design and play

I have always been interested in the concept of “play” and often feel that my best design work happens when I let go and simply “play” rather than focus on what needs to happen and expectations. “Play” seems to create the freedom and room for exploration and discovery. Perhaps it traces back to childhood memories and experiences of “play”. See the video below.

Teaching Design Play to Kids in Extreme Environments

Some of my favorite “play” activities as a child included  legos, making stories, and dance.

What did you enjoy? Does it relate to the work you do as a designer? Does understanding “play” help create better educational opportunities?

Should Twitter Win the Nobel Peace Prize?

Mark Pfeifle, a former U.S. national-security adviser thinks Twitter’s role in helping students in Tehran organize a protest against the Iranian government deserves the prestigious award.  Are we moving into an age where social change and activism begin with a tweet?

Malcolm Gladwell in his New Yorker article “Small Change”, shuns this notion because of the inherently weak social ties found online.  He writes, “Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with.”

Gladwell believes that historically, activism is based on strong relationships with fellow revolutionists, a facet not usually present online.  Real social change, like the kind of change that happened during civil rights movement, requires deep, personal relationships that just can’t be formed online.

Social media, however, does offer a positive contribution to social change.  Mark Granovetter observes; “Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information, and is…  Social media is “terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions…”  The idea for the next revolution, just might be in one’s digital network.

Gladwell summarizes by writing, “[Social media] shifts our energies from organizations that promote strategic and disciplined activity and toward those which promote resilience and adaptability. It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact.”

As AC4D works to create social change, and maybe even a design revolution, focusing on building a social media network is important for cultivating new ideas and finding out what other  social innovators are doing. But if we’re looking for a real revolution, we’re not going to find it in a retweet.

Resource: 5 simple steps for grids&5 for typography

For our pitching practice on Saturday, I got some points for having pretty slides. Visual aesthetics do matter—and most fundamentally so that there is hierarchy to your information, which makes it easier for someone else to ingest.

For those new to thinking about visual design, those who want a refresher crash course, or those who have ever wondered what the heck “golden section” actually means, I will refer you to Mark Boulton, who writes a great “Five Simple Steps” series.

Five Simple Steps to Designing Grid Systems

Five Simple Steps to Better Typography (fundamentals geared toward improving type on the web in general).

I expect similar assistance finding useful and accessible “get your head in the game” type resources when we start to talk about learning code.

Sample Design Research Work Models

Wheeeee, we’re reached the messy, fraught process of design research where we have to take all our data and synthesize it. Data into insights. One method: modeling: not catwalk modeling, data modeling. Taking contextual inquiry transcripts line by line and drawing it out—to figure out the relationships between people and other people, people and objects, people and organizations, etc.

Kristine and I dove in Sunday.

I also like looking at examples while I work. So here are other people’s design research models I’ve found online.


From International Journal of Design article about “Social Interaction Design in Cultural Contexts.” They studied tea-drinking:

From Peepal Design’s (UX Design and Research) tools and methods about page:

From article by Hugh Beyer and Karen Holtzblatt in International Journal of Design (not the prettiest):

CULTURAL MODELSThese are weird, eh? There are some “bad” ones in our textbook–as in they look too complex for me to even try to figure out what they mean. Some prettier ones:

From same Tea article in IJD:

What happens when 5 CMU HCI masters students volunteer to conduct user research for Bugzilla (for credit in Usability Methods class):

Hope they are helpful during these trying times of design synthesis.

Want to follow the progress of our students?

We’re more than halfway through our first quarter, and our students are thriving. You can follow their individual blogs to see a bit about the work we’re covering, and to look at some of their research, watch them learn to pitch, and get a feeling for the type of culture at AC4D. Design education isn’t just about knowledge acquisition, though; emotional growth and a deep reflection on cultural significance is critical to learning how to think and act like a designer. To formalize this reflection, we ask our students to answer two questions each week: What did you learn? How do you feel?

You can view some of the most recent answers here:

(And yeah, I did one too 😛 You can watch it here.)