Telling Stories

There are many amazing qualities that separate AC4D from any school I have attended before. Allowing me the opportunity to articulate my opinion is just one example that came to mind this week – whether it is the pronunciation of the word “Canuck” or the interpretation of a homework assignment. I’m comfortable with my Western New York accent, but the homework assignment interpretation haunted me for most of the week. I am much more comfortable given a problem set in structural mechanics than an open-ended assignment asking us to make and tell three stories. So what does it mean to me?

My Brand Statement: I’m Jaime, I build systems to grow sustainability.

I began the week with an idea of the qualities I wanted to portray in my brand, but I was convinced that my previous developed statement needed a diet. I worked to take away words until nothing more could be subtracted, and the result was this:

I’m Jaime, I’m creating a home for the environment in business.

I asked friends for their reaction to this statement, and the reaction was far from good. It provoked questions of the ideals and emotions I was trying (unsuccessfully) to evoke in a single sentence. I sat back down at the proverbial drawing board, first creating a narrative to use as a foundation to draw out those few words. I build systems to grow sustainability.

An approach: How to move to Austin in 10 days

Telling the other side of it: Diana Griffin’s story

And what did I learn?

When we are asked to tell stories, they need to be clear, concise, and clever to truly be memorable. Of most importance, they must be authentic to resonate fully with your intended audience. A perfect example of my authenticity failing miserably this week is exemplified in my experiment to leverage social media. I have abruptly changed my tone and content of posts on facebook and twitter in this process, posing unemotional questions and comments that are very unlike me to gain insight into my brand – and I was called out on the artificiality today.  To gain strength, respect, and a following of my stories and brand, I need to converse and write with sincerity, keeping my personality and personal interests intact.

Ben's Story and My Process

Benjamin D. Franck (I’m not sure if his middle name really starts with a D), is a super interesting dude. Prior to coming to AC4D he worked for a non-profit in Canada that served the homeless. From scratch, he created a data management system for multiple service sites that ended up tremendously helping both the organization’s clients and employees. While there, he was also able to create awesome augmented reality visuals during some of the organizations’ experiential marketing efforts.

As part of our studio class’ focus on telling stories, I interviewed Ben and synthesized the information I gathered to ultimately create my own version of Ben’s brand statement. Below is a description of my process.

Step 1: Interview Ben at…

While it may seem like a strange choice for an interview location, especially since this year’s AC4D humanitarian focus is food, Popeye’s chicken is damn good and I hoped the absurdity of a fast food chain would create a fun interview environment.

During the interview, my goal was to have Ben talk or reminisce about something that really made him smile. I felt that in order to create an authentic brand I had to get beyond the technical or specific talk of what he was interested in (I already had a pretty good understanding of this) and find some anecdote that showed Ben’s heart and personality.

Step 2: Create a romanticized character sketch

All good brands have some sort of inherent drama. To find the drama in Ben’s brand I created a character sketch much like an author would do before writing a play or a novel. My character sketch was really inspired by the part of the interview where Ben talked about his first computer.

Step 3: Write Ben’s brand statement

After creating the character sketch and watching the interview a few more times, I sat down to write Ben’s brand statement. This step was more fluid than the previous steps (a nice way of saying messy). There were many iterations or as Anne Lamott would call them shitty first drafts, and lots of sticky notes containing key points, characteristics, metaphors and half-baked ideas. Ultimately, I arrived at the brand statement below. Ben, I hope this is helpful…

My name is Ben and I want to use technology to change how those in need experience life. Yes, this slightly nebulous, partly because given enough time I feel that I can create just about anything. Ultimately what differentiates me from other people with similar skill sets is my story and my heart. I was born in the 80’s and can’t remember life without a computer. My dad repaired electronics and I remember being five or six and messing around with old desktop models. When our family bought our first computer it had very basic programming software which I taught myself. I used to tell my friends that I could make my own video games, and when they told me to put my code where my mouth was I had to run home and throw something together. Usually the games were stupid, but technically they were video games, so I felt like I won. The first time I witnessed how technology could be used to change someone was during the summer I was part of church drama troupe. I was in charge of all things audio-visual. Looking back, I’m not sure if I agree with all that we were “selling,” but nonetheless seeing how a few lines of code could cause something to fundamentally change in a kids life was powerful. My life has never been the same since.



3 Stories

1. Refined Brand Statement (as in second draft, as in down the rabbit hole)

More good for more people with fewer things.

You: What do you mean by “fewer things”?
Me: I mean the objects we as artists and designers put out into the world could be made to last longer, be more efficient, and accomplish more.
You: What sort of things do you mean?
Me: Anything can be made to be more useful. If we build for the outliers of human needs, we’ll be making more usable objects for everyone.

You: What do you mean by “more good”?
Me: I mean that we can make more ethical choices in the problems we invest in solving.
You: What would you consider “ethical”?
Me: I’d say that for me, ethical would be to do the most good for the most people with the fewest resources.

You: What people are you speaking of?
Me: If we’re solving problems worth solving, we all benefit.
You: What do you consider “benefitting”?
Me: My definition of benefit is to empower, not necessarily financially but through quality of life



2. Jaime’s Story
In a lighthearted effort to learn a little more about who Jaime Krakowiak is I asked her to tell me how she came to be wearing the clothes that she had on. Here’s what she had to say…

“I didn’t put money on my card to do laundry.
Three quarters of my clothes are in the laundry basket.
I tend to get a lot of free Roxy crap.
This is the oldest one, and the only clean thing on a hangar.
These shorts were on the floor from when I wore them earlier to go running.
I had 10 minutes to get here (to class).
I had to put Diesel (her dog, I found out later) in my car to get here.
I hope I don’t smell.”

Today I went for a run on the greenbelt.
I loved the hill (reminds me of home).
But the run to Barton Springs was lame: was 1:45 minutes in circles.
I lived in the middle of the woods back in Colorado.
A bear came every week and poked in the trash.
Diesel would bark.
I was very polite to the bear and asked him to please go home.
I threw a bunch of food away when I was getting ready to move.
There was an Earth Balance tub of butter that was in the trash.
I heard noises and looked outside and looked at her and then shut the door.
There were snout marks in the tub of butter.
It took me a half hour to clean up.
That’s my “Whumph in the butter” story.




3. My Approach to Problem Solving
I make some tea.
I set out to understand the rules of engagement with the subject.
I write down a few initial ideas of what the rules mean to me in my sketchbook or notepad.
I set about doing something repetitive which does not require my attention (bath, jog, cleaning house, folding laundry, etc)
I am able to think more freely about my interpretation of the rules
Sometimes the interpretation will broaden enough to slurp in the outer perimeter of one or more ideas. Then the ideas begin to appear.
I throw down my towel and grab a pen to scribble down what has just appeared.
Sometimes the ideas appear on the surface but I cannot write them down fast enough to commit them to memory and they are lost.
Sometimes if I wait or slosh around, they’ll come back to me, and I can capture them.
Sometimes the ideas suck, but sometimes they do not.

Design, behavioral science, and mobile computing are powerful forces in tandem

CC image courtesy of lululemon athletica on Flickr

In my undergrad years I vividly remember when my behavioral psychology professor explained how she “tricked” her kids into enjoying kitchen chores. First, she would carefully control the environment surrounding the chores to ensure that they were fun and exciting. Second, she would make chores a privilege that they could only obtain on good behavior. This resulted in her kids excitedly asking her if they could wash the dishes or set the table.

Upon hearing this, a student raised his hand and expressed his discomfort with the technique. “Isn’t that being a little manipulative?” he asked. To this the professor replied, “They are going to have to do the work anyway. Isn’t it better to make it an enjoyable, desirable experience for them? Do you think it would be more ethical to make my kids miserable while doing chores?” The student was speechless.

Experiences such as these have shown me the positive power of shaping human behaviors. There are so many behaviors that could be addressed. People need to exercise, eat healthy, reduce their energy usage, etc. Why do these experiences tend to be undesirable? How can we encourage people to do them in ways they find enjoyable? Is it okay if they don’t notice how their behavior is being modified? I say yes.

Technology has the power to transform behavior. Just look at how Facebook has changed people’s perceptions on internet privacy and personal information. However, much of this persuasive power is wasted on the encouragement of excessive consumption. I believe it would be highly beneficial for designers to instead focus on using the power of design to encourage positive social behaviors in people.

The emergence of mobile technology has further compounded the potential impact of designing for behavioral change. More and more people are buying smartphones every year. Over 82 million use smartphones in the US alone. These devices contain applications which make quiet but powerful arguments to the user every moment of every day. Why not use this influence to elicit adaptive social behavior?

With these factors in mind I would like to present the second iteration of my personal statement:

I make mobile apps that continually nudge people towards positive social behavior.

The Tragic Tale of the Defensive Developer

CC image courtesy of havankevin on Flickr

My manager sits in silence across the table from me with a determined look in his eyes. His stoic expression and assertive posture both indicate what I dread the most: he has uncovered another software bug. I feel my shoulder muscles tighten.

It has been three weeks since we launched our new client tracking web application; twenty one days of searching through thousands of lines of code desperately hunting for the causes of endless obscure issues that plagued the staff during night shift. I am weary of it. The dull ache behind my eyes increases in intensity.

Breaking the silence, my manager declares, “Here’s the problem. Our staff are failing to sign in clients because they forget to press the confirmation button. I want you to remove that button.” He leans back in his chair and awaits my thoughts.

My brain explodes with catecholamines. While the solution is perfectly sensible from a managerial perspective it makes no sense to an engineer. I feel as though I am being asked to remove the doorknob from a door or the gas pedal from a car. My upper back muscles warp into acutely painful knots.

The adrenaline surges to my speech cortex and my lips begin wildly spouting out excuses. I frantically complain about how impossible the task is and why the staff should know better and why the issue is not my fault. My pathetic display continues for a good ninety seconds before exhaustion sets in and silence once again returns to the room.

I then realize how little I understand the issue. I ask my manager, “So… what exactly are the staff doing when they sign in clients?”

“They fill out the form and then go to search for the next client without clicking the confirmation button,” he calmly replies, “It is easy to forget that step when they have so many clients to address.”

“How about I just disable the search bar until they click the button?”

“That would work perfectly.”

“Oh… okay. I could implement it within the hour.”

“Great! Thanks. That is all.”

I collect my notes and sheepishly rise from my chair. As I leave the office I wonder if I will ever fully comprehend that my role as a developer is to understand and bridge gaps instead of exacerbating them. I desperately hope that I will someday soon.

I am vs. I am about…

You have to move from “I am” to “I am about.”

This was the sound bite I took away from last week’s studio as we discussed our personal brands.

“What am I about?”

This is a tough question because I want my answer to be something that is super concrete and directly leads to a job that will provide the type of security where I know I will never have to move in with my parents.

To try to wrap my head around what it is that I am about, I made sticky notes with pictures on them. Since my handwriting hasn’t changed since the second grade and I am still perfecting my sketching skills, I turned the sticky notes into a video. Big thanks to the band SUNBEARS! from Jacksonville, Florida, for letting me use their song Fingerbumps and Gumdrops as epic background music.

After bathing in sticky notes for another week I came up with a revised brand statement (below).

My name is Jonathan Lewis. I am about asking questions, discovering purpose, affecting change and occasionally making people smile. To me it’s more important to deeply know what you want to do, why you want to do it, and whether the answers to those two questions are contributing to making things better. I try to bring this ethos to whatever I do. Inherent to this rather ethereal passion of mine is a belief that most people, including the satisfied, the oppressed, the oblivious or even the asleep want something better, they want real change. Sometimes all it takes is a question to wake us up.



Synthesis on the fly: a mid-class exercise

In class last night we did a quick exercise around the three readings we’d been discussing: Maurizio Vitta’s essay “The Meaning of Design,” Allan Chochinov’s “1000 Words: A Manifesto for Sustainability in Design,” and Victor Papanek’s preface to Design for the Real World. Our task was to synthesize these authors’ points into one cogent argument. We split into two groups to think it through.


sketch of synthesis process

One team came up with the following statement:

We increasingly experience the world through consumption of objects and try to exhibit our individuality through the consumption choices we make. However, industrial processes of mass production and replication have promoted a social culture of over-consumption with adverse impact on the sustainability of our lifespaces. Designers, given the capacity they possess to influence behaviours on a mass-scale, need to consider the consequences of their designs. They need to design more systems utilizing existing artifacts, products or services to solve existing problems. They can better achieve this by working in trans-disciplinary teams with designers essentially acting as facilitators to synthesize diverse perspectives.

The other team put it succinctly like this:

Design in its current trajectory is leading to a loss of meaning as well as function in the things that we produce. To remedy this we need to remove historical constructs with which we view design, and instead adopt a more holistic understanding of the things that we produce as designers.

Despite the differences in phrasing, we all seemed to be expressing the fundamental idea that to design is to accept responsibility for the effects our creations have in the world, and so requires awareness and consideration of the broader reach of our work throughout the process.

Forging a personal brand

Without further adieu I am pleased to present my first personal brand statement. While it is only in its infancy and will certainly evolve over the coming months I believe it is a solid start. The statement reads as follows:

I am passionate about leveraging common digital technologies in innovative ways to empower local communities.

Here are the main sites, research papers and people that reinforce my brand:

World Health Organization: Community Empowerment
Describes community empowerment and why it is important to a community’s overall health.

Jonathan Goldstein
An excellent storyteller who has a knack for telling well worn tales from a fresh perspective.

Levelhead: A Spatial Memory Game by Julian Oliver
Used a web cam, 2d bar codes, and open source software to create an amazingly novel gaming experience.

Nora Young
Conducts informative interviews with experts on the cutting edge of technology innovation.

M-PESA:Mobile Money for the “Unbanked”
A sophisticated money transfer system in Kenya built on SMS technology.

Craig Newmark
The founder of Craigslist.

Creating and sharing multi-media packages using large situated public displays and mobile phones
A description of an innovative way for an individual with a camera phone to interact with a public billboard.

Networked Neighborhoods: passionate about local digital
An organization committed to fostering digital society at the local level.

Ted Talks
A collection of inspiring talks regarding technology and innovation.

Rachel Botsman
Social innovator, speaker and author on collaborative technologies.

You can also check out more people and sites that reinforce my brand.

I am using Klout to track the impact of my personal brand. My Klout score began as 15 and is currently at 32. My goal is raise it to 50 in the next two months.

Defining an Entrepreneurial Identity

In my last post I announced my intention to embrace a new definition of entrepreneurship; this post sums up my first step in acting on that intention. A successful entrepreneur needs a strong personal brand to identify and differentiate them, so in our studio course our first assignment was to define our brand and begin the work of putting it out into the world via social media.

The Personal Brand Statement

This statement is the sum-it-up-and-spit-it-out, pithy and punchy sentence that explains who you are and what you stand for, in the space of an elevator ride if need be. My current version goes as follows: I believe that design is the language that can realize positive change and I strive to practice it with fluency.

Aligning with a Community

Having named what we stand for, our next step in the assignment was to go forth into the social media space and plant our newly crafted standards for all to see, alongside those of others out there who stand behind similar values and pursuits. Part of this took the form of listing who those people are, across various digital platforms.

My Top 50+ Likeminded Twitterers
My Top 100 Sites

My Top Ten (well, Eleven) Thoughts and Places Across the Web:

The Metrics of Influence

It’s all well and good to state what you stand for and list who stands with you, but how do you know if the effort is succeeding in building your personal brand? Lucky for us, there’s Klout. It’s an online tool for measuring your social media presence and influence, which it does based on weird/magical algorithms that pop out a score from one to 100.

When I first signed up on Klout last Saturday, my initial score was 19, representing a small but not completely miniscule circle of influence on the web, “a small but tightly formed network that is highly engaged,” as they so encouragingly phrase it. This score reflected my long-standing reluctance to tweet much, since I felt I didn’t have much to say. An entrepreneur, however, by virtue of having something they stand for, always has something to talk about. (Not to claim that having something to talk about is the same as having something to say.) It was time for me to get up on my soapbox.

Mysteriously, within a couple of days of more regular tweeting, my Klout score had jumped up to 33. Then I got a spate of new followers and dropped to 31, I suppose because they watered down the proportion of people actually acting on my tweets. I was happy to find that this morning I’m back up to 33… but somewhat at a loss as to what to expect or aim for from here. Like a video game, it seems to become harder to “level up” the higher you get, so it may take significantly more effort to continue my climb. I’ve got seven weeks, though, in the coming quarter, so I’m going to set my goal at 45 and see what it takes to get there.

While it’s nice (and somewhat addicting) to have a numerical measure of how I’m doing with my social media presence, a decent Klout score doesn’t mean anything unless it reflects the true community and connections that I build up through this continuing exercise. My real goal is just to start some conversations and join the dialogue taking place around design as the language of social change.

Unveiling the brand

The unveiling of this new brand doesn’t involve a newswire to the Associated Press, ringing of the opening bell on Wall Street, or even a champagne popping celebration. It is only the first attempts at an exercise in quiet reflection to outline my values, passions, and dreams, and neatly roll them into a succinct and timeless package. Wielding the branding iron on myself resulted in a lengthy list of disparate nouns and verbs, creating a daunting puzzle that I pieced together:

Cultivate impassioned ideas that fuse design and logic, merging environment and economy into an enduring holistic vision.

Though I expect this statement to evolve, the initial intentions will remain as a foundation to facilitate conversation through social media, which has become an indispensable tool to entrepreneurs. I have just barely begun to use social media as a resource, evident by my Klout score of a depressing 10. Combing through the internet, I have put together a list of top ten sites to provoke and support discussions related to my brand. The content generated and shared will hopefully help to reach my Klout goal of 50 over the next 8 weeks.

  1. News and critical essays on design, urbanism, social innovation, and popular culture.
  2. Reporting developing technology and the affects on culture, the economy, and politics.
  3. Where business and design collide.
  4. Innovation news from Bloomberg Businessweek.
  5. Skiing’s independent start-up magazine that documents the lifestyle and progression of the sport.
  6. World’s most influential online architecture and design magazine.
  7. Green technology news so big it needs its own page.
  8. Environmental essays from activists lending their voices to support wilderness preservation.
  9. Principles of the deep ecology platform.
  10. A new way to fund and follow creativity.