In the spirit of transparency

After class on Wednesday Jon asked us to talk about how we felt everything was going to date… school, work, life, Austin, the whole deal.  We all pitched in and talked about the challenges we were facing, and we talked a lot about trying to find a balance between working full time and trying to put 100% into the schoolwork.

The next morning, after a few hours of sleep, I felt like the feedback I had given was only partial.  We’d only really talked about the challenges, the lack of sleep, the insanity… but I hadn’t really mentioned that that was the whole reason I was here, to jump in with both feet.  So in the spirit of transparency, and at Jon’s suggestion, here’s the e-mail I wrote.  All in.

Jon,I just wanted to add a few things to the conversation we had last night about how we’re doing 3 weeks in.  What I wanted to add was that, although I’m slammed with work and everything is insane… this is exactly what I was looking for.  I came here intending for this to be a large shift from what I was doing in San Francisco, and it is.

I feel like my brain is turning back on.  I feel like the students and the profs are pushing me, and I love it.  I like the constant open communication between profs and students, the notion that we are all really peers, and we’re working towards a somewhat common goal.  That and the true transparency with which this is being run and with which we are encouraged to participate.  Fantastic.

I can’t speak for the other students, but I know that had I come here and thought any part of this was ‘easy’ I would have been seriously disappointed.  (note, I have had you as a prof before and so I didn’t really think that was going to happen)

3 hours of sleep last night, coffee in face,… feel hungry, happy, and strangely energized.A.

The power of actually being there.

We’ve been talking a lot about ethnographic research methods in Lauren’s class, and we have spent the last week conducting contextual inquiries of our own.  Throughout these discussions there has been a lot of stress on the notion of ‘actually being there.’

I am interested in thinking about this notion in terms of other professions.  The first thing that comes to my mind is Photography, at least in its traditional sense.  One image in particular stands out to me, and that is the photo below by Robert Capa.

Photo by Robert Capa D-Day 06.06.44 Omaha Beach

This photo is incredible because Capa was the only photographer to land with the troops, here in the second wave, on Omaha beach.  His photos of this landing, only 11 photos survived, are the only photographic record we have of the landing.  You can’t fake that, there is no substitute for actually being there.

I think Photography is an easy pick for a profession where ‘actually being there’ is of utmost importance.  But as we move into a culture where working remotely is increasingly prevalent, what other professions (or specific parts of professions – for example ethnographic research) are there in which you think ‘actually being there’ is of utmost importance?




And as a follow up, why?

I need to let this one marinate for a bit.

(photo source: Wikipedia)


The past few weeks we have been discussing the role technology plays in design as well as the role or responsibility of the designer. The question about whether or not we are designing “experiences” has come up a few times. I am not completely comfortable with the industry term even though I probably end up using it. Part of the reason I am not comfortable with the word is that I think “an experience” is individual. I think it incorporates an individual’s reaction and/or interaction with the designed artifact (service, system, or product). Recently, I have been thinking about how that relates to story. I think there is the story a designer is trying to tell, the story that develops as an individual interacts with the design and the story that is told based on an individual’s experience. This idea is by no means complete, but I think it is why I like the idea of “frameworks”. I like the idea that we design opportunities for individuals to interact with and based on that they have an individual experience. The link below is a great introduction to the idea of using a framework as well as some possibilities if designers began to think about incorporating the principles of improv into design.

Liz Danzico—Frames: Notes on Improvisation and Design


Recently, in class we’ve discussed the idea of using Livescribe or what I call “magic” pens for Design Research.  This technology would definitely make the job of the note taker in contextual and participatory research much easier.  But could LiveScribe also help students?  Some teachers seem to think so.  While I definitely appreciate my ability to take good notes the first time, maybe it’s not so important for the next generation of students, and Livescribe is a great technological tool.  After all, it seems that in the 21st century, knowledge will have much more to do with the ability to locate correct information than knowing facts off the top of your head.

I’m curious to get my hands on a Livescribe and make a much better assessment on the tool.

Guest: Chris Chandler from Disney

(Chris Chandler from Disney talks story, singularity, and research as traction)

Thanks to Chris Chandler, a user experience designer with Disney, for stopping by for some good conversation about singularities, story, and design research. Some food for thought:

  • Design research = traction for the designer to tell the story they want to tell. Words from the mouth of a user/Guest is golden and holds much more weight than your own.
  • Design research = provocative for actionable designer insight rather than predictive for user behavior.
  • The Cranky Creative: because we see the things that could be better
  • Everything is a story.
  • A good story can overcome rational barriers.
  • When you’re stuck, the answer is usually to ask yourself: what is the story I want to tell?
  • When presenting work for feedback, skip the explanation caveats: they sound like excuses = boring story in other person’s mind

[More photos from theory class]

Guest: Leah McDougald from Lextant

(Refining visual stimuli set with Leah McDougald from Lextant)

Thanks to Leah McDougald from Lextant who stopped by to give us lots and lots and lots of info and examples of how to prepare for and conduct participatory interviews that include co-creation activities. Takeaways:

  • Participatory research = generative = fuzzy front end = trust the methodology.
  • = qualitative research that enables quantitative analysis via thoughtful, rigorous data collection.
  • Helps you design with, not for.
  • Helps you give participants TOOLS for expression
  • Steps to ease the participant through: Prime, Dream, Create
  • Incorporate a COMMON THREAD throughout activities.
  • Let participant guide the activity.
  • Never ever suggest meaning to a piece of stimulus; flip the question back to participant.
  • Don’t refine stimulus sets by yourself.

[More photos from Leah’s visit to our research class]

Excerpts from the Cranky Creative

Chris Chandler dropped in today to interrupt our regularly scheduled day of Design Theory. He shared anecdotes about his days as Senior Creative Lead of Walt Disney Online, but more importantly, he shared the importance of crafting a story. Not just a narrative, but a story. Chris mentioned how all creativity at Disney is driven by the story. Every touchpoint and facet of every project is part of the story.

The timing of this connection was uncanny as my presentation last Monday sorta blew up due to lack of continuity (storyline) and with a classmate’s info-packed presentation after Chris left- all of which were great learning experiences. A new nugget of simplicity has become firmly embedded in my psyche, an occurrence that my high school English teacher would be pleased to know.

collaborative consumption

We have been discussing design and its relationship to society in theory class. The presentations were given last night and they were amazing. I learned so much from everyone’s thoughts and presentations.

We are moving on to other ideas in that class, but I wanted to share this link about collaborative consumption . Consumption is not the only factor in the equation, but it is interesting to look at it from another point of view. This view emphasizes community and shared access.

Does this model translate to sharing ideas and behavior for building communities as well as goods and services? Is this concept  or model a way to begin to build collaboration within communities?

I don’t have the answers, but I am interested in what others think. I think collaboration is important and I am always interested in models that facilitate the process.

A DIY City where anything goes. Ideas triumph over permits and excuses

This is a great 3 part series on a city where you can truly do whatever you want.  It is a place where ideas, passion, and action rule over bureaucracy, permits, and rules.  I personally love the notion that it removes so many of the excuses that people use in explaining why they’re not doing something. You need a 8 story building to build the future, here it is, what are you going to do with it?  You need 8,000 square feet to actualize your dream, here, have it, now go.  You think you need permits to farm on the empty lot next door, nope, just ask your neighbors, and make it happen. Watch it now.

Is it the death of the American dream or the embodiment of it?

Classifying design by intent

This has been excerpted from my position paper submitted for IDSE102 positioning design in the context of society.

Designers are human beings. They have basic social needs and I strongly believe that their design outputs are reflections of those needs.  To understand more about designs in the context of society, it is prudent to understand a designer’s motivation to create a design in the first place. In 1943, Abraham Maslow published a paper on the hierarchy of social needs [2]. The paper described five layers of human needs. For this discussion, the lowest three tiers will be grouped into a tier called “basic needs”. According to this grouping, Maslow’s hierarchy lists three tiers of social needs – Self-Actualization, Esteem and Basic needs.  According to Maslow [3], self-actualization is a “desire to self-fulfillment”. He goes on to describe that common traits among people who have reached self-actualization are an interest in solving problems, empathy and lack of prejudice. The most interesting aspect of Maslow’s discussion, the roots of which can be traced back to eastern philosophies, is that human beings cannot elevate themselves to higher tiers without the fulfilling the needs of the lower tiers.

 It is clear that several of the world’s poor are in the lower tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy. But, where are the designers in the same hierarchy? Let us consider the definition of a designer to be an individual who uses the principles of design to create solutions of any form for a mass of people. Hence, it is only logical to conclude that these people should be in the top two tiers of the Maslow hierarchy, as they have “moved up” from focusing on themselves to focusing on society or culture. At this juncture, it is appropriate to make an introduction to a new way of thinking about types of design in the context of society.

·         Designs that are esteem driven

·         Designs that are self-actualization driven


Esteem driven design can be defined as a design that addresses the needs of a society or culture through enhancing or creating identity or experiences to both the designer and the user. On the other hand, self-actualization driven designs are aimed towards addressing the needs of the society by designing solutions that create or enhance values of both the designer and the users.

I will summarize this paper in another blog post when time permits. In the meanwhile, if someone is interested to read the entire paper, please leave a comment and I will post a link.

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