Design research themed links of the week

I’ve come across some cool Design Research stuff in my web-surfing of late.

    This is slightly unrelated, but a link I want to archive. From Ryan, a list of papers that “represent a summary of the past thirty years of service design literature:

    On-the-Fly Programming Lessons

    This is what programming looks like. I didn’t expect a lesson tonight, but it sort of just happened in the course of our project-planning conversation.

    As context, I know HTML/CSS. I tried learning PHP online last year but didn’t get very far. I tried to learn Flash last summer from a book but only got to chapter 2. A couple weeks ago, I started a Ruby on Rails tutorial online, and got as far as “Hello World” in the Terminal.

    What’s missing from the books and the online tutorials is that they all skip the context and the framing. I need a mental model of how this all works. And I need a teacher(s) who is willing to meet me where I am instead of me trying to catch up to where the book wants me to start. It also helps to work with real examples and something you’ re trying to actually build.

    For me, a mental model includes: what the file looks like and where it’s stored and how Rails plays together with HTML in the same file.

    As Ryan was walking me through his sketched mental model of how Model-Views-Controller theory works, I was able to sketch out my own model, and we were able to trade metaphors. Then Chap showed me some programming in real time on his laptop and flipped through the various screens he had open in response to some of my questions. Now, some of the puzzle pieces I had picked up trying to DIY are starting to make sense.

    So I’m going to try to take advantage of the people in our class who are already great at programming and learn some stuff. And it’s cool that we don’t have to sit through a typical class on programming when we will learn it through trial and error as we build our own stuff. Side-by-side programming is better than teacher-projector-group learning in this case.

    And in validation of the work Ruby and Alex are doing on their (as-of-yet-unnamed) peer teaching project idea, Ryan totally went from sleepy to chipper as he was “teaching.” He even gave me a pop quiz, made me tell the process back to him, and slightly annoyed me—which are all signs of a good teacher!

    P.S. (or maybe P.S.A.) Have you backed up lately? My back-up external harddrive failed last week, and now my laptop is acting up. Very funny…

    AC4D in Dell's Social Innovation Competition

    All of our students have entered the Dell Social Innovation Competition, an annual event that offers students a venue to present innovative ideas to solve social or environmental problems, anywhere in the world. You can view their entries below; please give them a vote if you like their work :)

    Nudge Us – Christina Tran & Ryan HubbardNudge Us is a service that encourages individuals to reach out to each other, thus strengthening communication within a community. Through text message prompts asking clients how they’re feeling, Nudge Us collects data on individual’s well-being and looks for patterns. Patterns of low or high moods trigger Nudge Us to send text messages to pre-identified contacts nudging them to get in touch with the client. As time progresses, clients will not only start to become more self-aware of their own moods, but also build good habits of reaching out to others when times get tough.

    Ebay for Benefits – Saranyan Vigraham & Kat DavisWe want to provide a platform, where low-income families can trade resources in kind. This platform would provide an opportunity for a low-income family to list resources that they want to trade like food stamps, baby formulas, diapers, etc in exchange of stuff that they need. Without necessarily having to illegally sell their benefits for money, this platform will encourage fair trade of goods.

    OneUp – Women and Homelessness – Kristine MuddOneUp is an online tool empowering youth to choose action plans and track their progress. This will help them build their confidence. OneUp is building on motivation and goal tracking programs that have proved successful in the health and fitness areas, but tailoring the concept to specifically address the needs of this population. It provides easy to execute action plans in relevant knowledge areas. OneUp will help the youth begin to recognize their achievements as it highlights achievements and steps as they are completed; providing rewards that can be displayed on social networks. OneUp offers the ability for the youth to invite peers from their social network as motivators for their specific action plans.

    Teach, Learn & Earn – Ruby Ku & Alex PappasThis project aims to tackle homelessness by focusing on people’s existing skills, shifting the emphasis from what they need to what they have to offer. We intend to provide a platform for these individuals to get paid to teach classes, such as sewing, painting, or bike maintenance. The infrastructure will include a website where they can easily post classes online and recruit students from the community, as well as implement a program to provide training and support. By doing so, we strive to create an environment that will fulfill their financial needs, changing their self perception, as well as the public perception of homelessness.

    Pocket Hotline – A Virtual Call Center for Social Programs – Scott Magee & Chap AmbroseWe’re building a platform that helps leverage remote volunteers, helps organizations externalize and redefine their processes, but more importantly directly connects the community to those in need. Pocket Hotline is a mobile app that routes calls from the front desk of social programs to the cell phones of remote volunteers.

    Think Make, not Think Meet

    "picture of the book impro"

    Think Make, acting instead of talking, isn’t new and isn’t limited to design.  Last night, I read this in Keith Johnstone’s Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre:

    “My bias against discussion is something I’ve learned to see as very English.  I’ve known political theatre groups in Europe which would readily cancel a rehearsal, but never a discussion.  My feeling is that the best argument may be a testimony to the skill of the presenter, rather than to the excellence of the solution advocated.  Also the bulk of discussion time is visibly taken up with the transactions of status which have nothing to do with the problem to be solved.  My attitude is like Edison’s, who found a solvent for rubber by putting bits of rubber in every solution he could think of, and beat all those scientists who were approaching the problem theoretically.”

    Think. Make. Go.

    Also, while reading Impro, I found myself asking: By studying a subject’s rules, guidelines, and best practices, do we become less creative?  For instance, in design, usability guidelines may help a product be used, but does it also prevent leaps in innovation and creative interfaces?  Johnstone talking about becoming a theatre director:

    “Obviously, I felt I ought to study my craft, but the more I understood how things ought to be done, the more boring my productions were.  Then as now, when I’m inspired, everything is fine, but when I try to get things right it’s a disaster.  In a way I was successful – I ended up as the Associate Director of the Theatre – but once again my talent had left me.

    When I considered the difference between myself, and other people, I thought of myself as a late developer.  Most people lost their talent at puberty.  I lost mine in my early twenties.  I began to think of children not as immature adults, but of adults as atrophied children.”

    What do you think?  Does this only apply to creativity, not craft?  Or art, not design?

    AC4D Students Win Big!

    Austin Center for Design students were honored with two big wins over the last few weeks.

    Ruby Ku and Alex Pappas won the Design Ignites Change Cycle 2 concept award for their Teach, Learn and Earn project that imagines a platform to empower homeless people by earning income through teaching. As they describe it, Teach, Learn and Earn aims to tackle homelessness in Austin by focusing on people’s existing skills, shifting the emphasis from what they need to what they have to offer. The current system makes people feel helpless, indirectly hurting their emotional abilities to get back on their feet. A new system is needed to give people experiencing homelessness an opportunity not only to receive help, but to help.

    Kat Davis and Ruby Ku were honored to receive first place in the IxDA’s Interaction Design Student Design Competition. They were tasked with rapidly designing a solution to the problem of “Use, not own.” Great interactions can connect people to create opportunities for experiences that outweigh the “joy” of ownership. How can we reduce our environmental footprint by sharing products or services? Kat and Ruby spent forty-eight hours working on their solution, blogging the process online, and were honored on-stage at the IxDA’s annual conference in Boulder.

    Congratulations Ruby, Alex, and Kat – great job!

    Tell us about your projects using design to tackle social problems

    Interaction design and wicked problems banner

    As you know, at the Austin Center for Design we’re focused on learning how to apply the tools and processes of interaction design to wicked social problems like homelessness, education, social isolation, or international development.

    Most of this blog is about our projects, but we’d love to hear about yours.  If you’ve worked on anything in this space, or just heard about a cool project, please comment on the post or tweet a link @ac4d or @ryanhubbard to tell us about it.

    Or, if you’re here with us in Boulder at the Interaction’11 conference, join us for a conversation over lunch on Saturday to share your work or tell us about a cool project that you heard about.  We’ll meet at one of the tables in the back of the main auditorium (Glenn Miller Ballroom) at 11:50.  Feel free to come by to share a story or just to get some inspiration from the great work that folks are doing.

    Second peer-led class, plus some think/make

    Sunday. We had our rescheduled boxing conditioning class by the Auditorium Shores. Beautiful weather, fun company, awesome tacos for lunch = great time. Until we all woke up sore this morning. Thank Phill for a great class – we shall do it again!

    Thinking and Making

    In last week’s studio class, we were pushed to think about ingredients and friction – essentially what makes something work and what stops it from working. Our learnings were captured here.

    In this week’s studio class, we were pushed to have a Point of View (POV) – essentially our opinion on how to solve a problem. Or in other words, things to do that will fulfill our Design Criteria. Here are some POVs 1.0:

    People are more likely to teach something when someone is interested and asked them to teach it.Our POV: Make your interest known publicly. Poke the person who you think can teach it.

    People are more likely to make time to do something if it’s with people they like hanging out with.Our POV: The person initiating the class must bring a friend. Class must start or end with some sort of social activity (lunch, bike ride, BBQ, etc)

    People are generally interested in doing stuff. But finding a time that works for everyone is hard.Our POV: Every person must pick 3 times that work. Teacher has the final vote of when class will be.

    It’s awkward to pay or rate the teacher when it’s your friend.Our POV: Students have to check-in to classes and pay for a cover charge (think when you go to a bar to watch your friend’s band play). Rating will come in the form of how often the class is being requested again.

    Our customer journey map:

    Our initial wireflow sketch:

    2 weeks ago, we said, “We believe people learn by teaching, so our mission is to provide people with a platform to teach.”

    Last week, we said, “We envision a world where everyone recognizes they have knowledge to share.”

    This week, we said, “We are building a website where it lets you post what you want to learn, and it figures out who in your network can teach it.”

    We’re all at the IxDA Conference in Boulder this week. We will be sharing our idea with people, getting feedback, and testing our POVs.

    So what are the things you’ve always wanted to learn? Post a tweet with “#Iwanttolearn”!

    Our first peer-led class, and some.

    Our goal: Last weeks goal was to hold our first peer-led class.  In essence, a prototype of the analog portion of our idea.  The place where people meet and share their knowledge.  This will then be book-ended with digital tools to help facilitate the class, aid in the continuation of the class, and encourage students to become teachers of their own classes.

    Co Creation:  Our first teacher, Phill, was interested in teaching a boxing conditioning class.   We sat down with Phill on Wednesday to talk about how he planned to run the class and to talk about ways of using our networks to get students.  He had a very good idea of how he wanted to teach the class, and broke down for us the different parts of the class and how he would use the hour.  We walked through the different aspects of the class, and had a great discussion about how to find, engage, and retain students.

    We then pushed out the details of the class via Twitter and FB, and called a few friends around town who we thought might be interested.   By the next day, Thursday, we had 5 committed students, and we thought we were ready to go.

    Then it snowed and we had to cancel the class.

    What we learned:

    1.  Scheduling was difficult.  Phill works nights as a cook, so he was only able to teach the class during the day.  Many of the people in our networks worked during the day, so they couldn’t attend the class.

    2.  We didn’t have a bad weather backup plan.  The weather in Austin is crazy, it was 75 last weekend, and snowing this Friday.  Our classes need to have backup plans and or clear communication to all involved what happens when the conditions for a class change.

    3.  It’s hard to get people to show up on their own if they don’t know someone there, and people are much more likely to show up with a friend.  How can we leverage that and encourage people to bring friends?

    Quick backup plan. What other classes could we hold with only a few hours notice?  Christina (@s0delightful) was nice enough to offer to teach a photography class on Friday night.  We met at her house around 8pm. There were 5 of us total, 2 people I’d never met before, but all people that Christina knew.   We ate some food, got to know each other, and then Christina started the class.  The class lasted an hour, and the time flew by.  We all had fun and learned some new things about photography.

    What we learned:

    1.  It was a very social event, starting off with some food and hanging out was a good way to begin.   Friends enjoy doing things together.  How do you continue to encourage social behavior before and after class?

    2.  Christina had a lot of props to use while teaching.  This was a great way to engage people, and to let us try different things for ourselves.   Would a takeaway have also enhanced the experience?

    3.  Teaching is a scary word.  After class when we asked the other students if they thought they could go and teach a class about something they knew, the reaction was – at first – very tentative.  After some more questioning, we realized that most of the apprehension was due to the perception of the word teach.  When we re-framed the question to be about sharing knowledge with a group of peers, suddenly everyone thought they had something to share.  What’s another way to frame “teaching”?

    4. Christina mentioned that photography wasn’t the first thing that came to mind when deciding what to teach, but she remembered that Ruby had asked her to show her some tips and tricks about photography a while back.  The fact that there was a need present made it easier to pick a subject.  How do we encourage people to share what they want to learn with their friends?

    As we move forward we will continue to prototype more and more classes.  We’ve rescheduled Phill’s boxing class for Sunday 02.06.11 at 11am.  Send me an e-mail alex.pappas@austincenterfordesign if you want to come get fit and learn how to throw a mean left hook… from this kid.

    AC4D Presenting at ARCH: When It's About Them

    On Feb 1, AC4D was invited to present our research findings at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless’s All Staff Meeting. We truly appreciated the opportunity to be the catalyst for a rich discussion. For those who couldn’t be there, here’s what I found to be the most memorable:

    1. From what we heard, it sounded like their board sees the importance of staff members needing to be more like architects and less like firefighters. ARCH will likely be dedicating more planning time for their team in the future.
    2. The staff members agreed that the intake process has room for improvement. While they understand it may not be possible to revert all old habits, they also recognize that there are plenty of opportunities to improve for the future.
    3. Lots of staff members volunteered to form a committee in order to rethink strategies on how to engage clients in a meaningful way that allows them to feel a sense of purpose. We are all in agreement that the clients have a lot to offer, and now we need to create an environment to allow those interactions to happen.
    4. Staff members realized that as they better understand their needs and can articulate specifically the resources they require, they can begin engaging their individual donors and truly treating them as advocates rather than ATM machines.
    5. ARCH invited us back to present to their board, as well as keep working with them to bring these ideas into implementation.

    As I reflected upon this extremely rewarding experience, I found the following to be true:

    First, it did not feel like a presentation. It felt like I was telling stories that needed to be told, to the people that needed to hear them. I didn’t feel the nervousness I normally feel during a presentation because, as it turns out – this is not about me, it’s about them. I cared less about how well I was doing, but more about how well the stories resonated with them. We were there to work with them to find better ways to achieve their vision, rather than to judge our presentation skills. It was different, because it mattered.

    On a personal level, I am proud to have been able to step up when Alex couldn’t be there. Obviously I was not Alex and we all missed his presence and energy. But the fact that we were able to back each other up, tell the same story, with the same emotional attachment – solidified the idea of what it means to be a team.

    ARCH, thank you for having us. AC4D, thank you for being supportive. I am honored to have been a part of this.

    Austin Center for Design Welcomes New Faculty Member Randall Macon!


    We are pleased to welcome a new addition to our faculty; Randall Macon will be joining AC4D, teaching IDSE401 Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship. Randall is dedicated to the creation of durable viable businesses that can generate profits with a strong eye towards ensuring long term value to society.

    Randall is currently developing a set of interrelated projects with the goal of cultivating a thriving and durable social enterprise ecosystem in Austin, Texas. The ultimate goal is to create a tightly integrated community of conscious consumers, social entrepreneurs and social venture capitalists. The beginnings of this ecosystem include My Entrepreneurial Journey (, participation in Innovation +, a set of local leaders seeking high growth investment opportunities within the social sector and a business plan competition that focuses on addressing long term and large scale social challenges at the local level.

    Randall has 17 years of experience in early stage and rapid growth organization in both the non-profit and for-profit worlds. Randall was the Director of Innovation at the Lance Armstrong Foundation leading the creation and launch of the LIVESTRONG brand that catapulted the organization from a $10MM organization to a $65MM organization in less than two years. He has a B.A. in Journalism and Design from Baylor University. His greatest joys are hearing his children giggle and running around Lady Bird Lake with his wife.

    Welcome, Randall!