Chap Ambrose is driven to design and develop useful and generous things. He has lent his skills to a spoonful of nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and start-ups. His background is in user-centered design, but his current muse is programming.

I have a need to make things that matter. I grew up in a spiritual home where emphasis was placed exclusively on people and material artifacts were disregarded as temporary. Although my personal beliefs have evolved and I have been educated as an industrial designer, I continue to remain drawn to helping people in need rather than creating beautiful objects.


Recent Tweets

@chapambrose: @nz_ i'm cool with it. maybe just put the name without a link?

@chapambrose: RT @johnmaeda: Practically everyone needs to express themselves. Artists, however, *live* to express ourselves.

@chapambrose: What would Feynman do?

@chapambrose: RT @cdixon: Startups are risky and hard. Respect for those brave enough to try. Entrepreneurs are what drive innovation and job creation.

@chapambrose: Seriously, I'm glad you have pride in your job. Let's just fix this terrible system so that it's constitutional and effective.

Recent Blog Posts


Feelings are Design Insights

While doing design research I try to listen to myself as much as I do everything else.

How do I feel about this situation? Anxious, awkward, excited, satisfied?

This week Scott and I did some quick and dirty testing by giving away McDonald’s gift cards to people panhandling along the road with signs. We then tracked their balance online to see if the cards were redeemed.

It was satisfying to give something away that you knew could not be misused. We were excited to constantly check to see if the cards had been used yet. A couple of times there was traffic behind us so we just had to hand out the card without any conversation, which felt very transactional and inhumane.

How can our final design incorporate those positive emotions and avoid the others?

Posted in Methods | Leave a comment

Reflection is required for impact

Some of the stuff I made when I worked at Project HOME.

When I worked at Project HOME, an organization addressing homelessness in Philly, I noticed a lot of things that I could design and improve. Better signage, better forms, nicer marketing materials, pretty menus at the cafe, improving training programs, an easier way to organize job listings for clients, etc.

I completed most of these things. I’m not sure they mattered.

I also wrote proposals and plans for larger projects; rethinking some existing services and creating new programs. However, none of those ever got done.

When an organization works with people in crisis, it’s very hard not to feel like every moment must be accounted for. It is exhausting just to maintain the existing processes and procedures, rarely is there time to think about improving things.

This is a pattern that we’re seeing while researching homelessness in Austin. Organizations that don’t explicitly set aside time for reflection default to crisis mode.

Looking back after four years, the only thing still in use at Project HOME is a tool that made it easier for the staff to submit and review incident reports.

So just like webkit won’t accept patches that make it slower, in order for a new program or approach to be successful it must reduce the workload of organizational staff and increase reflection.

Posted in Social Innovation | 1 Comment

People and their things

People living on the street carry things. Here are some of those things:

Posted in ARCH | Leave a comment

My First Quarter at AC4D

The following is my attempt to summarize and reflect on my first eight weeks studying at the Austin Center for Design.

The great:

  • Amazing students with varied talents working together.
  • Experienced professors (who still work in their field) sharing insights and leading discussions.
  • Designers working on real problems (homelessness, sustainability, education).

The difficult:

  • Big time commitment.
  • Learning to be okay with failure.
  • So far, more review than new.

First the great.Without hesitation I think any designer or creative person looking to make a difference should attend the school. The people you will meet and the process you will learn will inspire you and drive you for years.

The students are inspiring. I’m reminded of my sophomore year in college when I started to feel normal. I was finally around people who had similar passions and desires and dreams. When a small network rejects mediocrity an explosive inspirational energy is created that feeds itself.

I feel a similar energy forming here around social problems.

Now the hard.I did not anticipate the time commitment required to attend school. I’ve gone before, but I did not factor in all the new activities and responsibilities I have now (consulting, marriage, startups). I kind of figured it would be like adding one more client to my workload, but really it’s like three new clients.

I use to unwind by learning new stuff or building things or playing with friends. Now my days are filled of client work, nights with class, and the weekend with both. The rest of my life is spent scrambling to complete assignments or attempting to enjoy a relaxing meal with Maura.

I do think it’s possible to work full-time and attend AC4D, but you just can’t do anything else. No side projects, no overtime, no traveling, no going above and beyond at work, nothing but school (or face the consequences).

The consequence is failure. I have had many jobs and worked on a smorgasbord of projects. With the exception of a few scheduling slips, I have delivered what I said I would, when I said I would. I am knowledgable and dependable and deliver exceptional work to my clients. This is why I have more work than I can handle at a healthy rate.

Remember when I said school was a client? That’s how I first felt. I could do not let them down, they were counting on me. Very quickly a time crunch made me rethink this stance and I realized, “I’m the client. I’m paying to be here. I’m here to learn as much as I can, not to deliver perfect work on time.”

For better or worse, this has been my coping mechanism for the past couple months. Every week I am forced to make compromises on what to work on. Client work is at the top of that list, then any team project for school involving other students, then the projects I’m most interested in, lastly the projects I’m not into. Unfortunately this means the projects I don’t want to do (admittedly probably the most academically stretching for me) are the ones that don’t get done.

It’s also frustrating to feel rushed in everything you do. Working thoughtfully and meticulously is near impossible when there is an overflowing dam of work backing up behind you.

My final bitch is that the first quarter consisting of design theory, contextual research, and prototyping felt like a lot of review to me. This won’t be the case for most people. I guess I’m unique in that Jon, the director of the school, taught a large portion of my undergrad program. (So far this quarter is already much different.)

In summary.I love school. It is great and difficult.

My goal for the next eight weeks is to spend more time reflecting in posts like this. I would also like to identify one project a week to be meticulous about, and attempt to do something for each assignment.

(Thanks to Alex for inspiring me to take the time to write this out.)

Posted in Social Innovation | 1 Comment