Connecting young people to services: reflections from stakeholder and user interviews

This past week, Mary Hannah, Mariangela and I delved deeper into building relationships with key stakeholders and gleaning insights from intercept interviews with users. As a recap, we started our research last quarter investigating how young adults without 4 year college degrees civically engage. We found that the channels through which young adults can access government and services are antiquated, remote, alienating and require a lot of work.

This quarter, we have decided to address this distance between working young adults and ways in which they might civically engage by taking a step back and looking at the socioeconomic vulnerability that prevents young adults from civically engaging. Many working young adults are so concerned with making ends meat that they do not have the bandwidth to make change in their communities. These young adults could be accessing services to help them find careers with growth potential that would put them in a more stable position. However, they are not. Thus, as you can read in last week’s blogpost, we are developing solutions to facilitate this possibility.

In order to build our solution, we are spending time de-risking our service through experiments. The hypotheses we tested were:

  1. If stakeholders are willing to reach out to us, that indicates enough interest on their side to affirm that our product will have buy-in. (Stakeholder hypothesis)
  2. If young adults lack awareness about programs that could be helping them get training, we can fill that void. (User hypothesis)
  3. If there are channels through which we can intercept young adults, then we will be able to perform experiments to determine interest in our service. (Channel hypothesis)

Results from the stakeholder hypothesis:

After brief conversations and email exchanges, Austin-area nonprofits and government organizations that serve young people are all setting up meetings with us. There have been referrals to other organizations and, frankly, excitement that we are trying to figure out a solution to a problem that has vexed their organizations: community outreach. In total, we have 13 new partners we are building relationships with.

We heard that people are currently keeping track of the multitude of options offered to young people through meetings, bulletin boards, and Excel spreadsheets. We also heard a story that in the middle of a presentation about joining Americorps, an entire class of students surreptitiously applied through their mobile apps. However, the organization had to deny a majority because they did not actually meet their requirements (ability to travel and citizenship).

How young people can find out about job opportunities at the local library
How young people can find out about job opportunities at the local library

Our stakeholders are looking for ways to find applicants that meet minimum requirements to join their programs but spend a lot of time tabling and canvassing with little success.

Results from the user hypothesis:

After completing another round of intercept interviews, we found that young people are indeed anxious for opportunities even if they require some school, yet they are unaware. When we discussed options with young people, they opened up when we spoke about the possibility that you do not have to be ashamed that you did not get a college degree. They shared their hopes and fears and eagerly wanted to know more. We left them our business cards to get in contact with us. Alas, this did not work. (See next results paragraph.)

Results from channel hypothesis:

Young adults are not writing us emails after we give them our business cards. However, we do not know why. We are going to try several different strategies to build relationships with these young people. First, we will try sending the first message. Second, we will try through text. Third, we will intercept these young people as they are searching for jobs at the library.

Next steps:

  1. We want to do participatory research with young people to find out what they want to find out in a search of future careers as well as how they might prioritize the categories they search.
  2. We will continue to build relationships with key stakeholders so we can learn from what they have done to reach young people as well as what they would want from a recruiting service.
  3. We will iterate on our landing page. The first draft of the header can be seen below.
Header from our landing page
Header from our landing page


Capturing Austin’s Pulse – Part 1

Source of Inspiration

Last week, Kaley Coffield and I generated hundreds of ideas around what we could create to increase empathy and improve connections between Austinites. Of those ideas, we took three into higher fidelity, imagining how they could materialize.

Our energy and excitement pulled us towards the Austin Is Me Truck. At a high level, the truck would drive around Austin and stop in different neighborhoods, setting up with music and activities to draw people out of their homes. At each stop, the driver would facilitate and capture residents’ stories and discussions around topics they find engaging, from anxiety to creativity.

Last week's storyboard for the Austin Is Me truck.
Last week’s storyboard for the Austin Is Me truck.

Our Goals:

  1. Collect diverse voices to create content on how Austinites are currently feeling in their city
  2. Inspire continued conversations and connections between Austinites
  3. Make Austinites feel heard

Scaling Back for Experimentation

Before jumping straight into creating our musical Austin-Mobile, Kaley and I decided to test the most essential requirements for our vision to work:

  1. Will people approach us, unprompted, out of intrigue for what we have set up?
  2. Will people be open to sharing their thoughts – and allow us to record what they have to say?

We hypothesized that, between 2 locations, we could collect 20 responses around a static conversation piece and capture at least 15 of these responses on video.

For our first locations, we selected Brew & Brew, a bustling coffee shop in the Central East area of Austin, and Givens Community Center, a popular facility for families who live in East Austin.

Crafting the Conversation

Initially, we were only going to give participants the option to write one word about how Austin makes them feel, but when we tested the prompt, the woman we asked told us two words: “I feel both energized and stressed”.

People have conflicting feelings and varying emotions. Hence, we put two white boards up to give people the flexibility to express their range of sentiments.

Prototype: Austin Makes Me Feel ___ and ____.
The first participant interacting with this week’s prototype.

Stop 1: Brew & Brew

We first set up our experiment at Brew & Brew on Tuesday at 4:30 pm, and we were surprised by the response. As soon as we set up, a man immediately came up and asked us, “May I?” then proceeded to write on the board. Others followed suit, while some people needed to be prompted to write. People stood to the side of the board, looking at it, awaiting some type of explanation. “What’s this about?” they would wonder.

Our role as facilitators felt crucial to the experiment’s success, because explaining the why behind what we were doing motivated and resonated with people who otherwise may have left the artifact alone. We still wonder what the level of motivation and interaction would look like if we left the artifact unattended.

Brew & Brew Participant. "Austin makes me feel BORED and UNDERUTILIZED."
Brew & Brew participant: “Austin makes me feel BORED and UNDERUTILIZED.”

Brew and Brew delivered a mix of opinions, some positive and some negative. It was great to see that people felt comfortable to honestly express how they were feeling. Several people touched on very personal things, like being on the brink of homelessness and feeling out of place.

A participant at Brew & Brew sharing how Austin makes her feel.

Stop 2: Givens Recreation Center

We arrived at Givens Recreation Center at 3:30 pm on Thursday, where we pulled up to the parking lot and drove through a group of around 50 people who were hanging out near their cars playing music, drinking, smoking, and chatting. A man stopped us by standing in front of the car, calling us “caucasian butterflies,” then asking what we were doing “in the hood”. He then directed us to set up by a tree where we would be removed from the scene.

Givens Rec Center Participants Engaging with the Prototype
Two of our Givens Rec Center participants engaging with the prototype.

While this man stayed with us throughout our time at Givens, only a handful of other people wandered over to see what we were doing. After some side arguments spurred, we were instructed to leave for our safety.

The biggest learning from this location is that context is key. We were interrupting an afternoon ritual in a sacred space. This community did not trust our intentions, nor did they take our experiment seriously. Of the three people who engaged with the board, only one responded to the prompt of how Austin made her feel.


Prompt interpretation for how Austin makes him feel
One Givens participant’s response to the prompt

We found ourselves in an unexpected environment at Givens, and we pushed to see if we could capture the moment. Unfortunately, the context just did not fit, and we have some challenges to consider as we strive to capture the voices of all Austinites moving forward.

Stop 3: East 11th Street

We moved on from Givens and arrived on East 11th Street at about 4:30 pm on Thursday, where we did not happen upon much foot traffic, and those passing by generally did not want to write on the board. The few whom we did speak with either worked in the area or were eating at the place next to us. What we learned here is that catching passing traffic is not going to be effective, but perhaps going to people’s places of work could be.

Odessa Texas Participant
A visitor from Odessa, Texas who spent time at the adjacent businesses

Captured Responses

All responses captured this week
All responses captured this week

Next Steps

The next piece of the idea we need to prototype is the  facilitated pop-up conversations around a specific topic.

Our plan for next week is to head into a neighborhood, post up a table with chairs with some coffee and cookies, and invite people to come out of their homes to speak with us. It is crucial for us to learn if people will leave their homes, and if residents will be engaged by impromptu guided discussions. Will they want to share? Will they feel comfortable enough to offer differing opinions?

Area for Support

Moving forward, how might we build trust with people who dissociate from us? How can we find common ground and tap into what might motivate people to share their thoughts with us? Kaley and I would love to engage in conversation around these challenges.

Soul of the City – ATX

Welcome back to the Studio. This blog post is a continuation in a series that tell the story of our Studio class project. We are working together with the City of Austin to develop solutions to improve civic engagement in Austin. For more details, read my last post on the civic engagement project.


This past week we kicked off our project prototyping. If you read my last post, linked above, you’d see two of the three projects I was considering at the time were focused on bringing individuals of different socioeconomic backgrounds together to share meals. The idea was that breaking bread together would develop a greater understanding and empathy across the socioeconomic aisle. After deliberation and conversation, I decided to pursue a project that I think has more likelihood for catalyzing engagement and connection across a wider variety of audiences.

Soul of the City – ATX

The working title for this project is “Soul of the City – ATX”. It’s a crowd-sourced storytelling project that is designed to cultivate a sense of respect, pride, compassion, and understanding amongst all Austinites through the creative sharing of personal, heartfelt stories.

What follows is a story in its own right to help elucidate the vision for the idea so far:

Joney is a UT Austin student. She’s glancing through her twitter feed one day and sees a post on Twitter sharing a podcast called Soul of the City – ATX. It’s been re-tweeted dozens of times and she decides to listen. What she hears is a beautiful narrative weaving together five stories from native Austinites recounting the mixed emotions they’ve felt as the city has changed rapidly before their eyes.

At the end of the story, there is an announcement about the next challenge. “We want to hear about what life is like as a Latina in Austin. Please upload your stories, from 20 seconds to twenty minutes, to The deadline is Friday!”

Joney thinks a bit and then starts recording on her phone. She decided to talk about how good it feels to be Latina in Austin. Joney was born elsewhere, where there weren’t many Latinos, and she wasn’t proud of her culture in that town. Here in Austin, she feels the pride of the Latino community and she truly has embraced her culture and her identity in a way that she could never quite manage before. When Joney finishes her story, she uploads the file to the website. She feels proud of her culture, and, in sharing her story with this project, she feels like a part of something larger than herself, a special feeling she hasn’t often experienced.

Friday has come, and here we meet Alan, a social studies teacher living in South Austin. He’s excited for the weekend, because now that the deadline for storytellers’ submissions has passed, the challenge is open to the ‘producers’.

Producers are the creative individuals around the city who decide to take on the challenge of weaving the submitted stories together. Alan signs on to the Soul of the City website and reviews the submissions. He has 48 hours to pull together a story that respects the storytellers’ truths while also editing them together to highlight their most special moments. He works for about eight hours over the weekend to produce his work, and he submits it just before the deadline Sunday evening.

The next morning, listeners on their morning commute pull up the Soul of the City podcasts and find there are ten submissions ranging from just four-minute mixes to forty-five minute full-lengths. Some weave together stories from two or three submissions, and others pull in even eight or ten submissions.

The podcast stories are filled with ups, downs, and revealing insights into how life really is for these Latinas in Austin. The listeners feel excitement and curiosity; the storytellers feel proud, a bit nervous and excited at the same time, and seen; and the producers feel accomplished, having contributed to the stories’ shine while also honing their craft. Soul of the City ATX releases the next challenge – “What is life really like in West Lake?” And the storytellers there nervously reach for their phone to share what life is really like for them.

Prototyping – Round 1

This imagined solution is just that – imaginary. Enter the prototype. How will we know if our solutions will work? We will test different aspects of them in small, low-fidelity ways to validate the assumptions inherent in them.

There are many assumptions in the Soul of the City story. Will residents feel compelled to share their stories? Will they share them based on themes? When, where, and how would they be most likely to share their stories? Will people feel drawn to be “producers” ? What kind of platform would enable producers to review, edit, and weave stories together? What about the sound quality? And how would all this be marketed?

There are umpteen obstacles to making this solution a reality. But we need to start testing the basic assumptions first.

Do people want to share their stories?

This is the question I investigated in my first round of prototyping. The following is a documentation of my work.


When given an opportunity to record a story that will be posted online for the purpose of representing Austinites’ stories, respondents will  share their story.

Success Criteria:

This experiment will be successful if 20% of respondents share a story to be posted.

Prototype Plan:

I will go to public places or to people’s homes, and, after introducing myself, will ask if they would talk about stories with me for a school project. After talking about the kinds of stories they enjoy and other matters regarding storytelling broadly, I will then ask if they would share a story to post online.

Actual Activity:

I completed the experiment as described above. I went to a coffee shop and interviewed three people there. I also went to the library and interviewed an employee there. Lastly, I went to a person’s house and interviewed her on the porch. I also went to a barbershop and was told to come back later.

User Responses:

In all, it was clear that users are interested in telling and sharing stories, even with a stranger. All five participants shared a story with me to post and share online.

Stories from participants

Matt is a minister and grew up in East Austin. He told a story about how much the city is changing. “I’m okay with change, but this amount of change for a community is traumatic.”

Listen to Matt’s story


Lance works at the library and helps people find jobs. He wanted to speak about how he’d like to be remembered. “I just want to help people… You have something in common with everybody. And I feel that especially for a lot of the young people that come through here. I’ve been through a lot of the same things they’ve been through. And I don’t want them to make the same mistakes that I made.”

Listen to Lance’s story


Sydney is a student in anthropology at the University of Texas. She told a story about her favorite childhood possession – Penelope. “My grandma was losing her vision really bad… and one time she sewed Penelope’s leg back on, so it’s terribly sewn back on. (laughing) But I’m not going to fix it, because, you know, my grandma, that’s how I like it.”

Listen to Sydney’s story here 


Lisa is a fourth generation homeowner by 12th and Chicon. She owns a yoga studio in East Austin with her husband. She told the story of her home and the neighborhood. “This house has seen generations… My great grandfather was a contractor, and he built houses around the city, and he would bring extra supplies from those jobs to build this house. So the windows and the door frames and all of that stuff came from other places. The house is very unique.”

Listen to Lisa’s story


David is a writer and avid meditator. He felt it was important to tell the story of his break from the conventional to seek a life of his own crafting. “My path was cultivated for me. Now you go to school, you get this degree. It all just felt so curated. I felt like I needed to break that chain of events and choose my own life.”

Listen to David’s story


I spoke with these individuals about stories generally, and they all spoke of the importance of stories in their lives.

“Stories are what makes us human.”

“Stories say ‘I’ve been through it. I’m still here.’ “

I like stories about someone’s life. Where they came from. What steps they took to make life better. That can help me. I use these lessons to make my life better.”

“When I read stories, I learn, and they help me decide how to be in life.”


Measure of Success:

It was clear that people are itching to tell their stories, even to a stranger who will post them online. All five of the respondents provided a story to me to post online, yielding 100% success as far as this measure goes.



I learned much more from the interviews than the fact that people will share a story to be posted online. I learned what kinds of stories people enjoy, why they seek out stories, and where they seek them out.

One of the challenges I think I will face is determining a platform or series of platforms that will reach the widest audience. Some individuals I spoke to said they have never heard of a podcast and don’t read or listen to stories online. They said they never heard of NPR either. These outlets are popular for some individuals and in some cultures of storytelling, but they won’t reach all individuals.

If this project will be inclusive and create value for all Austinites, it will need to be designed with this limit in mind. How likely are people without a smartphone or without interest in online storytelling to upload a story? Will they trust that the producer will preserve the truth of their story?

These are questions that will provoke my design ideation in the coming weeks. Each week, we will test different assumptions about our work, continuing to evolve the solution so that it will realistically work and add value for all those it touches.

Testing Our Problem-Solution Fit: Do young adults want a service to help them find a stable job?

Last quarter, we (Adam, Mary Hannah, and Mariangela) investigated how young adults who do not attend college do or don’t civically engage in Austin. Last week, we ideated possible solutions to help them become more engaged. After evaluating our ideas, we all recognized that until these young adults had stable and secure jobs, civic engagement seemed out of reach. Thus, we determined that we will develop a solution that will encourage more young adults who do not attend college to secure mid-level jobs. In this post, we will describe:

  • Our hypotheses: what were the biggest risks we needed to test in order to determine problem-solution fit
  • How we tested and what we learned
  • What we will do next week

Our hypotheses and what we learned:

This week, we hypothesized the following statements and decided to test them because they were our biggest risks.

  1. If there are at least 50 training and certificate programs in Austin, then designing a service to connect young adults to these programs will ultimately support their upward mobility.  
  2. If there are channels through which we can intercept young adults, then we will be able to perform experiments to determine interest in our service.
  3. If working young adults want career advice that is not delivered face-to-face, then we will be able to design an interface to support their continued success.
  4. If current solutions are not sufficient, then we will be able to innovate a new service that will fulfill a need.

How we tested and what we learned:

Of all the hypotheses we needed to test, we realized the riskiest were hypotheses two and three. How could we find and attract young people to use our service? So, our first attempt at doing this was to design a poster and intercept people around the city to get their reactions. Below you see our first poster.

Pasted image at 2018_01_20 08_49 PM
Our first poster

From these initial tests we learned that our poster seemed like an infomercial. Though the young people we spoke to liked the idea of getting support to find a job, the poster itself did not inspire confidence. Thus, we decided to get a better sense of what copy would inspire confidence and clearly communicate our future service.

Next, we designed four lo-fi posters to get feedback from students on the ACC campus. Instead of making too lofty a goal like “find a better job,” we shifted to focus on the fact that you don’t need a college degree to get a job.

One of four posters
One of four posters

From this we learned that though students recognized the value of our message (no need for a college degree), they got lost in what we were offering.

So we decided to focus on what words young people might use when describing their current situation and what they aspire for. We designed a card sort activity in which our participants ranked their current barriers and motivations.

A participant doing our card sort activity
A participant doing our card sort activity

From this we learned that young people do not want to feel stuck and that they need to have opportunity for growth. One local laundromat owner also affirmed that many young people change their perspective on life once they have a family. He was a young father and felt the need to care for his family.

Finally, we settled on two posters, each at a different level of fidelity. Below is the higher fidelity poster.

A final draft of our poster
A final draft of our poster

Simultaneously, we tested hypotheses one and four. Though we initially spent time scrubbing the internet searching for all the training programs in the city, we found a much greater resource: Texas Workforce Solutions, the company that manages unemployment benefits in Texas.

We also heard from our participants a desire for a job fair that featured employers who do not require a college degree. This led us down a path that explored how the city is currently supporting unemployed residents as well as other innovative solutions that exist in other cities. We immersed ourselves in what it is like to be receiving unemployment benefits, learned from people who work at the Texas Workforce Solutions, and explored their website. We also discovered a city plan to get 2,000 economically disadvantaged residents of Austin into middle skills jobs by 2021.

We learned that there are services for young people to get more stable jobs, and that currently, they are not accessing those services.

Next week:

We are going to launch a landing page in order to hone in on our unique value proposition. We will go deeper in our research to determine the most important part of a young person’s journey to finding a stable job in Austin. We will also develop relationships with key stakeholders in the problem space and investigate what came of the Texas Workforce plan to move economically disadvantaged residents into middle skills jobs. 

Last Week Tonight With Josh, Scott, and Maria

We decided to venture into our idea from last week, Civic Night. The high-level concept of the idea is Trivia Night + The Daily Show. The goal is to create an event that brings people together on the issues surrounding Austin but in a fun, light, and entertaining way. We have several assumptions about this business model some of whom include: people are interested in this type of event and would therefore attend, resources like talent would be interested in hosting something like this from a comedic standpoint, etc.


his week we set out to test one of our many assumptions by gaining email subscriptions via a prototype landing page. We hypothesize that people will show interest in attending an event such as this. We measured to see if this hypothesis was correct by setting a goal of 25 email subscribers to our website. Our goal was to simply perform outreach in outbound channels like Nextdoor, local Facebook groups, paper flyers, and in-person meetings to gage if it was something interesting enough that they would want to know more.


Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 2.41.58 PM


We chose a website landing page to be our prototype for this experiment. In our experience with IDSE301 – Quarter 3 Methods we are learning that by creating a landing page online you have access to email subscribers, wider audiences, and rapid change making. Our landing page needed to be simple, straightforward and give high-level conceptual examples to gage the view right off.

In the beginning stages of developing our prototype, our group struggled to agree on how we should target our content. We could not decide on whether the copy should be focused on entertainment or educational and informative. Instead of spending much time on assuming what our potential audience would want we decide created another prototype to test initial reactions from people. We created a brochure with copy focused more on entertainment, and we went to Haymaker bar and spoke to five groups of people about the brochure.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 2.23.57 PM

We received praise on the idea, and one group mentioned they would like it if it was something informative, “ ..trivia night is always just drunk people making a bunch of noise. I would go to something if interesting discussions were going on.” So we decided that it would be best to play up the informative content while keeping the theme around fun and entertainment.  


To test our hypothesis we ran experiments like posting to various online channels, performing interviews with people in community centers, bars, and restaurants. Our reactions from these experiments were overall positive and we ended up getting twenty-five email subscriptions from our website in under twelve hours. At this point of experiments were primarily run through outbound channels. However we did put up tear off flyers at several community centers throughout East Austin. We are expecting more email subscribers to come from this channel. We will measure the effectiveness of this experiment by coming back next week to see how many pull-off tabs are removed.


Image uploaded from iOS


Lean Canvas

In this phase, we created Lean Canvas models as a precursor to actual business plan. Our reason for this is because we are still testing our idea to see if people want it, if there is a way for monetization it, and what works and doesn’t. We do not want to spend the time and effort it would take to write out a complete business plan in the likely and hopeful event that our idea is reframed and shifted as we test our assumptions. The canvas lets us think big picture about our business model now and into the future. It helps us frame the business so that we aren’t leaving essential aspects out, and so that we take the time to think about key metrics and resources needed to help our business grow and thrive.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 2.33.47 PM


Our results from our website prototype and our interviews that we conducted to confirm our assumption that people are interested in an event such as this and it is possible they would attend given the right marketing and location. We receive 33 email subscribers to our site, and we spoke with over 15 people about the business idea.

Next Steps

This phase was very reassuring, and uplifting, however, we have seen areas were our business model needs to adapt and shift. We initially set out to hold our events primarily at local bars, but we are seeing from several sources that we risk alienating certain groups when introducing the exclusivity of alcohol-serving establishment. We will workshop concept and talk to people to better understand our audience and ways to bring different people together and talk about sensitive topics in respectful and fun manner.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 2.26.24 PM

I would also add that we found that not everybody liked the format and, given this information, we will take it into account as we shift and reframe our business model. We will be testing other assumptions this following week and hopefully get closer to our audience and start to gain feedback more conclusively.

Where We Need Help

As we continue to reflect on this research and shift our idea into something desirable and tangible, we welcome any outside help from AC4D alumni or professional connections. What we want to do next is understand how comedy works in these tough subject and to see if there are people doing similar things that might be able to give us tips or help if asked.


Why “Design Thinking” Must be Understood

In most schools, students are taught a prescribed list of topics, and then asked to prove how much they know by responding to “one-right-answer” questions. But are these really the things a child will need to know when they become an adult?

My hypothesis is no, and my answer is to teach students skills and strategies that will allow them to take on any challenge they may face.

I came across a great article today that summarized these sentiments in it’s title:

“The future of work is imagination, creativity, and strategy.” – Joseph Pistrui

How can stop preparing our students for testing and start preparing them for success (in it’s many forms and flavors) in a real and imminent future? I thought this idea of a summer academy for design thinking would catch on fast, but it hasn’t turned out that way.


Because no one knows what design thinking is and it’s clear I am not explaining it well.

When speaking to a mom about Design Juniors, I watched her face glaze over in confusion as she struggled to grasp what my summer academy was all about. But what will my child do? She asked.

That’s a great question. There are so many awesome things a student can do with design thinking!

But in order to make my academy comprehensible, it seems I need to ground it in something. Maybe students will solve bullying at their school, or design a solution for a future without water. I’m not sure yet, but a good place to start might be simply talking to students.

This week I’ve been working on my messaging for Design Juniors by iterating on the website. If parents were going to sign up, they need a vision for what Design Juniors can offer.

It started like this:

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 8.23.41 PM

Then this:

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 11.02.58 AM

Until I realized, the graphic makes no sense to anyone unfamiliar with the design thinking process.

So I changed it up:

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 11.09.11 AM

I’m hoping a cartoon gives the signal it’s for kids, and it’s fun. However, the boy doesn’t look like he’s having fun…

So I tried this:

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 11.37.07 AM

But perhaps it looks too academic? The plan is to do some user-testing to settle the internal squabble.

As far as the words are concerned, I thought linking to articles and laying out a lot of information would be helpful. I even added an image of the Harvard Business Review, to signal that this is a thing for smart people.

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 9.00.39 PM

This page looks like a lot to digest and their isn’t clear hierarchy, so I tried it a different way.

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 10.06.16 PM

And lastly, created a cartoon to demonstrate the step by step process students will go through at the Design Juniors Academy.

Screen Shot 2018-01-22 at 10.00.41 AM

To be clear, I do not believe design thinking is the only way to prepare our students for the future. But I do believe it is a really excellent strategy to help students build confidence and find success. And I do believe that this type of learning should be far more pervasive in all classrooms.

Earlier this week I attended a training for teachers with a strong design thinking component to it. During the activity time, I could tell that some of the teachers were energized and confident, and that others felt very unsure of what they were supposed to be doing.

Design thinking is a fuzzy concept. How can we expect it to be taught and used as a method for learning if it’s not even well understood?

The success of our students is a truly wicked problem, and the answer doesn’t lie in just one teacher, nor any singular method. Success will be found in the ability of everyone to transcend what’s understood and actively rethink the current system.

Ideation to Improve Youth Civic Engagement

This week we focused on the ideation process for our Civic Engagement project. For a quick recap, our team (Adam, Mary Hannah, and Mariangela) focused on understanding how young adults without college educations go about engaging with their community and the government.

The insight and design pattern coding system
The insight and design pattern coding system

We started by applying an insight combination technique which consisted of combining our original insights with design patterns (a design pattern describes a current trend in other contexts, e.g. artificial intelligence).

How we categorized our ideas after our ideation sessions.
How we categorized our ideas after our ideation sessions.

Some of the design patterns that we used were the following:

  • Monopoly
  • Alcoholic Anonymous
  • Cards Against Humanity
  • Grindr
  • Google Drive

Insights that we used:

  1. Young adults need a mentor to negotiate the complexities of growing up.
  2. For young adults, the old ways of connecting with government are remote but nothing has arisen to replace them
  3. Political art provides an accessible starting point for young folk to develop points of view because it wears its bias on its sleeve and organizes facts into a narrative form.
  4. The service industry depends on a workforce that does not attain post-secondary education so that they can continue to pay them a minimum wage.

The combination of the above design patterns and insights allowed us to come up with over 200 ideas.


Examples of rapid vignettes we drew during our ideation session.
Examples of rapid vignettes we drew during our ideation session.

So how might we encourage young adults to take the very first step to become civically engaged?

The following are three ideas that the team downselected to after the ideation session:


Future me is the result of the need for young Austinites to have a mentor that can help them navigate political and professional landscapes. This mentorship would not only allow young adults to get training and find better job opportunities, but also become integrated into a community formed by individuals in similar circumstances. Research shows that having a higher income and more education leads to a greater likelihood to vote, so Future Me would move young adults further along that path to a professionally and financially secure future. 

Austin Youth Changemakers


Austin Youth Changemakers is the result of the recognition that Austin youth are inspired by self-expression and art. We hope to tap into this instinct, beautify construction spaces around Austin, and inspire Austinites to publically share their civic experiences by placing posters with examples of young adults who have created change. Some of the posters will also be educative about civic skills such as voting and contacting one’s elected officials. 

Contact Your Rep Butler

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Contact Your Rep Butler was designed to provide mentorship and training to enable Austinites to contact their elected officials. By exaggerating and having fun with the old-fashioned nature of calling someone on the phone, we hope to make calling your representative seem more accessible to young adults and other members of the public who would currently be reluctant to call an official.


Next steps

As we grappled with developing novel, fun, and engaging ideas that tied to our research, we often found ourselves stuck. What would actually work? Once we committed to our ideas and fleshed out the details in storyboards and vignettes, we began to question what is actually possible. What would get someone out of their comfort zone? What are ways our designs can provoke behavior change? Our next steps are to iterate on our current ideas, get feedback from the AC4D community, and look for youth to co-design solutions with.


Our asks

We would love your help ideating. Please get in touch with us through our emails (,, And if you know anyone between the ages of 18 and 25 that would be willing to work with us, please help us connect!

Developing ideas to help young adults to become more civically engaged

This week we focused on the ideation process for our Civic Engagement project. For a quick recap, our team (Adam, Mary Hannah and Mariangela) researched how how young adults without college education go about engaging with their community, how they conceived of civic engagement and when they might politically engage.

Last quarter, we developed opportunity areas. And so, this quarter, we started developing concepts by applying an insight combination techniques.  This consists of combining our original insights with design patterns (design pattern: describes a current trend, based on problem/ solution sets in other contexts).

The insight and design pattern coding system
The insight and design pattern coding system

Some of the design patterns that we used are the following:

  • Monopoly
  • Alcoholic Anonymous
  • Cards Against Humanity
  • Grindr
  • Google Drive

The combination of these design patterns with the following insights made us come up with over 200 ideas.

How we categorized our ideas after our ideation sessions.
How we categorized our ideas after our ideation sessions.

Insights that we combined with patterns:

  1. Young adults need a mentor to negotiate the complexities of growing up.
  2. For young adults, the old ways of connecting with government are remote but nothing has arisen to replace them
  3. Political art provides an accessible starting point for young folk to develop points of view because it wears its bias on its sleeve and organizes facts into a narrative form.
  4. The service industry depends on a workforce that does not attain post-secondary education so that they can continue to pay them a minimum wage.

Ideas we developed:

Examples of rapid vignettes we drew during our ideation session.
Examples of rapid vignettes we drew during our ideation session.

There are several actions that an individual can take to become civically engaged, one of them is voting. But research has shown that two of the main reasons why individuals don’t vote is the fact that registration takes work, and because individuals with college education are more prone to proactively look for information about politics (Brookshire, Bethany. (Nov 2016) 4 reasons why people don’t vote).

So how might we encourage young adults to take the very first step that would eventually drive them to vote?

The following are three ideas that the team downselected after the ideation session:


Future me is the result of the need for young Austinites of a mentor that can help navigate political and professional landscapes. This mentorship would not only allow young adults to get training and find better job opportunities, but also to get integrated into a community conformed by individuals in similar circumstances.


Austin Youth Changemakers is the result of the recognition that Austin youth are inspired by self-expression and art. We hope to tap into this instinct, beautify construction spaces around Austin, and inspire Austinites to publically share their civic experiences. We also hope to design posters that are artful and educative.

Next steps

As we grappled with developing novel, fun and engaging ideas that tied to our research, we often found ourselves stuck. What would actually work? Once we committed to our ideas, fleshing out the details in storyboards and vignettes, we began to question what is actually possible. What would get someone out of their comfort zone? What are ways our designs can provoke behavior change? Our next steps are to iterate on our current ideas, get feedback from the AC4D community, and look for youth to co-design solutions with.

Our asks

We would love your help ideating. Please get in touch with us through our emails (,, And if you know anyone between the ages of 18 and 25 that would be willing to work with us, please help us connect!

Ideation for more Connected Neighbors

Over the past quarter, we researched civic engagement in East Austin neighborhoods. Moving forward, we have been exploring different angles within our research and ideating around the opportunities we defined.

One of the largest opportunity spaces, and the one that piqued our interest most, is the gap between residents within the same neighborhood. Without genuine resident connections, the neighborhood’s ability to champion its unique needs within the city is diminished. Inspired by amplifying these voices, we decided to focus our ideation sessions around sparking conversations and aiding the realization of shared interests among neighbors.

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Ideation for us happened in many ways. To start, we took the insights that we uncovered while synthesizing our research in the last quarter, matched them up with various design patterns, and then spent two minutes with each combination coming up with as many ideas as we could.

For example:


Other ways we came up with ideas?

Random Word: We used a word generator and matched the word to an insight
What-Ifs: We came up with a list of What-Ifs, “What if it were made for children?” And reframed out idea through a different lens
Sketching: Many new ideas were generating through the act of taking one idea and drawing it out
Lastly: Taking walks

Overall, we had well over 200 ideas on sticky notes up on the wall. Some seemed reasonable, some half-baked, and many absurd.


We’ve chosen three ideas we like, and hope to explore further.

1. The Neighbor of the Month


This idea came from the notion that many long-terms residents don’t feel invited to patron the new businesses in their area. But what if the new businesses were their champions? Local business can select a resident, new or old, and support a project they care about. Donations can be collected and other neighbors looking for local volunteer opportunities can pitch in to help.

Additionally, we thought we could leverage the fact that going to a coffee shop for its wifi is a common practice, and so we put the Neighbor of the Month on the wifi connection splash page.

2. The “Austin is Me” Traveling Truck

Austin Is Me Story Board-05

There is a lot of “othering” that takes place a both a city level and within neighborhoods. It’s easy to disassociate yourself with someone and create false stories when you aren’t able to have a conversation or voice your concern.
The “Austin is Me” truck is inspired by a man we met named Hancock, who had to move outside of Austin because he could no longer afford his taxes. He told us, “Austin is me, and I’ll have to heal when I leave here.” His words were inspired. Austin is all of us.
The city needs a way to go to its people, and the people need a way to come together. Take a food truck + an ice cream shop + a talk show + a pop up shop, and the traveling “Austin is Me” truck is born.

3. The Neighbor Portal


Product Hunt for neighborhood projects brings the power to take initiative back to the residents. Have a project you’d like to do in the neighborhood? Add it to the portal, watch other residents vote it up and volunteer to help, then receive a small sum of grant money to get the job done.
With these illustrated ideas, we hope to reach deeper and gain further inspiration. We look forward to working through the next layer of details and seeing where our diligence guides us.

Reconnecting the City

Phase 1: Research & Synthesis

Last quarter, our cohort partnered with the City of Austin to improve civic engagement for the city’s residents. We interviewed fifty-two residents to better understand the state of civic engagement in Austin over those eight-weeks, and now we are leveraging that research to create solutions that will improve lives for residents in Austin. This blog post will review my research and ideation toward creating solutions for better civic engagement in Austin.

First off, what is civic engagement? Civic engagement is the promotion of the quality of life in a society through both political and non-political means. It’s not just about voting – civic engagement also encompasses activities like volunteering, helping one’s neighbors, and protesting for change.

Our cohort focused on three areas in the greater field of civic engagement – gentrification, youths disengaged from politics, and low-income individuals’ access to government. I worked with Kaley Coffield and Maria Zub to research the effects of gentrification on residents in East Austin. Our cohort’s research resulted in many insights across these domains, and we presented our work in December to a group of over sixty community stakeholders and guests. Watch the presentation here.

Phase 2: Ideation & Prototyping

Now begins the second phase of this project – developing solutions to the challenges we found and prototyping them before moving forward with launching these services in the future.

The first step toward creating a solution this quarter was to generate ideas.

We used an ideation technique called ‘insight combination’. This method involves matching an insight from our research with a ‘design pattern’. A design pattern is a description of how a successful designed product or service works.

An example of insight combination follows: One of our insights from design research was that “Elderly are disconnected from their support systems when forced to move away.” How do we generate a solution to this problem? We can generate ideas by considering how a successful design pattern would solve that challenge. For example, Amazon works by “offering anything you could want in one place.” How would this design pattern work for the elderly’s challenge in this scenario?

Perhaps we should create a service that provides discounted products to elderly who needed to move away because they couldn’t afford Austin’s property taxes any longer. Any number of ideas can be generated from this insight combination. Once we are finished with this combination, we can find a new design pattern and start ideating anew.

Through insight combination utilizing fourteen different insights and over thirty design patterns, I developed 200 ideas to improve civic engagement in Austin. Then things got much more challenging. How do you pick out the good ideas from the bad ones?

Image of Design Ideas, Design Patterns, and Insights
Design Patterns, Insights, and some of the 200 ideas generated through Insight Combination.

We needed to down-select to just three ideas and then create a vignette or storyboard to illustrate them. There were dozens of ideas that I thought would be helpful, however, many were technologically, financially, or bureaucratically unfeasible. Others seemed like great ideas, but the challenge of developing a framework to motivate people to change their behaviors became much more clear when sussing out the details of how a solution could work.

In the end, my initial brainstorm resulted in three ideas that I will develop more in-depth and prototype in the coming week.

#1 – Local Polling via USPS Scanning

This idea came out of the insight that “Most low-income residents don’t have time to go to town hall, they only have time for work and routine life.” This begged the question: “How can civic life come to them?” What if the postal worker left tags on the door or mailbox about issues for them to weigh in on. The resident can review facts about the issue on the door-tag or go online for more information, and then they can check a box to indicate their opinion. When the postal worker returns, they scan the tag and it’s set. In this way, residents can make their voices heard without having to go to city hall.

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#2 – Traveling Dinners to Bring Neighbors Together

One of the insights that felt most compelling to me was that “Resentment and guilt about racism and gentrification keep would-be allies apart.” We developed this insight after speaking with low-income, higher income, white, and black residents who were neighbors yet often didn’t know each other or speak much to each other. We found that there was both resentment about race and guilt about gentrification, and on both sides residents said that “no one wants to talk about those things.” There are stark differences between neighbors’ race and socioeconomic class In neighborhoods like those in East Austin, and these differences in race, culture, and socioeconomic status keep people apart, leading to increased stereotypes and misunderstanding. I want to create a solution that begins to bring these individuals together so they can see each other more deeply and begin to make stronger ties in their neighborhoods.

During insight combination, a design pattern for “Food Trucks” brought up the idea that perhaps a dinner could be a format to bring people of differing socio-economic backgrounds together for much needed conversation. Breaking bread is an age-old way to create a forum for connection, and I think it can prove helpful here as well.

I wrestled with many ideas and found it challenging to conceive of a way to motivate individuals to come together to talk about such weighty topics over a casual dinner. Perhaps neighbors do have the motivation, however, to simply share dinner and get to know each other. This thought gave rise to the idea of a Good Neighbors food truck. Good Neighbors supports civic connection by hosting dinners around Austin, gathering neighbors together who wouldn’t normally dine together. By sharing this dinner, neighbors get to know each other better and nurture the bonds that are necessary to create a friendly, supportive neighborhood community, no matter their differences.

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#3 – Austin Block Party

Austin Block Party is a second idea inspired by the desire to bring together neighbors of different socioeconomic backgrounds. This idea, however, takes a different tack by supporting a large gathering rather than a more intimate one.

With Austin Block Party, a neighborhood “champion”, like our hero Erin in the storyboard below, applies for the opportunity to host a block party. The Austin Block Party, in this case, would be supported by municipal funds and other granted or donated funds. If the champion shows that her neighborhood is supportive of the party and succeeds with the application, the Austin Block Party truck comes to the neighborhood to help host the event. Block parties are often challenging to pull together because of permitting, costs, and logistical needs, and this program would lower that barrier in order to create more positive neighborly pride and connection. Through sharing a meal, and through the games and activities supported by the Austin Block Party service, residents get to know each other and spend time with each other in a positive environment, creating greater quality of life and likelihood of relationship building in the future.

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These ideas are the first draft of what I know will be an evolving project over the next four months. In the coming weeks, I will prototype them and surely revise them many times over. What I’m most interested in is bringing together people of different socioeconomic backgrounds to have experiences and conversations that help heal the wounds of racism and stereotyping.

Given the research we did on gentrification in East Austin, I believe that these challenges create a lack of empathy and understanding that seriously undermines the motivation to be civically engaged and care for so many other people different from oneself. I look forward to revising my ideas to ensure that they are crafted to better create connection and empathy between people whose paths normally wouldn’t cross. If you, the reader, want to create this change, too, please join me and contact me so we can partner in this effort.