News and blog posts from our students and faculty

Category Archives: Creativity

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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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. However he states that there are those that are already familiar with the methods of what he considers to be a higher state of design thinking in which he categorizes design and design thinkers into the “Master” or “Iterator of others ideas” and the “Virtuoso” the true design innovator. His methods are laid out in a series of situational diagrams that he uses to back up this theory.

DeBono takes creativity seriously enough that he developed entire systems to alter our thinking patterns, provoke movement, and evaluate their effectiveness. Interestingly enough, one of the huge examples he uses is that of humor to incite creativity, to use the pattern of lateral thinking as the actual process. He insinuates that traditional modes of thinking are artificial, learned, and so distinct that they can literally be put on and taken off as easily as a hat, with his 6 colored hat system of idea organization. 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, to put ideas on paper, sketch and iterate to form re-solutions to any problem. 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.

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Is design the new literacy?

In our Design, Society, and the Public Sector class, we have just read texts by six authors around the themes of “Being a Designer” and “Process.” Each author ascribes to the belief that the world has become increasingly complicated, and that complex problems define our time. Their differences lie in their views of design in relation to this complexity. Some take the stance that design is a specialty and some argue that design should be taught as part of basic human knowledge, as the liberal arts are now.

Both Chris Pacione (CEO of the LUMA Institute) and Richard Buchanan (Department Chair, Design & Innovation, Case Western Reserve University) cite the Renaissance as the origin of the liberal arts we know today. The idea that people needed some level of math, literacy, history, natural sciences eventually became the accepted norm in Western education. Buchanan goes on to say that over time, established subjects were explored to their minutiae, and that new subjects were added, leading to a degree of specialization and fragmentation that hinders connection with each other and with everyday problems.

Design, Pacione and Buchanan argue, is the “new literacy” and a “new liberal arts of technological culture” (respectively). I’m drawn to this view of design, and think it should be encouraged in schools and in the general public. Whether or not great design comes out of a more generalized knowledge, at the very least it pulls people along the spectrum away from purely “consumer” roles and into the realm of participation and making. Liz Sanders, founder of MakeTools, pointed out in previous readings that people now have been “inundated with many ways to satisfy their consumptive needs while their creative needs have been usually ignored.” In contemporary culture we can see this need emerging in pockets of “makers” and “hackers,” and acknowledgement of this movement even in consumer-leaning spaces like advertising.

My position diagram of all six readings is posted here. Based on these readings, I have plotted each author along the axes of “design is a liberal art” vs “design is a specialty” and the views that “non-designers are participants” vs “non-designers are consumers.” The position dots are color-coded by my level of positive interest in each opinion. Warm colors signify a higher degree of interest, cool colors less. (Click to view larger)


Although professional design is certainly a specialty and the students at AC4D are all working toward attaining that level of design ability, I agree that design should be generally taught also, for two reasons. One, so that the general population understands the value of design and can use it to address complex issues in their lives and in the world. And two, because I think making things is often joyful and empowering, an experience that “consumers” need to repossess.

Reading List:

Wicked Problems in Design Thinking, by Richard Buchanan

Discovering Design Ability, by Nigel Cross

Serious Creativity, by Edward de Bono

Evolution of the Mind: A Case for Design Literacy, by Chris Pacione

Dilemmas in aGeneral Theory of Planning, by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber

A Social Vision for ValueCo-Creation in Design, by Liz Sanders and George Simmons

Design Thinking for Social Innovation, by Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt

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Visualizing Process

Two weeks ago in our Interaction Design Research and Synthesis class, we learned about five types of work models we can create to visually represent processes and physical artifacts from research. Put another way, our team (Crystal Watson, Laura Galos, and Lindsay Josal) was able to take the qualitative data from our research around teenagers and their food choices and map them out for everybody to see.

The five types of models we created are:

-Flow: A diagram of actions between people and physical areas, without regard to time.
-Cultural: A diagram of “invisible forces,” or cultural influences that act on and between people.
-Artifacts: Drawings of tangible objects our participants interacted with.
-Physical: A bird’s-eye view map of the space in which we conducted our Contextual Inquiry.
-Sequence: A written list of actions in the order in which they occurred.

Additionally, we have a list of Breakdowns and Design Ideas: A written list of problems observed in all of the other models, along with quick, high-level design ideas that could address these issues.

Although the Breakdowns and Design Ideas list brings together all the problems we observed into a single visualization, we marked each of the models with a little lightning-bolt icon at the place each issue occurred. In total, the models give a different perspective on the actions and interactions that happened during our research. Not only did this give us a new focus on the processes by which things happen, but it also manifested a much richer level of detail than can transcripts alone. Though it felt like we were creating models relatively late in the design process, we feel that modeling would be an excellent tool in early stages of research.

Remembering back to when we conducted our Contextual Inquiries, each member of our group would sit together and recap what happened after every interview and inquiry. Mostly the sessions were casual but helpful for information retention and hearing what the group members picked up on as interesting or found confusing. Going into our next design project, which will last the remaining 32 weeks of our program, we plan to incorporate modeling into our recap sessions to delve into those rich details earlier in the project to better inform synthesis and ideation phases.





Included here are our Flow and Artifact models from one interview session with two teenage participants.

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Studio: You are MY sunshine

Even on the dreariest days, in a town where droplets falling from the sky is never a thing you are prepared for, the umbrella service is here, brought to you by Laura Galos, Lindsay Josal, and me, Crystal.

You are my sunshine…


The Result…



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Studio: I’ve Made a huge mistake….

The days are long, the nights are sometimes longer. And just when you think you can get a quick second to do a little reflection to some Peter Bjorn & John on the old headphones….

Introducing, the Opa house guitar….


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Studio: Objects & Gestures

Not even a small glimpse of the hundreds of drawings that week… :) boxes.. no problem.

Slide1Slide2 Slide3 Slide4 Slide5

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Studio: Sew now what

EPSON MFP image — and imagine the rest of your life, narrated by Alec Baldwin

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IMPOSITION TO INFLUENCE: The designers role in affecting a system of beliefs

The dictionary defines a value system as being an open set of morals, ethics, standards, preferences, belief systems and world views that come together through self-organizing principles to define an individual, a group or a culture.

So what if the organization of these principals is not so self defined?

What if these principals are molded, formed and influenced by ideas and objects that surround the self whether intentionally or not, influencing the belief systems and preferences that define a person as the person they are.

In the past couple of weeks we as a class keyed in on 6 author’s writings. Some being recognized designers, some design historians, some design thinkers. Through reading and re-reading and analyzing the scanned pages of 6 very different theories and experiences, notated with dialects from the translated Italian version to very straightforward literary magazine articles; I couldn’t help but notice that each author, whether they were a working designer or not, all had a sense of there being some sort of behavioral shift that came out of the end product of a design experiment or idea. As if the designer was given a power to control the thoughts and actions of their subjects through manipulation, experience, product, or education. Some I found a little off putting I have to admit. To be a designer to me is not to revel in the idea that you can puppet a community into jumping off the commodity cliff, but ideally perhaps educate thorough innovation, or aid in a person or communities hardships through easily accessible tools.

Although it seemed that my final conclusion was just more questions about “how do you know if you are doing it right??” I was at least driven to put down on paper my thoughts on how the 6 authors we studied fit on a simple, and very biased scale of a designers role to either manipulate and impose a value system into a public, work to adopt and understand the value system of their public, or to try to gently influence and broaden a public already established value system.

So here you go, my own personal version of a scale of importance that the role of design has, as I see it, through the ideas of Bernays, Le Dantec, Vitta, Pilloton, Dewey, and Margolin.

Click to Enjoy

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Sketching as a conversation with our ideas.

In the cartoon world, a ponderous character’s thought is depicted by a cloud over their head linked to them with a series of disconnected bubbles.  The idea is floating there, precariously tethered; it’s almost as if a strong breeze could just blow it away.  In many ways this is an accurate portrayal of how the creative process can feel.  As we start to create, our ideas feel nebulous; a flux of chaos, disparate and disconnected.  The sketching process can take that cloud and give it structure; it turns the thought bubble into a dialogue where we can actively engage in our ideas.

This dialogue is analogous to our natural sensemaking process.  Sensemaking is our attempt to “order the intrinsic flux of human action, to channel it toward certain ends, to give it a particular shape” (Tsoukas and Chia 2002, p. 507).  Sensemaking is the active conversation we have with the events that we encounter; it’s our ability to take in information, process it, and derive meaning and action from it.

Rather than focusing on the external, sketching provides us a sensemaking process for our own creative flux. When we’re presented with a problem our minds go to work to create this cloud of ideas, populating it with information and attempting to form connections. Facilitated sensemaking turns that abstract concoction into a concrete reality.  This works because sketching forces us to make decisions and apply structure to our ideas.  By externalizing we pass those fragments through a filter of our own experience creating a foundation to build our ideas from.

When we externalize the pieces of an idea through a sketch we’re making a testable “design move” which we’re able make judgements around. This positions us to make further moves that iteratively cycles and builds an idea.  When these “moves function in an exploratory way, the designer allows the situation to ‘talk back’ to him, causing him to see things in a new way – to construct new meanings and intentions” (Schon 1984, p. 132).  Over time, as the idea builds, it begins to form its own set of “likings, preferences, values, norms, and meanings” that the designer can start to judge a design against, creating an active dialogue between the designer and the idea (Schon 1984, p. 132).   A new idea is fragile; it’s easily interpreted and changed.  When we build an idea its fidelity increases and become more resistive to change. In this regard an idea develops a self determinist nature giving it resilience. Sketching forms the foundation and tool of this process.

What makes sketching special in this process is that it highlights other levels of thinking, specifically the visual aspects of our creative process.  Talking through our ideas is our default medium to work in.  Speech is a natural tool for us, but it’s inherently limited by the constraints of its pre-structured nature.  When we sketch we open up the creative process to engage a more complex dialogue with our ideas, one that can explore the visual and emotional aspects of our creativity.


Sketching as a shared conversation.

Design thrives in the context of a collaborative environment where sketching becomes the tool to quickly give others access to our ideas. Once an idea is externalized as a sketch it becomes a medium of exchange and a tool of provocation.  Sketching creates an informal, mutable narrative that allows a collaborator room for interpretation and improvisation. Collaborative sketching allows us to asymmetrically explore and share independent design moves that build on a core idea, creating a sum greater than the individual parts.

In the collaborative design process we use sketching to give others access to our ideas while simultaneously provoking them into their own.  Similar to this process, in research we attempt to provoke our participants in giving us access to their experiences and perspective. Here at AC4D my design team attempted to facilitate this process using sketching. The thought being that if structured correctly, sketching could give us access to their our participant’s experiences in a new way.

Through our research around healthcare and medical documentation we were trying to explore the emotional aspects of interacting with the health care system.  To do this the design team devised an exercise where the participant was instructed to draw the emotional journey of her medical recovery.  She was asked to a map that journey on a chart with the axes depicting “sense of emotional control” over time; she further marked the significant moments in her journey with illustrations.

This forced provocation gave our participant a new framework to re-travel her recovery.  The structure of the timeline and the act of sketching forced her to re-think her recovery as a process, using the key moments as waypoints to guide the rest of the story.  This same structure allowed us, as researchers, the opportunity to explore our participant’s experience while revealing to us the more emotional moments of her recovery.  This process generated a wealth of inspiration and insights that we’ve continually gone back to throughout the design process.


Sketching as a conversation with the world.

The creation of an idea involves us traversing the chaotic mess of our creative process, gleaning fragments from this flux and manifesting them into a tangible reality.  It’s a complex process that requires countless design moves that progress us along a non-linear path.  In the end we have a self-resilient idea that only we fully understand. Half the battle of design is creating an idea, the other half is convincing the world of it’s value .

Sketching becomes a tool that allows us to reflect on the complexity of an idea and to come out the other side with something that’s approachable.  It allows us to not only give someone access to the idea but also to a focused view of the process we took to get there; a curated access to our sensemaking process.  In this way sketching shifts from a generative process to a storytelling device.  Just as when you’re building and exploring and idea, a visual articulation highlights the aspects of an idea that can’t be articulated through language, creating a rapid narrative.

Earlier this year my design partner Scott and I applied for IXDA’s student competition.  As part of our application we produced a 3 minute video extolling our design methodology.  It was important for us to share our complex views of design in a way that was easy, fun and most importantly, brief.  We ended up utilizing a format that relied heavily on visual articulations to supplement our verbal arguments.  Sketching became a tool to give the judges a deeper access to our design philosophy. You can see the video here.

Of the liberal sciences, design is unique in its ability to tackle the complexity of human problems.  To do this we need to tools that better reflect the under-defined nature of our creative process.  Sketching is an expressive and human device that gives us a sharp provocation to cut through not only the complexity of own process but also the human problems we’re trying to address.

- jacob



Tsoukas, H., R. Chia. 2002. Organizational becoming: rethinking organizational change. Organ. Sci. 13(5) 567–582.

Weick, Sutcliffe, Obstfeld. 2005. Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking.Oran. Sci. 16(4) 409-421.

Schön. 1984. Problems, frames and perspectives on designing. Design Studies. 132-136.

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