Week Seven (Seven?!) Reflections

Two days after my last Reflections blog post we got an email from Ruby saying that they were no longer mandatory but if they help then of course we should keep blogging. And I thought, “I like them, I’m going to keep doing them.” And then three weeks went by.

After I felt like I needed to toss the rules out the window in Theory/102 I made my presentation using Harry Potter as my analogy to talk about poverty. I didn’t even mention the authors! And it was fun so I was excited to present it, which is something that was missing in my previous presentations. And besides getting good feedback from Scott, a guest faculty member and my peers after class, I actually felt proud of it. I really went home and gave the presentation to my husband because I was that excited about it. Poor guy.

In our 101 class, learning how to theme has been a challenge. We’ve had something like 2 weeks to be theming but I feel like today I’m starting to get it. This afternoon the advice we got from Jon/Matt/Scott sort of clicked for me. We present to our client in like 40 hours. We’re not going to be able to theme all of our utterances before presenting. We’re just not. Or, we’re not going to be able to theme all of them AND get the sleep required for a healthy lifestyle.

I’ve also talked to my mentor twice in the past few weeks and she’s really great. The first time we talked I joked that timeboxing was just another way of never finishing anything. She said that was true but also it was good because it means I’m moving forward in ALL the things. And it prevents me from hyper-perfecting one thing and letting everything else lapse. I agree with this in theory but when it’s crunch time I’m definitely only focusing on one thing.

We talked this week and I asked for her advice on theming and she gave me some great getting-started tactics. And she gave me two helpful bits of advice. For theming, sit with the data. It takes time and being there in the room and doing the thing. The second thing she said was, this is the fun stuff. There are plenty of parts of this entire process that she didn’t like but theming is something she really enjoys.

Next week is the final week before Q1 ends. Which means 3 presentations and a review with faculty. Am I already nervous? You betcha. But I keep reminding myself of Scott’s advice to our class on Thursday: to approach this week with kindness (for ourselves and others), with patience (for ourselves and others) and with rigor. Wish me luck!

Week 4 Reflections

Apparently we’re halfway through Q1? Scott mentioned that in our Theory/102 class on Thursday.

We had another assignment and presentation due in that class this week. We had to take all 8 authors we’d read and place them on an axis of designing for/designing with and then create another axis of our own choosing and plot them along that axis as well.

It felt like I was making a very personal assertion. It felt vulnerable that I chose an axis of “where the designer is in the process” and then placed the authors on it. I can tell you now that that’s not what came across in my presentation. I still got the feedback that they wanted to see more of my perspective in my project.

I also realized I took a too-literal approach to the assignment. I could have taken the info I’d absorbed and placed my take on it regardless of the actual assignment instructions.

It reminded me of a design project in college where we had to do 4 stages of a page layout. Stage 3 was the final layout, Stage 4 was “break all the rules.” I went wild! I applied filters to my photo, I made my line slanted, I made the header neon pink! My instructor said, “No, that looks great, that’s your 3rd stage. Now go break all the rules.”

I’ll keep you posted on how I show more of my perspective in my next assignment!

Making the Grade

In one of my earlier blog posts during orientation I wrote that I was worried about failing. We were told constantly that we’d fail in the beginning for the simple reason that we don’t know what we’re doing. After all, if we did, why would we be going through this program?

I’ve been graded on 3 assignments so far and on the first two I got a 54 and a 61. I texted my sister about it and she said, “OMG are you okay?” She thought that I would be devastated by my grades. I was not devastated at all! The 54 was the find a business/sell them your plan/develop a research plan/present it to the class in fewer than 48 hours project and, uh, we did it. 54 points is over half of the possible points! For a a thing I didn’t even know I could do!

The 61 was for a presentation on super dense readings we had done and I felt underprepared and uncomfortable, at best. So a 61 was better than I expected. Plus, room to grow, amirite?

Yesterday we got our studio/drawing grades back and I was fully prepared for my 50-something grade– and I got a 79. Y’all. Apparently I overshot- I got so good at failing that for a split second I was disappointed because 21 points is not very much room to grow!

Other notes on this week: I need to get faster at transcribing, stat. I need to prioritize the readings for the 102 class better because they take so long to absorb. I actually did all my daily object sketches! And I joined Austin Bouldering Project because I think 25 minutes on the wall or in their sauna just might keep me sane over the next few months.

Week 2 Reflections: Still not drinking coffee

I’ve always thought of myself as relatively laid-back. I prefer chilling to being active, I like my drama to be on television—not in real life, I’m calm in a crisis. But ask me to present a six minute presentation and I spend a whole calendar day spiraling into anxiety.

I don’t know what I’m so afraid of! Physical pain? Death?! I’ve literally been calmer when a bee has landed on my face or a coral snake slithered next to me while I’m hiking. Here’s the thing, though. If we were broken into groups of 3-4 and I had to do the same presentation? No nerves. I’d be so cool you could skate on me.

At any rate, what I learned in my feedback is that I made my presentation harder for myself. I made a simple Keynote presentation and relied heavily on my memory and notes. I should have made a more robust presentation and let that do the heavy lifting. (I was also told that while I presented the information in a clear way, I didn’t include my own perspective. Apparently understanding these dense readings isn’t enough and I have to actually form opinions about them?)

Other things that happened this week, in no order: we did our first interview! • I wish I’d put more time into sketching. I enjoy it so I made myself do my more unsavory tasks first but then I didn’t get to spend as much time as I’d have liked on sketching. • “Working sessions” are a procrastinator’s dream. Come to class and then do everything I should have done before I came to class? Fantastic.

Baptized with a Boot

The end of the beginning hath arrived. We have completed the orientation week. This week of assigned work was not even close to the difficult part but this, without doubt, had plenty of challenges.

What I appreciate about this week is the confirmation that no workshop or online course can teach all the skills we just experienced. Working through the challenges first hand exposes all the shortcomings we need to build upon. I can see how the pressure will quickly reveal strengths and weaknesses.

On this day, we surveyed to validate the key assumption of our MVP. I felt a bit more confidence and purpose. We set a target number of 100 samples. The pressure to find 100 people got me in focused mode. Our group’s biggest challenge was finding a narrow group of folks who ride the bus with their bikes. Our group made two breakthroughs by casting out an online poll with SurveyMonkey and by making our actual in-person survey digitized with SurveyMonkey. Good times was briefly interrupted when we got booted out of a sweet coffee shop. We’ve been told getting bounced is a right of passage at AC4D. We were baptized with a boot.

Had fun participating in a video confessional “Between Two Ikea Plants” with Zev, Catherine, and Cristina. Hope it lasts.

Looking forward to meeting more alumni, hearing about their after-AC4D stories, meeting next year’s challenges and working with everyone.

Day 4 Vignettes

The new challenges just keep coming. At this orientation, the name of the game seems to be practicing and committing all these activities and skills to habit. What a lot of skills there are too. Sketching and storyboards were introduced today. Sketching and storyboarding is a comfortable and enjoyable activity for me. Throw timeboxing into the storyboarding mix and it’s another new challenge to start practicing.

The latter half of the day involved preparing the validation of our current best idea. In the past, hearing about starting/running a business always made sense, but only when someone knowledgeable in the subject is around to explain things. I have a much harder time parsing entrepreneurship on my own (for now.) I hope to change that soon.

We’re set to go back out and interview tomorrow morning for another round of data. We will be hunting bicyclists.

(addendum) I wanted to come back and add three things I had to process a little more. These eye-opening lessons stood out as valuable: ideas are free, framing value, and key assumptions.

The discussion began when a student asked “Aren’t you afraid of someone stealing your idea (when you pitch to and survey people.”) The answers were really interesting. One answer, that ideas are free, sums up the lesson that some ideas need to exist and be real before they can have or provide value. Making ideas real requires several drums of work sweat and we’re just getting a mist of that experience. Additionally, we were told that almost all pitches have been heard before or recycled. Wow. Isn’t that a kick in the face?

What I mean by framing value is specifically about the process of testing your big assumption. At the end of your pitch, you have to gauge what value your assumption will have on the market. Gauging the value to test is probably the pitfall the team fell into. The economics lesson we were given is price and demand do not necessarily correlate. You either charge something greater than a penny or not. The other side of the lesson was framing the (value) survey such that the audience is aware the actual assigned monetary cost is not what we’re after but whether there any value (monetary, time and/or effort) can be tied to our key assumption.

Identifying the key assumptions versus the working assumption appeared to be a common mistake among the teams. I found it interesting because it seemed to tie back to this message we’ve been repeatedly told. Making these assumptions and leaps can and will be uncomfortable. We seem to hope to justify them. I understand WHY we are making these assumptions and yet I still sense the unease. Confidence is such mind fuck.

So working in groups is hard, now what?

Keep working.

Today is the first day we drew. Was it Drawing 101, draw some white boxes and cones and cylinders? Learn to draw shadow and perspective? NEWP. We sketched vignettes (a single page drawing that clearly illustrates your idea) of the ideas we created yesterday. Then we sketched storyboards of those vignettes. Buses and people and buildings and hands and mobile phone screens.

I was pretty proud of my first vignette and I went to ask the instructor for feedback on one of the elements I’d struggled with and the first thing Pat asked was, “Why is this scenario happening?” UHHH…

This is the second day in a row I’ve paid attention to the instruction, heard the clear message and went straight into my small group and did exactly what we were instructed not to do. (It might be the third day in a row if I’m being honest with myself.) Yesterday obviously we needed to make the risky inference about the data, of course! Did I nearly start categorizing the data according to general topic? Yup! Today we were told to pick the best idea, not the easiest idea to draw. What did I gravitate toward? Ideas that could be clearly communicated visually.

Luckily! I’m on a team and they picked better ideas. After drawing our vignettes, we chose one and split up the various scenes for the storyboard and drew them on our own. Thankfully, no one went into Pictionary mode, aka This Is What I Would Have Drawn.*

Later we learned about the process of creating a product and how to apply the MVP (minimal viable product) notion to our ideas so we can present them out in the real world tomorrow. (Unfortunately I’m headed to Houston tomorrow for a funeral so I’ll miss seeing this data in action but I look forward to hearing about it.)

Something Jon said on Day 3 was that we’re building this scaffolding out of the data, our inferences, our themes, our insights, our ideas and we’re literally continually building upon them as though they’re sound structures. They may or may not be. And this is how we find out.

It’s simultaneously scary and exciting.

*This is not my joke, I saw it in a stand-up show ages ago.

Clearance on All Red Trucks

Today was day four of orientation, and I thought the previous day was challenging.

We filled this day with practicing sensemaking. Today did indeed finally make sense, but the details took quite a bit of time and effort to grasp. In my personal experience, my previous attempts at learning design thinking always crumbled with sensemaking and pattern building. The tactics and high-level approach were taught essentially the same, but the goals were not articulated nearly as well as Jon and today’s exercise accomplished. The dots to connect started with the red trucks and sentimental value comparison. My problem has always been red trucks. Stay away from useless unactionable red trucks.

Despite struggling, it was a concept to grasp onto, but as my team slogged through several random selections of quotes, an emotion began to emerge, followed by a human need. We kept second guessing ourselves. Is this right? Is this how we’re supposed to interpret this? I would drop the quotes and start over with another. We shared interpretations, and someone made a joke about sounding like a commercial. I love drawing analogies, and the joke made me think about defining marketing benefits. Jon made a comment earlier in the day about listening to a transcript but missing the visual vibe and behavioral cues. Reframing the exercise a bit more I switched from visualizing the mood of the quotes as commercial clips to vignettes or scenes from a movie. What theme would I arrive at if these appeared throughout a film? The next dot connected and thoughts about emotions and human needs naturally lead to the next dots. This is storytelling. This is a narrative. The team was able to build momentum off each other, but it was still a challenge.

When Jon presented the next assignment, there was a slight bit of personal relief. Coming up with 50 plus ideas feels much more familiar. Familiarity doesn’t make it easier. Its still plenty of work to do.

“Morning people need condoms, too!”

 

Today, though. Building consensus is hard. Which I guess is why it’s called “building consensus” and not “everyone already agreeing on everything.”

Today we had to take our raw data and make inferences with it and create common themes. Some themes were easy and materialized quickly and organically. Others (one in particular) seemed to completely absorb all of our energy without generating any real resolution. We had to consciously step away from it more than once at various stages.

(Can I just fast forward to the part of this program where I understand what causes these pain points so I can avoid them in the future? No? Okay, cool.)

The hardest part, of course, is examining my own role in the group’s “stuckness.” Did I speak up too much? Not enough? Did I defend my own ideas enough? Not enough? And I know from transcribing my interviews that what I think I did and what I actually did don’t necessarily align.

What I do know is that things felt better to me when we switched to generating ideas. Oh, we don’t have to all agree? Fantastic! Let’s play. And we did. We bounced off of each other’s ideas, adding on ideas, riffing, creating new ideas prompted by the other ideas. Ideas like, “Buses offer free condoms at night.” To which I replied, “Free condoms should be offered all day! Morning people need condoms, too!”

In other news, today I was introduced to my husband’s boss outside of his work and I took off my sunglasses because yesterday I learned that wearing sunglasses can be viewed as a barrier to real connection. Small victories.

“Flip a fork?”

Today we were divided up into small groups and sent out in the field to ask strangers questions about their experience with Austin public transit. Before that, our small groups strategized about what we would ask and where we would go to ask these questions of people. Before that, we had to pick a focus: the process of purchasing and using a ticket or the process of planning a route. We talked through them and we were all three pretty open to both. I volunteered, “Flip a coin?” No one had a coin, so I forget which one of us said, “Flip a fork?”

And so off we went to ask people about the process of purchasing and using a ticket. I feel grateful that our group is flexible and open because our initial plan didn’t last. After talking to one man about his Metro Mobility card, we decided to visit the Capital Metro Transit Store in downtown. We also spontaneously decided to interview a cop, simply because he showed up at the bus stop we were at (not because of us, to be clear). We also decided to scrap our plan and go to a hostel on the way back to school, which was good because we got perspective on transit from a European.

I found this exercise challenging on so many levels. It’s safe to say I was way out of my comfort zone. I further left my comfort zone by attempting to do my first interview in Spanish. And that interview spiraled out of control a bit when I asked him how he usually purchased his tickets and he began talking about how he was homeless because he’d lost his papeles in a fire. Whoa. In spite of that tangent it was a productive interview because he showed us his one-way bus ticket that he bought with cash. I’ve only ever ridden the bus using the app so I didn’t know that a printed out ticket was an option.

Stray observations:
• I should have taken off my sunglasses when interviewing people outside.
• I didn’t ask as many follow-up questions as my group-mates did. I’m not sure if I wanted to have faith in our original 5 questions or if I was concerned about time or if I just wanted to get the awkward interaction over with.
• The 5-second pause is HARD. I found that I’d say, “Um,” and then pause, which brings the conversation back into my court and defeats the purpose of allowing them to expound.
• After we were done, we knew we’d soon be told all the ways we had failed so on the way back to AC4D we talked about all the parts we were proud of.
• Flipping a fork is a perfectly acceptable way to decide something so you can move forward.