supporting sex workers: lo-fi prototyping

This is part five in a series detailing updates to our research which is grounded in the goal of supporting the safety and agency of sex workers. 

Design Team: Brittany SgaliardichLeah Divito


Many sex workers work in complete isolation. Often, there is no one watching out for them except for themselves. As a result, they may not know anyone in their personal circles who understand just what they are experiencing. This week, our design team has observed how necessary it is to have a space to connect with people who truly understand, empathize, and can provide informed support and advice without judgment. 



Image 1. Thread from “SexWorkersOnly” subreddit

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Image 2. Reply to thread on “SexWorkersOnly” subreddit

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Image 3. Reply to thread on SexWorkersOnly” subreddit 

How might we design a safe and exclusive place for sex workers to connect? How might we eliminate the limelight of an entire platform user base?

at a glance

In our studio class this week, our design team began to develop a lo-fi prototype for our concept, Poppy, a digital platform for female-identifying sex workers to connect with each other and discover resources, without censorship or stigma. The goal of this product is to create a communal space where women can share knowledge and build community on their terms. 


This week, we began prototyping and started to develop a low fidelity prototype. The process looked something like this.

  • Determine hypotheses or key questions. Before starting to develop a lo-fi prototype, we identified a few key questions to test:
      1. Will people sign up to be part of the pilot?
      2. Will people contribute to the discussion?
      3. Will people receive value from group discussion?
      4. Will people trust the platform enough to share their stories or insights?
  • Build the prototype. Believing a private messaging channel can serve as a proxy for our product concept, Leah and I evaluated a few different platforms that exist today. We assessed Telegram and Keybase, but ultimately selected Slack as the medium for initial testing. 
  • Conduct secondary research. To identify a baseline level for community standards, we began to research legal restrictions and contacted lawyers well-versed in censorship. We also reached out to business owners who build community through storytelling platforms. We continue to research different ways to foster community engagement through online discussion. 
  • Contact potential users. We reached out to several women whom we’ve built relationships with during previous phases of our design process. We received multiple responses with interest in joining the platform as grassroots testers. 
  • Storyboard the pilot experience. We mapped out the process for joining our Slack channel to initial user engagement. We plan to send our five core grassroots users this user flow as a way of onboarding them onto the platform. As we move forward, we must continue to build on the storyboard and address different methods for fostering discussion and getting community off the ground. 
  • Plan to scale. Leah and I began to ideate different ways to engage more women and reach critical mass for the platform. With an invite-only vetting process as part of our prototype functionality, we must qualify that each user meets access requirements (i.e. current or former female-identifying sex worker). We will explore existing networks, contact people on Reddit, and go to different strip clubs with an email sign-up sheet next week. 


uncovering blind spots 

Some of the insights gathered this week. 

quick and dirty 

One of the complexities in creating an initial prototype was selecting what tool to employ for the pilot. We had to compare the specialized abilities of various tools with the specific behaviors and functionalities that we are focused on testing. No existing tool is ideal, and we had to make sacrifices regardless of which we chose. 

It was echoed across many of the women that we spoke to that any digital tool that we might create must be cute and fun to use, especially given some of the dark and dangerous connotations that are attached to their work. We see this visual experiential aspect as being key to acquiring and maintaining users especially when we look at comparable existing tools like Reddit and Instagram which do not have the ideal look and feel as expressed in our interviews. Moving forward, this specific visual component is something we will need to include, alongside the Slack prototype, as a higher fidelity storyboard in order to allow users to envision an ideal version of what the platform could become.

leveraging our relationships 

We have felt tension in approaching potential users in this phase of prototyping. We understand that if our product is needed and valued, our potential users will be so excited about its existence that they will happily adopt it into their lives. Nonetheless, we also recognize that because our user base requires higher levels of trust than others, with every ask regarding their time, energy, and trust, we utilize that relationship and rapport. We need to consistently evaluate each individual’s level of interest, engagement, and skepticism to qualify if we are maintaining mutual respect and an understanding that we are building something with them as partners, not as research subjects. 

exploring legal 

Although we’ve explored many online resources and databases, we realize how challenging it is to obtain free legal advice as we enter an extremely policed product space. To vet this process, we’ve tapped into the resources of friends in law school, their professors, and networks. While we have developed a baseline understanding of legal dos and dont’s, we desire more certainty as we continue to prototype and test core platform features. This is more than essential in launching a new product, given that so many have already been taken down, we do not want our work to be in vain. We will proceed with contacts made and further vet the legal validity of the ideas put forth. 

unpredictable scale 

As we strategize around platform growth, we acknowledge the unpredictability of social network expansion. Why do some social platforms, groups, and discussions succeed over others? Regardless of the necessity of our platform, how can we guarantee it’s adoption? And how do creators monitor their evolution over time? This is where user engagement and marketing strategies, as well as community guidelines and peer-to-peer moderation, come into play. Next steps around these components, while thoughtful and intentional, must but flexible and open to change. 


moving forward 

This week felt like the beginning of something tangible. Even with such a low fidelity first attempt at vetting a prototype, it brings Poppy from an idea on a page into a seed of reality. 

We plan to continue storyboarding the different ways our pilot can be tested. We will focus on different facilitation and community building strategies. To further develop our growth strategy, we will leverage existing networks, engage with sex work focused subreddits, and visit different clubs in Austin as a way of validating interest in our platform. We will also onboard our core five users and co-create community guidelines as a grassroots team.

The AT&T TV Search Experience: Insights and Design Principles

Given the challenge to develop viable concepts for the search functionality of AT&T TV, this post is part three in a series chronicling my work in our Communications in Design course. Post one and two can be found here.

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The Challenge

AT&T TV is on a mission to center itself at the foundation of the viewer’s television ecosystem. With the goal of simplifying an expanding world of tv options into a single cohesive interface, AT&T is relying on its search functionality to differentiate among competitors, empowering users to sift through the noise.

But because more does not always feel like more, users prioritize content and services differently than they have in the past. AT&T TV must address the viewing priorities that users have adopted as a result.

Insights and Design Principles

Given the challenge to develop viable concepts for AT&T TV’s search experience, we are now in the phase of design dedicated to insights and design principles.

An insight is a definitive, provocative statement that offers a meaningful explanation of behavior. Insights are what connect research to design.

Design principles guide design decisions by evaluating what a proposed solution must achieve in order to be deemed successful. They are suggestive of a solution without being prescriptive.

After conducting secondary research, a comparative analysis, and *hypothetical contextual research, I have identified insights and design principles focused on context, connection, and curation.

Transforming Search Experience


Insight 1: Expectations for television change with the context in which it is watched

“At night, I watch my comforting reliable sitcoms on my laptop to help me fall asleep, but I’ll watch tv on my big screen when I invite over friends for our Bachelor viewing parties.”

– Trish, tv viewer

Design Principle: Search results should be driven by user context.

What this might do: Recommend and deliver results based on time of day, user location, and streaming device

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Insight 2: Viewers maintain and form community around television

“Content today is a cultural zeitgeist that unfolds in real-time, and people want to watch shows as they happen so they can participate in the global water cooler conversation.”

– Blake Morgan, Forbes

Design principle: Search functionality should be inspired by the community that forms around television

What this might do: Visualize the watching activity of friends or public profiles that users can follow

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Insight 3: The amount of content available exceeds viewers’ ability to sift through it

“The user either finds something of interest [within the first 60 or 90 seconds] or the risk of the user abandoning our service increases substantially.”

– Neil Hunt, Netflix’s chief product officer

Design Principle: Search results should anticipate user needs before they do

What this might do: Provide options for search goals (i.e. library browse versus search engine accuracy)

What’s next

AT&T can deliver a search experience that responds to user context, celebrates the community formed around television, and empowers users to seamlessly discover content that captivates them.

In the final phase of this project, we will create design concepts that are informed by our research and guided by design principles.



*Contextual interviews were not conducted as part of this assignment

supporting sex workers: definition decks

This is part four in a series detailing updates to our research which is grounded in the goal of supporting the safety and agency of sex workers. 

Design Team: Brittany Sgaliardich, Leah Divito



Photo by Danielle Blunt, via Decrim NY.

Sex workers are owed space on the internet.

With the introduction of FOSTA-SESTA, the law is challenging the first amendment of sex workers, educators, and activists, restricting their ability to speak freely. As digital communities are stripped away, so too are the safety, livelihood, and support systems, of those who once formed them.

at a glance

In our studio class this week, our design team tested the validity of one of our concepts a digital platform for female-identifying sex workers to connect with each other and discover resources, without censorship or stigma. The goal of this product is to create a communal space where women can share knowledge and build community on their terms. 


While my partner was in Milan for IxDA this week(!), I developed pitch decks, published a landing page, and received feedback from various subject matter experts. The process looked something like this.

  • Identify core product features and existing references. I determined that this platform should allow users to 1) share stories, exchange information, engage in q+a (e.g. Reddit); 2) seek information and search for resources (e.g. Aunt Bertha); 3) Sell or exchange products (e.g. Facebook Marketplace)
  • Identify and contact SMEs. I reached out to privacy technologists and individuals who’ve worked on platforms that achieve any of the identified product features above.
  • Create pitch decks. I drafted wireframe versions of two pitch decks which can be found here and here
  • Test pitches. I tested our pitches with SMEs as a means to critique our thought processes and identify gaps in knowledge. 
  • Create a landing page and ad campaign. I published a landing page that helped to more concisely articulate product mission while measuring potential interest. 


uncovering blind spots 

Some of the insights gathered this week. 

referencing what works

As an exercise in building out our concept, I examined how platforms with similar functionality, like Reddit, Aunt Bertha, and The Dancer’s Resource, operate. Finding inspiration from these companies served as a breeding ground for ideas. I began to try and identify all potential users, how value differs for each audience, and what business or revenue model would support that. I believe we must ultimately return to human-centric research in order to strike the balance between the monetary value and human value offered through our products.

the cutting room floor

Narrowing down to one idea this week was challenging for me. It felt like deciding between designing for the highest degree of feasibility versus the greatest impact, and I didn’t feel firm on a decision. I came to the realization that although we must identify the product needs to be addressed, we must also acknowledge that some might be out of scope for the time being. This does not mean the idea needs to be left behind. For features that are harder to evaluate (due to legal constraints), we can explore what questions or ideas can be abstracted and tested. 

the relationship between technology and privacy

Alternatively, privacy and anonymity will be huge components in platform adoption and product feasibility. In chatting with technologists, different considerations and product features rose to the surface. Some of the technology introduced include: 

Encrypted communication via Signal 

    • User chat with end-end encryption

Expiring posts

    • Certain posts have option to expire 
    • Users have no username but are rather assigned a session name or digital identifier

Self-vetting via invite-only access 

    • Users login on an invite-only basis
    • Start with a small grassroots userbase who are able to create a basis for reputation
    • Opportunity for an outsider portal and insider portal (e.g.

The degree to which users will want to participate in this platform will shape the way we design for privacy. 

an inclusive first impression

The goal of a platform like this is to make space for people whose stories and experiences are pushed aside, unseen and underrecognized. Women of color and trans women face even greater risks. If a landing page is a first impression, I want to ensure it feels accessible to all women who participate in this work, prioritizing those who are least served. I plan to keep iterating on our landing page and test it with users as we move forward in this process.


This week was challenging for me. My instincts led me wishing to return to user interviews and concept development. I would have liked to spend the week refining ideas in a way that felt more informed by empathy and human behavior. All that said, I recognize the value in telling the story in this way as a method for refining our idea. This process brought new questions to light and shaped our platform in unexpected ways. The process itself is by no means linear and pivoting between approaches is a skill I hope to continue sharpening.

Next week, we will create service blueprints, prototype, and test with users.

supporting sex workers: rapid ideation

The goal of our research is to support the agency and safety of women working in the sex industry. This week, we were challenged with generating  200+ ideas for potential products and services that aim to work towards this mission.


We began by revisiting secondary research surrounding sex work in the US. According to economist studying prostitution, Scott Cunningham, sex work is the most dangerous job for a woman in the United States. In an episode of ReplyAll, he shares that it actually has a homicide rate of over 200 per 100,000 people. The second most dangerous job for a female is a liquor store employee and that has a homicide rate of four per 100,000.

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Image 1. Pocket knife that Leila keeps on her during work

After the introduction of the “Erotic Services” section of Craigslist – later replaced by other websites including – the total female homicide rate went down nearly 20 percent in a given city on average. Not just sex worker homicides, but total female homicides. 

Since the disintegration of Backpage, after the passing of FOSTA/SESTA laws, sex workers are forced to operate in a world before the internet. Imagine trying to run a business without having access to email, web-based advertising or interaction with customers. Access to digital products and services empowers women to screen clients from the safety of their homes, where they are far less vulnerable and have greater control. 

As we move into the ideation phase of our project, we used our research and insights to create new ideas for products and services that may increase the safety and autonomy in a post-FOSTA/SESTA America.


Our net new knowledge from rapid ideation included some of the following ideas.


Tapping into Blockchain.

  • We spoke with an industry expert working in blockchain technology in San Francisco in order to improve our ideation around encrypted services that could provide sex workers with secure and private communication online. This allowed us to generate new ideas around blockchain encrypted “endorsement” services that sex workers and clients could both use as vetting tools.
    • Links: Web of Trust, Monero

Sex workers are small business owners.

  • Our research led us to believe that like entrepreneurs, sex workers value creative control and take serious pride in self-reliance. With this in mind, we generated ideas that foster this inherent creativity. For example, web-camming platforms with built-in filters and prompts. We also found value in strategic networking and saw opportunity in partnerships with successful entrepreneurs, influencers, and sex brands.

Ensuring safety is important.

  • Sex workers have to create their own safety systems because no one else will for them, so we want to bridge the gap by creating systems that better ensure the safety of sex workers. Recurring clients are one consistent way that sex workers build trust with reliable clients, so we would like to create products that incentivize this connection, such as a “Sky Miles” type service with points and awards.
    • Other ideas: VR immersion experiences, pre-packaged “Airbnb” style sexual encounter experiences

Let’s play a game.

  • We realized that sex work and the entertainment industry in general lends itself well to gamified experiences that may not only create a better client experience, but ultimately increase sex worker income and expand client base. Building off of the current trends of bars themed around playing games (ping pong bars, bowling bars, axe throwing bars, put-put bars), we toyed with the idea of strip poker bars and role-playing bars.
    • Other ideas: Make it digital with gamified webcamming

Sex workers are providing therapy.

  • Through our research, we found that because clients often seek validation under the guise of sex, sex workers come to realize that they have also signed up to be therapists. This insight inspired multiple ideas for services that treat sex workers similarly to therapists. Ideas like wellness practices and training in counseling supporting this side of their work and challenging society’s definition of sex work and its associated skill sets.
    • Other ideas: Health and wellness center that incorporates sex work into therapy services, all-encompassing intimacy services platform, training in counseling, wellness practices

Informal money management: dresser banking.

  • Many of the women we spoke to frequently dealt with money in the form of physical cash. The dancers we met expressed particularly negative experiences with banks, associating them with fear and judgment. As a result, women often stored and hid money in dressers and clothing. Sometimes thinking it is better to spend than stow away. This inspired deas like smart safes, cash labeling systems, and savings tools.
    • Other ideas: service that helps women prove their income, financial planning tool for predicting income (e.g. house fees, client meetings)


Even being as informed and as excited to jump in as we were, we immediately realized that ideating for wicked problems is no easy task. Here are some of the difficulties that we faced.

  • Imposter syndrome. Attempting to address problem spaces that we feel unqualified for 
  • Diversity of ideas. Generating a range of concepts that are unique from one another
  • Value of ideas. Holding space for ideas that may feel silly or impractical 
  • Legality. Ideating solutions that may not be legal 
  • Emotional quality. Working in problems related to the ‘human condition’ that don’t have one-size-fits-all answers


Next week, we will be building concepts. We plan to narrow down to our strongest ideas and develop them into concepts that can be further illustrated by vignettes, storyboards, and theories of change. We look forward to expanding and challenging our insights and hope to develop concepts with the capacity for creating a positive impact on the lives of sex workers.

If you’re interested in connecting with us, please reach out


Project Brief: Designing for AT&T TV Search

Given the challenge to develop viable concepts for the search functionality of AT&T TV, this post is part two in a series chronicling work in our Communications in Design course. Post one can be found here


The internet has transformed television. With on-demand content available at our fingertips, users have matched expectations for their television experience to that of the technology it’s delivered through. Users treat smart devices as extensions of themselves and similarly expect viewing platforms to address unspoken needs. Many demand original content, when it’s relevant, on any device, through an interface that parallels the way they think about and search for content.


With AT&T TV, AT&T has entered the transformational business of tv and must address the role the internet plays in user relationships with television. As streaming technology makes seemingly limitless content available, some users are overwhelmed by options while others desire for more.


With universal search as a core product feature, AT&T has targeted its search functionality as an opportunity for differentiation in a saturated and changing marketplace. With the goal of becoming the center of its customers’ television ecosystem, AT&T TV seeks to create a search feature that balances user needs – capturing the way people watch tv, search and discover content, engage in their viewing experience, and convene around the screen.


Given the challenge to develop viable concepts for the search functionality of AT&T TV, I ask

How can we position AT&T TV to the center of users’ television ecosystem by balancing conflicting priorities?

I believe AT&T TV can differentiate with search functionality that targets problem areas in simplicity, choice, and experience.

Problem Area: Balancing Conflicting Priorities.

Research shows that users want more options but get exhausted when navigating them. 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. Many viewers want television-viewing platforms to feel simplistic but offer variety. Users often consider tv as an experience, but ultimately want it to deliver one thing – content.

With these values in mind, I focus on problem areas in simplicity, choice, experience.


While others become more specialized, AT&T TV should feel universal. AT&T seeks to simplify the ever-expanding world of tv options into a cohesive platform.

Areas to explore: Flow. Eliminating the congestion of content and subscription service options. Personalization. Learning viewer habits and delivering options that match and explore preference


With a customer base of 130 million, AT&T serves an audience with diverse requirements. AT&T TV should deliver content that addresses a range of user needs.

Areas to explore: Integration. Options including live tv, on-demand video, premium channels, and DVR. Mobility. Content accessibility from device to device, location to location


AT&T TV can deliver unique value by capturing growing consumer trends while prioritizing serendipity, novelty, and engagement.

Areas to explore: Captivation. Incorporation of serendipity and novelty. Adaptability. Changing user behavior and culture around tv like binge-watching.


Applying design methodology to develop viable concepts for search functionality, I project eighteen weeks divided into two phases to complete this engagement. Key project phases will capture foundational alignment, contextual research, synthesis and insight development, concept creation and illustration, prototyping and refinement, in addition to product planning and market strategy.

Moving forward, I will continue with research as part of this theoretical design engagement with AT&T. I look forward to working on this project and exploring ways to challenge my perceived limitations of what a search feature can accomplish for this platform.

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.

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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.

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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!