News and blog posts from our students and faculty

Category Archives: Motivation

Financing Longer Life Expectancies in an Aging Population

“In 1940, the typical American who reached age 65 would ultimately spend about 17 percent of his or her life retired. Now the figure is 22 percent, and still rising.”[1]

As life expectancy in America has increased (about 3 months each year since 1840)[1], so has the length in retirement, and attendant worries about financing life in old age. By 2025, 25% of the U.S. population will be over 60, compared with 16.5% in 2000 [2]. The repercussions are often difficult for retired individuals and their families, but they are also far-reaching in society, affecting wide-ranging fields including politics, healthcare, and finance.

Here at the Austin Center for Design, we’re interested in researching how people finance or plan to finance this long period of retirement, and coming up with design ideas to address this multi-faceted problem. Our team [Lindsay Josal, Maryanne Lee, and Laura Galos] will focus our next 3 quarters on financing the longer life expectancy of an aging population, particularly for members of the working class.

In conducting our research, we will primarily employ Contextual Inquiry to gain understanding and empathy with people in retirement or planning for retirement by observing and learning from them in a “master-apprentice”-style relationship. Specifically, we plan to learn from retired individuals, working-class individuals in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s (to gain a sense of perceptions at each age plateau), financial experts, and caregivers of retired individuals.

Our full research plan can be found here.

We believe that addressing the new financial concerns that arise with increased longevity can alleviate some of the financial, health-related, and emotional issues facing both seniors and their circle of caregivers.

Interested in learning more or participating in our research? Do you know someone who would be open to speaking with us about financing retirement? We would love to hear from you! You can contact us at:



[1] Easterbrook, Gregg. “What Happens When We All Live to 100?” The Atlantic Monthly, Oct. 2014. Online. Accessed 11/5/14.

[2] Disruptive Demographics. MIT AgeLab. Online. Accessed 11/5/14.

Posted in Design Research, Interaction Design, Motivation, Social Innovation | Leave a comment

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…



Posted in Classes, Creativity, Motivation, Portfolio, Reflection, Uncategorized, UX For Good | Leave a comment

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….


Posted in Classes, Creativity, Motivation, Portfolio | Leave a comment

Studio: Objects & Gestures

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

Slide1Slide2 Slide3 Slide4 Slide5

Posted in Classes, Creativity, Motivation, Portfolio | Leave a comment

Studio: Sew now what

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

Posted in Classes, Creativity, Motivation, Portfolio, Reflection, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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,


Posted in Interaction Design, Methods, Motivation, Reflection | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Motivation, Reflection | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Motivation, Reflection, Startups | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Motivation, Reflection, Startups | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Motivation, Reflection | Leave a comment