Developing a Product Roadmap


Sense making for strategy

Sizing estimates are primarily useful to product managers and business people. The estimates provide a frame for evaluating the importance of a feature, identifying level of effort and cost, and informing a prioritization schedule.

The process for arriving at a sizing estimate session includes defining features within a screen. These can be grouped by hero flow, common elements, or macro feature sets. Defining the features is a sense making activity to understand the underlying logic that supports a user’s narrative structure.

Armed with this background, we can then begin to unpack features through a prioritization framework. These frameworks function as a sense making process for strategic planning.

This, that, or the other

I started with the ICE framework which evaluates a feature based on impact, confidence, and ease on a 1-10 scale. Features are prioritized by the average of those 3 variables.

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ICE Framework + MoSCow Method

ICE didn’t seem a robust enough framework for evaluating macro feature sets, but I can see this as a more practical framework for evaluating micro features within the larger set. The 1-10 scale felt arbitrary and subjective but the exercise was a useful forcing function to then run those features through different frameworks to compare and contrast.

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Value vs Complexity Quadrant

Product roadmaps = shared ledger of truth

Roadmaps provide visibility and can function as a neutral document to facilitate conversation around business needs and team capabilities. The roadmap lays out jobs to be done, assigns persons to each task, and dictates the order in which those tasks should be completed.

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Rollout roadmap for two developers

After completing a high level roadmap based on macro feature sets, we assumed that we had a 20% reduction in resources. I created a thin slice roadmap that would allow us to accomplish the must-have and should-have features at a reduced 80% capacity.

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Thin slice = sacrificing non-essential features or could-haves

Key Learnings & Insights

  • Wireframes are a game of logic flows. Articulating the narrative structure through user stories helped me recognize linguistic similarities between designers and developers.
  • Developers are people first. I felt irrationally surprised that developer Pete was a normal human and an easy conversationalist. The mythology surrounding developers is something to be mindful of, but they aren’t a monolith either.
  • Everything is sense making. We are trying to determine all the parts that make up the whole to investigate what is meaningful and define what is essential. 
  • Screens are relatable, spreadsheets are not. Walking through screens is helpful because it allows the developer to see scope of work in relation to things they’ve done before.


Bringing Design Ideas to Life: Vouch and the Good Folks Club

This is the fourth installment of our team’s (Allison, Laura, Michelle) project for our Studio and Ideation class. This project builds on the research we did with gig economy workers last Fall, which you can read about here and here.

This week we put our entrepreneur hats on to create pitch decks and landing pages. After getting feedback on three ideas last week, we downselected to two key concepts and built them out further. The ultimate goal from this quarter will be to have one strong idea that we can build out in our final quarter of AC4D

Our progress this week:

  • Cut our goal-setting concept. We agreed rather quickly to eliminate this concept after talking through our key insights last week. Folding two ideas into one made for a busy and unfocused value prop and, while user interest was high, none of us felt particularly compelled to move forward with building this out. 
    • Created 2 pitch decks per concept. We used Andy Raskin’s “The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen  and Guy Kawaski’s “The Only 10 Slides You Need In a Pitch” as a template for each concept.
      • While Kawaski’s pitch deck approaches the concept from a very logical and business minded perspective, Raskin’s model focuses on the root of the problem and seeks to create an emotional response from your audience.  
      • While creating these, we had to ask ourselves: Who is the target audience? What’s our revenue model? What are the true core features we need to succeed? Who are our competitors? And most of all — we tightened the narrative to be very clear. With only a 6-slide deck, you don’t have a lot of room for complexity. We distilled our ideas into digestible concepts that were easily shareable. 
  • Presented our decks to subject matter experts. We contacted entrepreneurs, product designers and developers in these industries to get feedback from a professional perspective. While last week we focused on connecting with potential users, this week we wanted to get feedback with potential funders or backers.  
  • Designed and launched a landing page for each concept. The purpose of this activity is two-fold: (1) it forced us to focus on our key value props and differentiators and (2) it helps us gauge interest for our concept. There’s no use in spending months building out an idea that no one wants. 

Insights & Feedback:

Vouch makes it easy to lend money and build trust – not resentment. 

  • High-Level Pitch Deck & Concept Feedback from SME Interviews: CEO, JUST; Developer,; Founder, R3 Score
    • Each person we spoke with is building products to help make underserved communities more financially resilient. While our target audiences are similar, the approach we are suggesting is different. 
    • Other companies like Able have tried this model and suspended their efforts. What can we learn from them to make this concept viable?
    • The financial sector is fraught with predatory behavior, and as a result the government has placed massive limits on what you can do. We need to invest heavily in compliance research to see if this concept is truly legal. 
    • 10 slide pitch deck
    • Sales pitch deck
  • Website results:
    • Spent $20.61 in Google Ads. Drove 10 clicks. 116 Impressions. 0 conversions.
      • Google ads for this space are more competitive, likely leading to a higher CPC. We should experiment with other platforms moving forward. Until we can feel confident in proof of concept, we are not investing in any long-term content strategies to drive organic traffic. 
    • Site Analytics. 35 unique visitors. 2 direct messages. 5 emails submitted. 

The Good Folks Club
Cultivating community through curated volunteer experiences

  • High-Level Pitch Deck & Concept Feedback from SME Interviews:
  • Website results:
    • Rather than funneling money into ad buys, we chose to focus our efforts this week on getting clear about the concept through the slide decks and landing page. 
    • Site Analytics. 27 unique visitors. 0 emails submitted. 

Next Steps

To continue to gauge feedback, we will schedule interviews with subject matter experts about The Good Folks Club. Then to really bring our ideas to life, we’ll be making lo-fi prototypes and testing those with potential users. Stay tuned!

Lending, Goal-achieving, and Volunteering: Feedback from 3 Early Design Ideas

This is the third installment of our team’s (Allison, Laura, Michelle) project for our Studio and Ideation class. This project builds on the research we did with gig economy workers last Fall. While only one of the ideas listed below directly affects gig economy workers, all ideas were developed directly from our research, which you can read about here and here.

This week we started to turn our research into reality. After developing 200 unique ideas last week, we narrowed to three design ideas to start testing. This is the first step in our four-week journey to narrow and define one strong design idea that we will develop in our final quarter at AC4D.

Our progress this week:

  • We narrowed from 200 to five design ideas. To do this, we gave each idea a score of 1-5 for:

    • Viability: how likely is this idea to make money?

    • Feasibility: with current technology today and our resources, how likely could this be built?

    • Impact: does this serve the people we seek to help?

    • Differentiation: is this need already being met?

    • Interestingness: do we personally find this compelling enough to work on it for 12 weeks?

We used the rankings of the top 20 to narrow down potential options and then we each took time to reflect and surface our personal top 5. Early this week we met together and decided on a top 5 for the group.

  • Developed an Elevator Pitch, Lean Startup Canvas, and Storyboard for our top 5 ideas. To help us flesh out these concepts to get actionable feedback, we created shareable assets. This helped us hone in on core features.

  • Narrowed to three ideas. The process of creating those artifacts helped us narrow down to a top three that we would focus our interviews on.

  • Interviewed 15 people. We each owned one idea and held 50-minute interviews with five people to gather initial reactions, questions, and overall sentiment. Read below for high-level feedback and insights from our interviews.

Shake It Off

Our app makes it easy for people who want to improve transparency and accountability when they borrow money from friends or family. You can set up terms, reminders, auto-drafts, and even note cash payments or barters that happen outside the app. Unlike GoFundMe or bank loans, our product doesn’t require a good credit score and allows people to ask for temporary assistance rather than a gift.

  • Held 5 user interviews ages 29-51

  • Average rating: 1.6 out of 3

    Key Negative Insights

    • Paypal already does this – sort of. Participants who had previous experience using PayPal or Venmo to share money with friends and family felt their needs were already met. They used transaction history to keep track of loans but did acknowledge that this has the potential to get messy for larger amounts over $1,000.

    • Lending friends/family money is messy. Three participants mentioned that their parents taught them to not lend money to their friends or families because it gets messy. This mentality seemed more prevalent among groups with higher socioeconomic status.

    • Tracking loans is not always desirable. Often there appears to be an expectation that if you borrow money from friends or family, they may not make you pay it back in full. This is especially true of people borrowing money from their parents.

      Key Positive Insights

    • Payment tracking needs are not currently being met. For folks living paycheck to paycheck, the desire to track exact payments was very high. This was less important for anyone with a savings cushion.

    • It’s hard to stay accountable without a tool. Self-discipline is required when borrowing money from friends and family because the consequences of default are less concrete. Participants liked that this app could help keep you accountable, and even auto-draft money so you didn’t have to think about it.

    • This is helpful for the financially excluded. Almost everyone we talked with had experienced some level of exclusion from banks. Payday loans were seen as an absolute last resort. Three participants tried to get money from a bank before borrowing from friends and family but were denied.

      Ways to Improve Moving Forward

    • Edit storyboard to reflect larger dollar amounts. The current storyboard has $40 as the loan, but most participants mentioned they were typically borrowing hundreds at a time. For every participant that gave this product a 1 (would not be disappointed if it didn’t come to life), they said they would be more likely to use it if it helped facilitate larger loans ($5,000-$10,000).

    • Consider unique profit models. One successful model mentioned was Dave, a banking app, that asks for donations and is only $1.07 per month.

    • Suggest speed. The immediacy of instant cashouts has increased the expectation for products to move money quickly. Two participants felt that Venmo transfers are too slow (taking 2-3 days) and want to get paid immediately.


    • The financial product space is saturated. In my five conversations, the following tools were mentioned: Venmo, Paypal, CashApp, Splitwise, Zelle, Direct Transfer, Dave, Earnin, Acorn


Goal Grab

For gig workers who are looking to build a roadmap to achieving their dream, our platform motivates users by helping them visualize their priorities, break goals into smaller building blocks, and track progress. Users are prompted to articulate why their goals are meaningful, enabling them to develop clarity and confidence around realizing their goals. The goal-achieving platform enables community support through a ‘tip me forward’ function, allowing others to support your progress and give towards your dream.

  • Held 5 user interviews ages 26-36

  • Average rating: 2 out of 3

    Key Negative Insights

    • Motivation is a moving target. Participants expressed a multitude of motivating behaviors or support systems. Each person found it meaningful to articulate the why behind their goals but most expressed distrust and uncertainty around how the platform could help.

    • People aren’t interested in features that require more work for them. As our storyboard illustrated, the tip me forward function would be separate from the in-app tipping system of Uber or Lyft, requiring users to be engaged with a physical artifact that would prompt them to inquire. Alternately, it could mean the driver has to engage their customer – the prospect of which prompted strong, negative reactions around it feeling coercive or inauthentic. “Needs to be part of an organic conversation vs being pitched at.”“It makes me feel super uncomfortable – I would never do it. If I didn’t make my goal, I would feel awful.” “It could also be infuriating if it didn’t feel genuine.”

    • Analog is the default. Each participant expressed some degree of reservation around using apps as a learning tool. “Anytime I start an app, I might start there but then I switch to ‘old school’ pen and paper – divert back to tried and true.” When talking about who this platform might benefit, participants mentioned people who have a smartphone and have a degree of fluency or ease in using them “in that way.”

      Key Positive Insights

    • More motivational to have a fluid approach. Overplanning often leads to disappointment because it doesn’t account for “the only thing constant in life is change.” While people liked the ability to see all of your goals or steps in one place, creating flexibility within tackling each step was an important quality that folks were looking for.

    • Having a trail of success behind you becomes evidence of how far you’ve come and provides motivation to push forward. Feedback was positive around the progress view. One participant noted that people can get discouraged though, if the evidence doesn’t show them as the higher achiever they want to be and could be overwhelmed if this view appeared unprompted. They also provided feedback on how it might look differently though one person said, “I like the little pie charts change a linear sense of time too. It’s not month to month or week to week but visually growing.”

    • Confidence requires as much traction as the goal itself. Participants spoke about fear as a hurdle to getting out the gate, and self-doubt as a reason why they don’t achieve their goals. In putting the effort into putting those out there, two of our participants spoke about how that alone can help clarify how invested and interested you are.

      Ways to Improve Moving Forward

    • Explore the concept ‘off the screen.’ The folks we spoke with are not using the apps they download. How we can clarify what makes this better than pen and pencil version and how can we consider different contexts for this concept?

    • Explore ways to include motivation mapping. It would be interesting to consider how we might track motivation to see what patterns emerge for people so they can better develop strategy around how to build momentum when it begins to slide.

    • Group conversation about folding concepts together. We merged two ideas in coming up with this concept. Having a frank conversation will help clarify where and how these ideas do and don’t work together.


Re-inventing the Elk’s Lodge

For young adults (millennials) who want to be meaningfully engaged in their communities but feel limited by their financial resources. Our product matches user interests with volunteer opportunities, placing people in service tracks where they can hone their philanthropic interests and grow their social network. Unlike volunteer platforms that connect you with one organization, we introduce you to a range of projects, people and interests. Through a mix of online and in-person engagements, we are driving the premise that social health is the new individual health.

  • Held 5 user interviews ages 33-39

  • Average rating: 2.6 out of 3

    Key Negative Insights

    • Progress tracking of volunteerism is “gross” and “cringey.” All participants except for one had strong negative reactions to the premise of a progress tracking function built into the app. They felt it was anathema to the ethos of volunteering.

    • It reminds people of a platform they dislike. Initial responses to our platform concept were that it sounded like it might recreate a platform that already existed and that nobody liked. The VolunteerMatch comparison and bad after-taste are something our group will have to address if we bring our product to market.

    • People prefer an on-going engagement with one organization. People didn’t like the idea of service tracks that sampled volunteerism at different organizations or the idea because it was at odds with their value of going deep with a single group to get to make meaningful connections.

      Key Positive Insights

    • Meeting other people is a central reason for volunteering. People were highly positive about the potential for a social connection function built into the app. Meeting other people is often a primary or secondary goal for becoming involved in volunteer work, and one that was often not met.

    • Finding a great organization to volunteer with is hard. People liked the idea of getting matched to an organization and having a more manageable non-profit landscape to navigate whether you were new in town or just not tuned into the local non-profit landscape.

    • The mission of the platform resonates with interviewees’ values. Jessica said, “An app like this would go a long way to fix what is wrong with my generation [a lack of social cohesion and community-mindedness]” and four of our five participants said they would be extremely disappointed if the product didn’t come to market.

      Ways to Improve Moving Forward

    • Implement filtering or even curation functionality. Participants didn’t want to see organizations that hasn’t been vetted and preferred 5-10 excellent local orgs to dozens of random ones. Colin even suggested that the user should create a profile and not see more than three ‘matches’ for volunteer options.

    • Close the loop. Jessica suggested that non-profit staff should be at events to provide purpose to events. They could be there to informally chat about the org and the opportunities or even kick off an event with a more formal State of the Org presentation. This idea tested positively with subsequent interviews. This might be a good way to expand the pool of potential volunteers organically.

    • Research the other side of the ‘marketplace.’ Molly (who had experience working as a volunteer coordinator for a youth program) mentioned that if on-boarding for the non-profit partners was too complicated they just wouldn’t do it.

Next Steps

  • This upcoming week, Allison and Laura will continue to expand on these three ideas by building pitch decks and then interviewing new participants for their feedback.

  • Michelle will be in Milan competing at the IxDA Student Design Charette – wish her luck!

The Laziness of Hubris

It’s pretty arrogant to use the word hubris in the first place, no? Has a sort of smug feeling about it. Which is what I want to talk about. Last week I fell in love with the idea of developing features to support a fail forward mentality – normalizing failure while also embracing failure as a necessary condition for growth. I wanted to lean into the program values of autonomy and one of the key tenets of this school – to make inferences and trust your intuition.

I put together a pretty off the mark presentation that painted a grim portrait of my client, Under Armour, to help me get to my point that a failing company (Shares plummet! Shit happens!) should take up the mantle of present circumstances and embody a fail forward mentality from the inside out. The deck was, rightly, called out for being a brand strategy brief rather than a design strategy brief. Why was it hard to stick to the task and tackle the specific charge – to create viable concepts that help a user visualize progress towards their goals. Where were my missteps?

Day after presentation I’m in the back room at work – washing dishes, doing prep work, and listening to Liv Boeree talk about Analytics and Intuition on JGL’s podcast on creativity. A professional poker player, she talked about intuition being a mostly unconscious process best suited for those components that can’t be broken down into smaller, constituent parts. And for situations where we have tons and tons of experience – decisions we’ve made many times.

Misstep #1: I’m not an experienced designer! I got no skin in the game to say a company is having an identity crisis. I think intuition is useful, in an early stage, to identify what piques my interest within a problem space but it’s not a credible foundation to design from. This for me serves as an example of why it’s imperative to think and work collaboratively, and reminds me why it’s important to talk with the people you’re designing for.

Speaking about the impulse to ‘go with your gut’, Boeree spoke about how “People tend to do that because people don’t want to do the hard work of looking at the data and doing a cost-benefit analysis.” Hmmm… calling my bluff. Misstep #2: I got lazy.

So, I’m fixing the project brief to more accurately tackle the task at hand – narrowing back into the problem itself and asking more questions. Why is it helpful to visualize progress? What are some well-executed examples of this? Why is it difficult to have empathy for our future selves? How can we make data meaningful? What needs to be measured, codified, arranged, displayed to sustain people’s momentum?How do we help people stay engaged, curious, motivated to achieve their health and fitness goals?

Lastly – to counter my impulse to kick back-relax, Boeree advises checking yourself with this question: Am I shrugging my shoulders and going with my gut because genuinely there is no data out there to use or am I actually just being lazy? 

At first blush – exploring a new design challenge with Under Armour

Fitness apparel company, Under Armour, has been making headway into diversifying its portfolio to include software connected apparel, like the bluetooth connected HOVR Phantom and Sonic series. The running shoes connect to MapMyRun helping users track and analyze their metrics while making it easier to run out the door sans phone, watch or wallet. UA began a shift towards technology supported fitness with the 2013 purchase of fitness applications MapMyRun, Endomondo, and MyFitnessPal – a suite of offerings that round out Under Armour’s Connected Fitness platform.

The push into connected fitness has come at a cost though, with competitor brands enjoying stronger earnings through their expanded athleisure offerings. Connected fitness accounts for 2% of the company’s 2018 net revenue. The UA 2018 Annual Report also revealed increased earnings from the global market as the company expanded its presence in Asia and Latin America, however, US sales continue to decline. Current shares are valued at $20.37, down from a 2015 high of $104.10 per share.

What does this mean for my design challenge?

The Challenge: Develop a set of viable concepts for visualizing a user’s progress towards their goals. 

In addition to this brief foray into secondary research, we started the Communications in Design course with a reading on the growth mindset, based on the work of Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck. The article notes that “a growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”

With this in mind, one of the criteria that stands out to me is that the design ‘answers challenges inherent to the category.’ The design brief offered a related question on why people abandon their training. My initial curiosity is around how design solutions could include a fail forward mentality or how it might create features that support failure as a necessary condition for growth. As opposed to, say, building in the opportunity for cheat days.

Another factor that stands out are the brands core consumers – competitive athletes and fitness enthusiasts. How can Under Armour reach a broader market of moderate fitness enthusiasts without diluting its position as an elite performance brand? With their connected fitness platforms, the company seems well-positioned to develop a more meaningful relationship with those consumers as well. Under Armour has a leg up on its larger competitors – Nike, Adidas – to carve out a niche segment in tech-connected fitness. In addition, the company has been making a push into US manufacturing with the 2017 opening of a facility in its hometown, Baltimore.

All this to say – there’s something to be said about taking two steps back to take one step forward. Perhaps that’s the case for Under Armour right now; and perhaps design solutions, coupled with the company’s more deliberate growth strategy of the last couple years, can help bend the road toward improved profitability and meaningful innovation.

An Ethical Framework: Explained

I wanted to create a framework that would do three things:

  1. Respect my process as a person who needs time to internalize, think, evaluate, step back, process.
  2. Balance my predisposition for navel gazing by creating toggles between zoom in and zoom out – so I can better evaluate and understand the contexts and conditions for what else might be true.
  3. Create conditions for accountability.

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See here for full pdf of presentation slide deck.

Reflecting on my teams research project with Caritas of Austin, I thought of all the conversations we had around ethics. I’ll share several questions where we considered the ethical implications of our work, to illuminate how the framework aims to support future work process.

Could this process exploit people in vulnerable situations? 

We chose to focus our research around understanding how Caritas collaborates, internally, to deliver on client goals. This was a decision shaped, in part, by our unease around interviewing individuals experiencing homelessness. As designers green to the process, it didn’t feel right to approach people in such a vulnerable state with so little understanding behind why or how their input would be valuable.

Even though we were trying to do what was ‘ethically right,’ given our level of experience, it wasn’t until we received feedback from our peers and professors that we understood the blindspot we’d created. We needed to understand the experience of the people Caritas aims to serve to better understand the unique challenges they face, and how programs and personnel are designed to meet those. With this in mind, we returned to the research phase to conduct interviews with individuals experiencing homelessness.

What do we offer in exchange for their time?

Prior to this return ‘to the field’ we spoke with several professors and alum around how we might do this and asked for advice on whether to offer goods or money in exchange for their time. When people are in such a vulnerable position, are we really giving them the choice of opting out if we offer food or drink or money when they are in such a vulnerable position? We chose to not offer anything in exchange and instead carried some Gatorades in case there was an ask at the end – which was the case, more often than not.

After an afternoon spent walking along 7th and 6th Street, up and down Congress Avenue, we reflected on the people we’d spoken with – individuals we had approached for the fact they were alone, mostly. But, on reflection, who were also all white. We had unconsciously avoided people of color out of our own ‘right to comfort’, or comfort bias, limiting the valuable perspectives and experiences we had gathered. This has significant implications for our research. We spoke about what we could have done differently to help mitigate our unconscious bias and talked about how we might try tabling instead so we are also providing opt-in opportunity at the outset.

Reflecting on this experience and the conversations we had as a team, I went back to my framework to include, under Locate Self, that I articulate personal bias and assumptions. My belief is that honesty and transparency will help create the conditions for the culture of accountability I want around myself and within a workplace.

How do we manage opposing needs and whose needs do we privilege? 

Looking ahead to our next steps with Caritas, we’ve made some recommendations that, on their face, satisfy case manager and program managers goals to create more specialized roles for their case managers, to help alleviate their workload and distribute responsibility across several persons. We’ve recommended to Caritas that they create specialized roles to triage case management.

This is at odds with what we heard expressed by individuals experiencing homelessness. Many expressed a desire for one omniscient case manager who could help them with their primary goal. For most, but not all, that goal is housing stability. As we dig into what that triage of case management support might look like, it becomes important to also consider the experience of individuals on the receiving end whose lives are overwhelmed by the many decisions they are rendered powerless to make on their own. How can we create support systems that will meet the needs of both parties? How can we create opportunity for a more fluid exchange of power among all parties?


I’m grateful to have created something that is flexible and grounded. The function of the framework is that it will hold me accountable to the values I espouse and the principles I want to orient my actions around.

I’m still trying to work out why accountability feels so important and how to articulate it. Here’s a first try: If our design is principally concerned with social innovation, then we ought to proactively create accountability. Knowingly or not, we navigate ethics constantly. Perhaps allowing our frameworks to be in the world will help us create the conditions necessary for navigating ethics in conversation and navigating ethics in practice.

Final Ethical Framework

What we talk about when we talk about ethics

Look no further from the morning briefing roll calls under the header TECH, and you’ll find articles on how oil data is the new tech gold rush; how China is using facial recognition technology to monitor and persecute it’s Uighur citizens, a religious minority; how automation threatens to widen the poverty gap.

Ethics feels like a big word for big ticket items. We can easily look to broad issues where there is a clear need for ethical consideration but I think ethics is the stuff of everyday life. If I were going to put that into designer speak, I might say ethics are embedded in interaction. See what I did there?

Often we think of ethics in micro and macro extremes. Micro: as a private, internal matter – a standard we hold ourselves against. Macro: as a BIG E question of life and death – who am I going to kill by the lever of a train? What’s missing from both of those extremes is the space in which we discuss the activity around making ethical decisions, something I’ll refer to as situational ethics.

The framework I shared in my last blog post felt, and is, incredibly personal. When I tried holding it against a question or an issue, it felt difficult to understand how I might apply this without the grappling being in the context of decision making with other people. Which brings me around to the situations in which we will be having these conversations – the workplace.

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Why it Matters

Earlier this month, there was a post to Medium from 12 employees of color within Facebook who had gathered together stories about the racist behaviors and actions being taken against them.

Screen Shot 2019-12-05 at 11.32.39 PMHow does this happen? Where are the colleagues? Why are they failing each other? If we aren’t addressing workplace ethics, how can we expect to have truthful conversations around ethics in the hypothetical or abstract? We need to create more capacity in our workplace to have supportive, dialed in conversations around ethics in that environment.

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Dynamic Scaffolding 

I want the function of the  framework to be one of support – to help me maximize the potential for growth and truth within those engagements. My framework, then, needs to have dynamic scaffolding to support how I might approach these steps in practice, at work.

Leaning into strategies I’ve learned over the last two quarters, as well as techniques I’ve tried during group facilitations, I can see how these could be used to ground, frame, and develop workplace conversation around ethics – to better explore and understand why we are putting something into the world and where intention vs impact come into conflict.

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Being Grounded Leaders

Resmaa Menakem is a therapist, licensed social worker, and police trainer and consultant who specializes in trauma work, addressing conflict, and body-centered healing. He writes about the generational trauma that white bodies, black bodies, and police bodies have inherited and how, often times, people go to a therapist to be around a grounded body. To experience what it means to be grounded in the world.

An ethical center is something that grounds me. It grounds my decision making, it grounds the way I lead, it grounds the way I participate in conversation. If I’m not actively and regularly bringing ethics into practice within my workplace, how can I expect to have conversations around power/privilege, risk/consequence, time/scale with those same decision-making teams?

From a credibility standpoint, if we’re going to be, not just designers but design strategists capable of being a touchpoint across entire organizations, I need to ensure that I’m addressing these questions:

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An Ethical Framework – For the Deconstructionist in You.

Q2 has quickly put into relief that make faster can be at the expense of think deeply. Or it can certainly feel that way. It’s pushing me to make and think and make and think faster than I feel capable of. In the last two weeks, our conversation and readings in Design Ethics have revolved around Privacy & Identity. My ability to learn new concepts (decentralized identity?) has been challenged by a more central question I have around how identity is defined in digital environments.

I wanted to present in class tonight about Amber Heard’s thoughtful NYT opinion piece in the attempt of answering the question, why does privacy matter? We’ve asked, a number of times, whether it really matters that a company knows where I am or what I like to buy. A position that, I believe, is fundamentally born from privilege. If we remove ourselves from the equation to consider this more objectively, we can see who else might be more at risk here.

The threat of revenge porn, or nonconsensual image sharing, is an enormous advantage for a person engaged in domestic abuse. According to a 2016 study from the Data & Society Research Institute, this threat is far greater among younger women and the LGB community.

And then I got stumped. I don’t know if this is a trustworthy white paper. I don’t actually know how to interpret quant data – it’s a language I can’t get into. Do I look at this through the lens of power and privilege? Am I already doing that? Do I look at this through the lens of impact over time and scale? Risk and consequence? Also, I still don’t really know what blockchain is or cryptography or RFID. I want to know more about the internet of things and predictive analytics. All topics we’ve brushed against that will be important to understand as I head into the future, never mind this field.

Ethical lenses to consider

In the absence of a baseline level of knowledge, I’m skimming the surface of the Fourth Revolution I didn’t even know I was in. What feels accessible to me – what feels like something I can unpack – are words like identity and privacy and trust. I need to zoom in before I can zoom out. I need to be in language I can hold.

Which led me to this: a strong opinion, loosely held.

The Deconstructionist

It felt important to articulate a way forward, to cutback through the swamp of new information to first, locate self. In the quick clip that is Q2, I felt like I was losing grasp of this. The framework, as presented, is informed by the personal drivers exercise we did at the outset of this course – borrowed from Pivot by Jenny Blake. The principles that inform this framework are borrowed from The People’s Institute for Survival & Beyond as well as dRworks free resource in understanding and dismantling characteristics of white supremacy culture.

All that being said, loosely held is the operative term here. I would love to be challenged to consider what else might be true and welcome any feedback you might have.

Part Three: Themes Among Gig Economy Workers

This is part three in a series about our research in partnership with JUST, an Austin-based nonprofit that seeks to build resilient communities through financial inclusion. For Part Two:  Researching The New American Dream with the Gig Economy go here.

Our Focus

We’ve continued to refine our focus to understand how the resiliency and values of on-demand gig economy workers impact their goals and financial decisions. We’re thinking of this with respect to understanding how the gig economy is supporting a “New American Dream” – one that values flexibility and freedom over stability. 

What is the on-demand gig economy?

Technology platforms that fulfill user demand with immediate access to goods and services. Examples include rideshare, food delivery, grocery delivery, scooters, household chores, pet services

Our fourteen participants work across a variety of platforms, for a myriad of reasons. For some, gig work is supplemental to a full-time job; for others it provides income during a transition period between jobs. The work can help them achieve specific goals, make ends meet, or provide flexibility to pursue other endeavors.


Patterns emerged through the contextual interviews we conducted which were aimed at understanding the mindset and behaviors participants have related to gig work, decision making, and personal value systems. 

Here are two of those themes and some of the stories that supported those themes.

I have a lot of unrealized potential. 

Of the gig economy workers we spoke with, one of the most common themes that we heard was a perception of having unrealized potential. Whether they were enjoying gig work or just doing it to survive, most had a nagging feeling that they were capable of much more professionally. They aspired to careers as varied as a doctor, musician, social media celebrity, Salesforce admin, entrepreneur, substance abuse counselor, and were all at various stages of realizing those ambitions.


Leo is 20 years old. On the day we spoke with him, he’d just completed his first two deliveries with Favor. He needed to earn gas money so he could drive his belongings from his parent’s home in Cedar Park to a house in south Austin where he would be moving in with his brother. 

Screen Shot 2019-11-20 at 2.47.20 PMLeo sorted his cards, rapid fire, in two piles. For someone who said he didn’t feel confident enough, he certainly attacked the activities with gusto. 

When we asked Leo to build out a dream web, he quickly drew three circles shooting out from the center. Stability feels like a relatively new concept to him, as a young man striking out in the world, trying out jobs to see what suits him. He takes classes, on occasion, at ACC but his real passion is the gym. “I’m just trying to get shredded. Super shredded. I just take off my shirt and I can see everything. I want that.”

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The oblong circle at the bottom of the page remained empty and when we asked after that he paused, looked at us, and said, “Since I love the gym so much and I feel like something’s been telling me that I can get famous, for real. I don’t know if you get those feelings, but something’s been telling me that I can possibly get famous. I don’t know. It’s just been in the back of my head.” 

Leo’s goal is to start a YouTube channel where he can chronicle fitness routines and inspire others to do the same. Leo spoke about the confidence he gained over time. He’s been working out regularly for the past four years and this commitment is an accomplishment he’s proud of. At the same time, he expressed uncertainty about taking the next step. The potential he sees in himself feels stymied by the gap between an idea and the making of it. “I feel like I have a lot of knowledge to tell you what you have to do in order [to get in shape]… I’m not where I want to be. But I know I have enough knowledge. I just haven’t done it. I just haven’t done the work, but I just have it all here.”

Screen Shot 2019-11-20 at 2.49.00 PMFuture goals.  

Leo often turns to YouTube or Instagram to learn how to work out properly. Growing up with the digital age, he uses these platforms to hone his craft, find inspiration, and connect with like minded people. “I saw this YouTube video of this guy talking about his life. He said, ‘Your twenties are the most important age because that’s when you’re a money making machine.’ I liked that video. It motivated me.” For Leo, his potential is an immediate opportunity to seize on. 


Tracy recently moved from College Station where she earned a masters degree in biomedical science at Texas A&M. She’s working at a car dealership and needs to sell fifteen cars each month to cover her expenses which include a $2300 rent and over $200,000 in student loans. We asked if she’d looked into finding work in her field but she wants to go back to school and is looking to make the most money so she can afford those next steps. “I was the secretary at a medical school when I decided I’m tired of doing shitty jobs…There were kids there [in their second year] that didn’t know as much as I did. Surely, I’d have a shot at getting into medical school.” 

3 - blog Tracy

Growing up in foster care, she hasn’t had the safety net that many of her peers did. She went from living in a homeless shelter to living in a college dorm. Tracy spoke about wanting to be part of the middle class – something that felt just within reach but unattainable at the same time. “I’m 34, I don’t have a house, I’ve never been able to afford a new car. By most people’s standards I work a shitty job. Dangit. If nothing else I want to know how to break into the middle class club. How can I be like that? Why does everything have to be so difficult?” For Tracy, the potential is there but the access is not. 


Travis likes that he can read New Yorkers all day at his full time job at the laundromat but he doesn’t always get paid on time, and his manager lives in Houston. When we met him, he was picking up Favor gigs to keep him afloat until he hopefully gets paid. Not getting paid isn’t the only thing he dislikes about his job. He also feels like he is not living up to his potential while working in that role. “The laundromat job, I feel like a robot could do that. And I just feel useless there. I like jobs where I feel like I’m making a difference in the community and helping people.” 

Screen Shot 2019-11-20 at 2.49.35 PMPaychecks can be a moving target.

Travis moved to Austin when he was 17 ½. He struggles with a stutter and social anxiety – impediments that felt too great in high school so he homeschooled his way to the end of it. He scours job listings on Craigslist and thinks about going back to school as a way to get access to jobs that would be more fulfilling. “Most of the job listings say you have to have a degree in something. I want a better job, where I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile and helping in the community.” 

He recently sent $500 to his Mom to help with a medical bill. She was a stay at home parent and has been struggling financially since his father passed away six years ago. It’s always been weighing on me because she helped me a lot with money when I was 19. I want to make sure she’s happy and comfortable now, because she’s dealing with a lot of health stuff. I’m constantly thinking of ways to send her more money.” He hopes that once he has a more stable source of income he can better support the people who have supported him throughout his life.

Screen Shot 2019-11-19 at 5.20.50 PMTravis’ dream web includes making a beautiful record, school, having a good career path. 

I avoid thinking about consequences because they seem outside my control.

An assumption that we were interested in validating was that gig workers would be naive to the risks and costs associated with their work, and thus were not effectively taking those into account when deciding to do gig work. What we found was much more nuanced than just simple naivete. Gig workers told us that they were acutely aware of risks and costs associated with the work that they were doing, and actively avoided thinking about those negative consequences as a survival tactic. The cognitive and emotional load of considering these factors was more than they were willing to bear.

Melissa, a Lyft driver in her 60s who has been driving several days a week for the last two and a half years to her supplement social security income. She told us that there were several things that she was actively avoiding thinking about: retirement, getting into an accident, and the risks involved with inviting strangers in her car. When we asked her for specifics about her plans to retire or contingencies plans for car trouble down she either changed the subject or pointedly told us she did not want to think about those things. 

“I try not to [think about getting into an accident]. There’s so many things to worry about. I try not to put them at the forefront of my thoughts. It’s just like being scared of your passengers. You sit around and think about that all day, you’re going to get pretty frightened, whether there’s a reason or not.” She was purposefully deciding to not think about the risks she faced working as a contractor and not being covered by an employer’s liability insurance or workman’s comp insurance.

Screen Shot 2019-11-20 at 2.54.55 PM

We also heard from Holly, an Uber driver who was working hard to maintain her optimism in the face of a assuming risks with high consequences as a driver. She told us,  “Good thing [insurance is] covered by–I don’t know how it works, actually. I’m making a lot of assumptions. And I haven’t looked into it. I don’t want to know. I’m gambling. I’m gambling with it honestly.” She was afraid that finding out more about her situation would lead to more stress in an already unpredictable work environment. To not know, and to avoid thinking about not knowing, allowed her to opt into an “ignorance is bliss” mindset.

We also saw gig workers that were not just avoiding thinking, but also avoiding doing. Joey is a gig worker who does deliveries for Favor. When we asked him if he sets aside money to pay self-employment taxes on his income from gig work he told us, “I’m supposed to, but no. I haven’t done my taxes for a long time. I just don’t think about that. I don’t put no energy into it.” 

He always paid income tax when he had been an employee, but paying the taxes he owed as a contractor didn’t seem worth it given how little he was making. He knew that the government would likely track him down and make him pay eventually, but that is a problem he plans to address later when he has more income. “I’ll have to deal with it when the time comes. As of right now, I have not been being disciplined and sticking that money to the side. ”

Far from being naive about the costs and risks, gig workers told us that they were aware that they were assuming risks and bearing costs, and that they preferred to practice a self-aware form of avoidance. They are compartmentalizing to avoid the negative emotions they experience when confronting the vulnerabilities of being a gig worker.

Client Feedback

We were joined this last Saturday by JUST founder, Steve Wanta, Director of Design and Research, Erica Ortiz, and consultant and AC4D professor, Emiliano Villarreal. We presented these themes, along with two more. The two themes above were the ones that were most resonant for the JUST team. They mentioned they also saw feelings of unrealized potential manifest in the entrepreneurs their organization serves. The theme of avoidant thinking was also something that they had observed with some of their clientele.

Screen Shot 2019-11-20 at 2.55.24 PM

Next Steps

Our next presentation with JUST will be around the insights we develop out of these and other themes. What resonates with us, and what resonates with our client, will ultimately determine how those insights shape our design recommendations. We will continue to share our progress and process with you and are available for conversation any time:

Designing for Value Systems – Part II

In Part I, I spoke about the conversation and activities I facilitated around making value assumptions of our partner organization, JUST, and the clients they serve.

Wanting to plumb this a little further, I’m speaking tonight about trust. JUST lends, not on credit score or collateral, but on trust. Tonight, however, I’m doing a 5 minute presentation on another company that’s built around the value of trust – Airbnb. Notwithstanding current news, we had been reading Laura W. Murphy’s report from 2016 on Airbnb’s Work to Fight Discrimination and Build Inclusion.

Yesterday, Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky issued an email,  subject: In the business of trust. This was in response to the Orinda shooting that happened at an Airbnb rental last week and a Vice report on predatory scams.

Chesky wrote, “People need to feel like they can trust our community, and that they can trust Airbnb when something does go wrong… We intend to do everything possible to learn from these incidents when they occur.”

I initially wanted to pose the question of what does trust mean to you?, and I realized that might get us into a definition space. So I’m pivoting slightly because trust is really a product of relationship. When you trust someone, how does it feel? What is the quality of trust that lingers? 

To help us answer this question I’m asking the class to engage in a quick one-minute exercise – rapid ideation! free association! Go!

Activity Prompt #1: Quick Draw

Draw someone you trust – your lover, your mechanic, your friend, your colleague, your dentist. How do they make you feel? Write it down. What is the quality of trust that lingers, that allows you to build a relationship with them?

Keeping that person in mind, I want to show you my Airbnb profile:

Screen Shot 2019-11-06 at 5.44.23 PM

Here you can see I live in Austin, Texas. I have 1 review. I have verified checks and I can be pretty cute when I’m not at wits end. But damn if this doesn’t feel lacking. How does this convey trust worthiness? How does this build trust with another person?

Activity Prompt #2: Build a better profile

Keeping in mind the person you’ve just drawn – hopefully you’ve tried this at home as well! – think about what you would want to build around that person. How can you design something better – to honor and extend the quality of trust they provide to you?

For all the trappings of the site – the branding, the experiences, the promises, the bottomless scroll of beautiful places – the profile page is severely basic. For a company built around the value of trust, they do little to bake that into the first interaction a host might have with my profile and, vice versa, that I would have with a potential host.

It seems Airbnb’s idea of trust revolves around the way people interact with the platform. Which implies that I’m trusting a corporation – something that feels entirely unreasonable to me. As I understand it, corporations = bodies of people operating within structures of power.

It makes me wonder if the powers that be understand what trust means outside of the way they consider trust as a tool of business – part of a practice, part of a transaction. Because the most critical point of establishing trust – between two actual people – is completely overlooked.

Possible Futures

When I think of my friend, Erica, I think of her as an easy person – an easy person to be with. I think of trust as having a quality of feeling and being at ease with another person.


I don’t mean to imply that everything I love about Erica should be built into or shared with a broader audience. But considering a real person helps me understand what it means to have, and appreciate, trust.

If I were to redesign profile pages for Airbnb, I might consider how I could build in opportunities to establish a trust connection in a more meaningful, considered way. I would include some of the things my friend likes to do – drink coffee, go for bike rides, look at art, travel.

Maybe it would make the profile picture a moot point. Maybe it could be another way of matching her to hosts who could personalize recommendations based on her interests or abilities. Maybe hosts would have their own version of this. I think there are lots of ways to consider how to shape this.