Event Recap: Designing for Social Good, from Startups to Government

At Austin Startup Week this year, the City of Austin Innovation Office convened a panel of designers who are reshaping sustainability, government services, and public health.

Panelists included Melissa Chapman, Senior Designer at VA Center for Innovation; Jose Colucci, Director of R&D at Design Institute for Health, Dell Medical School; Roman Gonzalez, Founder of Gardenio; and Ben Guhin, Senior Advisor for the Design, Technology and Innovation Fellows Program at the City of Austin.

Moderated by Austin Center for Design’s director Ruby Ku, the panelists shared the projects they are tackling and the unique challenges they face from creating new ventures or initiatives within large organizations.

Designers as Facilitators

Designing for social good often means going beyond designing products and services, rather it requires developing a new culture for organizations and communities to think about problems and work together differently. In essence, designers take on the role of a facilitator.

“With big problems like homelessness, affordability, and democracy, there is no single product owner you can get your requirements from.” Guhin reflected on his journey on creating and leading the City of Austin’s Innovation Fellows program. “Designers must create a conversation and learn how to add people into the design process.”

“It becomes easier to facilitate if you don’t parade the word design around.” With her work with the Veteran Affair’s office, Chapman has to remember that stakeholder have different motivations and vocabulary. “The interests of the designers, users, and investors can vary widely, so designers must be ready to tell their story in different ways.”

While some panelists find using the word “design” hindering in their work, Colucci and his team take a different approach at the Design Institute for Health. “We try not to hide the word design. We try to convey the idea that everyone can be a designer in their work and teach methods of design, ideation, and not think of anything as final. Designing something is always an attempt to get better and improve.”

Don’t Forget The Bottom Line

As a relatively new space, most social impact projects operate in startup mode. That requires designers to simultaneously think like any business founder. This is true whether one is starting a new venture or a new initiative within a larger organization.

Gonzales is the founder of Gardenio, a platform that empowers people to grow their own food. Most questions he gets are around how his endeavor is going to be a viable business. “At the end of the day, [impact investors] are still investors and want some kind of return so we need to show that we have financial and social impact.”

The City of Austin started their Innovation Fellows program with almost no funding. Guhin and his team had to be creative on how they could prove value in the early days. They decided to start with a consulting model and partnered with departments on projects they were already working on. “That’s how we established our early brand last August. Now in our second year, the fellowship has more work than we can accomplish.”

Do the Work

The panel ended with advice for people who want to do this type of work. While Gonzales advocated for being your own boss, Colucci urged designers to consider whether their goals are better served by working in an existing organization and trying to improve them instead.

At the end of the day, all of them concluded that developing your chops as a designer is the most important thing. “Just do the work. My advice is choose a problem or website and do it better. Give yourself a project and also develop your philosophy on what kind of problems are worth solving. Doing the work is what helps you get better and develop your design muscles over time.” said Chapman.


To read the full transcript, please visit here. 

Event Recap: Making Design for Good Part of Your Career

To wrap Austin Design Week, AIGA Austin hosted a panel discussion featuring local designers about how to make design for good part of your career. This latest installment in AIGA’s Changemaker series brought together designers from all career stages who have committed to make giving back part of their everyday lives.

Panelists included Lauren Serota, Austin Center for Design founding faculty member; Adam Butler, founder of The Butler Bros; Victoria O’Dell, Brigade Captain of Open Austin; and Alan Holt, Principal Designer at the City of Austin. Sam Kapila, a designer and educator, moderated the panel at Funsize Studios.

The event was overflowing, attracting both existing designers and educators involved with social good and citizens simply interested in how to give back to their communities.

Understanding Design for Good
Despite different backgrounds and clients, all designers agreed that intention is key when solving social problems.

“Design for good, for me, is considering the potential implications of my involvement and what the outcomes might be of my work– hoping it’s net positive and deciding when not to involve myself if that’s not likely,” said Serota.

Working as a Principal Designer for the City of Austin, Alan Holt is not only concerned with how to make great public spaces that are beautiful, but how do we create public spaces that are sustainable and connect us together?  

O’Dell has already discovered to only commit herself to projects that she truly believes in and that will positively impact her community. “Design for good for is the integration and elevation of ideas that will help everyone,” said O’Dell.

Serving Your Community
People and communities are at the core of designing for social good. Prior to becoming a designer for cities, Alan Holt started at a boutique architecture firm designing for elite New Yorkers. Once moving into the public sector, he realized he could help give a voice to the people he serves.

“On a day-to-day basis, I’m working in a world of politics where some people can say yes, and some people can say no,” said Holt. “Who I really feel I need to serve are the people who are oftentimes most powerless in that conversation. As designers I believe we can bring something unique to that conversation just because design is a radical act.”

Designing for your community can be as big Austin’s South Central Waterfront Initiative, a $1.2 billion dollar project Holt is spearheading in Austin, to starting a simple campaign to encourage community through waving. In 2013, Butler noticed hostility between cyclists and drivers in Austin — so he fought back through a simple act: waving. His agency developed a local campaign, which was later integrated into efforts in Austin and ultimately picked up as a statewide campaign in Rhode Island.

Designers not only have the power to create products and processes, they can also help spark conversations in communities. Serota views this as the biggest challenge and opportunity for success in her work. She advises that allowing your idea to expand, evolve and live in the world independent of you is what makes it more powerful.

“It’s probably 90% of my time now — to produce an environment that is conducive to inspiration coming forward and everyone feeling ownership around it,” said Serota.

Ultimately, community and intention are at the core of designing for good. Even though O’Dell is new to her career, she has already discovered that “to make anything good happen, you need to talk to people.”


CHANGEMAKER is an AIGA Austin initiative that unites teams of creative professionals with nonprofits and social change organizations to use design thinking, sustainable frameworks and creative tools to help advance their mission. Inspired? Sign up here to learn how you can help build a movement for change.

Accepting applications for the class of 2018-2019 now!

Austin Center for Design is now accepting applications for the class of 2018-2019. Admission details can be found here. Application deadline is January 15, 2018.

For those who are hearing about us for the first time, you can learn about our curriculum, type of student projects, and what our alumni are up to after graduation – Check out this three-min video about us! There’s also an entire book about the designerly approach to wicked problems you can read online for free.

Can I experience what it’s actually like in-person?

There are three ways to join us in person to learn about our pedagogy and approach:

  1. We will be hosting our annual Design for Impact Bootcamp on October 21, 2017, on our campus. This one-day workshop is the very best way to experience our curriculum and determine if it’s the right fit for you.
  2. If you can’t make it to the Bootcamp, you can find us during Austin Startup Week and Austin Design Week. Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest updates.
  3. You’re welcome to sit in on classes anytime you’d like. They run every Monday to Thursday from 7pm-9:30pm, and Saturday from 9am-3pm. Reach out to admissions@ac4d.com to set up a visit.

Can I speak to the alumni to find out more about their experiences?

You bet! You should also know that they all love talking about Austin Center for Design – so be prepared. They have recorded a couple Q&A videos for you to watch (here and here). If you prefer to read, they share their journeys pre- and post-ac4d in these interviews. You can also find all of them here and reach out directly, if you wish!

How do I follow along to get a glimpse of what life is like as a student?

We regularly post to Instagram, share happenings in the space of design and social impact on Twitter, and live stream our students’ presentations on Facebook. Our students also post their assignments and reflections on the ac4d blog.

What else do I need to know?

Even though the application isn’t officially due until January, we highly encourage anyone considering applying to reach out to admissions@ac4d.com. We want to get to know you!

A New Chapter

I’m excited to share that I am starting as the new director at Austin Center for Design. Jon Kolko, the founder of the school, will be transitioning into an advisor role and remains as core faculty. I know many people will wonder what this means for the school, so I hope to take a moment today to share some thoughts.

I was part of the AC4D’s inaugural class of ten students back in 2010. I was drawn to the school’s immersive approach, entrepreneurial spirit, and its opinionated focus on working on problems that matter. The inaugural class acted as co-founders of the school. We shaped the curriculum for future years, and charted new territories with the career paths we each took on after the program.

My own personal journey since graduation involved building two startups from the ground up. I co-founded HourSchool, an education platform where anyone can take or teach a class, inspired from the research we did with the homeless population during AC4D. It was bootstrapped and scrappy. I learned to code, grow a team and market with very little budget. A few years later, I moved on to join Aunt Bertha, a search and referral platform for social services. I helped grow that company from 4 people to 40 people through 2 rounds of funding, built and led multiple departments, and our product has touched the lives of over 300,000 people to date. As I began teaching at AC4D in the last couple of years, I had to reflect on my own experiences in order to share the lessons learned with my students. Those experiences – taking something to scale, relentlessly iterating and executing, while convincing others to join my mission – are also what I hope to bring to my new role at AC4D.

Jon and many faculty members have built an incredibly strong foundation: an education pedagogy that embraces empathy, prototyping, and abductive logic; that stands upon a foundation of solving problems worth solving. The program features small class sizes, affordability, and access to world-class working design practitioners. The faculty instills in our students a culture of rigor and constant iterations. Their success is reflected in the AC4D alumni’s career paths, happiness, and salary. As I take over the director position, the lofty vision that the school was founded on remains unchanged: to transform society through design and design education. My job is to build upon the foundation Jon and others have created.

I have spent many hours chatting with alumni and faculty as they reflected on their experiences. I have also talked to people in the industry to understand what they are demanding from new designers. With these findings and together with AC4D’s theory of change, I believe the following are the biggest opportunities to extend the impact of our school:

1) Design Jobs in the Public Sector: When the school first started, design jobs in the public sector were rare, at least in the United States. Designers who want to work on social issues had to venture out on their own, or resorted to working for Fortune 500 to make a living. We had supply, but not a lot of demand. In recent years though, more and more progressive organizations have been joining forces and started to invest heavily in the role of design when considering how they deliver services to their constituents. AC4D is in a great position to work directly with governments and foundations to tackle the challenges they face, through our students’ studio projects, fellowship placements after graduation, and other consultative engagements to support capacity-building initiatives within these institutions. This will ultimately lead to more design job opportunities in the public sector. My vision is to see design positions proliferate through every department of our government and a Chief Design Officer at every institution that is working towards the public good.

2) Support our Social Entrepreneurs: A focus on social entrepreneurship has always been with us from the start. When our students graduate and decide to venture out on their own, like most entrepreneurs, they have to be scrappy and lean. Anyone who has started their own business before would know that the runway doesn’t last forever and often times, it’s a race against time. AC4D will continue to build partnerships that help our students take their ideas further, faster: working with coding academies to get concepts off the ground, piloting minimal viable products with schools and clinics, or collaborating with data scientists and policy makers to inform go-to-market strategies.

3) Growth and Sustainability: This transition also marks a good time to evaluate our internal operations. Creating a diverse funding strategy, building a team of staff, and providing more formal support for students, such as financial aid, are all natural progressions as the school heads into the new decade. This is also important to ensure that our education remains affordable and accessible, for people from all walks of life who aspire to use the power of design to address the wicked problems we face today.

People have asked what my motivation is to taking on this role. My answer is a simple one: AC4D changed my life, and I have witnessed it changed many others who went through the program. I’m excited and honored to be part of the journey of our future students. Here’s to a new chapter and all the new possibilities it will lead us.

Thanks,
Ruby

Passing the torch

It’s with pride that I announce the new Director of Austin Center for Design, Ruby Ku. Ruby is an alumni of Austin Center for Design’s first graduating class. She has held roles of Interaction Designer at Thinktiv, Co-Founder of HourSchool, and VP of Product at Aunt Bertha. She has been a teacher and mentor here at AC4D, and now, she’ll take over setting the vision for the school as well as running the day to day operations. As Ruby takes over, I’ll be stepping down as Director, but will continue to act as an advisor, and to teach at Austin Center for Design.

When I reflect on my teaching and my experiences at AC4D over the last few years, here are some of the highlights that I am proud of.

Together with several of my friends and colleagues, we started Austin Center for Design in 2010. We managed to secure a building for the low cost of $0 (thanks Thinktiv), attract 10 amazing students who made a huge leap of faith to engage in a new program, and recruit exceptional faculty to help teach these students. We worked through the painful legal logistics of running a school, and while we were overwhelmed with the experience, we were blown away by the outcome. The inaugural class was scrappy and lean, and we’ve retained that sense of speed in our curriculum development and program changes. We’ve also retained a focus on social entrepreneurship that’s been with us from the start. We found a large and passionate community of people interested in learning and helping out. We experienced the pains of a startup, and as a result, we were able to empathize with our students who simultaneously pursued their own entrepreneurial journey.

Over time, we outgrew our space and secured a new facility. In this space, our program evolved to focus more explicitly on the relationship between social entrepreneurship and interaction design. Students learned competencies in designing for behavior change, and learned theory and method that would help them take on the complexity of social problems. They explored service design, design theory, entrepreneurial practice, ethics of design, and the craft of making. These early students helped us iterate through our course content, and set a precedent for our reinvention of our curriculum each year. And these early students are now in positions of management and influence at consultancies and corporations, making broad change.

In 2013, as we arrived at a permamant home, we grew into a much more refined and professionally active organization. Over the course of the next four years, we:

Finally, I’m extraordinarily proud of all our 52 alumni have accomplished. They have started companies, like HourSchool, Girls Guild, and Love Intently; they have joined socially minded companies, like Aunt Bertha and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation; they’ve contributed to civic engagement by joining the City of Austin’s innovation initiatives; and they’ve developed a strong presence at leading corporations like GoogleX, HP and IBM, and at leading consultancies like Chaotic Moon and frog design. 93% of our alumni are professionally employed in design related careers, where their mean salary is $99,195. 86% of our alumni are happy in their roles, and they report being challenged, fulfilled, and empowered. In a word, our alumni are autonomous: they are each setting a career and personal path, and achieving what they desire. Most importantly, our alumni remain connected to one-another as a community – the AC4D student alumni community is one of the most caring and supportive that I’ve ever seen.

As I reflect on my experience, I feel very lucky to be surrounded by supporters, and very proud of all we’ve achieved. Thank you to this community of friends, alumni, and my parents in helping shape my vision for Austin Center for Design, and supporting the school. Ruby will begin the next chapter of AC4D with a great network of support, and she needs no wish of good luck – I know she’ll do great.

Thanks,
Jon

Announcing our 2016 Design For Impact Workshop

Austin Center for Design is pleased to announce and host our 7th annual Design For Impact Workshop on March 5th, 2016.

This one-day workshop will teach you how to design for impact—how to use the design process to focus on big social problems, like homelessness and poverty or our broken education system. This design process includes ethnographic immersive research, synthesis, and rapid ideation. These are all skills used by practicing designers in their day to day jobs; in this workshop, we’ll use those same skills in the context of Wicked Problems.

This all-day workshop is held on Saturday, March 5th, 2016, from 9am – 4pm, at AC4D. Learn more about the event here, or sign up here – there are a limited number of seats, and we sell out quickly each year.

Iterations & Ideals

I want to introduce you to a story of the last 24 weeks of my life, introduce you to the individuals that I have met along the way, show you the places I have visited and how I learned the most powerful lesson of the entire year was the power of THE story and the ability and genuine curiosity and bravery to ask each individual tell me their story… to please keep talking. 

My focus was initially on the dealing with the issues surrounding healthcare, but through contextual inquiry found that access and the stigma surrounding mental healthcare was a much bigger problem, as it has been defunded completely by the government and left to individual philanthropist and donors to open facilities to help those who actually need help. 

I found AC4D as my opportunity put something good out into the world. My final product was inspired and dedicate to my father, whom I had barely a relationship with at all really. My father suffered from a depression that I don’t think anyone could understand, was truly stubborn, and never received any help for his condition. 

Looking back and having conversations with my mother I realized as an adult things that I completely did not acknowledge or understand as a child. How does an impoverished family of 5 living in a town of around 1000 people located 60 miles to the nearest hospital where you can birth a child deal with healthcare, let alone mental healthcare? 

That was the question and I went to find the answer. I initially went back to my hometown to do some detective work on the issues surrounding mental health in rural text. The last 24 weeks I’ve been interviewing, researching, building and creating life long friendships all with the purpose to create a “thing” that would help low income or non insured individuals living in extreme rural areas. My product first and foremost had to not rely on any individuals personal access to technology. Then meet the design insights and pillars I had established from my research. 

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When it was time to begin actually producing a thing, I knew it would be a “journey kit’  of sorts that included both stories from individuals dealing with similar situations living with a mental illness, as well as a 2 week starter pill pack or holder. 

In interaction design iteration is the heart of everything you do. You create, test your creation, then iterate on the feedback to make it better. 

Do date my product has gone through I believe 6 iterations now. 4 of which I prototyped out

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Placing all these iterations against my design pillars and user testing responses, I found that the power of the human story plus a plan of attack for medication regimen would be the most effective tool. But something that is very easy to understand, inexpensive to produce, familiar enough to not be foreign or strange but interesting enough to insight curiosity and interaction.

My thoughts went back to one of my home interviews where this woman had 3 separate pill boxes, the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday types, and in a brain storming session one of professors threw out an idea – what if it’s a dip can and eureka. I could craft a round pill box  that includes a small mp3 player in the center with headphones.

Each time the “wheel” is turned exposing the medication, the user can put on the headphones and press play to hear the story that identifies with that days progression in the 2 week cycle.

Click to watch animation and hear sample audio

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instructions

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I tried to stay true to my design pillars, and to the core values that I tried to keep true to. My idea is that these would be distributed to MHMR centers, the centers that give psychiatric council and prescribe medication to individuals who are on medicare, medicaid or no insurance at all. 

I stayed silent to long in dealing with facing the difficult issues surrounding a low income family members mental health, so hopefully going forward my product may inspire behavior change to even the most stubborn individual. 

PKT.001

The Final Presentation.

AC4D set up the final presentation as a sort of museum situation where the public was invited and it was an interactive experience where people could see your entire process from start to finish.

My station included my research, my insights, my design pillars, ALL my prototype iterations. And the actual final functioning prototype, as well as a listening station where people could hear various short stories that went along with the program.

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About being human…

This week is winding down. There has been, on my end, a lot of interaction with new technologies which I thought I could find some clarity in what I am trying to do. To bring the compassion of group therapy, through a vocal documentation of real people going through symptoms that the user of the book I am making may be going through. Things like introduction to taking medication, side-effects, stigma, and making it through the though times.

In my case, I just want to bring the feeling that mental illness is not uncommon, or weird to those who, say in rural west Texas.

So I did A LOT  of user testing this week. Hacking a Hallmark “talk to me book” was actually a good idea. My users loved it. I loved i, well I hated it and loved it. It served as a good testing tool in bringing the stories of a real humans, with their real voices, inflections, stutterers, all somehow making this thing, this book thing, like a token. Like a virtual companion. It was like turning the pages to different bits and pieces of information told from someone who is not you, but still is like you.

The addition of the human voice makes it for some reason somewhat more real. Yes there will always be a stigma around being open and honest about mental health, that may never change,  but hopefully this will help, one person seeking help for them self to get through that day, a little easier. Bringing the patient self contained technology and not relying on wifi or cell phones is both genius and problematic. You have to look at it from both sides. There is a lot of potential for technical difficulties. But this week is all about the content.

The second part is the medication regimen, this to my advantage had been just a part of everyone that I have user tested lives. From last week you know that the carrot to keeping to the regime is by taking the pill out of the container it is in the user get access to hear the voices talking about the subject that page is addressing.

I am currently working on the content, the layout, the design that make the most sense to the audience I am trying to reach,  and doing user testing along the way.

I am focussing on a 14 day program, focusing on the major pain points of a 2 week program on a new medication.

1. An introduction to the program, and an indication of how the program works, and an introduction to the “cast of characters” that the user will be hearing throughout the journey.

Here are some quick sketches, of Please, Keep Talking.

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These are very rough, as I said more clarity tomorrow. I can say this however, what has resonated as a means to mundane user testing vocabulary has almost captured the essence in which I am trying to give an bring to those who feel they are weird or alone in a vast being of scarceness and isolation to which on occasion I can totally identify with. The next step is to get into illustrator yet, I need to do more sketching I know.

 

Policy Design: Creating Value, Getting Results

Next week’s Speaker Series features Leah Bojo speaking about “Policy Design: Creating Value, Getting Results”.

Leah, policy aide to Council Member Chris Riley, spends a lot of time thinking about how to implement innovative solutions around issues such as transportation, land-use and public space. By explaining the mechanisms by which the City of Austin governs itself, she is going to elucidate why some technology platforms thrive in Austin and why, for example, the car sharing service Uber remains prohibited by law.

Come learn about the City of Austin’s Comprehensive Plan, the “Vision” and the “Code”. Walk away with a better understanding of how to influence local policy to support and implement the innovations you think will make the city a better place to live.

Wednesday, April 9th. 6pm. Tickets are available here.