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Category Archives: Motivation

Before and After: Honeywell Prestige 2.0 Thermostat Final Re-design + Design Process Overview


The Before and After: Honeywell Prestige 2.0 Thermostat Final Re-design + Design Process Overview 

Last week we presented our final design of a programable thermostat for Rapid Ideation and Creative Problem Solving. Our problem for 8-weeks was to re-design the existing Honeywell Prestige 2.0 thermostat system using a collaborative and user-centered iterative design process.  For the final annotated wireframe iteration click here.

Understanding Complexities

As part of design research, we engage in a space to help us understand the complexities of a problem.  And we create artifacts such as a Concept Model of an existing system.

The Features List

The system re-design includes the features below:

  • Adjust temperature to warmer / cooler
  • Switch between heating & cooling
  • Turn the system on and off
  • Turn the fan on and off
  • Set / edit a 7 day schedule
  • Interrupt the schedule to adjust the temperature




Creating an Ideal System

By zooming in and out of the system details – I was able to conceptualize an Ideal System that rid unnecessarily complicated features and provoked ideas around energy consumption and efficiency, air quality and color as a visual language for temperature control.

Design Heuristics

1. 1950s Honeywell Thermostat by Henry Dreyfuss

Simple and ease of use

2. Nest

Motion sensor technology inspired me to move away from tediously programming the system for while you are away

3. Less but better… Dieter Rams.  

The lens used when designing solutions from user testing feedback

Design Process Diagram Overview

In Reflection

When we started this project 8-weeks ago, I thought the design process was to refine our initial wireframes by testing with people AND doing this over and over till I came up with a good design solution.

What I actually learned through the user-centered and iterative process was that it was less about me coming up with the right solve and more about the collaborative nature of the entire design process.

Good design happens in collaboration with people and makes sense to the people you are designing for.

For any questions/feedback please leave me a comment or you can reach me at

Wireframe Iteration Archives

Iteration 6

Iteration 5

Iteration 4

Iteration 3

Iteration 2

Iteration 1

All Best,


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A Point of Reflection

Jacob and I just completed our application to compete in the 2014 IxDA Student Challenge.  Applying is always an interesting mix of reflection and projection: articulating your past in the hopes of experiencing something new.  In preparing for the competition in Amsterdam, we were inspired and humbled by how much our perspectives have changed in such a brief amount of time.

The Austin Center for Design challenges its students to push past their own perceived limits: of how much they can accomplish, of how who they can affect, of what questions they can ask, and certainly of what they should demand of themselves.  I think I speak for every student at ac4d when I say I’ve never worked this hard at anything in my life.

Looking back at the work we have done in just a few short months put the value of this program into stark relief.   We’ve gone from grasping for well-defined design methods to having the confidence and autonomy to define our own methods to suit our purposes.   Jacob and I articulated the process that our design team has absorbed and come to value in this brief video for the application:

We also summarized the design work we completed in the first quarter in these two design documents: Food & Identity and Firestarting

Looking back on that work made me extremely grateful to be working with Jacob and Bhavini and excited about the work we are currently doing with Medical Records and Health-Related Experiences.  We’re in the middle of making sense of an overload of data.

I feel lucky to be working with two people who have perspectives that complement my own.  I know that my team’s trust in method combined with our driven approach is going to lead to great ideas.

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The Crimson Project: Update #4 and Beyond!

As always, Matt and I have been busy. This time in the update, I have photos of the initial prototype and a few takeaways we have gleaned from this project. These are most certainly not exhaustive, but they might give you an idea into what we’ve been learning over the past three weeks.

Over the weekend, Matt learned how to 3D print, and he has been extraordinarily helpful in pushing forward the movement on the prototype.

3D Printing the bicep for crimsonSTEAM.

The scaffolding on the side of the model prevents it from tipping over during printing. The 3D printer takes filament from the top of the printer and threads it through a heat element to fuse it together into a 3D object.

When we finished printing the parts, we sanded them down using fine grit sandpaper and an X-Acto knife to make this:

We’re going to take these photos to the Indiegogo campaign and update our contributors on the 3D prototype. I’m hoping to work through a few more of these prototypes to make sure that we have a solid product to cast. Also, we have a few kinks to work out with the pose-ability of the arm, which will be done in subsequent iterations.

We’ve also learned a lot with this project. I’m going to give you two takeaways—one from myself and one from Matt so far.

Chelsea’s Takeaway
Don’t assume that you will always be pitching to an agreeable audience. Always make sure that you have evidence of your craft.

My past experience in getting work and donations has always been through family and friends, which are, by default, an agreeable audience. I have already built a rapport through them, and they are aware of my skill because I talk to them about it or show them on a consistent basis.
In this same way, I think I assumed that because we had a good product and some great high-fidelity sketches, we were golden as far as preorders were concerned. This was an incorrect assumption, and I think it made us out to be less honest than we were aspiring to be. In the end, the problem was solved with a detailed FAQ and some shots of the 3D printing in progress, but I could have skipped that embarrassment by asking myself more skeptical questions about the preorder, such as:

  • Why do I want to buy this?
  • What is the proof that this is legitimate?
  • How will you be spending my money?
  • What will happen to my money if you don’t get funded?

Now that I know about this, I’ll be making a list of talking points to the product and making sure that I’m addressing concerns about the project before they happen. I want to make sure that people who preorder our arm are excited and happy about our product, not anxious and afraid.

Matt’s Takeaway
Take how much time it takes to 3D print. Then times it by three.
Matt and I were continually amazed how much time it took to set up the 3D printer, set up the model, and then the subsequent re-prints if the models accidentally snapped in two. The filaments are pretty finicky, so if we have any problems with the filaments catching on the equipment, we’ve got a broken model. We’ve gotten a lot of use out of the 3D printer, and have gotten better each time, so overall using the 3D printer has been a great benefit to us.

That’s the update on our progress so far, and then a small taste of the lessons that we’ve learned. I’m looking forward to Saturday when we give our full presentation, and as the project continues, I’ll be updating you all on everything!

Signing out (for now),
Chelsea + Matt

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The Crimson Project: Update #3

Here’s the update that you’ve been waiting for!

On Tuesday, I finished some high-fidelity sketches and booted up the Indiegogo project. Here’s a sample of the sketches (which can also be found on the Indiegogo):

And here’s a sample of Matt’s semi-rendered model:

Matt and I had a lot of anxiety when we first launched the Indiegogo—this is our baby, so we really want it to succeed. When the donations came in the first day, we were elated! I had spread the word on my Facebook, tumblr, and on two large doll forum sites, and some donations were from people that we knew.

However, the most exciting moment was when we saw that someone had preordered an arm who we didn’t know. We were elated and felt like we were on the right track. Doll arms, here we come!

In the first few days, we had some very pointed questions directed at the legitimacy of our project. It surfaced from one of the doll forums that some of the members didn’t trust our intentions because we had not posted up a clear FAQ of what would happen if the project failed, and how we would take care of our preorder customers. In our positive buzz of getting our project out to the community, we hadn’t made our intentions to support our customers throughout the preorder public, and shone a light back on us to how we could be better taking care of our potential customers.

In response, I posted up an FAQ of the project and made clear in a response on a forum that it is my intention to keep this preorder process as transparent as possible.

 In the same day, our post from one of the major doll forums was taken off the forum, citing that we must get the 3D prototype for the arms approved for “on-topicness” for that forum. I think we both felt like this was a blow to us—we knew that the forum was a place where we could reach a lot of people.

Upon reflection, I think that being taken off the forum is an opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with doll owners as well as driving home the point that a 3D prototype is key factor in our trustworthiness as a company.

Today, Matt and I are going to be utilizing the 3D printer to iterate on a prototype. We have digital calipers (many thanks to Jacob Rader for allowing us to borrow them) to very precisely measure the ball-joints and arms to the decimal, so we’re feeling positive on making sure that the iterations fit the doll.

My goal is that next update, we’ll have some prototypes for you all and our experience with the process of creating those.

Guys, this has been a wild ride. I’m looking forward to updating you all soon.

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Why do we fall, young design students?

Last night I bombed my presentation.

After staying up until 2am, waking at 6, scrambling to put together something semicoherent, and get the daily work at the office completed; I was a bag of nerves being fiercely rattled by the caffeine which was keeping me slightly on this side of conscious.

I knew exactly where my problems were and how to solve them, but I was out of time. A more rested Alex would have likely improvised and blew through the mountain of slides to get to the relevant points. Instead, I focused on presentation mechanics and slowly trudged through the first two authors.

After getting the mic pulled, I quietly sat through the class wishing for it to be over as soon as possible. 99% of the time, I would wait for the grade, accept things as they were, and move on.

Last night was different. I needed to be certain that I was actually capable of making a reasonable presentation.

Step 1 : Reduction

I actually had some great points to get across, however, they were buried under a mountain of supporting quotes. I chopped 71 slides down to 29. Each author was given one supporting quote, my overall take on their views, and a moment to present them within the context of their peers.

Step 2 : Aesthetics 

I was largely disappointed with the feeling of the blocky images which had different sizes. I took each headshot, did a circular crop, then scaled them to match. I also rebuilt the framework graph. Thank you Chelsea for giving me a second pair of eyes.

So after staying up until 1AM, then sneaking in bits of work during the day, here is the updated presentation.  It is considerably more clear, and while I still have nits, I am certain that I can create a reasonable presentation.

Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.

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This Week: A Sketch

As you all following the blog know, we were assigned a project to make $1000 by October 19th.

What you may not know is that I do a weekly sketch on my blog.

This was my post today summing up my emotions about the previous week. I thought it was appropriate to post this to the blog, because I think a lot of us are here right now.

Climbing the mountain of fear.

Stay strong, fellow AC4D students! I’m there with you.

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Each moment you are happy is a gift to the world

There is a lot of suffering in human society, and plenty of well-intentioned efforts to alleviate that suffering. But sometimes, a key component goes missing from the problem-solving efforts-  personal well-being and grounded happiness. Social workers are familiar with this concept in the form of “self-care for the caregiver.” Social workers work to maintain their own self-care to ensure they are stable reference points for the often unstable clients they are helping. Like a gravitational field, social workers provide a reference point of stability that guides often wide-orbiting clients back in to a more balanced center.

In a similar way, all of the great social or spiritual leaders (e.g. the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Mother Teresa), radiate or radiated a calming and clear presence allowing those around them to feel that everything would be alright, even if it wasn’t at that moment, it would be someday. That calming presence allowed people to face extraordinarily difficult circumstances that otherwise would have stopped them. It gave them the encouragement to keep moving forward, keep trusting their intuition, and keep working past the fear and challenges into better possibilities. This is basic empowerment, but it’s worth reiterating. Without it, the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the Indian Independence Movement, and countless others, would have stalled in discouragement, unrest and in-fighting.

It’s that supportive, “you’re going to be fine,” way of being with others, that many people tackling “wicked problems” forget to employ as the very foundational way in which they approach the world.  As leaders, when we radiate happiness and calm, we allow those around us to face their problems with a dose of that same attitude and then achieve greater success.

Since, ultimately, large-scale social problems are simply the mass collections of individual human challenges, problems can be addressed by shifting the mindsets of individuals into further empowerment. For example, environmental destruction can be seen as individuals’ inability to conceptualize environmental change and alter behavior accordingly, disease epidemics can be seen as many human bodies individually needing greater care, poverty can be seen as many individuals unable to free themselves from institutional power dynamics, and so on.  It is the pieces, happy or unhappy, empowered or victimized, that make the whole. So as designers approaching social change, it is us up to us to generate happiness as a means to allow others the encouragement to face their challenges and keep moving forward, knowing it will get better over time.

You can feel it in your own life- at times of overwhelm or unrest, taking action is more challenging. At times of joy and calm, taking action is satisfying and easy. The more we can surround individual humans, who are part of these wicked problems, with an atmosphere of appreciation, collaboration, and playfulness, the more we are able to find the threads of yarn within us, and within them, that ultimately unravel these dense, challenging problems.

So that’s my goal for the coming weeks- infuse all that I do, and all that I give, with joy. Realize that happiness, especially in abundance, is an improving force on the world. And each moment we are happy is a gift to the rest of the world. Here’s to being kind to each other as we do this work, and to helping as many individual others as possible (who in aggregate form these wicked problems), to achieve that state as well- in whatever forms they prefer.


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One and Done: Using an Iterative Process

There’s a particular process hump that design students inevitably encounter: that of quality. This comes after they have learned particular methods, and they realize that they can make a thing. If the student has been taught critique and self-reflection, they’ll also soon realize that their thing isn’t very good, because it’s the first iteration of the idea. Iteration one is a thinking artifact, not a presentation artifact, and for a new designer, the gulf between thinking and presentation is enormous. In the dialogue between maker and material, iteration one establishes boundaries around a problem space but it doesn’t actually solve the problem. That’s because the level of craftsmanship and finish of the artifact is directly related to the quality of the solution, and for all novice designers, their level of craftsmanship and finish is poor.

This learning moment is inevitable, because it’s a place where method and tacit skill collide. Simply, it’s easy to learn a method, because a method is – by definition – procedural. Just follow the steps, and you’ve applied the method. But tacit skill is neither easy nor procedural; it comes through practice over time.

Once a student has produced iteration one, the best thing they can do next is to produce iteration two. And for most students, this is the hardest thing they’ve ever done. Because producing iteration one was so hard, and took so long, and the results are so obviously bad, the student sees only failure. And they give up.

I think, in my teaching experience, this is a critical fork in the road for learning design. Does the student persevere and practice? Does she “play her scales” or “wax the floor”? Or does she cut and run, internalizing various rationalizations for her poor work? I’ve heard “I’m just not meant to be that kind of designer” more often than I care to count, always at this phase in learning. And I’ve also seen students practice through it, giving up their social life, practically living in the studio, and establishing a sense of confidence both with skill and process.

The separation of method and execution is a learning practice, a pedagogical trick for students to learn both. But in practice, there’s no separation. Methodology integrates with craft-based execution over time to form expertise. Once a student has learned method and learned about execution, the rest relies on their passion to practice. There’s no real way to game this system; expertise comes from practice and experience. And that takes time, personal and professional sacrifice, and a disciplined maturity.

The simple truth is that, for a student that’s gotten to this magical moment in learning, they have only one path towards success: practice.

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Technology and Human Experience

As an exploration of the role of technology in our lives, I wrote the pieces below:



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Lipstick on a Pig

Recently, Michael Bierut wrote an article about branding, and our cultural tendency to armchair quarterback design decisions. The first 2700 words (or parts I-IV) poke at populist response to graphic design, during which the piece shifts between sarcastically casting the consumers as a lynch mob to casting designers as arrogant idiots. The last 450 words seem to lament the death of graphic design. That’s part VI, which includes a Vignelli quote that seems to contradict everything in the first chunk.

But it is part V that sparked me to write this response. In Part V – How Many Psychiatrists Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb? – Bierut describes his own experience in redesigning the UPS brand. I appreciate his honesty, because it offers an intimate view into what happens in corporate America. An agency is called in to do some “creative work.” They offer concepts and vision. The work passes through endless meetings and a machine of consensus. If the work is not killed during the process, blanding pops out the other end.

What concerns me is the view of design – and particularly identity design (or branding) – as the hammer, where stagnant consumer growth is the nail, and the need to “change consumer perception” is more important than the need to “change our product offering.” Bierut presents the UPS opportunity as a response to marketing needs. As he describes, “We were hired for a simple reason: surveys kept showing the company was inaccurately perceived as being slower, more inflexible, and less technologically adept than their competition.” Yet there’s nothing simple about this reason, and it begs an even less simple question: if the company was perceived as being slower, more inflexible, and less technologically adept, could it be because they are slower, more inflexible, and less technologically adept?

This is a constant and reoccurring theme in design circles. In the well-publicized Tropicana example that Bierut cites, communications director Jamie Stein initially explained the rebrand: “Our intent was to get people to rediscover the benefits of orange juice.” When UC tried to redesign their identity, the stated goal was to unify the UC system. In the recent American Airlines rebrand, the “new logo and livery are designed to reflect the passion for progress and the soaring spirit…

But a redesigned logo does not make a broken airline better, and a redesigned logo does not make a tired parcel system more flexible. New paint on the outside of a plane does not offer ergonomic support to flyers, who are forced to sit on a “chair” made of metal rods. It does not empower customer service representatives to help confused, tired, or pissed off customers. It does not make right the countless absurdities of random ticketing and return policies, or baggage fees, or headphone fees, or inflight entertainment fees, or change fees. It does not fix the countless broken interactions that occur within the American Airlines service ecosystem, and it will not fix the poor financial state of the company, which is bleeding money.

Similarly, a new logo does not help UPS better respond to the complexities of their customers, who change their mind and need packages re-routed. A new logo doesn’t help educate people about the nutritional benefits of fruit in their diet. And a new logo doesn’t improve the ability for students to register for classes across the UC system, or help them better manage the complexities of course registration and degree completion, or navigate the bureaucracy of the enormous California college system.

We see example after example of branding as band-aid: a new identity will somehow magically transform a company from broken to fixed, from out of touch to empathetic. It won’t. The cited reason for a rebrand, in each example above, should have been addressed by changes to the actual product, service, and business strategy.


I herald design as one of the most powerful forces of change we have for addressing complicated business and social problems. Part of design is selecting tools, methods, techniques, and approaches that make sense in the context of the problem. Design, like any other discipline, is not “one size fits all.” It is not appropriate for “the masses” to critique the aesthetic of the new design in each case mentioned above, and while predictable, it’s particularly disappointing to see the criticism at such shallow and superficial levels (“it looks like a toilet”; “my two year old could do better.”) But it is entirely fair for those same masses to critique the design strategy in each example, for the design strategy in each example was to put lipstick on a pig.


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