Insights – APA!

An insight is built by asking “why?” – and answering with incomplete data. Insights should be able to stand on their own and elicit provocation.

This was our focus over the last couple weeks – turning themes into insights and delivering the information to Austin Pets Alive!. Christina and I are nervous about presenting this content – and who wouldn’t be? To summarize, we are walking into a meeting to present problems without solutions. Our hope is that we’ve built enough credibility with APA! to be able to deliver ‘hard truths’ and not insult our client.

Our first insight is centered around the culture at APA!. All the departments within APA! march to the beat of their own drum. They record information their own way and make little effort to proactively share data. As a result, management, researchers, grant proposal writers, and all others at APA! that make use of shelter-wide data are forced to aggregate the data they need from all APA! departments.


“I’ve chronicled up to 35 different spread sheets across the organization.”   – Pete (line 2)

Through the empathy we’ve built while working with the great people at APA!, we’ve come understand the daily frustration felt by people who perform such critical functions to the organization. While a universal data tool would clearly benefit APA!, we believe that the problem is with culture, not with technology.

The nursery, which is where we spent the bulk of our time, is not ready for the tech solution that management desires. They understand what they are doing but don’t seem to comprehend how their actions affect the greater goals of the organization. They are so caught up with saving Austin kittens now that they don’t adopt the tools that could lead to providing better future care.

Additionally, having many siloed micro-cultures can (and has) lead to mistrust of the information that has been shared. The image below shows someone who had found a mistake and is hand-checking pages to make sure other data wasn’t entered incorrectly. To complicate the matter, the data-entry person who entered the information works anywhere between 10 PM and 3 AM, remotely.


Insight: APA! is failing to unify its siloed programs, allowing departments to record data in their preferred way. As a result, it is impossible to access complete, shelter-wide information at a single touchpoint. APA should address the cultural idiosyncrasies between departments before prescribing universal tools.

Volunteers, both feeders and fosters, are an essential component of APA! mission to save the lives of companion animals. Who doesn’t want to save cute, cuddly kittens! And, thus, we arrive at the problem! During our theming stage we identified that people don’t always understand that volunteering isn’t about playing with kittens. People volunteer because they love animals, but a love of animals isn’t enough to be a good volunteer.
During our synthesis, we identified that whilst both are volunteers, fosters and feeders are treated very differently. Below is a diagram illustrating the time volunteer feeders spend training compared to the time fosters spend training (in red), and the time each spends with kittens during a given week (shown in blue). The large blue circle around the fosters illustrates not just time spent with kittens but shows how crucial the fosters are in APA!’s life-saving model. Fosters accept kittens as soon as they are ready to leave the nursery and typically keep them until they are ready for adoption. Fosters open up space for more kittens to be rescued from AAC and cycle through the nursery.
Unreliable fosters and volunteers divert precious resources in the form of human capital. Feeding the kittens comes first in the life-saving operation and when a feeder is missing, paid staff is diverted from their duties. When a foster isn’t reliable, staff needs to find new homes or space in the nursery.
Insight: APA! Is so stressed for resources that any animal lover is considered qualified labor. As a result, they experience poor care, high turnover, and increased stress for those who can provide quality work. APA needs to begin incentivizing valuable, non-paid personnel and increase efforts to discharge uncommitted volunteers.

Lettuce Share Behavioral Insights

Two months ago, Gerald, Cristina, and I partnered up with Lettuce, a local meal delivery service that aims to create a more sustainable, hyper-local food ecosystem. We set out to learn more about how the operation of Lettuce affects a subscriber’s relationship with food. By now, we have spent countless hours analyzing our research data to unearth recurring behavioral patterns, otherwise known as “themes”. By asking “why” about some of these patterns and interactions with food and the Lettuce meal delivery service, we have been able to synthesize deeper insights about human behavior.

An overview of Lettuce operations from plant to porch
An overview of Lettuce operations from “plant to porch”

In our recent blog post describing how Lettuce gets produce from “plant to porch”, we highlighted how increasing product lines decreases efficiency on the operations end. When the process is inefficient and deliveries run late, this affects the customer experience. One customer, Keegan, shared a story of a time when her Lettuce delivery arrived late: “One time it was almost 8 PM. I was like ‘forget this’, because that was going to be my meal for the night… I had to figure something else out.”

It is a very human thing to grow dependent on a service and, conversely, it can feel pretty terrible to be let down. Customers are relying on Lettuce to help put food on the table, and they must be able to trust Lettuce to deliver. Armed with this behavioral insight, how might we point out opportunities for Lettuce to strengthen and grow trust with its customers?

Another behavioral insight from our research involves the angst involved in meal preparation. Our workspace is inundated with quotes of individuals stressing about the various tasks involved in cooking and meal preparation, from procuring groceries to simply having the mental energy to cook a meal when one’s life is feeling particularly chaotic. We’re sure that no one in this program can relate to those feelings, right, classmates?

Keegan illustrated this perfectly in relation to her experience with Lettuce deliveries occasionally running late. She said, “Sometimes I’m ready to cook and by the time it gets here, I’m like ‘I’m exhausted’… and there goes the cooking time.” This sentiment rang true to us: if one isn’t both physically and mentally prepared to cook dinner by a certain point in the evening, then they pass a decision fatigue “tipping point” and are no longer inclined to cook their desired meal.

Lettuce delivery and meal preparation
How can Lettuce keep customers from passing the decision fatigue “tipping point” in meal prep?

Studying these themes or behavioral patterns catapulted us towards the realization that meal preparation cultivates anxiety because people approach cooking as a chore, rather than a healthy habit or skill to hone. What might happen if we can help Lettuce to reframe how people think about cooking to perceive it not as a task but as a habit to hone? 

Our next insight involves patterns of latent needs that our participants expressed through their behaviors and frustrations. It is essential to make a quick distinction about discussing the word “convenience” before we dive into how we arrived at our third insight. Our team acknowledges that Lettuce provides convenience with their food delivery, however, in the conventional sense of our food culture, “eating out of convenience” is generally associated with highly processed food with high caloric and poor nutritional value. The convenience associated with Lettuce is a healthy endeavor.

Our current food culture is a symptom of our work culture. Busy work schedules have driven the importance of shaving time from staple activities like cooking and eating. We now see behaviors that reflect people being distanced from a healthy relationship with food. We also see this behavior with parents attempting to accommodate their children with customized meals and allowing their children to make poor diet decisions.

Pat shared of his three-year-old son that “his favorite foods are bread, cheese, and fruit. He only likes some vegetables. Lettuce works with my wife and me, but our son… we usually do a variation.” We captured this behavior in the following statement: parents enable picky children which inhibits exploration of food. By catering to children’s professed palettes, parents are consequently stymying a world of new taste experiences.

We also heard over and over that people want to eat seasonally but underestimate the learning curve. This theme indicates subscribers’ willingness to try vegetables or fruits that they have never encountered before, but are inhibited by a lack of really knowing “what to do with it”. Since a large part of Lettuce’s mission revolves around encouraging people to eat seasonally to support the local food ecosystem, it’s important to acknowledge this knowledge gap.

Picky children and seasonal eating
How might we encourage exploration of food for picky children and seasonal eaters?

Another theme or pattern that we witnessed was how cooking new foods takes mental energy. People stick with what they know, as inferred from subscribers defaulting to their easy meals when life gets rough. While we were visiting her house, Keegan even used these words to describe something in her pantry: “this is my go-to, my sad ‘not cooking’ meal”.

From these recurring themes:

  • Parents enable picky children which inhibits exploration of food.
  • People want to eat seasonally but underestimate the learning curve.
  • Cooking new foods takes mental energy. People stick with what they know.

We arrived at this insight:

The allure of convenience and choice has enabled parents and kids to form bad food habits. We must foster more exploration of and respect for food.

We believe this insight is valuable because it speaks to a latent need exhibited by the Lettuce subscribers and it helped us get a better understanding of the subscriber’s actual relationship with food. It also led us to wonder how can Lettuce foster more exploration of and respect for food?

While we were conducting our research, we looked at more than just the subscriber’s relationship with food. We also looked at how and why subscribers valued the Lettuce service. We learned that subscribers desire a sustainable lifestyle. For example, Maple is a student who lives in a small apartment complex and cannot compost. Maple studies landscape archeology and she knows the positive impact that composting has on the environment.

While subscribers do value the tangible service of composting, they are primarily motivated by the non-tangible aspect of living a zero waste lifestyle. One reason people like Maple make decisions around sustainability is that they are acutely aware that their individual actions can have an impact on the greater whole whether that be in their community, the environment, society, and so on.

This sustainability or “greater good” mindset is hard to shake. It makes it impossible to throw out a plastic Tupperware without lamenting that it will end up in the landfill. One succinctly stated reflection on sustainability that we heard during our research came from Margaret: “A lot of people probably don’t think about that. But for me, I can’t not think about it. Once you get in that mindspace you can’t get out of it.”

This leads us to our final behavioral insight that we would like to share with you: Subscribers operate from the mindset that their individual actions affect the whole. Lettuce should positively reinforce subscribers impact all throughout the experienceHow can Lettuce bolster subscribers’ perception of a collective good?

As we move into the final stage of this research project, we will continue to reflect upon these opportunity questions. Pondering these challenges will guide our team in our journey to outline opportunity areas for Lettuce to grow, improve the service it provides to its customers, and strengthen the local food ecosystem. Until next time, blog readers!

insights with we are blood.

When telling our service client that we were developing “insights,” we felt the need to clarify. The word “insight” is usually treated as shorthand for “brilliant intuition,” so we knew that marching into a room of stakeholders announcing that we had insights into a service we had spent a limited amount of time with could seem, well, “obnoxious.”

But insights are not the same thing as impressions. As with everything in the design process, an insight means something specific, made up of a series of smaller processes.

To get to insights, we first examine the context, by interviewing a number of users and stakeholders and observing their behavior. Before we do anything else, we collect each of these tiny interaction points as data.

From there, we begin to make sense of this data: pulling out stories that illustrate a complex, nuance human experience of this service; combining and recombining those stories and data points to get at underlying themes; and slicing a particularly dense interaction to pull apart all of the dynamics at play in one interaction, in one environment, over time (what we call service slices).

Finally, we turn each of those themes and pain points into “why?”s. Only then are we prepared to start developing insights.

Even then, insights are largely guesswork. But unlike instant, superficial observations from newbie designers who just stepped foot into a massive mobile blood donation operation (us, mid-August), we are now equipped to offer meaningful and provocative observations about the service, because we are now armed with deep, 360-degree knowledge of a sizeable amount of data—much of which is data that company leadership has not had much access to, or synthesis around, before.

And that is not obnoxious at all—instead, it can be a viable value add to any service organization.

Here’s an example from our work with Central Texas-focused blood donation group We Are Blood:

A lot of people have been positively affected by blood donation … [but] you don’t know who gets your blood.

—Joseph, 19

“Joseph” is a long time donor. He loves giving blood because it makes him feel connected to a larger community. But he openly admits that he doesn’t know where his blood actually goes. And he’s not alone—several donors and phlebotomists alike made note of this.

As we worked through the data, this theme kept popping up for us, because a core tenet of We Are Blood’s mission is to inspire people to give blood. But they aren’t telling donors or the public about who actually gets the blood that donors give. 

There’s one good reason for this—HIPAA regulations place some constraints on disclosing recipients. But there are many other potential ways to tell these stories, and we found that presently, We Are Blood isn’t proactively pursuing these avenues.

To build from a provocative theme into an insight, we need three things:

A value statement,

A supporting phrase, and

A provocation.

To make a strong insight, the combination of all three of these things will stand on its own as a complete idea—one that, like it or not, agree with it or not, anyone can understand.

Here’s our full insight to the story from Joseph (and others):

Delivery on value promise is essential for successful service. But in contrast to WAB’s mission statement—to inspire new donors to give and to create a feeling of family—donors have no idea where their blood goes. This is a problem because WAB’s entire brand ID is built on this emotional payoff.

We drove this home with this image:

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 5.41.51 PM

We called this girl “Suzy.” Suzy is a stock image of a girl in a hospital, and we don’t know anything else about her. Why? Because we never have the chance to learn it.

Instead, we know the stories of Pat, and Gina, and Katie, and Jane, and Joseph, and dozens of others who work or show up to mobile drives. And one common theme among each of those individuals is that they don’t know Suzi’s story, either.

When we presented this insight to We Are Blood, leadership in the room agreed that this was an issue, and noted that they had tried various methods to tell these stories, which had all been unsuccessful over time. We then had an invigorating discussion around things they had tried, what elements worked and didn’t, and what other barriers existed to getting these stories told.

The next step in the design research process is to take a stab at new ideas. Some of those ideas came up in our discussion with WAB; others live on post-it notes on our wall, waiting for us to push them further. A good insight will, above all, spark discussion and the curiosity to build new things. We’re excited to move forward into new ideas—whether or not they turn out to be the right ideas, they will be built on this now-shared framework of insights.

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

Insights from the Castle

For anyone who has been following Jen and I on our design research journey with Castle Hill Fitness, you know that we last posted about mapping concepts and interactions we found in the data and called them service slices. Since then, we’ve been working on developing insights.

Insights were presented to us as being provocative statements of truth about human behavior,  inferences, and bridges between research and design. They are built off of the previous work we’ve done creating themes, and service slices. To do this, we first re-phrased all of our themes into why questions. Next we went through all the data we’d grouped to create that theme to answer the why question. Finally, we extrapolated a direction to move in or a kind of recommendation. What this looked like for us was timed 15 minute rounds of silent individual insight development followed by walking each other through what we’d developed and giving feedback.

We also invited our client into the studio to participate in insight creation as well. This was really fun, and helpful. Not only was this a great learning opportunity for us to practice explaining the process to someone, but she was able to see firsthand what we’re up to, provide feedback, and give us direction and additional knowledge as someone who knows the ins and outs of Castle Hill Fitness. When she arrived we gave her the lay of the land by walking around the workspace and explaining what things were, and then we all took some time to just read and process some of the data individually. Then we set to work insighting together.

Once we had developed all our insights it was time to figure out how we would present them, and create a problem statement. We learned a problem statement is a succinct description of the issue or latent need that’s worth solving. When we thought about creating a problem statement we were initially drawn to two areas of our research. The first was the theme and insight regarding the new member onboarding process at Castle Hill Fitness. If you remember back to the start of this project the onboarding process was what we were seeking to gain more understanding around.

The second thing that stood out to us was the idea of community. The concept of community kept popping up in our interviews, data, themes, and insights. So we took small post-its marked with the letter ‘C’ and placed them on all the insights that touched on community. This gave us a visual reference on the wall for how prevalent it was in our data, and allowed us to navigate the relevant insights dealing with community to choose ones that stood out to us further.

'C' stickies denoting community related themes and insights.
‘C’ stickies denoting community related themes and insights.

Since both ideas stood out strongly in the data and in our minds as relevant we decided to move forward with creating problem statements for both the onboarding process and creating community at Castle Hill Fitness. The plan was that through this process it would become clear to us which one was the real winner. What ended up happening though was that they came together to create a problem statement that felt even more robust than if they’d stood alone.

Castle Hill Fitness needs to create a more consistent member experience through onboarding to build community and set themselves apart from other gyms.

Next we chose insights that played into and supported this problem statement. This was relatively straightforward as we’d been using the insights and themes to inform the problem in the first place. However, we did need to pare them down a bit so we were only presenting the ones we thought would be most impactful and relevant for our client.  

Below are three key insights that came out of this process.

Insight #1

Friends are a key motivator to working out because they are a safety net of trust and emotional support. Castle Hill Fitness should encourage more gym visits with friends (accountabilibuddies).

Insight #2

The issue of onboarding (what is it? how long does it take?) is a result of a lack of leadership and a product of staff turnover. Castle Hill Fitness should define what it means, create a process and train the sales team to get to that goal.

Insight #3

Some employees’ work flows have made them into silos and they have to work extra hard to achieve transparency. Castle Hill Fitness should find a way to build this into the infrastructure.

Client Feedback:

She was super excited to see our insight about how friends are a key motivator for working out because as the Marketing Director she’s starting 4 new promotions around inviting your friends to work out.

She also mentioned that some of the issues had been fixed, like Avery’s silo. She mentioned that they use a forum now so it’s more transparent than it used to be.

She said that having all this data, all these quotes, from a third party was so valuable and she’s generally really excited about our research.

One thing that she suggested would have been helpful is that she doesn’t remember who all of our participants are so the names don’t help her. She would rather they say “Employee,” “Manager” or “Member.”


In class we learned that insights should be provocative, and when we relayed this to our client as we were creating insights together she understandably asked why? Oddly enough, I hadn’t asked myself that question. I think, I’d been caught up in just trying to trust the process and do the work that I hadn’t taken the time to really reflect and question why we were trying to be so provocative. This might also be related to how consistently the use of emotion and personality in storytelling has been stressed to us. To be honest, at first, I just thought of course it’s supposed to be provocative, because the design process is being dramatic, extra, and emotional to differentiate itself and be over the top. And maybe that is true sometimes, but after discussing provocation more, I realized it’s more about bridging the gap between what is and what could be. By creating reactions we are able to push the boundaries and question how things currently are which creates space to imagine how things could be. So I’m imagining all our little provocative insights as these focused little tools to help push us to know what we don’t know. Which is pretty awesome.

Another obvious realization we had was about the problem statement. Once we had a problem statement drafted we were feeling pretty good. Until we realized that wording is pretty important, especially if you’re trying to deliver a clear, succinct, and impactful description of a problem. So what happened is we went back into the weeds and began iterating on our problem statement and came up with 23984321 statements basically all saying the same thing, but in slightly different ways. This was pretty maddening, and something I hope we just get better at with time and experience. Not sure if we came to one that we thought was the absolute perfect problem statement, but we generated a bunch that we felt good about and chose one. So, win.

Design for Civic Good: A Stomping Good Time

If you are a design nerd in Austin, I hope you made it over to the Design for Civic Good event hosted by Impact Hub last night. This Austin Design Week event was toe-curlingly lovely for those of us who want to use design and technology to improve public services and civic life in general. Speakers from the city of Austin and Austin Tech Alliance delivered a nice mix of broad overviews and deep dives into accessibility, design thinking’s place in Austin’s government, the top ten civic design organizations around the world (shout out to my favorite, UK Digital Service), and moving fast to create an app to better inform Austin voters in advance of our most recent midterm election.

A photo of speakers from the City of Austin and the Austin Tech Alliance speaking to their experiences designing for the public
Speakers from the City of Austin and the Austin Tech Alliance spoke to their experiences designing for the public

Drawing many joyous whoops from the crowd, they laid out a convincing argument for the importance and feasibility of incorporating the design process into government at every level, from form design all the way up to remaking the rules of elections.

If you missed the event, there are consolation prizes: the designers at the City of Austin do some great blogging, and the Austin Tech Alliance news feed isn’t too shabby either. They’re worth checking out.

Studio Touring: AC4D and Austin Design Week

Alumni Kaley Coffield and Eric Boggs and current students Kay Wyman and Aaron Steinman rocked the socks off the lovely crowd of folks who came down for the AC4D Studio Tour we held as a part of Austin Design Week.

One of the core values at AC4D is designing in public. Those of you who frequent this blog will be familiar with how serious we are about that, but it’s not every day we get to protect time for whoever might be interested to walk through the student war rooms and see tacked up slips of paper with preliminary insights, concept models riddled with scribbles, and exploded diagrams of coffee makers.

A photo of Kay Wyman walking a group through her team's war room
Kay Wyman walks a group through her team’s war room

Aside from checking out the physical space, our guests got to hear from the AC4D folk listed above about the design process and AC4D projects past and present.

AC4D alum and audience plant Alex Wykoff asked if the panelists knew where to find the “secret sauce” of design, the font of creativity and talent whence springs all good ideas, which gave the panelists a wonderful opportunity to undercut that narrative. AC4D teaches its students (and anyone who cares to pop by) that design is a process, a collection of philosophies and techniques that everyone can learn and apply. As one visitor told me, that’s part of the fun of getting to see student work: when you interact with a shipped, well-designed product created by an experienced designer, you only perceive the delight provoked by their masterful execution. (Or perhaps you notice nothing at all; their design has so seamlessly shaped your actions that you barely note its passing influence.) But that’s just the shiny output from the tangled, rich, wonderful design process. Looking at the beautiful smartphones we have now, it’s easy to forget that the first iterations of phones were cruddy sketches by Alexander Graham Bell.

Sketch of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell, 1876, courtesy of the Library of Congress
A sketch of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell, 1876, courtesy of the Library of Congress

A night out at a concert is pretty fun, but once in a while there’s a pleasure in listening to scrappy musicians test out licks and lyrics, too.

Design for Impact Bootcamp

Who are we designing for?

My favorite quote from AC4D’s Design for Impact Bootcamp this past weekend came from one of our attendees. They had already gotten fast and furious lessons in design research, insight creation, and ideation.

A photo of Jon Kolko giving a lightning-fast overview of the purpose of design and design research methods
Jon Kolko gives a lightning-fast overview of the purpose of design and design research methods

They had gone out and interviewed their fellow Austinites about their relationships with public transportation, synthesized that data, and created a wall of post-its with ideas for addressing the problems revealed through their research: that people never know when Austin busses are actually going to come, that people dread the awkwardness of interacting with their rideshare drivers, that people worry about being bowled over by the electric scooters littering Austin’s streets.

A photo of bootcampers tackling synthesis for the first time
Bootcampers tackle synthesis for the first time

The attendees had so many wonderful, creative ideas for how to improve public transportation in Austin, but in the share-out, one man said about his team, “We had to start over and look back at our research. We realized partway through that we had been designing solutions for ourselves.”

That reflection alone demonstrated the tremendous value of even the quickest introduction to design thinking: it shows just how easy it is to fall into the habit of designing for yourself, to forget that you are not the user, but it also shows how learning and practicing the design process can inoculate you against that tendency.  

Hats off to everyone who came to the Design for Impact Bootcamp. They put themselves in the vulnerable position of learning something new, and they rocked it.

If you missed the Bootcamp this time around, come out for our next one!

Be Advised: Researching in Unknown Territory

Greetings, AC4D blog reader. You may have heard the penchant for ambitious projects at this school. You heard correct. The latest topic and mission will be with us through April 2019- college persistence and completion.

Our focus is how advisors create a meaningful relationship with their advisees. In other words, we’re researching how people talk with one another. Or, how they build trust. Or, how they show others a pathway to be courageous learners in their college career and beyond.

Ambitious? Too broad? Naïve? Maybe. But that’s the beauty of being in this school. Our aim is to complete 10-15 hours of research in the next two weeks, and begin to form dozens of concepts, which may number in the hundreds in the coming months.

I’m not the only one in my cohort who has a slight indifference to the topic. Spoken from a college graduate myself, I know the hypocrisy in making such a claim. My chance to go to college was determined by my parents choice to live near excellent public schools, the support of my family, and the financial backing of Dad co-signing a student loan, much more than it was my academic ability. And that same degree I’m half-complaining about led in some way to all the decent income I’ve made, the ability to live and work in Japan and Tanzania, and to form a decent sentence.

A four year degree is still the most common catalyst that fuels a living income in the U.S. I’m fortunate to have one. My dispassion stems from the feeling that this topic is well-trodden territory. For public policy academics. For educators everywhere. For the ED-tech community. And yes, for designers too.

But this feeling- wanting to do something new, something big, something different- that’s learned. And my college experience helped solidify that. So I shall do my best to let my dispassions be deterred, because creating a transformative learning experience for one other person is worthwhile. Be advised.