Ryan is a people-centered problem solver, with a penchant for pioneering institutions. He received his degree in Systems Engineering as part of the 3rd class at Olin College in Boston, worked on the product team for a web startup in London, and helped Ashoka pilot a program to accelerate social innovation in cities. He spends a lot of time falling off rocks and is constantly reminding himself to talk to strangers, since that always seems to lead to the best adventures.

He wants you to know that he just finished a chocolate milkshake, and it was delicious.

As a society our problems are vast, and we find our institutions lacking. Our corporations lack soul, our governments lack nerve, and our NGOs lack strength. But I’m optimistic. I sincerely believe the tools of design and social entrepreneurship can help us create new models that meld the passionate hearts of NGOs with the bold effectiveness of corporations.

Perhaps most importantly, these new models are not idealistic, unwanted dreams shouted in a distant, echoing corner of the far left. For in this endeavor, we have human nature firmly on our side. Our culture, and especially our youth, are asking for more from employers and from society than financial security and white picket fences. In greater numbers than ever before, they are asking for meaning, they are calling for purpose. I do not yet know how to answer that call, but I know that we can and that we must, and the Austin Center for Design sounds like a good opening line in a long, measured response.


Recent Tweets

@ryanhubbard: RT @MelbourneLMCF: Seed Challenge Launch: Got an idea to spark innovative employment solutions for young people with a disability? Visit ht…

@ryanhubbard: For stronger friendships you shouldn’t just water regularly, you also have to re-pot: http://t.co/oYq0bo1Hdr #design http://t.co/oYq0bo1Hdr

@ryanhubbard: Project launch: Close friends in the modern era http://t.co/UmEW8Olnc3 #socent #pospsych #designthinking

@ryanhubbard: Want to feel more grounded and hopeful? Listen to @kristatippett of @Beingtweets interview Mary Oliver: http://t.co/PosEFypxIi

@ryanhubbard: Warming, simple account of gardening and #friendship growing across generations: http://t.co/rMkV2ey9WY

Recent Blog Posts


Tell us about your projects using design to tackle social problems

Interaction design and wicked problems banner

As you know, at the Austin Center for Design we’re focused on learning how to apply the tools and processes of interaction design to wicked social problems like homelessness, education, social isolation, or international development.

Most of this blog is about our projects, but we’d love to hear about yours.  If you’ve worked on anything in this space, or just heard about a cool project, please comment on the post or tweet a link @ac4d or @ryanhubbard to tell us about it.

Or, if you’re here with us in Boulder at the Interaction’11 conference, join us for a conversation over lunch on Saturday to share your work or tell us about a cool project that you heard about.  We’ll meet at one of the tables in the back of the main auditorium (Glenn Miller Ballroom) at 11:50.  Feel free to come by to share a story or just to get some inspiration from the great work that folks are doing.

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Being Empathetically Correct

I was explaining our work with Frontsteps to a good friend of mine last night, and I used the phrase ‘people experiencing homelessness’ to describe the clients at Frontsteps.  Curious, he asked me if that was the politically correct term for homeless people.  I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but it felt like the phrase was important for a reason beyond being politically correct.

This morning it hit me: using ‘people experiencing homelessness’ is not about being politically correct, it’s about being empathetically correct.  We know that the language we use both reflects and shapes how we think about the people and world around us, and these two terms have very different implications.

The term ‘homeless people’ suggests a changed identity and lends a sense of permanence to the state.  This change in identity immediately puts them in the category of ‘other’ and makes it more difficult to empathize.

While more cumbersome, the term ‘people experiencing homelessness’ emphasizes that they’re going through a temporary situation.  I also like it because it stresses that they are people first and after all, people are people.

Posted from Ryan’s blog.

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Evaluating design solutions and the Perils of Introspection

So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.” – Ben Franklin

In the 1930′s a researcher named Norman Maier [1] conducted a curious psychological experiment.  He brought people into a room with two long ropes hanging from the ceiling, and instructed them find as many ways as possible to tie the ropes together.  The ropes were separated from each other by just enough distance that you couldn’t simply grab one and walk to the other, but the room also contained a variety of objects like a length of clothesline and a long pole. Most people quickly discovered that they could tie the clothesline to one rope and walk to the other, or that they could use the pole to reach out and draw one of the ropes to them.  Once they got through the obvious solutions, however, everyone was stumped.

After they had been confused for a while, Maier, who walked around the room throughout the experiment, would casually brush one of the ropes with his shoulder, causing it to sway.  Within a minute, most people would then solve the puzzle by tying something heavy to one rope and swinging it like a pendulum to get to the other.

The curious bit came when Maier asked them where they got the idea for the swinging.  Almost invariably, they would say something like “I just thought suddenly of a grandfather clock,” or “I remembered reading Tarzan as a child.”  Not one of them mentioned Maier brushing the rope with his shoulder, even though they had the idea immediately after it started to sway.

These people had no reason to lie and indeed had no clue that they were.  The idea came to them subconsciously and they honestly weren’t able to understand its origin.  The tricky part, though, seems to be that we are hardwired to make up (and believe) plausible reasons for our behavior, even when we don’t know the real answer. Psychologists have a name for this combination of our inability to articulate our internal motivations with the tendency to invent reasons. It’s called the Perils of Introspection.

So what does this have to do with evaluating design solutions?  Everything.

Every time a usability tester asks the user why they clicked the left button or a focus group facilitator asks a customer why they prefer red over blue, we have to be aware that the person quite likely doesn’t know and are almost certainly (though unintentionally) going to make something up.  Even worse, researchers Wilson and Lisle have shown that if you’re asked to explain a choice before you make it, you might end up picking the option that’s easier to explain, not the one you would have chosen in the real world.

There are numerous examples of successful products (like the Aeron Chair) that almost didn’t happen due to bad reviews resulting from the perils of introspection.  Malcolm Gladwell gives a good overview of the problem and some great examples in this talk from PopTech in 2004:

[vimeo 18064586]

So now that we know there’s a problem, what do we do?

The solution can be found in one of the most important things we know from design research, which is that you cannot just talk to people but also must watch them in action.  In research, we understand that what people say and what they do often don’t line up, and it’s in those inconsistencies that some of the most interesting insights are found.

So if apply this same understanding to evaluating designs, then the next time we have a great idea and start to pull together a roundtable focus group, we might think twice.  We might instead remember the Perils of Introspection and devise a way to sketch or prototype the idea and watch how people interact with it.

Your participants will give you much better data if you observe their interactions.  Just don’t ask them why.

[1] Story adapted from Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink.  Maier’s 1931 paper: Reasoning in Humans. II. The solution of a problem and it’s appearance in consciousness.

Posted from Ryan’s personal blog, Back of the Envelope and Big Ideas

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Notes from Class: History of Interaction Design

Goals this semester include being more visual and getting things out of my head and onto the internet. In the spirit of that, here are some of my notes from our class discussion last night in Jon Freach’s Theory of Interaction Design Course.

Posted from Ryan’s personal blog, Back of the Envelope and Big Ideas

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