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Count your blessings and get on with it

I was cranky yesterday afternoon; I also had no idea what to do for the first assignment for our service design course.  So I went for a run. As I often do when I’m running or cranky, I started making a list of things I’m grateful for: God, thank you for my feet, that I’m healthy enough to run, that I live someplace where it’s safe for me to run, that I got back to Austin safely, that rest of my cohort got back safely from their travels… and so on. By the time I was I was rounding the capital (thanks to Jess Kolko for suggesting this route), my mental funk had cleared enough to consider the assignment again.

The assignment is to read the chapter on Convergence from Innovation X by Adam Richardson, identify key points from the reading, push those points through a framework we use to understand the world, and generate new ideas in the process.  One piece of advice stood out from the lecture: Start some where.

Ok, start somewhere. I had done the reading, what frameworks could I try?: photosynthesis, Dante’s model of heaven, hell and purgatory?  More running; more gratitude list.

I list things I’m grateful for when I’m out of sorts because what you focus on seems to increase and because gratitude has a multidirectional positive effect.

It’s a place to start.

Below is a diagram of how an instance of gratitude works from both the point of view of the appreciator and the appreciated. It is presented as a magnifying glass to represent the increase in what is focused on.


What does this mean in relationship to the business concept of Convergence? In addition to the obvious warm and fuzzy dictate to appreciate one’s customers, a more nuanced concept appears: Even in a seemingly unidirectional interaction, like gratitude flowing from one person to another, each person experiences it as reflecting on herself and the other person. This suggests that this type of positive exchange is an excellent tool for directing customer focus because we like to think about things that make us feel good about ourselves.

Here are three key ideas from the reading and some musing based on this framework:

Increasingly value is created by integrated systems not stand alone products. This means that complexity is an opportunity to be seized rather than a problem to be avoided because complexity allows for convergence. 

What does it mean in complex system if unidirectional communication is still understood to reflect on all parties involved? From a more tactical stand point, what parties in the system could be connected to create additional positive sentiment? For instance, how could a company empower a new user to express gratitude to an established user who acted as an evangelist for the company?

Although customers focus on the big shiny touch points in an ecosystem, the “connective tissue” and un-sexy logistics around the touch point have a huge influence on how customers experience those touch points and the success of the ecosystem as a whole.

Richardson touched on the difficulty of creating an eco-system across organizational boundaries. Use internal gratitude to inspire buy-in from parts of the organization that work on the “connective tissue” in the ecosystem that does not receive much appreciation from the customer. (This is of the more warm and fuzzy insight variety).

Managing point of control and lack of control is key to a successful ecosystem. A company must decide what are the things that are of chief importance to control internally and how to deal with touch points out of its control.

How can a company refocus a customer to feel good about their decision to purchase or use a product at an uncontrolled touch point, like interacting with the retail staff in a big box store that carries your companies product? Can the packaging make them feel smart enough for making their selection that it out weighs frustration with an inefficient clerk?

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Thinking about the CapMetro App – Iteration #1

We’ve been pondering Austin’s CapMetro app for the past couple of days.  It’s a mobile app that allows users to view bus and rail schedules in Austin, and to buy passes.  Our current task is to do a concept model based on the current state of the application, and another one based on a potential improved version of it.

Here’s my take on the current version, where solid circles denote concepts that have screens devoted to them, and rectangles denote concepts that don’t.  More basic concepts are further grouped with dashed circles, which in turn gesture toward possible improvements in the app’s organization.

current model

Here’s the revised version:


While the functionality is roughly the same (with the addition of a facility for managing preferred trips), the organization has been improved by exposing the main concepts as screens (the big circles), all accessible from a top-level menu, with the different views or actions around those concepts reworked as satellite functions accessible from the main screens.  I am not showing linkages (as in hyperlinks) between concepts but do envision them being present, so that it would be possible to purchase a ticket by clicking on a link from the schedules page, for example.

It’s worth noting that one of the comments made in tonight’s critique with fellow students was that my diagrams don’t give any indication of the flow through the system, which is a good point.

On the face of it, the existing application is hopelessly convoluted and difficult to navigate, however one thing I learned as a result of going through this exercise is that it’s a complicated problem.

I also (re-)learned that it’s necessary to save changes manually and often in Adobe Illustrator…

Here’s a link to a PDF that contains both diagrams:


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A Concept Map in an Hour

We’re starting off Quarter 2 with our class in Rapid Iteration and Creative Problem Solving. The first assignment came at us really quick- we had 48 hours to create a concept map of the Austin Bus application- CapMetro. We learned that a concept map, a tool for sense making, is a representation of a system that sacrifices accuracy for comprehensibility. Its particularly useful for this project because it helps examine an entirety of a complicated system in one visual representation.

This the first iteration out of 7 that will take place over the next 8 weeks. We’ve been learning how to complete assignments in broad strokes, which is a challenge for me in particular. To address this difficulty I decided to complete my first pass through concept mapping in just an hour, and I learned how effective it was to flesh out all ideas, even at a high level, in a limited time.

The first concept map I created represents the app as it exists today. The second shows my ideas to help improve issues and breakdowns that I observed.

Moving forward, I would like to continue to use rapid iteration in the form of one hour windows for getting through the process in its entirety.  As for CapMetro, I’d like to continue with mapping the entire system (only portions are shown here now) so that I work towards even more ideas to optimize usability.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 10.30.11 PM



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Getting to Where You Want to Go

When I first began exploring the CapMetro App, the first challenge I encountered was figuring out how to get from where I was at AC4D to my desired destination, home. Neither the Trip Planner nor the Next Bus sections were able to pick up options based on where I was headed. From there, I began to visually map out out all of the various elements that make up the CapMetro App in a concept map. A concept map is a a visual representation of the entire system that makes up the CapMetro App to help me understand why I might not be able to find my way home using this app.

Captured below is my first iteration of two different concept maps for the CapMetro App. The first one shows how the application exists today. The second one is a a revised concept map illustrating a redesign. This redesign aims to simplify how the user goes about planning to get to their desired destination.

IDSE201_CapMetro Concept Map_Maryanne Lee


IDSE201_CapMetro Concept Map Redesign_Maryanne Lee


There are multiple elements of the system that the user can choose from as starting points to begin planning their route. Knowing which route to take is information the user must have before they can identify the service level they will need to purchase a ticket for. They have several service levels to chose from including Local, which is the Metro Bus or UT Shuttle; Premium, which is the MetroRapid or MetroFlyer service; Commuter, which is the MetroExpress or MetroRail; and Access, a shared ride service.

To simplify the experience for the user, I would consolidate the Schedule, Maps and Trip Planner sections together. This would allow the user to identify their starting location and ending destination in the context of what routes are available and what other times they could take this route in the context of the map. Being able to plan your trip and identify what route to take determines whether or not you purchase the ticket that will get you to where you want to go.

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Oh Capital Metro App… mapping the pain

In our first assignment for Q2 in the Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving class, we were tasked to deconstruct and analyze the current state of the Austin Capital Metro mobile app. The goal of this project is to find the obvious inefficiencies in the system structure, and map them out in a visual “Concept Map” of touch points, or areas of interaction with the app that we personally deemed important to the end goal the user is attempting to create. After mapping our version of the current state of the app’s system design, we then created a new, first iteration, of what we thought would be a good starting point for the optimal system flow for completing the task of 1. planning a trip, and 2. purchasing a ticket to be able to take the trip you need.

Below is my Concept Map of the current system flow of the Capital Metro app on a relatively high level. ConceptMapAsIs-01

The main issues I found with the current app was not only the general confusion in the interface, but the redundancy of information, when things could easily be consolidated for ease of use.

Below is my first iteration of the basic system flow for a re-design of the app. The first screen being an actual geo-located map of where you are in the Austin area, and what bus stops are surrounding you visually represented by clickable icons that give you more info about the bus, the schedule, and the route.


I also believed it was important to be able to store information about your most valued routes, and easily purchase tickets within the app, both in the constant navigation bar as well as during the establishment of your route choice.

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Don’t Tap that App.

Tasked with re-mapping the city of Austins only mobile app, to navigate its only public transportation system, is the daunting first assignment of this quarters IDSE201 Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving class.

The current app is mapped below about as poorly as it is designed. A series of screens require the user for more and more input and ask them to make decisions without giving any idea of where those decisions will lead. The very first in your face option presented is to buy tickets, but if you’re not sure whether you’re looking for a “local”, “premium”, “commuter”, or “access” it’s hard to guess how much you’re buying in for, much less what any of those terms mean.


While not prepared to present a full solution to the tangled mess of an app above, I will leave you with the beginnings of a map that I will continue to flesh out another six times in this class.


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CapMetro App Revamp: Iteration 1

Quarter 2 has begun! This first blog post comes to you courtesy of our “Methods” course which is entitled “Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving.”  For this class we will be presenting a new iteration on the same design each week.  The design we will be iterating on each week is the existing CapMetro App which is the official app of Austin’s public transportation system, and allows bus/rail/shuttle riders to buy passes, plan trips, view maps & schedules and see when buses will be arriving. This week we are creating two concept maps:  A concept map of the existing CapMetro application and a concept map of our revised iteration.  A concept map is a visual representation that simplifies the parts of a system in order to allow for a better understanding of the  organization and boundaries of the system as a whole.  To start this process, the first thing I did was take screenshots of every screen and print them out.  I labeled each screen with a unique name and then pinned them up on the wall in a logical order.  See here. From this I created an “As-is” map of the current system (click image below for a closer look): CapMetro(AsIs)10.29.14

After completing this map, some things started to stick out to me that could be improved upon:

  • The Route Maps and Schedules should be combined since both options take you to the same place and the toggling mechanism (allowing you to switch from Maps to Schedules or Schedules to Map) should be more obvious.
  • Planned Trips should automatically be saved in a history instead of requiring the user to manually save a trip as a “favorite.”
  • Tickets should automatically be saved to the “cloud” with the option to save to a device instead of making the user choose between two “Save to the cloud? or to your device?”  which is probably confusing to many users.
  • The online ticketing system is overly complex;  Requiring the user to manually activate a ticket prior to use (in order to start the clock on the expiration date) is confusing and unnecessary; The ticket should activate when it is first used.  Requiring the user to activate the ticket, tap the code, and then present the code to be scanned by the driver is way too many steps for people in a rush to get on a bus.  If and when technology permits, this system should utilize nearable technology so a user can pay their fare just by tapping or waving their phone near a reader.
  • There is confused terminology on the app.  The words “Tickets” and “Passes” are used interchangeably, and “Terms and Agreement” takes you to a “Terms and Conditions” page.
  • Having written turn-by-turn directions of every route is unnecessary, and better presented in map form.
  • The Index menu presents options that already exist on the home screen.  To simplify it makes better sense to remove the duplicate options, and just provide a clear path back to the home screen.
  • All pathways need a clearer path back to the home screen.
  • Pressing the back button should move the user back one level, not ask if they want to quit the application.
  • The Settings and More Info menus feel like catch-alls instead of meaningful buckets.  Many of the “Settings” could be nicely combined into one “Account” screen.  The “More Info” should combine “Phone numbers” and “Contact Customer Service” into “Contact Us”.

These realizations lead me to create my first iteration in the form of the revised concept map seen below (click image below for a closer look).


Thoughts?  I’m specifically looking for feedback on the clarity of these models and the revisions I chose to make/not make.

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Six thinkers on design thinking

The current topic in our theory class is ‘design thinking’ which we’re exploring via the following essays, listed here in chronological order:

Horst Rittel, Melvin Webber – Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning (1973)
This is a foundational text where the authors, who were both professors at UC Berkeley, coin the term ‘wicked problem’, in the context of social policy planning. They define 10 characteristics that distinguish such problems, and contrast them to the ‘tame’ problems dealt with in science.

Edward de Bono – Serious Creativity (1988)
This is an essay on creativity by the author who coined the term ‘lateral thinking’. He argues that creativity doesn’t come naturally, because the brain is conditioned to establish and follow set patterns, whereas the nature of creativity (and humor) lies in breaking out of the set pattern. He goes on to describe various techniques that can be used as aids in fostering creativity, including the ‘six thinking hats’ system, whose chief merits he cites as its artificiality and ritual. Along the way he discusses characteristics of information systems, classifying them as either passive or active, where an active system differs from a passive one in that the data and the medium in which it’s stored act together to absorb subsequent information differently, making it a self-organizing system (reminiscent of Dewey’s concept of experiential education, where every experience provides a basis for subsequent ones).

Richard Buchanan – Wicked Problems in Design Thinking (1992)
Buchanan is a professor at Case Western Reserve University and an important thinker in the design world. Here he takes the concept of ‘wicked problems’ and extends it to the field of design, which he defines as ‘the conception and planning of the artificial’. He argues that design ‘should be recognized as a new liberal art of technological culture’ (using Dewey’s definition of ‘technology’ as a ‘a systematic discipline of experimental thinking’). He also defines four categories of design that may bleed into one another: signs (symbolic and visual communication), things (material objects), actions (activities and organized services), and thoughts (complex systems or environments), and states that ‘What design as a liberal art contributes…is a new awareness of how argument is the central theme that cuts across the many technical methodologies employed in each design profession’. He also notes that Dewey didn’t view science as primary and art as secondary, but rather thought of science as an art, where art is characterized/defined by practice.

Nigel Cross – Discovering Design Ability (1995)
Cross, who is a professor at The Open University, explores the concept of design ability through a review of the extant literature (of the time), averring that it’s a form of intelligence possessed by everyone. He notes that designers share key characteristics in their approach to problem-solving, and that design might even be defined as a type of problem-solving: where ‘the problem solver views the problem or acts as though there is some ill-definedness in the goals, conditions or allowable transformations’ (quoting from J.C. Thomas and J.M. Carroll in their essay ‘The Psychological Study of Design’). He concludes with the hope that design will come to be seen as ‘a discipline in its own right’.

Joceyn Wyatt, Tim Brown – Design Thinking for Social Innovation (2009)
More recently, Wyatt and Brown, both of whom are leaders at IDEO, discuss what design thinking is (contrasting it with the term ‘design’), and how it can be applied to programs designed to address societal ills. They define an approach consisting of 3 overlapping ‘spaces’: inspiration (the problem or opportunity that triggers a search for a solution), ideation (the process of searching for a solution), and implementation (prototyping and fine-tuning a solution for deployment). They invoke multiple case studies to illustrate approaches that work, and ones that don’t. In particular they discuss the benefits of ‘positive deviance’, which involves direct observation of the behavior of outliers in the local environment who may have discovered successful coping strategies for surmounting difficult circumstances, that might be applied in a more general manner. As they put it: “Design thinkers look for work-arounds and improvise solutions and find ways to incorporate those into the offerings they create. They consider what we call the edges, the places where ‘extreme’ people live differently, think differently, and consume differently.”

Chris Pacione – Evolution of the Mind: A Case for Design Literacy (2010)
The final read comes from Chris Pacione, CEO of the LUMA Institute in Pittsburgh, which is a design consultancy advising businesses on how to apply design thinking in their operations. This is an engaging read that opens with the story of Fibonacci, who popularized an alternate numbering system that revolutionalized business-as-usual in western Europe, “enabling people to run businesses more efficiently, advance the practice of scientific measurement, and create whole new industries that extend all the way to our modern age”. He believes that “a new, pervasive mind shift is afoot. It’s called design, and like arithmetic, which was once a peripheral human aptitude until the industrial age forced it to be important for everyone, recent global changes and the heralding of a new age are positioning design as the next human literacy.”

These papers are plotted on the following diagram, according to whether they tend toward the practical or the theoretical (on the Y-axis), and to what degree their argument may be directed toward designing for profit versus designing for societal good (on the X-axis). It also indicates which authors seem to be influenced by John Dewey, denoted by red boxes.

Design Thinking

The full presentation deck is here.

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The Design Particle

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Image Credit: Ardan Özmenoglu

Untitled. Ardan Özmenoglu.

It’s Thursday, you know what that means, another position diagram. Well, not quite. At least not in the 2×2 format we have all come to know and love. The most compelling quality of the recent batch of reading for the design thinking section of our theory course was not how they compared to each other, but rather how they combined.

The readings from Rittel, De Bono, Cross and Buchanan, in particular, present overlapping descriptions of design. I imagine if I could line them up and look through them, like the layers of glass in this untitled work by Turkish artist Ardan Özmenoglu, I would see a complete definition of design. I have attempted to achieve a similar result by distilling and diagraming key aspects of each author’s argument and assembling them into a whole. Resulting in the following definition:

The irreducible essence of design is the interplay of problem definition and solution generation, which happens in the process of making and reframing, in order to discover the desired future state of a specific situation.

Diagrams attached:



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Wicked Webs & Design Problems

 By: Crystal Watson & William Shouse 

“The easy problems have been solved.  Designing systems today is difficult because there is no consensus on what the problems are, let alone how to resolve them.”

Each author in this segment argues for design thinking or creativity’s importance in the larger world. The authors’ positions seem to build on each other. Rittel talks about where it came from, Buchanan talks about what it looks like in the world. Paccione, DeBono and Cross take things inside, and noodle on how and where it resides in the brain. They also ponder the whys, whethers and hows about sharing it. Finally, Wyatt takes a ‘what have you done for me lately’ approach and gives us the lowdown on how to share design thinking – but with a mercenary hook.

Rittel identified and named wicked problems, that little thing we all came to AC4D to work on this year. He asks us not to consider what is the “right” thing to do, but the good thing to do.

Buchanan takes Rittel’s lead and talks about what “design thinking” looks like. He gives us a framework, the four orders of design, that push us to consider where and how to apply design thinking. He gives a nod to visual and material design, but also reminds us to consider service design and complex system design as suitable targets for creativity. He evangelizes design thinking as an apt approach to any subject matter, also reminding us that design is inherently cross disciplinary, and indicates that it draws on many kinds of intelligence and knowledge.

Pacione makes a case for design literacy – not just design thinking. Telling us that design will have its greatest impact when it is no longer perceived to be in the hands of people who are professional designers and is put back into the hands of everyone. If we both look and make we can understand and advance.

DeBono takes creativity seriously enough that he developed entire systems to alter our thinking patterns, provoke movement, and evaluate their effectiveness. He insinuates that modes of thinking are artificial, learned, and so distinct that they can literally be put on and taken off as easily as a hat. Insisting that these tactics can used by anyone he regals us with tales of success from a large telephone corporation and the organizer of the 1984 Olympics. Also sure to remind us he sold them all many of his books.

Cross tells it’s not just inherent, there are ways to polish it up, improve literacy, develop fluency. For Cross, it’s a mode of thinking, something holistic and vast, not a set of be-hatted party tricks to pull out in front of Japanese businessman (DeBono, p.15).

Design is too important to be left to designers, it should be a discipline in itself, a cultivable skill, possessed to some extent by everyone. 

Wyatt is less concerned with the ineffable nature of design thinking than the output, and what it will achieve for her and her business. While she encourages all to utilize design thinking, (even publishing a free download!) she seems to believe that the important work is best left to the designers. She’s strategic in choosing how deeply she steeps regular people in design thinking, and is a bit of a tease. She wants to give customers just enough information so they have a category to understand her greatness, but not enough to be able to do what she does without her. 




For us, the big question is not whether or not designers play a role in disseminating design literacy, but what role should they play? How do we best share it? And who is listening? Both big business and big government certainly are. In fact the US military’s School for Advanced Military Studies, cites several of our authors detailing use of design thinking in modern warfare.  

To see the full presentation click here.

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