Introducing AC4D new board members

Please join us in welcoming AC4D’s newest board members – Margo Johnson and Mark Phillip. The two of them bring with them a wealth of experiences across sectors, and more importantly, a unique perspective on the intersection of design and social innovation. They will be instrumental in helping shape AC4D’s next strategic plan and we are thrilled to have them on board. Stay tuned for more exciting updates in the near future.

Margo Johnson

Margo currently serves as Head of Product at Transmute, an Austin-based tech start-up building user-managed identity infrastructure. She is also the creator of Nimble Mind, a product consultancy helping organizations align impact and revenue in the design of their products and programs. Previous roles include Director of Community Product and Partnerships for Aunt Bertha, as well as research and fellowship roles with UnLtd USA (now Techstars Impact) and the City of Austin. Margo is proud to bring her MSSW (UT Austin), nonprofit leadership, and undergraduate studies in cultural anthropology and social psychology (Arizona State) into the world of technology startups. She believes that social justice and participatory design can critically distinguish for-profit organizations in the eyes of their customers and employees.

Mark Philip

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Mark Phillip is the Founder of Are You Watching This?!, a B-to-B Sports Excitement Analytics company using patented algorithms to identify Instant Classics in the making, in real-time. A Brooklyn native, MIT dropout, and lifelong Yankees fan, Mark is obsessed with enhancing the game-watching experience through digital and physical innovation, whether it’s teaching a DVR to automatically extend the recording of a game going into Overtime, or hand-building wireless LED excitement meters for every TV in his favorite sports bar. When he’s not watching Cricket at 4am, you’ll find him working to improve diversity and equity in the tech community, and mentoring at schools, accelerators, and incubators around Austin.

Improving Humanity by Improving AC4D

As the ninth cohort to (soon) graduate from Austin Center for Design (AC4D), this assignment felt particularly appropriate to the end of our 8-month journey.

Our task: to develop and present a case study of how to improve AC4D within one of the following areas: financing, bootcamps, continuing programs (for alumni), and recruiting.

AC4D’s main offering is a 1-Year Course to earn a Certificate in Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship. My intent was to develop a strategy that could significantly impact participants of the 1-Year Course. That area is recruitment.

Video of the full case study.

Since AC4D was founded in 2010, design teams, processes, and fundamentals have gone from nascent to ubiquitous within the larger business world. Capital One, USAA, even Wal-Mart now have design teams and process that were once only achievable by design firms like frog design or Argo Design.

IDSE 401 Assignment 4.003

The influence of interaction design is strong, particularly in businesses with influence. AC4D has a duty to its social entrepreneurship roots to not only influence business, but to graduate students who can affect “wicked problems.” These are the large, complex solutions like poverty and natural resource management that have no easy fixes, or one set of key performance indicators.

The problem is that AC4D’s cohort does not reflect the diversity of the United States, nor Austin. It has typically recruited, taught, and graduated people who look like me (white) and have a history like mine (privileged.)

IDSE 401 Assignment 4.008

One of the key takeaways from our Theory classes at AC4D is the recognition of “designing for” versus “designing with” and how designing for wicked social problems is not as easy as implementing the “correct” solution. Take perhaps the most wicked problem of them all- inequality. Do you suppose that the most privileged members of a society can single-handedly design a solution for a minority community? No. Nor should they.

IDSE 401 Assignment 4.010

Design requires expertise, but expertise formed by working in and with, and on behalf of communities that designers aren’t often members of. There’s limits to what a non-members can do, as there are limits to empathy.

That’s why AC4D should launch a targeted effort to recruit local, minority community members to join AC4D.

IDSE 401 Assignment 4.015

The time is right for AC4D as well: with the school now in a larger studio space, the average cohort size has doubled, from 8 to 16 students per year.
IDSE 401 Assignment 4.018

The goal: For 25% of the 2020-2021 cohort to come from Austin’s diverse community. We begin with 5 local chamber of commerces, and the method is lightweight, and low-risk. Each step builds on the next, proving if the outreach is worth devoting more resources.

IDSE 401 Assignment 4.019

The method is simple: communication with chambers of commerce for a complimentary presentation to its members, and a the basics of AC4D’s outreach and scholarship efforts.  AC4D reps present on design thinking and its rapid rise in the business community. They end the presentation with an ask: encouraging minority candidates and their contacts to apply, with scholarship details.

IDSE 401 Assignment 4.020

As leaders in making design education affordable, AC4D is well suited to attempt this outreach strategy. The future of wicked problems depends on all communities having access to creative problem solving methods and practices.

IDSE 401 Assignment 4.028

IDSE 401 Assignment 4.029

FundEDU Weekly Update

Kim, Kay, and I have been piloting FundEDU for a little over a week now, and so far the pilot student’s campaign page has received only 9 unique visitors. One of the assumptions we are testing is whether or not students will be willing to share their campaign with their network. However, sharing a crowdfunding campaign is more than just blasting out a URL over social media; it’s giving people a glimpse into a personal struggle. This requires a great amount of humility and vulnerability.  We will be conducting a follow-up meeting with our pilot student to learn about his experience with the product and how he felt sharing the campaign with his network.

Our goal is to create a place for those who need to bridge a financial gap in pursuit of their education. Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe are crowded with campaigns born of some great tragedy in the campaigner’s life. It’s not rare for people to look to their community in times of crisis, but how might we help those in the absence of tragedy? This is where we believe FundEDU sets itself apart in the market.

FundEDU will function much like competitor crowdfunding sites: make a campaign, share it with your network, manage your donations. But FundEDU will simultaneously seek bulk donations from businesses and distribute the funds equitably among those students whose networks are unable to provide the level financial backing needed. We are currently working on a system for the way business donations will be allocated.

We believe everybody is worthy of the level of education they seek. We invite all readers to come to the AC4D Final Presentation next Saturday (April 27th) to see our FundEDU pitch.


Launchpad Weekly Update

Launchpad is on a mission to provide teachers the confidence, community, and autonomy to feel more mobile in their careers. In order to do this, Launchpad will offer a 3-week summer workshop series accompanied by year-round events and a website with resources that support career transition. We help teachers reflect on their decision to explore new career paths, hear stories of others who have taken non-traditional career paths, and build the autonomy they need to feel they can access the resources and connections to move beyond their current position.

Since our last update, we have started to run our second phase of our pilot program and have spent time honing our final presentation. Our pilot includes three phases that mirror the three essential aspects of making a decision to leave a traditional path that we identified in our research. Two weeks ago, we began by creating and releasing a public survey for teachers and former teachers.

This survey, or Teacher Experience Exercise as it was titled, allowed teachers to reflect on their teaching career and discover transferable skills to fields beyond the classroom. So far, we’ve had over 100 people respond to the activity. Through this, we’ve heard some amazing stories and received great feedback regarding the value of the exercise.

Some participants told us that they screenshot the page that outlines several transferable skills to use during their job search. Understanding transferable skills is especially necessary for teachers during a career transition because teachers are siloed within education. Unlike other professions, teachers do not come into contact with a variety of other roles. This limits their awareness of career paths.

“The skills it highlighted on the Beyond the Classroom slide help me see the assets I have in a more business setting that I initially imagined. When I picture leaving teaching, I limit myself to care-taking professions. This helps me consider more corporate/business paths I could go.” – Susanna, Current Teacher

The past week, we also sent out our second phase of our pilot, a newsletter. This email included a story one teacher’s transition to corporate training. At the end of the newsletter, we included a link to a quick feedback form, but unfortunately we have received none. We hoped the story would call attention to additional paths for teachers in a way that we have seen important during career and educational transitions in our research. With the lack of response, we are not sure what are impact we had, if any.

Today, we enacted the final phase of our pilot, connecting people to each other. We sent out an email to our survey participants to see if they were willing to meet one another. We will know later this week if anyone chooses to be connected.

Our presentation narrative is in the works and we receive critique and hone our work. Final results of our pilot and our final presentation for Launchpad are next Saturday, April 27th. If you’re interested in helping us out, we’d love to practice and get feedback on our presentation. If you’re up for it, please shoot us an email at or


Because we have these ways of seeing

Our most recent section of Theory of Interaction Design and Social Entreprenuership focused on what limits what we can imagine. One can start with the question, “Is imagination boundless?” That’s a romantic thought, but if we consider things that are routinely labeled “unfathomable,” we ca start to see the boundaries of the human mind.

Take Glen Berger’s “three incontrovertible facts” from his forward to his play Underneath the Lintel:

“1) The universe contains well over 500,000,000,000 galaxies, with each galaxy containing over 1,000,000,000,000 stars, of which, our vast, blazing and life-bestowing sun…is one. 2) The Earth is 4,600,000,000 years old, in which time, from the Pre-Cambrian Era to the Present—a dizzying, terrifying number of inhabitants—amoebas and trilobites, dust mites and Neanderthals—have all struggled to live from one hour to the next. (Indeed, more living creatures are in my stomach (and yours) at this moment than the total number of human beings that have ever existed.) 3) I will die. I will be dead in sixty years, though it’s entirely conceivable that I’ll be dead before the week is out.”

The three incontrovertible facts Berger lays out here are unfathomable  to me. 1,000,000,000,000 stars – I cannot hold the concept of that many stars in my head, much less imagine them all at once. As much as I have seen and contemplated death, I honestly cannot imagine what the moment of expiration will be like, or what it’s like after. Berger’s facts help me put a few initial boundaries on my understanding of the limits of my own imagination.

A saying I heard once in high school that I firmly believe and which may or may not have been inspired by John Berger's Book "Ways of Seeing"
A saying I heard once in high school that I firmly believe and which may or may not have been inspired by John Berger’s Book “Ways of Seeing”


Role of Imagination in Design

In design thinking, the designer must rely on her own understanding of the world and of her research in order to frame a problem and come up with a solution. 

Design is premised on our ability to think creatively in the face of constraints and imagine the way things could be. Our imagination, then, is a fundamental and critical part of design – so understanding it’s boundaries should be of primary concern to us.

The readings in this past section have highlighted several was in which our imagination can be limited, which have a deeper implication for how we should approach design. 

I believe that the human imagination is limited the three primary factors of knowledge, biology (the physical structures and chemical processes of our mind and senses), and context.

Three Limits to the Human Imagination
The Limits to the Human Imagination


Knowledge: What we know – who we are

The first limitation of imagination is what we know. We are each just one person, and the things we know about the world are circumscribed by our education, our personal beliefs and our emotions. 

Byron Good references how doctors in training are drilled with “facts” about the physical aspects of people that they may cease to holistically include their social-emotional aspects.

“I would occasionally be walking along a street and find myself attending to anatomical features of persons I passed, rather than perceiving them as persons with social characteristics…” Byron Good

Designers are not usually experts in the domain for which they are designing. How much a designer knows about a particular problem area and what she believes about it will influence the solutions she creates. A lack of knowledge or understanding can lead to the implementation of ineffective, tone-deaf or harmful ideas. If a designer is an expert, it is also possible to have an “expert blind spot” due to being too close to a problem. 

Biology: How we think  – education, language, perception and prediction

The physical structures and chemical processes of our mind and bodies affect how we think and what influences us. Language, Cognitive tendencies, and cultural norms all influence how we view the world. “Reframing” is a device of language that creates new context by revising a narrative.

Context: What already exists –

Context involved power dynamics, current environment, and is interpreted to create “meaning.”

“Radical innovation comes from changes in either technology or meaning.” – Norman and Verganti


Context affects how we interpret a situation and can even affect what we know to be "fact"
Context affects how we interpret a situation and can even affect what we know to be “fact”

What does this mean for how we should approach design? 

Acknowledge our own limitations, use methods of overcoming our imaginative barriers, never assume we know the whole story, include others in our acts of creation to fill in gaps of understanding (participatory design), or perhaps even acknowledge that you are not the best person to work on a particular problem space. 

Limits to what we can imagine also affects what we design and how users will be affected. Design should foster empathy and understanding between users, such as doctors and patients, in a way that breaks down prejudices. I am hesitant to use the word “unbiased” because I do not think that human beings are capable of a purely “objective” point of view. We are creatures of subjective and limited perspective. We cannot hold every fact in our heads at once, if one can even argue that we can discover every “fact.”

I agree with Norman and Verganti that radical innovation comes with changes in meaning. I studied the History fo Ideas because I believe that. A good example of this is Dubberly, et al’s piece on reframing health to Embrace Design of Our Own Well-being. 

The authors describe a framing shift from people in the role of patients being told what to do to their own health advocates and managers. This re-framing has new language that shifts work and responsibility to the individual and creates a new societal-level meaning for health care. It’s largely the care of one’s self. While this in no way “solves” healthcare, it does bring a focus back to each individual’s well-being over all time, rather than just the minutes spent with a doctor or nurse. 

The thing that has largely sparked this movement is one of the biggest limiters of imagination not yet discussed: Money. Insurers would have to pay out much less if their customers were more healthy. And a modern understanding of physical and mental health is premised on day-to-day self-care. 

Money also limits what we can imagine
Money also limits what we can imagine



The ultimate and pervasive limiter of almost all initiatives and a big driver of what we will be allowed to create in and formal capacity. Clients and businesses will have their own needs and requirements. We need to keep in mind that these constraints will almost always be the heaviest ones. 

Where I want to design

I’ve been keen on designing in the realm of immigration for years. It’s why I came to AC4D. The image below is a map I drew in a journal three years ago as I planned my career.

The career map I drew in a journal in 2015
The career map I drew in a journal in 2015

The readings on power and this recent section on the limits to imagination have made me question that goal. Should I if I am not an immigrant? Who can I bring on board? What will my institutional constraints be? Will I be able to design for those with less power, or will I be required to design things to entrench power imbalances? In that environment, what will be the boundaries of my imagination?

This is a deep question to be considered before I take on any job or project, and throughout.


Reading List

How Medicine Constructs Its Objects / Tenacious Assumptions in Western Medicine
Byron Good / Deborah Gordon

Free Ideas from a Human-Centered Designer for Hospitals that Want To Be (or Make it Seem Like They Are) Patient-Centric
April Starr

Reframing Health to Embrace Design of Our Own Well-Being
Hugh Dubberly, Rajiv Mehta, Shelley Evenson, Paul Pangaro

Metaphors Can Change Our Opinions in Ways We Don’t Even Realize
Steve Rathje

Making by Making Strange: Defamiliarization and the Design of Domestic Technologies
Genevieve Bell, Mark Blythe, Phoebe Sengers

People are people, but technology is not technology
Gary Marsden, Andrew Maunder, Munier Parker

Incremental and Radical Innovation: Design Research vs. Technology and Meaning Change
Don Norman, Roberto Verganti

The Dilemma of Empathy in Design
Richard Anderson

Design Thinking and How It Will Change Management Education
David Dunne, Roger Martin

Design Fiction
Bruce Sterling

Why Futurism Has a Cultural Blindspot
Tom Vanderbilt

The Law of Accelerating Returns
Ray Kurzweil

Why Nothing Works Anymore
Ian Bogost

You Are Already Living Inside a Computer
Ian Bogost

Promoting Failure


Jen, Laura and I launched ATX Fail Club to reframe failure as growth and empower more women to persist and succeed. We do this by cultivating communities in which women are encouraged to share and celebrate failure.

Since our last update:

  • We drafted a sponsorship ask email to send to local businesses explaining what ATX Fail Club is about. We are using this email to test the assumption that local businesses will want to align with our mission and vision and market to our members through in-kind and/or financial sponsorship.
  • We created a list of 87 sponsor prospects and reached out to 25 about sponsoring the April pilot dinner or future events. So far we’ve heard back from six businesses, secured one sponsor for the April dinner, and an offer to host a future event in May.
  • To promote the pilot we have posted on our ATX Fail Club social media accounts and personal accounts explaining what attendees can expect at the dinner. These posts have resulted in 21 visitors to our website, 2 new email list sign-ups, and very positive interactions and feedback.
  • Lastly, we made updates to our website to include our new sponsor, mission, and vision.

Lessons Learned:

  • Sponsorship requests take time and doing them sooner rather than later is better. We’ve learned that many businesses have budgeted amounts for community giving and are allocated on a first come first serve basis.
  • We learned how to set up a team in Canva to create, share and modify social media posts so we can all be working on promotions with continuity.
  • We iterated upon the current version of our final presentation to incorporate the feedback we heard last week.

Our Next Big Questions:

  • How can we measure the impact of ATX Fail Club for our members?
  • How can we design these experiences to scale beyond Austin?

Now we’ve got to:

  • Coordinate the logistics for the upcoming pilot and organize all the needed materials.
  • Identify potential magic moments, and create a method for integrating them into our pilot for testing.
  • Continue refining our presentation narrative and artifacts.

One way you can help right now is:

Mentorship Pilot

We launched our pilot this week! Our time over the past week has been spent on recruiting & matching mentor-mentee pairs and developing the facilitation resources for mentors and mentees unique to our solution.

Since our last update…

  • We recruited 3 mentors and 3 mentees, created matches based upon logistics (location, schedule), and set up meetings for the pairs
  • Designed an activity for the first meeting between mentors and mentees to provide an introduction and set goals
  • Designed an activity for the second meeting focused on identifying multiple paths to solve a problem
  • Created a short feedback form for mentors and mentees to complete after their first meeting
  • 2 mentor-mentee pairs had first meetings (the third pair meets Saturday afternoon)

Lessons learned

We received validating feedback from our first mentor-mentee pair following their first meeting and activity. The mentee not only felt more conscious of goals and the meeting served as a reinforcement. We received feedback indicating mutual engagement between the mentor and mentee:

“The conversations with [mentor] were great. I look forward to seeing her reach her goals as well as mine.”

Now we’ve got to

Schedule second meetings for mentor-mentee pairs
Schedule face-to-face follow-up interviews to speak with users (mentors and mentees)
Keep iterating on our final presentation

One way you can help

If you know a first-generation American college student who would like to participate in our pilot, we would love to speak with them.

Launchpad Status Update

Launchpad is on a mission to provide teachers the confidence, community, and autonomy to feel more mobile in their careers. In order to do this, Launchpad will offer a 3-week summer workshop series accompanied by year-round events and a website with resources that support career transition. We help teachers reflect on their decision to explore new career paths, hear stories of others who have taken non-traditional career paths, and build the autonomy they need to feel they can access the resources and connections to move beyond their current position.


Since our last update, we have defined, planned, and begun to run a pilot of our business concept.


Our pilot includes three phases that mirror the three phases of our workshop series (as well as the three essential aspects of making a decision to leave a traditional path that we identified in our genesis research):

  1. Reflection Quiz: The first aspect needed to decide to transition is time to reflect. We created a Google form quiz that prompts teachers to tell us about their experience teaching, asking some basic questions like how long they have been teaching and then progressing into questions about their satisfaction and whether or not and how much they have considered a transition.
  2. Visibility Newsletter: The next aspect needed in order to make a decision to transition away from a traditional path is what we have called visibility. Essentially, it is important for people to see and hear stories of others who have decided to leave mostly linear paths. In order to simulate this we prompted all quiz takers to tell us whether they wanted to receive an email with stories of others who have considered a transition. We have crafted and sent that newsletter which includes the story of one teacher who decided to transition into the field of corporate training.
  3. Autonomy Meet-up: The final thing that allows people to take the leap into another career is a feeling of autonomy. People who feel comfortable reaching out beyond their current community and resources feel empowered to build the career future they want. To test this, we will prompt all individuals who receive our newsletter with the question of whether they would like to be connected with another individual who is considering or who has already gone through a career transition out of teaching. Depending of how many respondents live in a particular location these may be one on one meetings or happy hour/coffee shop chats.


At this point, we have promoted our quiz and have gotten 101 responses. Of those 107 respondents, 71 opted in to receive our newsletter. We have learned a lot from these responses and plan to analyze them further over the next couple of weeks. A couple interesting highlights from our responses so far are:

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 9.48.00 PM
13 respondents said they have thought of leaving teaching but are scared to admit it.

To the question, “What would prevent you from leaving teaching?” respondents had answers like:

“Being a teacher is all I know. I don’t want to leave the profession and feel clueless elsewhere.”

To the  question, “What are the reasons that your current work is misaligned with what brought you to teaching?” respondents had answers like:

“I do not feel as though I am teaching. Sometimes I just wish the profession was less political and more worth the effort that you give. I cannot imagine giving myself another 20 years like this, I’ll have nothing left in the end.”

We will be sending out the newsletter today and will begin pairing up teachers or planning our coffee meet/happy hour in the next week.


Now we will work to …

  • Solidify the narrative of our final presentation
  • Continue running our pilot


To do this, over the next week, we will be…

  • Running through our presentation with classmates AND anyone who is interested in being a guinea pig for our presentation. Reach out if you are interested in seeing it pre-final presentation reveal!
  • Finishing our pilot and analyzing our results


One way you can help right now is…

  • Sharing our Google form quiz with teachers who are interested in transitioning
  • Offer insights or feedback about our concept. Feel free to email them to us at


SELect Progress Report


We exist to create a world where advisors are positioned to normalize social and emotional learning with college students who are struggling to persist for non-academic reasons.

SELect is a social and emotional learning tool. For students, it’s a questionnaire where they can reflect on their current non-academic obstacles. For advisors, it’s a report that prioritizes which conversations to have with students. It is used ideally to spark conversation in face-to-face meetings, the human element of mentorship.

Using SELect will provoke more conversations around “root cause” obstacles in a student’s personal life — especially if the student is ready to speak up, but doesn’t know how.

Movie Non Trad student


  • Key metric: Engagement and use by local partner organizations. We’ve had participation from 2 college persistence programs and pilots tested with 15+ students.
  • What’s going on: Piloting a mechanical turk MVP.
  • Support area: We are looking for more organizations and offices with diverse advising approaches to pilot SELect.

Over the last week we passed our pilot into the hands of partners and we are currently midway through receiving the results of the iteration. We have received questionnaire responses from students, and now turn towards advisors to synthesize and interpret the results, ultimately implementing the behavioral insights in conversation or contacting students about big flags

Next steps

  • Complete the advisor phase of our pilot
  • Continue to build relationships with other growing partnerships
  • Network our tool further to capture validation outside of our immediate ecosystem in Austin

How you can help

If you are part of an advising team or know someone who is part of a college advising office, we want you to participate. We have built out several versions of our pilot including a low-touch version using real student data from other orgs. We want to see how your advisors interact with this information and how it might affect behavioral change in your office and your practice.

Please get in touch with…

Me –


Adam –

FundEDU Newsletter


We exist to create a world where financial pressures no longer force working students to prioritize work over school, allowing them to achieve their long-term goals.


  • Key metric: Engagement (measured by sign-ups to our pilot)
  • What’s going on: Website creation and social media marketing
  • Support area: Looking for more students

Over the last week, we made a simple website for the FundEDU pilot and advertised the site on FaceBook.

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 4.57.46 PM

So far the FaceBook ad has received 437 impression and 3 clicks. We have also had one student reach out to us about the pilot.

Our next big question is: “will a campaign reach its funding goal without help from the campaigner’s immediate network?”

Next steps:

  • Continue advertising and reaching out to local businesses regarding campaign sponsorship and support
  • Find more students looking to raise funds for small (between $0 and $500) education expenses (books, utensils, lab fees, etc…)
  • Focus efforts on increasing campaign visibility with potential donors

How you can help:

If you are a working student, know a working student struggling to fund his/her education expenses, or are interested in supporting a working student through a small (but meaningful) donation, please let anyone on our team know.

Me –

Kim –

Kay –