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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.


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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.


your design personality: what kind of cereal are you?

We have all taken a personality test once or twice in our lives. Perhaps it was to satiate a fleeting attention span in the pursuit of finding out what kind of cereal we are. Maybe we sought to find out what divine four letters Myers-Briggs would bestow upon us. Whatever the reason and whatever their validity, personality tests are an exercise in making sense of who we are or who we hope to be.

In our theory class, we explored the role of design research and accordingly, the role of the design researcher. As we read through the perspectives of eight authors, I began to consider personality types in the context of research. What personality must we adopt as researchers to create meaningful design? Does our research personality align with our own?

For the sake of this blog post, let’s suspend scientific opinion and suggest, personality tests are accurate. So if personality tests indicate how people perceive the world around them and make decisions, how can they measure the ways in which we conduct design research?

And without further ado… My Myers-Briggs personality is ENFP: extroverted, intuitive, thinking, and prospecting. I’m a Campaigner and have been so for a while now (after taking this test in high school psych.) According to, “Campaigners are fiercely independent, and much more than stability and security, crave creativity and freedom”.

If this is who I am outside of design research, then who am I within this new context of design? Is it even possible for those two people to be different? As I read through the works of eight authors* in design theory, I embarked on finding out.

In an attempt to measure personality, I took to a diagram. Each axis would serve as a metric for quantifying the unique characteristics of the design researcher personality.

empty diagram

Considering the x-axis, I hoped to measure how designers conduct research: For or with users.

This metric evaluated how designer’s treat user participation in research. If the actors are users and designers, and design research sets the stage, when is the designer the lead, a supporting actor, or a passive audience? When is the user fulfilling these roles?

As the readings exposed the ways in which designers treat user participation, I proposed questions to better understand where each author fell on this axis while employing different research methods.

  • Is user participation passive or active?
    • Forlizzi. product ecology
    • Suri. corporate ethnography
  • How creative can users be in their participation? Can they build things?
    • Gaver. cultural probes
    • Sanders. co-creation
  • In what design stage does participation occur?
    • Sanders. co-creation
    • Le Dantec. participatory design (publics)
  • Where does research happen?
    • Kolko. contextual inquiry
  • Do users engage with prototypes?
    • Forlizzi: product ecology
    • Suri: experience prototyping
  • To what degree are users invested in the design goal? I
    • Le Dantec: participatory design (publics)

Considering the y-axis, I hoped to understand how designers view their own bias during design research. Do designers view their bias as: integral or inconsequential.

Whether intentionally or not, designers project their bias into design research. This affects the ways we work with users and shapes the outcomes of our designs. There are also ethical and creative implications in the levels to which we channel our world views into our research.

I asked questions throughout the readings to better identify where each author fell on this axis as they introduced different research theories.

How is the designer’s bias viewed?

  • It is indivisible from the research itself
    • Dourish: phenomenological theory
  • It should be embraced; Subjective interpretation should be reinforced
    • Gaver: design for every day pleasure
  • It should addressed with intention of minimizing its influence
    • Suri: designers immersed in others’ subjectivities
  • It can be ignored entirely
    • Dourish: positivist theory
  • It does not matter
    • Norman: incremental innovation

In comparing user participation with designer bias, I have provided the Myers-Britt design researcher personality test. You’re welcome for the compelling pun.

personality diagram

Four personality types emerge: the Protagonist, the Advocate, the Adventurer, the Architect. The following descriptions are in part derived from

ENFJ: The Protagonist

(Team Vision) Protagonists easily see people’s motivations and seemingly disconnected events, and are able to bring these ideas together and communicate them as a common goal eloquently. They take a great deal of pride in guiding others to work together to improve themselves and their community.

INFJ: The Advocate

(User’s Vision)  Advocates will act with creativity, imagination, conviction, and sensitivity not to create an advantage, but to create balance. Nothing lights up Advocates like creating a solution that changes people’s lives.

ISFP: The Adventurer

(Designer’s Vision) Adventurers live in a colorful world, inspired by connections with people and ideas. These personalities take joy in reinterpreting these connections, reinventing and experimenting with both themselves and new perspectives.

INTJ: The Architect

(System’s Vision) Architects are self-confident in the skills and ideas they focus on. Using their insights and logic, they push innovation through by sheer willpower. It may seem that Architects constantly deconstruct and rebuild every idea and system they encounter.

Through these readings, I took this personality test for each author as seen in the diagram below.

diagram authors test1


In seeking innovation, designers should explore how each personality informs their designs. We ask, in what situations do we limit or lean into our own subjectivity? We examine which scenarios receive the most or least value from increased user participation. Conditions shift and requirements change, so why don’t we? Unlike the personality tests we know best, I suggest we no longer limit ourselves to one type.

As designers, the problems we face will inevitably vary in complexity, but we must continually question what personality is best suited for the one set out before us.






Designs on Dignity: Perceptions of Technology Among the Homeless – Christopher A. Le Dantec, W. Keith Edwards

A Tale of Two Publics: Democratizing Design at the Margins – Christopher A. Le Dantec, et al

The Product Ecology: Understanding Social Product Use and Supporting Design Culture – Jodi Forlizzi

What we talk about when we talk about context – Paul Dourish

Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty – William Gaver, et al

A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design – Liz Sanders & George Simons

Going Deeper, Seeing Further: Enhancing Ethnographic Interpretations to Reveal More Meaningful Opportunities for Design – Jane Fulton Suri & Suzanne Gibbs Howard

Experience Prototyping – Marion Buchenau & Jane Fulton Suri

Technology First, Needs Last: The Research-Product Gulf – Don Norman

The Value of Synthesis in Driving Innovation – Jon Kolko

Design, Four Ways

Two weeks as an AC4D student down, but the reality of what it means to design has just begun to take shape. With the question of design’s role in society, we were tasked with making sense of the following pieces of literature.


Manipulating Public Opinion: The Why and The How by Edward L. Bernays

Design with a Cause and Creativity vs. Conformity by Victor Papanek

Informing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

The Meaning of Design by Maurizio Vitta

The Need of a Theory of Experience by John Dewey


These authors came from several fields, some in design, some not. They produced their work at various times, the 1920s, the 70s, the 90s. All differences considered, compelling patterns began to emerge. Each reading captured a unique perspective which built upon the viewpoint of another. 


With my interpretation of the readings, I answered two questions from each author’s perspective. What is design? Moreover, what is good design? I described summaries of their attitudes in figure 1.



figure 1.


Upon further review, distinct relationships began to form. Authors, Bernays, Papanek, Postman, Vitta and Dewey, understood design within the larger context of four ideas: language, resources, experience, and power. From their point of view, the purpose of design was defined by these terms.


Through the lens of language, design became a vehicle for communication, an expression of social relationships, and an external phenomenon. If viewed as a resource, design is a reaction, a tangible material, and a solution. Framing design as a source of experience, it becomes a catalyst for behavior and an opportunity for interaction. In its relationship with power, design can influence, deviate from expectation, and serve as a source of failure. 


Within this framework, design was a basis for language, a creator of resources, a source of experience, and a foundation for power.


In the following figure, four circles represent design’s role within the context of these four themes. As seen below, each author is placed inside the circle that correlates strongest with his viewpoint as described in figure 1.

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figure 2.


If design spans these overarching ideas, what qualifies as good design from each perspective? Indicators for good design must adapt to the context in which design operates. 


In its relationship with language, I believe design should assess its own voice, seek to understand social implications, and address the cultural context of its surroundings. As a resource, design should respond to the needs of people, minimize waste, and seek to identify real problems. As a source of experience, design should value our humanity and generate opportunities for social progress. Finally, in its relationship with power, I believe design should seek to understand its power, explore potential consequences, and claim responsibility for outcome.


The graph below ranks viewpoints based on criticality to the modern designer’s role in society. The graph is further broken down to identify where each viewpoint most strongly associates. 


figure 3.


Experience, language, resource, power –


Design’s purpose is defined by these terms, but collectively, these definitions represent society at large. So, what makes for strong indicators of good design now?


If we view design’s ultimate purpose as the benefit of society, there are countless questions to unpack. Many of which call for my own self-reflection. How do I define benefit? What qualifies as progress? When “society” advances, who is left behind?


Two weeks at AC4D down. Let my search for answers begin. 


AC4D Orientation Diaries

Day 0.5. Couldn’t sleep much the night before the first day of orientation. It was 2 AM and even the humming of The Office’s dialogue failed to self-medicate as it loyally has before. The anticipation wasn’t a feeling I was completely unfamiliar to, but it did feel new.

Day 1. “Make things, build empathy, trust your intuition.” It sounded like a holy trinity I was prepared to make a career out of. I scanned the room and it seemed my classmates felt similarly. I was increasingly excited to get to know them. Ruby later reintroduced the concept of wicked problems and dispensed its many definitions. One definition stuck with me. “Every wicked problem is a symptom of another wicked problem.” In my former engineering classes, most problems were isolated cases with clear, definitive answers that were either a product of optimization or ruled by the law of physics. This was going to be very different.

Day 2. In our first assignment, we tested our design research skills while interviewing local food truck staff, owners and managers. I felt vulnerable but motivated by the challenge. How do you learn from people in the context of their lives? Find problems? Form understanding? Build empathy?

As it turns out, it’s pretty tough. I realized active listening is a muscle I might use less often than I’d like to think. And how do you ask poignant open-ended questions that lead to meaningful discoveries? I always thought empathy shaped my daily perspective, but practicing empathy in the context of design felt unfamiliar. While at moments I felt awkward or unnatural, I was energized knowing I had room for so much growth.

Day 3. Time to make sense of it all! Jon said, “Words become semantic containers for ideas,” and I slowly recognized how heavily design research relies on verbal language. We transcribed and collected the words of our participants into “utterances.” With these utterances, we tried to find meaningful patterns shared amongst them and later transformed those themes into insights. Words carried weight in every step of this process. Are design and language working in parallel? Or are they just one the same?

We later selected an insight and were tasked with creating multiple variations of ideas which addressed it. Generate 300 concepts. Iterate and diverge. I experienced a moment of nostalgia while practicing this way of thinking. It felt like something I often used in childhood but forgot as I got older. Although the exercise was tiring and challenging, it was ultimately liberating.

Day 4. We attempted to visualize our ideas in practice. We were tasked with creating a sketch for five of our previously generated ideas. This process also felt somewhat foreign. As I tried to sketch each idea, I witnessed the idea reshape and refine from my initial perception of it. The ideas slowly began to transform and awaken.

Day 5. Reflecting over this week and everything that had to happen for me to make it here – AC4D is far from home, but exactly where I’m supposed to be.