Stories from Inside We Are Blood.

Last week, my teammates, Zev Powell and Catherine Woodiwiss, and I wrote a blog about a project we are working on with the local non-profit We Are Blood. We have spoken with a number of people at all touchpoints involved in making each pop-up mobile blood donation event happen. Setting up, servicing your community, and packing up requires an immense amount of coordination, organization, skill, and commitment on the part of all individuals involved. Impressively, this is done on a daily basis throughout the Central Texas area.

This week, we have taken on the task of breaking down all of the conversations we’ve had into bite-sized pieces in order to begin our team’s next task—to identify themes across the various conversations we’ve had and synthesize potential areas of opportunity.

Here’s a glimpse of the space we will be living in, literally and mentally, over the next few days:

Our Office

our office


While this is happening, we’d like to leave you with a few of the voices that make the incredible act of donating possible on a daily basis, and a few of the thoughts they’ve left us with.


Meet Jane.

Jane is a loving grandmother, mother, sister, daughter, and neighbor. She’s been a blood donor for the majority of her adult life. After her recent donation, she told us her origin blood donor story: In college, a friend had insisted that Jane go with to a blood drive that was on their campus. With persisting anxieties, Jane obliged and went along. It was when she was on the drawing table as she was actively donating that her anxieties reappeared. She witnessed a sizeable athlete on the table next to her complete his donation, get off the table, then collapse to the ground. Convinced that she would follow suit, Jane apprehensively completed her donation, hopped off the table, and was positively surprised to find that she is perfectly fine! It was from this day that she realized that this very special process of donating a piece of herself to save a life of someone in her community is very much something she can do; and is so special in part because not everyone can donate. While Jane has donated for a long time, the feelings of anxiety have recently cropped up once again, due to her age. Today, Jane struggles with balancing her identity as a blood donor with the reality that she may not be able to do this much longer. Not being able to give because she might not meet the health requirements as a donor is very much something she thinks about every time she makes plans to go donate again.


Meet Pat.

Pat is a long-time staff member of the mobile blood donation efforts. He’s worked at every touch point of the process, making mobile blood drives happen, from packing the equipment, unloading, to working directly with community organizers and donors. Naturally, Pat has developed a keen sense of empathy for the donors and staff alike. The staff that makes up We Are Blood’s mobile team, Pat says, are “the backbone of the company. That they’re the ones that are bringing in the blood, they’re the ones that are doing all the work to make sure that we meet our community’s goals. So having that understanding makes me know how to, take care of them a little bit better.” Treating others with care is key in all parts of the process. When speaking about donors visit, whether it is the first or the 100th visit, Pat says it’s an “important interaction when they walk into the room and see the blood drive for the first time. The first interaction with anybody is going to be when somebody greets them. That sometimes will determine their mood for the rest of the day.”

It does not escape him that there are limits outside of We Are Blood’s direct control. Not everyone can give blood, a sentiment echoed by Jane. While Jane spoke about individual physical limitations, Pat brought to our attention the regulative limitation. Prior to 2010, the FDA has placed a permanent deferral on men who have had sex with other men (MSM) who wanted to donate blood. The permanent deferral was revisited as the demands and need for donated blood supplies increased. In 2014, the FDA has updated their policy on MSM. “Based on the evidence now available, FDA has changed its recommendation from the indefinite deferral for MSM to a 12 month blood donor deferral since last MSM contact.”, While changes are happening, there are still regulatory reason that the size of potential blood donors is limited.


People Just Want to Give a Little Piece Of Themselves.

Throughout our conversations, everyone we spoke to expressed a similar sentiment, from donors to We Are Blood staff members alike.

Joseph, a long time educator says, It makes you feel elite, almost because not everybody can. I’ll ask students if it’s their first time. ‘How did it go?’ I’ll tell them it’s really cool, and I’m proud of them, and stuff.

Greta, who works in the tech industry and has been deferred several times says about donating blood, says I think it’s a good thing to do and it doesn’t cost you anything. There are lots of people who would like to donate and can’t. If I can, I should, because it’s one thing I can do. It’s community—everyone helps in the way they can.”

At the end of the day, a shortage for donor blood supply is a real issue that We Are Blood works tirelessly to address. The cost of not contributing to those needs is the life of a patient, a child, someone about to have surgery, a stranger, a neighbor, or a family member. If the thoughts we’ve shared with you feels very open-ended and full of complex human issues then perfect! This is the space and stage my teammates and I are at as we continue on our journey and work with We Are Blood, and immersing ourselves in these ideas over the coming days. Stay tuned.

A Designer’s Role

An Opportunity to Define.

Over the last decade, the role of Design has grown leaps and bound. The design has branched into many areas and taken on various names including service and system design, interaction design, human factors, human-computer interaction and more, where each one has a unique approach and focus.

Despite the variations and nuances between each field of design, at the core is a unique opportunity. As the methods or design and the value it can provide gains recognition and acceptance, designers have a unique opportunity to define their role in the world of building things.

With the guidance and prominent voices of various authors at the forefront of this designer’s role discussion, I have attempted to define the designer’s role relative to the topic the purpose of the design, and the quality of the result of it.

Designing With or Designing For.

To design with a group,  individuals, or with a purpose is to be empathetic to the user of the system. Successfully designing with requires that the designer attempts to understand the underlying the nature of the situation and try to create a thing that with the focus of addressing the multi-faceted issues, and not just one isolated factor of the system. Additionally, the designer must include the user response and feedback throughout the development lifecycle.

To design for is to collect data and utilize system users as an inspiration for a new idea. The user’s input and response to that design are not necessary.  The newly created thing does not need to solve a problem, but when it does the issue addressed does not capture a complex nature or element of the entire system.


Making something Holistic or Sterile.

Holistic designs are things that are made with the focus of addressing a more complex issue or for a more complex purpose. Some examples are addressing culture, identity, or environmental and sustainability goals. These are all topics are complex in nature and difficult to analyze.  In designing with a holistic purview, the result will often feel more manmade, organic, and have a degree of emotional understanding.

Whereas sterile designs are things that are made with little or no focus on an issue. Designs in this category can be done beautifully for purpose of pleasure or to solve an issue inspired by users but ultimately is defined mostly by the researcher.  In designing with a sterile purview, the result will often feel more simple in nature, fact-based and lacking deep value.


Author’s Position On the Role of a Designer.

The position held and arguments made by each author has landed them a spot on the follow 2×2 Figure.

Designer's Role 2x2

The articles used for this evaluation are:

  • Designs on Dignity: Perceptions of Technology Among the Homeless – Christopher A. Le Dantec, W. Keith Edwards
  • A Tale of Two Publics: Democratizing Design at the Margins – Christopher A. Le Dantec, et al
  • The Product Ecology: Understanding Social Product Use and Supporting Design Culture – Jodi Forlizzi
  • What we talk about when we talk about context – Paul Dourish
  • Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty – William Gaver, et al
  • A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design – Liz Sanders & George Simons
  • Going Deeper, Seeing Further: Enhancing Ethnographic Interpretations to Reveal More Meaningful Opportunities for Design – Jane Fulton Suri & Suzanne Gibbs Howard
  • Experience Prototyping – Marion Buchenau & Jane Fulton Suri
  • Technology First, Needs Last: The Research-Product Gulf – Don Norman
  • The Value of Synthesis in Driving Innovation – Jon Kolko

Just Do It, Now.

Today is the first day of the 4th week at AC4D. Time and space have lost all meaning and sense. In the past, when I would reach this mentality and physical state of exhaustion, it would always feel bad everywhere and about everything. Losing track of things, tasks I need to have done, people I owe things to was the worst feeling and would take a toll emotionally, mentally and physically. The circumstance and rigorous demand of the coursework have put me in a similar state of sleep deprivation, failing to meet expectation, deliver, and grasp concepts. What is strange is that I this time, is that I don’t share the same sense of self-loathing and guilt that I would use to feel. I don’t know why this is the case but I would definitely have to put my money on the sense of hope this program has provided me.

I don’t love the things I am doing and producing. As a matter of fact, I am incredibly embarrassed at the quality of what I have been putting together and turning. At the same rate, my entire goal was to complete a many of the tasks as possible while still creating something with some context, beautiful, and as complete as I can make the idea (especially when Time is not in my favor). I am surprised at the rate that I can produce something decently meaningful, and that gives me a sense of pride.

In the process of failing so much, so fast, and having to get creative about how to build systems and processes around my weakness has made the event of a ‘failure’ still feel like a win. At the end of the evenings when I like to spend my time reflecting on the ways what I’m learning will change my future lifestyle, this is something that excites me. Failing hard, fast and learning quickly is the ‘instant gratification’ form of learning, with practical actionable items on which I can iterate, modify, improve, test and quickly learn if it works.

This week, I’m learning that if I don’t do the ‘thing’ that I say I will do at the moment, life will find it’s way to make it harder for me to get back to that thing/idea/feeling/task. Even in writing this entry, I realized that I am posting late because I needed to make the time to sit down and do the work regardless of other pressing deadline. If I don’t make myself do the thing, I will never get it started.

Learning Styles

This past week was a first of many things.

In Interaction Design Research and Synthesis, where we are learning about contextual inquiry, research and are in the early stages of research, Matt Franks identify the parts that do and do not work with my team’s research plan. Seeing the live assessments and getting to ask “Why?” showed me the strange balance of specific yet none specific place my team and I need to be in when starting a research plan. Coming from a world of product development, hard deliverable this was something would have trouble learning without seeing and experiencing first hand.

This same “mind blown” experience occurred again in my last Studio Foundation class with Pat Marsh, when we studied the very technical foundation of two-point-perspective illustrations. I had spent a good 30-minutes of class time trying to understand which imaginary lines to follow when trying to draw a ‘perfect’ eclipse that follows the rules of perspective. When the light finally turned on, I can feel my brain ready for a nap. In contrast, I witness Pat and fellow classmates confidently put together these shapes in the right place and with the correct angles to quickly create the illusion of 3-dimensional figures.

It’s a strange feeling how to know that even after so many years of being a so-called adult, I still have so much room to learn by seeing. Learning by seeing and doing is a method that I typically see in my nieces and nephews. While I am aware that in many cases learning is something that must be done by experience. I am just still surprised at how, in my last work, it was easy for me to be oblivious of that style of education and of how some content requires that you learn by doing and seeing. This motivates me to keep a wider eye open to see what more I am missing the environment around me.

Ethics and Responsibility in Design

Over the course of two weeks, I have been exploring the topic of ethics and responsibility in the world of service and system design. During this time I’ve read six articles. The Articles included:

  • “The Meaning of Design” by Maurizio Vitta
  • “Design For the Real World” by Victor Papanek
  • “Rebel with a Cause” by Victor Papanek
  • “Experience & Education” by John Dewey
  • “Informing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman
  • ” Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and The How” by Edward L. Bernays

The topics of technology, experiences, manipulation, and consumption all play a role in the world of systems and service design. The results of our actions endure long after we are gone, we have only a squishy sense of the notion of ethics and responsibility to help guide those actions in the hope that that the results will be virtuous and not insidious.

Each author presents an insightful perspective on the results of design creations and their interaction with mass consumption, mass production, technological advances, and humankind’s natural defenselessness to manipulation, information surpluses, and the resulting experiences that change people from this complex interaction over time. The thing created, and the influence it has, often survives it’s creator, taking on new purpose and impacting those that use it. Despite one’s intentions and efforts, the reality stands that we are limited by time, while the things we make endure. With time being the critical factor limiting one’s abilities, the positions and ideas that each author takes can and have been ranked in the face of this question “What do we do with the time we have, which ideas are more or less critical?”

In, Figure 1. Author Positions, I have ranked the ideas that I view as most important to be cognizant of when designing software, services, and systems for humans. The ranking is not a reflection of the value of the idea. Instead, it is my opinion of what should be top of mind when designing. Each position was ranked based on the elements of consumption, experiences, technology, and manipulation.

Figure 1. Author Positions

Author Positions By Kim Nguyen

A design’s worth can be measured by how it is consumed. In the world of continuous mass consumption and mass production design, an idea can be deemed as not valuable and quickly replaced by a replica. While this effect does have esoteric implications on the value of a designer, and quality of the human experience it is less impactful an idea to the question of “What do we do with our time?” It is an idea that designers must be cognizant of when trying to create something with a purpose, which in turn adds to the value and purpose of the designer. Thus, Vitta is ranked on the less important side. In Papanek’s “Design For the Real World,” he summarizes quite boldly that we must avoid making things and technology which only serves to clutter, and usurp people and resources. These harmful things have a negative impact on the human experience in the long run. As it is in a similar spirit to Vitta, this piece also lands on the less critical side.

Dewey’s argument is ranked in the center of this line because he brings to the conversation the importance drawing from past experiences and knowledge when one works to be progressive. The Nature of experience is a dynamic one. It can serve to motivate and discourage, as well as change the individual or a group of individuals. The thing to be aware of here is the degree of impact. Because change impacts the whole, we must invite history into the design process to help guide our choices.

Papanek’s “Rebel with a Cause” earns a higher ranking because it speaks to those that are ready to act. It offers a solution for how to avoid purposeless designs and calls for design with a cause. The ideas from this piece should be at the forefront of designer’s minds.

Postman ranks higher still thanks to the nature of technology. Technology, unlike most human inventions, has a global quality about it. Since technology can have such far reaching and instantaneous influence, we must take extra caution when designing such things.

Finally, Bernay. I have ranked his position as the most important because manipulation is an element of which we have poor understanding, little defense against and the an inability to see clearly. This element can act alongside technology and consumption habits to have detrimental and far-reaching impact on people and the world around us, if the idea or thing made has the intent or potential to be insidious. We must be cognizant of this element at all times.



  1. Vitta, Maurizio. “The Meaning of Design”. Design Issues, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 3-8.
  2.  Papanek, Victor (1971). Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, New York, Pantheon Books.
  3.  Papanek, Victor (2005). “Rebel with a Cause”. pp.60-69.
  4.  Dewey, J. (1938), Experience and Education, Toronto: Collier-MacMillan Canada Ltd.
  5.  Postman, Neil. “Informing Ourselves To Death”. Speech was given at a meeting of the German Informatics Society (Gesellschaft fuer Informatik) in Stuttgart, sponsored by IBM-Germany October 11, 1990.
  6.  Edward L. Bernays. “Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and The How”. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 33, No. 6 (May, 1928), pp. 958-971

Week 1 Fin.

This week went by in a haze.  Today marks the completion of my first full week of AC4D.  The expression ‘drinking out of a water hose’ certainly applies.  Between taking in new information, adjusting my schedule to the coursework, due dates, meeting with businesses, setting team meetings to ensure the project has traction, the first few days pass by like a whirlwind.   By Day 3, I had lost track of what day it was given everything I have already completed the two days before.

Among the things I learned this week, my favorite class was definitely Studio.  After, an intense thought provoking week, learning about how to rapidly and effectively communicate ideas through images was the best form of decompression and learning. Through just a few techniques and attention to details, you can convey the idea of conversation. A few of the techniques that were surprisingly simple where:

  • The direction of a person’s nose indicates the direction of that person’s attention.
  • Small details like a background or a border make a world of a difference to transform a basic single image into one that captivates the eyes.
  • A few key things to make an image ‘good’ are intentional smooth lines, a contrast between line thickness, cross-hatching for shading, attention to proportion.
  • Don’t start by drawing the details, start with the basic shapes of an image and work on their angles and proportion relative to one another to quickly get started with a clean well-outlined image.
  • You don’t need the details to get an idea across.

The earlier part of the week took me through a fantastic emotional, mental and physical rollercoaster.  One I’d rather not retell in too much detail. The last day of this week was a rewarding end to my first week.

It’s All In Your Head

We have finally come to the end of our first mock/mini sprint of design. The entirety of it was INTENSE, another understatement.  Today, as my team and I went out to do research on our MVP, so many interesting pieces of information and ideas came up in conversation.

It made sense for us to be out in the field validating out ideas against real work voices. Continuing from my last blog’s theme, that “Ideas are dangerous” one way we reduce the risk it is testing the ideas in the real world. We went out and shared our ideas to see if it was viable, easily adopted, can cause more problems than solving them.  At the same rate, it was clear in a conversation with a teammate why innovation is so challenging to come by! For ideas to take, it needs to shaped, sharpened and packages in a way that gradually introduces innovations, while adding a REAL value for the user, and still include elements of existing reality.

Each element of a successful idea requires so much attention to detail, maintenance, modification, and revision to be just right for

After just a handful of Q&A sessions with complete strangers, I was knackered. We had to take 5 minutes to sit in the sun, and bask. In that time, there were some really hard introversive questions and ideas. “Why did we chose this? What makes this all worthwhile?” and  Etc.

It is not an accident that wicked problems remain wicked problems. Tough problems are very challenging to see, pick apart, look at face to face. The conclusion we came to after enjoying a bit of beautiful sun, and smog-free breeze, was we just need to keep on keeping on.  At this point in the day, all I would allow my brain to hear was Ellen’s voice singing “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming….swimming…swimming.

For today, we decided that way to face problems head on it just keep heading onwards.  While I never verbalized this, I would also say internally, ALL OF THIS is a choice. We all choose to see, hear, believe and feel what we want.  In the words of a one very handsome and brilliant Trevor Cords, “Happiness is a choice dear.”

Ideas are Dangerous

Have you seen the movie Inception? In one sentence and in the of Catherine Woodiwiss,  ideas “are so DANGEROUS”.  They absolutely are.

On day four if an intense business week-long orientation. We explored the world of ideas, and how to come up with them.  When I look at the plot of Inception, or in our real work the ideas that generate such strong feelings of hate, and even love I get the sense that humans are incredibly susceptible to ideas. I use the word susceptible in the medical sense. As in ‘infants and the elderly are more susceptible to the illness and disease’.

Ideas are as natural an occurrence as breathing. While it is something that we can actively influence or modify, it is definitely NOT something that we can mute or prevent.  I would go as far as to say that ideas to our brains are like air for the body. You can’t mute it, you can’t prevent it. Once one takes root, you can’t stop it. You can try to tai-chi it. But there is not stopping it.

So how do we make sure we are being responsible with the ideas we come up with?

To be continued (on day 5)…

Mental Gymnastics

Designing, as we are learning it, is a tough feat, which is an understatement.  There are infinite contrasting concepts, feelings and ideas that you need to be cognizant and attentive to. You need to know and marinade in the details of stranger’s utterances, while still maintaining a peripheral view of all the data. You come up with provocative definitive statements while still being wary that there are risks and dangers in making biased definitive statements that will impact what will be made. And those are just two tasks among the many we have gone through while trusting this process.

Today I spent hours zooming in then out, out and in, considered and evaluated the thoughts of interviewees, mine, and my teammates, comparing ideas to one another and against what has been instructed and recommended. I tried to make statements that read as conclusive while still recognizing that nothing is, and all things written can be scrapped. Throughout all these activities, it was a very clear everyone was riding their own emotional rollercoaster, where each rider was not in sync with one another. This mental gymnastics is… exhausting. I am exhausted.

The last time I felt like this was when I babysat a 14-year-old, 5-year-old, and 2-year-old. Each child has different needs, style of speaking, mental limitations to what can and can’t be expected of them. Where I was the sole person to attend to, provide for, entertain, respect, and acted as a buffer between each child. Even in this scenario, I can say confidently that I did something right. Each child was sent home fed, well rested, happy, and in one piece.  

In today’s activities, I did not walk away with that sense of confidence because there is not a concrete measure of success or completion (other than numbers of insights and numbers of design ideas). I did, however, walk away with a sense of what felt wrong with the quality of insights. So maybe that is something worthwhile. Developing an instinct is an immensely organic process, and today was certainly an unnaturally fast pace to work at developing it. How do field researchers do this!?  Trying to maintain a handle on the emotions of things is an energy consuming feat, and that is just one of the many tasks that are required of you to complete the process. I am impressed that there are people with the resilience and tenacity to continue to do something that isn’t impossible but recognizably taxing on an individual.


It is very natural to classify.  We have names for all colors and colors within color spectrums.  When considering the color pink, there is pink, hot pink, neon pink, piggy pink, baby pink, champagne, coral.  The list goes on. Even within the world of web, there are 16,777,217 hexadecimal codes that represent individual colors in the color array.  Craziness. When surrounded by people, it is unsurprisingly natural for one to begin to sift through the details and elements of things, peoples, and concepts to place and relate them to the world we live in.

As an enthusiastic observer and classifier, Jon Kolko’s summarized history of the concept of Design as a profession, how it is perceived and how it really is was absolutely MY kind of brain candy.  It fed into my desire to understand, where did this come from, how did it come to be, how was it then, how is it now. It sparked many questions about design and postulations for what Design can be. If I’m being honest, I am hooked.  Hooked on the idea that I, Kim, can actively shape the future conversations of how Design came to be. I want to be that key player. This idea is as truly magical to me as being a character in a Harry Potter novel. The sense of aspiration is an invaluable gift.

Among the gift today were humbleness from realizing ‘I don’t know jack about squat’, confidences from overcoming introversion anxieties, pride from perseverance, fear of the upcoming tasks at hand, relief in knowing I’m not going to be alone, and SO much gratitude for the team and people I will be working with to explore real problems with real consequences.  

Thanks, John for schooling us. Thanks, Aaron, Kay, and Suzi for being uniquely wise in your ways, cool to work with, and a pretty awesome first team interview experience. And Thanks Ruby for making all these opportunities beautifully possible, quietly documenting our shared experiences, and of course FEEDING US! (This is by means no small task, as every person of Asian ancestry, and southern roots intrinsically  understand, Acts of Feeding is the 6th Language of Love).

Today’s word is Gratitude.