Sketching and learning about the MVP

Today we arrived to find stacks of blank computer paper, pencils, and sharpies set out for us. Then, we met Pat Marsh and he introduced us to various forms of making which included sketches and vignettes, storyboards, and prototypes.

We then broke into our teams and began roughly sketching vignettes for some of the 200+ ideas our group came up with based on our research insights. I found it was easiest for me to sketch if I had an example or reference item to look at as opposed to drawing from memory or trying to picture something in my head. I have a lot of room for improvement in this department. I especially loved seeing my team members and other classmates sketches because everyone had their own unique style and take on things.

Next, we created storyboards for a selection of vignettes. Our team got a little distracted during this task admiring and discussing the different vignettes, and had to rush to complete a storyboard towards the end of the allotted time. However, I think the extra pressure to power through helped us come together to complete a storyboard that worked well.

After lunch Emiliano Villarreal came in and discussed minimum viable products with us and drove home the importance of always validating your ideas in front of other users. Our team then created 6-7 questions to validate the assumptions our idea/product is based on. Our two assumptions are that people who put their bike on the bus would find value in an application that would let them know if there is space on the bike rack before a bus arrives, and would also value a way to reserve bike rack space ahead of time.

We also did a few “wall critiques” where everyone went around to each group’s area and they presented what they’d created. These were helpful and interesting for me to see what other groups were working on, and to learn from their reviews as well as our own. I was a fan of the activities today and left feeling confident in my group’s plan for user testing tomorrow morning.


Danger, Will Robinson

Jon said something that, while possibly obvious, hadn’t crossed my mind. “Design is dangerous.” With so much subjectivity and personal influence/attachment, actionable insights need to be carefully thought out. Provocation can cut both ways and doesn’t necessarily need to elicit positive responses.

I think what hit me hardest about this lesson is how dichotomous our culture is. The pull for humans to categorize is strong and has been gaining strength recently in some important areas of our lives. Take politics, for example, an area that has long suffered from a two-sided narrative. You’re either one of them or one of us (in this case, Republican or Democrat). This chart sums up a progression of the polarizing trend.

I’m a huge Star Wars nerd, and this style of thinking reminds me of the dreaded Sith. Fear leads to Anger. Anger leads to Hate. Hate leads to Suffering. I see this all too much, specifically within the context of politics. It’s gotten so bad that I can’t even engage certain family members in conversation about our country’s leadership, which brings me back to Jon’s statement about design being dangerous, and a dilemma I’ve noticed. If our goal is to be provocative, this is a lot easier to achieve in a dichotomous world since it’s easier to compare the differences between two things, entities, belief systems, groups, etc…

Another insight from Jon that I believe will be my new mantra: what makes a good designer is his/her ability to have ideas on demand. I love this. Basically, an endorsement to let the creative juices flow.  Come up with ideas, iterate on them, and don’t let your own value judgments get in the way of the creative process. It’s ok to be wrong.

When I was producing music, it was important to learn to separate your perceived self-worth from the actual product you submit for judgment. This is especially true in fields with subjectivity: art, music, writing, etc… It hurts having someone tell you that your work sucks. I saw many talented people call it quits because they internalized criticism rather than dissociate themselves from a piece of work. I learned then that it’s better to hear “this particular thing you made is not for me” rather than “you are bad and you should feel bad for being bad at what you are trying to do.” I hope I am able to recall this lesson throughout the AC4D program.

Day 3: Themes and insights

We began our lecture today by discussing themes to help make sense of data and identifying patterns by exploding our data. Our group was primed to “trust the process” because prior to beginning lecture we had neatly pinned our data into columns labeled with headers “Problems with tickets” and “purchasing methods,” along with similar buckets.

We discussed the example of a red truck and application of a lens to move away from an objective statement. The subjective statement was that vechicles carry sentimental value. I was excited to see how the variety of our backgrounds would inform our individual lenses to create different subjective statements and how we would persuade and support our unique points of view. For example, when we discussed the stigma associated with digital connections, my mind drifted to considering sensory communication that is omnipresent in the human and natural world. Communicating without physical exchange of some sort simply didn’t seem natural, a violation of some universal law that withstood millenia. Digital communications in word form remind me of an English class I once took called “Can the Narrator be Trusted” in which we read novels told by deceptive narrators. However, I quickly questioned my conclusion when I thought about the ever expanding emoji world that allows people to display emotion without words, almost referencing what we may partake from a persons body language. Taking that into account made digital communication seem less one sided; in a digital communication with visual elements interpretation is required and our own lens is applied to the words we are fed.

When we returned to our group to form insights by analyzing 2-3 interview segments it was challenging to not feel we were forcing connections. When it came time to form insights we spent a great deal of time trying to find verbiage to capture the connections. In hindsight, we probably should have focused more on arguing our individual perspectives and persuading the group to adopt them instead of trying to reach a consensus on a statement that captured elements we agreed were on point in each of our insights. It was recommended to us that we may benefit from separating the components of the insight and reverse engineering. Although frustrating at times, we shared some laughs at what was coming out of our thoughts. Sometimes laughter is a sign you are making progress as you discover  what does’t capture your message! After a break we regrouped and creating insights came with ease.

Generating concepts seemed more intuitive and I enjoyed seeing where our imaginations led us. Flexing our imaginations ended the day on a high note. I look forward to seeing the outcomes in comparison to the concepts I feel I would have developed through my own experience as a first time rider on CapMetro.

Creation through ideation

Is it too soon to have already found a favorite part of this process?

Today we took our field research data points, debated themes, crafted insights, and then the fun began. Ideation is, effectively, an improv-style brainstorming session where you allow yourself to say “yes, and” to every concept that comes to mind and then either build upon that or spin into another brainstorm.

I’m excited to see what develops out of this mess of green post-its tomorrow!

IMG_8409         IMG_8410

design is dangerous.

In March, data analyst Christopher Wylie spoke on the record for the first time about his role in the massive Cambridge Analytica-Brexit-Trump campaign-Facebook data manipulation scandal. As a 24-year-old trend forecasting student, he had come up with a way to collect a massive volume of private data on Facebook users, use this data to generate psychological personas, and create political ads tailored to users’ precise psychological profiles. At the time, Wylie was simply playing around with stuff, looking for ways to hack and redesign systems. He had clear inferences into human behavior, good opinions on why, and strong ideas about how to build on those insights.

Then he met Steven Bannon, who encouraged him to pursue these dispassionate, curious design questions. His project went on to morph into Cambridge Analytica.

Wylie, formerly employed by the Liberal Dems, now calls himself “the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating ‘Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool.'”

I think Wylie was engaged in sensemaking: identifying themes in the data, drawing inferred meanings, and applying his own opinion to create an insight into human psychology and behavior.

Jon took us through this process today:

Pull out a theme.

Make an insight that is provocative.

Ask “why?” Answer it with incomplete data.

A good “why” is definitive; provocative; complete. Your answer will stand on its own, with an insight that taps into something deeply true.

These are the insights: the big rocks of innovation.

The resulting insight from the case study went like this:

Digital connections are less valuable than physical ones, because they don’t fulfill innate human needs like eye contact and physical touch. We should seek to minimize these relationships.

This insight was reached from an education-focused design process. But look at the phrasing: “We should…minimize these relationships.” “X [ways of being human] are less valuable than Y [ways].” Provocative as hell. Holds up. Suggestive. And highly actionable.

We’re surrounded with destructive systems and policies that are firmly rooted on a definitive, provocative, complete idea. Racism fits this category. So does nationalism. Sexism, bigotry, corruption, etc.

Design, when paired with ignorance of contextual social/political fabric, is dangerous. It is an approach bound to fuck up, which is fine on its own — but the bigger the idea, and the less thorough the consideration of unintended consequences, the more society-altering the impact.

No true systems-tinkering can be apolitical, no matter how next-plane the brains (like Wylie’s) involved.

If designers don’t admit that on the front end, we’ll learn it on the backend — along with everyone else.


“How many designers does it take to fix a lightblub?”

Answer: "Why a lightbulb at all?"

In Day 3 of our design sprint, we focused on the question “why?”. Starting with quotes from our transcribed interviews, we then synthesised this data and identified themes. The next step was to rephrase the theme into a why statement. This simple change of syntax from statement to question enabled us to dig deeper and in turn create insights. Below is one example of this process.

1. Quotes from public transit users

“The only reliable bus is the Metro Rapid. All the other buses are sorta unreliable. If you’re trying to go to work on time you have to leave WAY before. You just, it’s really unreliable.” (Ben, a Austin local)

“I can go over to the office  [to get a senior discount card] but I’d rather go here [HEB] Sometimes they don’t have it [the card].” (Homero, senior citizen)

“I drive just because otherwise it takes an hour and a half to get here in the morning. Too many transfers. For me I have to go to Highland Mall, wait for a little bit, take another bus south. And I live about 15 minutes away. An hour and a half or 15 minutes. I end up driving”. (Gill, a Austin local)

2) Theme

Lack of predictability causes distruption

3) Why statement

Why does the lack of predictability cause disruption?

4) Insight

Users are adverse to uncertainty.  They want control and routine. Unexpected situations disrupt this feeling of autonomy. Systems should be held accountable to perform as they say the will in order to build trust.




You know when you succeed, and it feels good. You (usually) know when you fail, and it doesn’t feel good, but at least it feels definitive. Even failure is preferable to where I find myself today, in the murky ambiguity of not knowing how to make sense of this process. I’m stuck in a quagmire of uncertainty.

The origin of my frustration is the stacked, accelerated experience of both learning to execute a definitive process as well as the more obvious goal of extracting valuable insights by actually executing the process. Doubt accompanies every decision. Yes, the rule is to trust the process. But how can I trust the process if I don’t even understand the process? Am I doing it right? Are my teammates doing it right? I’m not sure we’re really getting it today, and I’m also not sure we even initiated the process correctly yesterday, potentially upsetting the entire method from the get-go. Is the data we collected the right data? Is it enough to make intelligent sense of? Are we interpreting in the manner that’s been assigned? I think, quite honesty, sort of.

My teammates and I are figuring out the process as we go along, and while I appreciate defining a process from within, the phrase “blind leading the blind” comes to mind. This made team discussions today achingly time-consuming. Where’s all the excitement about our diverse ways of thinking now? It seems like we couldn’t get on the same page about anything, opting in the end for a mashup of ideas rather than the single strongest. When we finally reached a consensus about a primary topic to focus on, we spun out again as we hashed out what insights to derive from those topics. I’m seeking clarity, and hope that tomorrow brings some measure of relief from these muddy waters.


Mental Gymnastics

Designing, as we are learning it, is a tough feat, which is an understatement.  There are infinite contrasting concepts, feelings and ideas that you need to be cognizant and attentive to. You need to know and marinade in the details of stranger’s utterances, while still maintaining a peripheral view of all the data. You come up with provocative definitive statements while still being wary that there are risks and dangers in making biased definitive statements that will impact what will be made. And those are just two tasks among the many we have gone through while trusting this process.

Today I spent hours zooming in then out, out and in, considered and evaluated the thoughts of interviewees, mine, and my teammates, comparing ideas to one another and against what has been instructed and recommended. I tried to make statements that read as conclusive while still recognizing that nothing is, and all things written can be scraped. Throughout all these activities, it was a very clear everyone was riding their own emotional rollercoaster, where each rider was not in sync with one another. This mental gymnastics is… exhausting. I am exhausted.

The last time I felt like this was when I babysat a 14-year-old, 5-year-old, and 2-year-old. Each child has different needs, style of speaking, mental limitations to what can and can’t be expected of them. Where I was the sole person to attend to, provide for, entertain, respect, and acted as a buffer between each child. Even in this scenario, I can say confidently that I did something right. Each child was send home fed, well rested, happy, and in one piece.  

In today’s activities, I did not walk away with that sense of confidence because there is not a concrete measure of success or completion (other than numbers of insights and numbers of design ideas). I did, however, walk away with a sense of what felt wrong with the quality of insights. So maybe that is something worthwhile. Developing an instinct is an immensely organic process, and today was certainly an unnaturally fast pace to work at developing it. How do field researchers do this!?  Trying to maintain a handle on the emotions of things is an energy consuming feat, and that is just one of the many tasks that is required of you to complete the process. I am impressed that there are people with the resilience and tenacity to continue to do something that isn’t impossible, but recognizably taxing on an individual.

If anyone has some helpful tips to get through this, I am all ears.