AT&T Tomorrow


The internet offers a realm of opportunities with which to exercise our free time. The attention of American consumers is increasingly pulled in new and complicated directions, but even with the abundance of platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Reddit, we continue to rely on television to seek fulfillment in our downtime.

TV Today

People actually watch just as much tv as they did before the introduction of smartphones and clickbait. According to Nielsen, Americans watch more than 7 hours of television per household per day.

And while we continue to enjoy tv throughout the era of ubiquitous internet, it comes as no surprise that the way we consume shows and movies has dramatically changed over time. People have cut the cord on cable in favor of subscription-based streaming services. With this shift, the expectations audiences have around television have transformed too. Today, consumers demand original content where and when they want, on whatever device they choose. We want compelling new content with zero wait time or interruption. Television watchers seek immediate gratification wrapped up in a personalized experience.  

Discovery Today

How we discover what to watch has changed too. The rising number of streaming platforms, like Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, and Disney+ paired with mass amounts of digital content has made television-watching unexpectedly challenging for today’s consumers. People are overloaded with options and more does not always feel like more.

According to NBC News, Netflix calculated that users will spend just 60 to 90 seconds browsing for content and will review between 10 to 20 titles before they lose interest and give up. Customized recommendations and unique search filters attempt to combat this problem.

 Netflix’s recommendation system accounts for 80 percent of the hours watched on Netflix in total. The remaining 20 percent comes from their search function. There, users can search by actor, genre, title, director, video quality, or language. If a user searches for content that is not available on Netflix, it’s recommendation engine can surface similar titles.

 Organization and curation through recommendation engines come with their own unique set of challenges. Recommendation algorithms must not only be accurate but generate options that promote diversity and invite serendipity while providing both novelty and coverage.

AT&T Today

This is where AT&T enters the conversation. As of 2014, the telecommunications company acquired DirecTV and officially stepped into the transforming business of television.

 As part of this mission, AT&T has developed AT&T TV, it’s new Over the Top TV service. With AT&T TV, the company strives to deliver a unified platform that satisfies the television needs of its 30 million AT&T customers. The service will offer live TV, “55,000 on-demand titles”, integration with premium channels, and the ability to record “500 hours” on DVR, all available to the user through a universal search feature. 

 At first glance, it isn’t entirely clear how AT&T TV will fit the television ecosystem of today. And as this product takes shape, AT&T is not only competing with other streaming services and television providers, but with any digital entertainment experience that draws viewers away from their services.

AT&T Tomorrow

With on-demand content at our fingertips, people are redefining their relationship with television. If AT&T can recognize the power of interactive media, the company may find itself at a unique crossroads for positioning AT&T TV as a television experience.

AT&T should take advantage of their userbase by delivering a platform that distills complexity, invites serendipity, and engages a dynamic audience in unexpected ways. AT&T TV is just beginning to define itself and the time to differentiate is now.







Strong Opinions Loosely Held

For the past eight weeks, our class was challenged with building a personal ethical framework, a guidepost for responding to ethical dilemmas in our life and work. The goal of this framework is to offer direction when faced with decisions that feel at odds with our identities and the values that inform them.

As a design student, an ethics course feels relevant. I will have to make choices to about what kinds of products, services, and companies I want to create or be a part of. And as a person, I make ethical choices every day, whether consciously aware of them or not. For me, this class offers a tool for making intentional decisions and having meaningful ethics-driven conversations in both work and everyday life.

Loosely to the path.

Throughout this course, one idea particularly resonated with me: Hold tightly to your values, but loosely to your path – Hold strong opinions, loosely held.

How can my values withstand a change in opinion? A change in action?

My ethical framework must be grounded in the strength of my values, but flexible enough to realize many different paths to uphold them.

The value of flexibility.
I was reminded of a creative problem-solving study where 1,000 students, one at a time, were tasked with retrieving a ping pong ball from the bottom of a six-foot-long steel pipe. A number of miscellaneous objects were placed in the room. Students tried to saw the pipe. They dripped steel fillings on the ball and went fishing for it with a magnet. They even tied gum to a string. There were many failed attempts. Eventually, students found a mop and a bucket of water, poured the water into the pipe, and floated the ball to the top.

This example had me thinking. What do we do when current options compromise our values? How can we think creatively and flexibly enough to discover the bucket of water when faced with an ethical dilemma? These questions laid the foundation for my framework.

My framework.

My ethical framework moves me from uncertainty in the face of an ethical question, towards clarity around my values, and into flexibility, where I hold loosely to my path in search of a better way.

ethical framework

Uncertainty. Clarity. Flexibility.

These three phases are further broken down. I am motivated to action when core values are put into question. I identify my immediate response and assess if it should be accepted or challenged. I look to tools like the Courageous Conversation Compass to evaluate that reaction and reflect on the values that inform it. I isolate myself in this problem space and address the power and privilege I carry with me as an able-bodied white woman in the United States. These reflections are critical to maintaining self-awareness in the face of uncertainty.

Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 1.45.16 PM

Moving from clarity towards flexibility, I rely on divergent thinking to explore the many facets of this ethical question. For this phase of my framework, I lean into the readings of Edward de Bono, Richard Buchanan and Viktor Papanek to support creative thinking. I suspend judgment in an attempt to hold space for different perspectives. I alternate ways of thinking by exploring the unknown effects of time and scale, the role of power and privilege, and the weight of benefits and risks. These exercises allow me to generate new approaches to this problem, ultimately letting me question what my blind spots are and if there is a better way.

Into flexibility, I begin to act by making something or taking a stance. In doing so, I seek the advice and counsel of diverse voices and experts. Feedback and iteration create space for improvement and new direction. Taking accountability and maintaining ownership is key. If this new way doesn’t support my values in practice, I must move back through uncertainty and start over.

In application.

As part of my research with JUST, I have spoken with sex workers in Austin to better understand their experiences surrounding financial inclusion. As a question to test against my framework in this blog post, I explore the FOSTA-SESTA bills. These controversial bills were intended to make it easier to cut down on sex trafficking online but have had immediate repercussions for sex workers, increasing the violence against them.

With mutual goals of preventing the online sex trafficking of children and protecting the safety and agency of sex workers, I used part of my framework (clarity > flexibility) in search of a different approach – one that does not compromise my values.

In examining the landscape of these bills, I first identify some of the people or entities invested in this space. Isolating the relationships law makers and sex workers, I articulate the values I perceive these parties might have when considering these bills. I include my own values when addressing decision-making around them. Leaning into shared values, I generate ideas that don’t force me to choose between protecting children who are sex-trafficked online and maintaining the safety and agency of sex workers who rely on digital tools. I examine some integration points and generate ideas informed by values I identified in the last exercise.


Together, these exercises form part of an ethical creative toolkit to help imagine something better.


Without creativity, we are less flexible in our approach to ethical dilemmas. By not exploring all facets of a problem space, we risk overlooking our blind-spots, we risk less ethical decisions, we risk our values.

As I move into quarter three of ac4d, I look forward to exploring the role of making and prototyping in this process. I wonder how stakes and urgency affect the rigor of creative and divergent thinking. When is it too much? When is it not enough? When will we know when to act and start making?

As both a person and designer, I will continue to break and adapt this framework in the search of this balance.

To talk ethics and challenge our frameworks, please reach me at

Ethics and Creativity

Imagine you’re the parent of a teenager, Alex.

It’s Saturday morning, 8 AM. As you walk outside to grab the mail, Alex is getting dropped off at the edge of the driveway. Surprising, because Alex was in bed when you went to sleep the night before. As Alex exits an unfamiliar car, it speeds off towards the end of the road. Avoiding eye contact while dressed in what looks like yesterday’s clothes, Alex darts inside the house.

You have a discussion and hear what Alex is saying, but you don’t necessarily believe it. You want to read Alex’s phone. Alex refuses.

Assuming the role of the parent in this situation, you are conflicted.

You want to protect your child, exercise control over your household, while maintaining trust and respect as an integral part of your relationship. You prioritize your values of order, trust, and security, but they are in direct conflict. With the goal of maintaining and upholding these values, you find yourself in an ethical dilemma.

Creative Problem-Solving

In this post, I suggest ethical dilemmas are at the root of almost all the wicked problems facing modern society. With this assumption, I aim to use creativity when attempting to solve them. Edward De Bono proposes the problem-solving method of lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is a way to suspend judgment in order to arrive at creative solutions. He argues that creativity and judgment are in opposition to one another. Where judgment forces us to maintain routine patterns of thinking, lateral thinking allows us to disrupt those patterns, so we can discover new and unexpected ideas.

Lateral Thinking

In an effort to suspend judgment, we must adopt new perspectives. In this example of parent and child, we can begin to question what values are also driving Alex when refusing to hand over their phone. These values might include self-autonomy, freedom, justice, fairness.

Alternating Thinking Patterns

De Bono also introduces tools for alternating our thinking patterns. In this example, we can weigh out the logical negatives and positives of both actions – reading through the phone or leaving it with Alex. Where negatives introduce caution and risks, positives look forward to the proposed solution and find something of value.

We can then begin to identify the benefits and risks of taking and leaving Alex’s phone. The benefits of taking the phone might include maintained control, with risks including compromised trust and retaliation. Alternatively, by leaving Alex with their phone, you, as a parent, uphold mutual trust but risk future manipulation.

Recontextualizing the Problem

Author, William Buchanan, also describes placements as a tool for establishing temporary boundaries when considering complex problems. Placements effectively build a frame around a problem to help the problem-solver see the problem in a new way. Using placements, designers can re-contextualize each problem to establish new hypotheses. Placements should be dynamic and interchangeable, so we can find the strongest frame for each unique problem space.

Viewing this example through the frame of power and privilege, we can ask questions concerning freedom, autonomy, and access. This allows us to isolate how power influences the relationship operating in this problem space.

  • Who creates the rules? Parent?
  • Who enforces rules? Parent?
  • Who must follow the rules? Child?
  • Who regulates the rules? Child and parent?

Inspecting privilege in this example, we look to find difference in privilege between parent and child. What changes if Alex is a boy, girl, or non-binary? Does it make a difference if the relationship is between father and daughter? What if Alex is 12, 15, or 18? What else might change the discussion?

After answering these questions, we can begin to generate ideas. What are actions we could take to reinforce existing positions of power? In what ways, might proposed actions be adapted? What are actions we could take to share power? What if the parent handed over their phone as a trade?

The greater the number of ideas generated, the more opportunity to discover options that better suit the problem without costing you your values.

Larger Implications

This type of thinking can be scaled to approach larger, more wicked problems. Exploring parental relationships between governments and their citizens, we can look at the recent example of surveillance and censorship in India. How do the answers in this example reflect what is happening between the Indian government, Facebook, and the crimes incited by the spread of fake news generated through WhatsApp?

A Third Option

Ethical decision-making requires a problem-solving approach with the same rigor and creativity as design problems. Viktor Papanek says, “In a fast-accelerating, increasingly complex society, the designer is faced with more and more problems that can be solved only through new basic insights.” Ethical dilemmas are interwoven into each of these complex problems. Creative problem-solving and design thinking can help us to approach these dilemmas in new and unexpected ways – without having to sacrifice our values in the process.

As designers, we can both uphold our values and solve complex problems by finding a third option, a compromise.

 “…We normally go along the main track without even noticing the side track. But if – somehow – we get across to the side track then, in hindsight, the route becomes obvious.” – De Bono



A Conversation on Privacy

As a consumer in the United States, I exchange many things for my privacy all the time. Many of us do. We share our personal data to afford us new information and entertainment through face recognition apps and services like 23andMe. Our privacy is offered in exchange for convenience as we link new accounts to existing ones, accept cookies haphazardly, or store critical information in our browsers. Our privacy affords us small luxuries.

Luxury transforms into necessity for people at greater risk of abuse. Increased vulnerability leads to higher stakes if privacy is compromised. Imagine the privileged relationships in your life – a therapist, partner, friend. The intimate information we share with these people can leave us vulnerable, elevating consequences, if this information were exposed. In a time of ICE raids, undocumented immigrants in the United States live at risk of detainment and deportation if anonymity becomes compromised. Privacy can take on great costs in the forms of human dignity, freedom, and power. It is often our privacy that protects those things.

Rising stakes.

Stakes are rising while our data is collected, shared, and harvested. The longer our data’s shelf-life and more robust the database, the greater the unknown opportunities for data brokers and their customers. What may seem like an inconsequential risk for some, can become great in time.

Although relationships with privacy vary across privilege, influence, and access, as a society, we should incorporate diverse perspectives to reach a greater consensus on privacy’s importance – before other entities make assumptions on what it means for us.

Understanding potential for abuse.

To begin understanding the importance of privacy and its inherent stakes, I have started questioning the consequences of exchanging my privacy. When, and if, I knowingly consent to share my private data, how do I risk potential for abuse?


figure 1. measuring potential for abuse

These questions start to examine what is at stake when privacy is exchanged. If these are the costs, I may not be willing to play – either as a user or a designer.

Consequences for society.

The spread of our personal data has consequences for ourselves, but also for others. Our data support the creation of more powerful databases, making it easier for brokers and corporations to develop assumptions about individuals which can be used for the prediction and influence of behavior as well as discrimination against people. As a result, we’re all in this collectively – the skin we shed in our digital lives, affect not only ourselves but all those around us.

common good 3

figure 2. societal implications of abuse

Making consequences tangible.

While asking these questions and identifying risks, the consequences can sometimes still feel intangible. This is in part because I have much to learn about my digital fingerprint, both as a user and budding designer. With little understanding of my data lifecycle and the manifestation of its consequences in my everyday life, I risk spheres of influence capitalizing on my ignorance. This is a feeling true to many.

Value of shared language.

As a designer, I suggest we bring these questions to the forefront of every discussion.

As a business, what is our relationship with private user data? What is the potential for abuse? How is that reduced? How is it communicated to users?

To enact change, we must seek alignment by developing shared language amongst users, businesses, those operating within them, and policymakers.

We create public health grades for restaurants, why don’t we create privacy health grades for businesses? Let’s examine business relationships to privacy, map data lifecycles, and evaluate each privacy-related business practice against its potential for abuse. 

Do I place my health, or the health of others, at risk when dining at your restaurant?

We must empower users to clearly identify risks and easily make informed choices. 

With the goal of distilling complex information, designers should work alongside users, technologists, businesses, and policymakers, to make digital privacy and its potential for abuse, comprehensible and actionable.

Together, we can make meaningful, productive conversation start now.

Screen Shot 2019-11-10 at 6.31.19 PM

For questions, comments, or to continue this conversation, please contact me.

The Privacy Exchange

During the last two weeks of our ethics course, our class explored privacy, identity, and the nature of consent in practice. Last Thursday, it was my turn to facilitate discussion surrounding these topics. As part of my facilitation, I developed a workshop which was attended by half of the class, our ethics instructor, Diana, and former theory instructor, Scott. My goal was to create an environment where this group could confront their relationship to privacy and its exchange while exploring the consequences that can follow.

Activity 1. Personal Privacy

To begin examining our relationship to privacy, I prompted the question, what is private to you?

 I invited the room to identify and write down the elements of their lives that they keep private from different groups. Groups included the government, consumer businesses, financial institutions, strangers, friends and family, and employers.

Think about the content you keep private. What do you seek to conceal from these entities or people?

 Do you want…

  • Financial institutions to know your political affiliation, mental health history?
  • The government to know your sexual preference, read your personal conversations?
  • Strangers to have your social security number, phone number?

After the group explored the contents of their lives that they keep sacred, we moved towards the concept of passwords. Inherent in privacy, are the passwords which protect it.

Our email accounts (and their passwords) can often be considered gatekeepers to the private content we seek to protect. I suggested the group hold onto this idea as we began activity two.

Activity 2. Exchange

The group shifted their attention to the whiteboard as I introduced a game centered around privacy, discovery, and exchange.

The goal: Understanding what players are willing to exchange for their email password.

In this game, players were set to win one prize. Prizes were divided into four levels: standard, premium, luxury, and life-changing. Players would start at level one, select one of four tiles, and win a prize. At the hope of winning a better prize, players could trade up to the next level as they wished.

At each new level, however, players had to give up greater amounts of their (hypothetical) email password. The longer one played, the better the chance of receiving the best prize, but the closer their password was to being compromised.

In this game, a player’s email password was 12 characters long. Each level cost three characters of their password. Upon reaching the last level, a player’s entire password was compromised.

Players could stop at any time, but no matter how long they played, I kept whatever piece of their password they had given up.

Ultimately, two people decided to play. A bit apprehensive, the first person to play stopped after level one. She earned a “bottle of wine” in exchange for one-fourth of her password. (*Luckily there was some actual wine in the room to go around). Drawn in by curiosity and potential benefit, another person played all the way to end – I had their password in its entirety.


This led us to activity three.

Activity 3. Exposure

Upon completing the game, I challenged the group to examine the ways in which we use our email accounts and what they have access to.

Imagine the connection between your email and browser – every site you visit – person, business, and institution you interact with. What of the information you’re hesitant to share is exposed if your account becomes compromised?

Returning to activity one, the group was instructed to highlight the private content (they previously wrote down) and imagine what I now have access to. Whether I had part of one’s password or the entire thing, what content is placed at risk?


Activity 4. Consequence

 This reflection moved us into a discussion around the consequences of data exposure. As a group, we explored immediate consequences for the individual, such as identity theft and spam, but also the greater consequences for society.

I placed the activity one worksheets into a bin labeled “private database.” As a society, what can happen when our data is shared and harvested? The group discussed manipulation tactics, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the exploitation of consent, and the potential for discrimination.

We took to the whiteboard and visualized how our data might be used by companies and institutions to exploit us. We discussed how entities can use this data to make assumptions about us – predict our behavior (e.g. likeliness to travel to Vegas), influence our behavior (e.g. demobilize voters), and discriminate against us (e.g. increase interest rates).


 The workshop concluded on the topic of the value of meaningful discussion. Before we can discuss how to change this system, we must be honest about our relationship with privacy, both individually and as a society. As designers, we must develop a shared vocabulary to better understand privacy in the context of our lives and in relation to technology – this is how we can begin to address a system that exploits that relationship.

Reflection as a Facilitator.

Facilitation is both a guided conversation and a balancing act. As a facilitator, it’s your role to strike the balance between keeping the group on topic or maintaining structure and serendipity or free-flowing discussion. The facilitator must allow the tangent to happen, but get the team to the goal in the end. This relies on the facilitator’s intuition and reaction – the ability to read the room and shift the energy within it.

Artboard Copy 4

Throughout this process, I found myself viewing the role of facilitator to that of the research interviewer. I recognized this relationship as I tapped into the same strategies that I’ve applied when conducting interviews in the field.

Research interviews are one on one, and in a different context than group facilitation, but a guided conversation all the same. They are both led-discussions with a specific goal and set of topics to cover. As a facilitator and interviewer, one has to create the structure, sense energy, pivot as necessary, and explore breakthrough moments. Finding the balance between structure and serendipity seems essential to both.

Below you can also find a few tactics from the feedback I received for structuring facilitations in the future.

  • Open with a goal; create the context
  • Offer wayfinding methods for the group; create a visual reference for the goal we are working towards with each activity
  • Print instructions for games ahead of time; ground games and activities around goals
  • Introduce metaphors to distill complex information
  • Prompt with questions and tease out conversation
  • Take the time to be conclusive; boil down key takeaways
  • When describing your facilitation to those not involved, talk more about outcomes, less about outputs
  • Set the tone for the environment you want to create – wine and cheese are usually always a good idea

If you have additional thoughts on the role of the facilitator, recommendations for finding balance, or suggestions regarding any of the activities listed above – please reach out to me!


Limiting Persuasive Design

At the start of Q2, we were introduced to a new curriculum. In this quarter, ac4d students would learn about ethics, and more specifically, understand how to create personal ethical frameworks that can guide us into our professional careers. With this mindset, I began to further explore my own value system. What motivates and drives me? Where do I draw the line when no one is watching? These questions followed me into our first set of readings.

The readings linked to our first assignment introduced the idea of dark patterns in design. Dark patterns are often subtle obscured nudges designed into a product to compel a user to take action in favor of the business they are interacting with – often at the cost of the user. While reading, I became intimately interested in exploring how persuasion is built into such a system.

As defined by the Interaction Design Foundation, persuasive design is an area of design practice that is based on psychological and social theories and focuses on influencing human behavior through a product’s or service’s characteristics.

In thinking about this definition, I realize we interact with these persuasive architectures in our physical world all the time.

We encounter them at grocery stores upon check out. The gum and candy at perfect eye-level for young children right before we complete shopping. The tabloids that we can toss onto the conveyor belt without a second thought. The persuasive architectures built into the grocery shopping experience are small nudges to add one more thing into our carts before we go.

 Are you sure you don’t want..?

This isn’t a far cry from what we interact with online. The targeted ads that follow us from site to site. The extra item that found its way into our cart right before we check out online. The notifications reminding us there are only a few tickets left.

As resources grow more sophisticated, designers are becoming more equipped to personalize user experience and embed persuasive elements in increasingly discreet ways. This is how dark patterns grow at scale.

We still see dark patterns in the physical world too.

When we walk into a casino, everything in this space tells us to stay and take a seat. Slot machines are especially successful in keeping us engaged for long periods of time. Designed with our psychologies in mind, slot machines compel us to play again and again and again. We were that close last time – just one more try… And the more we play, the more money the casino is prepared to make.

This is also true in the digital world. Take the infinite scroll. Joshua Porter mentions, “Scrolling is a continuation, clicking is a decision.” By taking away this decision from users, users become subconsciously engaged with a platform for longer durations of time. The potential for addiction grows with users’ desires to solve the uncertainty of the next post which is coupled with our inability to remove smartphones from the fabric of our lives. And with each continued scroll, the more ads we are fed and data captured.

As a budding designer set on building her ethical framework, I must inspect each behavior I design to change.

  • Is it a continued scroll on Instagram? Increased user engagement with Instagram? Am I persuading users to look at their phone more often?
  • Is it purchased candy at the grocery store? Am I persuading children to eat more candy?
  • Is it disposing of waste in recycling bins? Am I persuading people to limit their non-renewable waste?

I also question how much agency each system gives a user when making these behavioral decisions. To what degree can a user opt-in or out of each behavior change?

How much agency does a user have in adopting a behavior?

Artboard Copy 5

What if the behavior in question is recycling? As a designer, can I reconcile with discreet persuasion to encourage users to separate their trash as an effort in conservation? What about to buy a product for the company I work for?

The identified behavior is important. It’s associate benefits and consequences matter.

So, who benefits and who suffers?

Screen Shot 2019-11-10 at 6.30.32 PM

How do I reconcile with the answers to these questions?

When thinking about my role as a designer, I remember a quote from Ian Leslie in our readings.

“No matter how useful the products, the system itself is tilted in favor of its designers.”

We have great responsibility when designing these systems. In learning about different ethical principles and framing it back to my values, I’ve begun to create a “gut check.” With these questions in mind, I can challenge whether I accept my part and power in promoting a behavior.

Screen Shot 2019-11-10 at 6.31.19 PMPlease continue to follow me as I develop my formal ethical framework over the course of this quarter.




Our design team, Leah Divito and I, have partnered with Austin-based nonprofit, JUST, to conduct design research which seeks to understand underrepresented communities seeking financial inclusion.

The sex industry is frequently marginalized, stigmatized and policed – and so are the women who work within it. In our last blog post, we introduced our research which specifically focuses on how women working in the sex industry relate to money and planning.

Our team seeks to understand how the volatility and stigma, often coupled with the sex profession, affect financial decision making for women in this industry. As we explore this area of research, we hope to discover opportunity for support in a system that can exclude and fail.

Over the last week, we’ve begun to speak to female-identifying performers including sex workers, strippers, dancers, cam-girls, phone sex operators, bartenders, amongst other professions.

We realized early in this process that recruiting participants would be challenging. Trust can be hard to come by – a possible consequence of the judgement and patrolling drawn to this industry.

We initially relied on mutual connections. We also approached women working in various strip clubs. We posted flyers in lingerie stores, bookstores, coffee shops, sex toy stores. We posted an ad on Craigslist. We tried many things. Some approaches worked better than others, but each taught us something new about the space we sought to understand.

Flyer_design4women - fb

We were eventually able to conduct five formal interviews in our first week. Through questions and exercises, we discussed sexuality, finances, community and identity, and the roles it plays within and outside work. The stories which arise from these interviews are invaluable and inform all phases of our design process.

We will be sharing those stories with you soon.

Until then, if you or someone you know may be interested in chatting with us, please reach out to to get in touch. Your perspective is incredibly valuable to better understanding and ultimately designing solutions for this unique group of workers.



Distilling Complexity

At the beginning of the quarter, our design team, Ana, Allison and I, undertook a partnership with a local non-profit committed to ending and preventing homelessness here in Austin. Through our engagement with this organization, we hoped to understand how staff organizes around identifying and working towards the goals of their program participants.

With this focus in mind, we undertook a cyclical process of looking and making. Our ‘looking’ began with contextual inquiry and interviews. In observing emotion and behavior of program managers, case managers, and administrative staff, we provoked conversation where research participants were the masters of their experiences. This approach created space for genuine interactions where authentic data could be captured.

Screen Shot 2019-10-23 at 10.44.34 AM

Chris Pacione, Evolution of the Mind: A Case for Design Literacy

Moving towards ‘making,’ we externalized interview transcripts into tangible bits of data or “utterances.” After making data tangible, we studied for patterns across utterances. This allowed us to create themes, expressing common attitudes, behaviors, and emotions.

This blog post arrives at service slices, a new making and forming method. Service slices are diagrammatic models that promote a stronger understanding of data by encouraging us to interact with it in a new way. It is simply one method of making to make sense.

The immediate purpose of service slices is to map out our transcribed interviews to help us identify relationships to power, policy, influence, emotion, artifact, behavior, environment, and information exchange.


At the same time, as we began to overlap those transcriptions, patterns emerged and connections we’d identified earlier were made more or less concrete.


 Those patterns helped us clarify the goals we would have for how to slope into a simple distillation of this complexity:

  • To demonstrate the complexity of an individual’s experience within the constraints of a system.
  • To humanize those individuals whose stories give shape to our work.
  • To demonstrate the barriers that impact a person’s journey in seeking services.
  • To demonstrate how and where the service provider has impact on a person’s journey.

This assignment pushed us to visually synthesize data. We found ourselves making, drawing together – – artifacts, pyramids, environments – to help articulate how we understood the patterns emerging from the more complex diagram. Ana, a graphic designer by trade, found her stride in understanding the complexity when she could distill into a presentation format – a skillset Allison and I continue to develop.

 Where we had, in the past, stayed up until 3, 4 in the morning the nights prior to client and class presentation, we found ourselves producing much sooner, understanding our angle, how we wanted people to feel, how we wanted to distill complexity to develop understanding and empathy.

Making artifacts earlier provided the opportunity to seek feedback, from both Jon and our peers. We found that as our team made sense of the complex information exhibited in our artifacts, they become increasingly challenging to articulate to others. What felt less complex to us was still a lot of information to digest in one sitting. Their insights helped us better understand and refine. 

Before we present several slides from our class presentation, we need to preface with a realization that a critical perspective that had been missing from our research was that of prospective program participants themselves. We took ourselves back into the field to continue looking and, through our conversations with individuals experiencing homelessness and seeking services, we heard about the unique barriers each person faces.

The aim of these diagrams is to convey the complexity of barriers these individuals face – unique to their circumstances, and unique to how they are able to navigate available services. While we attempt to distill complexity, we also recognize this system is not linear nor is it homogeneous. It is unique to each person who navigates it.

Screen Shot 2019-10-23 at 12.28.31 PM

Stefano spoke with us about his frustration with the Coordinated Entry/Assessment process. Agencies that receive federal funding are required to use Continuum of Care protocol which determines best practices for taking in new clients. Clients are put onto a waitlist with a score from VISPIDAT – a vulnerability index which takes into consideration an individual’s health, their age, how long they’ve been without a fixed home, what trauma they’ve experienced. There is a lack of transparency around the index – for both the public in knowing what factors are included as well as for individuals on the list, who need to return to physical locations for updates on where they are. 

Each new person added to the list may bump another person further down, as has been the case for Stefano. A friend of his checked the list only to find she had moved from 200 down to 400. The waiting process reinforces his view that he is not considered vulnerable enough. Stefano described himself as the face of “the middle class homeless,” not young enough, not sick enough.

Screen Shot 2019-10-23 at 1.30.35 PM

The standard best practice was implemented to alleviate the issue that only those persons who were best able to self-advocate would receive aid; leaving those persons experiencing chronic homelessness, often with underlying health barriers, in the wind. We see this as Horst Rittel might, where “every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.” Stefano is left in limbo, stuck in a holding pattern.

Screen Shot 2019-10-23 at 1.03.39 PM

Several participants from within the organization have expressed similar concern for the barriers that exist and we are left wondering, how do service providers create or reinforce barriers? How do service providers exist within or maintain those barriers? And how do they mitigate or remove those barriers?

Screen Shot 2019-10-23 at 1.09.53 PM

Our research focus, incredibly simplistic at the outset, continues to expand and narrow, shift and return and reinvigorate. Each wicked problem presents another set of wicked problems. We wonder how are we the people to attempt to address this? We also feel empowered by this process, empowered by the potential for design having an impact. We’re reminded of Pilloton – working locally, and we’re reminded of Norman – working for incremental, gradual change. It helps us contextualize our ‘power’ and reframe that we are privileged to have this access, to hold the trust of our clients as well as our trust in the process and with each other. We look forward to continuing to share this journey with you and invite you to reach out with your insights and feedback.



Designing for Life

As we explored readings around problem-solving and design thinking in our theory class, a characterization of wicked problems particularly struck me. Defined by Horst Rittel as indeterminate and messy, wicked problems are not unlike something we are all quite familiar with – life. There is nothing quite as indeterminate and messy as life itself.

In suggesting wicked problems embody the same qualities as a living thing, I must explore how these problems live, breathe, grow and adapt, as we do.

Incorporating the perspectives of multiple authors from this section, I explored the nature of wicked problems. The points of view of each author are reflected in throughout. So, are wicked problems alive? Let’s find out.

We start with empty field.


It receives sun, water, wind.


And the living things that those elements invite.


Under the right conditions, those living things sprout. And grow. And rise.


Until small changes get bigger and bigger still.


The ecosystem expands, fostering new life and inviting change.


There is no way to anticipate that change. An understanding of the ecosystem emerges gradually. (Simon)


Every factor in the ecosystem also depends on every other factor. Temperature, rain, sun, plants, animals: outputs for one become inputs for the other. “There are no ends to the chains that link interacting open systems.” (Rittel) A change to one part of the whole means a change to another. Every change has a consequence.

Although other ecosystems might look similar, there will always exist a unique property in each ecosystem. We will never find the same exact combination of elements, down the smallest grain of soil.


Designers can navigate this complexity through placements. They can establish temporary constraints that allow us to see the ecosystem in different frames. Is it an ecosystem full of plants?


Animals? Trees?



This exercise generates many mini-hypotheses. Eventually, we can exchange one hypothesis for a better one. (Cross)

These placements or frames must also be flexible and temporary, so we may never force ideas that worked for one ecosystem to fit another ecosystem.

Designers also develop an understanding of the ecosystem by examining its interconnectedness. In exploring integration points, we are not required to be fern or deer or oak experts.


But rather, we explore the integration points, connecting useful knowledge from each field. (Buchanan)


As ecosystems grow and adapt, they also organize themselves into a variety of patterns. These patterns do not always align with the patterns in which we think. Lateral thinking allows us to disrupt and cut across natural thinking patterns in order to align with those of the complex ecosystem. This practice helps promote creativity, supporting our arrival at innovative ideas. (De Bono)

As a designer, when we approach living wicked problems, our tools must parallel them. Our means for understanding and creating must be as dynamic as the ecosystems we enter. Designers can practice integrative thinking to find understanding between the parts that make up the whole.

Similar to the ecosystem of a forest, wicked problems take a long time to develop and a longer time to solve. As designers, we must approach each wicked problem as an ecosystem, focusing on single parts, but acknowledging its larger whole. Change takes time, but so does life.

As a budding designer, the problems I immediately encounter may not seem inherently wicked, but I suggest we search for the messiness in every problem we face.

Connecting each problem to its larger ecosystem is the first step towards addressing the wicked problems of our world. 


If you have questions, comments or would like to discuss the nature of wicked problems, please reach out to me.

Get Where You’re Going


This is a story about mobility.

In the past two weeks, we focused on design and poverty in our theory class. Infusing the perspectives of eight authors, I explored a story of vulnerability – a mobility breakdown. This narrative allowed me to invite and challenge each author’s approach to addressing what happens when your means of mobility falls apart.

All points of view are reflected in the way each author would respond to Janet’s situation. Their positions on poverty are incorporated into the narrative. She declines and accepts help as she sees fit.


Introducing – Janet.


Shape 4

She is on her way to work. She relies on her car to get there every day. It can be a tiresome commute. The travel accumulates. It has consequences. 

Shape 8

Today Janet’s car breaks down. 

Other vehicles travel past, but Janet remains. Staring at her broken down car, she looks up and feels stuck. Janet must figure out what to do. She has to keep moving forward.


Shape 6

Exacerbated, a passerby stops. He offers her a ride for the fair price off $300. Janet knows she needs to escape this situation. This could be her best bet, but what about her car? What about her ride back? What about tomorrow?

Shape 10Shape 11

Another man stops. He claims to know exactly what’s wrong. “Miss! I’ve seen this before. I know what to do. It’s definitely the tires.” The man strongly recommends adjusting her tires. He has seen it work before. He knows it will fix her problem. He has to fix her problem. And Janet starts to feel like she should let him.

Shape 13Shape 14


Hesitation kicks in. Not prepared to make a decision, Janet stalls. In a rush, the man leaves. Anchored to her car, she remembers how stuck she really is.

A woman later asks to join her. She talks with Janet, watches, listens. The woman recognizes what this situation means for Janet and grows invested in helping her address this problem.

Shape 15

Together, they work on the car collaboratively. They address the vehicle’s immediate needs. Their efforts will get Janet to the closest repair shop. The woman acknowledges that Janet is in a place where she can manage this issue on her own.

At the repair shop, the owner explains that the cost of the car is high. Janet panics. She needs a moment.

Shape 21Slide 16

Pacing, an idea emerges.

Shape 20

This doesn’t only affect me. Cars break down. People can’t afford them. Everyone deserves to get where they’re going. Carpool. What if I charge a flat rate for carpool services? This will pay for repair costs. This can help people.

Darting outside, Janet tells the repairman she will return. She heads to the nearest bank. Someone might believe in this idea too.

Shape 18Shape 19

Janet explains her current situation. She walks the banker through her idea. The banker thoughtfully listens. She finds her idea promising and offers a loan just enough to cover the cost of the repair.

Shape 9

She returns to the repair shop and pays for the car’s repairs. Handing the money over, Janet is committed to the carpool service She begins her endeavor. For a fair price, she opens her car to others.

Slide 18Shape 2


Together, they get where they’re going.

Shape 6

In the end, Janet’s experience exposed her to the alternate side of mobility. With help along the way, she disrupted an existing system and generated something new. She used her car’s role as a gatekeeper to share its space with others. Mobility was transformed.

As I synthesized these readings, this story reinforced a few ideas.

  • Selling to the poor is good when it helps elevate, not reinforce or perpetuate a vulnerable position.

Janet’s service moved people forward.

  • Generative disruption happens when design research is rigorous – requiring proximity, empathetic investment, and pervasiveness of the designer.

Janet formed part of the community through personal investment in the problem space.

  • Social entrepreneurs are created through the passion to drive meaningful change and recognition that success requires the intentional application of design methodology.

Social entrepreneurship isn’t born but built through the earned understanding of a problem space. 

In the design research I’ve conducted with a non-profit committed to preventing and ending homelessness in Austin, I have seen the dynamic role that mobility can play.

Individuals that are experiencing homelessness and seeking services often rely on transportation to make change possible. Attending case manager meetings, collecting and delivering documentation, using scheduled public resources, getting to interviews on time.

Mobility is a barrier to access for each of these things. In its ability to grant and limit access, mobility determines where you go in life. It embodies power as a gatekeeper and serves as a source of agency.

Mobility makes a difference – mobility is a gatekeeper. When services propel people forward, research is rigorous, and understanding is earned, design can be applied in transforming gatekeepers and expanding access.

Everyone deserves to get where they’re going.