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Category Archives: Theory

Invisible servicescapes, tangible effects

Mary Jo Bitner, Edward M. Carson Chair in Service Marketing at Arizona State University, published a paper in 1992 called, “Servicescapes: The Impact of Physical Surroundings on Customers and Employees. We’re reading this text in our Service Design class to get a perspective on the physical aspects of service design. By “servicescapes,” Bitner is referring to manmade, built environments in which services take place, and she’s interested in their effect on the people involved in the service rendered—both the employee and the customer. Bitner states that, “The relative level of involvement of customers and employees determines whose needs should be consulted in the design of the environment.” I’m not so sure, though. I think that in complex services the needs of the ultimate user—the customer—should be considered even in physical environments they will never encounter.

Where are these places customers never see? Not all services are the same, and it follows that the accompanying servicescapes would be different as well. Bitner creates a framework that separates services by the type of servicescape they operate in. Categories of service are self-service, interpersonal service, and remote service, and these categories create a spectrum of the type of people affected by their servicescapes. Bitner shows that the physical environment of self-service businesses affect customers, while the servicescape of interpersonal services affect both customers and employees, and the environment of remote services, such as a “telephone company” affect only employees. The framework looks like this (I’ve highlighted remote services in gray to focus on this section):


Is it true though, that the physical environment of a service workspace only affects the people directly engaged in the space? I looked particularly at Bitner’s example of the telephone company as a servicescape that affects employees-only. In 1992, when this article was written, telephone companies were mostly concerned with telephones. People mostly had landlines. Cell phones were starting to take off. In the 2000s, cell phones became computers, with data plans and increased complexity. In researching the progression of telephones, I looked at the AT&T site for history of the company. It describes the change for AT&T as “evolving from a long distance company to an integrated voice and data communications company, as an ever increasing percentage of the traffic on its network was data, and to a lesser extent, video, rather than voice.” The websites goes on to say they then launched an Internet service. Not only is the product more complex, but the company becomes more complex as well. There are multiple offerings, and multiple expertises needed to run those offerings. The site goes on to explain that in 2000, “AT&T had three rapidly evolving networks—data, broadband and wireless, and four separate businesses—cable, wireless, business, and consumer.” That array of offerings seems vastly more complicated than what the company started with.

I never worked for a telephone company and can’t speak at all to AT&T’s practices, but one outcome I have seen in instances where businesses face increased complexity is siloed work practices. When there are departments within a business, each has their own goals to meet, and sometimes those goals are in conflict. It’s a small step from grouping employees into departments to physically changing the workspace to make departments more “productive.” Desks get grouped together, war rooms emerge, floors are re-arranged. None of that is necessarily wrong, but it may have unintended consequences. The resulting touchpoints (again, thinking about “telephone companies”) that a customer faces, such as physical stores and a website, etc., may end up the unintended victims of disjointedness within the company. For example, on a “telephone company” website, if different departments are running different portions of the site, or using different advertising agencies to help create the look and content, it’s difficult without extreme, overarching organization to make the site cohesive and simple for the customer. Customers may even come to a point where they need to log in multiple times to navigate between services represented on the website.

Bitner groups servicescape effects loosely into two categories: organizational goals and marketing goals. Organizational goals, such as productivity, motivation, or employee satisfaction, may be the outcome of changing the physical workspace with employee needs in mind. Marketing goals, such as customer satisfaction and attraction, are affected by the impact of servicescapes on customers. But in terms of organizational goals, how can you define employee “productivity” without taking the customer into account? Outside of a monopoly where customers can’t leave, what is “productivity” if it doesn’t involve customer happiness with the service?

With increased complexity of service offerings, it’s difficult to think of a servicescape that just affects the employee. Bitner’s framework for the effect of servicescapes on employees and customers involved in remote services might be updated to look like the diagram below. Note the conflicting goals of employees and the breakdown a customer faces because of it. Depending on the number of departments and conflicting interests, conflicts like this could multiply accordingly.


A feedback loop from the customer, which affects the business practices of a remote company (including the physical servicescape in which the service is conducted) can mitigate the breakdowns that result from complexity. The diagram below represents what that might look like. In conclusion, even in servicescapes the customer will never encounter, user-centered design—with the broadest definition of “users” who are not even physically present—plays an important role in meeting both organizational and marketing objectives.


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Servicescapes + Mental Models

I thought our latest reading in Service Design: “Servicescapes: The Impact of Physical Surroundings on Customers and Employees”, by Mary Jo Bitner, was an interesting investigation into the role of the physical space in the service constellation. I use “constellation”, because the servicescape only a facet of a much larger picture.

As defined by Bitner, a servicescape is the built environment of where a service takes place.

In order to illustrate how a company considers the design of a built environment to either better motivate employees, attract customers, or both, Bitner identifies three types of servicescapes:


With this model the servicescape acts as a facilitator by either supporting or hindering “the ability of customers and employees to carry out their respective activities.”

Bitner acknowledges that it’s more complicated than delineating service into three typologies. After all, you are dealing with humans. With this in mind, she attempts to create a framework for understanding the emotional, cognitive and physiological responses people have with a space and how one could take this into consideration when developing a built environment in which to deliver a service.

For me, the main takeaway of this exploration was that perception of a service is highly based on a person’s mental model of the world– their interaction (or lack thereof) with a service is a result of such. In designing a service and considering such touch points as the physical space, where the service is crafted and experienced at the point of interaction, there is an opportunity here to shift someone’s mental model. Thus, a servicescape has a reach much further than the four walls of the built environment.


I think the physical space has an opportunity to play an integral role in the experience of a service, but it can never replace the capacity of human to human interaction to shape an individual’s perception of a brand.

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The Multi-Disciplinary Grey Area

In “Interaction Design and Service Design: Expanding a Comparison of Design Disciplines”, Stefan Holmlid is trying to make sense of the ever-evolving design world by mapping the differences and overlaps of design disciplines. Specifically, he explores service design’s relationship with interaction design and industrial design.

First, let me first make one thing clear – when he talks about interaction design, he is specifically talking about interaction design with the digital material, IxD. Industrial design as the design of goods, and service design as “…a human-centered approach to […] systematically applying design methodology and principles to the design of services.”

His separation of interaction design and IxD is not very clear, as he only hints at the relationship of interaction design as a design oder that both IxD and service design sit within:


In order to make sense of this evolution and better define the problems each discipline can solve, he illustrates where the merging of disciplines is taking place and where the separation is retained by pushing the characteristics of the disciplines through two different frameworks. The first is a design order and the other is a comparative framework.

The comparative framework he uses is an interesting approach, but leaves much to be desired: Highly, Somewhat, Not Significantly

Heres a quick example of how he uses this framework:
“>Service design production is highly physical, highly virtual, and highly ongoing
>Industrial design production is highly physical, not significantly virtual […], and not significantly ongoing
>Interaction design production is not significantly physical, highly virtual […], and somewhat ongoing”

He is attempting to make sense of how design disciplines are beginning to merge, but the manner in which he attempts to compare them is just as murky as the changes themselves.

The results of this analysis reorganize his first definition of how the disciplines relate and it looks more like this:


He comes to the conclusion that service design cannot operate independently, but rather “depends on specialist competence from interaction as well as industrial design.” It’s very clear that he is attempting to keep the boundaries rigid around each discipline–but why?

Why must we so rigidly define the design discipline? Are we uncomfortable with its fluidity? It seems as though the more we rigidly define disciplines, the more we are attempting to separate them– when it’s becoming more and more apparent that silos are a failing construct. Do we separate for the sake of ego, for understanding, for the sake of ‘knowing what to do next’?

I would like to know what this means in context of interaction design. So I brought it back in the next diagram to better understand how it all fits together. I think each boundary is permeable. This is the beautiful part of the design world. It’s in constant flux because it is all about attempting to make sense of the world around us–which is in constant flux. If and when the definition is solidly defined, it will only be temporary.


More and more each design discipline is being described as a “multidisciplinary field” – it seems as though this evolution and declaration of disciplines merging, becoming more concerned with the end user, and how things connect to provide possibilities to delight, we are more and more mirroring the ecosystem that we design for in the first place. The more human-centered we become, the more important it is to use storytelling instead of processes in order to make sense of a situation and explore possibilities for innovation rather than incremental improvement.

As designers, we are trying to make sense of a world that we are having a hand in changing. Once again, thinking about each design discipline as it’s own entity seems so suffocating and ancient. I think the separation comes in as a way of describing actions and thought processes. What a designer “should” think about is only expanding because it’s becoming increasingly more obvious and crucial to think systemically– accounting for all aspects of delivering a thing.

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Service with a Smile: The Role of Emotion in Service Design

In our Service Design class this week, we’re reading a paper on interaction design and service design by Stefan Holmlid, a researcher and educator at Linkoping University. The article was written to establish common ground and differentiation between disciplines to “create supportive structures” between them. Borrowing from a framework developed by Edeholt and Lowgren, Holmlid explores the design process, materials, and deliverables of each discipline. The framework originally compared Ixd (the digital component of Interaction Design) with industrial design. Holmlid adds service design as a comparator because he sees use in establishing boundaries between service design and Ixd. He believes that the boundaries between the two have become more fluid with the integration of digital touchpoints in service design.

To better understand this structure, I created a map of the author’s framework for comparing disciplines:


The map represents a high-level view of the the framework for comparison without delving into the particular distinctions of each discipline. The structure is fairly suitable for comparing industrial design and IxD, as it was originally intended. But, I don’t think it’s a complete-enough frame for service design. I did not come away from the reading with a much better sense of what service design is, and I think it’s because emotion is one of the defining pieces that makes up service design.

When one experiences a service, the thing one remembers most is feeling. But remembering emotion is different than feeling in the moment, and also different from emotion in anticipation of the experience. Because it is such an integral piece of service design, and because emotion does play a part in IxD and industrial design that is overlooked by the original framework, I have modified the map here:


In adding the component of emotion, we can recognize that emotion is an integrated part of design, as much as process, material, and deliverables. This modifies the framework so that it can be used to measure the boundaries of service design as much as industrial design and IxD. Additionally, the new framework can take into account that industrial design and IxD also have an emotional component that follows a past-present-future arc, though arguably less so than service design. Lastly, I believe that process, material, deliverable, and emotion are all interconnected, not just as items within a framework, and have indicated one path by which they are connected, as signified by arrows. As new disciplines and areas of exploration in design arise, other comparative dimensions may need to be added within the structure.


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Convergence & Alternate Reality Games

The first reading this quarter of AC4D’s Service Design course comes from Adam Richardson, a director at the global innovation firm Frog Design, from a chapter focused on Convergence from his book “Innovation X: Why a Company’s Toughest Problems are Its Greatest Advantage.”  We were tasked with synthesizing this reading by passing the concepts through a framework of our choosing.  The framework I’ll be using below is that of the Alternate Reality Game (ARG).

As I read this chapter on convergence, the content continually reminding me of the format of Alternate Reality Games.  ARGs are games that blur the lines between reality and fiction by employing multimedia touchpoints (posters, phone calls, graffiti, videos, puzzles, actors, forums) to guide players through a narrative that takes place in the real world.  The movie “The Game” with Michael Douglass, for example, centers around an ARG, there is a recent documentary called “The Institute” about an ARG called “The Jejune Institute” that took place in San Francisco from 2008 to 2011, and this style of game has also been employed by various groups & businesses as a marketing tool: “I Love Bees” (Xbox/Halo), “Year Zero” (Nine Inch Nails) & “Last Call Poker” (Neversoft).

The implementation of various products, and the orchestration of touchpoints, fits well with Richardson’s definition of convergence as “Integration of multiple products (hardware, software, services) and customer touchpoints to provide functionality, benefits, and a customer experience that would be impossible in a stand-alone product.” Because the boundaries of the ARG ecosystem are intentionally blurry, and because they employ such a diverse range of products & touchpoints to achieve their goal, I thought it would be interesting to see how Richardson’s ideas apply to an atypical and extreme example of convergence and see if there might be areas where his framework is too constrained.

As I went through his reading, his tactic of using a Customer Journey Map to analyze customer touchpoints stood out to me as overly simplified and unrelated to the ARG ecosystem.  For the customer journey map he gives the structure of:


Engage = When the customer first becomes aware of a need and seeks a solution
Buy = the purchase process itself
Use = the Out of Box experience; beginner v. expert use; modification and customization; routine based usage
Share = customers become evangelists, complainers, or indifferent.
Complete = Repeat customers; disposal; recycling

For starters, engagement in an ARG is not as straight forward as our author makes it seem.  Most of the time a customer engages with the ARG out of sheer curiosity, with no real need, and no real problem in need of a solution.  In this case, the engagement process is much more nebulous and blurry than “customer has need & seeks out solution.”

Also, in ARG’s purchases are most often made after or during use.  The idea “buying” always occurring prior to “use” is inaccurate in this case and in many other cases as well.  We’re seeing this more often in digital applications, where customers first engage and use products for free, and then end up purchasing add-ons to enhance their experience.  In those cases, “Buying” occurring prior to “use” is simply inaccurate.

Beyond the misordering of “Buy” & “Use”, he also over-simplifies and misorders the sharing concept.  In ARG’s the sharing is often based on curiosity, “What is this?” or “Have you seen this weird thing?” which in most cases seems to occur prior to the user having formed a definitive opinion about the experience.  This type of sharing doesn’t seem to fit under evangelists, complainers or middle-of-the-roaders as he suggests.

Finally, since the customer facing boundaries of ARG’s tend to be intentionally blurry in order to enhance the customer experience of fiction and real-life appearing to overlap, the idea of completion takes on a whole new definition (and may not end at all).  Within many ARG’s the stories within the real world continue on after the game has “completed” in the form of fan generated narratives supported by structures put in place by the creators.  In this case, the “repeat customer; disposal; recycle” concepts do not seem to fit.  Additionally, we see this with many digital applications now where products are continually updated and improved without a discernible end to the product’s life-cycle, and without a need to focus on repeat customers, disposal or recycling.

While much of the reading remains relevant to the extreme & atypical format of an Alternate Reality Game, it’s interesting to see the places where it is not relevant.  Moreover, the places where it was not relevant to ARGs also gave birth to insights surrounding ways in which Mr. Richardson’s framework was not relevant to other emerging trends in the digital marketplace.  From this I see both the danger of developing a methodology based on traditional business models and the value of considering “edge cases” for evaluating methodologies.

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User-centered sustainability

In our second quarter, we have begun to study Service Design. Our readings began with a chapter on “Convergence,” from Innovation X by Adam Richardson. One point raised in class was that some of Richardson’s arguments are from a business-oriented perspective, rather than a user-centered one. There are good reasons to present arguments from a business perspective, but to create truly useable and successful design ideas, a user-centered perspective is often highly desirable. In light of this observation, I examined Richardson’s argument about sustainability as a convergence challenge and opportunity.

To take one step back, Richardson defines “Convergence” as the “integration of multiple products (hardware, software, and services), and customer touchpoints to provide functionality, benefits, and a customer experience that would be impossible in a stand-alone product.” He argues that sustainability is a particular challenge and opportunity for convergence.  The term “sustainability” can be applied to many things, but at first mention Richardson specifies environmental sustainability. My mental model of environmental sustainability is of an eco-oriented practice that ensures natural resources for the future. Richardson states that, “sustainability is increasingly a competitive differentiator, as well as becoming necessary for regulatory compliance.” He also says that sustainability can spur new business models (eg. as customers move from ownership of products to shared products). He shares an example where HP was able to reduce packaging, resulting in lowered transportation costs, among other gains.

So it seems that sustainability, as he means it, is comprised of (1) competitive differentiation, (2) compliance, (3) cost efficiency, (4) opportunity for new business, and also (5) an environment/resource benefit. Richardson’s use of the word simultaneously makes the term more specific (applying it to concrete practices) and less specific (removing it from the nature and resources). It seems that “sustainability,” a fashionable term, is more a provocation for new business ideas than a goal in itself. If that ends up creating mores environmentally sustainable solutions, that’s wonderful, but is it the best method?

Here is sustainability as I thought of it previous to the reading:


Here is what I think “sustainability” is made up of according to the text:


Again, these terms seem to come from a business-oriented perspective. If “sustainability” for Richardson is a business imperative that can drive a product to success, would a user-centered one-to-one corollary to his model create better solutions?

This is one idea of what that might look like:


How would this change resulting design ideas? It’s very hard to say without going through the process, but at least it would begin by addressing the things users themselves care about. If the point of convergence is to create “higher quality and more comprehensive experiences customers are seeking,” beginning with customers is a good way to start.


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Exploring Convergence

In chapter 4 of Innovation X, Richardson explains the concept of convergence and how it relates to identifying problem spaces and opportunities for innovation within new and existing products and companies. He defines convergence as “…the integration of multiple products and customer touch points to provide functionality, benefits, and a customer experience that would be impossible in a stand-alone product.”

Convergence is an avenue to systemically addressing the increasing quality expectations of consumers, seamless experiences, and the need for market differentiation. Such a holistic approach just makes sense. It increases the responsibility of companies to understand how and what they produce fits into a larger whole – if not for the sake of market differentiation but for the sake of creating sustainable, conscious products.

The goal of convergence is to have the ecosystem and the touch points work smoothly together. This happens when each is informing the other, thus the ecosystem and the exploration of the touch points must be constantly fluid and flexible. Understanding the customer experience and identifying the problem and opportunity spaces lays the framework for building a functional ecosystem that is flexible and can adapt over time.

In order to make sense of how Richardson describes convergenceI, I’ve illustrated the convergence journey through my interpretation of it being a systemic, human centered approach to design.


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Count your blessings and get on with it

I was cranky yesterday afternoon; I also had no idea what to do for the first assignment for our service design course.  So I went for a run. As I often do when I’m running or cranky, I started making a list of things I’m grateful for: God, thank you for my feet, that I’m healthy enough to run, that I live someplace where it’s safe for me to run, that I got back to Austin safely, that rest of my cohort got back safely from their travels… and so on. By the time I was I was rounding the capital (thanks to Jess Kolko for suggesting this route), my mental funk had cleared enough to consider the assignment again.

The assignment is to read the chapter on Convergence from Innovation X by Adam Richardson, identify key points from the reading, push those points through a framework we use to understand the world, and generate new ideas in the process.  One piece of advice stood out from the lecture: Start some where.

Ok, start somewhere. I had done the reading, what frameworks could I try?: photosynthesis, Dante’s model of heaven, hell and purgatory?  More running; more gratitude list.

I list things I’m grateful for when I’m out of sorts because what you focus on seems to increase and because gratitude has a multidirectional positive effect.

It’s a place to start.

Below is a diagram of how an instance of gratitude works from both the point of view of the appreciator and the appreciated. It is presented as a magnifying glass to represent the increase in what is focused on.


What does this mean in relationship to the business concept of Convergence? In addition to the obvious warm and fuzzy dictate to appreciate one’s customers, a more nuanced concept appears: Even in a seemingly unidirectional interaction, like gratitude flowing from one person to another, each person experiences it as reflecting on herself and the other person. This suggests that this type of positive exchange is an excellent tool for directing customer focus because we like to think about things that make us feel good about ourselves.

Here are three key ideas from the reading and some musing based on this framework:

Increasingly value is created by integrated systems not stand alone products. This means that complexity is an opportunity to be seized rather than a problem to be avoided because complexity allows for convergence. 

What does it mean in complex system if unidirectional communication is still understood to reflect on all parties involved? From a more tactical stand point, what parties in the system could be connected to create additional positive sentiment? For instance, how could a company empower a new user to express gratitude to an established user who acted as an evangelist for the company?

Although customers focus on the big shiny touch points in an ecosystem, the “connective tissue” and un-sexy logistics around the touch point have a huge influence on how customers experience those touch points and the success of the ecosystem as a whole.

Richardson touched on the difficulty of creating an eco-system across organizational boundaries. Use internal gratitude to inspire buy-in from parts of the organization that work on the “connective tissue” in the ecosystem that does not receive much appreciation from the customer. (This is of the more warm and fuzzy insight variety).

Managing point of control and lack of control is key to a successful ecosystem. A company must decide what are the things that are of chief importance to control internally and how to deal with touch points out of its control.

How can a company refocus a customer to feel good about their decision to purchase or use a product at an uncontrolled touch point, like interacting with the retail staff in a big box store that carries your companies product? Can the packaging make them feel smart enough for making their selection that it out weighs frustration with an inefficient clerk?

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The Design Particle

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Image Credit: Ardan Özmenoglu

Untitled. Ardan Özmenoglu.

It’s Thursday, you know what that means, another position diagram. Well, not quite. At least not in the 2×2 format we have all come to know and love. The most compelling quality of the recent batch of reading for the design thinking section of our theory course was not how they compared to each other, but rather how they combined.

The readings from Rittel, De Bono, Cross and Buchanan, in particular, present overlapping descriptions of design. I imagine if I could line them up and look through them, like the layers of glass in this untitled work by Turkish artist Ardan Özmenoglu, I would see a complete definition of design. I have attempted to achieve a similar result by distilling and diagraming key aspects of each author’s argument and assembling them into a whole. Resulting in the following definition:

The irreducible essence of design is the interplay of problem definition and solution generation, which happens in the process of making and reframing, in order to discover the desired future state of a specific situation.

Diagrams attached:



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Design Thinking: A Profession or a Way of Being?

Our latest set of readings for Design, Society and the Public Sector paint a very clear picture about design’s role in society, from the importance of it becoming a liberal art to clearly defining it under the framework of what exactly it means to design.

More specifically, how designers and society should think about the problem at hand, wicked or not.

Designers use different tools to find solutions. Each tool is powerful independently, but when implemented collectively, magic happens. These methods of externalizing to provoke new connections, reframing to provoke new ways of thinking, constant experimentation and a willingness to accept failure are integral aspects of the creative and solution finding process. These characteristics of design thinking are not linear nor are they static. The world and the problems at hand are constantly in flux. Rittel (Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning) points out that the world is constantly changing. Problems are not linear, thus our approach to a solution should not be linear.

While Nigel Cross (Discovering Design) recognizes that design is a cognitive skill possessed by everyone, he finds the need to define it so it can take part in siloing itself off and becoming independently its own discipline. I argue that the nature of design thinking is that it is interdisciplinary and will be inherently strengthened if it is embraced as such.

Contrary to Cross, Wyatt (Design Thinking for Social Innovation) emphasizes the importance of design thinking as a point of evolution in the design profession by removing design from the silos through a more systemic approach of creating solutions. Such an approach can yield high impact solutions. One key piece that connects Wyatt’s paper to the other authors is when she states that “design thinking taps into capacities that we all have […] the process itself is deeply human.”

Which brings us to the idea of design literacy. When we talk about social impact through design thinking, there are many scales of problems. One scale is at the fundamental level of early education. The majority of these authors argue that creativity and design ability is something that is either deeply rooted within all of us, or that it can and should be taught.

If we talk about the effectiveness of empowering the people involved in a problem space (Wyatt) and the importance of clearly defining the problem (Rittel) as pertinent means to solution finding, then it only makes sense to teach design thinking at an early age.

So what would it mean if design thinking was the new liberal art? Buchanan (Wicked Problems in Design Thinking) and Pacione (Evolution of the Mind: A Case for Design Literacy) really bring home that all people should be educated in the liberal art of design. The idea that you can explore, make connections, unpack and examine a problem is empowering and should be taught. This is not just for people who choose to study design as a profession. When we talk about design thinking having impact, a place one could start is in the education system at an early age. Design is interdisciplinary at it’s core. Thus design thinking can be applied to any situation and the boundaries of the silos must be torn down and should be seen as an interdisciplinary scaffold.

I understand that this means there would need to be a cultural shift. A cultural shift that is already in motion (we can see the beginnings of such a shift in the Maker Movement). I will argue that such a shift is necessary for a better future state. Design thinking empowers people to question the current state of things moving them from consumers to creators. Which leads me to the question: Is design thinking a profession or a way of being? After much consideration of the readings from this section and considering where I see the greatest benefit in the future, I will say that design thinking is a way of being first and a profession second.

If I think about why I am here. Here at this school, what brought me here–It’s much deeper than “I want to be an interaction designer.” At the root of it all, is I want to be a better member of my community and this planet. Thinking systemically, being willing to iterate, fail and experiment are all tools that empower one to do so.

You can view my diagram here.

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