News and blog posts from our students and faculty

Category Archives: Strategy


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.

Posted in Classes, Creativity, Design Research, Interaction Design, Portfolio, Strategy | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Classes, Creativity, Design Research, Food, Strategy | Leave a comment

Coupling between thinking and actuation

As part of the creative problem solving process – designers research to understand a problem space, apply their own subjective point of view or intuition and create provocations to make sense of incomplete information.

In Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking, Karl Weick states, Sensemaking is not about truth and getting it right.  Instead, it is about continued refracting of an emerging story so that it becomes more comprehensive, incorporates more of the observed data, and is more resilient in the face of criticism. 

In Discovering Design Ability, Nigel Cross states, some of the relevant information [in a design problem] can be found only by generating and testing solutions; some information, or ‘missing ingredient’ has to be provided by the designers himself ... this extra ingredient is often an ‘ordering principle’. These ‘ordering principles’ give people access to new information on the whole and can take on various activities, such as the diagram below for example: 

In Theory of Interaction Design, we read 10 articles and discussed the relationship between creativity, knowledge, perception and strategy. The diagram above is an overview of each author’s summary along with my own position.

Thoughts? Make sense?  Your perception of it?  Can we design for an individual’s perception? Stavros Mahlke, in Visual Aesthetics and the User Experience, thinks we can and should by integrating ‘non-instrumental qualites’ like aesthetic, symbolic aspects and emotional user reactions with traditional user experience interaction design.   

In summary, it is in our thinking and activity where solutions are created and make sense.

Posted in Classes, Creativity, Design Research, Interaction Design, Methods, Strategy | Leave a comment

New Quarter, New Queery, New Hubris

As Chelsea and I continue our quest to bring Queery to life, we had to start extracting a singular thread of reality from the mystical cloud-of-what-could-be.

In many ways I think this has been the most challenging aspect of our work thus far. Every decision is a hard-fought battle between individual expression of hopes and desires which is constantly tempered against what is appropriate for the community we are trying to serve. These decisions usually are a compromise in one measure or another and they ultimately pick a singular reality at the expense of all others.

That’s not to say that we can’t go back and try other solutions, but if you have ever been in any software development shop for any period of time you know how expensive and rare that is.

While we have been slowly building our app, it is clear that our ambitions were considerably beyond our talents.

We reflected on this, stressed out a bit, and considerably scaled back the fidelity of our pilot. We now have a Google form to handle what the schedule flow would have covered and we will be hand-matching individuals as they sign up.

Chelsea also created this nice sign to remind us to keep it real.

I’ve kept an eye on that sign to remind myself to work within the now instead of the what-could-be and to see if either of us had the courage to bump the day counter up.

It’s been over a week and that number hasn’t changed.

Posted in Strategy | Leave a comment

The True Value of this Entrepreneurial Assignment

Pet Prints has kept me quite busy these last few weeks. In this update, I want to share few takeaways I have realized through my iterations of this project.

Don’t assume you know what your target market wants. Gather information in person.

It is easy to fall back on social networking sites like Facebook and Reddit as a way to gauge interest about a new idea, however, it is one thing to say you would buy something from behind the screen of a computer, and another to follow through with a real purchase. This information also tends often viewed through a positive bias as it is clear how many people responded with interest but it is unclear what ratio those people represent in terms of how many people saw it but did not feel strongly about the idea presented.

This is precisely what happened to me when I posted my custom prints idea on Reddit and received 30 upvotes. Without context of how many people saw the post, 30 votes of agreement don’t indicate whether my idea is liked by many or very few, but I read into it as a well-like concept and pushed on without a second thought.

Next time my approach will change to seek out my target market in context to observe them and more ask pointed questions so I can better critique my concept.

View your business from the customer’s standpoint.

As I mentioned in my second post, the ordering process I originally set-forth on my facebook page was difficult to navigate and relied heavily on the customer to reach out to me through email to place an order. This leaves too much ambiguity for the customer to sort through and could easily cause them to lose interest. By looking at this process from the view of my customer, it became clear that I needed a platform where products could be viewed and purchased on the same website. The increase in sales seem to indicate that this change to a new website was a positive one.

Ask your target market what they would pay for your product. Adjust quality and time spent accordingly.

Price point is important. If you set the price point too high, you lose a share of your potential target market who now can’t afford the product or view it as not being worth the amount of money. By gathering information straight from your target audience, you can better structure your business to meet the demand. In my case, I decided to offer digital downloads of my pet prints for less money. Customers can purchase the file itself and do whatever they see fit with image, whether that be printing it themselves or using it as their computer background. This product type ends up being more affordable to customers on a budget as well as less work for me.

Build time in for mistakes.

You are going to fail a few times before you get it right. I was so afraid to make decisions about this project early on, because I didn’t want to make a mistake. Looking back on it, I have realized that the best thing you can do when given a project out of your comfort zone is to just jump in knowing you will make at least a few mistakes along the way, but that the mistakes are part of the process. An efficient use of time and using the right tactics to solve a problem are critical to any business, but both of these skills come with experience. I need to be confident that any experience will shape my strategy positively, even if the experience itself could have been approached better. By building in time for mistakes, it takes the pressure off.

Reflecting on it now, the lessons I have learned from this project are exponentially more valuable than the money earned through my business. I’m guessing that is what Matt, Pat, and Jon hoped we would glean from this experience.

Posted in Classes, Methods, Reflection, Startups, Strategy | Leave a comment

Thinking about Value

For my quarter 1 startup business challenge, I’ve been working with Anna Krachey on a professional headshot and photography business called PictureDay ATX.

One of the challenges we faced was gaining enough customers. One of our original strategies was marketing towards co-working spaces in the Austin, TX area. The idea was this: we would partner with a co-working space, and market to their members via in-office flyers and internal email lists. We would then come to the co-working space for an afternoon, take headshots one after the other of their members, and make a bunch of money!

As a former member of the co-working space WorkBar in Boston, MA, I saw a photographer use this very model quite successfully. *HOWEVER* things didn’t work so smoothly for us. It turned out many co-working spaces either had photographer members who provided these services to the other members for free or discount, or the space provided headshots as a perk.

Thinking about value, we realized that we couldn’t provide much value if any to co-working members. How can you compete with free?

So we focused on the personal value we provided to our customers. Being able to see yourself in the best possible light – both literally and figuratively – provides tremendous value. Additionally, many people don’t like having their picture taken. So, being able to provide a comfortable and enjoyable experience for our customers while getting their picture taken, also added a great amount of value to our service.

While we did fewer headshot sessions than we would have with co-working members, and spent a long amount of time with each client, we were still able to make a significant amount in sales. We also found that the positive experience we provided clients resulted in our customer spending an average of about 63% more than they originally planned – they had a great time and loved the photos Anna shot, that they wanted to purchase more photos or additional retouching services. While customers might have ended up spending more, compared to established competitors who do this full time, we were still a bargain. We ended up providing value – both in the product we delivered and the experience we provided – to our customers, and both Anna and I came out enjoying it at the end!

Posted in Startups, Strategy | Leave a comment

Viewing “Pet Prints by Meghan” Through the Lens of the Customer

In my last blog post, I mentioned that I had been underwhelmed with the amount of orders I was receiving for pet prints.

The main vision I have had for my business is for the prints to be highly personal and thus meaningful for my customer. Since I had some free time between orders, I realized I should also offer generic prints (not custom) for a little less money since a custom print has many variables that appear to make it more time intensive and a bigger risk if customers don’t like the end product. So I created prints of some dogs and cats and posted them for sale. The results were surprising.

While only a few of these “generic” prints have been sold, I have since received more custom orders with requests along the lines of “I love the look of the Lucy print. Could I order a print of this picture in that style?” This correlation has made me realize that adding more examples of my work increases my credibility and allows people to better visualize what a custom print of their pet could look like. While this need to see the product seems obvious to me now, I was too caught up in what I hoped my business would sell to see my business from the customer’s viewpoint. Through this lens, I was better able to critique what was working and what needed improvement.

I have spent some time analyzing the disconnected nature of my ordering process. I don’t want to make my customers feel like they will have to jump through hoops to order a custom product. On my Facebook product page, there were many instances of “email me to place a custom order and get a price quote.” When I considered this prompt from the viewpoint of a customer, I realized how off-putting this would be. I was forcing my customer to make the first move with little information. I certainly would not jump to place an order if I was put into a similar situation.

Pet Prints Facebook Page

I realized I was putting the impetus on the customer to email me.

With this realization I have since firmed up my prices for a more limited set of product and print sizes. I have also worked with Cory to create a new, one stop Pet Prints website which highlights the ease of ordering.

New Pet Prints Website

Customers can pick from a limited variety of products available instead of becoming overwhelmed with an endless amount of choices. When selecting a custom print option, they provide their email and it is my responsibility to follow up with them to get the pet picture and start the conversation about what style and colors they are picturing. This takes the ball out of their court and makes the whole experience feel more personal.

Posted in Reflection, Startups, Strategy | Leave a comment

Pushing through the Freezing fear of Ambiguity

On the fifth meeting of our Studio Design class, we were given the assignment of our final project for the quarter: The $1000 Assignment. In three short weeks, we are to identify a problem, come up with a viable solution based on our skills, follow through with the solution, and make adjustments in order to make $1000 by October 19th.

I think all of our stomachs dropped as the implications set-in.

“In three weeks?! How!?!! I don’t know how to sell anything!”

For some reason, the fear washed over me, then subsided, if only momentarily. What if I reposed this assignment as a personal challenge to make a difference to a community I care about? Immediately, I thought of Austin Pets Alive! (APA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to making Austin a no kill city. I volunteer at APA and know that they are constantly in needs of money and supplies. I drove home from class anxious yet optimistic about the opportunities.

But that’s where my process paused. I had other assignments on my mind and honestly, I was just scared to start. I didn’t know whether the solution should dictate the method or the other way around or where the money would fit into all of this. Fearful of going down “the wrong path”, I thought talking to someone from APA about what fundraising methods were tried and true would give me a jumping off point, but the conversation kept getting postponed. I was just going to have to jump in and hope I don’t drown.

I created a list of the things I am good at and considered which of these skills could produce a marketable product. The idea that has emerged with is a combination of my graphic design skills and an understanding of people’s love of their pets. I have decided to create custom artwork featuring pets and donate 75% of the proceeds to Austin Pets Alive!


Unique Pet Prints

This idea came to me when I considered a painting my boyfriend’s sister had commissioned a few years ago. The painting is a two-tone stencil like image of Lucy, a beautiful and well-loved boxer.

In Process Painting of Lucy

In progress painting of Lucy.

I realized that I could extend this artwork idea and offer custom high-quality prints, paintings, and other products featuring pets to the many people that consider their pets an integral part of their family. The market for a unique pet print business has the potential to be quite large, especially in Austin. Combine this idea with the fact that 75% of proceeds will be donated to Austin Pets Alive, and I was sure that the orders (and money) would roll in.

While many people have expressed interest in online forums, the amount of orders I have received has been under-whelming. I have reflected on possible reasons for this with help from some of my classmates and professors and believe I have been relying too heavily on online connections (Facebook, Reddit, etc.) to connect with my niche market audience. To combat this, I am ordering high-quality prints of some of pieces I have created and will be traveling to dog parks, boutiques, and pet stores to sell directly to my customer. My boyfriend, Cory Hartmann, is also helping me streamline my online platform to improve customer experience and make purchasing as easy as possible.

Keep an eye out for an update about my progress in solving this dilemma in my next blog post!

P.S. If you or anyone you know would like a custom pet print, please visit my facebook page at (new site link will be posted as soon as possible).  These unique prints make wonderful personal gifts!


Posted in Classes, Reflection, Startups, Strategy | Leave a comment

Contextual Loops – A Nascent Tool For Design

I’ve been reflecting on a design research project I completed with a colleague at Whole Foods Market.

We were asked to focus on the healthy eating customer journey – how customers make decisions on what to buy based on in store signage.  What we found was surprising.  In sum, customers rarely paid any attention to signage – there was just an overload of the senses, as anyone who has been in a Whole Foods Market can attest to.  There were multiple factors at play, from not feeling able to stop and assess because the hordes of shoppers might run one over, to the inaccurate assumption that all WFM products are healthy.

Each barrier that we found was directly related to what I would call a contextual loop – slowly moving cycles that are part of the customer’s day to day interactions.  In common customer journey maps and service design blueprints, these cycles – of repeat service use, intermingled with contextual factors such as common calendar cycles and seasons, night and day, and the changing goals of customers during these cycles, are ignored.  Yes, customers in fact arrive at grocery stores and follow a similar journey over and over to identify the next product needed, target a section, then hone a choice before ultimately making a decision.  And yes, this could be considered part of one larger customer journey from arrival to departure – but the fact is that so much about how a customer ACTUALLY shops and experiences a store is based on their accumulated experience outside of a store.  This, we know, is an ebb and flow, and on the whole, one trip to a grocery blends into the next for a shopper, treated by the store as just another divorced experience.  But it isn’t truly a divorced experience, or certainly doesn’t have to be.  What if I had a delightful, personalized shopping experience that paid attention to my shopping habits over time?  What if, when shopping at night, the service could cater to me by offering valet service for safety?

These types of ideas come from what I would call contextual loops.  Contextual loops are, brilliantly enough, cycles that occur during repetitive product or service use.  They can be customer driven – i.e. cycles of being a “good” and “bad” eater; company driven, such as  quarterly sales or seasonal products; and temporal cycles, such as temperature, time of day, or holidays.  Obviously these can overlap, and one of the goals in creating these loops on paper is to identify those interaction points.  Contextual loops can get us thinking about not only what we see during initial research, but allow us to grow our potential set of insights, as well as create delightful moments for customers.

To Start

First,  you’ll need a canvas, a standard customer journey, and a couple blank sheets of paper/stickies to start using contextual loops.  I do agree that even for most companies or services, taking a look at one abstracted journey may offer a lot in the ways of understanding current major gaps. But this tool will make sure that you don’t miss higher levels of gaps.  Now wrap that customer journey into a circle (you can just create a circle, don’t actually take a huge CJ and force it into a circle) and place it onto the canvas.  On a separate sheet of paper, keep a running list of ideas of customer goals and business goals, and start with a list for that initial journey.    On a third piece of paper, keep a list of potential touch points or business ideas.  You will move between all three, and they will build off of each other.



Time to get meta

Try to think of the next contextual level up.  There may not be one thing that’s more “right” then another.  Put yourself in the customer’s shoes, and use your own intuition.  If you are having any trouble, place some more customer journeys on the canvas and start asking yourself – what is, or could be different, from the first journey to the 2nd? The fifth?  The hundredth?  For example, in our food related example, some issues between the first and second trips could be “food waste generated”, or “family gave shopper feedback on purchases” among others.  See if those thoughts highlight any customer or business goals, as well as generate any additional insights or ideas for future touch points.  Continuing with the example, an insight might be – customers continue to think about the brand as long as the bags stay in the house or are used.  How can we ensure more use, thus inspiring more people to see our brand?  Or, how do we support our shoppers when they have to deal with kids and a husband who won’t try a new food item without ridiculing her?

Meta Loops

Meta Loops

More Contextual Loops

Starting to think in multiple journeys will no doubt inspire you to think about the other contextual loops that are going on during these cycles – and seeing where they harmonize with customer and business goals can create valuable ideas.  Let’s look at a common contextual loop for the customer – a work week.  Our customer’s goals may vacillate during the work week vs. the weekend.  We may quickly start to see that a work day trip is all about getting in and out quickly, with food to fuel the day.  Having displays, set ups, and maps for hungry hunters vs. experiential shoppers is clearly more important on work days then it is on the weekends.  Trying to grab the attention of a shopper on a week day may be close to zero.

Continue by building out that initial contextual loop in both directions – in this example, to the day vs. evening loop in one direction, and months and years in the other.  See what you find.  The color is added to highlight, but you could easily just think of concentric circles and brainstorm.  The end goal isn’t visualization – it’s insight.

Date Loops

Date Loops

These ideas and assumptions can then be rapidly prototyped.  This is a nascent method that can help rapidly identify avenues worth testing along the way to superior product or service design.  Please let me know your thoughts or questions!

Posted in Reflection, Strategy | Leave a comment

Where should we go, and how do we get there?

I’ve really enjoyed discussing Strategy over the past few weeks in the IDSE 302 – Theory of Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship.   I spent a lot of time doing case studies and strategy evaluations while studying for my MBA with a focus in Strategic Management. At the time, I understood strategy as  “Where do we want to go, and how do we get there.”  I was taught Blue Ocean Strategy, Porter’s Five Forces, and PESTLE Analysis. Those tools are great for evaluating the market to determine strategic intent, or where a company “should go,” (strategic intent) but don’t add value when determining the strategy of  “how to get there” at a product level. Instead, we learned how to communicate intent and to steer the ship, but not how to design the next product or service.

Enter AC4D.

The past 5 months, and particularly this class at AC4D has give me the ability to design the strategy at the product/service level with high confidence. This stage of my education is exactly where I hoped I would be.

In my latest Position Diagram, I highlight the process to get from a solid Strategic Intent to the creation of the Product Strategy.



Posted in Strategy | Leave a comment