Service Design: Week 3 Progress Report

The first week of our Service Design course was spent getting acclimated to the theory, artifacts, and methods of service design. We also selected a potential client to work with. Last week, we interviewed staff, a co-owner, and customers in order to work toward an understanding of the constraints of the business and what it’s like to be a customer there.

Our client is a local adult novelty store, a euphemism which does and doesn’t fit in the case of this particular store. On one hand, they do sell “novelty” items, the often silly gag gifts and anatomical bachelorette party swag. On the other hand, the store is so much more. With an explicit focus on “health, sexual education, and freedom of sexual expression,” everyone on the small staff says they work to make people feel more comfortable with themselves than when they came in the store. Miranda and I being in a design school focused on social impact, we were immediately drawn to the way the owner expressed her commitment to the mission in spite of the money not always being what she could be making by working for someone else.

Because there are significant privacy concerns with this type of business, we couldn’t just ask existing customers if we could speak with them. Instead, we asked people in our network if they would go shopping for us and share their experiences. We spoke with three customers, comparing their experiences to the expressed interests of ownership and staff. Once we finished gathering our initial round of data, we plotted all of this along a timeline involving service touchpoints that customers interact with. Here’s what that looks like.

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The next step was to take this clustered data and turn it into a customer journey map. We did some initial sketching and gathered our thoughts into an initial, somewhat coherent draft, which will evolve and potentially change altogether.


In the above draft, we are comparing what we are calling “store virgins” with “regulars”. This distinction is important because the emotional journeys are so radically different. Like with any new experience, we experience a certain amount of anxiety as we figure things out. With the social stigma around the topic of sex, this anxiety can be enormously amplified, to the point of leaving the store without even getting what it was they were there to get in the first place. We are still working through the loops as representative of emotional ups and downs, but they begin to suggest an overall experience that is highly variable.

Service design: Coldtowne Theater Part II


Meg and I have worked through our first set of interviews for both student/performers and Coldtowne’s leadership. The feedback from both sides involves a love of comedy, community and appreciation of the “club” nature of the theater space. All of the theater leaders came into Coldtowne from a performance background and perform there regularly. The creation of the classes and culture is, in many ways, an extension of the culture and values of the theater’s leadership.

Our meeting with Coldtowne included an overview of the service design scope and expectations. We chose to present and example of a previous project done by AC4D students, which was well received. We discussed the value and potential behind this process and Coldtowne seemed genuinely interested in applying the process to their student experience. To understand their perspective of the customer journey map, we used a series of exercises related to the types of people at the theater, types of students and a map of the theater’s history. Coldtowne has a clear perception of the types of people in their ranks…rather than describing students as “level 1” or “graduates” the abstract map of people included “professional comedians that drink beer” and “random?” people. The spectrum of people was based more on commitment to comedy than what level of training they had completed. On the contrary, most students describe themselves based on what level of class they have completed.


After our first set of student/performer interviews and our attempt to organize a customer service journey map, I am realizing the real value of that perfect quote from an interview- the quote that captures something detailed and potent. I think this is most apparent for the service design project because I am imagining the impact of our material on an actual client…someone that will be considering the value of the work as they consider paying us for the work. Meg and I can work to craft a valuable story, but the job could be a lot easier if we run the interview process in a way that does the work for us.

“…in the beginning everyone’s terrified…I’m doing this wrong…did I say something racist?”

“…ok, I’ve paid you all of my money and learned everything I can learn…now what?”

“…it is also, like, a practice you have to keep up…if you stop coming and stop practicing you lose your skills…”


This sequence of quotes speaks to anxiety at the front and back end of the Coldtowne student experience. The early feeling is, understandably, fear and anxiety. Students depend on their instructor and the people around them to provide a safe place to fail. At the end of the student experience, performers are forced to ask what is next. They have just completed extensive training for a skill that requires practice and organization with others at a similar skill level. The analogy that comes to mind is language…as we lose practice with a language we begin to forget it. Anxiety about what comes after advanced classes is result of students being forced to find their own way. It feels like Coldtowne its self was ignited by a group of performers that faced this same situation. They responded by creating a place that gives them the ability to teach, but also practice and perform their craft.

Meg and I have some gaps in our service experience map that we look to fill tonight. We have met with a number of students/performers, but need to get more time with new students. Their experience sets the tone for the rest of their Coldtowne story, and new students will have the most variety in motivation for being there in the first place.

As for the overall project, our focus involves a complex and mostly intangible series of interactions that will be difficult to turn into “touch points”…difficult to prototype and test new approaches. Once we get an idea of the potential areas for improvement, we can define more research needed and what Coldtowne’s areas of interest are. As of now, the leadership of Coldtowne is most interested in understanding the student experience. Meg and I also believe that this is the richest area of possible research…the people at the center of Coldtowne are really doing something far beyond entertaining others.

-pk and meg

partial collapse and quick reforming

I don’t make a habit of feeling overwhelmed, but this past week was a bit much when coupled with some chaos at work. Trying to manage a network of complex tasks and meet expectations is more of a marathon than a sprint…but the stressful weeks are a sprint within a marathon.

The tribe (students) are trying to make progress on three unique projects/perspectives simultaneously, which means that every positive move is tempered by some sort of setback on another front. The good news is that we are in school so in many ways it is safe to fail. Q1 set a quick pace and gave us all a glimpse of what is to come. Now that things have settled in a bit, it seems easier to dwell on things and challenge ourselves to make deeper connections between ideas. It is a richer learning environment in that way, but it does add some pressure to improve the quality of our content.

Moving on from the stress picture, our studio project received a shot of positive energy during class today and we are poised to meet our goals for interviews over the next couple weeks. Our focus relates to high school students and their relationship with stress. One attractive aspect of this focus is the fact that nearly all high school students are at risk, making them all worth talking to. Actually getting permission and time to interview these folks is another issue.

We have formed our discussion guide for a series of interviews and are excited to test it out- I believe its a good mix of positive and negative conversation prompts, so hopefully our conversations will have a mix of emotions to draw from.

More next week. pk

Quarter 2 Progress

For me, Quarter 1 was full of self-doubt and anxiety as we all swam through an ambiguous soup of new theory, methods, and practice. Quarter 2 has been energizing.

Right now, it’s probably as busy or busier than any point in Q1, as we are juggling three projects, two of which we are actively recruiting research participants and running sessions for. However, when we finally wrap at the end of each night, instead of feeling like the workload is crushing me, which it may be, I feel excited about what just transpired and the progress we are making.

There is a single, overarching topic for the big projects this year: Mental Health. Through an ideation and down-selection process, the group I’m in decided to focus on military families. I was really hesitant at first, because the military is a big blind spot for me. However, given the interconnected nature of wicked problems, I started to think about that blind spot as an opportunity to better understand this hugely important aspect of our society rather than a hinderance to my ability to do the work. Not sure I could be more excited about it now.

I find myself constantly referring back to mistakes we made as well as the feedback we got while learning to do research in first quarter. I already feel it’s paid off immensely. I’m satisfied with the first version of our research plan on the impact of combat on military families. The focus may narrow, but I feel like I understand why we’re employing the methodologies we are employing and am able to articulate that in the plan, which is a big leap forward from last quarter (i.e. the ambiguous soup).

It felt like we were off to a slow start with interviews for our military project, but realistically, it takes a few days to get people to commit to an hour and a half with you, especially when they don’t fully understand the purpose. We’ve had a couple of interviews so far and we’ve already gathered several powerful stories and are seeing some really interesting nuance to the experiences of military families.

Another success from this week: Miranda and I conducted a research session with a contrived customer for our Service Design project. I was worried about getting at the right information through our plan. While I’m sure we missed the mark in some ways, we got some data that speaks directly to the issues we were hoping to cover in our design proposal. Again, it was energizing.

Finally, I’ll touch on our Rapid Ideation & Creative Problem Solving course. We’re redesigning mobile banking apps. This is much more familiar territory for me. However, the methods and process we’re learning, which takes us through successive levels of fidelity, is relatively new for me. While I’ve done a good amount of modeling at varying levels of fidelity to attempt to understand systems better, it’s always been a bit haphazard. It’s great to better understand the why behind a particular artifact like a concept map and understand that it’s not actually all that valuable on its own but serves as a bridge to understanding more concrete concepts that are also novel.

Looking forward to what the rest of the quarter brings. Over and out.

Exhausted. Inspired.

Exhausted. Inspired.

These are the words I would use to describe how I am feeling this week. It’s overwhelming the amount of interviews we are expected to get by the end of next week. However with each interview, we get confirmation on why we chose to research on Asian Americans who’s parents are refugees.

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We did our first contextual inquiry where we got to cook a meal with our participant. This was a quick way to break the ice and dive into deeper questions about her life. She told us what that meal meant to her and her family. She expressed her family dynamics and how her parents worked endlessly to provide for her family. However, she also expressed how hard it has been for her to communicate feelings within her family. They talk about events and happenings but never talk about their emotions.She talked about how she found Jesus since entering college that gave her the ability to view her parents with grace.

We prompted her to call her mom and ask her the following questions:
– What do you miss about your home country?

– How/Why did you come to the U.S.?

– What did you do before me?

– What are your hopes for me?

– What were you doing when you were my age?

This year was the first time her parents ever told her the full story of leaving their country, working at work camps, and coming to America as refugees. She’s taking a class this semester where she had to ask her parents about their stories. She chuckled as she told us that her Dad enjoyed talking to her about his hardships because it gave them an excuse to talk. Watching her hear responses from her mom was a special moment. It was confirmation to her that her mom loves her and wants what makes her happy, not just what makes money.

Their stories remind me what a privilege it is to be able to attend AC4D as well as make me reflect on my family. I have heard glimpses of similar stories from my family. However, I never thought to ask because it seemed like such an untouchable subject. This quarter is making me think differently.


Reflection: A Different Lens

Life right now can seem overwhelming. We have three different projects going on, two that call for lengthy interview sessions right now, and multiple schedules we are trying to coordinate for group projects. There is little time to complete everything we need to do, much less make time for family, friends or personal projects.

As we begin contextual inquiry for our capstone research project, I am starting to see things through a different lens. My research group is focusing on the impact of having a family member in a combat zone and we began talking with military families this week.

Overwhelming takes on a whole new meaning when you are talking to someone about preparing to be away from her husband for a year. Our many tasks for school seem manageable after hearing the tasks and tricks a mom now has to go through every night to rock both her three year old and one year old to bed after going from a two parent household to a one parent household.

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Participant showing us how she would rock one baby in her arms and the other would fall asleep on her legs that were propped up by an ottoman.

While it can feel like things are all over the place, these powerful stories keep me grounded in the fact that we can do this. What we are doing is important and it is worth putting other personal projects on hold to really make this experience count.

I look forward to sharing more stories and reflection in the upcoming weeks.

Dining Room Sessions

When I was six I would sit at our dining room table and draw for hours with my sister. The table was iron filigree with a glass top and was kept clean of fingerprints and dust. My parents kept a centerpiece like my grandmother’s crystal candleholders or bowl on the table. The table was placed in front of a large picture window that faced our perfectly cut front yard–a point of pride for my stepdad. My sister and I colored Disney characters in coloring books, made crafts and I often drew floor plans and houses. Our dining room sessions laid a foundation for sketch exploration that I’ve never fully explored or taken the time to consider.

AC4D is a small house of big visual exploration. We spend hours whiteboarding, sketching with pen on paper, sharpie on butcher paper, and with mouse on Illustrator. Soon we will begin shaping ideas three dimensionally using the same materials and some more rigid. All of this effort supports studio culture where visuals are mostly a means for communication and exploration. I’ve said these words many times before but I recently learned something new about myself and visual externalization.

Each of us processes and delivers information uniquely. Have you ever just agreed with someone because you didn’t understand what they meant or given up trying to explain something because no one was catching on? Two weeks ago I began working with my new Research team. Our first week was spent collecting ideas around research topics and drafting a focus. In one of our discussions Misty was working to explain a concept to me and I thought I understood but in delivering the concept back to her, she perceived something totally different and felt I was disagreeing with her. That was not my intent. It was at that very moment I realized that this visual tool I’ve had in my pocket since my childhood drawing sessions at the dining room table is vital to my communication.

Since that first confusing discussion, if I have something to share- I draw it. If someone has a complicated idea they’re attempting to share and I’m not latching on, I ask them to draw it. Time spent confused is now spent ideating. I am more fluid in sharing and receiving ideas and our team is stronger as a result.

Now back to drawing Ariel…


Q2. Week 2.

Over the coming weeks, my classmates and I will be documenting our progress through our second quarter at AC4D. I will use this blog to reflect on the week and provide some insight into what we are exploring and learning and how all is woven together.

My hope is that you are able to find some nuggets in my writing and ultimately have a better understanding of the value and methods behind the often ambiguous design process – taking research of a topic and developing a product or service that addresses a direct need.

So with no further ado, let’s begin.

This week has been a world wind – a constant flow between three different but interwoven classes (Rapid Ideation – Method; Service Design – Theory; and Research & Synthesis – Studio).

After a quarter of foundational work, we find ourselves diving deeper into the design research process and in our Method class we are beginning to experiment with ideation – taking our research and creating visual / tangible product.

In our Theory class, we are learning how to take our research process and apply our insights to improving service for a local organization.

Finally, in our Studio class, we are beginning our six month capstone project, in which our topic is Mental Health.


This quarter we have been given the task of redesigning a mobile banking app. Over and over again. Each time, with a greater degree of fidelity. I will be working with the app for the Navy Federal Credit Union – a bank in which I have had an account since I was 13.

This past Monday we presented our first assignment – a concept map of a potential redesign. The presentation required us to not only present our map, seen below, but receive critique from our classmates. Regarding our critique, prior to class, our professor, Jon Kolko, made it explicitly clear that we were not to offer up a “shit sandwich” – a critical critique smashed between two positive but unhelpful comments. The idea behind critique is to offer tangible and actionable commentary in which the designer can improve upon his design. In my case, I had taken a fairly understandable user interface (UI), but faulty app that crashes, to something a bit more paired down.

I received good feedback on how I could create more distinct buckets for each of the sections and overall, feel confident about the direction of my app. We are now beginning the process of creating user scenarios for five particular goals to be accomplished on the app. Those scenarios will inform our wireframes, or more polished outline of the app, which is due on Tuesday.


This quarter we have been tasked to identify and improve a service for a local organization. My classmate, Sarah Lum, and I have chosen the Austin Animal Center – the largest no-kill animal shelter in the country. They do amazing work and offer services that include adoption, foster, lost & found, and emergency care.

The focus of our project is to improve the adoption process and in particular we are wanting to understand the emotional role of an animal in an adopter’s life and how that affects their service experience at the Austin Animal Center.

Over the weekend we will wrap up our initial research and on Monday have a rough sketch of the current journey an adopter may take through the center when attempting to adopt an animal.

Already this is project has been extremely rewarding to see all the emotions connected to adopting a pet and how that influences the process. In particular, from our initial observations, it’s been interesting to see how, because of their excitement and the rationale to adopt an animal, the potential adopters are willing to overlook a variety of physical and visual hurdles.


We are beginning a six month capstone design project in which we will research a topic and by the end design a working prototype of a product or service. For this project each team of three is tackling the same topic – mental health.

My teammates, Kade Schemahorn and Miranda Hoffman, and I are focusing on military service members with combat experience and their families. At this point we are beginning our research and are working to:

understand the impact of having a family member in a combat zone

We are focusing on a topic that is extremely pertinent. As the scientific research develops, we continue to learn more about the impact of shock and trauma upon the brain. Because combat exposure can lead to shock, there are often negative results. We are interested in how those negative effects might impact a service members’ family.

We spent this week generating leads for our interviews. In addition, we were able to conduct two interviews. One with an ex-service member and another with the wife of an army reservist. Both were extremely insightful and were willing to help us recruit more participants.

With that, we are actively working to recruit participants for the coming weeks. While we have been put in touch with many people who are connected to our participant demographic, we are still working to secure interviews. With that in mind, please let me know of someone related to you (or a friend or friend of a friend) is a military service member (active duty or veteran) who has combat experience. You can reach me at david.bill[at]

Thanks for making it all the way to the end and I hope you continue to follow along the journey that is studying at AC4D.

The Impact of Combat on Military Families

For our capstone project our class has been given the task of understanding and ultimately building a solution that addresses the topic of Mental Health. Kade, Miranda, and I will be working together on this project. Over the next six months we have been tasked to develop area of focus and then using the design process, create a solution to help address that focus area.

After generating a variety of possible directions associated with mental health, we decided to focus our project on families who have had members serve in combat.

In order to understand this topic, and shape the next seven weeks, we created this detailed research plan.

But for the cliff notes version…

We crafted the following focus statement:

To understand the impact of having a family member in a combat zone.

To do so, we will explore the topics of relationship dynamics, major concerns, motivations, struggles, communication, and transitions between stages (before, during, and after deployment).

To accomplish that task, we will interview and observe the following participant types:

  • Service Members
  • Close family of above service members
  • Counselors/therapists treating service members
  • Organizations dealing with service member homecomings and transitions

In an effort to identify and understand our topics, we will use several methods and activities.

While we will conduct secondary research to frame our project, the core of our work will come from observation and interviews of service members and their families. Using a contextual inquiry model, we will meet with families in the locations in which they reside and congregate. Our primary activity will be a reflection timeline. On a piece of paper, participants will be asked to plot any of the following types of events.

  • Deployments, dates and duration
  • Life events, e.g. getting married, having kids, etc.
  • Significant challenges
  • (At end of depth interview) Draw the emotional ups and downs across the span of the timeline

We will continue to fill in the timeline throughout the conversation, drawing pictures and adding detail to events based on the stories shared.

The timeline and a corresponding walk through of their physical space will help us gain an understanding of how combat might impact one’s family.

To accomplish this research we have been reaching out to our immediate and extended networks. Thus far we have met with several experts, who offered valuable insights and potential contacts. While we have already secured a couple interviews, we are continuing to reach out for contacts. If you know of a military family that has had someone serve in combat please reach out to Kade, Miranda, or me.


Design Research: High School Culture

Each AC4D cohort embarks on a six month journey in Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship. Teams begin with a topic. This year we began with Mental Health, discussed the topic in depth then began to ideate on potential audiences for research focus. Our team includes,

Mental Health is difficult to define because it can be all-encompassing. Is it mental disorders, is it emotional well-being, is it our psychological state? It is all of those things. Our team discussed Mental Health related to 5 audiences and although each potential audience elicited passionate conversations, one of the richest conversations surrounded teenagers and their experience navigating high school, identity and community.

Children belong to their own generation. They can’t learn the social navigational tools from parents, teachers or mentors because their tools are out of date, irrelevant. How do teens explore a sense of self and community while trying to navigate their public identity? High school students’ perceptions of the world are based on the unique relationships with peers, family, and instructors. How does that play a role in shaping their mental well being?

We drafted our initial Research Plan (pictured below) and look forward to sharing our journey over the next six months.