The Outcome, Regardless of Intention

As designers, everything we do from the type of problems we work on solving to making the choice of using a radio button or a check box stems from intention. Without intention, choices are made blindly causing an arbitrary execution. I believe intentions are important within design, but where the conversation becomes a bit muddy is when we began considering the outcome of our intentions. There are examples where, despite the best intentions, the outcome is less than ideal, and vice versa. This leads me to ask the question, “how important is intention when the outcome is what creates impact?”


One space where this question applies is when developing for the emerging world. Most people are familiar that there is a good amount of effort in assisting developing countries who are less fortunate than our own. There was an effort to provide clean water to people who did not have easy access. Michael Hobbes explains, “It seemed like such a good idea: A merry-go-round hooked up to a water pump. In rural sub-Saharan Africa, where children are plentiful but clean water is scarce, the PlayPump harnessed one to provide the other.” In theory this is a fantastic idea, except when the outcome is examined. After implementing the PlayPumps, Frontline returned to see the impact that had been created. They, “Discovered pumps rusting, billboards unsold, women stooping to turn the wheel in pairs. Many of the villages hadn’t even been asked if they wanted a PlayPump, they just got one, sometimes replacing the hand pumps they already had.”


The biggest opportunity in this example would have been to reach out to the recipients of the PlayPumps and learned how this effort would have been received. If the community wanted this or if they would even use it. It would have been discovered that this solution may not have been the best solution to the situation at hand, or even a solution at all.


There is another example where working with the developing world was in fact successful. New Story was able to build 151 houses in Haiti which ended up housing 1,200 people where as the Red Cross changed course after only building six houses even though they had raised half a billion dollars for the cause. The Red Cross, “struggled to attract residents because,’ the areas they planned on building were, ‘too far from basic needs like work and food.” The cofounder of New Story, Alexandria Lafci, explains, “This is what participatory design is so crucial and is something we incorporate into all of our communities. We ask families for their input about the location, the style of home, broader community needs, etc.” The findings led New Story to deciding to build their community only about 10 minutes away from their jobs and support networks. Because of this, the community was in a position to adopt the housing because it fit into what was important into their own personal life, unlike the PlayPump example. They are expanding to launch similar efforts in El Salvador and Bolivia, but the models will be slightly different because each location affords unique needs. Participatory design will be used once again to accommodate the small amount of income that exists (unlike the population in Haiti) and will implement a pay it forward model to invest in future communities. Once again, tailored to the specific needs of the population New Story is designing for.


A mix of these two efforts include the example of New York’s High Line project. Robert Hammond had the idea of “turning a disused elevated railway on Manhattan’s West Side into a high-design ‘linear park’. He thought it would attract maybe 300,000 visitors a year.” The problem lies in that, “he and his co-founder Joshua David didn’t really think about what the High Line could do to the neighborhood, apart from adding a little extra breathing room.” The project was successful in the sense that it drew new business and condos, as well as the expectation that it will generate $1 billion to the city over the next 20 years. Where the project was unsuccessful is that the park didn’t appeal to the direct neighborhood it was originally intended for. On either side of the park were local housing projects, which consisted primarily of people of color. The traffic the park ended up drawing were predominately white and mostly tourists. Reactions to the park consisted of feelings that local residents, “didn’t feel it was built for them; they didn’t see people who looked like them using it, and they didn’t like the park’s mulch-heavy programming.”


During the project locals were asked questions similar to which colors they liked, not necessarily what specifically they would like from the park itself. Because of this Hammond admits that, “ultimately, we failed.” Where they story begins to change is when you look at what happened next. This self proclaimed failure led Hammond creating the High Line Network, which is a coalition of designers and planners building adaptive reuse parks in the High Line mold. The entire purpose of the network is to further examine how to improve neglected neighborhoods, without pushing away they very people they intend to serve. A component of this organization is conducting listening sessions to hear feedback about his project, which started a number of new initiatives including paid-job trainings and further development on the two housing projects previously mentioned. These efforts are due to participatory design, which leads to a more successful execution of intention.


Another frame within this conversation is that of corporate philanthropy. One side of this conversation tends to lean towards a negative view that corporations are only incorporating philanthropy into their business model in order to sell more goods, regardless of the outcome. For example, the PRODUCT (RED) campaign is a campaign founded by Gap that has asked companies to create a red version of their product and donate a percentage of the proceeds towards the HIV/AIDS effort in Africa. One could argue that this effort feels ingenuous due to the fact companies are pushing commoditization as an effort for social impact. They see the effort as saying, “if you buy this product, then you’ll save lives.” In fact their slogan is quite literally “buy (RED), save lives.” On one hand I completely agree and there is something unsettling about this effort that doesn’t seem to fit the effort.


With that being said, despite some room for improvement in transparency, the organization has raised $465 million dollars and claims to have impacted over 90 million lives. It has allowed doctors to spend more time on their research and slow down HIV transmission. This is where intention becomes tricky. I can see the intention of this effort coming from a place of genuine interest in causing an impact, but I can also potentially see the motivating factor being that to drive higher profits via a philanthropic effort. This is a detail we may never fully know, but one fact remains: the amount of money raised to increase resources for a social cause. If this is the outcome with either intention driving the effort, then how much does it truly matter? An opportunity was identified to raise a significant amount of money for a good cause and was acted upon. Yes, I would love to believe that the effort was genuinely altruistic, but if you were the one directly benefiting PRODUCT (RED), does it change the outcome of the benefit?


Initial intentions in design can be come from a variety of motivating factors, but I would argue that the outcome is what is most important. Action can come from a place of good intention yet have negative outcomes, while it can also come from a place of poor intentions and have positive outcomes. Regardless, the outcome is what we are left with whether that be further conversation, fundraising, or housing for people in need. Ideally, we should consider the outcome while we are designing in order to optimize our intentions.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

As we began to read the series of articles entitled “With the best intentions”, I found myself questioning not the motivations of the different projects and products, but where the designer’s responsibility lies. When is a designer no longer responsible for the products they create? Within this post I examine two articles’ arguments about designer’s responsibility, then finally come to my own conclusion.

For the purposes of understand where responsibility ends, I’ve created a small chart which illustrates four phases: Research, Design, Development and Real World. Each of these phases are executed in any project or product. Below is the chart:




The piece by Michael Hobbes, made it seem as though the effects of a product are out of the designers hands. Hobbes states  “when you improve something, you change it in ways you couldn’t have expected”. He sees the effects of a product as unpredictable and thus not the responsibility of the designers. It almost seems like he expects these unforeseen changes to happen whenever a designer improves a product. He is rightly supported in this concept that after implementation unforeseen effects of a product begin to develop. He and five other authors that we read, wrote about other products and their unpredicted consequences. Below are the products these other authors used as well as where the breakdowns happened, and what unexpected changes have been the negative effect of the product:


“Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid: A Mirage”, Aneel Karnani

Product: Microcredits

The Breakdown: “Microcredit does not alleviate (income) poverty, but rather reduces vulnerability by smoothing consumption. A few studies have even found that microcredit has worsened poverty; poor households simply become poorer through the additional burden of debt.”

Where it occurred: “The vast majority of microcredit clients are caught in subsistence activities with no prospect of competitive advantage. The self-employed poor usually have no specialized skills and often practice multiple occupations…With low skills, little capital and no scale economies, these businesses operate in an area with low entry barriers and too much competition; they have low productivity and lead to meager earnings that cannot lift their owners out of poverty.”

The change that they couldn’t have expected: Founders of microcredit programs never expected that their recipients would not have the skills to create a more niche service or product. There was a grandiose illusion that all recipients of a microcredit would be innovative business machines. In reality not all individuals living in poverty can lift themselves out through entrepreneurial practices.


“The High Line’s Next Balancing Act”, Laura Bliss

Product: High Line Park

The Breakdown: “We wanted to do it for the neighborhood…ultimately we failed.”

Where it occurred: Residents of the High Line community said they don’t use the park because of three things, “They didn’t feel like it was built for them; they didn’t see people who looked like them using it; and they didn’t like the park’s mulch-heavy programming.”

The change that they couldn’t have expected:  The designers never expected that their park (which did include community input meetings before opening) would have not been enough to encourage the community to participate. The design team thought their efforts would have been enough for the community to feel welcome, but they ultimately fell short. The drastic gentrification their park contributed to was also an unpredicted change caused by their designs. Ultimately, the project’s effects didn’t make the community feel welcomed and pushed many members out.


“Sex doesn’t sell anymore, activism does. And don’t the big brands know it.” Alex Holder

The Product: Large corporations are “allocating their marketing budget to good causes”.

The Breakdown: Corporations are donating with the expectation of a return on their investment.

Where it occurred: Companies expect these returns both in the customer base as well as in “favors”. When corporations donate to organizations, they expect their customers to choose them in the future because the company practices “good business”. When corporations donate in a political capacity, they expect that the candidate or political organization will keep the company’s best interest at heart.

The change that they couldn’t have expected: Corporations didn’t and don’t expect their customer to see through their thinly veiled acts of generosity, as actual acts of compensation and marketing, but individuals are beginning to see them just as that. Customer know these acts of “generosity” as acts of compensates. As companies implement ethically and morally wrong practice within their businesses, they use their corporate social responsibility initiatives to compensate for their destruction of both society and the environment.


“Everything is Fucked and I’m Pretty Sure It’s the Internet’s Fault”, Mark Manson

Product: The Internet

The breakdown: “The internet… makes it profitable to breed distrust”

Where it occurred: “The internet… was not designed to give people the information they need. It gives people the information they want.”

The change that they couldn’t have expected: Creators of the internet could not have anticipated that their invention would be used by individuals not to enlighten themselves, but to comfort themselves. Manson argues that the internet by supplying everyone with all the information of the world didn’t lead to heightened intelligence levels, but rather distrust of information due to the overwhelming saturation of availability. This then leads to individuals only seeking out echo chambers for news and information about the world around them, which creates comfort.


“Save Africa: The commodification of (Product) Red campaign” Cindy N. Phu

Product: (Product) Red Campaign

The Breakdown: The Product (Red) campaign hasn’t “Saved Africa” contrary to its catch phrase.

Where it occurred: The AIDS/HIV epidemic is an ongoing battle in both places the Global Fund is active and inactive.

The change that they couldn’t have expected: The periphery effects of the Product (Red) campaign has lead to “many nonprofit organizations dedicated to the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa have not been able to receive grants or funding through donations…because of the misconception that Africa is saved.” The organization which created the campaign did not anticipate that the campaign would actually inhibit other humanitarian aid efforts in fighting against the same issues.


In each of these examples, there always seems to be some unforeseen consequence of the product that was overlooked, forgotten or unanticipated, which then have dire or sever consequences. Hobbes would believe these unforeseen consequences as part of life. He would not place the failure or consequences of these products on the designers. Below is the chart with Hobbes’ idea of responsibility marked in the phases of design.




A product’s unforeseen effects or changes on an ecosystem to Jon Kolko’s standards’ are the responsibility of the designers themselves. Kolko writes that “we are responsible for both the positive and negative repercussions of our design decisions, and these decisions have monumental repercussions”. With this concept, Jon would argue that the fact the High Line doesn’t connect with the community it’s built within is a fault of the designers themselves. He would argue, the fact that nonprofits working with HIV/AIDS victims within Africa cannot receive the aid they need, is in fact the responsibility of those who decided that the donations should be generated through a well strategized ad campaign. Finally he would argue that the perpetuated poverty of those individuals who now carry the additional burden of credit debt, lies on the shoulders of those organizations who structured the service. Like Hobbes, below is a chart illustrating what phase of the design process Kolko believe designers are responsible for.


Kolko is right that the consequences of a product are the responsibility of the designer. Though the question then become, how do designers predict the outcome their products will have on the world? Especially if it’s changing the world in “ways you couldn’t image”?

Prediction is impossible, but how a designer reacts to the consequences of their product is changeable. Designers have a responsibility to not only the products the develop, but also to observe and counter the negative effects their products have on a community. Instead of viewing a designer’s responsibility as the repercussion of the product, the designer is also responsible for continuing to iterate and listen to the people it has affected. In the chart below this phase of continued responsibility is called “Continue”. There are two tools all designers should use to help themselves take on the responsibility of countering these unforeseen consequences: Ethnographic research and iteration.


In order to counter the unpredictable side effects, a designer must first know what these effects are and how their design is perpetuating them. They can implement ethnographic research to do just that. This is a research method synonymous with just “listening to customers” (Hempel). The method involves in-person interviews executed at the place where the work is being done. The full effect of this method then allows for designers to gain a more empathetic understanding of the user’s needs when they go back to designing. For our slew of failed products, ethnographic research can be used to understand what happened with the product and where it fell short on serving the needs of the users. An excellent example of this is from the High Line, which has begun conducting interviews with members of the community, asking questions about how they can better serve them now.

The second tool a designer can use is iteration. This is the a process in which the repetition of a sequence of operations is taken to move towards the desired result. In design, this practice is highly emphasized. Not only is iteration encouraged in final products, but within every phase of design. To apply this concept to the failed products, we should see multiple version of the products each moving in a direction that would minimise the problems of the previous iteration.

Once designers implement ethnographic research and iteration on the negative consequences of their product, they can build better products. These designers are now equipped to find out how those most negatively impacted by the products feel and why and then design products that better address those issues. This additional step of continuing contact, feedback and iteration on a product is the real responsibility of the designers.

We cannot create things, let them manifest, then leave them behind. We have a responsibility to those who are left unsatisfied to find out what happens and figure out how to prevent that from happening to anyone else.

In design, learning is omnipresent

Hands Brains, Zoom & Scope.

These are the primary tools.
There will always be someone who disagrees with how we use our tools.

Sometimes success. Sometimes failure.
No rights. No wrongs.


What does social impact mean?

            Social impact is inherently a problem of definition. Everything has an impact. Slavery did. As well as Adolf Hitler, Rosa Parks, Thomas Edison, Amelia Heirhart, Henry Ford, and Ruth Handler, the maker of Barbie. All of these people have influenced the way that we operate, think, and discern good and bad. “Doing good” has spread rampantly across pop culture and throughout the millennial generation. If something is slapped with a label of social impact it is generally revered as an honorable initiative. But what does it really mean? There are no metrics for it. There is no guide book for it (however, there are many), there is no framework to say you have completed your social impact initiative. There is such nuance when it comes to social change, much of which is implicit in our personal experiences as people. So how do we measure effectiveness? How do we know when we are done? These are essential questions that I seek to explore throughout this post with a lens of no right and no wrong. As an emerging designer interested in social impact (and for all designers really) these are questions that are at the crux of all of our decisions. What is being created by this design?  

A Paul Polak quote appeared on Social Impact Design’s Twitter account in February of 2017 that read:

“90% of the worlds designers spend all their time addressing the problems of the richest 10% – before I die, I want to turn that silly ratio on its head.”

 A noble statement that represents a sentiment that many millennials (and an increasing number of the population in general) would rejoice to hear. However, Dan Saffer, another renowned designer, rebuttled;

“Shaming people for working on products for the 10% is counter-productive. Probably what they’re working on will eventually affect everyone.”

 So, what do we do with these opposing viewpoints from 2 respected thought leaders in the design world? After all, a reported 1,800 children die globally every day due to water sanitation issues (Unicef, 2013). This seems like a problem we should be solving. A counter to that is the fact that we are seeing the beginning of a solar panel adoption across developing countries.

A solar panel on a roof in Bangladesh:

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I am not a solar panel expert but the invention was, undoubtedly, incepted in a well-funded research institution somewhere. How do we quantify or qualify which problem is more important? Saving the lives of children or harnessing the power of the sun to power our inventions that have the potential to solve other problems (like water sanitation)? The difficult part is that we are human. And there is an innate desire to fix a problem when we see other humans hurting. When you temporally zoom out, however, there is merit in passion and intent. The team that invented solar panels would have, most likely, been unfit for the job of solving water sanitation problems. All we can do is take the next most obvious step, the wisdom that informs this fateful step is ingrained in our experience. At an ethereal level, intention is all we really have. Execution follows intention and that is of course where everything gets exceedingly messy as well as the place that strategies for success are honed. If we take the second quote from Saffer as valid the choice is still not easy, the question then becomes ‘how do we bring our beneficial inventions to a global scale across race, culture, geographic location etc.?’ A tall, complicated order that is a design problem in and of itself.

I would like to offer a definition for Social Impact:

The act of seeing a social problem, absorbing the context of the social problem and implementing ideas that are steps in the direction of eliminating anywhere from one element to the entirety of the problem. 

Where does this leave us? It seems to be that to actualize social impact we need to have thought through our solution using a methodology called Theory of Change which is a mapping practice to associate how your decisions and designs will have impact over time.


What does it mean to “solve” problems?

Everything that gets made is trying to solve a problem.

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Think about it. You can’t bring anything to market unless it benefits a circumstance or streamlines a process whether that is implicitly or explicitly. Yet, as we see in the market, there are varying degrees of effectiveness. The questions that need to be rigorously explored are things like; How thoroughly have you defined the problem? Do you know it inside out? Upside down? Have you cultivated empathy with the people that are experiencing the problem you are “solving”? Where are you assuming and where are you truly aware? We all have grandiose ideas of what the world “could be” like according to our world view which has been crafted by every experience we have ever had. To put our individual grandiose ideas into perspective, we each are approximately 0.000000013513514% of the perspectives in the world. How do we integrate that into the increasing complexity and grueling reality of circumstance? An article titled “Stop trying to save the world” explores this issue beautifully. Michael Hobbes discusses multiple examples of international “social impact” developments. He outlines a project called PlayPump which utilizes a familiar playground structure to pump water out of the ground. Amazing idea!

“PlayPumps were going to harness the energy of children to provide fresh water to sub-Saharan African villages.”(Hobbes, 2014)

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“…to provide fresh water to sub-Saharan African villages. They didn’t.”(Hobbes, 2014)

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 I say this is beautiful not because it proves my point, which it does, but because it is such a widely-used example of how international development initiatives can veer away from the intention. It was ineffective in its intent, but as a design community and broader network, we are learning from the assumptions that PlayPump made. It makes us think critically and strategically about similar ‘great’ ideas. It was a novel idea that addressed a very relevant problem, yet, because there was no immersion in the problem, critical thought about the longevity of the project, or strategies for integration into the existing culture, their solution did not have lasting impact. This brings up the humanness factor again. This time talking about the outcome of acting on the desire to help people that are hurting, Akhila Kolisetty calls it “the desire to feel warm and fuzzy inside” which she is correlating with the desire to do good. Her full statement which appeared on Richard Andersons Blog post “Reflections on Gratitude” reads:

“We cannot donate or volunteer just to feel good about ourselves. Social justice will only come if we … give up any desire to feel warm and fuzzy inside…”

 This brings up a few provocative perspectives to look at the social impact space through. First I want to compliment her statement by talking about business plan and social impact competitions. In the article “Rethinking business plans” by Michael Gordon and Daniela Papi-Thornton they discuss the nature of short format competitive creation for social impact.

“Social business plan competitions typically honor the first trend while overlooking the second. There is an opportunity to rethink these contests and use them to help students identify a range of ways to create social value, beyond just starting a business. Most importantly, these contests need to foster genuine understanding of problems before asking students to design solutions.”

This segment illustrates the surface level to which these competitions commonly dive. When I say surface level I mean they have not considered the layers of complexity and integration past initial impact, they are in a competitive environment which advocates for speed at the expense of detail, and they commonly have close to no true understanding of the gestalt of the problem let alone the nuances that will overthrow or prove a “solution”. This approach to thinking about social impact and innovation makes us feel “warm and fuzzy” but takes no true steps towards actionable understanding.

Does social justice require selfless altruism? I don’t know if that question is answerable. Though my sense says that if we continue to take a masturbatory approach to social impact it will become an increasingly diluted topic that is hard to find value in speaking about. We have the potential of destroying the verbiage that represents beautiful endeavors and intentions across the globe. To build a solid foundation from which healthy products and services grow that invokes thrival and prosperity is a slog of epically rewarding proportions. What really creates foundation? (Product) Red is a revolutionary initiative that leverages consumer habits partnered with the human desire to do good and “feel warm and fuzzy”. It skims the top off of the profits of other companies with the (Product) Red brand on it. This money gets donated to HIV and AIDS relief. Abstractly, let’s think about how it does this. There is no visceral contact with the population (Product) Red is supporting. The money gets donated to not-for-profit organizations that are the “facilitators of impact”. Now we get into the confusing conversation of resource allocation and sustainability. What happens if (Product) Red goes under? Do the communities that it was indirectly serving get their support cut off? Now we are in the complexity of responsibility. In the last paragraph, we have layered multiple pieces of the “equation” for effective social impact on top of each other. This illustrates the magnitude of rigorous thought that it takes to hone a project that will work in congruency with the intention behind it. They are called problems because they are hard to solve. Not just hard to solve, but hard to even get your mind around the multiplicity of factors that affect any one piece of subject matter. Yet, (Product) Red is generating large amounts of funding for these social impact organizations which would not be generated if we were not leveraging the desire to do “good” and “feel warm and fuzzy”.

Let’s enjoy an abstract metaphor:

If you know your horse is thirsty, and you lead him to water. Even if he is truly thirsty, that’s potentially not the problem that needs solving first. He’s tired and stressed from riding so long. He doesn’t even think of water as the problem. All he can do is romanticize about the time when he gets to stop riding.

This begs the question, are we solving the right problem? The Highline “linear park” in New York City represents an interesting example of this. This project turned an elevated railway on Manhattan’s West Side into a high design “linear park”. In an article titled “The Highline’s Next Balancing Act” written by Laura Bliss, she quotes Robert Hammond, the creator of the park;

“Instead of asking what the design should look like, I wish we’d asked, ‘What can we do for you?’ People have bigger problems than design.”

Monetarily the park is a wild success beyond all projections, however Bliss explores Hammond’s reasoning for the above statement;

“Locals aren’t the ones overloading the park, nor are locals all benefiting from its economic windfall.”

“anyone who’s ever strolled among the High Line’s native plants and cold-brew vendors knows its foot traffic is, as a recent City University of New York study found, “overwhelmingly white.” And most visitors are tourists, not locals.” (Bliss, 2017)

We cannot know precisely what the outcomes of our designs will evoke, however, setting out with no definitive social intention, which Hammond admits, means that anything you come to is the “right answer”.

“During the High Line’s planning stages, Hammond and David set up offices inside a local community agency in order to make themselves accessible to public housing tenants, and solicit their opinions on design. But the questions they asked at their “input meetings” were essentially binary: Blue paint, or green paint? Stairs on the left or the right? They rarely got to the heart of what really mattered.” (Bliss, 2017)

Participatory design and co-creation should be respected. The sentiment behind it is potent because it effectively removes assumption (at least that is the intention) and the way that Hammond and David used it is a disrespect to the power it can hold and their outcome proves the difference. However, how much co-creation or user participation is too much?


Putting matters in the hands, brains and context of the people

           People need to make decisions for themselves. I think most people would agree with this statement. Of course, I will offer a counter. Drastic examples prove points more explicitly, so, imagine a heroin addict who is eating little and injecting a lot. Should this person be making decisions for themselves or do they need assistance and guidance in figuring out what they truly need? Aneel Karnani discusses a similar notion in “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: A Mirage”;

“Hammond and Prahalad (2004) cite the example of a poor sweeper woman who expressed pride in being able to use a fashion product, Fair & Lovely, a skin cream marketed by Unilever. “She has a choice and feels empowered.””

This Fair & Lovely whitening cream, marketed to low-income populations in India, is directly reacting to the desires of the user. There is a pop culture of lighter skin being more beautiful. This is the interesting difference between reactive design and responsive design. But, whats missing? Karnani goes on;

“Indian society, like many others, unfortunately suffers from racist and sexist prejudices. This leads many women to use skin lightening products, sometimes with negative health side-effects (Browne, 2004). Hammond and Prahalad (2004) argue that the poor woman “has a choice and feels empowered because of an affordable consumer product formulated for her needs.” This is no empowerment! At best, it is an illusion; at worst, it serves to entrench her disempowerment.”

This design problem requires empathy. An empathetic perspective would inform response rather than reaction. If you read into the nuance of this issue it is an issue of feeling. The women that use the Fair and Lovely product feel like they should have whiter skin because of the projections from the world. Of course, the reactive, money minded approach is to give them what they’re asking for. A responsive solution may hold principles of self confidence in character, willingness to explore why light skin is valued, a motivation to spend money on things that truly develop them as people etc. So continues the conundrum of good design and solid intention. I am reminded of a piece by John Dewey titled “The Need of a Theory of Experience”;

“Does this form of growth create conditions for further growth, or does it set up conditions that shut out the person who has grown in this particular direction from the occasions, stimuli, and opportunities for continuing growth in new directions?”

I will allow you to ponder and will say that a design only has true social impact if the outcome being aimed at is intentional and intentionally open ended, providing a foundation for further growth, freedom and interpretation.


Design is constantly clashing with duality

           We live in a dualistic world. It seems there will always be someone who disagrees with your choices and perspective. This is the reason for critique, to see what other ways your creations can be viewed that your singular perspective couldn’t dream up. There will always be a critical voice and always be an advocate. We need all of it to make a robust, well rounded design. Design what the world needs and see if it works. Either it is a successful product or service or it was a successful learning opportunity. Let’s prioritize learning over shaming. Shame perpetuates competition, which is inherently a cultivator of messiness.

Sprinkled throughout this piece of exploration I discuss the power of pure intention, the merit that social impact has regardless of its success, and the fact that learning is constant and every failed attempt teaches so many other people how to think about the given situation next time. WE need to start using our observing mind to step back and see that we are all shooting at similar targets. When someone writes an article that is in controversy to a previous writing, they are interested in the same thing and are learning from their analysis of the “failure”. Therefore, is failure a true failure? “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Sometimes this simple quote spans across generations. Revolutions are short lived. Evolution doesn’t stop.

“I want to make sure other people don’t make the mistakes we did, and learn how to deal with these issues,” says Hammond. “We certainly don’t have all the answers.”

Testing the hypothesis

In class, during the presentation of this material, I sent out a GoogleForm to my classmates and professor with a set of questions associated with the examples of products, services and initiatives that were outlined and discussed in the articles we read over the past week and a half.

The questions were structured to explore perspectives on the organizations intention, design decisions and how much we learned from analyzing the examples:

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This idea came from a desire to tangibly test my synthesis about the variance in the perspectives of designers. Our perspectives are a make up of every experience we have ever had so the set of values placed on design decisions and levels of intention will differ. My hypothesis was that this would be true, and also we can all agree that these examples of “failure” or “success” can be ubiquitously learned from.

As a class, we explored many products, services and initiatives. I purposefully pulled out a diverse set of these ideas. Diverse in the variance of pure intentions and design decisions.

The 5 that were tested:

  • PlayPump – A water pump that operates like the familiar playground turnstile. (sub-Saharan Africa)
  • Fair and Lovely – Skin whitening cream marketed to low-income populations.(India)
  • Highline “Linear Park” – Revamping a raised railway in West Manhattan. (New York City)
  • Lyft – The decision to donate $1m to the American Civil Liberties union after Trump’s immigration ban. (USA)
  • New Story Charity – Leveraging local laborers, resources and networks to fund and build houses as post disaster relief. (Haiti)

The answers to the first 2 questions regarding design decisions and purity of intention were relatively strewn across the board.

The answer to the last question about learning, in every case, was either a 4 or 5 with one exception of a 3. Primarily 5’s.

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WE are a design community. Im starting to feel like I have merit to be able to say “we”. We really need to learn to make it a definitive WE. Lets learn from each other and be able to own our shortcomings so that others can throughly learn from our mistakes.



Intending to Do Good – Corporate Donation and Public Opinion


Intention is an interesting concept philosophically. The question is I seek to answer is this: Does having an intention other than just charity matter if the outcome produces a social good? My immediate reaction was, yes this does in fact matter. For our intention shades everything going into a project or initiative, and things selfishly intended are not as beneficial as they could be. What then is to be said about an action with unintended consequences? There are many examples of products or services being created due to a latent need found purely by accident, or technologies arising from another research project. Michael Hobbes uses PlayPump International, a company who made water pumps powered by children playing, as an example of good intentions but a failed execution. They raised a huge amount of money, and instituted their idea in many towns. Unfortunately, though well intended, the pumps created issues. In some towns, locals were paying children to play with the pump to get water. Others show women pushing the pump around to get their water. Obviously the company did not intend for this consequence, but does their intention matter since these things did happen? Not for some people. Critique of this idea as well as others with similar unforeseen outcomes is high, and in hindsight, there are obvious mechanisms to used for evaluation to prevent such outcomes. But they wanted to do good. They set out to do good.


Which brings around the point of the authors in this post. Themed as “With the Best Intentions,” these authors all focus on different pieces of the nonprofit sector, highlighting this that work and things that do not. Mark Manson in his article Everything Is Fucked and I’m Pretty Sure It’s the Internet’s Fault, he explores the intentions of the internet. He said “There was a near-utopian level of optimism during this time. Technologists envisioned a highly-educated global population that would tap into the infinite wisdom available at their fingertips.” This is not the internet we see today. What our internet looks like is Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, and cat pictures. The internet has done a lot of good, too. It allows the instantaneous sharing of information, and it allows us to reach people on a grand scale. Manson argues however, the internet does the opposite. The internet allows us to find our tribes and seek comfort, Manson says “The internet in the end was not designed to give people the information they need. It gives people the information they want.” This is a problem. It allows people (including myself) to retreat to the safety and comfort of an echo chamber instead of having a continued and diverse conversation. When we look at charities online, there are horror stories and success stories abound with many organizations. Scathing reviews exist for almost anything now, and it’s difficult to figure out what is true and what is not.


My contention here is that intention, when considering charitable donation, does not matter, to a point. Basically, if an entity (company or private individual) wants to fund charitable organizations, this should not be looked down on. This is my opinion, and seek to support it further. Take for instance the product(RED) campaign. This is huge, and to this point, has raised $465 million dollars for charities. A criticism of this charity during for some time was the limitation of their effects. During its inception, the Global Fund was only targeting a few countries in Africa, but now it has expanded affect to over 100 countries, and also gives money to support local initiatives. Their goal is to end the AIDS epidemic in the world by providing treatment, prevention and education. The major criticism of this organization centered around its income source, using consumerism to bolster charitable donation. Some even said it was stealing donations away from other organizations with similar missions, whilst failing to provide relief on the scale necessary. Since such critique, it seems as if they have expanded, according to their site, to a much wider reach than in 2010, but an important consideration remains—their funding source is still the same. Another point to make is this: there is no precedent for corporations making donations, save donations of profits directly to organizations. By extending this to consumerism it is a bit questionable, but ultimately, they do not have to do anything. This argument is weak, but still true. Previous to this, what percentage of sales went to charity? Marginal in comparison I’m sure.


Controversial? Most definitely. But, is use of this revenue channel bad or good? It’s hard to say, but this is unfortunately why intention becomes a large part of this distinction. You can frame the idea in a few ways. For instance, RED was created because GAP and Bono were hoping to provide social good through a new revenue stream. It’s certainly logical in hindsight; allowing consumers to choose a specific product bearing the logo and color of product(RED) and a portion of the proceeds go to charity. That’s great; it makes charitable donation available wherever these items are sold. On the flip-side, the enrolled companies are using this as a veiled publicity stunt to further their image with the public. They use this good intention to make themselves look better than other companies with prospects of gaining an edge on the competition. Because after all, the world runs on emotions–the things causing people to donate to charities in the first place. We know companies are aware of the weight of these actions.


The intentions of this movement are good, at least in part. The product(RED) campaign has raised money for the Global Fund. No one is disputing this. They have delivered on their promise of products with their brand giving profits to charity. They have also allowed private companies to increase profits by marketing with product(RED). The intention seems to be selfish in nature, and it can be a struggle to see what good may come out of this. What if instead, the real effect, though some years removed, is a precedent of charitable donation from for-profit companies and corporations.


In Alex Holder’s Sex Doesn’t Sell Anymore, Activism Does article, he describes companies like Lyft using charitable donation to a public cause to outstrip the user base of their direct competitor: Uber. Uber responds in kind by making a donation larger to cover their loss of consumer base and to cleanse their public image. Holder quotes Will Fowler as saying “Brands are allowing people to pat themselves on the back without them personally having to sacrifice anything.” The defining piece of charity is not self-sacrifice, it is the voluntary help. So, is the move to donate to charity for an overall profit for the company, and an overall net good, a bad thing?


My opinion is no. At the Austin Center for Design, the faculty teach and believe in the idea of a “social” business. A self sustaining profitable business also producing a net social good from its interactions and/or product offerings. Muhammad Yunus describes social businesses as connecting to both the selfishness of humans as well as their selflessness simultaneously. The goal of the business is to grow and scale, maintain a profitable margin, while also providing a social good or service to address a specific social problem. Seemingly, this is what product(RED) is by definition. Their model is taking profit made from product sales or credit card transactions and distributing the money made to their non profit organization of choice. It’s a simple value proposition, and to this point, it has been succeeding. Scaling and growing a customer base as well as increasing donation and the ability to make change for The Global Fund.


If we think about the other businesses who fuel product(RED), their primary goal is profit, but they also have a social good packaged in as well in offering the choice to donate by buying certain products. Whether the intention is to publicize their efforts, or gather a larger customer base, the question remains–is it not still a social good? When first considering this, it seemed to be a less than well intended campaign, but as I read Jon Kolko’s Design Strategy, Product Management, Education and Writing, I found myself conflicted. He states “[The future for designers] …lies instead in encouraging behavioral change and explicitly shaping culture in a positive and lasting way.” The intention of product(RED) could be a beginning step in the right direction for all business. As with Uber and Lyft competing with donations, other companies have joined the repertoire of donors. Amazon with their Smile campaign, alongside many others. Charity is possible alongside consumerism; in fact it works pretty well. Now, all told, none of these organizations are in the top 100 of largest recipients of donations, but the amount of money they are raising is certainly not trivial. The product(RED) campaign has enabled the Global Fund to fund local charities all over the world to address the issues at the ground level by the people in the communities. This model could be a tipping factor for other businesses ensuring their profitability and wealth is used in part to fund social initiatives around the world.


If implemented properly, models like these, percentage of purchase, a percentage of profits overall, etc, would create a large sum of money for charities. It would also be a reminder that everything you buy has a portion going to charity. There are obvious potential downfalls. The number of normal donations could fall dramatically. If people are getting their warm and fuzzy feelings from normal purchasing, why would they donate directly to the cause? Arguably, knowing everything included donation might be a catalyst to make people more charitable overall, and be more mindful of what we are buying and where our money is going. Behavior change is difficult, but much easier when prevalent. If you give people the tools and the precedent, they will adopt in kind from the scaffold built around them.


There is a lot of criticism for Amazon’s smile movement, similar to how Phu argues disqualifies product(RED) as a truly beneficial initiative. My question to her focuses on the final sentence of the article, which sounds like a call to action, “Ultimately it means that individuals need to start taking personal agency to advocate for social change and look into the how their consumption may impact others.” If these campaigns allow people to see how their consumption can impact others, why not start there? Why not have consumers push for the increased donation of corporations and for profit companies? Why not make this an accepted and necessary practice? If the expectation is that all companies will partake, then it may gain traction and proliferate. 2015 was the most generous year from the United States, with around 373 billion dollars raised for charities. The highest portion given was from individuals, at 264.5 billion, and corporate giving placed last at a mere 18.45 billion, even though their profits are far higher than the net profit of the individuals in this country. The money and capability is there, but the expectation or, better yet, requirement is not.


The next question is: how do we decide who gets the money? Money is great, but when it’s thrown into the wrong programs, the effect, dollar for dollar, diminishes. The intention of charitable donations is to make a difference in the lives of whomever the organization targets. Their execution defines how successful their endeavors are, and the hope is as much money donated as possible goes to the end recipient of the aid. We analyze intentions and the potential executions and invest that way. Unfortunately, the results are not always as projected. From small organizations just starting out, to large organizations who have been doing aid work forever, there are diverse ways of implementing solutions to the community at large. Some organizations like the PlayPump story start out successful in a single small community, scale up operation due to public support, and fail in other markets because the context and need is different.



In Michael Hobbes’s articles Stop Trying to Save the World, he gives us a concise understanding of his view when he says “What I want to talk shit on is the paradigm of the Big Idea—that once we identify the correct one, we can simply unfurl it on the entire developing world like a picnic blanket.” Here, Hobbes is calling out organizations for not testing their solutions, by hoping their method will apply to everyone everywhere. Unfortunately organizations do not always take into consideration the human component of the systems they are trying to impact. They believe, our method will work for everyone because it works for us. The push needs to be funding companies who show the ability to adapt to the level of diversity existent in human cultures. Not only does this take practice, testing, and consistent reflection, but it also may take organizations being smaller or paying more rigorous attention to outcomes.


New story community pictured above.

For this reason, organizations like New Story, who builds housing currently in seven cities in Central and South America, are wildly successful. New Story makes connections on the ground where they plan to take effect, and work with the local governments and organizations to build in the best locations and build the most effective forms of housing. Not only do they help the communities they go to by giving them shelter and building homes, but they also hire local workers which also bolsters local economies. Adele Peters tells us how New Story built 151 homes in Haiti with a much smaller budget than the six home producing initiative made by the Red Cross costing $500 million. This story highlights what is wrong with the nonprofit industry: there is not enough communication. Whether it is organization to organization, or organization to community, the channels of what will work and what is not working are broken. When you consider the transparency of New Story’s practices compared to most other nonprofits, you see a stark contrast between the moving parts and money understanding from an organization like New Story versus Red Cross. The effectivity and efficiency of the smaller organization is huge in comparison because they are able to dive deep to see what matters instead of using established business channels to solve a new problem. The highlight here is that a larger organization takes time to adapt to a new situation and can afford to fail. But what cost does their failure bring? In this case, there is an obvious net negative as funds were not appropriately used for housing and furthermore, did not make a dent in the problem of 60,000 displaced individuals. Currently, the Global Fund, the recipient of the funds from product(RED) does just that. Not only do they fund their own projects, but deliver funds to other local organizations to extend their reach to as many areas as possible. They are changing with the criticism they receive, and are making sure their solutions are applicable to as many people as possible. They are moving in the right direction.



If efficacy starts to deteriorate within organizations, why not push for smaller models or for a model more akin to what the Global Fund does? Or give money directly to the small nonprofits like New Story. Their models of empowering local groups and local people to do the work they need within constraints they understand is more effective than throwing money at a situation and hoping for the best. Jessi Hempel explains this well in The [Human] Codebreakers when she explains how Jan Chipchase and Serota undertake research projects. She says that Chipchase “believes the problem lies in their intent: Instead of entering new markets with an open mind, they approach with a strategy in place, then look for the people who prove their theories right.” In the nonprofit world, these strategies, even when considering providing for the most basic needs, can lead to failures like PlayPumps or the Red Cross housing initiative in Haiti. I’m not discounting the efficacy of these ideas, either. The Red Cross does many things well, and it is an incredibly important organization. However, failures give us the chance to learn and grow, and hopefully these situations provide their leadership with a learning experience on how to approach projects in the future.


The need for charity is real, and companies are approaching this from a variety of ways. From using increased prices on consumer goods for a cause, or taking a small portion of an ATM or transaction fee, to nonprofits being funded by the people of a country, product(RED) is trying to help. This was the intention, and it was well executed, and has raised a decent amount of money. Their charity is doing great work. GAP’s intention was to sell products that would help this effort, but also profit. Their intention was fulfilled on both ends, and the question was: Does it matter if there is a profitable intention? No. Not really. The consensus seems to be it would be better if it were just a donation, but they are increasing money delivered to a cause. The next question we sought to answer is: who should get this money? The answer to that is much more straightforward: the people who can recognize where it’s needed. Not a building corporation here, or a developer from another country. Hire the most local people and find people who understand the true needs, not only of the people and their culture, but also those who have fluency in the local regulations and laws. Simply put, we need to be taking all of the money we can from anyone who is willing to give it. If we can trick other companies to do the same and contribute by having charitable contributions be publicized, let’s do it. After all, they are the smallest contributors to charities in the United States, making up only 4% of the donations from the US. They have the power to do more, to donate more, to make a difference in countless lives, and they should be. They should do it by fueling efforts to understand the culture and by uplifting the local people instead of applying a generic solution to every area and hoping it sticks. We need to treat people like people and seek to understand them. Use our skepticism and our ability to ask why to truly understand. This is how we will make a change for the better in the world, this is the behavior change we need. Ask why and seek to truly understand.


Driving human-centered design in a large enterprise: an interview with AC4D alumni Dave Gottlieb

Dave Gottlieb and I attended Austin Center for Design (AC4D) together from 2012–2013. We worked closely on a variety of design research efforts focusing, for example, on how schools and parents work to provide healthy eating options to middle school children, and how seniors at home utilize technology for communication with family, among others. Through all of the intense moments of the everlasting bootcamp that is AC4D, I will never forget Dave’s patience, deep booming voice and warm heartened-ness, nor his dedication to the process and improving his craft over time. In this interview, we explore Dave’s reflections on his time at AC4D, and how ultimately he has been able to facilitate the human centered design process @workday to drive the success of a large scale learning solution.

How did you find out about Austin Center for Design?

I remember — it was 2012. I was at my sister Chloe’s apartment in Brooklyn, who had just come back from a conference in Brazil with Jon Kolko. She mentioned Jon, “started something new and exciting that I haven’t heard of before, it’s a program in Austin that I think you would really love focused around, design and social entrepreneurship. It is something that I would do if I hadn’t already gone to design school.”

It was right at this time when I had tapped into the social entrepreneurship scene in Brooklyn, NY. I was facilitating Impact Sessions, a speaker series focused on the stories of people who were starting their own startups; in the back of my mind I didn’t know if I had the skills to start my own business or if I had the creative side to do it. So the concept of attending came right at a critical point in my life where I was like, “alright, let me apply, I doubt I’ll get in, but let’s give it a shot!” So I applied.

Funny story. The acceptance letter was sent to my yahoo email address — which I never check — so I didn’t even know that I had been accepted until a month before everybody was supposed to show up. Not even a month before, I think it was two-weeks before! Jon was like, “Oh, I thought you weren’t interested because you never got back to me.” And I was like, “I’m in! Let’s do this!”

I just remember going to that first, small building and meeting Jon and being like, “Oh my god, what did I get myself into?” But also excited at the same time. It just felt right since the day I got there. You know when you make a decision and it just feels like the right one, like the right path to something new and exciting.

What was your experience like during school?

I knew that I was coming in with very little design experience. I had never touched any of the Adobe products, I knew nothing about wireframing, I knew nothing about storyboarding. I knew nothing about sketching. So I was pretty much starting from scratch, but I think I came in with a lot of background in storytelling, and in building empathy and connections: I had a background in understanding people in different communities because of growing up on a yoga center or “Ashram” in upstate NY and being around a lot of different groups of people and always being passionate about social issues, especially environmental issues. So I knew I could catch up with the practical skills if I put myself to the task.

I kind of played catch-up early on but that added to the fun. I think as a designer, you always feel like you are catching up because there is always someone who is more highly skilled than you are in whatever tool you are using, but it was just a matter of getting a certain level of fluency in order to be able to present your ideas and get feedback. I think a lot of the course was making a thing and then presenting ideas — a lot of them bad, some of them good — and then getting feedback. A key part of the program is learning how to take the critical feedback and improve upon your ideas, it’s an iterative process. This process was definitely a new thing for me to learn.

Dave and other members of the AC4D class of 2013.

What was your greatest challenge at AC4D?

I think it was in the first quarter that I had a lot of doubt that I would be able to do it, but there was a point in time that I just broke through that and I was just working off of the improvements I was making. I went from feeling deflated to filled with energy. I saw that it wasn’t just design work in a sense that people think about design work as in visual design, there was so much more to the program — a whole process of discovery work and talking to people to gain insights into what they might actually need. It was that discovery piece that I could see myself doing in the future more than the interaction design work.

What do you feel was your greatest moment?

I think one of the best moments was when you (Eric), myself, Eli and Callie presented the second quarter. We presented our initial design concepts — at that point we didn’t have to decide on our final project — but we had a group of ideas that came together from research and synthesis that we had all done. We narrowed about 150 ideas into three concepts that we presented. I just remember us presenting to a large audience and getting great feedback, I could tell they were engaged and we received a really nice applause as well as a handful of thoughtful questions. At that moment it just felt like the hard work we had done over the last several months had paid off. I just remember so many high and low points in that process and then delivering a great presentation and it felt like a big accomplishment. That’s when I was like, ‘Alright, I can do this.’ Do you remember that moment?

I remember that moment, I love that moment! Tell me more about your final project at AC4D.

So Eli, Callie and I — because you (Eric) ended up doing your own thing — we were studying baby boomers and how they were using technology. We did a lot of contextual inquiry where we went into people’s homes and talked to them, and every time we talked to someone they ended up opening up their photo books and showing us their family and they felt very distant. We live in this time where people are spread out across the world; it’s a global economy now, and so we wanted to figure out, how could we capture the wisdom and stories of the elderly and bring them together with their family and friends?

Out of our ideation process came the seedling for Spoak — which was an iPad based storytelling tool where people could utilize their photos and add audio stories to them and then share those with their family who, in turn, could add additional stories to them and share back. We chose the ipad as our form factor because we saw great adoption of it in the homes of our elderly participants, because it was easier to swipe and simply had larger fonts.

Dave, Eli, and Callie presenting Spoak at AC4D final presentations.

Tell me, what it’s like to be an alumni?

Well I always feel like I’m telling people about my experience no matter where I go — so no matter if I was in Austin, or California or Ireland, I just love to talk about my experience there at AC4D. I think there’s few points in my life where I felt like I gained so much from such a short amount of time — and AC4D is one of those. So, as an alumni, I remember being in Austin with other alumni and it was great because we all had each other if we felt stuck or had questions about our role or projects. Now, I can’t just walk over to the school or meet someone in person, but I know that I made such deep connections while I was there that I can easily email or call to get advice from anyone at any point because it’s such a close-knit community.

Being in Dublin, I just recently saw Jon Kolko and Jess because he was speaking at a conference here. My colleagues at work love Jon and are always watching his talks. So that was good — it just reminded me that no matter where I am, the AC4D community will pop in.

I just mentioned, I’m always talking about the program. I think I’ve recommended a bunch of people and I’m hoping that a few people I recommended for this year will apply because I’m constantly getting people coming to me in a very similar point in their life and I know that AC4D can be the perfect opportunity for them to kind of get over the hurdle where they are getting stuck. A lot of people get stuck in their life where they are sick of doing some job that they don’t like or feeling like they’re not moving in the right direction or in a place that they’re excited about. Or, they are very socially driven, and they want to make an impact, but they feel stuck.

They get to that point. I end up talking to these people about my experience at AC4D, and they get really excited about it. Given my experience abroad at this point — at how similar that point or feeling is across borders — I believe that AC4D could have different centers in different cities. That’s just how impactful it could be.

What are you most proud of related to design since you graduated?

The launch of Workday Learning, because it’s something that I’ve been working on for the last 2 and a half years. It’s a completely different style LMS product — actually we didn’t want it to be a tradition LMS — that has been driven ground up by design and design research. When we started, we focused on inspiring the product vision and capabilities, which came from talking with and observing employees using techniques I learned at AC4D and shared with the product manager, Nate, who I was doing the research with.

Dave finishing up his notes post usability study.

What we saw over and over again, especially with the millennial generation, is that it’s a group that wants to connect with their peers. They want to help shape the direction of their companies and share ideas to improve. And so we knew that we had to give people the ability to create their own content, to rate and recommend content, so you can search and learn what you want to learn like Youtube, not feel like your company is telling you what to learn (for only superficial or legalistic reasons). It’s a more connecting and inviting software.

It started so small with stakeholder interviews and contextual inquiries outside of Pleasanton, CA, then we travelled across the US and Europe — just two of us, with guidance from my design manager Eric. Our research led towards the strategic decision to build Workday Learning — and I was asked to go help build the design team in Dublin. And now we have over 50 people working on it. So that in it of itself — to know that 50 + jobs have been created and two companies have been acquired and ingested into it. We have 100+ companies now in the pipeline, and 5 have gone live. One large customer that will eventually go live with Workday Learning has over 500,000 employees. Potentially 500,000 people at one company will be using our product. That’s pretty cool. I’m proud of that scale, and of being one of its founders for a modern learning technology platform that will be used around the globe.

Dave in transit for user testing at Twitter.

How were you able to get the runway to build this product?

A lot of that was — in order to sell that idea, we had to sell the research, and through the research we found the pain points in the existing software. I think being able to bring the teachings of AC4D — the ability to go do discovery work specifically — into a large and fast growing company, was really exciting and has changed the culture internally and the UX focus. It’s brought the importance of UX to the forefront, that we should be involved from the beginning and not just at the end to make a product look pretty. I think a lot of times that happens, particularly in companies that are product management and development driven. We now have a seat at the table because of products like Workday Learning.

Dave, you’re a rockstar. Badass! (laughing)

Thanks. Honestly, I was worried a bit up front — working for a larger enterprise software company. But then you realize one company signs on, and your designs could be used by hundreds of thousands of people. It’s an incredible thing to realize. Ultimately designers want people to use their products and effect change — they want to promote their ideas. So with having access to that many customers and people using your products, it’s pretty awesome. And Workday is just growing and growing like crazy. The design team when I started in Pleasanton was 20–25 folks, now they have over 50. When I went to Dublin to help further build out the design team and the product, it was Bill and myself, and now we have another 12. It’s cool to be part of a company that’s growing like that.

Dave at the new office opening party in Dublin, Ireland.

Talk more about your beliefs about working for an enterprise software company vs a more consumer oriented software.

I haven’t worked on consumer software in a while, but it’s very easy to go out and talk to potential customers and come up with an idea that you can design for that group of users. It seems like you can go more blue sky with designs and you can design more for the consumer facing side of the product. With enterprise, for example, you have different groups of users. In Workday Learning, we’re designing for new hires, managers, instructors, course creators, administrators — it’s a much bigger thing. What helped us with this was creating four personas which drove our design.

You have to be able to create, deliver, and report on content and also have the end user experience. At the end of the day, you have a whole sales team that’s selling that product. So in a way, in order to go out and talk to your customers, you need to go through a variety of channels just to get the opportunity to talk to a customer. If I had a startup, I could go to the Starbucks down the street and test out a design. You can’t just do that with enterprise. There’s too much security, and a lot of complexity.

How does that make you feel?

It’s both challenging and rewarding. At AC4D, we were taught that if you have a design, you go out and test it. Get five people, get feedback, iterate, and move on to your next iteration. We can do that internally through hallway testing, but a lot of times there’s just layers of security that makes that tough. Navigating the world and thinking about how to sell your ideas is important no matter what company you work in.

In that context, I lead workshops often with product managers and developers to cover “what is UX”. I have a whole deck of slides covering the different phases of the design process, emphasizing why talking with us earlier is better: this is how we can help you. Then you have to do a project with that team and over time, they’ll learn — let’s get UX involved early. So now we’re getting a seat at the table early in the process instead of putting out fires at the end.

It’s great to see the evolution of design thinking at the organization. Right now we are testing products in our new state of the art UX Design Studio where we have the PMs and devs sitting in on product testing sessions; they’re writing down post it notes about participants and having debrief sessions. It’s really cool to see their faces when they’re seeing users using the product. I’ve heard it more than once: “oh my god. I’ve been working on this for the last year and I’ve never seen a user use the product.” Honestly, they’re just really loving this ability to see customers use the product and that has been not only really fun, but really inspirational towards the improvement of our products.

Sample user persona used in creation of Workday Learning.

Closing question — parting words of wisdom for students considering applying, or for those interested in doing more social impact work?

Now more than ever we need creative thinkers, problem solvers, and designers — especially given the political climate — we need to throw away the divisive nature and get people together to solve problems using design thinking, using statistical data, using behavioral economics — whatever it is — because what we’re doing right now isn’t working. Politics is dividing people and our country and the politicians aren’t solving the largest issues facing us today in a smart way. Seeing how AC4D enables you to take a big problem and take a chunk of that and really go out and learn about it and figure out ways to solve it — a lot of times people feel frustrated and are unsure what to do to make a change, and I think as someone who’s a social activist and passionate about an issue, it’s the perfect place to take that passion and connect that drive with methods that work in order to feel like you are making a difference and actually go out make a thing. I am excited to see AC4D grow and be part of an evolving creative community of rock stars. Thanks Eric for helping to spread the word.

Dave Gottlieb in Ireland (when not doing design work, Dave’s exploring all corners of his adopted country).

Austin Center for Design is a not-for-profit educational institution on the East Side of Austin, Texas that exists to transform society through design.

From myAT&T to yourAT&T – Design Strategy Feature Brief

AT&T is a complex product that needs to do a lot of things. Things like pay bills. Buy devices. Observe different types and levels of data etc. An application that spans across commerce, finances and data usage holds a lot of complexity and therefore is inherently difficult to make in a simple fashion while still scoring high on usability tests.

The steps bringing our designs to this final stage have been arduous and many. They include conducting research with people who currently use the myAT&T product where we gain a comprehensive understanding of how it feels to be a person in direct relation with the various attributes of the product.

From there we mapped the connections between attributes and tasks. Understanding what features and components were and/or could be related to each other was key to making an experience that makes sense. Then came development of the wireframes from sketching to digital.

It then got exciting going to meet with a developer and get the creation sized up for a development timeline and then thinking critically and strategically to put those timelines into a roadmap and action plan.

In creating the Feature brief, or final document, the process is to pull the most essential and impactful pieces out from all of those processes and aggregate them into a story. This was the most clear example of always having more information than you can articulate concisely.

It was cool to see how fluent I was in this product. When you’re in the thick of a certain part of the process, its often hard to see the full value of what you gleaned from each step. Creating a Design Strategy Feature Brief is a sure way of making sure that you have dumped each portion of your knowledge on the project at hand, onto the paper or screen in front of you.

In research I was noticing 3 main things:


  • The AT&T mobile application is not a place where users go to “hangout” for pleasure.
  • The existing in-app experience feels like a conglomerate of different development efforts that have been “patchworked” together.
  • Users are confused by the multiple routes there are to the completion of a task.


The first one is pointing towards the PURPOSE of the application. How do people naturally use the thing?

The second one is regarding CONTINUITY. The current state of the application feels like it was trying to cram all of the needed attributes in the experience without thinking about things like flow, continuity, number of steps, recognition vs recall etc.

The 3rd one is regarding the actual FUNCTION of the app. How does it relate with itself? For example: There are 5 different ways a ‘+’ sign is used in the current experience.

These observations informed my design decisions. The abstraction of these observations told me what I should do…

  1. The product should provide the ability to quickly complete actions
  2. The product should feel like a cohesive, trusted experience
  3. The product should provide clear pathways to the tasks users want to complete

All of these behavioral insights and design principles are pointing towards an overarching theme of efficiency and trust being held as the highest values. Therefore with all of my thoughts I was trying to condense information. Provide more streamlined ways of moving through the experience.

The value that I promised to deliver came to this:

I promise to help AT&T customers rapidly accomplish tasks with ease while feeling in control of their account.

This massively influenced my UX and UI decisions. Especially because of the discombobulation of the current experience I was set on making it fluid and easy to be fluent in, as well as quick to develop. I was looking at this project as relatively start-up style. If I was on a guerilla team trying to get this product out to the AT&T customers because the current experience is so “broken”. Therefore I changed much of my navigation to standard iOS components to be able to get it out the door more swiftly.

In considering this drastic of a change. What, really, is a change of company posture and approach. I started to think about how a company would launch a change like this. A Feature brief could be the perfect spot to initiate that kind of conceptual, company perspective change.


yourAT&T Feature Brief V3

AT&T Redesign Brief

Welcome to the final installment of the AT&T Mobile Application Redesign. For the past eight weeks we’ve been refining our designs, tested with users, sliced through features to fit into a release timelines and now we can deliver a final strategic design brief. This blog post contains a description of the final iteration of the application, the collection of the Insights & Value Promise, the construction of the strategic road map, and finally the culmination of combining all the elements into the brief itself. The final version of the brief can be found at the end of this post.

The first task that needed to be tackled was another redesign of the application. The additional challenge was that this iteration needed to be completed in Sketch instead of Illustrator. In order to complete this I first needed to get an IOS toolkit & some icons build for Sketch and watch a few quick tutorials. After that, I was ready to go. It thankfully wasn’t a complete redesign of my application. For example, my flows that had been established and the features I had created, both of these were keep in the redesign. It was more like I was redesign the layout of my application. Sketch also makes the creating of an application extremely simple once you’ve already gotten a toolkit. All total the redesign took me a significantly less amount of time. Below is an image of the Billing Page from the last iteration (left) and the most current version (right), to give you a sense of what was leveraged from the last iteration and what this final version looks like.


Once I had finished redesigning my application, I could move forward with other concrete pieces of the Design Brief. The next portion I chose to complete was to collect and revise my insights and value promise. Again I didn’t have to completely rewrite the insights or the value promise, but both of these elements were a bit rusty since they hadn’t been reviewed in a while. The final insights I decided to include within the brief were:


  1. Customers only spend an extended period of time in the application if there is an issue with their account.
  2. The lack of standardization of visual design within the application cause users to feel disjointed when navigating a flow.
  3. The diverse capabilities of the application are overshadowed by feelings of confusion and frustration.


With each of these I added an explanation containing their significant and evidence from research. These would be integral for an individual reading the design brief to understand what prompted my reason for every design decision.

I also had to review the Value Promise, so that individuals reading the brief would understand what was the goal of my application. During class Jon had said the Value Promise had a structure to it. The first part is a quantifiable goal for the application to strive for, the second is a reason for that thing. For my AT&T application redesign “We promise to expand customers’ knowledge and use of the application, so that they can feel a sense of control over their account and service”. The quantifiable part is a user’s knowledge and the reason is so they have more control over their account. Each of these elements began to feel more concrete and substantial enough to put them into the brief.

The next piece I began to focus on was the Strategic Road map. This was introduced to me with the initial assignment. Jon had shown us an example on one, and explained how it’s very similar to a Product Road map. The key difference is that this map does not contain dates or resource allocation. Before I began my own creative exploration of this map, I did some preliminary research around what these typically look like. Once I had gotten a better idea of what the layout and structure should look like, I began concepting my own. Below is an image of that first sketches I did before moving into Sketch.




I decided to move forward with the bottom right design. The gradual decrease of the triangles perfectly represented the decreasing workload for the team. It also made breaking out the different phases of the release easy to represented. Once I transitioned the file into Sketch I keep messing around with the various elements: the capabilities’ location, the colors, the shape of the triangles. I never felt it was communicating its intention. I decided to show it to Sally and Conner who pressed me with questions about the design. This conversation though short, gave me insight into what elements the design wasn’t communicating properly. For example, Conner asked about the color choice and after explaining the reasoning, I understood that for him the current color options weren’t conveying the idea of a continuing development. So I went back to Sketch with their questions and feedback fresh in my mind and I tweaked the map to be more inline with what I wanted the audience to understand. Below is a PDF of the final image that is included in my design brief.




Since we had already defined the features and controls when meeting with our developers, I know I didn’t need to redefine them again for the Feature Brief. Instead I now needed to build out my actual brief. Knowing from the beginning that the brief would be printed out, it was recommended to build it out in Indesign. This way I could control the layout and size of different elements more easily. Jon gave Elijah and I a quick tutorial as a starting point, and then I began my brief. I was finally ready to begin compiling all the elements into the one document. As I went along adding the Insights and Value Promise I realized the transition was a bit rocky. To provide a smoother transition I decided to add in Design Ambitions, which I considered to be large overarching aspirations that support the Value Promise, but are also parallels to the insights. These gave a direct connection to the Insights and helped support the Value Promise.

Once I had completed the Overview, Insights, Ambitions, Value Promise and Strategic Road Map; the Capabilities came next. This section contained each of the different features with a description so that anyone can see the feature and its value for the application. To help prompt my description of the features, I merely posed the question “what does this do and what does the user get out of this?” Then I also tried to tie each feature and its abilities back to the North Star of user control. That way the reason is clearly defined for the feature.

I ended up doing three other iterations of the full book. Throughout each iteration I would print out a few of the sheets to decide on a layout. Below is an image of two different layouts I tried while reviewing, I ended up going with the option on the right.




The review process, both editing written content and reviewing layouts, helped me to narrow down and polish the final design brief. I especially found it was useful to flip through the final PDF’d brief to catch any misplaced texts or images.

Ultimately the process of combining information and polishing a brief was arduous, but the effect of feeling a printed out piece of my own efforts was rewarding. Below is a link to the final PDF Design Strategy Brief.
AT&T, Design Strategy Brief

Product Management Part 3: Feature Brief

Over the past two quarters, the class has gone through a process of redesigning AT&T’s mobile application. This process has included:

  1. Brief research to find pain-points within the current app and to uncover what’s most important to the user when managing her mobile account.
  2. Concept modeling to understand the key functionalities of the app.
  3. Ideation to design new flows.
  4. Evaluating, testing, and iterating on those flows.
  5. Estimating how long each design would take to develop.
  6. Creating a product roadmap, detailing how and in what sequence each flow would be built.

Our latest undertaking is the Feature Brief. A Feature Brief is a document that presents a simple, cohesive vision of what you should build and why you should build it. It acts as a north star for the product and its development.

The Feature Brief communicates insights found through research, design pillars inspired by the insights, what value the product will deliver (the value promise), a high-level description of the app’s key features and capabilities, and a roadmap of how a team will build the app.

Through a brief stint of research, I observed the following:

  1. People have an emotional attachment to their phones, acting as an access point to their social networks.
  2. Customer’s usage varies throughout the billing cycle, leaving them wondering if they will exceed their limit.
  3. AT&T offers an overwhelming amount of features and add-ons, distracting the customer from their primary needs.


Design Principles

Based on the above insights, I crafted my design to follow the below principles:

  1. Our product should make customers feel secure that they will always have access to their phones and their usage will never be threatened.
  2. Our product should give customers a clear understanding of their data usage and protect them from overage fees.
  3. Our product should prioritize what customers want to see, and progressively reveal more advanced features as the customer indicates interest.

The Value Promise

The value promise encapsulates the three design principles: Our promise is to give customers complete control and clarity around their mobile phone usage.

Key Features & Capabilities

Our research determined that the following capabilities were most important to customers:

  1. Make a bill payment
  2. Set up autopayment
  3. Manage data usage
  4. Change plan
  5. Upgrade phone
  6. Edit Account Settings

These determined the features & capabilities outlined below.

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To build this app, I created a high-level strategic roadmap, outlining the order in which each capability would be built.

myATT Strategic Roadmap - Hall

myAT&T Strategic RoadmapmyAT&T Strategic Roadmap

AT&T Redesign Features and Functionality

This is the final installment of the AT&T application redesign saga. From the last post here(prior post showing development estimate details), the design has been flattened to reflect a monochromatic color scheme, and has also gone through a bit of redesign. The full set of screens can be found here(full set of screens), this file is a bit messy, but it gives every screen designed for the AT&T management experience. From the last post, the application underwent a few changes. These were to keep a more consistent spacing, padding, and text style throughout the application to a consistent experience and style. This final installment will cover the various features and expand on the value delivered by the final product.

Backtracking to about 14 weeks ago, the task at hand was to find problems existent in the current application and consider ways of redesigning the interaction to better help users navigate, use, and be satisfied with the experience provided by their wireless account management tool. There were three main findings discovered through user research. They are listed below with explanations of the impact the finding had on the redesign of the application. The manifestation of these implications will be shown later alongside the feature delivering on the implication.

Users want the capability of an employee without the hassle of going to the store. – Essentially users do not want to have to contact AT&T or go to one of their stores or kiosks unless they want to. It is inconvenient to try to make changes to an account through a dedicated management application and still have to call support for help. This left users feeling frustrated and under-appreciated while using the application, as they hoped their experience would be simple and fluid.

Which brings us to our next insight into user needs:

Users need simple, familiar navigation, obvious way-finding and feature placement to encourage error prevention.- Much of what users were saying was the application was “like a maze.” They were getting redirected, links would stop loading due to the web wrap, and the interaction with the application was sub-par at best. These people wanted a responsive, thorough application where they did not have to play a guessing game to complete their tasks.

Finally, Users want to see progress to monthly limits quickly and easily.– Even before paying their bills, users come to the AT&T application to see their monthly data, talk, and text balances. For many users, especially those with multiple lines held by their children, it was of the utmost importance to be able to see how much data was used total, as well as per device. This allowed for accountability on the user’s end, and allows users to increase these balances before incurring overage charges.

What do all of these mean?

The previous statements for user needs, or insights, led to three principles followed very closely during the design process. These are:

-Give users full account control; allow them to do everything they may want to do to impact their mobile bill or plan from their phone.

-Use familiar and build in navigation, and more obvious iconography within the application so users feel more aware of their progress towards accomplishing a task, and are more cognizant of where they should be going to complete their tasks.

-Give users as much information as possible to make informed decisions that will effect their wireless accounts. This, basically, is showing users all of their metrics in easily digestible formats so they are able to make the appropriate changes.

As stated previously, next will be what features were created in direct relation to the insights and design implications found during research. This is an abbreviated version of the full feature brief, detailing each feature and the value delivered to the user. The full feature brief and design details are available here.

Full Account Control

Adherence to this first principle is difficult to illustrate, but giving users the full functionality of the application, from managing authorized users to creating a warranty claim for your broken or malfunctioning device, the redesign has users covered no matter what their desired task. The screens below illustrate the authorized users area, the warranty claim, and the other device settings available to users.

3.10      6.11       8.4

Users Need Simple Familiar Navigation, and Obvious Wayfinding

Giving users simple and familiar navigation options allows them to use an application fluidly and easily, even if they have never used it before. Previously, the functionality of the application was buried. This was remedied with the addition of the bottom navigation icons as well as the removal of the overflow hamburger menu. Users are also always able to go home without going back, or can go back on any screen in the redesign. In the longer tasks, counters showing how many more steps to completion show users their progress to their goal. Shown below are a few screens exemplifying this. The first is within the warranty claim, showing users their progress through the task. The headings added at the top of the screens help to set apart where the user is in relation to the rest of the application. This bar shows pertinent information for the current task, and shows where the user currently is with the less specific heading at the top of the screen.

6.5      6.8       8.3

Users Want to See Their Progress to Monthly Limits

The most used feature of this application is the ability to view current data usage. Most people worry less about their talk and text limits as they are seldom reached or broken, but with the current emphasis on data usage and the movement to always on connectivity, data limits are becoming more and more of a burden. Below is the home screen showing the current usage juxtaposed to the time remaining in the billing cycle. The second screen shows the more detailed usage view, showing users their full usage as the home screen does, but also giving the individual device usage.

2.1       2.2

The final piece is the proposed release timeline over a period of ten weeks. It shows the value delivered during each release, as well as specific features related to that value. It is shown below.


Thank you for your interest in the process and outcomes of this project. It has been a long journey, but experiencing every piece fitting together to create a cohesive design, development plan, and release strategy taught much more than anticipated. Testing with users and doing research to inform a design is difficult, but the value presented in this technique is huge. Knowing the product created will have the desired effects and having the data to back up the claim is a huge confidence boost. Everything was not a happy path though, the attention to detail required creating screens is huge, the thought behind releases and thin-slicing the application requires a level of objectivity I did not have before going through this course. This project and process has given me a new appreciation for the technology we interact with daily, and has ignited a passion for user testing and design I did not have before.

myAT&T Mobile App Redesign – Feature Brief

If you’ve been following along you’re familiar that we are approaching the end of our myAT&T mobile app redesign. During this time a significant amount of work has been done and can feel overwhelming reflecting on what exactly has been done. This is where the benefit of a feature brief comes into play.

A design strategy feature brief is a stand-alone document that condenses the design process into a digestible format. To accomplish this, this document includes:

1. Behavioral insights and principles associated
2. High-level value promise
3. Capabilities and the features associated
4. High-level roadmap

Behavioral insights are derived from research and help shape what the product will become by evolving insights into design principles. My behavioral insights and principles are as follows:

1. Customers use a “set it and forget it” mentality when it comes to managing their mobile phone account. Therefore, Instead of trying to do everything involved in managing a mobile phone account, our product should focus on bringing the highest valued features into a simplified experience.
2. Customers are primarily interested in viewing their current data usage compared to their data plan limits. Therefore, Our product should give quick and easy access to current data usage in an easy to digest visualization.
3. Customers expect a familiar and smooth experience when managing their mobile phone account, especially from their phone. Our product should use standard navigation and patterns that are already familiar to a user.

A value promise is a succinct statement that is further derived from the design principles created from research. This statement is formatted in a way that paints a clear picture of the primary intentions of the designed experience. It is also used to measure if the product was in fact successful when compared to those intentions. My value promise:

We promise to provide personalized value while creating a streamlined and familiar experience.

Next in the feature brief are detailed capabilities of the product. The capabilities will typically include what value the capability provide the user, the features involved to create this value, and one or two visual screens to show how the value and features manifest within the design. Below is an example of my data plan capability.


Capability - Data Plan 1

Capability - Data Plan 2

The last section of the feature brief includes a roadmap very similar to what was created previously. The difference is that the roadmap included in the feature brief is displayed at a higher-level eliminating specific dates or timelines. It should be relative, not absolute. The reasoning for this is that it could potentially create unrealistic promises that may not be fully realized at this point.

Roadmap v1.0

The feature brief is a valuable stand-alone document that is able to give a brief summary of the most important aspects of the product being created, without having to be there to explain anything. You may view my feature brief in full in the link below:

myAT&T Mobile App Redesign – Feature Brief

If you would like to review the entire process involved redesigning the myAT&T mobile experience you may use the following links:

Redesigning myAT&T – Storyboard Flows
Redesigning myAT&T – Sketches to Digital Wireframes and User Testing
Evaluation my myAT&T Mobile Redesign
Making myAT&T Designs a Reality – Part 1
Making myAT&T Designs a Reality – Part 2, Roadmapping
myAT&T Mobile App Redesign – Feature Brief