From an early age, Eric was interested in how people learn over the web. Throughout high school he worked for a learning management and e-Learning course development company, building courses and designing graphics for online consumption. Eric was a premed and Latin American Studies major at Tulane University in New Orleans. After Katrina, he found new meaning working on problems in healthcare. Today, Eric is a healthcare IT project manager and Consultant by day. He enjoys foreign travel to Central and South American countries where he can practice Castellano. He has a penchant for surfing, which he will sorely miss while in Austin.

I am not a designer by trade, but I understand the vast potential that design thinking has to change the way people approach their health. I see interaction design as a vehicle of discovery, an opportunity to qualitatively understand people and the issues that they face. By combining formal interaction design education with my existing skills and knowledge of the healthcare industry, I will design new interactive products and services that will help improve health and wellness around the world.


Reflections

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Recent Blog Posts

 

Alumni Design-a-thon Results

La Michoacana market, a Hispanic Market on east 7th street in Austin, TX, is just a block away from my work but feels a world away from the Austin I typically experience.  Garish, multi-colored lettering on the outside describes food products in Spanish.  The clientele is predominantly Hispanic, particularly during the lunch hour, when lines of Hispanic migrant construction workers await Mexican food and aguas frescas from the kitchen that dominates one half of the store.  That afternoon, I walked sheepishly around the store with my clipboard (generally to feign professionalism), before I finally began a pained conversation with the cash register attendant in Spanish.  Shortly, I fell into a broken Spanish and English mix.

Over the course of a few weeks, our team of AC4D alumni conducted street and subject matter expert interviews to understand Hispanic language access issues in Austin – What are the cultural and economic impacts of not being able to speak English? And what are the barriers to learning and practicing English?  From our research, we aimed to use design to generate ideas that could be used to both support language acquisition and improve a sense of shared identity in Austin, which more often than not feels like 4 or more cities co-habiting than it does one unified city.

Conducting the research, particularly via street interviews, wasn’t easy.  Our team’s rather low level of Spanish expertise gave us a rather ironic window into what many ESL students must face in their day to day experience in Austin. While I speak decent Spanish after college study abroad experiences in Central and South America, that fluidity was built up almost (gasp) 8 years ago.  Our team of designers, including Chuck Hildebrand, Bhavini Patel, and Melissa Chapman, all have varied levels of non-existent to passable Spanish skills.

With that said, I will not trade the often priceless experiences that followed those awkward introductions, where we gained some very real insight into the drivers and challenges facing migrants in our city.  Just like you and me, they’re trying to make life work – yet they might already have families and multiple jobs that can, and do, get in the way of learning something new.  I wanted to thank each member of our team, as well as the experts and individuals who gave their time to support the effort.

A taste of highlights from our Research

 There are challenging logistical barriers for Hispanic migrants trying to learn English.

Hispanic migrants often live far from their workplaces and work multiple jobs with fluid schedules.  Poorer migrants, and particularly undocumented migrants likely do not own a car – and therefore getting to and from any particular ESL location requires time and energy that only the most driven of learners can give.

The best course content includes elected, and not solely directed, information.

Learners should have a say in the content that they learn.  Speakers may want to focus on basic interactions that support daily living, such as health, school, workplace transportation, and other economic transactions.  But they equally may want to learn more specific nuance to the language they are using, including accents, pauses, pitch, and humor.

Camaraderie is an important aspect of long term learning.

For some that attend language classes, the draw for learning a language may be just as much about connecting with other people as it is about learning.  The emotional connection can provide an ongoing link to attendance that a traditional classroom approach doesn’t explicitly provide.  We should support interactions that increase dialogue around what it takes to survive and thrive in Austin.

Read the final report!

Report Cover

In the future, we’d like to identify partners for civic design who could sponsor a formal challenge for Austin Center for Design Alumni.  Please let me know your thoughts, suggestions for topic challenges, and recommendations for partners that would be interested.

 

Posted in Design Research, Social Innovation | Leave a comment

Kicking Off the First AC4D Alumni Design-a-Thon

On Wednesday, October 8th, I jointly kicked off the first AC4D Alumni Design-a-Thon for Social Good.  A Design-a-Thon is a term that I use loosely to describe a shared design process, similar to a hackathon, with “appropriate” time set aside for each phase of design.  Over the next month, our core team of 4 alumni and 12 part-time alumni will be exploring the topic of Linguistic and Cultural Barriers for Hispanics in the city of Austin; a very large and diverse, but seemingly segregated group in our city.

I am so excited to interact with this community, to learn from them, and hopefully come up with an exciting product or service concept that we can actually build.  Y finalmente, yo tengo una oportunidad a usar el lenguaje en lugar de solo preguntado por tacos!  I joke, but there’s definitely something about getting “stuck” in one’s place in the city as I sometimes lament; in not expanding or growing, but seeing things the same way and falling into routines. There will be more posts in the future by other members of the core design team, including Melissa Chapman, Chuck Hildebrand, and Bhavini Patel, tracking both arcs of personal and project experience.  I want to take my time to focus on the expansive nature of this Design-a-Thon, and give context on what it means to me.

First, connection.

I remember Ruby Ku (’11) and I (’13) discussing alumni engagement over coffee at Cenote, one of our favorite spots in East Austin.  The intensity of the AC4D program – working day in and day out, for long hours with the same group of 10 people – feels so imbalanced to the post-program experience, where we haven’t had structured ways to keep involved and connected with each other. That’s disappointing, and something we agreed we should work to change.  The Design-a-Thon was born over that discussion, realizing that we should work together for fun: as a chance to retell stories and laugh, as well as grow professionally.  We can learn so much from each other and build our talents further. Many of us have been apart for 1-2 years, working on different projects and with differing methodologies across Austin.

Second, potential impact.

I remember my first design bootcamp.  I was a non-designer, trying to figure out how to do the process of design, without the actual time to process what I was really doing.  Now, with training and the design toolkit under my belt, I feel more confident in the design process.  Design gives me authority to be in places I don’t belong, and ask questions I should not – what my work colleague Briana would consider the privilege to be “nosy”.  These experiences lead to insights that are the seeds to ideas that through refinement and testing can have great impact and value to individuals.

I think all of us who’ve come through the program define impact in part as working on projects that have the potential to effect reduction in community ills.  We perceive them as the issues that “really matter” to quality of life, and to the largest number of people.  That is the allure.  We all experienced it going through the curriculum, through our own projects or watching ones that other alumni have continued.  We want to follow it now that our skills are growing up.

Many say good design is achieved through design; namely, repetition.  I’m excited to see what we can deliver on during this iteration.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Let them Add the Drapes

Happy Valentine’s Day!  I bought a bacon rose for my girlfriend – #ihopeshethinksitsawesome?

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few days about how to design applications that give users the foundation – the house – but let them add character and flair in a way that isn’t obtrusive.  Even better, without doing much or any work on top of what they would be doing normally.  Those type of interactions done well are delightful.

For example, in the CareWell application I’m designing and building for caregivers and their families, any user in the family can add and change the group’s photo.  This will also update the background to the logo, visible on every screen.  I’m betting that users will change the photo, not only because it affects what they see – but that because they know other members will see that photo and delight in it.

My guess is that individuals become more attached to things that represent their uniqueness, and are therefore less likely to stop using them. Individuals are also more likely to use things that help them express that uniqueness to other people.

This is the anti-path/fb Paper approach to design.  They’ve gone ahead, curated, and built the whole shebbang.  With perfect pixels and manicured swipes, the apps look great (I’m actually extremely envious of their design team talent!), but I’ll never use them again.  There’s no room for me to make it mine.

This may very well be the fundamental difference between interaction design and industrial design.  I want something physical designed to perfection, because it is immutable.  It’s also easier to show off.  Pixels, on the other hand, are hidden and ephemeral.  Great design in this sphere requires thoughtful usability, restraint, and the respect to let the user co-create delight.

Posted in Interaction Design, Reflection | Leave a comment

Young Designers Should Start Companies

Designers should start a companies.

Fact is, junior designers have no influence in a corporation.  I don’t want to be a part of that.

You can take the traditional corporate path, or you can start a company.  It’s different, and different is scary, but my design education prepared me for iteration and solving difficult problems.

This isn’t a walk in the park.  Making decisions, project managing myself, and taking responsibility isn’t easy.  I think many people are afraid of that responsibility.  I know it because I live it everyday, as I’m trying to grow both my design and business skills through bringing a product to market.  It’s unnerving, but exciting.  I prefer excitement to a structured trajectory as long as it’s economically feasible.

And I prefer it to the the cost of most graduate school education options.  You aren’t going to make any money at the start of an enterprise.  But  let’s compare that to MBA education.  What if you just paid yourself 60K a year (well, maybe in time equivalent) instead of putting it into school coffers?  And if you’re smart and have saved some money, why not?

I may or may not make it at this entrepreneurship game this time around.  Experience from my program indicates that those who start their own companies are likely to fail in the short run.  This shouldn’t be surprising.  The best business leaders in the world fail for a myriad of reasons.  But the worst case isn’t bad.  I’ve seen my fellow business designers (“biz des”ers?) skip the corporate crawl.  One individual who just 2 years ago entered IxD is now a UX director at a local Austin company.  That doesn’t happen out of grad school typically.  It happens after running your own business.

Talk about showing grit to your potential self, supporters, and users.  Pay it forward now by starting something that’s your own.

Posted in Inference, Startups | Leave a comment