Design Snacks


I’m interested in sharing some of my thoughts about design in a more accessible format than my admittedly dense writing, and so I’m going to be publishing quick videos – Design Snacks – once a week on various designerly topics.

Here’s the first one; I hope you like it.

Technology Is a Tool

Technology is a tool that humans have used for centuries. It’s part of what defines us as human. It’s an extension of ourselves.

Technology is a tools that grants us the ability to wield unimaginable power. We can use it as an advantage over others, helping us to remember perfectly, or to catalog our lives with great precision.

But should we?

Often times technology creates an un-level playing field, where the rich gain the edge, and the poor stay dis-empowered.

Designers have the ability to change this dynamic.

By engaging in the unmeasurable aspects of what make us human; emotion, context, phenomenology, irrational and strange behavior, we will be forced to extend our understandings into unknown areas of human existence.

Stretching ourselves to design for the dis-empowered will lead us towards making more careful and empathetic technology for everyone.


Technology as it relates the design process

Artifacts presenting the role of technology in the world and its importance.

  1. New technology advances slowly and new technology is available to a select few.
  2. People are influenced, constrained, and motivated by technology in every stage of the design process.
  3. The design process results in the creation of things in the form of products, services, and systems.
  4. Things shape people and some of those people are are influenced, constrained, and motivated by new technology.

  1. New technology advances rapidly and is available to a large population.
  2. Ubiquitous new technology allows more people to act as designers.
  3. People are influenced, constrained, and motivated by technology in every stage of the design process.
  4. The design process results in the creation of things in the form of products, services, or systems.
  5. Things shape people and most of those people now design things.

This is important because I value people and want to live in a world of things that do more good than harm.


Our Third Annual Design for Impact Bootcamp

Please join us at our third annual Design for Impact Bootcamp, to be held on Saturday, Mar 31, 2012. This day-long event will introduce you to the research and design approach we use at Austin Center for Design; after taking part in the event, participants will have:

  • Acquired a high level process for approaching large-scale social problems, and understand the challenges associated with these types of problems
  • Experienced the research, synthesis and ideation processes as related to design for impact
  • Gained empathy with a target, at-risk population
  • Acquired the introductory vocabulary to speak about strategic design work, in the context of designing for impact

There are a limited number of seats available for this event; if you are interested, please sign up here.

AC4D Welcomes New Faculty Members Matt Franks and Jan Moorman!

We are excited to welcome two new faculty members, who will be teaching class in the upcoming quarter:

Matt Franks is a Senior Interaction Designer at frog design and the co-owner of Monster Feet design consultancy. Prior to working at frog, Matt was a hybrid interaction / product designer for Target Corporation. His work ranges from mobile systems for both handsets and tablets, to entertainment experiences for TV, web, and video. In the past 4 years, he has released over 400 products and services into the market. Matt will be teaching the Design Studio class.

Jan Moorman is a design researcher for projekt202, where she is responsible for both generative and evaluative user research. Jan holds degrees in Fine Art and Computer Science. She has worked in analytical chemistry, software architecture, scientific visualization, performance support and interface design. She believes that the skill of research cannot be completely learned from textbooks and is excited about having the opportunity to mentor and coach the ac4d students. Jan will be teaching the Evaluation of Interaction Design Solutions class.

Welcome, Matt and Jan!

Lesssons learned from building a prototype

This quarter I created a prototype for a web app called Healthify. This application allows people to find and easily modify recipes in real-time to make them healthier. The goal of the app is to encourage individuals to try healthier recipes through a user interface that encourages experimentation and gives immediate feedback of the benefits of healthier ingredients.

I learned a lot during the creation of this web app. First, I learned the value of working through the higher level concepts of an idea before diving into the details. As a developer I have a bad habit of rushing to coding as soon as possible. However, this tends to result in creating products that are poorly thought out and have little value to the end user. Working through the higher level ideas of the app and considering the goals and needs of the user allowed me to create a prototype that fit better with what the user desires.

I also learned the value of iteration. Forcing myself through the cycle of making, evaluating, and refine allowed me to see the issues with my app earlier and work through them. If I didn’t move through this process the value of Healthify as a product would have been questionable at best.

Finally, I learned that explicitly wire framing every screen of my application saves on valuable development time. I have a bad habit of coding too quickly and then making poor interaction decisions which I need to redo later. Making every frame allows me to quickly see the issues with the app and then change them before I spent time coding.

However, there are a couple things I would do differently next time. First, I would not create my prototype in HTML. I wasted way too much time fiddling around with random bugs. Also, I realized that potential clients would not appreciate all my extra effort anyway since the end result is visually indistinct from other types of digital prototypes. Next time I will strongly consider making a clickable PDF instead since it creates the same effect for end users with significantly less development time.

Secondly, I would show my idea to more people during the development process. After my final presentation of Healthify I received a couple ideas for my app that I wish I discovered sooner in the ideation process. Next time I will try to get as much feedback as possible to improve my app’s experience.

Overall I am very excited how Healthily turned out. Through rapidly iteration I was able to create a working prototype of a product that I feel has real value to people who want to eat healthier. In the coming months I hope to build Healthify into a real product that encourages people to try baking with healthier food choices.

View the Healthify work flow pdf >

View the live Healthify web app prototype >

Do I really have to draw?

The answer was a yes, coming from Matt Franks and Lauren Serota in their Rapid Ideation and Prototyping class.  The idea of drawing is fairly scary to me, it’s never come easy, nor has it been something I’ve enjoyed to do. I remember in the first week of my masters program in architecture one of my fellow students asked if I wanted to spend the afternoon sketching by the river. I replied with a polite, “no,” but in my head I was thinking he was crazy. Really? Spend a whole afternoon sketching? Sounded terribly boring, I much rather go for a run by the river and take a mental picture, I could draw it up quickly in CAD later anyway.  I’ve avoided sketching like the plague since then.

Much to my dismay, I had to pick up a pencil and sharpie in this class – though my disdain for drawing slowly faded through the 8 weeks. I’m not sure where it happened along the way, but last week as I was doing work for another class I thought to myself, “this would be much easier to figure out if I could draw it.” As I was externalizing the problem, I caught myself and laughed, then smiled at the progress I have made. Perhaps I always have had designer-ly tendencies, but never had the tools to communicate them in a visual way before.

I have to thank Lauren and Matt for helping me to feel that I can call myself an interaction designer, because they gave me the tools to express myself as one. Not only do interaction designers facilitate the dialogue between a product, service, or system, but they are, in general, problem solvers. In this class, we each took a problem we had around the topic of food, found an opportunity to fix it, and create a web application as a result. The tools we used to solve this problem include use cases, scenarios, storyboards, process flows, wireframing, and prototyping.

The result of this process for myself is called Eat: Play, a web application for athletes that play hard and need good food to fuel their fun. This app helps find, review, and share crowd-sourced recipes that nutritionally prepare, sustain, and reward your body for a race or event. The athlete using the application can calculate nutritional needs, prepare race plans, and share recipes with friends.

I’ve posted two parts of the process we used on the path to creating a web app, wireframes and a clickable pdf. These don’t display the full functionality of the program, but focus on two different flows that a user might go through while using it – determining how many calories they need during the day of a marathon and browsing recipes to fulfill those needs. Start with the wireframes and follow the purple dots, it will give you a better idea of where you are supposed to be heading before you go through the clickable pdf.

<wireframes> <clickable pdf>

As I use the tools acquired in this class for future projects, I will be most cognizant of the rigor required to produce a cohesive product. It is important to put the work down, take a break, pick it up again, review, and revise; then repeat this process over and over again. And of equal importance in this process is the level of fidelity used in each step. Start at a low-fidelity so you can revise quickly and efficiently, which would have resulted in a more comprehensive wireframe package for myself in this case.

The last bit of advice? Pick up a pencil and don’t be afraid or ashamed of what comes of it, and do it often. I wasn’t afraid to draw when I was little, but only stopped when I became self conscious of what others would think. Instead of watching my niece and nephew color over Christmas, I think I’ll join them.  You should too.

Happy Holidays! Let it snow… (a lot, please)