A Series of Situations

As our first assignment in Theory, we were tasked with formulating a stance on ethics and responsibilities of design in society, as we understood it from the readings of five authors (Papanek, Bernays, Dewey, Vitta, and Postman). Through my own interpretation and class discussions, I tried to make sense of the positions each author made in their writings, and then bring that interpretation to life through a graphical diagram. 

Before jumping into the diagram, I feel I need to frame the assignment as I understood it. The brief began with “the readings discussed different ways of ethically positioning design in society.” So first, I needed to understand how I was going to use the term design as a control point. Design is both a noun and a verb, giving it little sense of place in the context of an assignment. Because each author did not directly speak to design in the noun sense, that of creating physical forms and blueprints, I chose to use it in the sense of a verb. 





verb: design; 3rd person present: designs; past tense: designed; past participle: designed; gerund or present participle: designing

  1. decide upon the look and functioning of (a building, garment, or other object), by making a detailed drawing of it.
    “a number of architectural students were designing a factory”
  2. do or plan (something) with a specific purpose or intention in mind.


Using the second definition of design in verb form, I felt I could connect with each author in a meaningful way because each spoke distinctly of acting with intention. 

To better make sense of how I was interpreting their positions on design, I made up a fictitious quote for each author as I imagined they would feel. I think these would actually be really good pickup lines to try at a bar sometime.

AC4D_IDSE102_01_designer role graph_v3_8.28.19


As you notice from my graphic, I felt each author held the ethics of design in high regard. I battled with this conclusion mostly with Bernays, who I believe was more economical in his writing than the others. Although after consideration, I believe he was talking about design as well when considering that all public relations campaigns used to sway public opinions were thought out and planned with intention, and that he too felt that design was critical to our social fabric in this regard. 

Without more readings and context, I found it hard to marginalize the difference between the value each author put on design. To say Papanek is slightly higher on the scale than Vitta seemed trivial, and because the scale was so abstract to begin with in makes sense to align them all at the same point. 

This notion of all the authors having a similarly high regard for the use of design in society, and designers in general, is better illustrated when we think about how their views work together. 



The series of situations is a recurring cycle that we can jump into at any point. The idea of a series of situations was noted by Dewey in the context of interactions happening between people and their environment, and that an experience can not be separated from either the people or places in context, without altering the experience altogether.



If we hop into the cycle at the top, and believe that having a positive experience will encourage the growth of any individual, but in this case a designer, we can assume that the designers will evolve into a better version of themselves. This was the perspective of Dewey. The experience knocks down barriers we may have setup for ourselves, and allows us to imagine more freely and thus be more creative. The positive experience encourages multiple new experiences, creating diversity of knowledge and culture enabling us to think with empathy.  The idea of various experiences giving more perspective was brought up by Papenek. Having empathy, as said by Postman, is what differs us from machines, and guides us to search for problems worth solving. 

When the well-informed designer begins problem solving, they have more tools in their tool-belt for how to tackle foreign situations. They think in new ways and are not afraid of failure. The idea of trying to fail and not being chastised for failure are ideas brought up by both Papanek and Dewey. Failure at trying to solve a worthwhile problem is better than succeeding at creating a useless solution. The designer also has more tools than ever before and new technology that can be creatively put to use in ways we had not previously imagined. Postman harps on how technology has been applied without a positive impact on society, but applied to a meaningful product he would agree in the value of information. The unorthodox thinking and availability of technology allow us to create a better, more purposeful products, which are addressing problems worth solving. This is a sentiment shared by both Postman and Papanek.

I believe Vitta thinks that we interact with designers on a daily basis, because everything around us has been designed, and it gives an heir of influence to the designers. The designer, who now has great responsibility, also has the power of persuasion. Persuasion is a specialty of Bernays. By persuading the public to invest in the purposeful product, and because the product was well designed and well informed, the public has a positive experience when they interact. The positive experience this time is of the public, but it propels the cycle to start again. This positive experience is one of the key teachings of Dewey. As other designers begin to see the value of empathy, problem solving, and using technology for the advancement of society, we have changed their perception by exposing the cliche that bad designers are bad for society. We can thank Bernays for that tactic. 

There is a catch to all of this, one that I believe was abundant in Postman’s reading. What if we do make a new, purposeful product, with great intention and positive experience? How can we know for sure what the ultimate consequences will be? It’s impossible to predict how 7.5 billion unique people will react to a new situation, because they all have prior baggage which is affecting their perspective. How do we know someone won’t take the technology we designed for good, and use it for greed and profit, or worse for harm? We don’t, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do the right thing.

The ethical way of designing

What do we owe our society? What have we been doing wrong or how can we improve?

By reading some authors that talk about ethics and responsibility, I started to wonder how can we improve in the world of design. These authors talked about different subjects and about different expertise. After reading all of them back and forth I began to have some ideas on how we could use their ideas into design and its ethics.

Firstly, I did a resume of the authors and took the most important thing, their position. Secondly, I thought about a way that position interested me to change the responsibility of ethics in designers, I also made an opinion about them. Lastly, I made a single axis and distributed the authors and their positions from Most important, to less important.

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Maurizio Vitta (The Meaning of Design) Talks about the things/objects we are designing, as more and more objects are created, each one loses its functional identity, becoming communication vehicles. The Form & Function are replaced by social value, we are using them as a way to portray themselves to others. In my opinion he is right, we are becoming mass designers, not focusing on the functionality or the quality, but in the quantity and sales. We are losing focus of why design was invented, to improve our lives, not to become a mass consumption.

John Dewey (The theory of experience) is not talking about design per se, but is talking about something that I think can be translated in a design language. He talks about “spoiled kids” how being the way that they are, they are limited to growth. In my opinion I think of a spoiled kid in creativity. Education now a days is giving much more meaning to the mathematical and logical world that creativity is not being taught, so at an early age, a kid is being limited in their creative mind. So they will always be behind.

Neil Postman (Informing ourselves to death) The title is pretty much what he is trying to say in the chapter I read, He is saying that we have tons of information so we don’t know what to do with it and don’t know how to get rid of it. We don’t even know what is relevant or irrelevant and that is true, I can’t count how many times my mother has sent me fake documents of pictures. We don’t know what is true anymore. But in my opinion if you think about it, now we can’t live without it, we have created a monster and can’t imagine living without it.

Edward Bernays (Manipulating the public opinion) Influences, or “Special Pleaders” as he likes to call them can be found anywhere, he says that anyone can be a influencer, a leader and convince others. He also talks about different methodologies of how to have good propaganda and how can you dramatize to get peoples interest (we are talking about 80´s propaganda) and how can Clichés be used to change peoples. Propaganda is 2D design, and I think if you take advantage of the pros of propaganda you can make big and good things in the world, like for example ending a war or having mass distribution of good ideas. If we use it wrong then that is when we have problems.

And las but not least, Victor Papanek (Design for the real world) He talks about advertising, how we are using it to influence people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have and to impress people that don’t care. I think we have a responsibility as designers to create things that bring some solution to the world, thinking before making what consequences may you object have and fix them.


Judging Ethics and Responsibility in Design

Over the past two weeks, we have been tasked with reading five prominent writers’ perspectives on design:

  1. Edward Bernay’s “Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and the How” (1928)
  2. John Dewey’s “The Need of a Theory of Experience” (1938)
  3. Victor Papanek’s “Design for the Real World” (1970) and “Creativity vs. Conformity” (1971)
  4. Maurizio Vitta’s “The Meaning of Design” (1985)
  5. Neil Postman’s speech “Informing Ourselves to Death” (1990)

As any good theory should, these writings have truly withstood the test of time. Arguably the most relevant for today was the oldest — Bernay’s piece on propaganda. 

Our ultimate goal with these readings is to identify how each writer views the role of design in society, and then determine which is the least or most important. Before diving deeper, I felt the need to define a) “what is design?” and b) “what does it mean to be important?”.

What is design?

For the purposes of this assignment, I found myself attracted to Papenek’s broader definition of design that focuses on pattern finding and themes, rather than products or consumables. Papanek defines design as “the planning and patterning of any act toward a desired, foreseeable end…” (Victor Papanek. Design for the Real World, 1971). 

What does it mean to be important? 

Rather than focusing on how each writer views the importance of design in society, I wanted to develop my own perspective. Which writer’s principles do I want to hold top-of-mind (most important) as we embark on this challenging mission to become designers? Through which writer’s lens can I start to draft my own opinions? What should drive me as a designer?

From this point of view, I plotted each writer from least important to most important. With the top writers being the ones I want to keep in my ear (cheering me on or scolding me) as we interview users, come up with ideas, and become true designers. 

At the bottom is Bernays. While I think he’s deeply important to read and understand, he views the public as holding all the power which dissolves designers of their responsibility. Although a nice sentiment, power is not equal and we need to be conscious of inequities when designing. 

Vitta again does not take enough responsibility for what designers create. I wholeheartedly agree that individuals are overwhelmed with goods and the act of consumption is really a process of communication. But ultimately, he lacked a call-to-action that I want to drive me as a young designer. 

Postman and Papanek, on the other hand, have equally urgent pleas for the public to break free of the patterns and distractions that bind us and focus on what truly matters: bettering humanity. Society is broken, and rather than “creating” using worn-out traditions or researching more information for information’s sake, we should use design as a powerful way to enact meaningful change. 

Dewey ultimately builds on all of this by saying not only should designers consider ethics and what’s best for humanity, but we should also create experiences that are unique and foster growth.

These readings have already provided an interesting reflection into the goals of AC4D; some are radical, provocative ways to think about design — a seeming core tenant of the school. I chose AC4D for a reason — a huge part being ethics and social impact — and I’m happy to see that both are incorporated in every step from the start. 

As I’ve heard a lot over the past two weeks, we get a major mulligan as students, so we should experiment and use it to our advantage. With the freedom to flex and get weird, I got hope to keep these principles top-of-mind so I don’t accidentally flex in the “wrong” way.

What is the designer’s responsibility to society?

At AC4D, students are taught to design for social good. The ethics of designing in practice, however, can be complicated.

To learn more about ethics, we read the work of five theorists. Not all practiced in the field of “design,” but all expound design principles and their impact on society. Edward Bernays wrote about manipulation of public opinion, for example, while John Dewey wrote about education. Both discuss the importance of shaping attitudes and behaviors and techniques for doing so, and their theories are critical to the practice of design. Both also wrote about the importance of working for social good, although they touch only lightly upon the subject.

These theories have been incorporated into the field of contemporary design and are reflected in the writing of designers like Maurizio Vitta. Vitta takes the conception of design and melds it to the theories of Jean Baudrillard to discuss the importance of the object for mediating social relations. Objects are not just used for practical purposes, he writes, but are used to convey status and convey meaning that undergirds societal interactions. Vitta expands the scope of design and accordingly expands the sense of responsibility for the designer. Therefore, he holds greater importance to the study of design ethics, encompassing a broader understanding of the ramifications of the work.

The final two theorists we read were Victor Papanek and Neil Postman. These two represent two polarities of our understanding of design’s impact on society and the designer’s consequent responsibility. Papanek understands design to be all-encompassing and the designer’s responsibility therefore to be of utmost importance. He believes ultimately in the power of design to improve society. Postman, on the other hand, believes that design creates winners and losers and that our focus on relentless improvement has led to an incoherent society that does not actually make people better off. He does not seem to believe that design improves society.

Social responsibility scale

I have created a social responsibility scale to capture each theorist’s conception of the scope and ramifications of design and their explicit commitment to social responsibility. At one pole is Papanek, who believes most in design’s power and most understands the designer’s responsibility. At the other pole is Postman, who, through his cynicism, advocates a near abdication of responsibility. In between lie Dewey, Bernays, and Vitta, who each present different components of design theory, with concomitant commitments to social responsibility and, consequently, importance.

Five Positions on Ethics: The Role of Design in the Society

What ethics mean when talking about design?

What ethics mean to me? What products I allow in my life?

The following principles are important to me when considering ethics in design:

  •  well researched, user-centred design that has a purpose.
  •  provides an optimistic promise to solve the problem.
  •  does not have hidden business goals to influence behaviour and make the profits from addiction.
  • considers eco-system in which it exists and all involved parties. (inclusive design)

Here are my reflections on five author’s positions.

Ethics and Responsibility DiagramWhen considering ethics in design, Bernay’s position was rated least favourable in my diagram. His idea of manipulating public opinion has many downsides that he did not see in his time. He never considers the end-user, he looks at the influence from the top-down and states that “in the era of mass production the technique of distribution can be applied to ideas”. He assumes that ideas are at the core to make a positive social change.

In his opinion “at the core of public opinion is a tenacious will to move in the direction of ultimate social and individual benefit.”  Though history has shown us that it is not enough to have will for a positive future. Bernays’ position does not give us insights on how to deal with a profit-driven agenda of big corporations, political autocracy, etc.  His position would make more sense if he shifted his focus from forming public opinion around ideas towards end-user needs. He does not clarify the ethics of an influencer assuming he knows what he is doing.

 As designers of future products we need to be responsible and foresee the possible negative consequences of our actions.

 Vitta’s position is much stronger when it comes to ethics in design. He sees the crucial role of a designer to create and translate cultural meanings. Every object that the designer ships to the world has consequences. There has to be a voice and ethical stand for what he does. The designer’s reputation is at stake every time.

Vitta describes a reality where the social value of an object is the most important and defined by the parameters of prestige, brand, gadget character etc. He never elaborated on how a producer of meaningful products (designer) can help a user have a healthier relationship with reality.

Postman warned future IT professionals (engineers/designers) to be fully aware of the downsides of their creations. Every technological breakthrough has its winners and losers.  He is pretty pessimistic about the future. He highly doubts that “through more conveniently packaged, more swiftly delivered information, we will find solutions to our problem…all of this is monumental and dangerous waste of human talent and energy”.

Technological advancements give the illusion that we are solving our problems, but they are just tools to help us get there. Designers need to treat technological advancements as vehicles. There is need to put our core values as humans above IT.

V. Papanek’s position is that the role of design in our society is to bring about change. This position resonates with me. Papanek is one of the first design educators who made the shift towards design research and serious study of end-user needs. In his opinion, designers have a great knowledge when it comes to creation/delivery of new products but their blindspot is to identify the “true needs of men”.

According to Papanek, a designer needs to learn how to think freely and get to the core of a complex problem by using techniques of ideation, synthesis, analysis of the system etc.

Dewey’s idea of incremental practical learning through experiences that have positive reinforcements resonates with me. I think this principle is fundamental for good design practices.

Dewey recognises the need of a student to be included in the educational process. He suggests that not only the external metrics of success are valid but also the internal factors. They trigger the growth of an individual. The idea to design with and not for is similar in nature. In Dewey’s model, a student develops his expertise through building multidisciplinary connections that form structured basis for knowledge that can be easily applied in the real world.  Similar processes uses a designer during synthesis and sense making process. It helps to get insights, ideate and innovate later on. I gave Dewey’s position the highest rating  because a holistic approach to the user experience creates a positive outcome in any given system.


Perspectives to Consider When Building the Case for a Code of Ethics in Design

Today, most professions have a guiding code of ethics.  Some of the quickest to come to mind for you may be law or medicine, but even human relations, realty, and nonprofit fundraising have a standard code that has been agreed to and is easy to reference.

Designers are in the middle of a movement to better understand the role of ethics in our own profession. While the act of designing has been around (arguably) since the beginning of time, its sophistication and broad impact has begun to grow exponentially. This growth is due in large part to the explosion of computers and, therefore, information.  Humans are looking for ways to make sense of everything, and designers are here to help.

But, are we really helping? And, who are we helping?  Designers use our understanding of human psychology to influence and persuade the actions of a user. Part of the formula, however, comes from the fact that users have absolutely no idea it’s happening.

Lawyers abide by a code of ethics because it is assumed that clients may not be as sophisticated as their lawyer. The code is intended to protect that client from potentially devious actions of the lawyer. Put even more simply, it prevents lawyers from maximizing their profits at the expense of the client.

It is for that same reason that I believe we should all be advocating for a formal code of ethics in design–to prevent designers from maximizing their profits at the expense of the user.

In the image below, I’ve ranked five thought leaders based on how important I believe their perspectives are when building a case for the need of a code of ethics in design. Bernays is ranked most important, because as a result of his work, our world has seen how dangerous unbridled freedom of persuasion can be. We now know that Hitler’s minister of propaganda used Bernay’s exact playbook when building affinity for the Third Reich. An individual using such powerful tools should be bound by a code of ethics.  Vitta is next, because he teaches us that design is pervasive and has much more influence than was once thought. This influence needs to be handled responsibly.  Papanek explains that designers have the power to solve problems, and it is our responsibility to use these skills to address “the true needs of men” instead of wasting them.  Postman describes a world where people are inundated and overwhelmed by information.  He explains that information alone solves no problems–if anything it causes more.  The tools of a designer can help humans make sense of it all.  Dewey sees everyone as a designer, because every interaction any human ever has contributes to their overall experience. Dewey is ranked as least important when building the case for a code of ethics in design, because if everyone designs, regardless of their formal profession, a code may not have a strong impact.

A formalized code of ethics would give designers much needed guidance on how to be responsible, and how to treat users with respect and dignity.


Who holds the power?

Presentation 1

Role of design in society. What is it? Who has the authority to say? How many correct answers are there?

After zooming in and out and in again on the five different texts with which we began our design theory adventure, and after much page flipping and self scrutiny, I eventually managed to piece together a few ideas that felt like they were worth shaping into a coherent takeaway that others could understand. For my presentation I decided to run with the one that felt grandiose and perhaps a bit dismal. But it is genuinely the way I found myself reading these texts, and what I found myself taking from them.

Idea: Design can be used as a powerful tool that will either empower everyone to become better thinkers and problem solvers or will be misused by a few as a weapon that disarms the masses unwittingly.

All of these readings were about the role of design in society as being a crucial tool in shaping our futures, but some see it in as an accessible tool for all, and others as a tool able to be utilized in an impactful way by only a few.

My scale of importance is based on the theorist’s insight into the ways that we, as the general populace audience, are empowered to utilize their insights for change, or left powerless by them.

I will break this down by position starting with the theorist who I find to be the least impactful to me in this framework.

Presentation 1 diagram

Vitta is intent on pointing out the metaphorical death of the designer in society. He sees the mass consumption of objects as cheapening the role of design, and sees a movement towards the cheapening of the power of objects themselves as they become more diminished to mere fetishized merchandise. This is all fine and well, but when I read Vitta I don’t see where I fall in this. The objects I posses tell a story about me, even if some are just shallow signifiers, and I am not offended by this role objects play in my life. Why should I care about the death of Vitta’s designer? And what am I supposed to do about it? Quite frankly, I don’t see this as being the most powerful way we can consider the role of design in our complex society.

Oh, Postman. I love your fatalist perspective on innovation. I think it is enchanting and dramatic and dystopian, and I have come to some of the same conclusions as I interact with my society filled with ‘fake news’ and exhalation of progress towards a “smarter” civilization of technology. Postman heeds a warning to a roomful of powerful and influential makers in society, urging them to think hard about all sides of the die when creating something new in this growing field of technology. He urges them to consider the consequences fully and to understand the weight of that responsibility. He describes us as being lost in a shuffled deck of cards, drowning in an ocean of information that keeps on growing in the name of problem-solving, and with no tools or guide to sort through it, no life raft to keep our heads above water. If this is true, and I often feel that it is, then that hopelessness that I get when I know I am drowning is not only justified, but isn’t in my power to fix or sort through. It is in the hands of others. My unexamined life is not worth living. I, an average good samaritan, have no way of arming myself against the chaos of “progress”.

Bernays discusses human beings in a very impersonal way. While he directly calls out that it now “the privilege of attempting to sway public opinion is everyone’s” he then goes on to describe all the ways that it is really only in the power of the elite, the special, the beautiful, and the remarkably ambitious to do so. He throws the general public a bone here and there rather disingenuously, claiming that if we learn to express ourselves, then we can do it too. But ultimately, he mostly discusses how susceptible people are to change their opinion and behavior if presented with the right set of well designed circumstances. As a reader, I do not get the sense that I am among those that how this power to influence, and I am rather scared of it and feel the need to look over my shoulder and wonder who put my opinions in my own head.

Papanek begins to steer the ship out of the storm for the common folk. While he does begin his paper with a very dramatic and heavy claim that industrial design potentially the (second) most harmful profession in existence, what he is really doing is setting the stage to position the role of design in society as being extremely powerful and important. He wants the reader to take it very seriously. He claims that with proper use it “can and must be a way in which young people can participate in changing society.” Unlike Vitta and Postman, his words feel more to me like a call to action for all human beings. Through vivid examples, he places all humans as having a tendency to conform in a society that encourages same-ness. He also describes the cultural, associational and emotional blocks we have. However, he explains that they are not inherited, but learned and, thus, able to be overcome. He even provides a few small tools we can try to change how we go about tackling problems (like the Eskimo dot test and the Arcturus IV experiment). With a diversity of experience and by intentionally taking on problems outside our familiar experiences, we can grow. These sound like attainable actions to me.

Finally, there is Dewey. Dewey lays out a theory of experiential continuum, meaning that all experience are impactful and that they will lead the experiencer to a subsequent direction that will lead him to another, compounding experience. He piece is also a call to action from everyone who participates in a system where they interact with others (so…everyone). He asks us all to be thoughtful and cognizant of our actions, because we “live from birth to death in a world of persons and things which in large measure is what it is because of what has been done and transmitted from previous human activities”.  This theory lifts every action we make to be a meaningful one, and that attitudes are the essence of the soul. I think that this piece is most useful because it frames design’s role in society in a way that allows you to find your place as a designer of experiences wherever you might stand. It humbles you to realize that if you are successful and are lucky enough to have general good fortune, this is a result of compounded experiences that others created for you. If you find yourself in a less than desirable position, that’s okay, but your actions still mean something in the continuum of the collective human experience. We can change our systems.

I do not argue that my interpretation of the value of these positions applies to everyone, as everyone has different perspectives and life experiences. Someone who was born into unfortunate circumstances which have only led to more unfortunate circumstances might say that Dewey’s theory sounds like a curse. But while perhaps this interpretation is specific to my personality type, life experiences and personal morals, regardless, all of these theorists give clues to your personal power to change society through design process.

Design as Waste

This article is about the power and responsibility that comes with communications and experience design. I’m centering my argument on the notion of waste, because each of the following authors’ approaches equates to lesser or greater waste of human/natural resources.

Design as Waste

(In the course of this argument I’ll refer to “design” loosely defined to include communications and experience design; and “waste” to include that of human and natural resources, as well as lost time and efforts.)


Bernays is considered the “father of public relations,” a historically dubious field for ethics and responsibility. Bernays proclaims persuasion is a right in our democracy, that the practice of giving voice to our wants/needs will fight off any tyrannical powers that use PR for authoritative means.

This claim is wildly idealistic. It’s oblivious to the major players of PR in our society: companies fueled by profits and agencies supporting them, often in cases where they’re saving face for a public blunder. Are Bernays/these companies concerned about the implications of their persuasion? Only as far as it advances their agenda; which very likely means greater consumerism, waste of money, and wasted human potential.

Dewey’s experiential continuum assumes we will not waste human potential if educational experiences are framed to facilitate lifelong learning. His case for education reform is a positive, progressive one, but his continuum framework is essentially neutral. What if one’s learning environment values deceit and trickery, and a pupil advances in these and is celebrated for it? In the waste spectrum, Dewey’s theory only moderately accounts for what we’d consider wasted time.

Vitta’s argument does explicitly identify waste, which he perceives in mass production of designed objects. But his concern is less with the implications of waste, and more with semiotics: the lost meaning of objects and the designer making them. He shares sentiments with the next two thinkers that design needs a multi-disciplinary approach, but his ethical argument stops there.

Postman and Papanek make similar explicit cases for the reduction of waste, parallel in their concern for the responsibility of designers and the ultimate fate of society. I position Papanek on the farthest end, as his case is specifically about the ongoing waste of earth’s resources and human potential for solving genuine problems; whereas Postman’s argument on waste of excess information is ultimately more concerned with a loss of sensemaking and spiritual meaning.

Understanding Farmers Markets Role In Our Community

It’s our first week here at the Austin Center for Design. We are a three-person team from the 2020 class and we are knee deep into our first project. Last Monday, we were provided a list of non-profit organizations to partner with to utilize design strategy in a real-world context.

Lauren, Leah and I (Dan) were instructed to choose five of twenty something non profits we wanted to partner with.  We called, emailed, and stopped by various organizations around Austin trying to pitch the value of a potential partnership on this project. Due to intense time con-straits we were forced to look outside our choices. With a helping hand from a fellow classmate we were put in contact with HOPE Farmers Market. HOPE farmers market has been meeting every Sunday in Austin since 2009. HOPE provides a space for farmers and the local community of East Austin to come together to experience a growing local food system. Over the next three weeks we’ll be using the tools shown to us in class and putting them to use, for real.

Similar to the classes before us, we are taking a deep dive into the unknown. We’re surrounded by driven, intelligent classmates and a strong network of supportive teachers and alumni. There are hundreds of questions but there are no real answers. 

 We’ve met for several hours over the past few days and have developed a research plan containing vital tools we’ll need in order to execute our plan. We hope to better understand the workings of farmers markets and aim to use contextual inquiry and participatory design to observe everyone’s place in the operation. This will allow the research to focus on the true behavior of the participants.

We are going to position ourselves to view these persons lives. We are going to build rapport, conduct an interview and take photos. We want and try to feel an understanding of everyone’s roles. By speaking directly with these humans we’re going to develop insights.

Below is our research plan:

HOPE Farmers Market Community Impact Research Plan

HOPE Farmers Market was on the list provided by AC4D. Our group chose this business because we are passionate about the work they are doing and the impact and the impact a market can have on the broader community.  Crystal, the Market Director for the market has agreed to partner with us.

This document details our research plan, and includes our focus, goals of the research, planned methodology, profiles of individuals we plan to interview, and scripts to be used when engaging with each of those individuals. 

Focus Statement 

To better understand the role a farmers market plays in connecting our community.


The goals of this research are:

  • Establish an empathic relationship with the persons involved in the market
  • Identify the motivating factors for participation in the market
  • Observe the logistics involved in organizing and attending the market
  • Determine the perceived value of the farmers market to the community

Research Methodology

This research uses contextual inquiry and hands-on exercises which will allow us to focus on the true behavior of the participants.  Our methodology for focusing on behavior will include:

  • Attending the farmer’s market on the day of the market to observe the way the multiple players interact (pre-market, during market, post market)
  • Conducting inquisitive informational interviews with the participants described below in order to better understand his or her motivation and behavior
  • Conversations will be augmented by exercises and corresponding materials, to spur conversations about an individual’s actions, thoughts, and feelings as they pertain to parts of the participant’s role that we cannot directly observe.

Based on our basic understanding of farmers markets we have pulled together three main groups of event stakeholders that make up the broader community.  We have broken these groups down in more details by a few key but differentiating attributes.  To be sure, it is a diverse, but not scientifically significant sample size.

Our research will be conducted with representatives from the HOPE Farmers Market nonprofit organization as well as other farmers markets in the region so that we can gain a comprehensive understanding about the space, and the impact similar markets are having on the community. It will also include various customers and vendors with a wide range of attributes.

Participant Profiles

LDL Research Proposal 1

Script / Research Protocol – Event Organizers

Goals specific to members of an organization that organizes farmers markets (staff, board member, volunteer)

  • To understand the “back of house” work and day-to-day operations that go into putting on a farmers market
  • To understand the structure of the “presenting” entity, including staffing structure and revenue model
  • To understand the motivation for initiating and continuing a market
  1. Introduction

Thank you so much for meeting with us today.  As we mentioned in our previous email, we are students at the Austin Center for Design.  We are here to learn more about the [Name] farmers market.  We are hoping to learn everything we can about [org name], your role with the organization, and your day to day activities here. We’ll start with a few questions and then transition into some exercises to learn even more about the market and its impact in the community.

First, I have a one-page consent form for you and I to both sign. This basically states that everything you say in this interview will be completely anonymous. I will, with your permission, be recording the interview and taking pictures as we talk. The recording will only be used for internal purposes. It helps me focus on our conversation today instead of having to feverishly take notes for fear of missing something you say.  We’ll talk through quite a bit today, but the time should fly right by.

  1. Introductory questions
    1. Will you tell me a little about the market?
    2. What is your role with the farmer’s market?
    3. How did you come to learn about this market?
    4. What kind of an impact do you hope the market has in the community in Austin?
    5. What are some of your favorite elements about the market?
    6. What are some of the most challenging elements of organizing the market?
    7. How have you seen the market evolve since you first became involved with it?
    8. How was the location of the market chosen? 
  1. Exercise: Tool Walkthrough

We want to understand what tools the market is using to attract both vendors and customers.

Do you have any software tools, marketing tools, or databases that help you find and invite new vendors or customers?

  • Can you show them to us and walk us through how you use them?
  • Why do you use these?

Dig into what they like most about the tool, what they find challenging, what they wish the tools did, etc.

Do you have any physical tools you use to attract vendors or customers to the market, like posters or mailings?

  • Can you show them to us and walk us through how you use them?
  • Why do you use these?

Dig into what they like most about each over these materials, what they find challenging, what they wish these materials did, etc.

  1. Exercise: Shadow your work

We want to see you in your element at the farmers market. Do you mind if we follow you around on Sunday to see what you do and who you talk to? (Take note of who they talk to, why they talk to them, and the impact that work has on the overall event.)

  1. Exercise: The Market’s Ecosystem

We know there is a lot that goes into planning and hosting a farmer’s market every week for over ten years.  We would like to understand all of the players that come together each Sunday.  I have a blank sheet of paper here with some sample concentric circles. The farmers market is the center of the circle. Can you draw all of the different players that participate in the event in the outer circles. The more important they are to the core operation of the farmer’s market, the closer to the middle circle.

  1. Conclusion

Thank you so much for talking with us today.  We really learned a lot about [NAME] farmer’s market. Would you mind if we reached out to you by email with additional questions, if they arise? Thanks again!

Script / Research Protocol – Customers 

Goals specific to the customers attending the farmers market

  • To understand who the customers are
  • To understand why customers choose to attend farmers markets
  • To understand how customers spend their time and money at farmers markets
  • To understand what the value of the farmers market is to the customer
  1. Introduction

Thanks for taking the time to work with us today. This meeting should take about 2 hours. Before we get started, I have a brief consent form that I would like you to review and sign. This describes that we will be audio recording the session for our own notes and recollection, and, with your permission, taking pictures. Your name, face, and any other identifying information will be removed so you will be completely anonymous. The recording won’t be shared with anyone else and then I won’t be distracted taking notes for fear of missing something you say.

Let me explain how our session today will work. First, we’re going to ask you some brief questions about yourself and your experiences at farmers markets. Next, we’ll work through several exercises and worksheets about your experiences as you think about what food and community mean to you.

We’ll talk through quite a bit today, but the time should fly right by!

  1. Introductory questions
    1. Where are you from?
    2. What part of town do you live in?
    3. Can you tell me a little bit about your typical week?
    4. What do you like to do in Austin? What are some of your hobbies?
    5. Who are some important people in your life? Can you tell me about them?
    6. When did you start coming to this farmers market?
    7. How often do you come to this market?
    8. What are some of your favorite things to do at the market?
    9. How do you feel at the farmers’ market? Why?
    10. When you’re not shopping at the farmers market, where are some places around town that you like to shop?
  1. Exercise: What’s in your bag?

We want to understand what sort of person our customer is as related to how they prepare for their day.

  1. Will you show me some of the things that you brought with you today. Can you tell me about why you have these things?
  2. What do you never leave home without?
  1. Exercise: Your Market Journey

Present a long straight line on a piece of paper with a sunrise image on the left end and an arrow pointing to the right on the other.

We want to understand how you spend your time at the farmers market. Can you mark on this timeline as many things as you want that you did before and during the farmers market in order.

  • When you leave the farmers’ market where do you go?
  • How do you get to and from the market?
  • Did you take any photos the last time you were at the market? Can we see them?
  1. Exercise: Draw a simple map of a farmers market

There are so many great things about attending farmers’ markets in Austin.

Here’s you (draw a stick figure on a sheet of paper).

Will you draw me a map of where you go first, second, third, etc.  What vendors do you go to? Who do you talk to?  What other activities will you engage in at the farmer’s market?

  1. Completion

Thank you so much for being willing to talk to us today. It was really interesting to talk to you and we learned a lot. We’ll be interviewing several other people over the next few weeks, and those conversations might prompt some more ideas. Would you mind if we reached out to you by email with additional questions, if they arise?

Thank you!

Script / Research Protocol – Vendors


  • To understand what vendors gain by coming to the farmers market. Is there a bigger takeaway other than sales driving their return week after week?
  • To understand how vendors view themselves at HOPE Farmer’s market, and the Austin Farmers market ecosystem 
  1. Introduction

Thanks for taking the time to work with us today. This meeting should take about 2 hours. Before we get started, I have a brief consent form that I would like you to review and sign. This describes that we will be audio recording the session for our own notes and recollection, and, with your permission, taking pictures. Your name, face, and any other identifying information will be removed so you will be completely anonymous. The recording won’t be shared with anyone else and then I won’t be distracted taking notes for fear of missing something you say.

Let me explain how our session today will work. First, we’re going to ask you some brief questions about yourself and your experiences at farmers markets. Next, we’ll work through several exercises and worksheets about your experiences as you think about what food and community mean to you.

We’ll talk through quite a bit today, but the time should fly right by!

  1. Introductory Questions:
    1. Where do you come from?
    2. What do you bring to the market?
    3. Can you tell me about your product(s)? – (Where is farm/shop?)
    4. Why HOPE Farmers market?
    5. Can you tell me about your Sunday morning?
    6. What do you want your customers to know?
    7. Can we walk through a transaction? (What do you use to sell? i.e. square, venmo, cash)
    8. Do you sell anywhere else?
    9. Who else is part of the process?
    10. Why do you do this?
  1. Exercise: What’s behind the table or Where is the truck?

We know product is important, but we’re interested in learning about everything it takes for you to present and sell your product here. We want to see what tools you need in order to make this happen.

  • Can you bring me behind your table?
  • What tools do you use?
  1. Exercise: Timeline exercise; the power of now?

Here we are, we’re here. I know this strawberry didn’t come out of the ground in two days…

Can you please take this pen and mark for me where you feel you are now, and what it took for you to get here?

Materials to prepare

Consent forms

  • Audio recorder (i.e. phone)
  • Phone charger
  • Pen and paper

Through this project we hope to deliver actionable insights to HOPE.


Research Plan or Not an Easy Journey Revealed

In our first Design Research class we split into teams of three. The goal for the next two quarters (IDSE101 & IDSE202) is to work with a nonprofit organization of our choice, from a predetermined list. We were warned that this class has a fast-moving speed and an initial research plan, plus presentation are due in a day after the assignment was proposed.

In one business day we were to establish a relationship with an organization, make an initial request to work with them, and receive a “yes.” Sounds easy on paper, but requires a lot in between — we had to establish a rapport, give them our value proposition, discuss technicalities of project implementation, and begin scheduling interviews with key players. Simply put, we had only a few minutes to inspire leaders of nonprofits to work with us. Ooh. We were told this is exactly what designers in the real world do. 

Let’s get to it!

At the end of the class we received five organizations to work with. It turned out that one out of five assigned orgs did not have a nonprofit status, so we eliminated this choice from our list. 

At 9:30 a.m. the next morning Victoria drove to my house. We drove to Easy Tiger together, chatted virtually with our teammate Sean (sometimes you have to work remotely), and identified which nonprofits are the most favourable to us in terms of their mission or geographical location. Then we went to a shared Google Doc and wrote down our value proposal. 

At 11:30 a.m. we were at the ARC lobby. The art class for children with disabilities was about to start. Unfortunately, a decision maker of that organization had a meeting and we were advised to call her in an hour. For the time being, we went to South Austin and met with staff members of other two nonprofits from our list. No luck there either.

Nowadays, some nonprofits are run like corporations. It takes days to reach a top person and organize a meeting with them. We did not have that time. One of the organizations was a regional chapter of the national nonprofit. They told us at the start that they would not have the authority to take our presented advice or insights by the end of the project; everything has to go through CEO approval in their headquarters. We exchanged emails, but this fact was very discouraging. 

After lunch we recuperated and started making phone calls to other organizations in hope to speak to their leaders. By this point, the idea to go all over the city by car did not seem as lucrative as before. To our surprise all decision-makers were out — we spoke to their mail boxes while they were at important meetings. Over the phone ARC apologised for not being able to make time in their schedules and work with us. The last organization we contacted in person was ARCH at 3:20 p.m. in downtown. All decision-makers were predictably out. We exchanged emails/names of people best to talk to by 3:30 p.m. 

By this point we decided to exercise our autonomy and reach out to other organizations with similar missions. By 6 p.m. that day the organization was found! Latinitas — a nonprofit organization that empowers girls and young women, especially of color, to pursue careers in media, tech, and STEM — agreed to work with us.

latinitas pic
Latinitas Website

It was not an easy assignment for us. It required to think outside of the box, but we were glad we managed to find an organization to present in class.

After the hassle finding an org to work with, putting together a research plan did not seem as intimidating as before.

A design research plan has to have a well-defined structure. It should include a focus statement, a lens through which designers “fish” in hopes of finding valuable insights or problematic areas of the business. Other important pieces of research plan are goals, methodology, info about participants, scripts or interview questions and materials. 

There is a non-written component of the design research plan. Before a team of designers goes to the field, they need to rehearse and role-play some of the activities to ensure they make sense. There is no time for iteration during the interviews.

The focus of our research with Latinitas is to feel what it’s like to be a girl/young woman, especially of color, trying to advance oneself in media, tech, and STEM education. The second aspect of the study is from mentor’s perspective: what it means and what it takes for an adult to support this group of girls. 

For the next two quarters of our research we will interview/shadow Latinitas participants, as well as visit and observe Latinitas mentors and staff. As a part of the cultural probe of our study we will reach Latinitas students as well as alumni of the program, in their own environments or wherever they carry out their activities. 

The other important aspect of our study is to see the program from an organizational perspective. We’d like to spend time observing work processes of mentors involved with Latinitas, in their homes or wherever they conduct mentor sessions. Last but not least, we will observe and understand how staff carry out their work: in their office or conducting workshops and club activities for kids.

The main goal of our study is to observe the program’s processes and strategies so that we can learn to identify strengths and weaknesses and potential opportunities to enhance delivery of program services.

In order to actualize our research as designers, we use certain methodologies that help us observe people’s behavior in their familiar environments and learn from them — we call these methods contextual inquiry and participatory design.

During our meetings/interviews we will also build empathy with our clients, as it helps us to see their world/potential problems how they see it, and make informed decisions later on when synthesising data from the field.

In our research plan we identified the principles of how we are going to approach our meetings/interviews with clients.

  • Go to the participants’ offices, classrooms, or other places that they are familiar with, rather than bringing them into the AC4D space.
  • Conduct interviews prompted by artifacts or behavior, rather than simply following a question/answer script.
  • Develop a series of activities that participants can use to communicate their wants, needs, and desires in a creative way instead of simply in a verbal manner.

Our research will be conducted in classrooms and workshops hosted by Latinitas and in the Latinitas’ office space.

At the time of writing this post, we made a list of 15 participants that represent the front and back of the business. Our list reflects different categories of people we’d like to talk to, including organizers of the program/other staff, mentors, students, and alumni. We’ve started communicating with them to set up meetings/interviews that will take up to 2 hours each.

For each category of participants we created a script with open-ended introductory questions and prepared walkthroughs and exercise activities that would help them to talk about their experiences in a creative way.

As an example for a walkthrough, we’ll ask them to show us a daily activity that’s part of their routine. Our goal in this type of exercise is to observe behavior and develop a feel for what it’s like to be in their position. Later on, when observe enough of these activities, we may notice important behavioral patterns or discrepancies that shine light on their pain points.

Exercises are a great tool to extract stories from the participants. We’ll appeal to their memory, associations, prioritisation, ways of thinking, etc. to get better at understanding them. 

It’s important to mention about this method the goal is not to put additional biases on their answers. In real life when we ask questions, we may unintentionally imply a certain answer, or create a situation in which the person can read our intent and fill in the gap for us. The creative exercises will help us to avoid these biases.

We look forward to working with Latinitas for the two quarters of our time at AC4D, and hope that our rigorous planning/preparation process gives us a chance to act in the field freely and professionally.


Victoria Valadez

Sean Redmond

Zina Semenova


Latinitas Website

Here is the link to our Research Plan. Feel free to read through to get a better idea of our design research preparation process.

Research Plan Doc