Service Design at Buzz Mill: Framing the Problem

As we move through November, our service design project at Buzz Mill Coffee House is beginning to bear fruit. Today we presented our insights and problem statement to the business, which showed how we are framing and narrowing the focus of our efforts.


In the design process, insights are the phase where bigger discoveries from the data are made and things start to get exciting. Insights are built on the products of our synthesis phase, which included themes, service slices, concept models, and other artifacts that helped us sift through our data and find interesting behaviors and feelings. Insights take those findings, ask why they might be happening, then use abductive reasoning to answer those questions. The results are often surprising and can reveal underlying motivations and fundamental human truths.

From the data we initially gathered at Buzz Mill and the products of our synthesis, we began to form insights that went in several directions. Since it is impossible to address every issue, we had to narrow down our problem space and decide on where we would put our focus. The most compelling insights seemed to point towards how people experience Buzz Mill as a coffee shop or bar, and thus miss a large part of the value Buzz Mill offers through social activities and opportunities for connecting to nature.

Experience Narrative

In our presentation, we decided to show the experience of the average patron at Buzz Mill. When looking at our themes, we noticed that there was a very clear narrative of how most folks experience Buzz Mill.

From the moment someone walks into the space, there is a clear sense of the camp aesthetic of the decor. There are rustic picnic tables outside, a fence made of tree limbs, a wood pile, and the outside of the physical building resembles a log cabin. Aligned with the vision for the space of it to be a community center, there is a large sign at the entrance welcoming folks to the “Neigborwoods” and a calendar below letting you know of the events there that week.

Front porch of Buzz Mill
Front porch of Buzz Mill

Quickly your attention shifts to the main product of Buzz Mill: its beer and alcohol. Directly next to the front door there is a wooden plaque acknowledging the feat that Buzz Mill has attained in being within the top volume sellers of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the country for three straight years. When you step inside, you immediately notice interesting, rustic looking signage letting you know about their coffee drinks and various cocktails.

Front door of Buzz Mill shows off PBR awards
Front door of Buzz Mill shows off PBR awards

Conversation with the staff begins around the topic of ordering. While waiting for a drink, your attention is directed to the infused alcohols which are flanked with lights highlighting their place behind the bar. Your interaction with staff is a noticeably pleasant transaction. You may notice a sign or two alluding the to larger social mission of the place (possibly the sign on the jar of dog treats mentioning that they cost a dollar which will be donated to charity or a rotating image on the television screen letting you know about an upcoming volunteer event). But it is quite likely you will miss these signs altogether.

Cafe signs
Cafe signs

Outside again, you notice a space conducive to social gatherings with its large tables and stage. If there is not an event going on, most likely you will sit down and notice some others around you enjoying a beer, smoking a cigarette or working on their computer. If there is a Lumber Society (their wilderness survival education club) event going on, you may learn how to make a really neat knife but never be communicated the larger purpose of the collective events to prepare you to go camping.

Buzz Mill

Current Situation

The journey described above shows how people currently experience Buzz Mill. Buzz Mill is viewed as a bar and coffee shop, so people often fail to see opportunities to participate in social activities or to connect with nature. We propose that Buzz Mill should seek to inspire the experience it intends for its patrons to have.

After presenting our insights and problem statement to management at Buzz Mill, the response was warm and engaged. Buzz Mill is looking to open another location in Austin, just up the road from AC4D, and they asked us what the ideal experience at Buzz Mill would be like. This is a great opportunity to inform how the new location may feel and the kinds of interactions that could occur there.

It is just four short weeks until we give the business our final presentation, which will consist of design criteria and recommendations.

Where we go next
Where we go next

Theory: The Thinking Behind Design

Our overarching theme in our theory class this section is How designers think.

What is Design Thinking?

This section most pointedly gets at the question “what is design thinking?” One cannot define design thinking without some clarity on what design actually is and when it is used. Only, I get the sense that the word “design” is broad and encompasses ideas that I have not yet discovered or fully understand, and which may, at times, conflict with one another. Not coming from a design background myself, my understanding of what design is throughout this first quarter has been fuzzy, inarticulate, and changing. Design thinking seems to me to be both a methodology (a practice), as well as an intellectual approach.

One discussion in class around the terms “design” and “design thinking” surfaced assumptions that design limits an outcome around a particular product or other design space, whereas design thinking provides an outcome that could be wider in scope or creativity. I believe most people would associate “design” with products and services, particularly in the realm of technology because that is where most people as consumers currently come in contact with design. These two terms are often used interchangeably, so they can both mean the same thing. Noting my assumptions helped me to understand my own expectations, as well as what a client’s could be, which will be critical to know when trying to explain the design process and value.

Below is a short story that explores different views of design thinking. It is of a fictional design sprint that results in a real design product. I have used white board drawings as I will attempt to present this story in a live drawing presentation.

Design Sprint: Immigration


  1. Set scene: Design Sprint with a focus on immigration


  1. An immigrant family is invited to speak. The parents are undocumented and the child is a US citizen.


  1. They explain how U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) regularly raids neighborhoods, how it terrifies them, and how they do not know what to do when it happens.


  1. The family leaves and the team of designers get to work on the design sprint.
  2. They start by discussing what they heard about the problem space.
  3. The designer group considers the multitude of diverse stakeholders in this social issue, and recognizes the repercussions that are brought on them with every change and choice means that goal formation, problem definition, and equity issues are all in tension with no way to satisfactorily address them all for everyone.  This makes all planning and policy problems wicked problems. (Rittel and Webber)
  4. They must be solution-focused because it would take too long to research the problem and it would be impossible to gather a deep amount of data before the problem shifts due to policy or other external changes to the context. (Nigel Cross)
  5. They agree that the problem is ill structured as it is complex an unable to be defined. They consider using a powerful computer to try and help them, but since they cannot figure out a way to structure the problem, they agree that a computer would be ineffective. (Simon)
  6. One designer poses that they will be working in a spaces of inspiration, ideation, implementation and will not be following a series of steps, but rather working within this system of spaces. (Brown + Wyatt)
  7. One designer proposes looking at the problem with rigorous creativity by using creative techniques of provocation. He suggests a random word game. (de Bono)
  8. One designer suggests that if the family knew design, they could do this for themselves. He believes that design should be taught universally as a  foundational skill in school because it would empower people to solve their own problems effectively. (Pacione)
  9. Another designer answers that, while a useful skill, design needs more time to mature, more time to be discussed and argued over, more time for basic principles to become accepted as if they were never in dispute. It’s happening. The best thing we can do is contribute to the discussion.
  10. One designer posits Design thinking should progress to a new liberal art of technological culture.
  11. Another designer answers that she believes this to be already occurring as a function of board economic shifts. Easier than being adopted in primary or secondary school, the demand for more designers
  12. Designers complete the prototype and test it.


  1. They have created a red card that explains the individual’s rights in their native language in the event of an I.C.E. official knocking on their door.


  1. On the other side of the card, is an explanation in English that the individual is exercising his or her right not to open the door or speak with the I.C.E agent.


All people in the United States, regardless of immigration status, have certain rights and protections under the U.S. Constitution. The ILRC’s Red Cards help people assert their rights in many situations, such as when ICE agents go to a home.

I actually attended the design sprint in this story. However, I only heard about the Red Card, which is a real product. Hearing the story of how it was designed to assist people in the was a personal turning point for me when I realized I could learn about design and apply it to complex immigration issues. It was a powerful moment that was a source of inspiration when I decided to apply to AC4D.

Understanding design thinking is critical to me as a design student because design is first and foremost an intellectual approach. The products and services I will make, while based on reference-able research, will be just as much an extension of my thinking. Design can be a powerful tool to affect behavioral change, but that is only if it us used properly. Furthermore, any design solution I implement with cause all sorts of consequences, some intended (if it works), and many unintended. I will, have to take responsibility for all of them, as every solution will begin with my thoughts.

Reading list

Richard Buchanan: Wicked Problems in Design Thinking

Herbert Simon: the Structure of Ill-Structured Problems

Chris Pacione: Evolution of the Mind: A case for design Literacy

Edward de Bono: Serious Creativity

Nigel Cross: Discovering design Ability

Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber: Dilemmas in General Theory

Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt: Design Thinking for Social innovation

Buzz Mill Themes: The Patterns Within

Research Team: Shelly, Sara, Kay

It’s been seven weeks since our team first connected with Buzz Mill Coffee Shop, a social initiative cum cafe-bar, in Austin and kicked off our service design research project. As we dive deeper into our data and discuss details around what people are experiencing and how Buzz Mill is trying to influence both patrons and staff, we are beginning to form a mental model of the business and uncover hidden social patterns.


Theming is the process by which we examine all of the audio data to discover latent patterns of feelings or behavior. This requires a level of inference, or using our own reasoning to build a little on the idea being expressed. Theming has been particularly helpful for us to sift through the data and discover deeper meaning behind all those words we captured during our interviews.

After typing out each participant interview, the team separated each discreet thought out and pinned all of them to our walls. It looked something like this:

A wall of utterances ready to be themed
A wall of utterances ready to be themed

Next, we took an interesting utterance and tried to find another one that seemed to show similar ideas of behaviors or feelings, while trying to avoid just matching categories. This exercise helped us to develop “themes” in the data, which slowly grew and morphed as we looked for deeper patterns and discussed the nuances of the business, the environment, and the people to whom we had spoken.

The following are the most interesting themes we found.

Our Themes

  1. There is a desire amongst patrons and staff at Buzz Mill to form relationship by remembering one another from previous visits.
  2. People feel connected when creating something in collaboration.
  3. Going to events motivates people to try new things.
  4. Insecurity is an obstacle to engagement.
  5. The responsibility of the staff’s role at Buzz Mill excites them to improve their community.
  6. A passion of a staff member brought them in touch with Buzz Mill initially.
  7. When people feel unique in some way, the space of Buzz Mill has given them the ability to identify others who are unique in the same way.
  8. The physical space of Buzz Mill facilitates the existence and growth of communities

How utterances support our themes

While some of these themes seem obvious and uninteresting (and, let’s face it, as students, we know they could be much better), the point is that the interview data we gathered supports them. The theme Insecurity is an obstacle to engagement, for instance, is supported by utterances from several people who exudes insecurity around doing something or being social. Let’s examine one:

In our blog post about Stories from the Field, we met Haley, a patron of Buzz Mill who attends events and participates in educational and volunteer efforts often. Here is what she said about the very first event she attended at Buzz Mill, which was free. 

“And since it’s free, I was like, “I’d love to spend a couple hours here and buy drink or something. So it’s not like I’m completely freeloading. – Hayley (Line 4)”

Since the event was free to attend, that should reasonably attract more people because it lowers the boundaries of participating. But in this instance, Haley is expressing insecurity around being perceived as taking too much. Thus, making her feel she needs to buy something in order to feel that she belongs.

Since Buzz Mill’s mission is to “cultivate conscious community” by connecting and educating people, it would be important for them to know things that could be causing unease. Perhaps there is an opportunity there to make someone feel more secure and ready to participate and learn.

Presenting our findings to the business

Once we chose our most compelling themes, our team discussed how each utterance supported the theme and how they related to one another. We created a presentation and explained each theme to Buzz Mill’s owner and operations manager.

We tried to show how both patrons and staff at Buzz Mill interact with the space and with each other, and how that creates certain feelings of bonding or when it might lead to uncertainty.

The owner seemed less interested in what we presented about the staff as he works closely with them and would occasionally interrupt to talk about staff roles and expectations. The operations manager, however, took notes and showed us a nifty diagram he had made of how patrons and staff support each other in accomplishing Buzz Mill’s mission to cultivate community. He said he valued seeing the structure of the business in a different way because it gave him several ideas on how to communicate to patrons that Buzz Mill is here for them.

Reflection on Contextual Inquiry Project

Just past the half way mark in our first quarter at AC4D, I have been reflecting on our group service design project at Buzz Mill coffee Shop.

At the beginning of our research we were asked to find a business and pitch a research project the would use contextual inquiry as a means of discovering new opportunities for bettering their service. We had just a few days to find a business that fit all our criteria, secure a partnership, design a research plan, and create a presentation. In our scramble, it was difficult to process what we had learned about contextual inquiry and how it could help us identify new design ideas down the line.

Though my understanding of what contextual inquiry is is still rough, within service design, I understand it to be steeping one’s self in the people and processes of a business by being there and observing things as they occur. This helps the researcher to understand the culture of the business and how things are actually happening in contrast to how they are intended to happen.

This seems straightforward, but I and my group were so focused on the interviewing part of our research plan (which is also integral to this methodology), that we did not conduct much observation before launching into interviews on site.

Now, six weeks in, I am looking over our data and noticing that a lot of the patrons are either oblivious to the idea that Buzz Mill tries to create positive social impact through business and social initiatives, or they only know a few pieces and parts of Buzz Mill’s mission and offerings. This lack of understanding doesn’t seem to come from a lack of visible information. By golly, there are signs and photos and indicators of Buzz Mill’s initiatives everywhere. (see photo below). It’s possible, then, that there is too much disjointed information and patrons are just not able to easily piece it together, but this is just a hypothesis based on my own, personal experience.

Buzz Mill in Austin displays a lot of information around the cafe
Buzz Mill in Austin displays a lot of information around the cafe

If I were to begin this project over again, I would have suggested our group try a participatory design component that would ask patrons seated in the cafe to describe what they know about the company, what they see, and what that tells them about Buzz Mill initiatives. This may have helped us understand how people are processing the information on display and given us insight into understanding gaps. It would have been particularly interesting to ask patrons what they understand from the information scrolling on the two flat-screen tv’s  in the Austin cafe.

A flatscreen at Buzz Mill in Austin displays information about the Lumber Society.
A flatscreen at Buzz Mill in Austin displays information about the Lumber Society.

While we are currently affinity diagraming (looking for patterns) within our current data, I found it helpful to think about what we could have done differently while researching to get deeper results.

Our next presentation around the themes we uncover is this Wednesday, when we shall present our work to both the class and the business.

Poverty and Design: Theory Storyboard

This week, we were tasked with presenting our theory section of Poverty and Design as a storyboard. We read seven authors, analyzed their ideas, and synthesized them within a story.

This project fit nicely with our studio foundations project from last week, which was also a storyboard. I combined the two and tried to put more time and detail into this project instead of rushing breakneck through two different ones.

It is always a challenge for me to use digital tools, as I do not have much training with them.

Below is my story about a village in Zambia and a group of well-meaning designers.

A village in Zambia
In Zambia, villagers share one water pump and there are often long lines for daily water.
2_Panel copy
C.K. Prahalad is an NGO director with an idea.
3_Panel copy
Prahalad explains his idea for a water pump that is also a merry-go-round for children. A water tower will store the water for later consumption and will sell ads to pay for the costs of upkeep.
4_Panel copy
Prahalad believes selling to the poor is good for business and empowers people.
5_Panel copy
Dean Spears

6_Panel copy 7_Panel copy 8_Panel copy 9_Panel copy 10_Panel copy 11_Panel copy 12_Panel copy 13_Panel copy 14_Panel copy 15_Panel copy 16_Panel copy 17_Panel copy 18_Panel copy 19_Panel copy 20_Panel copy

This section was provoking as it challenged me to understand how different philosophical approaches to designing with people who live in poverty could be applied to different situations. As with much of this material, I will need to face some of these quandaries in my own work to tease out how each of them are applicable. However, I feel it is painfully obvious that one must cultivate a deep understanding of a people and their unique situation in order to design for them.





Sketching People and Scenes

Last week, our studio class progressed from shapes and objects, to drawing people and scenes. Pat Marsh taught us a simple guide to sketch out a human form in approximate proportion as training wheels until we gain some confidence sketching people. He emphasized shoulder and hip angles to mimic natural posture, and gestures that can easily indicate emotions.

Proportions, Posture, and Gestures

Learning to sketch a person and capturing gestures
Learning to sketch a person and capturing gestures

Next, we practices sketching faces, emphasizing simple, unique features to easily recognize a person and distinguish between two different people.  Pat’s examples tended to be “cartoony,” but the exaggerated features are not only forgiving if they are not “perfect,” but also easy to draw – and certainly get the point across.

Faces, Features

Sketching faces to show individuality
Sketching faces to show individuality

It is easy to see in the photo above where I had success and felt confident drawing a face and where my lines got messy and stiff. Using a quick, light oval sketch and a couple of lines to denote which way the head is turned and where the eye line is (the middle of the face), helps to guide the next steps.

Having an initial structural layer that can act as a guide for the more detailed or built out features of a figure is necessary for me. The next photo shows three iterations of me drawing a classmate (Aaron) from across the room. The first sketch on the left is highly gestural, using circular lines to build out the form and limbs, making them look very organic and dynamic. Although rough, I am very happy with this attempt.

As the iterations progress, however, I gain confidence sketching in pen, but my lines become stiff and the figure loses a sense of correct proportions or natural posture. The final sketch on the right is neater, yet less emotional than the first attempt.

I see that it is necessary for me to start with a lighter underlay, perhaps in pencil, and then build on top of that for every figure in order to retain my initial successes.

Aaron in triplicate

Iterative drawings to work towards a neater result
Iterative drawings to work towards a neater result

The next phase of our assignment was to sketch figures in scenes. For this, I went to Buzz Mill Coffee Shop, which is the business my research team has partnered with for our service design project. I enjoy hanging out there and I needed to spend some time observing as a form of contextual inquiry, so I sketched scenes from a corner of the cafe.

Two-Point Perspective, Figure in a Scene

Drawing a person in a scene
Drawing a person in a scene

Our objective was to draw one or more people in a scene using two-point perspective. While I was satisfied with the fact that I conveyed what was going on well enough (my teammate actually guessed the scene was from Buzz Mill), the room did not feel in two-point perspective and my lines were shaky. So, I iterated.


Iterating on a scene drawing to make it stand out more
Iterating on a scene drawing to make it stand out more

I used the technique of tracing to create this next iteration by holding the original drawing up to a window and tracing over it. That’s super-tiring, so I suggest using a light board. The lines came out a bit less shaky, and I was able to convey a little more perspective from the floor boards. I tried to make the whole scene stand out more for someone looking at it from a distance, but the thick lines in the background are overbearing to the subject. In my next iteration, I should thicken lines in the foreground and de-ephasize dark spaces in the background.

Learning to sketch is all about practice. Sketch fast; sketch often. I haven’t yet found my stride to sketch quickly, much less quickly with confidence, but I see progress.

This week we are creating whole story boards documenting a user journey. It feels like a daunting task even before I start and I’m intimidated by the project. But enough of this talking; I have something I must go and make ….

Buzz Mill Research: Stories from the Field

Research Team: Shelly Stallings, Sara Miller, Kay Wyman

Over the past three weeks, our team has been creating and executing a process of obtaining research data through contextual inquiry at the local business Buzz Mill Coffee Shop. And what a whirlwind it has been. This is an update on what that process has looked like and some of our discoveries after presenting some stories form the field to the business.

A slide form our presentation "Buzz Mill: Stories from the Field"
A slide form our presentation “Buzz Mill: Stories from the Field”

Our group partnered with Buzz Mill to conduct a service design study. Our first step was to understand a bit about the business. We did this by reading through content on their website as well as visiting and spending time in the space.

From there, we created a focus statement for our research, which centered around how Buzz Mill cultivates community through an organization they’ve developed called Lumber Society. We worked to identify individuals we planned to interview, developed a series of questions that would invoke an understanding of their experience, and reached out to them individually, through email, text (obtaining their numbers through friends at Buzz Mill), or simply approaching them at an event.

We began interviewing folks and realized through our conversations that a sense of community and its value to folks at Buzz Mill extended beyond the Lumber Society. At that point, we changed our focus statement to be a bit more broad, now focusing on how Buzz Mill cultivates community and how people at Buzz Mill experience that community. We also broadened the audience to whom we would reach out and adjusted our questions to have a less narrow focus.

This provided some wonderful data that we have been collecting over the past three weeks by spending many hours at Buzz Mill observing interaction in the space and interviewing 18 individuals. Those individuals were a mixture of patrons and staff (10 of which were patrons, 8 of which were employed by Buzz Mill) spread between their San Marcos and their Austin locations.

Today, we presented our progress to the owner and another member of upper management. Below is one of our stories from the field:

Meet – Olivia!

User Interview PresentationShe has a background in the service industry and has been working at Buzz Mill a few years.

User Interview Presentation copy

Olivia obviously likes her job and feels connected to the people there. 

When asked to describe Buzz Mill to someone who has never heard of it, she says:

User Interview Presentation-2


User Interview Presentation-2 copy

It’s clear that Olivia gets a sense of comfort and well-being when she is at Buzz Mill. When asked what her best moment at Buzz Mill was, she responded:

User Interview Presentation-2 copy 2

User Interview Presentation copy 3

Buzz Mill values and supports its staff going out and doing things that combine their passions and affecting positive change in the world, which they refer as a person’s Purpose Parallel. The owner, Jason, sits down with each member of his staff and has a long discussion to help them develop their unique strengths and interests.

We asked Olivia what her Purpose Parallel is and she had some difficulty articulating it. 

User Interview Presentation copy 4

User Interview Presentation copy 5

Later in our conversation, however, Olivia did open up on working towards an artistic passion and explained how the community at Buzz Mill was instrumental in furthering her personal goals:

User Interview Presentation copy 2

We can see that the Buzz Mill community positively influences Olivia’s life nearly every day.

After this experience, we have many learnings and are excited to get started on the next stages of our design process.

Presenting our "Stories from the Field" to the owner of Buzz Mill
Presenting our “Stories from the Field” to the owner of Buzz Mill

For our presentation, we decided on a format that presented personas for each of the 18 individuals we spoke with, and chose to focus on telling the stories of four. We found it difficult to par down the stories of these four individual’s into a couple quotes. We tried to choose quotes that captured the essence of an individual and were not taken out of context. However, because people most often speak from stream on conscious in interviews, this required making some judgments, of which there is not necessarily a “right” choice. This uncertainty of not knowing is something we each intend on getting more comfortable with over time in order to save time oscillating over “what’s best” and just try putting it together in a story or deck.

That said, we found working as a team in this process was invaluable. As we began to consider how to format our presentation, we printed out photos and all our transcribed utterances from the interviews we conducted and individually considered quotes and photos that captured the essence of an individual we spoke with. Once these were chosen, we shared with one another our thought process in choosing these moments in the conversations as valuable. In this, we were able to critique and challenge one another and were able to create stronger, more compelling and consistent stories because of it. Something a couple of us identified wanting improve upon is communicating our ideas and the reasoning behind our choices.

Human nature can make it hard to let go of personal ideas of how something should be done. While often we were able to talk through things in this process and come to a consensus, there were times, especially as time got short, that we each had to compromise to move the greater process along. This felt like an issue of both an attitude (one that needed more openness potentially) and time.

We also learned much from the reactions of the business leaders to our presentation. In this regard, the format appeared to be successful. They understood the depth of our conversations by the depth of the stories we told but also the breadth of our research as we presented all 18 personas to them.

In our process, we attempted to pull out quotes or part of stories that suggested a divergence from the way the business hoped people were experiencing things. While we may have been successful in that, the individuals we told stories about seemed to be ones they were familiar with, whether by knowing that persona or guessing the actual person. There was almost an expectation that they would hear stories that were brand new, even if there was knew information in the stories that we told. And in that way, we may have disappointed.

This poses two questions to consider: could we have done a better job of choosing stories? And could we have done a better job of choosing quotes that communicated the value of their experience?

Regardless, this is been a wonderful experience with much to reflect and iterate upon in the coming weeks!


All Design Begins with Research

Our latest tussle with design theory had us examine the role of research in design. If we break up the design process into component parts, research sits at the very beginning, and thus influences everything that comes after.

As designers, we will often be challenged to explain how our design process works and why it has value. At a glance, observing the behavior of a small group of individuals does not seem like like a rigorous approach that could lead to valuable design solutions. It is our job to understand and communicate how the design process is different from market research and the scientific method, while also providing insights those two approaches cannot reach.

Our class read and discussed articles from the eight authors below, and each author posited a view on how designers should think about research in design.

Paul Dourish
– Asserts a conceptual theory for designers
– Context is dynamic and complex
– Designs for designers
– Can test if a technology is responsive to chaining social settings

Chris Le Dantec
– Design needs ambiguity and interpretation
– Designs with people using Participatory Design
– Subjective results due to designer’s insights and interpretation

William Gaver
– Focuses on designs that evoke pleasure
– Design research is about inspiration for the designer
– Uses Cultural Probes
– Subjective results due to designer’s interpretation

Jodi Forlizzi
– Creates a formalized research framework for designers to follow
– Subjective results as designer’s decide which methods to use

Liz Sanders
– Values co-creation in social impact projects
– Social design should include all stakeholders
– Subjective results are dependent on people’s needs and inspiration

Jane Suri
– Advocates for a variety of research approaches to understand users
– Approaches focus on the designer’s experience

Don Norman
– Technology drives innovation
– The role of design research is o make incremental adjustments
– Designers respond to user demand
– Objective results as design products are either adopted or, otherwise, fail

Jon Kolko
– The role of design research is to assist the designer
– Design for people using mainly observational methods
– Subjective results rely on designer’s inspiration

Phew! – That was a lot to get through! The reading was heavy at times, but very rewarding.

We were asked to synthesize the authors’ views and represent them in a diagram with one axis labeled “Design for / Design with” and the other axis labeled any way we choose. I labeled my y axis with Objective Results and Subjective Results. You can see how I plotted each author below:

Author views on how they work with people in research and the results they can expect.
Author views on how they work with people in research and the results they can expect.


As I examined my placement for each author, I started to think about what their quadrant represented.

In the first quadrant, Norman and Dourish represent the role of designer as a Genius-Creator – someone who builds things that are objectively useful to people.

The second quadrant is empty, but would represent the designer as an Educator – someone who teaches the “right” way to design for particular results.

The third quadrant holds Forlizzi, Kolko, and Suri, who represent the role fo the designer as an Autocrat – someone who knows what’s best for the people.

And finally, the fourth quadrant houses Gaver, Le Dantec, and Sanders, who view the role fo the designer as a facilitator – someone who guides the process of, more or less, co-creation.

My main takeaway from this section of readings is an “ah-hah” moment when I realized that Kolko had synthesized all of the other authors’ views, neatly explaining that the value of design research is that it leads to unique insights about people. While the engineer and the marketer bring predictions about how people might behave, the designer can give insight into why people interact as they do.

Slow Learner

As our third week in the program is in it’s final hour, I am reflecting on several of my failures so far. Until this week, we had been learning about expectations, tools, and experimenting with research to see what works. Now that I have a foundation for what we ought to be doing, its possible to discern where I’ve gone wrong. I think it’s helpful to do some reflecting on what went sideways in order to, hopefully, correct course a bit for this week.

As I sat down to write this blog post, I was embarrassed to discover that the post I wrote last week had not been published, only saved. Arg! What a rookie mistake. At least the blog post was appropriately titled “The Struggle is in the Details.” It is my objective to become more organized and meticulous over the course of this program. I think that I currently lack the mental checklist for what’s important and I hope that will develop over time as I practice and notice my mistakes. Publishing blog post and checking how it looks – check!

In our Studio Foundations class yesterday, Pat Marsh elucidated expectations for how work is to be presented. I have always treated drawing as a means to develop my own skill, and usually ignored presentation. My work is a bit messy, with several sketches to a page no regard to composition if I am just practicing sketching. I haphazardly label pages and draw on anything, which means I have handed in ripped paper. It hit me today that presentation of work is just as important as what’s on the page when you’re trying to communicate an idea. I’ll work on developing a neater labelling method and create more full-page sketches, while considering composition on practice pages. Below are a few sketches from our 2-point perspective assignment.

My Daily Object drawing with 2-point perspective boxes
My Daily Object drawing with 2-point perspective boxes


Imagined scenes in 2-point perspective
Imagined scenes in 2-point perspective

Moving forward, I’ll keep working towards increasing the quality of presentation for everything I create.

The Struggle is in the Details

(Week 2)

This week our our coursework began to feel deeper and more demanding. We started conducting interviews for our research projects, had over 2,000 shapes to draw, and put together a presentation on some heady material on ethics in design. While the work is challenging and takes time to complete, I can clearly see that my education is all about what I put into it. It is entirely possible to do what is asked, but to do it well is to struggle for a long time in a mire of details.

While conducting interviews at Buzz Mill with my team, coordinating times to go out and do the research took a lot of effort, and there was no guarantee that our target users would even be present, much less want to speak to us. After conducting some interviews and seeing a need for improvement in our approach, we are still refining our focus statement and our scripts. We could just go out and try to interview people on the fly with what we have, but my team really wants to dig in with good questions and we know it is important for later parts of the design process that our interviewees are given similar stimuli, so that they are speaking about similar topics. We had a scare when, after one evening at a Buzz Mill event, we though we had lost all of our audio recordings due to an improper setting on the app we were using. While we were all lamenting the loss of our best data yet, we figured out that it had been uploaded to a cloud location and was saved. **Pheeew!** We will be doubling up our audio recorders and checking settings (as originally instructed by Jon and Matt) from now on!

My presentation for our theory class was also bogged down by not understanding some digital tools. So far, I have felt confident and engaged with the theory material. However, the presentation required a simple graph, and I had never any design toolkit other than Photoshop. So a few simple lines and words took me awhile to put together using Sketch for the first time. I felt the simple graph was a great way to start understanding how to use Sketch, but I will definitely need to give myself a few hours with the software for the next assignment.

Ultimately, I feel good about the work I did this past week, but I wish I had spent more time on most everything. I think most assignments so far have been straight-forward, but actually doing the work unveils new blunders, queries, and unforeseen obstacles.