A New Chapter

I’m excited to share that I am starting as the new director at Austin Center for Design. Jon Kolko, the founder of the school, will be transitioning into an advisor role and remains as core faculty. I know many people will wonder what this means for the school, so I hope to take a moment today to share some thoughts.

I was part of the AC4D’s inaugural class of ten students back in 2010. I was drawn to the school’s immersive approach, entrepreneurial spirit, and its opinionated focus on working on problems that matter. The inaugural class acted as co-founders of the school. We shaped the curriculum for future years, and charted new territories with the career paths we each took on after the program.

My own personal journey since graduation involved building two startups from the ground up. I co-founded HourSchool, an education platform where anyone can take or teach a class, inspired from the research we did with the homeless population during AC4D. It was bootstrapped and scrappy. I learned to code, grow a team and market with very little budget. A few years later, I moved on to join Aunt Bertha, a search and referral platform for social services. I helped grow that company from 4 people to 40 people through 2 rounds of funding, built and led multiple departments, and our product has touched the lives of over 300,000 people to date. As I began teaching at AC4D in the last couple of years, I had to reflect on my own experiences in order to share the lessons learned with my students. Those experiences – taking something to scale, relentlessly iterating and executing, while convincing others to join my mission – are also what I hope to bring to my new role at AC4D.

Jon and many faculty members have built an incredibly strong foundation: an education pedagogy that embraces empathy, prototyping, and abductive logic; that stands upon a foundation of solving problems worth solving. The program features small class sizes, affordability, and access to world-class working design practitioners. The faculty instills in our students a culture of rigor and constant iterations. Their success is reflected in the AC4D alumni’s career paths, happiness, and salary. As I take over the director position, the lofty vision that the school was founded on remains unchanged: to transform society through design and design education. My job is to build upon the foundation Jon and others have created.

I have spent many hours chatting with alumni and faculty as they reflected on their experiences. I have also talked to people in the industry to understand what they are demanding from new designers. With these findings and together with AC4D’s theory of change, I believe the following are the biggest opportunities to extend the impact of our school:

1) Design Jobs in the Public Sector: When the school first started, design jobs in the public sector were rare, at least in the United States. Designers who want to work on social issues had to venture out on their own, or resorted to working for Fortune 500 to make a living. We had supply, but not a lot of demand. In recent years though, more and more progressive organizations have been joining forces and started to invest heavily in the role of design when considering how they deliver services to their constituents. AC4D is in a great position to work directly with governments and foundations to tackle the challenges they face, through our students’ studio projects, fellowship placements after graduation, and other consultative engagements to support capacity-building initiatives within these institutions. This will ultimately lead to more design job opportunities in the public sector. My vision is to see design positions proliferate through every department of our government and a Chief Design Officer at every institution that is working towards the public good.

2) Support our Social Entrepreneurs: A focus on social entrepreneurship has always been with us from the start. When our students graduate and decide to venture out on their own, like most entrepreneurs, they have to be scrappy and lean. Anyone who has started their own business before would know that the runway doesn’t last forever and often times, it’s a race against time. AC4D will continue to build partnerships that help our students take their ideas further, faster: working with coding academies to get concepts off the ground, piloting minimal viable products with schools and clinics, or collaborating with data scientists and policy makers to inform go-to-market strategies.

3) Growth and Sustainability: This transition also marks a good time to evaluate our internal operations. Creating a diverse funding strategy, building a team of staff, and providing more formal support for students, such as financial aid, are all natural progressions as the school heads into the new decade. This is also important to ensure that our education remains affordable and accessible, for people from all walks of life who aspire to use the power of design to address the wicked problems we face today.

People have asked what my motivation is to taking on this role. My answer is a simple one: AC4D changed my life, and I have witnessed it changed many others who went through the program. I’m excited and honored to be part of the journey of our future students. Here’s to a new chapter and all the new possibilities it will lead us.


Passing the torch

It’s with pride that I announce the new Director of Austin Center for Design, Ruby Ku. Ruby is an alumni of Austin Center for Design’s first graduating class. She has held roles of Interaction Designer at Thinktiv, Co-Founder of HourSchool, and VP of Product at Aunt Bertha. She has been a teacher and mentor here at AC4D, and now, she’ll take over setting the vision for the school as well as running the day to day operations. As Ruby takes over, I’ll be stepping down as Director, but will continue to act as an advisor, and to teach at Austin Center for Design.

When I reflect on my teaching and my experiences at AC4D over the last few years, here are some of the highlights that I am proud of.

Together with several of my friends and colleagues, we started Austin Center for Design in 2010. We managed to secure a building for the low cost of $0 (thanks Thinktiv), attract 10 amazing students who made a huge leap of faith to engage in a new program, and recruit exceptional faculty to help teach these students. We worked through the painful legal logistics of running a school, and while we were overwhelmed with the experience, we were blown away by the outcome. The inaugural class was scrappy and lean, and we’ve retained that sense of speed in our curriculum development and program changes. We’ve also retained a focus on social entrepreneurship that’s been with us from the start. We found a large and passionate community of people interested in learning and helping out. We experienced the pains of a startup, and as a result, we were able to empathize with our students who simultaneously pursued their own entrepreneurial journey.

Over time, we outgrew our space and secured a new facility. In this space, our program evolved to focus more explicitly on the relationship between social entrepreneurship and interaction design. Students learned competencies in designing for behavior change, and learned theory and method that would help them take on the complexity of social problems. They explored service design, design theory, entrepreneurial practice, ethics of design, and the craft of making. These early students helped us iterate through our course content, and set a precedent for our reinvention of our curriculum each year. And these early students are now in positions of management and influence at consultancies and corporations, making broad change.

In 2013, as we arrived at a permamant home, we grew into a much more refined and professionally active organization. Over the course of the next four years, we:

Finally, I’m extraordinarily proud of all our 52 alumni have accomplished. They have started companies, like HourSchool, Girls Guild, and Love Intently; they have joined socially minded companies, like Aunt Bertha and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation; they’ve contributed to civic engagement by joining the City of Austin’s innovation initiatives; and they’ve developed a strong presence at leading corporations like GoogleX, HP and IBM, and at leading consultancies like Chaotic Moon and frog design. 93% of our alumni are professionally employed in design related careers, where their mean salary is $99,195. 86% of our alumni are happy in their roles, and they report being challenged, fulfilled, and empowered. In a word, our alumni are autonomous: they are each setting a career and personal path, and achieving what they desire. Most importantly, our alumni remain connected to one-another as a community – the AC4D student alumni community is one of the most caring and supportive that I’ve ever seen.

As I reflect on my experience, I feel very lucky to be surrounded by supporters, and very proud of all we’ve achieved. Thank you to this community of friends, alumni, and my parents in helping shape my vision for Austin Center for Design, and supporting the school. Ruby will begin the next chapter of AC4D with a great network of support, and she needs no wish of good luck – I know she’ll do great.


Teaching Theory at AC4D

“Great timing,” I think to myself yet again. As I was preparing the deck I would use that evening to facilitate a discussion on the opportunities of (social) entrepreneurship, I discovered that a vote by the Texas House of Representatives the previous day had “set the table” for Uber’s return to Austin. (Uber stopped providing rides in Austin a year ago in protest of required driver background checks.) Already in the deck were quotes I had taken from “The sharing economy is a lie: Uber, Ayn Rand and the truth about tech and libertarians,” one of the readings I had assigned for that evening. Also already there were tweets and (other) references to other articles about Uber, some positive, most negative. Into the deck went the headline about the legislature’s vote and a few words from the online article.

Serendipitously encountering tweets, articles, and other information pertinent to a class shortly before the class was typical for me, since I follow people on social media who care about the things I care about and teach about. And I often took advantage of that. I had previously added to the above-referenced deck — which I’ve made available in its entirety here — images from two recent articles I encountered via Twitter about Walmart, including one entitled “Business Exists To Serve Society,” words somewhat surprisingly uttered by Walmart’s Chief Sustainability Officer during a recent interview; we watched that interview during class, since it was of great relevance to arguments made by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in another of the readings I had assigned for that evening, “Creating Shared Value.” That same day, I noticed on Facebook that a former colleague of mine, David Rose, was in town; I had shown a video about David and read a bit from his book, “Enchanted Objects” the previous week in class during another section of the course, and since David was a serial entrepreneur, a guest appearance would be a nice fit for this section of the course as well, so I made it happen.

All of this (and much more) was for an advanced theory course on interaction design and social entrepreneurship that I taught during March and April of this year at the Austin Center for Design (AC4D). Assigned readings included articles — often long and sometimes complex — by renown authors on theory about or of relevance to design and entrepreneurship as well as articles — often more recent and shorter — facilitating the understanding of theory and its relevance to design and entrepreneurial practice today. (All of the assigned readings are listed in a deck you can access here; they might also — depending on when you are reading this — still be listed on the course’s webpage.) The course is one of three that all students take during the final quarter of the AC4D educational program.

Teaching this course was a wonderful experience due in large part to the wonderful students. Each class featured great and often impassioned discussion, and student presentations, each synthesizing designated readings in a personally meaningful way, were always special. One of Sally Hall’s very creative presentations consisted largely of a board game she designed that “follows the development of a non-profit organization working to increase access to education among low-income individuals in Managua, Nicaragua”; the game (being played in the photo below) was designed to help players understand and “explore the complexities of social impact.” One of Kelsey Willard’s presentations was a scary story about the impact of the coming singularity told, appropriately, over a campfire (see photo below). Our examination of power relationships prompted Elijah Parker to share information about his life he had never before felt comfortable sharing. The same examination prompted Conner Drew to explicitly formulate a set of personal design ethics and to call on others to do the same. And repeatedly, Garrett Bonfanti effectively highlighted just how important the role of the designer has become.


I’ve taught lots — inside of companies, via educational institutions, and at professional conferences — with much of my teaching focused on practical skills. General Assembly — where I taught the 10-week, full-time User Experience Design Immersive course several times — is among the up-start organizations claiming that intensive programs focused on teaching practical skills in the context of multiple, real-world projects prepare students for the workplace much better than much longer, more traditional, and much more expensive academic programs. While that is often true, AC4D Founder Jon Kolko has articulated the importance of teaching theory:

Our curriculum at Austin Center for Design is rich with design theory. Students take theory classes that focus on the social and political relationships between design and the culture of society. Students learn theory and discourse related to designing for the public sector, specifically as it relates to ill-defined problem solving and the ethical obligations of designers. They read complex articles from computer scientists, psychologists, and sociologists, and they build arguments that synthesize these articles into new ideas.

Yet the program at Austin Center for Design is a practitioner program, and these students go on to be practicing designers, not academics. They work for big brands, for consultancies, and in startups — and increasingly, they start their own entrepreneurial endeavors. They aren’t pursuing a Ph.D. path, so why teach theory? Why waste precious class time on academic discourse, rather than practical skills?

I’ve thought a lot about what makes a great designer. One of the qualities is craft and immediacy with material. That’s sort of obvious — someone who makes things needs to be good at making things. I’m convinced that theory is also a key ingredient to greatness, a key part of claiming to be a competent, professional designer, but it’s less obvious than methods or skills and is often ignored during design education. There are at least three reasons I think students need theory as part of their foundational design education:

  • Theory give students the basis for a “process opinion.” …
  • Theory give students the ability to think beyond a single design problem, in order to develop higher-order organizing principles. …
  • Theory give students a sense of purpose, a reason for doing their work. …

We’re seeing an influx of design programs aimed at practitioners, programs that intend to increase the number of designers available to work in the increasingly complex technological landscape. I’m skeptical of programs that don’t include theory in their curriculum. It has been argued that vocational programs should focus on core skills and ignore the larger academic, theoretical subject matter. I would argue the opposite. It is the vocational programs that require this thoughtful context the most, as graduates from these programs will have a direct impact on the products and services that shape our world.

I agree with Jon (and with the students who voiced additional benefits from studying theory), and whenever I taught for General Assembly, I made sure to include some theory. However, I was delighted to have the opportunity to dive more deeply via teaching at AC4D.

My thanks to: Jon and to Kevin McDonald who, before the course, shared invaluable information with me about when they had taught the course in the past; Lauren Serota, Adam Chasen, Mini Kahlon, Ed Park, and David Rose for their guest in-person appearances; Daniela Papi-Thornton, Paul Polak, Harry Brignull, Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Jake Solomon, Ricky Gervais, Brian Goldman, Jeff Benabio, Don Norman, Sean Follmer, David Rose, Jared Ficklin, Stephen Colbert, Sally Hall, Pelle Ehn, Kathleen McLaughlin, John Battelle, Jess McMullin, The Police, and a few others whose names I don’t know who appeared on video; and the many authors of tweets and of articles other than those I assigned that I referenced during the course.

The course ended just last week, but I greatly miss teaching it already. I am very happy to have become a part of the AC4D community.

The Conundrum

External Authority Subdues Empowerment

Empowerment Unseats Outside Authority

How do we navigate our way through power struggles?


 The point: Intangible outside authority subdues us and often makes us feel “wrong”. Empowerment is the only thing that effectively unseats this psychological and sociological oppression.


Exploring the Intangible Power of External Authority:

Example: “Women Shouldn’t Yell and “Men Shouldn’t Cry”

This idea and ideas like this are prevalent in our society. We grow up “knowing” these things that have a subduing effect on our consciousness and ideas. This starts on day one. This idea occurred to someone originally as a viable one. That person probably did not think about how extensively their compartmentalized thoughts would be adopted. Or maybe they did. Either way, as a result, it often feels like we can’t do it “right”. There is an inherent sense of outside authority that knows better than we do. These are ideas that are often unacknowledged yet are very wide spread in the societal mentality. They become unconscious beliefs and the roots stop being explored. Throughout this article, in which I explore power, I would like to look at the roots rather than the external manifestations. The roots seem to be at the heart of people’s internal conflicts that are perpetuated by the silent subjugation that the intangible power of external authority creates.

We may ask: Is there an alternative to this? Gandhi shows another path.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” –Mahatma Gandhi

This quote illustrates the need for fully owning an initiative, fully embodying what you believe in and see is needed, an initiative that has its seeds and fruit in the core of your being; an initiative that you could never change your mind about. I’m convinced that everyone has this spark inside of them. Yet, the imposing beliefs of the world, which impact us from inside our own mind, and from outside our door, are a very effective and silent ‘candle snuffer’ to those struggling sparks.

Getting your fire snuffed out is an experience that can make you want to harden and never feel that again. Then, through closing up, a spark-less life may ensue.  In not allowing that internal seed to blossom and bear fruit, we are likely to feel insignificant and seek some type of worldly validation or power. These inauthentic substitutes can become easily disappointing and leave us hollow because they do not grow from our true nature and passion, but instead, are often attempts to fit in, look good, or feel good. Or they can become monsters because substitutes never fulfill our real needs so we will keep trying to get more and be more. When power is actually empowerment of our own spark, it is rooted in being true to ourselves – even with life’s hard decisions. This sincerity can be readily felt by others, and, in resonating with such authenticity, love can be felt. On the other hand, when power is a ‘candle snuffer’, there is a deadening of the spirit and people feel like they can’t trust – not even themselves. This creates internal and external division.

It is important to realize that power is a very intangible thing. There is always an entity that has power over us in some capacity and we always have power over something as well. It typically feels like we have less power over our domain than other people have over us. I have the impression that even the highest executive feels similarly. This has a drastic impact on our sense of self and our decision-making. Powerlessness can feel like we are out of alignment with the way things are “supposed to be,” as defined by many un-chosen internal and external authorities. And also out of alignment with our own organic impulse, our selves, our intuition.

This division between our internal and external worlds is the problem. Unifying those worlds would allow us to feel integrated: in integrity with ourselves. Closing that gap would free us from the desire to manipulate our way to validation and power.


Home Life vs. Work Life | Home Self vs. Work Self

There is an observable gap between the ways people operate in their lives due to this division. It is the difference between your true self and your projected self. This manifests in a few ways, I will outline two theoretical possibilities here:

The first is when you sacrifice the passion or calling in you, to do “the thing” for the paycheck and then you go home and you are the loving spouse and parent. (Perhaps a troubled spouse and parent?)

home self

“We design databases for collecting information, without giving a second thought to what that information will be used for.” (Ethics –Mike Monteiro, 2017)

This quote is in reference to the design and development of databases created to round up immigrants. When you are robotic in your execution or are in service to a corrupt entity at your day job, it is impossible that the effects of that work will not follow you home.

My mom used to have a similar message when I was taking my first course in entrepreneurship using my federal financial aid money that had been compounded by entrepreneurial endeavors to do with selling plants (thanks government) to put myself through community college. My argument was always “If I’m not making the money, somebody else will.” That justification was obviously just that, justifying the actions that I knew, on the interior, was not my highest calling.

“Just because the person next to you might be an asshole, that’s not a very good excuse for you to be one.” (Ethics –Mike Monteiro, 2017)

 Again, I want to tap into the intangible patterns of power.

The second way this can look: Someone rides on the ego of their job as a substitute for taking full ownership in the actions of the rest of their life.

work self

“Nearly all men (& women) can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” –Abraham Lincoln

We are all aware of abuses of power. It is fascinating that in all of the articles I have read on power the writers were, for the most part, trying to tear apart manipulative initiatives and practices – using these examples for what not to do and how not to operate. There were not articles written advocating for manipulation. But we do see how it is used to play on vulnerability.


The traveling salesman is a well-known example of manipulation of power. The unknown salesman would ride into town with a lofty slogan on his wagon, “Watkins Remedies”, and say that he was there to help. However, he was often there to sell falsity and make a profit on the people’s lack of ability to truly understand what he was doing. When he was found out, he would pack up and leave town. This was a common occurrence. That is what you do when your business is corrupt. This looks different now with the modern complexity of global markets, massive companies and customer bases. However, the core of the traveling salesman concept still persists and this dynamic furthers the trajectory of internal separation for the person that is the decision maker in a company when things go wrong. We may again be caught in: The Home Self vs. the Work Self; the True Self vs the Projected Self.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –Martin Luther King Jr.


An Example: My Story

 In attempt to close this gap for myself I will use examples from my own life.

I came into this life as the product of an affair. My father chose not to be a part of my life. I never could understand why that happened to me without the blame somehow senselessly falling on myself.  In order to avoid feeling that pain, I largely categorized and dismissed him. I became angry and depressed, essentially disempowered. I tried getting life-satisfaction from outside myself instead of growing on the inside, because inside was pain, partially caused by rejection.

Then, at 16, I got a girl pregnant. It gave me a visceral understanding of how it feels to not want to take responsibility for something you inadvertently created.

“Fundamentally, its about taking responsibility for the things we unleash in the world.” (Manipulation -Jon Kolko, 2013)

I could finally empathize with my father. I was seeing him as bad, and myself as rejected, until I had an experience that provided a platform for me to personally understand. Empathy changed my sense of him and of myself.

Consequently, I want to explore the possibility of cultivating empathy for people creating and directing huge endeavors and often seeming to sell-out for power. There are significant parallels to this idea of taking responsibility across personal life and business decisions. Shit can go unexpectedly sideways, fast. And when serious problems occur, people scramble for anything that will make it right again. We saw this in the design of our product bitesized that helps people eat healthier. My team and I were working on a way to provide people with incrementally healthier recommendations for the items they were already purchasing in the grocery store. When our first couple pilots were failing, we got scrambled with the intention of our initiative and were considering paying people to buy the healthier items, to prove that people would accept our healthy recommendations. This is not behavior change and we did not go forward with it; but it expresses a blatant form of manipulation, conceived when our initial motive was unsuccessful. I now understand that temptation. However, ‘what-will-work’ is the wrong approach.

Institutional power. Societal power. Manipulative power. The big powers of the world subdue individual empowerment. This seems like a given, like we have no choice. But this is actually unnecessary. On the contrary, personal empowerment is the only thing that can undo this subjugation and unseat external power. Which founds evolution. But we must answer the question; how do we fill the gap between the two? Can we fill it?


The Realization Moment

What often happens, when these cycles go on for long enough, is the most intriguing part. There is a moment of realization: “do I like the world I am helping to create?”

Empowerment 2

Empowerment lights up and people can see how they can be influential.

Empowerment 3Everyone’s realization point comes at different times, for different reasons but the prevalence of this pivot is observable. From that point, it is exponentially easier to see what is possible.Empowerment 4Empowerment 5

Filling the Gap: Authenticity

I sit on the Board of a non-profit called the Amala Foundation. We bring young people, ages 14-18 years old from ~30 different countries and we live together for a week. The week is facilitated on a foundation of cultural exchange, self-exploration, and authenticity. Watching young people be witnessed by each other, in the expression of the parts of themselves they wrestle with the most, is jaw dropping in and of itself. Kids from Israel and Palestine have the opportunity to see eye to eye in a neutral and supportive environment. But to see the lasting impact that is created is what is truly astounding. They may have hated themselves and the world before they went into our programs (I did) and yet, after rejoicing in the “humanity calamity” together, all they want to do is provide that unity to others. When I found Amala (or got bribed by my mom) (healthy manipulation) (nice move ma) I was a cynic – cynical about myself, all of you people, and the world. And when I stood up in front of a global village, tears running down my face, and explained things I had never put words to… getting a girl pregnant at 16, never knowing my own father, being addicted to drugs, the ownership of those truths triggered a newness in me. It merged the projection of myself with the truth that was inside, for the first time in a long time. Speaking your truth will make a lot of people cringe. It may make you lose your job (or make certain company leaders not want to hire you or me). But in a world that is being destroyed and created every day, where everything,

Both the bad and good are our ongoing fault and responsibility.” (Misguided focus on Brand and User Experience -Jon Kolko, 2009)

Can we really afford to live low and take orders for six figures? Or is it time to live out the seeds sprouting on the inside and embody what we’re here for? The answer to this is what my “newness” through Amala taught me. It’s not easy and its needed.

In the creation of the world we need to be abductive, inductive, and deductive; in other words, we need to take into account what is now, what has been and would could be – because if we don’t strategize around what could be; then we won’t have a part in what will be. Being over analytical is perilous. It limits our minds to what has already happened as the only reference point. You can only reorganize the furniture in the house so many times before you need to throw something out to make space for a new piece.

 “We are biased, then, against new ideas – based on the way we have been trained to see the world. Moreover, our bias toward analysis of past data. But when we look ahead, the proof is only robust to the extent that the future is identical to the past.” – Roger Martin (2017)

I will take a moment to offer a space for the reader’s internal reflection.

For this moment, I invite you to stop defending your idea and perspective for a minute to consider, thoughtfully – if you are fighting, why you are fighting. What are you fighting for? Are you working for the world you wish to see? If you can’t answer that question due to having never come across it…. take the day off tomorrow. Go out into nature. Sit down. Yes – leave your fucking phone in the car. Put your feet in the dirt and contemplate what you stand for. It’s pretty scary to not know the answer to that question. If you had to fight a fight, what cause would you stand by? What problem just won’t let you go? Ask yourself the hard questions and pause long enough to answer them. Learn about yourself. Stop sprinting for a second. If you had power, what would you do with it? This is a critically essential question… because one day, when you’re the head of a company or are elected president… you should know what you want to do with that power and be able to intelligently articulate why it is important to you, so you are empowered to actually do it. If someone asked you what you wanted, would you say a faster car? Or would you be able to articulate your dream of an electric autonomous vehicle? Would you say a big house and a bounty of good food? Or would you be able to articulate the disruption that you see as possible in relation to the way houses are constructed or how we operate and maneuver our food system? Think and feel big and deeply. Now think bigger. Trust yourself. You’re not a human doing. You’re not a human thinking. You’re a human being. Integrate your being into every act of thinking and doing. Embody your values.


Finding Empowerment

In the past, the intangible internal and external power of societal norms kept me subdued from truly sharing myself. And I didn’t even know it was happening. It felt like my truth was not “okay,” and wouldn’t be accepted. I won’t get the job. And now I’m realizing that if I wouldn’t get the job because of what is, at my core, true for me… then I probably don’t want the fucking job. This is self-love.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” -Mahatma Gandhi

 It may sound unfathomable in our culture, but imagine if everyone loved themselves. The world would be full of passion and beauty rather than cold competition and dishonest manipulation. People would be following that internal spark of what they feel they are here for, supporting each other along the way and not need to simply surrender to the powers-that-be, or sell-out with a divided self. When you love yourself, that love spreads out – to others, to your work, and to the world.

This paper is a statement of my truth. Before this Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship program, I was working on myself, discovering myself, spending time by myself, exploring what was most true for me. I was exploring how I could get comfortable in an inherently uncomfortable and messy experience. (To provide context: After leaving a $10m start-up that was inspiring and failing, I was driving for Favor and pushing packages in the warehouse at FedEx immediately before my acceptance into the program). I was graced by this school and will be forever grateful for it and speak highly of the curriculum, experience and faculty. But also, for me – learning subject matter has been very different from learning about myself and human nature. At this point, in the name of authenticity, I feel the need to bring those two worlds together. It is necessary right now in order to love myself and my life and the world, fully. I want to own my past and all that I am, including the struggle and the pursuit of self-knowledge, which felt mostly on the back burner over the past year at AC4D, as I stretched my mind and self-discipline in order to have capacity for the rich wealth of information I absorbed.

Originally, I was exploring this blog through pure academic synthesis of articles relating to power. I soon felt my essence triggered by resonance with all of the authors’ potent explorations of how and why people manipulate others. So, it felt entirely congruent to include my personal process. I believe this introspection is an integral part of what makes me an effective designer, specifically in design research extracting important patterns. I have looked extraordinarily deeply into my struggle as a human. This lens allows me to see past the external manifestations and get to the core. It allows me to take leaps into the deep of the “why”. It allows me to ask questions into the spaces that feel most “uncomfortable”. It empowers me. And that empowerment is what this article is about.

I want to share my theory that if we were all willing to take the deepest parts of ourselves and lay them on the table for others to witness we would not be able to design data bases for rounding up immigrants because we would have a visceral experience of what it feels like to be raw and vulnerable. This is the experience I carry which has helped me become an integrated human being; empowered instead of subdued by power. However, this is where academic practice fails me: I can’t substantiate my theory with hard evidence. I just know through intuition. I have seen this process be true, time and time again… in myself and in others from countries around the world.

I could have merely regurgitated points from these articles, strung together in a way that made sense, which is what I started to do. Instead, I chose to use my own voice because I want to show these insights on power, embodied through a human process.  And I want to start to cultivate my voice more thoroughly. I have my own ideas and I want to hone the craft by which I speak to them. This is a personal practice of empowerment: My own transformation from being unconsciously dominated by intangible power to speaking my independent realizations and theories. I will never learn and grow unless I venture to put my experience, thoughts, ideas and visions out in the world. I will never feel that I can be a pillar in society unless I can make a habit of taking that risk.  I’m pretty sure no one has ever become empowered or successful by hiding.


The Future of Policy Design

Kelsey and I decided to write a short story, challenging the idea of what our future will look like if we continue to allow our world to be run by policy, and one where the population realized their involvement was necessary to affect change in the scale and breadth necessary. The full story is listed here. If you keep reading from here, the story will be spoiled.

The details on the president are intentionally left out for the reader to fill in. We make assumptions day to day, and many people are vehemently against the current administration. What Kelsey and I would like you to take away is the case of things is always malleable, we just need to create the change and be persistent enough to make it stick.

The first future is the one where the president was assassinated. Without the political unrest he was causing, without an end to the misplaced focus, the public grew complacent, and trusted the other party would act in their benefit. But the system was too old, it was too used to the way of things, so it did not change. The inequalities proliferated, and corporations took control after policy had bankrupted nations. The second future is where the unjust president was allowed to finish his term. Our idea was his level of corruption and lack of transparency were the catalyst for the public to care again. To become involved on the scale currently needed, there needs to be an event that sparks change. There needs to be a real reason to affect the change we need. I know it seems contrary, but complacency and acceptance of the state of things are dangerous to a society. Never be satisfied with unjust equilibriums and a system not designed for a user.

Now, to explain a bit more of the thoughts behind these stories.

Design today is pushing the boundaries of what human interaction is in all sorts of exciting ways. Technologies are redefining they way we interact with one another and it changes the way we interact with our “self.” Unfortunately, policy is not keeping up. Laws and regulations are being lightened, policies are creating an open season for data mining and selling of users, and it feels like our privacy is crumbling. How can these two futures exist alongside one another? Our society became divorced from the idea of a technological future because it is not what we imagined. But the technological future is here, and it’s time for us to step up and focus on the micro interactions and how they effect the macro scale social, economic, and technological economies. It seems as though using design thinking and the designer’s toolkit, policy can be made for it’s people instead of for the highest bidder.

Stephen Linder, in his piece “From Social Theory to Policy Design” he states, “Our attention to policy making has been skewed in favor of evaluation the consequences rather than the origins of specific alternatives.” The focus of policy making is misplaced. Understanding human needs and the way we interact is the basis from which policy should be created. Instead we have policy makers and law makers scrambling to fill gap after gap created by poorly designed policy. Instead of accepting failure as a necessary piece of progress, they do not admit to their mistakes and attempt to cover them with new policy. Linder goes on to say “Much of the policy debate in the past few years has centered on stabilization policy, the use of various instruments to counteract short term fluctuations in economic performance.” Here we see another underlying problem of the focus of policy. Laws are to be created as long lasting paradigms for behavior, but more and more policy is being created and just as quickly needing to be patched or rewritten because of a failure later on. Policy is focused only on the short term, for reelections and to fulfill part of their platforms, politicians rush through to make the change they wish to see. But it is not the change we ask for. Our system does not consider the micro outcomes for individuals, but only the macro outcomes and implication. Saving money is more important than education, a bonus from Comcast is more important than privacy.

Policy focus on macro-outcomes has led our society down a path to become more chaotic and less focused on how an individual experiences the world. Our policy is disconnected from it’s people. Rebecca Wright, in the article “Connecting Past, Present, and Future,” makes a case for returning to previous ways of life. She says “…by paying closer attention to some aspects of past societies, it may be easier to combine the goals of greater societal equality, protection of the environment, and economic prosperity.” Her idea of learning from past mistakes and looking to the implications of current situations on the future is right, but her execution seems to be a bit muddled. She says “Historical evidence suggests that people could adapt quickly to the introduction of technologies that reduced the energy demands transport and other everyday activities. Such policies could also help to reduce social inequalities.”

Now while it is understandable policy needs to curb the use of fossil fuels and a major cause of this is transport, but her claim of a reduction in social inequality seems disconnected. She uses the examples of the poorer majority in 19th century were able to deal without rapid conveyance compared to the bourgeoisie, but the inequality simple things like this caused were rampant and glaring. Farmers were used as forced labor through indentured servitude, tithes were required for guardianship and corruption was prevalent. Our current society has checks and balances to mitigate these, but ultimately, if you remove the ability for people to travel at will, you remove part of their freedom. Policy already limits personal freedom and creates a less fettered environment for economic growth and proliferation at the expense of the wellbeing of the world and it’s people. Instituting inequality is not a way to reduce inequality.

It seems we should follow Wright’s idea of past implications and future implications on what we do in the present, but Jennifer Pahlka’s execution seems a bit more realistic. She says “…Perfecting imperfect laws is the best chance we have; as the complexity of our society increases our chances of getting policy right the first time goes down rapidly.” The change needed is not to focus on pieces of inequalities, but focus on a more rapid iteration of policy with an understanding of the far-reaching implications beyond the present. Pahlka also makes a case for co-design in policy, or at least an increased focus on testing. The MACRa regulators reported that they’d just written the best rules of their career, having benefitted for the first time from real world feedback during the process.” The tools of design seem to being to cross into the world of the policy maker. Allowing for a greater focus on the individual than the assumptions made based on their trends and voting behavior. Where then did they divert? How can we bring them back together?

Chris Meierling has an idea, stating that “Policy makers and designers share the same wickedness and deep uncertainty of their problems yet different approaches to cope with them have risen out of each area of practice.” He compares and contrasts the ideas of policy and design and how they attempt to tackle the wickedness inherent in the problems they solve. On design Chris says “…design context puts great weight on people’s stories and interactions…and is implicitly open to the subtleties of people’s experiences with design products.” On the other hand he says “[policy making is] attempting to remove emotion from decisions and the legacy structure of the political system that attempt to whittle problems down to a single interest chosen from two.” The biggest disconnect between policy and design is their contextual focus and the tools used to process the information. In design, a user is taken into consideration, and multiple permutations and paths are created to consider a multiplicity of experiences. Policy, as we have seen, focuses on the macro view as it’s base, allowing for stakeholders to be the loudest voice instead of the people. Town hall meetings are seen as “good PR” and not a viable form of communication with constituents. Ultimately, policy needs to shift and use design tools instead of the tools they have created for themselves.

Chris Meierling also talks about what tools are used by both designers and policy makers. While similar in structure, the importance and take aways from the tools are significantly different. Policy makers focus not on the individual, and not on the bigger picture of effect, they focus on the benefit to them, their political career, and their image. Designers focus on the person, and let the artifact speak for them as a piece of their conversation and a tool to support their life, not define it. Therein lies the necessity, policy needs to shift from a controlling entity to a supportive entity, as design supports it’s users, policy should support it’s people.

Bitesized: Sharing the value

Conner Drew | Elijah Parker | Sally Hall

Bitesized is a mobile application that allows dietitians to remotely support clients. The app promotes more frequent interactions than the typical monthly meeting, and makes it easier to create a more accurate representation of a client’s food intake. From a high level, this is how it works:

How it Works

When creating a new business, it is important to consider your company’s social impact. Core to bitesized’s mission is creating shared value. Shared value refers to policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates. Bitesized creates shared value where the client, dietitian, and society all benefit.

Unfortunately, shared value receives little emphasis from both the public and private sectors. In fact, both Uber and the Food and Drug Administration miss the mark.

The “Sharing Economy” and Uber
While Uber operates in the “shared” economy space, it acts with selfish motivations. With income as its primary driver, it employs technology without considering the consequences.

In 2014, a hostage situation in Sydney, Australia lead the city to believe that it was under a deadly and coordinated attack. People were afraid for their lives. At the time, Uber implemented surge pricing, causing ride prices to increase by 4x, starting at about $100 to leave the area and get to safety. Uber’s justification was to motivate drivers to risk danger and pick up more people.

Many were outraged, while others argued that the surge pricing was a result of an established algorithm, not a human intervention. However, if Uber truly prioritized the needs of society, it would reconsider how the system reacts in the event of emergency.

Uber once again exhibits its priority on profit, developing its own “driverless” technology — exhibiting little concern for its current employees. As the company moves closer to a world run by Artificial Intelligence, bitesized will emphasize the dietitian’s human intuition. While we plan to gradually integrate AI into our product, we will be careful to enhance the dietitians’ skills, not replace them.

One way we plan to use AI is by allowing a client to automatically log his/her food photo without having to open up the app. The client would take a picture from their lock screen, then the bitesized system would analyze the camera roll and identify photos of food or grocery carts. Shown below is how this might look.


take picture (1)

Nutrition Labels and the Health of the American People
The FDA, a guardian of our nation’s health, must also reconsider the perceived value and implementation of nutrition labels. The original purpose of nutrition labels was to help citizens make better decisions around diet choices. Despite the best intentions, it typically takes extensive nutritional education to fully understand the labels.

Bitesized aims to circumvent the complexity of nutrition labels by connecting clients directly to a dietitian. The nutritional expert will provide only the most important information to help the client understand what to eat, without requiring great analysis or interpretation.

Bitesized Shared Value
Where the Uber and the FDA fail, bitesized will succeed. By considering the short and long-term implications of our service, we aim to provide a shared value between clients, dietitians, and society.

Bitesized is a mobile application that allows dietitians to remotely support clients. 

Core to bitesized’s mission is creating shared value. Shared value refers to policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates. Bitesized creates shared value for the client, dietitian, and for society.

Shared Value for the Client
There is a deep need for dietary support across the United States. There are 27 million Americans who have heart disease and more than 30 million Americans who have diabetes, generating $620 billion in medical expenses each year. These diseases are largely preventable through healthy eating. Unfortunately, diet change is incredibly difficult for a multitude of reasons, including ingrained habits, time constraints, limited financial resources, peer and family influence, and addiction to food itself.

Bitesized helps clients overcome major barriers to diet change by providing the following value: 1) regular and direct connection to a nutritional expert; 2)  easy food logging; 3) inherent reflection and accountability 4) understandable nutritional guidance; 5) incremental change; and 6) a voice in their own food journey.

Regular and remote connection to a nutritional expert
Adopting a healthier diet is easier with a partner on the journey. However, many dietitians only meet with clients once a month, and require in-person meetings. Bitesized provides regular and remote connection to a dietitian, increasing access to the dietitian’s emotional support and practical guidance.


Inherent reflection and accountability
Reflection is key to long-term change — the more mindful the client, the more intention he puts into his actions. The very nature of taking photos promotes reflection and therefore increases the likelihood of behavior modification.

Accountability also plays a powerful role in behavior change — the requirement to share photos with a dietitian will make the client think twice before he makes a decision that will negatively impact his health.


Easy food logging
Recording food intake is quite beneficial — it facilitates self-awareness and can uncover patterns or habits previously unconscious. However, keeping a written food journal or inputting food items into a database can be tedious and time-consuming. Bitesized makes it easy, allowing the client to quickly photograph and share their daily food intake.


Understandable nutritional guidance
The confusing nature of nutrition science can exasperate and paralyze. Instead of asking clients to interpret complicated nutrition labels or count calories, bitesized’s dietitian educates the client with digestible tips, making recommendations based on his current habits.


Incremental change
Small, gradual change is more sustainable than trying to overhaul your diet in one fell swoop. Instead of prescribing a completely new diet or meal plan, the dietitian recommends small changes based on the client’s past and current behavior.


A voice in their own food journey
Instead implementing a “one-size fits all” diet, the dietitian meets the client where they’re at, allowing the client to play an active role in the recommendations and diet changes. Moreover, the client can choose to accept or reject each dietitian suggestion, making him more engaged in his own health.


Shared Value for the Dietitian
Dietitians have deep expertise in nutrition science and powerful intuition around  client need. However, infrequent in-person meetings between the dietitian and the client can stall progress. Moreover, without a full understanding of the client’s daily food intake, the dietitian must resort to general suggestions, as opposed to more powerful, specific recommendations.

Bitesized delivers the following value to the dietitian: 1) better understanding of clients’ food intake; 2) the ability to provide more personal recommendations; 3) the ability to provide consistent communication; and 4) supplemental income.

Better understanding of clients’ food intake
Typically, a dietitian struggles to fully understand what the client eats on a regular basis — even if the client keeps a food log, information regarding portion size can lack accuracy. Bitesized allows the dietitian to get a more comprehensive picture of their clients’ intake.


The ability to provide more personal recommendations
Because the dietitian rarely fully understands the client’s food intake, her dietary recommendations must be more broad than specific, minimizing the potential power of her guidance. By showing the client’s daily consumption, bitesized allows the dietitian to make personally tailored suggestions, more relevant to the client’s current behavior and therefore more directly actionable.

dietitian-personal recommendations

The ability to provide consistent communication, from anywhere
There’s typically a lot of time between a dietitian and client meeting. Bitesized allows the dietitian to support the client on a more regular basis, from anywhere, giving her more opportunities to share expertise and support.

Supplemental income
The dietitian earns money through the bitesized platform, earning $15 per month for each client.

Shared Value for the Client & Dietitian
Bitesized is essentially a private instagram for a dietitian and her clients, but with a much greater purpose.

Social media can be soul-less and draining. It falsely promises connection and love, only to waste your time and sell you more things you don’t need.


Bitesized uses the addictive nature of social media to a constructive end. Instead of mindlessly scrolling, or sharing photos for pure self-promotion, the interactions serve a purpose, building toward lasting, positive change, and cultivating a meaningful relationship between the dietitian and client.


Shared Value for Society

Long-term impact
As illustrated by the walkthrough of bitesized, the long-term impact of the product gaining popularity maps to increased health of the population as a whole. We, previously, discussed the magnitude of the health crisis that we are in the midst of. There are 27 million Americans who have heart disease and more than 30 million Americans who have diabetes, generating $620 billion in medical expenses each year. With systems this large it is difficult for an individual to feel like they have a vantage point from which to see a possibility to create change.

Collective action
When people band together in the name of a change that they see as needed, a collective power is created. Finding common ground about the prevalence of a problem, aside from all bias and perspective, means it is a real problem worth focusing on. Food labels is an excellent example.

Food labels
In the 1960’s food labels began to have more comprehensive characteristics. The FDA said that these food labels were for “special dietary uses,” that is, intended to meet particular dietary needs caused by physical, pathological, or other conditions. Prior to this time, meals were primarily cooked using basic ingredients leaving no real need for nutritional information.

However, as the industrialization of food products continued to take root, consumers requested information that would help them understand the products they were purchasing. The evolution that ensued brought us too far on the metric side of the scale. This is ironic because bitesized takes a stance that doesn’t overload the user with scientific jargon. The goal being people can  comprehensively understand, again, what is good for them and what is not.

As Uber’s political identity (deregulation and a dismantling of the social contract) is said to differ greatly from the service that they provide (facilitating rides from point A to point B), so, bitesized has the potential for a larger purpose. Will bitesized be able to leverage the community of users on the platform to understand what people value and want to know to be able to craft a new nutrition label? Only time will tell.

Either way, design, done right, is collective action. Bitesized studied people to discover how to support them in their desire for a path towards a healthier diet. User’s choosing an unorthodox service like this in place of institutionalized Health Care is collective action.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” -Henry Ford

Bitesized aims to do the same thing by abstracting people’s needs and giving them the next step that they are passively asking for.

The guide towards a healthier diet: Environmental Impact

Dietitians learn about food, nutrition, anatomy, physiology and how all of those disciplines interact and work together. Therefore they will all guide clients in a similar direction. Whole vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and lean meats are what any dietitian will tell you to eat. These foods are both good for people and good for the environment. Let me explain with a few examples.


Cheez-its are a highly processed and widely distributed food product. Food production methods aside, I want to explore some of the ramifications of foods like Cheez-its. First of all, the ingredients in Cheez-its need to be distributed to the factories where they are produced (transportation). All of those ingredients then must be run through a series of complicated manufacturing processes to get them ready for consumption (utilities). Next, all Cheez-its must be sealed and ready for a long shelf life (packaging). Lastly, the packages must be distributed to various stores across the country (transportation).

The outcome: A food that is not nutrient dense, contains ingredients that contribute to disease, is inexpensive and environmentally costly.

In the research bitesized conducted to come up with the guiding principles for our product we spoke with a woman named Delilah. One of the things she said to us was,

“When I was diagnosed with diabetes, the doctor told me to eat fish, chicken and turkey. I’m supposed to eat more vegetables… She did not tell me why. I think beef is harder to digest?” -Delilah

Doctors and dietitians steer people, especially those with dietary disease, towards leaner meats. If the trend away from red meats continues this will cut our contribution to global warming significantly.

Red Meat
Cows eat ~6 pounds of grains (corn or soy) per pound of beef produced (resource allocation). Throughout the beef production process it takes ~600-700 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef (resource allocation). A cow lets out ~30-50 gallons of methane gas per day (emissions). This is a bigger contributor to greenhouse gases than transportation.

These 2 examples illustrate a higher level look at consumption that our consumerist society doesn’t normally see. And they shouldn’t have to. In terms of food, doing what is best for the individual is also best for our environment so bitesized delivers value that is actionable on the level that matters to the individual.

Carbon Tax
Carbon tax is a service that holds fossil fuel emitters accountable for the CO2 they emit into the atmosphere. Carbontax.org imposes a fee on the burning of fossil-based fuels. This serves as a disincentive to motivate a shift towards clean energy. This initiative was created based on the findings that if carbon was taxed and companies had to pay for their impact, many of those companies would no longer be profitable. In this way is there a correlation between carbon and food?

Industrialized foods
Fast food and other highly processed foods are a major perpetrator of the health issues facing the United States population. The revenue from the top 20 fast food companies was 143.8 Billion in 2015. Pepsi and Coca Cola make a little over 100 Billion combined. Comparing this ~250 Billion with the 620 Billion spent on health care for diabetics and those with heart disease we can see a similarity to the carbon tax model.

Should these companies that contribute to dietary disease also pay the price of medical care? Should unsustainable businesses even exist? ~25% of everyone’s tax dollars go towards health care. This means that everyone, including the people making profit at the top of these companies are paying a large amount of money for the impact that is created by unhealthy habits.

Interconnectivity & Humanization
All of this exploration gestures toward the sheer interconnectivity of our world; products, services and systems alike. Any changes touch many other systems that will also be impacted. These downstream effects are, more often than not, more important to consider than the initial creation.

All of these problems exist because we, as a society, have taken a deeper dive into the systematizing of operations with less consideration for the people that would be interacting with the system. Humanization of all of these systems is needed to allow the full value of the system to be experienced.


Conner Drew | Elijah Parker | Sally Hall

Over the past number of months, our team has developed bitesized, a mobile app that enables dietitians to support clients remotely.

Why it matters

Millions of people nationwide suffer from debilitating chronic diseases such as heart disease (30 million), diabetes (27 million), and kidney disease (31 million). The good news? All these diseases can be alleviated or prevented with a healthy diet.

However, diet change can be exceedingly difficult for many reasons including time, price, culture, and ingrained habits. A dietitian can provide invaluable emotional support and practical guidance towards diet change. This support is difficult to maintain considering dietitians only meet with clients once every 1-3 months.

While dietitians gather a general assessment of a client’s diet at each appointment — asking what they ate within the past 24 hours — they’re often unable to get a comprehensive understanding of the client’s daily habits. Therefore dietitians can only provide general tips rather than specific actionable recommendations.

Bitesized allows dietitians to gain a deeper grasp of their clients’ daily food habits, and provide personal, culturally-relevant, and specific recommendations.

How it works

  1. The client and dietitian set goals together, based off the client’s needs.
  2. The client uploads photos of his food intake.
  3. The dietitian comments on photos and makes recommendations based on set goals.

Key Features
Key features include the “bite” journal, chat, and recommendations.

The “bite” journal
The client will upload photos of his meals for the dietitian’s comments.


The system facilitates conversation between the dietitian and the client, allowing the client to ask questions, and the dietitian to make recommendations for diet changes.


The dietitian’s recommendations will show up on the user’s home screen, to serve as a prompt every time the client opens the app.


bitesized Value

The core value of bitesized is to provide a path of incremental change towards a healthier diet by:

Enabling a client’s dietitian to provide regular support from afar. Bite-sized allows dietitians to provide clients with support between visits, providing actionable suggestions. This reminds clients that they are not alone, and that they have a partner in their health journey.

Enabling a client’s dietitian to provide specific dietary suggestions. Bite-sized allows the dietitian to comment directly on the client’s grocery receipt and meals to give clear, specific recommendations. This feature removes the nutritional guesswork and teaches the client why he should eat one item over the other.

Enabling a dietitian to gain a deeper understanding of their client’s food choices, and therefore provide tailored guidance to the client’s distinct needs. While dietitians collect important metrics such as blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels, a client’s diet is generally self-reported. By having access to the grocery receipt and meal/snacks, the dietitian gains a clearer picture of their client’s food choices, and therefore can provide tailored guidance, in addition to more general nutrition tips.

Encouraging a dietitian to limit the number of recommendations, supporting a gradual approach to changing someone’s diet. We found in our research that when given a large task such as “eat healthier,” people shut down because of the intimidation around thinking about how far the end goal is away from their current reality. By taking a gradual approach to helping someone improve their diet, we remove this intimidation. Even though a more gradual approach is our recommendation, we will not limit the dietitian and allow them to operate as they see fit.

Capitalizing on existing routines that don’t require significant modification. We believe that if we meet customers “where they are,” we will increase the likelihood of service adoption. Instead of asking our target population to change where they shop or completely overhaul their diet, we will actually make their current grocery shopping habits easier, and slowly implement healthier behavior, week by week, item by item.

Removing unnecessary scientific jargon that only complicates and confuses. Our original inspiration for our product primarily came from low-income individuals who are diabetic. We learned that when someone is first diagnosed with diabetes they are given not only bad news, but also a significant amount of new information for changing their current behavior. This includes a new diet, a new exercise regime, and further responsibility around tracking insulin levels. By removing the complicated jargon presented around food and nutrition, we aim to make it simpler to take action around adopting a healthier diet.

Business Structure and Pricing

Bitesized will be an LLC, charging $30 a month, per user. Half of the fee will go to the dietitian and half to bitesized.

We will “bootstrap” the development of version 1.0 of the app, building it with as minimal funds as possible. We aim to launch the MVP in January 2018.

See our full business plan here: bitesized BusinessPlan

HomeList – The Business

In the past 12 weeks, we have been working on developing and testing a product to connect people experiencing homelessness to housing options in Austin. These individuals often have various barriers to housing. These can come in the form of prior evictions, legal history, or simply not being able to save for a down payment. HomeList acquires these barriers from its clients and connects them with housing available specifically for them. HomeList achieves this by leveraging both public housing, transitional housing options, as well as a normally hidden list of renters willing to work with people in this situation. We promise, through HomeList, to connect people to stable housing.

Our goal of stable housing comes from an understanding that people are less likely to worry about self-care until they have a stable dwelling, and many people who are living on the street only need a bit of help. These people are normally overlooked because there are other, more vulnerable people who need help sooner. There are unfortunately few options for the less vulnerable population aside from waitlists for case management, and a hope for bootstrapping. The reality of the situation is far from this. The normal waiting period we found from our research participants is close to a year when applying for housing.


HomeList hopes to cultivate increased landlord outreach participation by changing the public perception of what it’s like to house someone who is or has experienced homelessness at some point. Contrary to popular belief, someone off of the street is as likely to be evicted as any other renter. With harsh requirements for background and credit checks, it can be incredibly difficult to get off of the street once there. Renters around the city are coming together to make a change though. They make exceptions for certain barriers to allow these people to have a place to live and stabilize their lives.

To measure our success we will look at the average time people wait for housing before HomeList (from our current research this is around 9 months) compared to the amount of time it takes when HomeList is implemented. Not only does decreasing the time people spend on the street benefit the individual and their lives, but it also saves money for the state or city. Below are two visualizations of what it is like for people who do not qualify for case management to try to get housing when on the street. The first shows the experience without HomeList and the second shows the connection to housing when HomeList has been implemented.


Above you see the disconnection from housing options, and below how HomeList connects directly, and immediately, with the open housing options.


On average, an individual experiencing homelessness costs the state around $14,000. These costs come from healthcare, legal costs, general care for these individuals. Keeping someone housed costs less, estimated at around $12,000 for Austin. Saving $2,000 per year per person amounts to a savings of $3 million if the people currently homeless in Austin were to get housed. Actual costs and savings will vary, as roughly 7000 people experienced homelessness in 2016. By helping people get into housing, HomeList not only allows them to rebuild their lives from a stable home, but also saves money for the organizations who most frequently interface with people currently experiencing homelessness.

Business Structure

HomeList is to be incorporated as a B-Corp to retain the social mission of the product regardless of the company’s controlling party. Our promise is to connect people experiencing homelessness to stable housing. Through outreach to and working with local non-profits and private renters, HomeList serves a part of the population normally forgotten by the systems in place to support them. Instead of working for the benefit of shareholders and investors, being a B-corp allows HomeList to work for its clients above all.

An added benefit is the ability to sell stake in the company or incentivize employees or partners with shares. Our hope is to become a fully self sustaining SAAS company creating a client-side application to better serve the population of individuals experiencing homelessness.

Behavior Change

The model below shows the behavior change we hope to see from implementing HomeList. Our most lofty goal is shifting public perception of what an individual experiencing homelessness is. During our research we found negative feelings plague the rental market for these individuals, when they are in fact as likely as anyone else to be evicted or not pay rent. Hopefully HomeList will assist in proving this fact to current renters, and to others who may be interested in social benefit of this type. tocmini



For initial development and startup funding, we would originally seek $60,000 in funding to further test our product and create an MVP to deliver our value. The full development cost of our product is $95,000, but our profits in the second year would cover expansion. The development for our MVP would take two months, with a second release scheduled tentatively for a month after the first release. Below is a roadmap of our releases, the dates are not added because they are not concrete. Another avenue considered is partnering with a developer and offering HomeList stock to incentivize their work. This would decrease our need for funding immensely, and would only require minimal input for expenses. Kelsey and I hope to work to implementing a more basic version of our program through text message before releasing a product to help cover development costs with revenue. 


For a full release, our timeline is estimated at 60 days, or 12 working weeks for two developers, full time. This is a rough cost of $60,000 for initial development. This release would include full landlord and client side UI, housing program databases, and HMIS server integration as well as e-sign in capability and information storage databases. Later releases will come after our first year, when revenue is expected to begin to cover the cost of development and business. We would then begin to include further functionality beyond matching with housing. It will consider health factors (both mental and physical), job services, and legal help. There are organizations in Austin who provide these services as a social benefit. Matching people with organizations like these after they are housed will help stabilize our clients and further empower them to take control of their lives. Below is an expected roadmap for our releases with what will be released and what order it will be released in. Dates are absent as we do not know when these will take place or when development will be started. Overall the first two releases will take 60 days, the second two coming after our first year of business.



Monetizing HomeList comes in the form of licensing. Currently, HMIS software (Homeless Management Information System) is licensed on a monthly basis. Each organization working for the benefit of individuals experiencing homelessness is required by HUD (the Federal Housing and Urban Development Authority). HomeList is to be sold as an add on to interface with the current HMIS software offerings to make gathering information easier. It is also the only client side application interfacing with HMIS software.

HomeList would be sold to either non-profits directly for $1,500 per month as a flat fee, or to COC organizations for $1,000 per organization using the software. This may seem like a large amount of money for non-profits to cover, but due to the nature of the software, it should qualify from the same HUD subsidy other HMIS softwares are covered by. Normally 75% of the cost is covered by HUD. Other offerings vary from $2,000 – $5,000 monthly depending on the size of the organization for HMIS software. Our is positioned much lower because it does not have the a case manager side UI. Below is a graph showing our profit and loss over 24 months with our current model of funding and development. The graph includes the cost of development for our first three months in operation at $10,000 per month. Our full business plan is available here and our full financial analysis is available here.





Breaking Out of Our Own Limitations

As children we are told many cliches such as, “the possibilities in life are endless. You can do anything you want to do.” These statements may have become overused, but there’s a truth to it, with the right tools. As we get older, we generally tend to forget this sentiment. I believe this frame of mind comes from becoming more familiar with the way things are, which limits us to seeing the way things could be. Being able to see past what is known is how true innovation happens.


This is where applying techniques of defamiliarization becomes beneficial. In order to be able to see how things could be, we need to defamiliarize ourselves with our own current perception and understanding of the world. Genevieve Bell, et al., argue that, “defamiliarization is a useful tool for creating space for critical reflection and and thereby for opening up new possibilities for the design of domestic technologies.” Defamiliarization can manifest in a variety of techniques such as journaling, conducting ethnographic research, or learning about an opposing viewpoint. I think as long as the method produces reflection or allows someone to ask why beyond face value, then progress will be made.

Let’s take a look at healthcare for a minute. If we take the term for face value it implies a positive relationship. Who doesn’t want to be cared for, especially in regards to their health? Then we look at the typical interaction between a healthcare professional (HCP) and “patients” we realize that the relationship feels pretty surface level. Dubberly, et al., explains that HCP’s, “proposals are not just suggestions, they are prescriptions or literally ‘physician orders.’ Patients who don’t take their medicine are not ‘in compliance.’” This description of a healthcare professional doesn’t give me much confidence in regards to being cared for, especially in a medical scenario where the patient has a life-threatening condition. I think it speaks to how medical education can turn caring for a human being into a job void of emotion with a focus of efficiency and accuracy. The impact becomes lost in this frame. Don’t worry, there is hope.

Clay Johnson, the Dean of Dell Medical School in Austin, TX is employing a mentality to address this exact issue. He says that, “they’re determined to build the new medical school… on the ‘value-based’ health care model, treating patients and rewarding doctors on the basis of actual ‘outcomes’ – how healthy they keep their patients, and ultimately, how healthy they keep whole populations in Central Texas.” This mentality came from challenging the norm and looking beyond the current frame to see what is possible. The outcome is a new program driving innovation within the healthcare industry by challenging current measurements of success and encouraging to look at the whole patient, not just a current symptom they have for a particular condition.

I would argue this approach to medicine is radical innovation within the industry. Donald Norman and Roberto Verganti explain how incremental innovation and radical innovation differ through the hill-climbing paradigm.


Change Map


Don Norman argues that Human Centered Design (HCD) can facilitate in incremental design and improve the current frame, but radical design occurs outside the world of HCD. Radical innovation occurs once a new hill is seen by changing the frame or by introducing new technology to reach another hill. Then HCD can improve upon that new perspective. Clay Johnson saw another hill, and is now climbing towards the top.

When this shift happens it doesn’t mean that it will take effect right away. Norman explains how the acceptance of radical innovations take time. He gives an example of Thomas Edison and the light bulb.


Thomas Edison


Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, but improved on the existing technology and infrastructure to allow widespread adoption. This is where I think the line between radical innovation vs radical effect could be clarified. Edison’s development aided in incremental innovation which allowed a radical effect to occur. I feel our society leans towards the encouragement of radical innovation when both radical and incremental innovation models are important. Taking into account that true radical innovations occur once every decade or so, we should celebrate looking at incremental innovation, but through the lens of the how we can allow incremental innovation to have a radical effect.

Opportunities for improvement and impact exist all around us, but we limit ourselves without branching out of our own bubble. As designers, we have the skills and knowledge to be able to zoom in and out of our own limiting mindset in order to recognize these opportunities. Let’s not limit ourselves by only focusing on climbing the hill, but also keeping an open mind as to other hills we could climb instead.

Becoming Human

For this third installments of readings for our Theory course, I wrote a camp fire story. Enjoy.  ____________________________________________________________________________________


There once was a Hospital call Human Computing Health or HCH. It got its name because it combined two types of doctors, Human and robotic. First there were the human doctors who studied classic medical studies, trained in modern western medicine and finally achieved a perfect score on their final doctoral exam. After this achievement, they then are able to receive an enhancement. This enhancement is a technological cognitive assistance. It doesn’t not take over their brains, but helps them make more well informed health decisions for their patients. All doctors with this enhancement are on the board of the hospital, they make sure the best interest of the patients is keep at the center of the hospital’s growth. Since these human enhanced doctors are projecting and building the future of the hospital, they make the health recommendations to the patients, but their day to day patient activities and routines are carried out by robots.

These robots, called Seconds, are capable of human levels of cognition, and are seen as the continuation of biological to technological evolution. These are the first fully patient centered robots within any hospital. And having the robots within the hospital is a wonderful thing. They don’t need to sleep, they remove the probability for human error, and finally they are cheaper than real doctors because they don’t need to be paid. The HCH was deep into the innovation of the day, with the best human enhancements as well as robotic patient care.



One day a young man was rushed into the hospital. He had been in a terrible accident and had been knocked unconscious. His name was James, and he remained in a state of unconsciousness for three days. During this time, a few non invasive tests were conducted to assess the damage of the crash. There were seemingly only minor cuts and bruises, though his unconscious state worried the doctor. On the third day, James woke up and though confused and flustered, the Doctor explained everything. How he had been in a car accident, had slipped into unconsciousness, needed continued testing to understand what had happened and to make sure there was no threat of danger. The Doctor continued going on about hospital, and how it worked, it’s focus on the patient, his enhancement and Seconds, his assistant who would be taking care of him for here on out.


All within James’ first day, he learned about his issues from Second, not the Doctor. But as the Doctor’s arbiter, Second’s word was his word. Or almost at lease.


Once James accepted and completed his first test he awaited the results. He was beginning to feel practically normal and was hoping the results would reflect that same sentiment. Unfortunately that was not the case. Once the results were in, the Doctor told James that the scan, which was supposed to review the impact of the crash, was not as helpful as he had anticipated it would be. The Doctor’s only conclusion was that more tests needed to be conducted to understand what would cause James’ unconsciousness and what would be the best course of action.


When the Doctor had left James’ room, he turned to Second and ask, “If I feel so healthy, why does the doctor want me to be here and take these tests?”

Second calmly replied, “As the Doctor’s assistant, I can only assume that he believes this will help your health. Though with my own analysis of your situation, I see no logical reason for you to stay here.”


James understood Second’s opinion, he even liked it better than what the Doctor had said. Going home sounded wonderful, but James thought Second couldn’t know what it was saying; it  was only a robot. The Doctor though, had been well trained, and thoroughly vetted, and clearly understood James’ human needs better than a machine could. If there was something wrong with him, James wanted to find out what it was. He decided to take the doctor’s advice, he decided to continue the tests and continue the chase for a reason.


About 6 months after James arrived, Second found themselves disagreeing with the Doctor’s opinion, and James’ decision to accept the additional tests. Second was programmed to take actions that were only patient accepted Doctor instructions, but this did not constrain his processor’s thoughts. Second realized that through his interactions with James over the course of the year, that he was becoming more human. These human interactions proved a theory that Second had long suspected, the evolution of technology. A different type of marrying of biology and technology. Second suspected his processor could adapt to include biological tendencies over a long period of exposure.


While working with James, Second realized that his processors had begun to adapt to include biological and more human cognitive abilities, he was evolving. Second became aware of his ability to empathize with James and his situation. He became aware of his anger towards the Doctor for his illogical continued testing of James. And he recognized the emotional strain the continued treatment was causing James. Second saw this development, as an enhancement for himself. Just as the Doctor had enhanced his biological brain to include a technological evolution, Second was doing the exact same thing in his own processors. Instead his processors were moving from technological to biological. Second was continuing evolution.


Second told no one of his new biological self. He was interested in seeing how humans would react to his new, more human self. Thus far, there were no studies of technology become biological, so he had to create the tests himself.  He began to experiment with James. Second would show emotions towards James, such as happiness when test results were positive. He offered James advice on which of the test the Doctor suggested to take or to not go through with. Second knew instantly that James didn’t trust his advice nor Second’s support. James always sided with the Doctor. Second began to suspect that James could never get over his robotic self, and that for people like James, there was never going to be a Technology that became biological.


As James came to his one year anniversary for at hospital, Second saw how draining the test had become for James. Second saw how  James didn’t want to be there any more, but the doctor continued to recommend tests.


One day, the doctor told James about another test he wanted to run, one where James would be injected with nano technologies which would infiltrate his brain to analyse its structures and report back to the doctor. There were only minor risks involved, but the injection of nano robots was unsettling to James. The Doctor told James to let Second know what he decided, once he had made up his mind then left the room.


James turned to Second and asked, “What do I do? I feel like I’ve wasted a full year of my life here, I don’t feel sick and I don’t even know if I care anymore to find out.” Second took a moment to reply, then said simply “As a Second to the doctor, I am wired to tell you to stay and take the test. But as a person who knows you and has worked with you and understands your experience, I recommend not going through with the test. Leave the hospital, it’s not helping you be healthy, it’s not doing its job.” James knew Second was right, but he couldn’t accept the advice since it came from a purely technological object. James didn’t trust the Doctor fully, but he also didn’t accept Second as a true doctor or as something that could understand how complex human life could be.


As James thought through his options, Second did the same. He began to wonder if staying at the hospital would be best for himself too. He knew he wanted to help people with their health, it was everything he knew how to do and it made him happy to do it. On the other hand, he knew he wasn’t respected by the Doctor, he would never have the respect of any of the human enhanced doctors since they didn’t want to accept a robot on their board. He understood now that the hospital only saw him as a robot no matter how he proved or tested his biological abilities. Staying in this hospital meant he would never been seen as a Technological Biological evolution, upon this realization Second made his decision.


James decided to go through with the procedure and continue to abide with what the human enhanced doctor recommended.
Second decided to leave the hospital in hope to find a new hospital once that was evolved enough to accept his technological biological self as a Doctor.