

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“But what if they lose connection in the middle of a transaction? If they just refresh, will it send the transaction twice?” Mark asked. Clearly it wasn’t his first time thinking through these things, and it was enormously helpful to hear his insights.

From Mark, I also learned how much I didn’t understand about how certain systems work. Like how when adding a new bank account that’s outside the system, I had set the system up to search by name of the financial institution. But really we just need the routing number and account number to confirm the account.

Perhaps most importantly, he got me thinking about how using similar conventions and components that repeat throughout the system save the developer a lot of time. I noticed I often changed things later on as I designed, and didn’t go back to make sure I was utilizing the same conventions. It got me thinking about how I was not only giving more work to a developer, but I was also making the user’s experience more confusing and less cohesive.

The screen on the left was designed earlier on and the screen on the right was made several weeks later

The next step in sizing is to document all the components in a spread sheet and list how long it will take to build each part out. I did this in two ways. First I created a sheet with columns for the types of components that could be found.

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Then, on a separate sheet I listed all the flows and put all of the components into each flow along with their feature, and screen. Here is where I listed how long each flow would take, and I added comments from my discussion with Mark on certain components.

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Over all, he estimated that it will take about 93 days, or 4.5 months to build everything out. If there were two developers working full time on this project, I could have this version of the app done in 2.5 months. This seems really quick!

But how do we know this estimation is correct? Sizing estimation (so I’ve been told) is extremely inaccurate. However it’s good to get some type of scope for what it would take to build something.

New Earth and Why Designs Fail

This is a story about Earth, what’s happening, and why it can’t be fixed. 

Earth Full

The trouble started with the invention of the internet.

People began to spend more and more of their time online in front of screens. The amount of information, especially contradicting information, was so overwhelming that people didn’t know what to believe and they began to mistrust most of what they saw. They sought solace in the echo chambers of online communities that reinforced existing belief sets, as this environment was much more reassuring. However, this caused extreme polarization to grow as sub communities fed off themselves and ignored other viewpoints. The result was that the political landscape became irreparably polarized and damaged as trust declined.

The government was actually the first thing to go on Earth. Youth especially, didn’t trust it, and instead they gave their attention to the commercial world, to new flashy companies with new flashy technologies. The best and the brightest minds graduated and went to work for these companies and used their creativity to get people to click on ads and spend even more time in front of screens.

Dead Interfaces

It was the divide between the rich and the poor that was most potent. The tension between the two sides, the haves and the have-nots, spawned resentment within communities and war between nations.

Simply put, the rich were too rich, the poor were too poor, and no one knew how to create balance.

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The rich, tried to give their money away constantly, to charities, to individuals, but the money never seemed to actually help. Transferring money alone didn’t bring liberation or stop suffering. Money just disappeared into the ether not creating any real change. Screen Shot 2018-03-15 at 10.53.16 AM

Charities worked furiously trying to help those in the greatest need like the homeless, those living on less than $2 a day, and victims of a natural disasters. They ran successful fundraising campaigns, received huge donations and launched initiatives to build new communities and help as many people as possible. But even if they looked promising at the onset, after some time, all their efforts fell flat. Their solutions weren’t used by the beneficiaries. The communities they built turned into ghost towns, and they couldn’t understand why.

The world looked to it’s youth and it’s designers, those would-be saviors charged with creating positive social impact. Students were given money, shown the problems and told to pitch the best solutions – help! But none of the students really understood what they were dealing with in the first place. All their designs were destined for failure because they were designing within already broken system. 

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Earth was finished.

Depression was rampant, plaguing almost every human on the planet. Humans had given up on each other, and given up on trying.

People lived secluded lives, trusting no one, and venturing out only through digital interfaces and virtual realities.

Virtual Reality


Not everyone had given up, and there was one interesting technology that was being developed.

People had finally figured out how to safely transport humans away from Earth, and there was a plan to colonize a new artificial planet, called New Earth.

New Earth Travel.001

New Earth gives was an opportunity to start over; it was a clean slate. And this time, they weren’t going to fuck it up.

Before launch a select group of extraordinarily altruistic and intelligent people were designated as Stewards of the new planet. These Stewards were trained extensively on the human psyche, what’s best for human kind and how to help manage people. On New Earth, each Steward was assign a group of people to look after and care for.Stewards1

There were two brothers in particular that were selected as Stewards for there kindness, intelligence, and upstanding characters. 

Brother 1 was diligent in planning out the colony. He created parks, rivers, lakes and little walking paths that wound around beds of exotic flowers. He avoided the mess of money all together. He gave everyone assigned jobs, and if anyone needed money, they could just come to him and ask for it. He was happy to give money! But he wanted to make sure they were spending their money on the right things and not making poor decisions.

Each day he walked around and asked,

“How’s it going?”

“Good, expect…” a colony member began to reply.

“Great! See you later!” as soon as he confirmed things were good, he continued on with his rounds.

He saw his colony as perfect, and was very proud of himself. No one was homeless, no one was in poverty. Life was good.

But before too long, people became unhappy, and Brother 1 didn’t understand why.

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Brother 2 took a different approach to planning and creating the colony and it started with a conversation.

“How should we build our community?” he asked.

Brother 2 listened to the people and helped them organize and understand themselves as they moved towards a shared vision of their colony. It took time. They played out multiple scenarios, and helped each other see why some decisions were more promising than others, and eventually there was a consensus.

New Earth Colony.002

Brother 2 was happy and proud of his colony as well, but he knew it wasn’t perfect. He understood the power of time. Time changes even the best designs as people grow and change within a system. Brother 2 was diligent in monitoring the system they had created. The people paused regularly to reflect on micro changes and to course-correct if necessary.  They practiced mindful reflection both as individuals and as members of the community. They became stewards of each other and the colony they had co-created. Conflict did arise of course, but people were taught to express their concerns and struggles and make time to work through conflict before resentment could be imbedded.

If designers hold any merit in taking on social impact work, it should be for their awareness that they don’t have all the answers nor all the domain knowledge required to address the problems of humans. It should be in our awareness of the power we have (or dont’ have), and our ability to transfer that power. We must design with humility and a willingness to learn, experiment and diligently course-correct. An agency model of design work is troubling. Can we really hand over the design after a month of work and then wash our hands of it? We will never be able to anticipate the all the implications or future outcomes of a design. It’s negligent to think our work is done when the project contract ends.

The world is not static, people are not static, and designs are not static. We must be able to intercept a failing or warped design before it’s too late, and give the people that use our design the tools to see the larger system and adapt it to their own needs as they will inevitably change.

The Pulse of Austin Goes to Market

The Idea

Last week in Giving Life to the Pulse of Austin, we outlined our process in gathering data and creating a service blueprint of our idea. This week we’ve been focusing on our go-to-market plan.

We’ve created The Pulse of Austin ( as a way to collect and aggregate voices of individuals, as well as visual provide them with a feedback loop. This way, residents can see how their participation makes an impact. Additionally, we hope to provide decision makers in local government with a way to respond and address the collective concerns. Lastly, we will provide an education piece and highlight the programs that already exist within the city that might prove useful.

The platform builds off of several different perspectives we heard during our research:

EllenI’m angry at them [city government]. I came up to [my councilman] and asked him ‘when you gonna come out to the neighborhood and check out stuff?’ … He said ‘oh I’ll be out there’, and nothing. And I gave my number to him and everything.”

Jennifer – “You know, at first I wondered if city council wants to hear from us citizens.”

Diego “Things change when we have critical mass. As a group when we reach a certain level of awareness of an issue, then there’s a change.”

insight 1@2x

The governmental process is obscure and the lack of feedback causes people to lose confidence in themselves and the system. This broken cycle discourages engagement.

value 1@2x

We hope to communicate a holistic view of Austinite’s priorities to both better serve residents and the decision makers in the city.

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Ideal Target Market

This platform is for residents in Austin who are civically minded, have an interest in engaging with local government, and use technology on a regular basis to express their opinions. These are people who want their voices to be heard, who care about an issue, and who haven’t seen much traction from past attempts. They want to contribute but fear it’s pointless.

This platform is also for local government officials, stakeholders, and decision makers that need a better way to easily understand what residents care about in order to make more informed decisions. These are officials that want to look good in the public eye, they want to be seen as civil servants, and they truly want to better understand the residents of the city – but they don’t want to spend too much time or energy in doing so, because they are already bombarded with messages that they can’t even act upon.

Market size


market size@2x

For the MVP we are only looking at Austin. Taking the current population, we can subtract those under 18 and those that don’t speak English (unfortunately the MVP will be for English speakers only), and our estimated number is just under half a million. Over 90% of eligible voters in Austin are registered, but the number of people that showed up to vote in the last election was just 13%. We are banking on our market capturing much more than just the people that show up to vote.

Open Aspects

There are still several assumptions and potential deal breakers we are working with that need to be addressed as we continue to develop this idea:

  1. People will trust and recognize the impact that sharing their voice will bring.
  2. We will be able to figure out a way to visualize what people say in an easy-to- consume way.
  3. The city will use the data we provide to inform their decisions.


To create the MVP, the costs should be pretty minimal to start. So far we’ve spent $12 to purchase the domain, and $16 a month on website hosting. Other costs will include printing flyers or promotional materials ($30), but the biggest expense would be to hire a developer to help with the integrations of the data collection.


As of today, it’s just Nicole and I are taking on all the roles required, but despite our talents, there are still several roles that will need to be accounted for:

  • Developer
  • Data visualization
  • Marketing/Outreach (promotion)
  • Communication Manager (Emails to participants)
  • Resource manager (vetting and collecting programs and ways to participate)
  • Website design
  • City relation manager

Inspiration and competitors (?)

The other companies doing similar work don’t really feel like competitors. Our project is Austin specific and hopefully works better with other organizations as opposed to competes with them. However, in developing the idea for this project we found inspiration from many different sources, including a lot of a great companies doing things in the civic tech space.

Here are a couple of similar projects that we think are pretty great:

Moot –

Other places where we found inspiration:


We’ve already put some feelers out into the world and are anticipating some push back. Here are some things we anticipate hearing, and what our response would be:


“This is not a legitimate source of information” – All the voices that we have collected come from people that we have verified live in Austin and have submitted their opinions and concerns without solicitation or influence from us.

“We already have data” – The data the city has isn’t easy to understand and remains widely unused. The Pulse of Austin provides an easy to understand snapshot of what people care about using the words from the people themselves.

“We do our own surveys” – The Pulse of Austin offers a way for people to speak to what they care about and educate them on resources that already exist. The responses are richer because users speak from a place of experience, not just to fulfill a survey.

“I hold coffee meetings so I know what my district wants” – Since not everyone can be and the community meetings you hold, it’s important to give all residents and easy way to participate and share their voice.

“I have a staff that responds to people with concerns” – Staff are often bogged down with an overwhelming number of people they must respond to. Residents are unsatisfied and begin to lose trust in the government when they don’t hear from their council member directly. This is an easy way to respond to many people at once and still maintain a personal feel.


“I don’t think this will make much of a difference” – The best way to make a difference in civic life is to participate. Decision makers at local government aren’t able to respond to and synthesize the voices and concerns of each individual on their own. They need a better way to understand what people care about and they need to hear from you in order to better serve the city


All good plans start with a timeline. It’s true we aren’t really sure how long some of the important parts of building out our platform will take, but we are focusing on three main areas. The pre-launch, the soft-launch (which we consider our MVP or the pilot) and the post-launch, which will be the assessment and evaluation stage as we continue to build. The most important steps for us right now are to continue to gather data and work on creating a visualization that at least feels interactive.

Potential Channels

Depending on how some of the conversations go with stakeholders, we are hoping to build alliances with people in civic tech to help us with the pilot as we move forward. We know we have to start exploring other channels to encourage participation on the Pulse, and get the word out.

    1. Posting to Facebook interest groups
    2. Visiting neighborhood association meetings and asking them to participate
    3. Asking the City of Austin to promote it
    4. SXSW cities event, handing out flyers
    5. Look for speaking opportunities (?)
    6. Hosting a booth at Civic Night
    7. Promoting it at civic related Meetups
    8. Flyers in mail, at bus stops, on community boards
    9. Using libraries to promote it


How might the word be spread? Pulling from the article, 8 ways to go viral, we’ve identified what we think will be the top ways the Pulse of Austin will be shared:

  1. Inherent virality
    • From users – “This is a great way to share what I care about, I want my friends on here to share what they care about too and support what I think!” + “My voice won’t count for much unless it’s boosted by more like-minded individuals. I need to get this out there!”
    • From city officials – “This is a good way to see what people think. We should all use use this when we make decisions.”
  2. Pure word of mouth   “Hey have you heard about The Pulse of Austin? It’s really cool to see what people say, and they let you know what the city is doing about the things you care about.”
  3. Signature virality   Online news articles, newsletters, reports use embedded data “amplified by The Pulse of Austin”
  4. Social virality   Integration into Facebook – “Your friend Sara just added her voice to the pulse: exact words here. What do you think? Boost her voice or share your own!”

It’s a lot to tackle moving forward, and no doubt our plan and timeline will need to be revised as the Pulse continues to evolve. As it stands, I feel proud to be wrapping up Q3 with a project that I believe has a lot of potential to upgrade civic participation in Austin.