Laughing Our Way to a Better Community: The Potential of Comedy to Change the Culture of Civic Engagement in Austin

We launched Stand Up, Austin! with a live event, A Civic Comedy Show, on Wednesday, April 11. The event was a minimum viable product (MVP), meaning that it contained just enough features to satisfy paying customers and for us to obtain feedback for future iterations and development.

Key considerations to test included market interest, ability to make a civic event fun and enjoyable, the viability of a live comedy format, and the effect of adding civic-minded organizations to the event.

Features

The MVP included the following features: live event held at an adult-entertainment venue with a bar, a stand-up comedy showcase format featuring five diverse comics and a civic engagement expert, and four civic-minded organizations offering various opportunities to get involved with the community. We designed thoughtful touch points and interactions to enhance the civic-nature of the event, such as Conversation Cards and Community Jenga.

The MVP was held at Spider House Ballroom, a well-known Austin institution for live events.
The MVP was held at Spider House Ballroom, a well-known Austin institution for live events.
Attendees registered to vote and learned about upcoming elections from League of Women Voters.
Attendees registered to vote and learned about upcoming elections from League of Women Voters.
Before and after the comedic showcase attendees had an opportunity to enjoy community (and a cocktail or beer).
Before and after the comedic showcase attendees had an opportunity to enjoy community (and a cocktail or beer).
The showcase featured five comics, including Ky Krebs. “If Austin is so bike friendly then why am I always mad when they're in front of me?”
The showcase featured five comics, including Ky Krebs. “If Austin is so bike friendly then why am I always mad when they’re in front of me?”
An unexpected addition to a comedic showcase included Jay Jennings, postdoctoral research fellow for the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas Austin. "It’s not great that Texas ranks 50th in talking about politics, but it is solvable.”
An unexpected addition to a comedic showcase included Jay Jennings, postdoctoral research fellow for the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas Austin. “It’s not great that Texas ranks 50th in talking about politics, but it is solvable.”
The laughs came easily and quickly for the audience.
The laughs came easily and quickly for the audience thanks to our gifted comic partners.
Vickie O'Dell with Open Austin talked with attendees about volunteer opportunities related to open data, open government, and civic apps in Austin.
Vickie O’Dell with Open Austin talked with attendees about volunteer opportunities related to open data, open government, and civic apps in Austin.
AC4D student Adam Chasen performed qualitative research throughout the shadowing a couple and then interviewing them about their experience.
AC4D student Adam Chasen performed qualitative research throughout the MVP shadowing a couple and then interviewing them about their experience.

Results

MVP key learnings:

  • People will take decisive civic action when given the opportunity (for example, nine people registered to vote);
  • there is a market for local civic comedy (over 100 people bought tickets for $5-7 after 10-days of promotion which consisted primarily of social media and free event calendars);
  • a civic comedy show can be funny and informative (more than 90% of surveyed attendees rated the show as such);
  • and comics want to be part of a show that intersects with civic engagement (almost half of the comedic portion of the show was on topic with civic engagement even though we did not have creative control of the content).
Attendees had various civic opportunities presented by Pulse of Austin, League of Women Voters, Functional Democracy, and Open Austin. The MPV netted 45 individual tangible steps toward an improved civic life.
Attendees had various civic opportunities presented by Pulse of Austin, League of Women Voters, Functional Democracy, and Open Austin. The MPV netted 45 individual tangible steps toward an improved civic life.
The showcase is illustrated graphically as a sparkline. This helps to see the contrast in content by visualizing its contour. The line moves up and down between comedy and civic comedy. Engagement level was tracked by audience applause and laughter.

What’s Next

We are iterating our concept and preparing for AC4D’s Community Showcase and Party on Thursday, April 26. Please join us to learn more about Stand Up, Austin! 

 

Design Strategy Feature Brief: We’ve Only Just Begun

After creating scenarios, iterating wireframes, completing usability testing, evaluating feasibility, creating a product roadmap, and sizing with a developer, it is time to create a design strategy feature brief. The brief presents a comprehensive and straightforward vision of what the redesigned mobile application will provide and why it’s valuable.

In the real world, the brief will be shared with multiple departments from operations to sales to customer service and beyond to make sure that everyone is on the same page with the direction and capabilities of the product.

The new artifact is actually a compilation and curation of artifacts previously created. Core components of a compelling design strategy feature brief include value proposition, research insights, wireframes, features, and product roadmap. 

A simple promise articulating the future outlook.
A value proposition is a simple promise articulating the future outlook.

 

Insights are grounded in human behavior.
Insights are grounded in human behavior.

 

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Insight: customers don’t want more financial services, they want financial health and security.

 

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High-level product roadmap shows features that will come online and paints a picture for a longer term view.

 

Key capabilities and summarized to quickly communicate the customer value.
Key capabilities and wireframes are summarized to quickly communicate the customer value.

 

You can view the design strategy feature brief here.

Reflection

Throughout my marketing and communications career, I’ve reviewed similar documents. I liked building the brief because it is an opportunity to revisit design artifacts and use them to communicate a product vision in a clear, concise, and compelling way. The challenge with documents such as this is ultimately implementing the strategy and not allowing it to merely live on in an executive’s memory or bookcase.

There’s much work ahead of us to achieve and to realize the product strategy and vision. Despite the numerous steps to get to this point, we’ve only just begun. Indeed.

 

Designerly Imagination: Fencing Us In

What limits what we can imagine? That’s the provocative question and theme we explored the past two weeks with Richard Anderson.

It’s a more complicated question than it might appear on the surface. After all, who hasn’t been told at least once (or been the person imparting the wisdom) that the only limitation is imagination? As if imagination can be tapped into if only we try hard enough.

The readings impart several barriers to what we can imagine:

Language. The word we use matter and shape our perception of the world. In healthcare, individuals are patients (even when they’re healthy), and providers are health care professionals.

Language

Context. We must look deeper to understand the meaning and the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea. In science fiction, despite imagining worlds that have never been seen but later became a reality, “one limitation of the past and current science fiction communities is that they disproportionately feature the contributions of a particular author demographic (i.e., white men). If we admit that visions of the future are influenced by the present context of the author, this is an important point to consider when adapting ideas from science fiction narratives.”

Context

Education. Professionals, from doctors to MBAs to designers, are taught to think a certain way and to becomes masters of specific tools and processes. This embedded way of thinking frames how we view the world.

Education

Trends. Trends tell us where the world or the market are heading. There are smart reasons to jump on a trend. It’s often a recipe for success. But patterns can have unintended consequences, such as convenience and efficiency which has become the hallmark of technology and design. Trends are not inherently bad. What if we refreshed our hot trend more regularly?

Trends

Perseverance. Stick-to-it-ive-ness is often a good thing. But knowing when to walk away is a good thing too. The answer to lousy technology often adds more technology. What if there’s a different solution?

Perserverance

Objects. Physical objects offer limitations of their own. For a writer, it might have been a typewriter or pen and paper. For a designer, sharpies, and post-it-notes?

Objects

Fencing Us In

People of all stripes are subject to these limitations of imagination. And it seems there are endless limitations. Culture. Religion. Empathy. It goes on and on.

Design Limitations

 

For designers, a common trap is thinking that we’re the innovators and saviors. Everyone should think like a designer. Literature can learn more from design than design from literature. Got a wicked problem? Get a designer.

Designers are taught to embrace constraints when working on a project. Constraints are our friends. So perhaps we need some limitations to what design is capable of imagining.

Just like ego can affect our ability to receive critique and to collaborate, it can affect our ability to be open to creativity. Design and humility are a good match. It leads to an understanding that design works best when partnering with other disciplines and taking every opportunity to learn and leverage other talents. I’m all about design, but even I am growing tired of headlines that tell practically every profession to think like a designer.

What if these were our limitations?

At the start of the quarter I wrote that design is human and in another post I wrote about the need for design agency, a distinctly human ability. I thought they were simple, yet provocative statements. It’s also complicated.

In an era of artificial intelligence and exponential growth of technology, what it means to be human is up for debate. Faith Popcorn, a leading futurist who has worked with some of the most significant companies in the world, said that “we already live in a world with self-driving cars soon taking to the roads and a robotic citizen.” Faith thinks that “things will become even more sci-fi. We’re on the bridge from the past to the future. It’s going to be even faster than we think. People must move forward and redefine what work means, whether we must work, and consider what it means to be human.”

The Road Ahead

That’s going to take a big dose of humility and a multidisciplinary team to prototype, test, and iterate. Grab the post-it-notes and let’s get to work!

 

Shifting Focus: Stand Up, Austin! A Civic Comedy Show

Stand, Up, Austin! A Civic Comedy Show Stand Up, Austin! exists to bring laughter and civic inspiration to Austinites. Laughing and listening are essential to our lives as active citizens where we all stand up for the community we want to be. We’re non-profit and non-partisan.

Nikita - Instagram Photo@3x

To test our concept, we’ve identified our magic moment as the intersection of comedy and civic life. It’s taking something viewed as boring and an obligation, and making it fun and entertaining. Ultimately that’s what our customers are paying us to do: to laugh and learn about the local community and political life.

Our minimum viable product (MVP) is Stand Up, Austin! A Civic Comedy Show. The show will take place Wednesday, April 11, at Spider House Ballroom. We are promoting the show across Austin, and our goal is 75-100 attendees. The show is recommended in the Chronicle, a top pick on Do512, there is a brief write-up in The Villager, and posters on 130+ bulletin boards (typical public event boards where live shows usually promote and East Austin recreation and community centers). We’re on a diverse mix of 15+ local event calendars such as Soulciti, 365 Austin, and Austin 360.

Planning

Our team set out this week with the goal to design interactions within our pilot that would get customers to interface with our informational booths and use our interactive concepts. Our assumption was that by inspiring actions in civic activities in the moment rather than for a later time, our customers would gain more value and behavioral change.

By actually performing some civic action (registering to vote, signing up for volunteering, signing up for email updates) during the show, they would take that first step needed in becoming more civically engaged. We set out to create artifacts that would help us test this assumption in our pilot.

Specific Tasks For This Sprint:

  • Create a digital map of the ballroom area to visualize what touchpoints customers would interact within various scenarios
  • Finish designing and testing our interactive concepts so we can understand what is needed to iterate for our new strategy
  • Craft customer survey for before and after show to measure the success of the pilot
  • Iterate customer journey map and expand on experience post show
  • Bring on customers to make contextual inquiries before, during, and after the pilot for measuring success and iterating future experience designs

Mapping it Out

Our team mapped out the layout of the show from pictures and video we’ve taken throughout the past several weeks. High-level insights that we found were that the booths needed to spaced throughout the space to accurately reach all customers during the night. We also found that we needed to set up our chairs differently than previously anticipated due to our recent ticket sales (32 pre-sale) higher than expected. This new seating change, rows instead of cocktail tables, caused us to iterate our conversation card interactive concept from a simple card deck to seat placeholder card.

Conversation Cards

Initially, the idea was to have cards at each cocktail table that prompted users to interact with strangers, promoting community and engagement, and thereby actionably engage customers in civic participation. With the recent insight that we couldn’t have cocktail tables since our ticket sales were much higher than we anticipated at this point, we needed to switch chairs in a row format.

Now that customers wouldn’t be able to sit around a table and discuss these cards our thought was that they should be placed on the chairs. However, we assumed that people wouldn’t use them with other members of the audience pre-show in fear that they would love their spot. Based on this assumption our team decided to redesign the cards to include a seat number on the back. The idea is that when audience members arrive they can go over and find seats, take the card to reserve their spot, and then they are free to walk about before the show. By taking the card with them, they are more likely to use it to interact with new people.

We plan on testing these assumptions by doing a dry run in the next couple of days. Our findings from that test with determine whether we include this redesign in our pilot.

Measuring Success

One way that we plan to measure whether we were able to increase the likelihood of civic participation in future interaction is a pre and post-show survey. We plan that around 50% of the people there would take a survey at the beginning and the other 50% would consider a post-survey. The pre-show would measure their political efficacy, community efficacy, and civic life intentions, and the post-show survey would ask for the same feedback as well as their evaluation of the show.

We received help on this concept from Ori Tanuimbam: a journalism Ph.D. from the University of Texas who has performed research in civic events similar to ours. The idea is that by splitting the room and gathering data before and after we can tell if the event affected political intentions and knowledge.

We’ve started designing the survey but still have questions as to how we can incentivize customers to participate in the study. We are asking ourselves how we can have it remain thorough while remaining light, easy to understand, and fun.

Customer Journey Map

About halfway into our sprint we received feedback that we needed to think more about the customer experience after the show. At that point, we didn’t have a plan for follow up or continued interactions. We realize that it is paramount that our journey maps and design strategy account for these follow up actions. Our new design journey map accounts for this post show experiences, as well as has been iterated to include our updated interactive concepts.

At this point, we plan to take the emails we receive from our booths, our website, and ticket sales to create a follow-up email that prompts customers to further their interaction with civic resources. We plan to design a digital component to our concept that allows them to reach numerous resources to get involved in civic activities.

Contextual Inquiries During Pilot Experience

We are currently reaching out to people that have bought tickets to see if they will allow us to perform contextual inquiries with them during the night to observe and understand their behavior during the event. We’ve confirmed two participants, and we are awaiting a response from a woman that, in the early stages of testing our concept, we performed a research session with.

Next Steps

In the next few days, our team will be in overdrive mode finalizing our concepts and making any last minute iterations for our pilot. Our event is set for this Wednesday, April 11th at Spider House Ballroom. If you are curious about the work we’ve been doing and want to see it in action, please stop by, we would love the chance for you to experience it and give us feedback. To buy tickets click here. See you there!

Kill Your Darlings and Frankenstein

As the next phase in Product Management following the estimate received only a few weeks ago for a banking app redesign, I developed a product roadmap to guide development and to communicate when features and capabilities will become available.

The first release still provides value to the user even though features were removed from the flows: account transaction details, view and save a copy of a check, edit check description, adding a note when sending money to an individual, and adding new people from device contacts.
The first release still provides value to the user even though features were removed from the flows: account transaction details, view and save a copy of a check, edit check description, adding a note when sending money to an individual, and adding new people from device contacts.


 

The second release includes functionality that was removed during the thin slice. Several of these features were deemed high-risk by the developer. With additional time, I should be able to de-risk the features by learning more about external partners, banking requirements, and build additional flows.
The second release includes functionality that was removed during the thin slice. Several of these features were deemed high-risk by the developer. With additional time, I should be able to de-risk the features by learning more about external partners, banking requirements, and build additional flows.

Here’s a quick step by step for how I got here:

Assumptions

I began by making sure assumptions to ground myself in a real-life scenario. Fundamental assumptions include: two developers working 8-hour days; product launch within three months; banking is a competitive consumer market which makes baseline features must-haves (accessing accounts, depositing a check, and paying bills); there are many things we don’t know, and new relationships are complicated.

Constraints and Priorities

Kill your darlings

To bring something to market within two months, I began by taking away features that I had planned to develop for the first release. This is called thin slicing. The idea is to balance development capacity while still providing user value. It’s sort of like killing your darlings when writing and editing something you wrote. However, a product roadmap has a silver lining: you can later add what you took away to a future release. With proper planning and communication, you can make sure it’s not a Frankenstein moment!

I created a rough cut thin slice flow by removing things so that capabilities and capacity were balanced. In this example by removing a feature to add new payees from a user's device (marked with an orange x), I deferred 20 hours of estimated development time while still delivering value and capability for a user.
I created a rough cut thin slice flow by removing things so that capabilities and capacity were balanced. In this example by removing a feature to add new payees from a user’s device (marked with an orange x), I deferred 20 hours of estimated development time while still delivering value and capability for a user.

New flows

After removing capabilities (account transaction details, view and save a copy of a check, edit check description, adding a note when sending money to an individual, adding new people from device contacts), I created revised flows to make sure they still made sense and provided value to the user.

Rationalize with the estimate

Then I took the new hero flow, assessment of time, and compared it with my capacity and launch goal. From there, I cut additional capabilities (what if and spending analysis features). The features reduced during the second round of thin slice were based on the insight from the developer who provided the estimate: we didn’t know enough about the features that will be provided by a new acquisition.

Capacity planning

I began by briefly describing the capabilities, sequencing the capabilities over a period, and rationalizing the estimate several times to make sure that I had the confidence to deliver on the roadmap. Knowing that banking is a competitive consumer market, I focused on providing basic functionality in less than three months (release 1.0), and then add functionality to those basics within the next three months (release 1.1).

With the first release I am able to provide critical functionality.

 

 

With the second release I am able to provide additional features, such as adding contacts from a users device for payment, and accessing transaction details.

Anticipation

I included 40% more time than projected since it is the first time I’ve worked with the developer, and I have approximately 50% of the necessary flows. I pushed off several features that were deemed high-risk to release 1.1. This will give me more time to plan for the second release and develop additional flows (I see another thin slice in my future).

For additional information on my process, see the rough cut thin slice flow, updated flows, estimate rationalization, product planning and roadmap documentation, and presentation deck.

Comedy is No Funny Business

Stand Up, Austin! exists to spark and boost healthy civic lives with fun and informative events. To make that world a reality we are marketing, producing, and presenting a live comedy show on April 11 at Spider House Ballroom. Before we invest more time and resources into the concept, we need to know: if we can create a comedic event that is fun and informative; and if people will pay to participate in such an event.

With showtime only weeks away, we spent the past week promoting the event, refining design prototypes, and developing a pitch deck for our start-up. It has been challenging wearing three very different hats: entrepreneur, project manager, and designer.

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 8.10.57 AM

Promotion

We spent the week focused on promotion activities to get the word out about our special event. Our focus has been on a website, event calendars and media outreach to help us reach a diverse audience, social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram), posters placed on over 100 community bulletin boards in Austin, and postcards distributed to barbershops and community gathering places.

Prototypes

To create a fun and informative event, we are designing the event to include games, activities, and interactions that will spark interest in civic life. We are also partnering with civic organizations to provide information and opportunities for people to get involved.

Interactive concepts

Traction

After one-week of promotion, we are receiving positive signals from the community. Our one metric that matters (OMTM), a single number that we care the most about at this stage our development, upvotes on a popular event calendar, Do512. Do512 has over 1M monthly page views, 78% of their audience is between the ages of 18-44 and 195k Twitter followers. Calendar events make it on their front page based on popular vote.

We want to keep our event ticket fees as low as possible so that cost is not a barrier to participate. We are bootstrapping the first show and raising funds with friends and family. In the future, we plan to seek grants from the Cultural Arts Division, City of Austin Office of Economic Development to support marketing, production, and presentation of future events.

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Reflection

We continue to receive affirmation from Austinites and partners that our concept of uniting comedy and local civic life has merits. While completing usability tests of the website, we heard things like “I’d love to go with my boyfriend,” and “this looks like a diverse event, you don’t see that often in Austin.”

Despite the positive traction and affirmations, we are working with a significant amount of ambiguity. For example, without creative control of the content delivered by comic partners, it is difficult to know if we will be on point with message and tone. We keep moving and work toward realizing our first event so that can continue to iterate and refine our start-up.

More to come

How you can help

In order to test our concept, we need 75 to 100 people to attend our event on April 11 at Spider House Ballroom. In less than 5 minutes, you can help us by:  

  1. Visiting Do512 and vote for Stand Up, Austin! A Civic Comedy Show. Simply click the “upvote” button on the event listing.
  2. Sharing the Facebook Event with your friends.
  3. Pitching in to help us replicate the financial component of our business model (grants) by making a small donation.

 

Rethinking Design Agency

Lately, I’ve heard the word agency over and over in contexts that sound new to me. I’m listening to NPR and someone will say something like “There are other things in life besides being safe, like having the sense you’re running your own life and having a sense of agency.” A few days later, someone will say “Addressing the wrong through official channels will give you a sense of agency.” And at the end of the 3-part lecture on power, the final words on the screen were from Alan Cooper, “agency grows the more you exercise it.”

So between NPR and the lecture, I was urged to unpack the word. What does a sense of agency mean?

When we hear the word agency in a design context, likely top design agencies come to mind. What I discovered is that a sense of agency is the feeling that one has of being the author of one’s actions. And in fact, agency is of great interest to psychologists and sociologists, to name just two fields of study.

presentation 2_theory_v1.003

 

Psychological Perspective

Psychology tells us that a sense of agency refers to the feeling of control over actions and their consequences. A sense of agency refers to the feeling of power over actions and their results.

This sense of agency is essential for people to feel in control of their life: to believe in their capacity to influence their thoughts and behavior, and to have faith in their ability to handle a wide range of tasks or situations (Psychology Today). Having a sense of agency affects your stability as a separate person; it is your capacity to be psychologically stable, yet resilient or flexible, in the face of conflict or change.

presentation 2_theory_v1.005

Sociological Perspective

Sociology offers another definition. “Agency refers to the thoughts and actions taken by people that express their power” (ThoughtCo). Agency is the power people have to think for themselves and act in ways that shape their experiences and life trajectories.

In the social sciences, there is a debate over structure or agency in shaping human behavior. “The core challenge at the center of the field of sociology is understanding the relationship between structure and agency. Structure refers to the complex and interconnected set of social forces, relations, institutions, and elements of social structure that work together to shape the thought, behavior, experiences, choices, and overall life courses of people” (ThoughtCo).

presentation 2_theory_v1.010

Shared Agency

Agency can be in individual and collective forms. Collective agency is where we see people act together, united by a common cause, harnessing the power and influence of the group. Sometimes individuals work together, and sometimes they move independently of one another. It’s a distinction that matters. You are likely to make more headway in a difficult task working with others; and even if there is little progress, there’s at least the comfort and solidarity that comes with a collective undertaking (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Examples of a collective or shared agency include institutions or laws established by everyone working together for status or a cause. Civil rights, and recently LGBTQ rights are examples. Within groups, you also see them working together to advance shared ethical rules, for example, doctors. You’ll see this across a variety of disciplines, including politics, social science, economics, law, and so on.

presentation 2_theory_v1.012

A Working Definition

A designer’s sense of design agency refers to the feeling of control over actions and their consequences, and the thoughts and actions taken by designers. Design agency can take individual and collective forms. Its hallmarks include a feeling of power over actions and their results. Designers with design agency are resilient yet flexible in the face of conflict or change.

presentation 2_theory_v1.015

 

presentation 2_theory_v1.016


So What?

Design has significant power to shape the world around us and to create behavior change. In history, we’ve seen design as a tool of colonialism in Morocco. Most recently, we’ve seen designers using attachment anxiety in emotional design and marketing; and in the world around of us, the world that user experience is creating, and data usage by Facebook.

Roadblocks to design agency include individual mindsets and designers as a whole.

presentation 2_theory_v1.019

presentation 2_theory_v1.020

Building Design Agency

A path to design agency rests with designers. There were strategic actions and tactical paths in our readings about how designers might go about this in a real-world environment. Design agency is all about designers having the ability to take action, to be effective, to influence our work, and to assume responsibility for our designs and what we put into the world. Developing design agency is a step in reconciling that design is political and human.

presentation 2_theory_v1.021

In class discussion, we struggle with recognizing our power and responsibility (design agency) as designers. It’s not going to be easy. Our call to action as we enter the design profession is resounding: be the change we want to see in the world.

 

From Wireframe to Market

Extracting and sizing feature specifications from a design with the help of a developer are critical aspects of product managers role. For the past two weeks, I have endeavored to evaluate feasibility and scope of a Bank of America mobile application that I redesigned in 2017.

I began by dusting off the wireframes and revisiting the flows to understand the bigger picture of what I am creating. I anticipated that I had 70% of the entire wireframes and felt that I had enough to consult a developer to begin the estimation phase. To prepare for the developer consultation, I worked to identify the significant flows, unique features, and components of the design.

Features

Controls

Breakdown

Estimation

I met with Andre Ortiz, an experienced designer of interfaces and experiences, for a development estimation session. An estimation session brings designers and developers together which gives a more thorough understanding the product, capabilities, and effort. Estimation will also ultimately provide insight to a broad range of stakeholders, such as marketers, sales, etc., who will need to know the features and delivery dates for a rollout, and also provides details about the costs and effort associated with a product, which will be of interest to finance and others.

The meeting with Andre was constructive and gave me insight into possible development effort. I also learned that I do not have all of the wireframes (even though I can still hear the refrain, “design every single screen,” from previous quarters). For the time being, I will use a placeholder of development hours and consult with others for the best way to handle. Even though I did not have all of the wireframes, it was a productive and valuable use of time.

features.004

From a product perspective, the most important thing I learned is that bank-to-bank transfers will require 20 hours of development per financial institution. There are approximately 6k FDIC-insured commercial banks in the USA which will need 120k hours. Further analysis will be necessary before determining an approach for bank-to-bank transfers. For example, perhaps we can plan to design for the ten most significant banks.

In total, currently, I estimate that it will take 128 days to develop the mobile application. In reality, I believe that it will take more time. I will confer with my design colleagues who also met with developers to estimate other banking apps.

Detailed estimate.

Just Unfuck It

As I began to make sense of the articles and discussions for design theory with Richard Anderson, With the Best Intentions, design is human, and design is political came to mind. As designers, we work with and among people to achieve a larger purpose.

Mark Manson, in his article Everything is Fucked and I’m Pretty Sure It’s the Internet’s Fault, reminded me that some of our most urgent work in social entrepreneurship is to redesign existing systems, processes, and to create behavior change that leads to a better world. Matson makes the case that technology has unintentionally formed divides which are at play today on a global scale.  

How might designers unfuck the current situations that we find ourselves? Perhaps said more often, how might we redesign or reimagine it? With ‘it’ as a placeholder for a broad number of wicked problems, such as civic engagement, poverty, and racism. An excellent place to start is to recognize the human and political nature of design.

I’m Only Human, Born to Make Mistakes

A simple statement but with a lot of meaning: design is human. Human-centered design is a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor-made to suit their needs (IDEO). And if design is human, it’s also subject to the frailties of human nature.

We read several articles about selfish altruism, which lead me to research selflessness and human nature. Many believe that there can be no such thing as an altruistic act that does not involve some element of self-interest. Whether it’s a sense of pride, or more direct compensation, self-interest is unavoidable. Despite best intentions to perform a selfless act, turns out there is no such thing.

 

Political Animals by Nature

Design is political. Also a simple loaded statement. Looking back on post-it notes as I read the articles, I see similar phrases written over and over as if it was a realization: design is political; design by definition is political; design and politics. Is design intentionally politically? Can we divorce the political from design?

Laura Bliss, The High Line’s Next Balancing Act, wrote that the “famed linear park may be a runaway success, but it’s also a symbol of Manhattan’s rising inequality.” The founders of the High Line shared several ideas for what they could have done differently to avoid the unintended consequences: asking better questions (such as “what can we do for you” vs. input on visual design, and working more closely with the government for zoning and land usage.

If design is human and political, then design is also a form of political activism. The problems we choose to focus on. The people that we work with. Who is the project really for? Design for good. Social entrepreneurship. And if we are redesigning something, then that gives rise to a changing tide. Our professor wrote that because of his experience with the healthcare system, today he’s working to redesign that system. Is he an activist?

In another post, Anderson posed a question that is on topic, Is it Ethical for Designers to Function as Activists When Practicing their Profession? If So, When? If So, How? The short answer (from my perspective): despite best intentions to be an ethical designer, we can’t divorce our humanity and political point of view from our work. Nor should we. Perhaps a new definition of what it means to be an ethical designer is needed.

Opportunity

Despite the hazard of best intentions, several areas of opportunity come to mind for designers:

  • What if we consistently ask ourselves, who is this project really for?
  • What if humanity, with all of its flaws, itself can be un-fucked?
  • What if we are less cynical? After all, design schools and design firms might sell activism the same way a big business sells a t-shirt.
  • How might we apply deep learning to our work?
  • How might we balance cynicism with what we know to be true?
  • How might we recognize the dignity of the people we endeavor to design for and develop a shared understanding of what it means to treat people with dignity?

Civic Night: when you laugh, you’re listening

As we dig further into Civic Night, we’ve had the challenge of immersing ourselves into Austin’s comedy scene. Nice work if you can get it, right?

On Monday evening we went to see a monthly comedy show called All In: Stand Up at The Sidewinder. On Thursday evening we saw QueerTowne’s Super Gay Valentine’s Day, a show featuring queer-inclusive storytelling, stand up, and improv at Coldtowne Theatre in East Austin. On Friday evening, Esther’s Follies entertained us with political satire, comedy sketches, magic and musical numbers. And firsthand we experienced some of Austin’s venues and bars, like The Historic Scoot Inn in East Austin.

It’s fun and serious work for us. We are building from a design research insight about perception being an essential factor determining if and how a person engages civically. How might we leverage the power of perception to increase meaningful civic participation?

We’ve combined the insight and opportunity with a powerful form of art: comedy.

We’ve gotten some quizzical looks. Comedy? We’ve seen it play out nationally with politics–Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Saturday Night Live– and much success. And numerous secondary sources are extolling the virtues of comedy as a means to shape what people think and even what they do.

In addition to learning about the scene firsthand, we’re there to talk with patrons about their experience and interest in comedy. What if we changed one or two things about a production–a heavy dose of civic life–will they be interested in a show like that and why.

Like many before us, we discovered that Austin’s comedy scene is alive and thriving. It’s a diverse mix of young and experienced talent, performing stand-up to improv to sketch shows every week.


Experiments

In addition to immersing ourselves in the scene, we ran three experiments this week to test format, venues, and comics.

Format

We believe there are three potential formats for Civic Night: civic comedy show, civic salon, or civic 101. We developed high-level journey maps to test with people to determine if there is a preference for one over the other. We anticipated that a majority would prefer one format over the other.

Civic Comedy Show - Journey Map

Civic 101 - Journey Map

Civic Salon - Journey Map

 

Results: the majority preferred the comedy show format. A common theme we picked up on was that many of the people spoke with thought the comedy show format would meet people where they are and introduce political and community topics in a fresh way.

“I like that after the show, people go and talk…”

“The population is not self-educated about topics. This gets you there.”

“This is an interesting idea. Cool.”

We spoke with 20 people to complete an experiment about a preferred format for Civic Night.
We spoke with 20 people to complete an experiment about a preferred format for Civic Night.

Venue

We believe there are venues in East Austin who will host Civic Night for little to no cost since there is an opportunity to make money on the drinks sold. We made outreach to six potential venues (including bars and traditional comedy show venues) to learn about availability, logistics, and atmosphere.

Results: inconclusive. We have not been able to speak one-on-one with enough venues yet to complete the experiment. We anticipate ending the test early next week. If we decide to pursue a traditional comedy show theatre, we learned that there are two on the East Side.

Comic

We believe there are diverse comedians In Austin, including Hispanic and African American, who will be interested in Civic Night as a potential event where they would perform. We made outreach to six diverse comedians to discuss Civic Night, and we expect that at least 2-3 of the comics will be interested in Civic Night as a potential event where they would perform.

Results: inconclusive. We were not able to speak one-on-one with enough diverse comedians yet to complete the experiment. Phone and face-to-face meetings are scheduled, and we anticipate completing the test early next week.

What’s next

We plan to continue work to understand the customer’s journey. We will further explore the front of the house, back of the house, stakeholders, and partners. We plan to explore a digital extension of Civic Night as an essential part of our service offering, co-design with a comedian, and develop additional experiments to test Civic Night.

Visit us online to signup and stay up-to-date with the latest news about Civic Night.

Joshua Browning, Scott Reed, and Maria Zub