catherine.woodiwiss@ac4d.com

Student

Catherine Woodiwiss

For the last 6 years, I’ve been working as a journalist in Washington, D.C., writing and editing on justice, culture, tech, and religion. My favorite posture is ethnographer, tracing the evolutions of ideas and rituals through time and place. When I discovered human-centered design, the lightbulb went on on the full possibilities of my anthropology degree and my journalism career: Act like an storyteller, think like an engineer! I’ve been hooked ever since.

In both journalism and design, for me, the interviewing — hearing and sitting with stories, often from angles, people, or circumstances overlooked by national headlines — and the impulse to creative action — practicing “solutions” journalism or design, that looks beyond a diagnosis of the problem into critically assessing whether models, products, or actions are successful — are the thing. In the last few years, I’ve spent my off-hours getting my feet wet in the world of design. In 2014, I co-launched Trestles, a service design agency aimed at collaboration and creative problem-solving across D.C.’s siloed sectors. I also co-launched Homestage, a DIY house show network for local artists and local living rooms in D.C., and in 2014, I spoke on collaborative solutions and “Do It Together” models at SXSW.

I am eager for a year of training and education at AC4D, to be better equipped to explore what design in service of story, and story in service of design, can look like.

Recent blog posts

swiss cheese of success: a concept model for persistence

The “Swiss cheese model” is a risk analysis model used by engineers, aviation specialists, and cybersecurity experts. The idea is that even the best-designed human systems (inevitably) operate like Swiss cheese—mostly sound, but with holes here and there. For the most part, systems operate as predicted. But when the holes in a stack of systems…

insights with we are blood.

When telling our service client that we were developing “insights,” we felt the need to clarify. The word “insight” is usually treated as shorthand for “brilliant intuition,” so we knew that marching into a room of stakeholders announcing that we had insights into a service we had spent a limited amount of time with could seem, well, “obnoxious.” But insights are not the same thing as impressions. As with…

sketch library.

To sketch tech interactions, I took photos of team members holding phones for a variety of purposes: Watching a video, texting, swiping, taking a photo, talking. Using an existing visual model is helpful for capturing proportion and dimension … especially when drawing HANDS. I began my next iteration with pencil. This creates flexibility in practicing finger shape, position, and…

design existentia.

Don’t let our emphasis on “making things” fool you: Human-centered design is an existential discipline. For the last 20 years, design theorists have been publicly weighing the ethics of designing with users or designing for them. User-centered tech is the newest frontier, but this debate first went global when design, well, went global. In the mid-1990s, socially-minded entrepreneurs began…

a week.

why design research matters.

So you want to be a designer. People will crinkle their brow and ask, “What kind?” And around the time you get to “prototyping ideations drawn from synthesis-theming our user utterances,” their eyes will go from glazed-over to all-the-way-back-in-their-head. Now what? That humans design things around human needs and wants is a concept as old as time…

telling the story.

This week, my team went fully into the field, interviewing multiple people at pop-up blood donation stations. We observed phlebotomists who talked passionately about the mission, interviewed mobile supervisors and account managers who have a long personal history with the organization, and conducted mapping activities with first-time donors with a wide range of motivations for coming in…

design is philosophy in action

In high school, I had a professor who taught a class he’d made up, apparently just because he wanted to. He called it “Junior Seminar.” This was an invite-only class, to high achieving kids who consistently got As. On our first day he told us that we already had an A in the class. (Much to our disappointment—overachievers…

design for your life

i had an “a-ha” moment in studio on saturday, when pat was talking us through sketching technique: move the whole arm, keep your wrist flexible, don’t rest it on the page. this was exactly what my violin teacher used to tell me, through years and years of study. move the whole forearm, keep your wrist flexible, don’t rest it on…

AC4D + We Are Blood: The Sequel

TEAM: Catherine, Kim, and Zev. Two years ago, We Are Blood (WAB) decided to work with a team of AC4D students. During this time, WAB was also going through a transition phase. From 1951-2016, WAB was known to the local Austin area as The Blood and Tissue Center of Central Texas. Recognizing that there was…

How to make a teamwork sandwich

We made one! Sort of. Podcast + debrief from an end-of-day / new-to-Austin crew: Christina, Cristina, Kay, and myself, feat. Adam. Personal growth point #17 from this week: Stop saying “like.” Listen here. *Update: Working link added, thanks to Kay’s YouTube workaround. Personal growth point #43: Learn how to link large media files into WordPress…‍…

we must risk delight.

“We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight…” — Jack Gilbert Somewhere in the mess of half-started template tracings, crumpled vignettes, and 150-ish sticky notes holding extremely mediocre ideas, our initial themes are still sticking to the wall. We’ve just given quick storyboard presentations and discovered that another team has a very similar…

design is dangerous.

In March, data analyst Christopher Wylie spoke on the record for the first time about his role in the massive Cambridge Analytica-Brexit-Trump campaign-Facebook data manipulation scandal. As a 24-year-old trend forecasting student, he had come up with a way to collect a massive volume of private data on Facebook users, use this data to generate psychological personas,…

‘your entire existence here is going to be a shitshow.’

  “True empathy is not actually achievable. These tools allow us to approximate it.” — Jon Kolko, earlier today Step 1: Use a word I hugely value but am largely skeptical of, due to its overuse and usually-squishy definition in the public imagination. Step 2: Tell me that I and all the VCs and #socent changemakers and…

‘go make something.’

  I love writing, which means I love procrastination. I love exploring the city while I let thoughts gather (this is part of writing, I will say), and playing with words while I pour a glass of wine (this is Very Serious Writing), and sitting down to check Twitter (hmmm), and emerging an hour later, now an expert on whether Azealia Banks was actually left…

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