Changing the lens (literally)

In class we often talk about the notion of shifting the lens through which you look at the world.  We do this in a number of ways, often (when people are involved) centered around empathy.  I think we have all developed frameworks of sorts to get out of our routines and approach situations from multiple viewpoints.  This ability is central to the problem (identifiers) solvers skill set.

Yesterday, I changed the lens through which I see quite literally.  I bought a new camera.

I have lots of cameras, small ones, big ones, old ones, plastic ones, metal ones, film ones, digital ones…  but this is the first new one I’ve bought in ages.  What’s interesting is that I’m suddenly overcome by the notion to go outside and start shooting with it.  My mind is wandering down the alleys of Austin, snapping pictures left and right.  So, the purchase of a physical object is making me want to go out into the world and ‘see’ new things.  The object, just sitting on my desk, is begging me to change pace, to ditch the routine, to move…. to move!

How can we capture these types of feelings in other products and services we create?  What are some other examples of products that give you these types of feelings?

How can we do this without having to purchase a product?  I mentioned earlier that I have certain frameworks that I use to try to do this mentally, but how do we make these frameworks more readily accessible, so they can sit on my desk and inspire me to go look at the same building I walk by everyday but see it for the first time?

And finally, how can we make these feelings last?  This camera will inspire me for a while… but the truth is that at some point down the road, it’ll be just another object I toss in my bag, it will go unnoticed sitting on my desk, or when I go out I’ll simply forget it at home.  How can we capture that emotion and stretch it to the life of the product, and beyond?

Temporary Housing Solutions

I’ve been finding some interesting ideas for creative temporary housing solutions online.

Aggregation of several different temporary housing solutions.

Shopping cart and a house.

Sleeping bag and a coat.

If you could create a housing solution that helped those experiencing homelessness but was also something compelling that a camper might buy and use, then you could have a revenue stream for a good cause.  What I’m thinking about is a product that someone on the street could make, use, and also sell.  It could also be a way for a person experiencing homelessness to get a job and might provide quite a compelling marketing campaign around the story of the product.

What other temporary housing solutions are out there?

My First Quarter at AC4D

The following is my attempt to summarize and reflect on my first eight weeks studying at the Austin Center for Design.

The great:

  • Amazing students with varied talents working together.
  • Experienced professors (who still work in their field) sharing insights and leading discussions.
  • Designers working on real problems (homelessness, sustainability, education).

The difficult:

  • Big time commitment.
  • Learning to be okay with failure.
  • So far, more review than new.

First the great.Without hesitation I think any designer or creative person looking to make a difference should attend the school. The people you will meet and the process you will learn will inspire you and drive you for years.

The students are inspiring. I’m reminded of my sophomore year in college when I started to feel normal. I was finally around people who had similar passions and desires and dreams. When a small network rejects mediocrity an explosive inspirational energy is created that feeds itself.

I feel a similar energy forming here around social problems.

Now the hard.I did not anticipate the time commitment required to attend school. I’ve gone before, but I did not factor in all the new activities and responsibilities I have now (consulting, marriage, startups). I kind of figured it would be like adding one more client to my workload, but really it’s like three new clients.

I use to unwind by learning new stuff or building things or playing with friends. Now my days are filled of client work, nights with class, and the weekend with both. The rest of my life is spent scrambling to complete assignments or attempting to enjoy a relaxing meal with Maura.

I do think it’s possible to work full-time and attend AC4D, but you just can’t do anything else. No side projects, no overtime, no traveling, no going above and beyond at work, nothing but school (or face the consequences).

The consequence is failure. I have had many jobs and worked on a smorgasbord of projects. With the exception of a few scheduling slips, I have delivered what I said I would, when I said I would. I am knowledgable and dependable and deliver exceptional work to my clients. This is why I have more work than I can handle at a healthy rate.

Remember when I said school was a client? That’s how I first felt. I could do not let them down, they were counting on me. Very quickly a time crunch made me rethink this stance and I realized, “I’m the client. I’m paying to be here. I’m here to learn as much as I can, not to deliver perfect work on time.”

For better or worse, this has been my coping mechanism for the past couple months. Every week I am forced to make compromises on what to work on. Client work is at the top of that list, then any team project for school involving other students, then the projects I’m most interested in, lastly the projects I’m not into. Unfortunately this means the projects I don’t want to do (admittedly probably the most academically stretching for me) are the ones that don’t get done.

It’s also frustrating to feel rushed in everything you do. Working thoughtfully and meticulously is near impossible when there is an overflowing dam of work backing up behind you.

My final bitch is that the first quarter consisting of design theory, contextual research, and prototyping felt like a lot of review to me. This won’t be the case for most people. I guess I’m unique in that Jon, the director of the school, taught a large portion of my undergrad program. (So far this quarter is already much different.)

In summary.I love school. It is great and difficult.

My goal for the next eight weeks is to spend more time reflecting in posts like this. I would also like to identify one project a week to be meticulous about, and attempt to do something for each assignment.

(Thanks to Alex for inspiring me to take the time to write this out.)

Visual Design in Practice

Thanks to Jen Sukis, AC4D got a crash course in visual design basics.

Besides learning what not to do in visual design, we learned that visual design, like all design, can only be learned by doing.

The assignment – take a raw Photoshop file filled with a myriad of shapes and make a good design.

What follows after the raw Photoshop file are my two creations:

When products create a new ecosystem

he last several weeks in India have been very insightful and busy. There is a lot to write about when I get some time. This place is full of energy, stories of survival, entrepreneurship and wonders. Product development here will be successful if that product fosters a new ecosystem. It is even better when the same product helps tackle wicked problems (in the context of AC4D). The following product is a great example of a truly green product that also gives thousands of low income families employment – a clay disposable cup. Several places have started serving beverages in this.


Jennifer Shine Dyer: Social media&healthcare

I heard about Jennifer Shine Dyer via Leah McDougald’s tweets from TedxColumbus, where Dyer was presenting.

Dyer is a pediatric endocrinologist (who went into med school with a literature and journalism background). She is currently using social media to provide support to her teenage diabetic patients between visits, since diabetes never sleeps. It was a bold step when she moved from fax to email communications, and now many teens use texts and Facebook and tweets more often than email — they think “only old people use email.”

Here is a good audio interview with Dyer about the future of the patient experiencemeeting them where they are instead of forcing them to play by old standards, looking at integrating the technology they are already using to enhance the services we need to provide. This not only helps her patients, it also reconnected Dyer with what she loved about the medical profession (direct patient contact) in the first place. She also touches on privacy and HIPA concerns in the interview.

Additionally, Dyer went further to develop an iPhone app to send automated, personalized texts. The doctor needs an iPhone, but the patients just need texting capabilities. She talks about all this in her TedXColumbus presentation:

(Good storytelling in the beginning: 1 patient//2 paths. One path where she took her insulin regularly in her 20s and the other where she didn’t: Paris vs. blindness. Also good storytelling in the “how to use the app” with iphone wireframe/screenshots told through a narrative.)

And for those interested in food and childhood obesity, her full bio also says she is “developing a medical program in connection with the ongoing ‘Food is Elementary’ 28-week nutrition literacy program for young children through a non-profit organization Local Matters…in an effort to prevent childhood obesity progression at the community level.” Dunno much more than that, but you can ask her more about it!

Dyer’s online @EndoGoddess.

I’m loving:

  • the use of social media to “meet people where they are” in providing a social service such as healthcare.
  • the user-centered thinking behind this kind of story — from both medical provider and patient sides
  • the collaboration between Dyer and a programmer who contacted her through Twitter; and that they leveraged existing software and online tools to build the app
  • the “design thinking” they went through without their ever having a Designer involved.
  • AND the enormous opportunities we have as designers if we can collaborate with people, experts in their own fields — who either provide or benefit from these services

How to finish baking ideas

Above is my video recap of our Interaction Design Prototyping studio class. The goal of the studio is to introduce us to methods and processes of rapid prototyping in order to effectively communicate ideas – a critical step toward successful implementation.

Haven’t had much background in a lot of what we did in the studio, my sketch, pitch, wireframes, and screencast aren’t always fully baked. But along the way, I’ve picked up a lot of methods to finish baking them. For anyone else who’s also starting out, I’ve also found the following resources particularly helpful:

Visual thinking: models: media strategy: brand:

My favorite blog of all-time for anything from visual thinking to social media to prototype to public speaking to being productivity to…etc:

Really excited to apply these newly developed skills to quarter 2 with our Arch project.

IDSE_103 Interaction Design Prototyping roundup

Our first studio class, IDSE_103,  centered around the theme of storytelling.  The first story we had to tell was about ourselves as we were tasked with going all in on the social media scene.  For me this was a big jump as I started off quite ‘unconnected’. 

It turned out, however, that being unconnected simply meant that I had a blank canvas to work with, and diving in allowed me to begin to tell my story.  As the quarter progressed we used these social media sites not only to tell our story, but to begin to create networks to distribute ideas.

We also learned a variety of tools and frameworks that helped us support these stories. These tools varied in fidelity in order to match the state of an idea. We started off with low fidelity visualization techniques: quick sketches on post it notes that we used to anchor our storytelling. 

These low fidelity sketches became the starting point with which to begin telling a story.  Their value lies in their simplicity.  I can walk up to a whiteboard and sketch out these anchors as I give an impromptu presentation.  Here’s an example:

As the quarter progressed we learned how to take these rough ides and formulate them into more formal business pitches.  We drew on some of the research from Lauren’s class to generate ideas which we then shared with the class.  We represented our ideas visually with concept maps that described complex systems:

Then as the ideas took shape we were able to formulate business plans around these ideas.  We learned how to pitch these ideas, and created multiple pitch decks to support our story.  Every assignment told a story, and as we moved through the quarter the fidelity of the supporting material increased.  We created mobile applications to support our ideas, choosing hero elements and building on some of the visualization and rapid prototyping techniques we had already learned.

From there we built basic wireframes to begin to create the interactions and desired function of our sites.

And finally we learned how to tell stories when we are not even there.  Below is a video pitching YAWYE, a service I designed for this class.

Ideas are virtually worthless if you don’t share them early and often.  This class gave me many tools and frameworks to do just that.  I now have multiple frameworks to pick from when prototyping an idea and telling a story.  I think most importantly it pushed me to focus on the story, own the whiteboard, and share everything…. Think, Make, Share.

The prototype project above has been pitched to several possible partners, and will be beta tested at a restaurant in San Francisco shortly.  Stay tuned on the AC4D blog for updates on how the beta test goes.