Branded by an Ethical Framework

Throughout the quarter in Ethics, we have been building out an ethical framework as a means to test and check problem scenarios to, now and in the future. Getting to this point has been pretty challenging, it’s often felt like a dump of ideas, starred notes, and ethereal situations that are hard to ground in real life. I needed a way to bring these ideas together and build the rough draft of what should be my ethical framework as a designer for the future, and to do that I revisited a concept that I was familiar with.

I have always enjoyed branding and logo design, and thought the idea of attaching an ethical framework to a brand could be a powerful message. What if all of the brands we know shared the sub-structure of decision making that went into new product launches and deployments? I think some companies already wear a lot on their sleeve, but a mission statement is not the same as the thought process behind development. This is probably because a lot of the decisions that we throw at the framework may run counter to the idea of capitalism.

This is not to sound anti-capitalistic, but I do believe there is a level of greed and a myopic view towards investor earnings reports that has pushed ethics to the side. So what if a company was built around ethics in the first place? Would that change our expectations as consumers, and what about as investors? It’s an idea I want to continue to tease out throughout the remainder of my time at AC4D, but this seemed like a prime opportunity to think about it at a deeper level.

To explain the brand quickly, it is an idea that I have carried in my head for some time as a way to represent myself. The letters KNGSN are pronounced king-son or king-sun. This derives from two things, the idea that we are all beholden to the sun to survive. It makes the grass grow and the world go round, literally. The other half is that my father’s name is Kingsley and he goes by King, so I am King’s son. I couldn’t decide which spelling so I did the cool hipster thing and took out all the vowels. The icon represents a king’s crown and also a rising sun. I didn’t think of this solely for this presentation, it’s something I have worked on in the past, but this seemed like a great opportunity to put it to use.

For the rest of this blog post, I’m going to talk through the steps that I took to arrive at this framework, and hit on a few areas I feel are important to me.

Framework Presentation

Like I said earlier, trying to pull my cavalcade of ideas seemed a bit daunting. I had dug through my notes and found points of interest and quotes that spoke to me and tried to find a way to position them that made sense. I did a lot of digging around for existing architectures that inspired me, and found many good examples along with a few not so much.

Framework Presentation (1)

I experimented with different diagrams, thinking about how to work what was essentially a series of gut check questions, into an order that made sense. One idea that stood out was thinking about it through the phases of design. I tried categorizing the questions into areas like concept development, prototyping, and launch. It seemed decent, but it was not resonating with me, as some of it felt forced into a bucket that maybe wasn’t right.


So instead, I fell back on the branding, and put that at the center. The mantra “keep your island beautiful” lives below it,, which is a personal saying I like to reference to think about problems from a micro to a macro level. Your island can be your mind or your body, something you need to take care of to be in the right head space for design. Your island can also expand, being maybe your office desk, or  your house, something you care about and want to maintain. Further than that, your island becomes  your community, your state, your country. Moving outwards, we should start to share this compassion we gave to ourselves and spread it to others. Ultimately, our world is an island that we are all inhabitants of, and thinking globally through design is necessary when we view things through time and scale.


After that, I took the highlights of the quarter and re-wrote them onto post-it notes and found themes between them or general sentiments they were conveying. This allowed me to think of aspects as self-reflecting, as well as projecting ideas outwards. I created the groups Present-Past-Future for myself, and Create-Grow-Plan-Reflect to project. It helped me to ground myself with a statement, to understand the location in the framework before asking questions. All of this came together in what is my current framework, but surely not the last edit of it.

Framework v2_v4-04

Looking ahead, I want to run more scenarios of what a startup company might look like if it followed a framework form the beginning, and especially if it put that framework out open to the public. I believe it would make for more accountability, more transparency, and a deeper connection to the products we buy and use. It would build trust and alignment, and in theory a more loyal customer base.

One thing I have taken away from this quarter of ethics is that having these conversations is important, and good to share with others outside of the design community. It is something we need to keep front of mind, and not let it slip away or just be lazy about. I believe, lack of attention is equal to bad intention.

Building trust

We are closing out our class on Ethics in Design by talking about emergent technologies. We read and discussed topics like filter bubbles which insulate our perspectives, biases being built into algorithms and their consequences, the battle between encryption and public safety, and the scary reality of facial recognition technology.

This thread of facial recognition is where I focused my narrative, but the overall theme spreads to all emergent technologies. They have a wildly massive power to change our society. As seen in China, this power is being harnessed for unethical reasons. Stories like this bring to light the very real threat that we are confronted with and need to be aware of. The flipside of this threat, is the potential they have to be used for good. If we imagine machine learning being applied to sift through medical records and find patterns of disease or cancer, the quality of our healthcare could be directly increased. The trouble I see in front of us is a lack of trust for those wielding the technological power.

Trust has been emerging as the backbone of my ethical framework. I think trust directly relates to being ethical, because it is based on the good intention of helping the greater society.

Take these examples. We will hear two pitches about a new hypothetical service that utilizes facial recognition.

scenario 1

We love to see your face at Starbucks – so much so that your pretty mug can get you a pretty mug of coffee, for free! Just sign up for Expresso Line, our new facial recognition software that will automatically order your favorite drink as soon as you walk through the door. No lines, no hassle. Sign up today with your smartphone and upload a picture of your pretty mug. Every 4th time you come in, the coffee is on us. Restrictions and exclusion apply.

(yes I wrote Expresso on purpose)

scenario 2

We are Beautiful Beans, a startup cafe that wants to grow our business with you in mind. Our goal is to use facial recognition to make your morning routine just a little less hectic. Our new facial recognition software will automatically order your favorite drink as soon as you step into the scanning zone. No lines, no hassle, just set your drink preference on our app interface. If you don’t want to be scanned, just order at the kiosk.
The images we take will be secured in our database and will not be shared with anyone else. If we go under, the data will disappear too, that’s our promise. We have also teamed up with BlueHealth to give you the option to have your skin data sent to their lab for review and we can alert you of early warning signs of cancerous cells. No charge, we just care about your health.

When reading these scenarios, we realize they are both using the same technology to do generally the same thing, but the feeling of trust is different between the two.

In this scenario, is there a point where trust will be built?

I can envision a consistency that a large corporation like Starbucks may have to help build trust, and deliver on the promise of every 4th visit someone gets their free drink. There is value to be had when you follow through.

So where does the trust break?

In scenario 1, it may start with the name Starbucks. Capitalism has proven that greed and the bottom line tend to rule all, so we may have a bigger hurdle to climb from the get go. They need to regain our trust. There is also the absent information about how and with whom my data will be used. The use of this system justifies their right to scan everyone who walks through the door, whether they are participating or not, as well as power dynamic of who gets the most value out of this transaction?

Contrast this to scenario 2 with Beautiful Beans. Where is the trust being built?

On the surface, it appears that they have a genuinely good intention of helping people remove hassle from their morning, and even offer the option of giving free health exams. It’s not blatant, but one could assume they receive value from the medical company who is looking for data to help deter skin cancer. The customer receives value in return  by being warned of any health dangers. Trust is further built by being clear about how your data will be used, and by giving people the option to opt out of being scanned. The user chooses if the value of no lines and medical screening is worth them volunteering their data.

So where does the trust break here?

First of all, who is Beautiful Beans? I’ve never heard of them, so why should I believe anything they say? When you have an initial introduction to someone, there is usually a lack of credibility. In this case however, they have yet to break our trust, they also have not yet earned it.

So what are the steps we as designers need to take to earn the trust of users? It helps to look at this through the lens of meeting a new friend.

First we need to have genuine, good intentions. We make an acquaintance, and can usually begin to see if the person has good intentions. Once we realize this person is decent, we start to give them our trust, but only a little. It takes time, and they have follow through with any promises they may have made. I’ll pick you up at 4pm – boom there they are. I’ll help you move apartments – well what do you know here he is. Finally, they need to do this repeatedly. Consistency on delivering a promise is what builds trust, so time and repetition are key to building trust.

Building trust in the use of emergent technologies is no different. Although at this point, most people would lean towards having to regain trust rather than build from scratch. That’s where a designers ethical framework comes in. These are my key points to building – or regaining trust:

Reliability – consistent positive experiences

Protectionminimizing the users exposure to risk 

Inclusiveness – knowing your intention is to help the greater whole, not select groups

Transparency – being honest about how you interact with the user

Accountability – taking responsibility for your actions now, and in the future

These can be applied to our daily duties as designers. Building trust with customers is valuable and we should leverage that with our employers, or employees. Showcase your ethical framework. Show your boss you have integrity, and that integrity adds value to the company. Focus on customers. Speak up when you see untrustworthy actions that may compromise your users trust. Public interest over personal interest will have more longevity. Stay accountable. Building trust from the ground up is hard, but regaining it is even harder. Make plans beyond on-boarding to support your user and maintain their trust. 

Emergent technology needs to be used responsibly, and done in a manner that people begin to trust in it. To me, this is the biggest hurdle we need to clear to be able to harness the positive power we can all receive from emergent technology.

Insights about “makers”

Following up on our blog post from last week, Lauren, Sean, and I have continued our research around “makers” as we wrapped up our 15th interview and continue to immerse ourselves in the data. Through this immersive process, we have been generating themes and building artifacts to help synthesize the interviews into useful information. The goal of all of this is to spark insights – the building block of innovation – which are provocative statements that combine what we know + what we heard to act as a bridge for ideas that will be useful in the problem space.

iterating ideas on how to make money "snowball" when it comes in unpredictably
iterating ideas on how to make money “snowball” when it comes in unpredictably

Insight One

Makers are unknowingly business owners, however they only trust themselves to make and not to manage

After talking to our participants, we began to see the theme that most of the makers operate in the same way as a small business would, except they have failed to recognize as such. They float between the lines of being hired for a gig one day, to hiring helpers for a gig they landed the next. Through this process, they have felt unprepared to fill the role of business owner in the world of taxes and managing workers.

Some see this as a hurdle to their income that is not worth the sacrifice.

“Administrative tasks are just not my bag, you know? I just want to have a thing and make it work, and make it nice.” – Pete

“People that are really successful artist….they are hiring people to make their work for them. I just don’t think that’s something I’m very good at. That also doesn’t allow me this like basic freedom that I really need from my life.” – Nina

Others have noticed the need for a different set of skills, but feel too uneducated in the field to be able to do it properly.

“We weren’t good at like, knowing about taxes. No one sat us down and said you should be putting away this percentage the whole time.” – Becca

Insight Two

Makers use chaos to fuel their creativity, but the consequence is sabotaging their financial well-being

We have already laid out the case that makers have the difficult task of trying to make financial decisions around a highly fluctuating income, but we have noticed a theme that many of the makers would forgo the financial stability to live a life with the freedom of expression they need to foster their creativity.

“Somebody who I had worked with years ago offered me the freelance position, and I thought about it for five minutes and I quit my job…that gave me freedom to decide what I do or what  I can make in the short amount of time I have on this world.” – Jared

“I kind of design this machine to  be very hard on me to help me grow I think…it’s either feast or famine, like I’ll either show up with tacos for everybody or like avoid you phone call….if it was about financial security I could just go get a job like next week.” – Rodney

“Technically I didn’t make a lot of money but I lived a rich life because it’s a life very full of very cool experiences.” – Lindsay

Next steps

In the coming weeks we will be meshing our insights with the rest of the class. As we move forward, we want to push ourselves on the question of why does this matter? By doing this research, what information can we glean that will benefit JUST and help to spur less stress, more joy? With JUST focusing it’s mission on Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs, we are seeing a unique correlation between our research participants and the business owners they help. We are looking for areas to build value around that could help budding entrepreneurs in mental health, the value of their network, better educating themselves in business practices, and financial habits that can help them achieve their goals.


Digital Identities: What Could Go Wrong?

A topic that is new to me that we have been discussing in ethics is called “digital identity”. This is the concept that we will each have our identity in one place in the digital realm which we can use to authenticate and standardize many common steps we take online everyday. Things such as unique passwords to each website and financial institutions will be held securely in your own private identity through the blockchain. While I’m familiar with blockchain, I am no expert, so this video may help explain in better detail than I currently can.

The intention behind digital identity is great. It would put the user in control of their information, in a decentralized system that would eliminate a central power figure. It would provide identification for billions of people who currently do not have access in arenas where formal identification is required such an banking, and offer inclusion into many other facets of society.

However, I question how this will ultimately benefit those not already in the privileged position of having access to the internet. There are currently 7.6 billion people in the world, but only 48% have internet access. More than half the world would not be in a position to capitalize on this new technology.

IDSE201_02_DiD control

On top of the large amount of people already excluded from access, a study showed that 14% of Americans are digitally “unprepared” – meaning they would likely not be able or willing to use this technology to it’s intended purpose. The conservative 14% number (likely higher in less developed countries) used across the remaining 48% leaves us with 41% of the world who stand to benefit from digital identity.

IDSE201_02_DiD control (7)

To move forward with this technology, in my opinion, will create a greater divide in the already unbalanced equity of our planet. As an ideological solution it sounds great, but in reality the main selling point is “How many different places did you need to update your address information?” There are many unknown consequences of implementing a system that favors the few, and to be excluded at this point would make a large divide even larger.

But for the sake of entertaining the idea however, I decided to think about what a digital identity could mean to our research participants.  If you have not read about our project, here is our latest blog post for some back story.

As we conduct research on “makers”, we have noticed a trend that they like to live along the edge of the system. Often avoiding financial institutions, getting unconventional loans from friends and family, and finding ways to use their 1099-contractor status to their advantage. So I wondered, what would happen if they had a digital identity? Would it help or hurt their already unique lifestyle? Would they actually have the agency to limit what information they shared so as to not be targeted or banned from housing?

IDSE201_02_DiD control (1)

As I thought about my classmates who are researching the gig economy workers, I wondered would a digital identity impact their life if one mistake were to happen? What are the consequences if we don’t keep power in the hands of the user and companies like Uber and Lyft use the digital identity in their favor?

IDSE201_02_DiD control (2)

And another group is focusing on understanding how sex workers are making ends meet in our society. An already marginalized group who depend on anonymity, would they no longer be able to protect themselves? Would the digital identity be secure enough to prevent stalkers and hackers?

IDSE201_02_DiD control (3)

Another group is working with non-traditional families, that of single income households and how they are planning for the future. How does digital identity affect them, and their children? In a world of hackers and predators, at what point do we feel comfortable giving control of identity to our children?

IDSE201_02_DiD control (4)

And lastly, our research partners through the project, JUST. What are the ramifications of a digital identity to a population who may not have proper immigration status, or who may be refugees fleeing from violence? Will this actually make them more included, or will these details coming to light actually push them further from mainstream society?

In my opinion, I think digital identity will be available in the near future, but I think it will have unseen consequences, which make me currently unable to support it.

IDSE201_02_DiD control (6)

Privacy is not the standard

Last week I took my turn to facilitate a workshop to begin our ethics class. As we split the class in half, I took my group of four, plus two guest alumni for a 30-minute adventure into a portion of the readings that I found personally interesting.

This article by Josephine Wolff highlighted how location data falls into a “nebulous category” when it comes to our rights. There was one section in the beginning of the article that stuck out to me.

Facilitation 11.12.19 quote

The term “reasonable expectation of privacy” sounded every bit as nebulous as the location data she was talking about. So I decided to mold my facilitation around this concept.

To stay in theme, I held the workshop in the only closed door room we have in the school studio to give an extra layer of privacy as we talked about privacy. I opened the discussion by asking “what does privacy mean to you?” Some ideas that came back were “anonymity,” “safety,” and “passwords.” Then we discussed how often we even think about privacy. It comes to mind when you take a phone call and walk away from the crowd. Or when you go behind closed doors at the office to speak with management. But aside from a few instances where we actively seek it out, most of us put it to the wayside. If  you are reading this from the comfort of  your home, I bet you are assuming a certain degree of privacy as well.

workshop handout

Next, I  handed out a “privacy-o-meter” diagram and asked everyone to label where they would rank certain situations as they pertain to their expectation of privacy. Situations like “publishing your browser history on Facebook” was unanimously not considered private, but ideas like “your location being used while using Maps” was viewed as much less of a privacy invasion. Everyone then charted their responses via color-coded marker on the white board to build out an affinity diagram. It enabled me to probe people who were outliers and why they felt differently than the rest of the group and unearth some feelings and views about privacy.

affinity diagram of workshop responses

To round out the workshop, we dove into our phones.  We each took out our phones (by request I asked for my group to be all Apple users to make this work) and counted the apps that requested our location services and if they were granted the status of never, ask for permission, only when using, or always. We had a range of 15 to 67 apps that use location data, with a variety of permissions granted. This exercise opened the eyes to a lot of people about just how many apps use your location and at what time. Many of us had an app using our location during the workshop. This fed into the question of “what is a reasonable expectation of privacy?” If we have a multitude of apps that follow us while in our pocket or purse, how private do we really feel?

everyone dug into how many apps use their location and what the setting was

When I was exploring this myself while thinking about the facilitation, I stumbled deeper into the rabbit hole and found even more location info that I didn’t particularly like. For those of you reading who would like to follow along on your iPhone we are in Settings>Privacy>Location Services to show you the list of apps using your location and their current permission. To dig deeper, go to the bottom and go to Settings>Privacy>Location Services>system Services>Significant Locations to see where you’ve been lately.  The list of toggles to turn on and off lack any information of what you are about to deactivate, which felt purposefully vague. If you are sitting at home, there is a good chance someone knows that.

screenshots of apps using location services, unknown toggles, and a unsettling history of my whereabouts
screenshots of apps using location services, unknown toggles, and a unsettling history of my whereabouts

For me, this was all an exercise in realization that my data is not as private as I might think, and I wanted to share that with the group. I’ve willingly given permission to these apps to know where I am simply for the ease of use and comforts they provide. As a group, we debated about how Google Maps allows us to travel faster and avoid traffic jams, making our life easier and more enjoyable, and how instances like this fall into the dilemma of privacy. It’s a catch-22 that technology has forced us into, and one we simply need to keep it front of mind as we move forward as designers.

For the workshop, in hindsight I would have done a few things differently. For starters, I feel as though I rushed into the program without properly settings the stage. As I work on storytelling as a tool, I think this was a missed opportunity to set the table for what was to come in the next 30 minutes. The other area I wish I had flushed out better were the transitions from exercise to exercise. A closing question to move us from thoughts about to privacy into the meter activity, and then a pointed discussion about our phones and locations would have served well to move us into the phone exercise.

I’m looking forward to a deeper dive into privacy in the coming weeks of ethics,  and I’m making sure to think deeply about it the next time an app asks to use my location. Thank you for reading. – Kyle


Can we codify culture?

As we rolled over from Q1 into Q2 at AC4D, our class transitioned from theory, thinking about the foundations of design and our methodology, to ethics, where we are discussing how our designs may manifest in the real world and the repercussions they may have. Throughout the quarter, we are building our own ethical framework, a personal artifact that we ourselves as designers can reference when we feel we may have veered off course, or are confronted with a situation that needs deliberating. Currently, my framework is a work in progress, morphing and growing as we dive deeper into the nuances of design in practice, but I want it to be the center point of my first presentation.

During class, I had brought up an article I read in WIRED which told the story of Canadian civil engineers, who after a tragic bridge failure galvanized around an oath to their craft which they have recited at graduation for over a century. My brother and father are both engineers, who both graduated from Queens University in Canada, and both recited this oath. When I asked my brother what this oath meant to him, he said “You are designing systems that take human life into applied scientific practice.” It is taken seriously, as well it should be for the very reason he stated.

But how does an industry like design, which is not held to the regulations and certifications of engineers, doctors, or lawyers, create a code of ethics?

How can we define design ethics in a world where it’s nearly impossible to define design? I recall from my first theory presentation, using the definition of design to say that everything is designed.

to do or plan (something) with a specific purpose or intention in mind.

To me this means our code of ethics needs to be broad, and reflect on all industries. Ethics should not be limited to a single profession with a single oath, it needs to permeate the culture of society and everything that is done with purpose and intention.



So I wanted to explore how this culture change could happen. How can we safeguard against poor ethical practices like dark patterns and against behavior design as a method to exploit our psychology for profit?

How could this look in different forms?

What does a policy change look like? There are already existing movements to penalize malevolent behavior. But is strong-arming even the right path? We have seen before that our representatives are not exactly fluent in tech, so could this actually be a danger?

Can we approach this issue from education? Design is so ambiguous, a single code of ethics would be hard to agree upon, and may not even be effective. Plus take into account unlike engineering, many designers are self-taught therefor circumventing the process. The emerging field of Progress Studies looks at human progress over history, and may be critical in establishing a code of ethics for best business practice which I would hypothesize does not include deceit of the clientele. This seems like a slow process, that may take awhile to find it’s way into our society. On top of that, it implies that only those able to get formal  education will be able to determine the best process moving forward.

What does this look like if we use technology to fight technology? As an example, what if we use crowd-sourcing to weed out poorly designed sites? Perhaps the hidden dark patterns wouldn’t be noticed, as is their goal, but for the most part a lot of us know a bad website when we see it. Or maybe we will spur a new wave of 5-star bots for a self-serving rating.


There are already people at work trying to make the underpinnings of technology more transparent. The website has made it’s goal to show people what the YouTube algorithm’s intentions are, and how they may be promoting misinformation.

How about the idea of making the cloud an open-source infrastructure? Advertising and metrics are the drivers of a lot of these dubious behaviors, done in the name of profit. By removing the incentive to collect our data, perhaps we can remove the ethical oversights so often committed and move away from a culture of greed by metrics.



To me, the only path I see for change is a shift in our culture towards technology. As designers, I believe we all have a duty to use our influence to make society better, and not get frozen by the daunting task of changing it all at once. If you build something, build it better. Lead by example. Be transparent. Give people the option to opt-in or opt-out. Be modest and put aside your 2nd vacation home to take less, instead of just give more. Any good business person will tell you the path to repeat customers is earning their trust.

Thank you for reading along with my journey towards building my own framework during this work in progress. If you are interested in your own ethical framework, this code of ethics has been the one that resonates with me the most and has been a great springboard for my self-reflection. If you are not a designer by trade, I urge you to consider just how much you actually may be a designer and how to bring these ideas into your professional world as well.


NT quote


(Design) Thinking about Food

Through the first six weeks of theory class, we have been learning the foundations of design research, sensemaking of data, and most recently how these apply to real world scenarios through social business and social entrepreneurs.

For this assignment, we focused on the idea of “Design Thinking” and how that coincides with our current curriculum. Discussions revolved around the processes and tools we use for problem solving, how we frame problems in different ways to generate unique perspectives, and also how we determine who is or is not a designer. How do we draw that line, or is there even a line to be drawn?

This section about who is a designer resonated with me because it spoke to the concept that everyone has the ability to be a designer by evoking certain skills from the designer playbook. A teacher may make a diagram to help them do seating assignments, an accountant may build a spreadsheet to optimize their workflow, or a writer may write various versions of their story to test which one creates the best outcome. All of these tools are considered design because they are done with intent.

“The process of design is not just for designers, but for anyone whose business it is to create or lead something… anyone whose job it is to imagine something that does not yet exist and then plot the path from imagination to existence.”   

 – Harold Nelson & Erik Stolterman

This is what I had in mind when I set out to create a story for the presentation. I wanted to take the tools of a designer and put them in the hands of a non-designer to show how interdisciplinary the design field is. The understanding that all people have some degree of designer within themselves does two things – it gives them agency to be problem solvers, but it also creates a commonality for discussion when we work together as designer and non-designer.

With that in mind, please enjoy the story of Rex, the sous chef who utilized Design Thinking to push his cooking to the next level.




This is Rex.  He’s a sous chef at a local restaurant that cooks traditional Italian food, and everyone at the restaurant knows him for his amazing homemade ravioli. He makes the best ravioli because he uses a traditional recipe that was handed down to him from his grandmother, who he lovingly called Omi. Like most grandmas, Omi’s food was always the best.


Rex is a dreamer, and he has always dreams about opening his own restaurant and creating his own menu. He loves the idea of thinking creatively and wishes he was able to experiment more at his job. One day, he was reading a cooking magazine, when he saw an ad for a “Best New Recipe” contest and it paid $20,000!! He knew this would be enough to start his own food truck if he could win the contest.


So he went to work tweaking his recipe from the restaurant, but the changes were only making it incrementally better. He knew this wouldn’t be enough to win a best new recipe contest, so he searched for ways to approach this problem differently. He came across a couple articles about “Design Thinking”, and they really struck a chord with him.

“Design thinking taps into capacities that we all have, but that are overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices.”  

– Jocelyn Wyatt

“The process of design is not just for designers, but for anyone whose business it is to create or lead something… anyone whose job it is to imagine something that does not yet exist and then plot the path from imagination to existence.”  

– Harold Nelson & Erik Stolterman

“This sounds like me!” he thought, so he tried to practice some techniques the articles talked about. He wanted to think laterally, which meant to cut across the pattern he had built of making his ravioli the same way each time. This lateral thinking led him to re-think his ingredients. He was toying with lots of ideas when suddenly, Aha! he remembered an amazing trip he took to Seattle and imagined mixing this meal into his traditional ravioli. Having this experience gave him a depth of knowledge to lean on with his intuition, to give an unexpected result to his recipe.

“Design thinking relies on our ability to be intuitive…to construct ideas that have emotional meaning as well as being functional.”

– Jocelyn Wyatt

He instantly knew his passion from this trip would come through in the recipe.


So Rex goes back to the kitchen with his new ideas. He cooks, he tests, pushing the boundaries of flavor so he knew when to pull it back in. He asked his wife to taste it, and his friends for advice. Adding their perspectives, each iteration of the recipe seemed to be getting better and better until he decided it was right, and it was time to send the recipe in to the contest. He created easy step-by-step instructions that boiled down his process to make sure they made it exactly how he intended. What good is information if people can’t understand it right? Then he had to wait. And wait. He was so anxious and excited by the idea of winning until one day his phone rang………He won!!


He was on top of the moon! Rex was so happy and so proud, but he also felt thankful. He bought a food truck and named it after his grandmother by calling it “Omi, Oh my!”  He took some time to reflect about how this happened, and he came to realize he managed to take the tradition his grandmother taught him and use his own inner designer to innovate a new recipe. The value of tradition was strong in his identity and in the pasta recipe, but the traditional way of thinking wasn’t getting him out of the rut he had of cooking similar dishes. By using design thinking to integrate his emotions and experiences, he was able to level up the recipe and create something both new and familiar at the same time. If you must know, the recipe was for Salmon and potato stuffed ravioli with a dill cream sauce on top – magnifico! One day he plans to have a family, and he hopes that this might be able to teach his kids and their kids this recipe in the same tradition his grandmother taught him.

Sebastian’s story of Social Change

For our most recent assignment in theory, our readings were focused around poverty, globalization, and social business – which is the concept of running a business with society as the benefactor in lieu of shareholders. We were tasked with creating a story, with conflict and resolution, that incorporated the the positions of the various authors and to depict it through drawing.

I have a personal story that intertwines with the readings, so I decided to make my presentation about a friend of our family named Sebastian and how he has helped promote social change. Below is a link to the slide deck, that will be the visual cues that go along with the story below.

Slide Deck

Meet Sebastian. My family has known Sebastian for almost ten years and consider him a dear friend. He lives in Rochester, NY, the town I grew up in and where my parents still reside. But although Sebastian lives there, Rochester is not his home. He is originally from a village in South Sudan called Mayen-Abun. When he was growing up, the Sudanese civil war broke out, and his village, along with many, many others were caught in the chaos from the war. He was forced out from his village, lucky to be alive, and had a long, arduous journey to safety. He was part of the group that would be called “The Lost Boys”, refugees from Sudan that had to march across the dessert to safety and run for their life for years. The civil war reportedly had 2 million casualties, some of which were Sebastian’s friends and family. 

Through international aide, and a bit of luck, Sebastian made it to Rochester, where he was able to educate himself and get a college degree. But his heart was still in Sudan, so in 2007, after the war had ended, he went back to his village. When he returned, he was saddened by the state of his village. Commonalities were scarce, like water and energy, and a few children were being taught school lessons under a tree. He was devoted to giving his villagers an opportunity to get educated, and found himself in the role of “social entrepreneur” so he founded a non-profit organization called Building Minds in South Sudan (BMISS). Contrary to a reading we had by Emily Pillotin, Sebastian knew he could serve his village better in America because of the available resources and proximity to donors. Through his fundraising, my family met Sebastian and helped him to meet one of the goals he had set for BMISS.

The Laima Micro-finance program was setup to help local women start a business by supplying them with a $500 loan that was to be repaid so future entrepreneurs could also have an opportunity. Sebastian wanted to  help grow a small economy and allow the community to teach each other how to prosper. I found quite quickly while doing our readings, that this business venture would be defined as a “social business”, for a few main factors, but the most important being that it was setup for social profit and not for monetary gain. The project so far has been successful, by initially starting with 3 loans, Sebastian has now helped start the 26th local woman start her own business. Not all  the business are successful, but some of the success stories are a small grocery store, a micro-brewery (smaller than you can imagine), and a restaurant that is opening it’s second location. This rung true to some of our other readings by supporting the notion that you should start small, and plan to scale up. I think multiplying by 9 is a pretty good growth rate. 

Through our readings, I was able to generate a few graphs to locate and define these projects. BMISS is clearly a non-profit, as it receives donations and has no intention of repayment, hence why it is charity. The Laima micro-finance falls in social business because it is a self-sustaining business model with a focus on social good. I was also able to identify Sebastian as a “social entrepreneur” because he is directly working to change the unbalanced equilibrium (the fact that the village has no running water or electricity shows the imbalance) in Mayen-Abun. I was also able to locate my family as activists because we are indirectly helping to make social change. 

In the end, I was able to create an interesting ecosystem of how social entrepreneurs, activists, businesses, and the community all intertwine. By building schools, Sebastian is creating an educated community that will one day be able to be recipients of a micro-finance loan. The business women provide jobs for the village and make common goods more accessible. I enjoyed all of this assignment and found it really helped put meaning to the actions of my family. If you are so inclined, please visit Sebastian at his website to learn more.


Synthesizing the value of design research

Through the first few weeks of design theory class, we have read a multitude of papers and excerpts from various authors that I have been trying to connect to my personal life experience. Most recently,  we had a series of readings about the role of design research highlighting various ways to prototype, probe, and conduct research. Mixed into the reading was a stressed importance on synthesis – or the ability to take the information and turn it into knowledge. As this course is focused on design research, and the author of one such article was Jon Kolko the co-founder of AC4D, I thought it would be compelling to synthesize the readings into a valid argument for the value of design research, for my own understanding as much as for the class assignment. It has been muttered on multiple occasions to learn how to explain “the unique value of design research”, so that is what I am attempting to do.

AC4D_IDSE102_value of research_08

The x-axis of this graph was assigned to us as “designing for” and “designing with”, while the y-axis was up to our own interpretation. After scribbling through various versions, I found the most compelling y-axis to be “problem seeking” vs “problem solving”.  The issue of problems was a common theme through all the authors, as problems are inherent to life much less design, but the approach taken be each author was unique.

To better explain the position of each author, I have highlighted a quote from their reading and will use it to justify their location.

Once a product direction has been established, research with customers can enhance and improve it. – Don Norman

Norman is not opposed to design research, but he made it very clear he thinks it is best used to find incremental gains from existing products. His problem space has already been defined, and his thought that technology comes first, and need comes second leads me in the direction that he is not designing with the consumer, but for them.

Context is a central issue for HCI design and for interactive systems more broadly. The goal of the work described here is to find the right scope of the problem. – Paul Dourish

Dourish was an interesting read, and was one of the hardest to locate on the graph. The problem he refers to in the quote relates to the fluid nature of “context”, and that we can not design for a specific context but rather design a system that allows for flexibility. Ultimately, I believe that he is designing for users because he notes that the user, not designers will dictate the way technology is used by how they incorporate it into practice, without mention of consulting with users. He has already defined his problem space as being the inability to design for context.

This paper has presented the Product Ecology, a theoretical framework and an approach for conducting qualitative design research with the goal of understanding the complex context of use around a product. – Jodi Forlizzi

Forlizzi wrote extensively about how to utilize the proper research technique, and laid forth a framework for determining which application to use. Throughout, she spoke of observing products and conducting research to improve upon them, which put her on the problem solving end of the spectrum, while also observing the users more than interacting with them in the research.

There is no simple answer, but the analysis we have done shows that challenging some of the implicit assumptions held in the HCI community is necessary when considering technology…  – Christopher La Dantec

When reading La Dantec is was very clear that he wanted to design with the user. Their research project involved getting behaviors and insights directly from the homeless population he was looking to serve. They also tried to remove assumptions when entering the problem space, which moved him higher up the problem seeking scale. The big hold-back for his research not being higher in the problem seeking graph was that he defined his user base to narrowly, as only the homeless and their case workers, when the research had the possibility to effect other populations with similar behaviors (transient, socially disconnected could also serve our military).

What is the point of deliberately confusing our volunteers and ourselves? Most fundamentally, it is to prevent ourselves from believing that we can look into their heads. – Bill Gaver

Gaver had an interesting research experiment called “probology” which gave very ambiguous directions to the user for capturing information. He argued that the uncertainty of knowing what type of information will be returned required the designer to be subjective, and to not enter the problem space with any pre-conceived notions.

In the fuzzy front end, it is often not known whether the deliverable of the design process will be a product, a service, an interface, or something else. The goal of this exploration is to define the fundamental problems and opportunities and to determine what is to be, or should not be, designed and manufactured. – Liz Sanders

Sanders was a staunch supporter of designing with. She felt that adding perspectives from non-designers and bringing the user into the mix was the best way of co-creation. By spreading a wide net at the beginning of the process, it allowed for various possibilities of what the end result might be.

Rather than dive right in to tackle the brief at face value, we find it helpful to back up and understand the larger context. By zooming out, we can illuminate deeper layers of significance. – Jane Fulton Suri

Jane had a very holistic view of design, spread across two readings. The overarching theme that I took away was that the best results from design research happen when you enter the problem space without any assumptions. By involving the users we get a better understanding of what the problem might be, build empathy, and we can then synthesize to build a better product.

A designer attempting to produce an innovative design will conduct research focusing on the experiential, emotional, and personal aspects of culture. This research will describe an opportunity — design research acts as problem finding. – Jon Kolko

Jon’s reading hammered home what I believe is the point of our curriculum. By incorporating the user and making the process human-centered over design-centered, we are more likely to find valuable insights into their behavior. Jon also talks about synthesis being the most important role of a designer, that it is the bridge between information and understanding, and that putting people at the center of the research and removing assumptions, we are more likely to make meaningful impacts on society.

Design synthesis is the link between the type of behavioral research described earlier — the potential for the future state — and the creation of something new. It is the most critical part of the creative process of design. Jon Kolko

While testing the graphs, I also noticed a correlation between the axis’. The more human centered “design with” way we approach the research, the more likely we are to make revolutionary innovation as well. The idea of seeking out a problem is more fruitful than assuming a problem and will afford us the best possibility to make an impact.

AC4D_IDSE102_value of research_human v design innovation

I believe that the value of human-centered design research is articulated here by showing the methods of research we use can directly relate to the magnitude of innovation we can create for society.

A Series of Situations

As our first assignment in Theory, we were tasked with formulating a stance on ethics and responsibilities of design in society, as we understood it from the readings of five authors (Papanek, Bernays, Dewey, Vitta, and Postman). Through my own interpretation and class discussions, I tried to make sense of the positions each author made in their writings, and then bring that interpretation to life through a graphical diagram. 

Before jumping into the diagram, I feel I need to frame the assignment as I understood it. The brief began with “the readings discussed different ways of ethically positioning design in society.” So first, I needed to understand how I was going to use the term design as a control point. Design is both a noun and a verb, giving it little sense of place in the context of an assignment. Because each author did not directly speak to design in the noun sense, that of creating physical forms and blueprints, I chose to use it in the sense of a verb. 





verb: design; 3rd person present: designs; past tense: designed; past participle: designed; gerund or present participle: designing

  1. decide upon the look and functioning of (a building, garment, or other object), by making a detailed drawing of it.
    “a number of architectural students were designing a factory”
  2. do or plan (something) with a specific purpose or intention in mind.


Using the second definition of design in verb form, I felt I could connect with each author in a meaningful way because each spoke distinctly of acting with intention. 

To better make sense of how I was interpreting their positions on design, I made up a fictitious quote for each author as I imagined they would feel. I think these would actually be really good pickup lines to try at a bar sometime.

AC4D_IDSE102_01_designer role graph_v3_8.28.19


As you notice from my graphic, I felt each author held the ethics of design in high regard. I battled with this conclusion mostly with Bernays, who I believe was more economical in his writing than the others. Although after consideration, I believe he was talking about design as well when considering that all public relations campaigns used to sway public opinions were thought out and planned with intention, and that he too felt that design was critical to our social fabric in this regard. 

Without more readings and context, I found it hard to marginalize the difference between the value each author put on design. To say Papanek is slightly higher on the scale than Vitta seemed trivial, and because the scale was so abstract to begin with in makes sense to align them all at the same point. 

This notion of all the authors having a similarly high regard for the use of design in society, and designers in general, is better illustrated when we think about how their views work together. 



The series of situations is a recurring cycle that we can jump into at any point. The idea of a series of situations was noted by Dewey in the context of interactions happening between people and their environment, and that an experience can not be separated from either the people or places in context, without altering the experience altogether.



If we hop into the cycle at the top, and believe that having a positive experience will encourage the growth of any individual, but in this case a designer, we can assume that the designers will evolve into a better version of themselves. This was the perspective of Dewey. The experience knocks down barriers we may have setup for ourselves, and allows us to imagine more freely and thus be more creative. The positive experience encourages multiple new experiences, creating diversity of knowledge and culture enabling us to think with empathy.  The idea of various experiences giving more perspective was brought up by Papenek. Having empathy, as said by Postman, is what differs us from machines, and guides us to search for problems worth solving. 

When the well-informed designer begins problem solving, they have more tools in their tool-belt for how to tackle foreign situations. They think in new ways and are not afraid of failure. The idea of trying to fail and not being chastised for failure are ideas brought up by both Papanek and Dewey. Failure at trying to solve a worthwhile problem is better than succeeding at creating a useless solution. The designer also has more tools than ever before and new technology that can be creatively put to use in ways we had not previously imagined. Postman harps on how technology has been applied without a positive impact on society, but applied to a meaningful product he would agree in the value of information. The unorthodox thinking and availability of technology allow us to create a better, more purposeful products, which are addressing problems worth solving. This is a sentiment shared by both Postman and Papanek.

I believe Vitta thinks that we interact with designers on a daily basis, because everything around us has been designed, and it gives an heir of influence to the designers. The designer, who now has great responsibility, also has the power of persuasion. Persuasion is a specialty of Bernays. By persuading the public to invest in the purposeful product, and because the product was well designed and well informed, the public has a positive experience when they interact. The positive experience this time is of the public, but it propels the cycle to start again. This positive experience is one of the key teachings of Dewey. As other designers begin to see the value of empathy, problem solving, and using technology for the advancement of society, we have changed their perception by exposing the cliche that bad designers are bad for society. We can thank Bernays for that tactic. 

There is a catch to all of this, one that I believe was abundant in Postman’s reading. What if we do make a new, purposeful product, with great intention and positive experience? How can we know for sure what the ultimate consequences will be? It’s impossible to predict how 7.5 billion unique people will react to a new situation, because they all have prior baggage which is affecting their perspective. How do we know someone won’t take the technology we designed for good, and use it for greed and profit, or worse for harm? We don’t, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do the right thing.